When successful cannabis industry professionals Amber Senter and Tsion “Sunshine” Lencho joined forces with other women of color back in 2015, they ignited a spark of justice and equity by creating the Northern California-based organization, Supernova Women. That spark has continued to grow into a firestorm of representation for people of color in the cannabis industry, as it’s one of the core values of Supernova Women’s mission. CULTURE B2B was given the opportunity to learn more about the co-founders of Supernova Women, as well as the ways that industry professionals and consumers can support the vital mission of this pivotal organization.
Kindling the Fire
“I met Sunshine sometime in the summer of 2015. We met at a Women Grow event,” Senter told CULTURE. “There were three women of color there.” Lencho informed Senter that she was looking for a job, and the very next day Senter got Lencho a job working with her at a consulting firm. There, they helped people in other states obtain cannabis licenses.
“We were writing and winning applications for basically very wealthy, very rich, very white groups and helping them get licensed,” Senter explained. “And we were definitely conflicted by that, because we were essentially helping to gentrify our industry.”
It was clear to Senter and Lencho that the legal cannabis industry was becoming predominantly white, with the licensing process happening quickly, and a high level of entry was shutting out many people of color and small businesses. The women partnered up with Nina Parks and sat down at Lencho’s house one evening to come up with an action plan on how they could make a difference for their community. Knowing there was not a fair representation of people of color at events, both as attendees and speakers or panelists, Supernova Women’s first goal was to get information out to their community and by their community, free of charge. It was on that night in November of 2015 that Supernova was formed, and by January of 2016, the group produced its first event.
“So, we put together [our first] event, it was a two-panel discussion. The first panel was about laws and cannabis in California as it was at that time,” Lencho said. “The second panel was a panel of entrepreneurs, basically sharing their experiences and what it was like to be a person of color operating in the cannabis space.” Supernova Women’s first event was sold out with over 100 people in attendance, proving indeed that there was a huge demand for people of color to attain the information that Supernova Women was offering, so the co-founders continued forward with even more fervor than before.
Supernova Women has since grown to empower people of color through its key programs. The organization’s Shades of Green series helps strengthen the involvement of communities of color in the industry through education. Supernova Women’s Cannabis Business Workshops give attendees free cannabis business bootcamps that cover everything from business formation and licensing to basic employment and insurance considerations. Supernova Women also hosts “expungement” clinics in partnership with legal service providers and law firms.
“We don’t charge people to come to these things, and we don’t do anything for profit in our organization. We use all of the funds and everything that people donate to us and it goes directly to our programming,” Senter said. Not only has Supernova Women created an information hub for people of color, but the group has formed a networking community as well.
“We have been able to really hone in on certain subjects, and bring a lot of people together, people who didn’t really have a community prior to this, as far as a place to have these conversations in,” Senter explained. “So, people have been able to meet each other, form partnerships, alliances and things like that, because that’s what we’re going to have to do to survive.”
“It’s that if you’re going to legalize, if you’re going to liberalize, if you’re going to decriminalize, you need to prioritize the people who have been impacted, the people who are discriminated against because of their race.”
Empowering the Community At-Large
Each woman who is a part of Supernova Women brings her own professional experience in the cannabis industry. Lencho is an attorney, and she was involved in the creation of the equity permit programs in both Oakland and San Francisco first-hand, and her expertise is requested in many other areas as well. Lencho’s essential involvement as an attorney and woman of color have ensured that communities affected by the “War on Drugs” were not left behind in the rapidly evolving world of legal cannabis in the areas that she has been involved in. While Lencho is proud of the work she has done in these communities, she has made an effort to empower the communities in which she has been involved, with the goal that these individuals become self-sufficient and gain the ability to continue advocating for themselves.
“I know that for people who are currently operating, I’ve interacted with a lot of current equity business owners there, the expectation is that we’ll come back and continue to do programming . . . But frankly, from my view, Supernova is that we just start the spark,” Lencho said. “And I don’t want to be the person who is speaking on behalf of equity people; I am not an equity applicant. I personally have not been impacted directly by the ‘War on Drugs.’ I’m still a black woman in America. I still face some of the discrimination that my fellow black women face, but I don’t want to be the figurehead for equity, because that’s not what I am.”
Lencho continued to share that she is proud to see how many people of color have been forming organizations since 2015, all with the goal to implement policy and demand that equity be first. “That’s a slogan that has been inducted by Supernova, by the California Minority Alliance,” Lencho said. “It’s that if you’re going to legalize, if you’re going to liberalize, if you’re going to decriminalize, you need to prioritize the people who have been impacted, the people who are discriminated against because of their race.”
Lencho has made it a priority to ensure that equity in the industry does not start and end with the permitting process. Instead, equity is a lens in which we should view all legislation that applies to the cannabis industry. Supernova Women views equity as not just helping an applicant obtain licensing, but instead, ensuring an applicant obtains licensing and then is able to maintain it continuously, despite developments in laws and legislation at all levels.
And while equity programs are not the only solution to ensure racial equality and representation in the legal cannabis industry, it is one way that we can help provide resources for the communities that have been most affected by the “War on Drugs.”
“I think that when we’re asking for policy implementation and we’re using the word ‘equity,’ we need to be very mindful of that fact that it is about race, because the impact has been about race.”
Advocacy in Action
Racial inequality and institutionalized racism have been a horrific reality in the United States for centuries, but we have an opportunity to create racial equity as we build the quickly emerging cannabis industry. No person should feel powerless when it comes to the larger than life mission of Supernova Women. Instead, there are ways that both industry professionals and everyday consumers can help support the work of Supernova Women. First, it starts with recognizing and learning to talk about the problem we’re facing.
“I think that when we’re asking for policy implementation and we’re using the word ‘equity,’ we need to be very mindful of that fact that it is about race, because the impact has been about race,” Lencho explained. “And so I think that figuring out ways to learn to talk about race is something that Americans are still working through, and I think that the more people who try to understand it from that lens, the better we may become at not creating systematic disadvantage in this new marketplace we’re creating.”
The co-founders of Supernova Women have found some powerful support in the cannabis industry already, and they hope to see more cannabis companies jump on board in supporting their mission. “Some of our cannabis sponsors have been extremely helpful in [supporting Supernova’s mission]. Kiva has sponsored quite a few of our events, and that’s been awesome,” Senter said. “Our events are pretty expensive. Helping to support and sponsor our programming is the best way that organizations within the industry can help us.”
“In terms of business owners, one thing that I appreciate in my current role [as Corporate Counsel] at Privateer is the fact that they do view policy implementation through the lens that I was talking about, through the impact on small businesses, through the effect on the communities impacted by the ‘War on Drugs,’ and I don’t have to wear my politics on my sleeve at work, because it’s part of the fabric of the conversations I’m having,” Lencho said. “And I think that if more workplaces do that, we may get further along.”
Cannabis industry folks are not the only people who can make a difference. Consumers and everyday citizens can also be a supporter of this cause. Lencho explained, “Be present. Consumers can come to our programming. They can even help support black and brown businesses in the cannabis community, buying their products and supporting them, that’s also a way to help them be successful.”
Ultimately, Lencho, Senter and the other women who make up Supernova Women are working every day to better an industry, one of which has the opportunity to make a dent in the immense damage that the “War on Drugs” has had on communities of color for so long. “We need to level that playing field; it’s not fair,” Senter said. “We need to do everything we can, in every avenue that we can, to make sure that people no longer go to jail for weed. Cannabis is basically a human right, and people should have access to it.”