When Green Hop co-owners Karanja Crews and Nicole Kennedy decided to launch a cannabis dispensary, they knew there was only one place it could be: Northeast Portland’s King neighborhood, a historically African-American part of town they had once called home—at least until their families were forced to leave.

“This is an area that’s been gentrified,” Crews explains to Cannabis Dispensary. “We both grew up in this neighborhood, and we were a part of the disenfranchisement and systematic racism that took place within this community. And as kids, we were forced to leave because our families were priced out. That an opportunity came up for us to open up a shop in the neighborhood we grew up in was pretty incredible.”

It’s a story Crews not only wants to share here, but with everyone who encounters the Green Hop brand. “We grew up in this neighborhood, we used to get arrested for this very plant in this neighborhood—but now we’re able to run a business and create opportunities for people in this same neighborhood,” he says.

Highlighting its location—and that location’s significance to its owners— is just one way Green Hop is trying to break diversity barriers in the cannabis industry.

Green Hop offers “deli-style” service, where flower is packaged in front of the customer. All Photos © Ashley Anderson

Getting Involved

Crews is vocal that more African Americans need to be involved—in positive ways—in cannabis. “We [African Americans] were the ones most disproportionately impacted—through arrests, through prison sentences, the whole nine yards,” Crews says. Now, “you don’t see a lot of us able to have the opportunity to participate in the industry, to have the backing to create something or start something like this.”

That’s just one reason Green Hop founded the Green Hop Academy, an internship program built with the help of Portland Opportunities Industrialization Center (POIC), an area training program for at-risk youth who’ve been affected by poverty, according to POIC’s website. With POIC’s support, the academy will teach young people—of legal cannabis-consuming age—the various skills they need to be employable in the industry, from lab and production training to how to be a dispensary budtender, Crews explains.

The 10-week internship program will begin in November, and will be available for 10 students, though Crews hopes the program can expand to include more people in the future. Classes will be taught at Green Hop, and potentially in other places.

Crews and Kennedy, in addition to other instructors, will teach the classes, a perfect fit for the business owners who were once educators themselves. (Crews led the teaching conference, Teaching with a Purpose; Kennedy taught nursing classes.)

“Being educators, we’re on the front line every day making a difference,” Crews says. “One thing about teachers is that you recognize needs and work to fill those needs.”

In fact, a 2016 BuzzFeed report showed that just 1 percent of dispensaries are owned by African Americans. That means as of two years ago, of the nearly 3,600 dispensaries across the country, African Americans were the owners of only three dozen or so.

Classic hip-hop albums are an important accent to Green Hop’s decor.

’Bout It

Green Hop launched with a soft opening in January—on Crews’ birthday—then opened officially on June 16, which was Tupac Shakur’s birthday. (Shakur died in 1996, but he is still recognized as one of the best rappers of all time—one whose music often touched on the social issues and inequities of the ’90s.) While the soft opening welcomed about 40 guests, Green Hop’s grand opening saw some 200 people.

“It was powerful,” Crews says of the opening, and watching so many people walk in. At the soft opening, Crew recalls, “it was an exciting moment, because we were still learning about the industry and getting our feet wet. It was nerve-wracking. But by the grand opening, we had six months’ [worth] of experience and went from there.”

In the store, hip-hop music almost always plays. “A lot of internet data is being used throughout the day,” Crews jokes about the playlists the team constantly keeps on loop.

In addition to what plays through the speakers, Crews and Kennedy make sure that hip-hop is a prevalent part of the green-and-yellow dispensary. Classic hip-hop albums are displayed in the store—including albums by Nas, A Tribe Called Quest and Dr. Dre—while its name is sprayed out in graffiti, another tribute to hip-hop, Crews says.

“We feel that if it weren’t for hip-hop, cannabis wouldn’t be legal,” Crews explains, and “so, we wanted to pay homage to the culture that destigmatized it—that was unapologetic about the plant. We felt it was important to highlight that and to stand out from all of the other dispensaries and kind of be different in the industry.”

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Green Hop’s website points out the connection cannabis has to hip-hop in even more specific terms, writing on its homepage that, “Hip-hop and cannabis have been intertwined since the genre rose up from its roots in the streets of the 1970s. DJ Kool Herc laid the foundation, Grandmaster Flash created the technique, and Afrika Bambaataa organized to help birth a culture called Hip-Hop.”

The website continues: “Commercially, the [Sugarhill] Gang paved the way for Run [DMC], then groups like N.W.A. in the late ’80s. When Dr. Dre released his debut solo album, The Chronic, in 1992, it featured the unapologetic weed-smoking Snoop Doggy [Dogg], and hip-hop and cannabis have been fused ever since.”

Green Hop’s products also enjoy hip-hop inspired names, such as the popular Jigga OG. Other strain names include Killingsworth, Illmatic, Grandmaster Flowers and Albina OG, all nods to the artists who have inspired Kennedy and Crews, they say.

That doesn’t mean the dispensary discriminates against other kinds of music, Crews says. “In the mornings, you might hear a little soul music or R&B,” he laughs.

Green Hop’s goal is to pay homage to the hip-hop legends who destigmatized cannabis.

All Up From Here

It took roughly a year from when Crews and Kennedy partnered until they received their license, Crews recalls, “because there are a lot, a lot, a lot of expectations that the city and state have. We had to get our facility, get land-use permission and get security, including cameras—all this stuff—before our application was approved.”

Making so many plans—and so many major purchases—while not knowing whether their application would be approved was stressful, Crews admits. “It’s excitement, it’s a rush—it’s taking a leap of faith and hope it all works out,” he says.

It seems to have worked just fine for Crews, Kennedy and their 14 employees. Crews says that community reaction has been overwhelmingly positive. (Even Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler and Senator Earl Blumenauer attended the ribbon-cutting ceremony at Green Hop’s grand opening.) “Everyone loves it,” Crews says now. “We’ve had nothing but positive feedback.”

Jillian Kramer is a Cleveland, Ohio-based freelance writer.