As the first Black woman to own a legal US dispensary, Wanda James continues to make an impact in cannabis. 

James and her husband founded Simply Pure in Denver, Colorado to put a Black face on cannabis. She says her desire has been to “change what the face of cannabis looks like.”

While cannabis has become a billion-dollar booming industry, less than 2% of cannabis business owners are Black. James affirms this has to do with crimes against the Black community: felony charges for non-violent drug crimes and possession, mass incarceration, police harassment, and forced slave labor.

Black women business owners in cannabis are especially affected by these social inequities. 

Executive roles once held by women have since been overtaken by male-dominated businesses. When the industry began, “many women found solace in the medicinal side of cannabis and through it, started their own companies,” James says.

But once money became more prominent, white male-dominated CEOs and investors diluted the market and pushed out women business owners they felt were not qualified.

But this hasn’t stopped James from persisting and persevering. And when it comes to cultivating more leadership roles for women, she explains, People have to “see to be.”

Wanda James
Founder & CEO
Simply Pure Dispensary 

Women need to see powerful female leadership, which hasn’t been the case nearly as much as it should be. Witnessing women in executive roles makes the dream for others become a reality; it becomes attainable.

But, as James advises, women also have to take charge of their own “PowHer.”

“Women need to be bold,” she instructs. While boys are raised to be assertive to get what they want, girls are always taught politeness, which doesn’t cut it in the world of business, cannabis included. Jame’s advice to subvert that lesson: be effective. “Being effective in business is my goal…I’m proud of that.”

Her effectiveness has led to the creation and soon release of a new cannabis brand, Because.

A portion of the proceeds will help send Black and brown kids to law school. “If cannabis can send Black and brown kids to prison, it can send them to law school.”

She also hopes to expand the Simply Pure brand into other states across the US, especially if federal legalization finally passes. “It’s the one issue Americans agree on,” she says, referring to the legalization of cannabis in some form.

Leaders like James have paved the way for women to realize influential, executive roles in cannabis aren’t just a dream, they’re a reality. Despite the decline of women in these positions, James wants them to power through and continue toward their goals.

James’ advice?

“Build your team and make sure you have a finance person! Do this! Make it happen!”

Shawn DeNae Wagenseller

Jocelyn Sheltraw