November 26, 2021

Small Business Saturday and the Cannabis Shop

By Jeannette Horton

This weekend, millions of Americans will kick off their holiday shopping not at a mall or big box store, but browsing the aisles of a local retailer whose offerings very likely are more distinctive and better suited to their personal tastes and needs. Small Business Saturday, now in its second decade, was created to highlight the key role small, local, brick-and-mortar enterprises continue to play in our economy even in the age of e-retail and those behemoth stores by the freeway.

Today in many communities, empty local storefronts are being lit up by a new small business – the local cannabis dispensary. Riding the wave of cannabis legalization sweeping the U.S. (18 states now allow at least limited personal use), local entrepreneurs are staking out retail space to sell something that in the past was widely popular but also widely prohibited by law. Consumers are flocking to their spaces.

Indeed, in an economy still struggling to right itself from the disruptions of a pandemic, cannabis commerce is opening up opportunities for thousands of people eager to build their own business in a sphere with plenty of room for imagination and innovation.

But the opportunities are not always equal and the rules of that commerce not uniform. So far, just as states have legalized cannabis one at a time, they also have regulated it state-by-state. For the consumer, that means a hodgepodge of health and safety standards governing production and sale of cannabis. It also means that a retailer in State A may have to comply with a set of regulations for his or her business that is vastly different from what faces the retailer in State B, perhaps only a few miles away.

Full federal legalization and regulation of cannabis could eliminate these disparities, but it may be a few more years before Congress and the White House go all in on accepting cannabis. But a shorter, interim step still is possible – creating a legal framework that overrides today’s confusing mix of state laws.

Federal policies should help assure (1) access to capital, from financial institutions large and small, (2) early market access for minority-owned businesses and other small businesses owned by historically excluded entrepreneurs, (3) aiding state and local programs that already have helped historically excluded entrepreneurs become established in the cannabis industry, (4) a scaled regulatory system to facilitate small business participation while ensuring full and timely regulatory compliance, and (5) meaningful partnerships between businesses of all sizes.


Jeannette Horton is the CEO of NuLeaf Project based in Portland, Oregon.