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During the prohibition ban of the 1920s and 30s, tea pads were speakeasy-style spaces where people of color—the Black community, in particular—could gather away from the perils of prohibition. As the United States launched an aggressive campaign against cannabis, which disproportionately impacted Black and Brown communities for decades to come, tea pads ensured an exclusive arena of safety and security.
Fast forward one hundred years, and despite legalization across the country, the cannabis sector is still fraught with challenges for consumers and entrepreneurs of color. Layers of systemic racial discrimination and an industry dominated by white men have presented barriers to growth in the sector, especially for women of color. As therapeutic consumption of the plant is enacted across America, it is imperative to uplift those who have fought for increased accessibility and equity in the market.
The Mission of Josephine & Billies
Enter Whitney Beatty and Ebony McGee Andersen, the two visionary Black women behind Josephine & Billies. Launched in June, Josephine & Billies is the first cannabis speakeasy of its kind: by women of color, for women of color. Playing on the historical tea pad movement, Beatty and Andersen are committed to fostering an environment of connection, education, and relaxation in their modern-day dispensary. Where women of color have been chronically dismissed as consumers of the plant medicine, Beatty and Andersen are paving the way for renewed access and healing.
In a conversation with Beatty, she emphasized the importance of creating a space for women to come together and build community. Dispensaries have traditionally become places of quick turnover with a lack of rapport building between merchant and consumer. "We don't want that," she emphasizes. "We want people to have fun and gather." Beatty says that setting a relaxing, safe space is the first step to fostering that environment. "We have books on the wall to read. We want to have yoga classes and mindfulness classes or even a mom's support group."
Josephine & Billies is designed so that customers and community members have clear directives on how they can use plant medicine to treat specific issues. Anxiety, insomnia, and relaxation remedies have their respective sections in the speakeasy, making it easy to find a solution specific to your concern. For Beatty and Andersen, it's a revolutionary concept in an industry divided by the systematic effects of the war on drugs.
The Inequities in The Cannabis Business
According to a 2019 report by Marijuana Business Daily, minorities own 19% of the cannabis business nationwide. The number of women occupying C-Suite positions in the industry is steadily declining as the industry becomes a boys club, not exempt from systemic sexual harassment towards women. A structural lack of funding for women-led companies and the dismissal of qualifications have forced many women to leave the industry entirely. The effects of the war on drugs on Black and Brown communities mean that people of color must often go above and beyond to prove themselves and access capital. Additionally, investors often overlook women as potential business leaders.
"Angel investors tend to invest in people who remind them of themselves," Beatty explains. "I, unfortunately, don't remind people of a 60-year-old white man." So, how did Josephine & Billies get here? According to Beatty, 2% of venture capitalist dollars go to women-led businesses in the cannabis industry. While there is an outpouring of venture capitalist money in the industry, women of color only receive .0006% of that investment.
It's why the backing of The Parent Company's Social Equity Fund (TPCO), led by Jay-Z as Chief Visionary Officer, is transformative. Jay-Z launched the fund to assist minority marijuana business entrepreneurs as they break into the industry. "Investment from TPCL allows us to compete in the market," Beatty shares. "It's easy to be drowned out when you don't have the money to come in. We're not asking for charity or a donation. We're ready for this investment."
The Importance of Josephine & Billie's
The investment comes as a reformative one, catering to a market that has been neglected, and it allows businesses like Josephine & Billies to thrive positively. Beatty and Andersen aim to extend cannabis equality beyond the medical and corporate world and make it a more significant part of women's health. With these hopes, the speakeasy operates with a deep understanding of the need to educate women about their healing options.
"I’m talking to a market that has been ignored; these people deserve plant medicine and to be considered," Beatty passionately explains. "We still don’t have nearly enough information on plant medicine, especially for communities of color who have less access to health care and higher numbers of anxiety."
Science proves that women are more anxious than men and Black women are more anxious than white women. Yet, even as consumers, women of color are left out of the conversation on cannabis. We are not targeted despite our desire to consume.
According to Beatty, that is the bridge Josephine & Billies builds: one that safely educates and creates access around plant medicine for communities that have been left behind. With a wide range of products at varying price points and levels of therapy, Josephine & Billies knows there is no one-size-fits-all way to heal and real change starts with openness to exploring those nuances.