Lauren Porter
Feb, 09, 2018

One day, 25-year-old Hope Wiseman decided she no longer wanted to work as an investment banker because she wanted to pursue her passions. One of those passions led her to become the youngest African-American woman to own a marijuana dispensary—ever

The Prince George's County, Maryland native decided that she wanted to combat the narrative about the stereotype and stigma around people of color and marijuana. 

ESSENCE asked the budding business owner, who plans to open her dispensary, Mary & Main, later this month, about her path to making history and her hopes for diversity and inclusion in the industry.

ESSENCE: How did your journey to opening a marijuana dispensary begin?

HW: My first idea was with my background in finance, I've always followed markets and trends and I realized that cannabis was going to be one of the next, biggest industries, economically and, that's what sparked my interest. I realized that each state had their own laws and that it was getting better, but in some states still illegal. I started studying why that was the case, how there was a lack of research [on] how African-Americans and other minority races have been disproportionately affected by the War on Drugs. I started to realize, ‘Wow, this [business] interests me from so many different points.’ Not only is it going to be one of the biggest industries to affect the economy, here in the U.S., but, as a Black woman, there are so many people just like me, from my family, that I know personally from this area, who have been arrested for selling the same medicine that I'm about to sell, and make a lot of money off of.

ESSENCE: Why did you choose to open a dispensary in Maryland?

HW: I had first become interested in my home state of Maryland [because it] was one of the next states to legalize. But, everything happens in divine order, I'll say that. We're licensed in the area that I grew up in, five minutes down the street from where I went to High School, from where my mother's original dental practice was. It's our community that we're really a part of. I think that's exciting, to be able to serve the patients that are going to be coming into our store are going to be people that I know. So, I think that's really exciting to be able to directly serve the community that I grew up in.

ESSENCE: How did you and your mom decide to go into business together on this venture in particular?

HW: My mother and I have always had a very healthy mother-daughter relationship. I always say I think my mother has been grooming me for this my whole life, and we just didn't know. Even when I was a very young girl... she started her dental practice the year I was born. I used to go to work with my mother when she [began] her entrepreneurial journey. We've always kind of worked together in our own little way and it's very natural. My mother is the brains behind everything...She's still teaching me every little thing that I need to know.

ESSENCE: What's the smartest business advice you've ever received?

HW: I would say to stay in your lane. I think that's probably the smartest advice I've ever gotten. And, it seems so simple and cliché, but, I didn't really understand that until now. Here I am, entering into a new space, where it's uncharted territory. There aren't that many people involved in cannabis and speaking out about it. In this journey, I found myself creating my own category to put myself in. I'm realizing you can't spread yourself thin. You can't do more than what your expertise allows you to do. And you should stay in that lane, because if you foster your true purpose and talents, you'll reach extraordinary heights—rather than [spreading] yourself thin by chasing money or fame or anything of that sort. If you organically let things happen, it will definitely end up being the result that you want in the long run. I'm not saying, "Don't work hard." Work very hard, but, stay in your lane and let things organically grow.

ESSENCE: What is the biggest misconception people have about the marijuana industry and a Black woman's role in it?

HW: I think the biggest misconception that someone who's not in the industry has, is that everyone who is in the industry is a user, always high or a stoner and that's the furthest thing from the truth, especially when you get to the executive and ownership levels. It looks more like a typical boardroom so with that being said, just as a Black person or minority within this industry, you don't see many people who look like yourself. For me, it's important to make sure that others see people who look like me. It's [crucial] for me to travel and speak at different conferences and seminars, so that if there's a little brown girl who is interested in this, that feels like her family wouldn't understand, or that, she couldn't do this, because of where she's from or what she looks like, that she can see me and be inspired to try and do so...I think that African-Americans deserve a place in this industry and that's where my passion really came from.

ESSENCE: What's your hope for Mary & Main?

HW: We want to establish ourselves as a premier dispensary in Maryland and to make sure that we're known in the state for great customer service, and for amazing varieties, and for a really cool, kick-ass building. We also have some ideas for some proprietary products that we would like to create, and maybe partner with some of the manufacturers here in Maryland, to make them.

To learn more about Mary & Main, click here