BY KAISHA-DYAN MCMILLAN
We started the How I Got Here (HIGH) interview series to open a window into the experiences of cannabis industry leaders in a blossoming industry; to uncover the good, bad, and ugly, and share hard-learned lessons with those just starting out. With legal cannabis being such a blank slate, the individuals who compose this space naturally hail from such remarkably diverse backgrounds. We seek to preserve and tell the stories of those who were drawn to the inherent risk, uncertainty, and opportunity at the inception of this new industry born out of a plant that has been vilified for generations (and in many places, continues to be). With each HIGH interview we release, we owe it to our readers and industry colleagues to celebrate not only their accomplishments but their differences too.
In November 2018, less than a year after being awarded one of four dispensary permits through the city’s lottery, Alphonso “Tucky” Blunt and his business partner Brittany Moore officially cut the ribbon on their brand new cannabis dispensary. Located directly across the street from the Oakland Coliseum in the very neighborhood where Blunt grew up, Blunts + Moore became the first cannabis social equity dispensary to open anywhere in the world. But as Blunt explained during a recent chat, it was also the realization of a lifelong dream. “I feel like I’ve conquered the world,” says Blunt, reflecting on his store’s opening more than a year and a half ago. “This is like I got an NBA championship. But I still got so much more to do.” For 40-year-old Blunt, a fifth-generation Oaklander who grew up in a home that embraced cannabis, the journey towards dispensary ownership started long before that fateful lottery win.
Surrounded by Cannabis — Blunt Seized Opportunity Early
“Both my parents sold weed when I was younger, my grandmother smoked weed,” he revealed. “I was born into it.”
Even though his parents made sure to create distance between home life and the family business, Blunt not only knew what was going on – he saw opportunity.
“I was like damn, that’s something you’re not supposed to do because it’s illegal, but I know a bunch of people who smoke weed,” he reasoned. “My whole thing was, how can I make money off it? So at 16, I started selling.”
The 4.0 high school student started working at the Southland Mall Safeway grocery store, quickly becoming the go-to for co-workers looking to buy herb. “Nine of the 10 people I worked with on the regular smoked,” he said. “Every job I ever had, I sold. I made more selling weed after work than I made at work.”
Nine of the 10 people I worked with on the regular smoked. Every job I ever had, I sold. I made more selling weed after work than I made at work.
When it came to building his fledgling business, Blunt simply applied what he had observed at home. “I took how my daddy moved. My daddy never was on a corner,” he said. That’s because the way Blunt saw it, selling on a corner was essentially the same as advertising what you were doing, and that could lead to jail time. So inspired by his father, he opted for a more direct approach.
“I was like, let’s make this into a transaction: I come to your house, we sit down, we talk, we even roll up some that weed you just bought and you smoke some with me,” he explained. Blunt says his method was such a success that for eight years, he had zero interactions with law enforcement.
“I only let myself get to a certain level in the streets. I didn’t want to be the man, I just wanted to be a man that you could come to and get it from,” he said. I only let myself get to a certain level in the streets. I didn’t want to be the man, I just wanted to be a man that you could come to and get it from.
Necessity Leads to a Change of Scenery: The Turf
Things shifted in 2004 when Blunt was in between jobs with a baby on the way. A new opportunity had come up, and now was his chance to be among a handful of weed dealers in an area of East Oakland known as the turf.
“Our turf was normally known for selling dope. It was never really known for selling weed, but one of my homeboys over there had got it cracking,” Blunt said, explaining that, “I’d just be over there chillin’, and if people came through to buy weed I would sell it.” Though his original plan was to sell at the turf for six months, Blunt stayed on for a year while also pursuing a position as a probation officer with Alameda County.
He got the job. The Thursday before his first day at work, Blunt bought product from his usual contacts, one of whom he joined for weekly shooting practice at the gun range. After practice, Blunt hopped in his car and headed back to the turf, placing his licensed firearm between his two front seats. Some time after reaching his destination, Blunt went back to his car to grab a battery charger and noticed a police vehicle headed in his direction.
“It’s not bothering me because at this time I’m not dirty, I ain’t got nothing on me. I’m figuring they’re just gonna keep doing what they’re doing,” he recalled.
The officer approached Blunt and let him know they’d received a call that there was a gun and weed inside a white over gold LTD – a description matching Blunt’s car. He was licensed and registered to carry a firearm, but the gun’s casual placement inside the car combined with the $80 worth of cannabis Blunt was holding ultimately led to his arrest for possession with intent to sell.
“My bail was set at $50,000,” he said. “At that time in Alameda County, the mandatory minimum for cannabis was 5 years of felony probation with a 4-way search clause. Being I had a gun and the weed, they gave me 5 more, so I got 10 [years of felony probation] total.” It was his first offense.
He bailed out with some personal savings and a little help from his grandmother and reported to his new job that Monday. “I took the first deal they offered because I didn’t want to fight. Fighting would have kept me missing work, and you can’t miss work in your first year with the county,” Blunt explained. He later discovered that the guy who called in the complaint did so knowing Blunt was set to start his new job with the county.
“His goal was to get me arrested and not go to work,” Blunt disclosed, but he doesn’t have time for grudges. “Had I never went to the turf, I’d have never got caught. I never got caught, I’d have never been talking to you.”
Had I never went to the turf, I’d have never got caught. I never got caught, I’d have never been talking to you.
After the Case: 10 Years on the Path to Becoming a Cannabis Dispensary Owner
Determined to stay out of trouble, Blunt did everything required of him over the next decade. Blunt paid off his restitution two years early, and was able to get his records sealed and eventually expunged. But probation cast a mighty shadow.
“Throughout that 10 years, anytime I got pulled over by a cop, if I did, they could run through the whole car, they can search anybody I’m with in that car, they can come to my house if they wanted to,” Blunt said. “If anybody snitched on me again, they could do whatever they wanted to do and I had no recourse.”
Although he kept selling weed to clients, Blunt steered clear of the turf and focused his efforts on his car detailing business; he even worked a brief stint as a Detail Trainer for Tesla. After two unsuccessful attempts over the years to open his own cannabis club, he enrolled at Oaksterdam University, Oakland’s cannabis college, in 2008 and eventually graduated. Based on the feedback he’d received from dispensary owners and employees, his dream of a Black-owned dispensary was longshot.
“Only people that were Black in the dispensaries were buying the weed or security,” Blunt said. “That always bothered me because I wanted to sell weed as a professional.” Neither he nor the naysayers was aware that Oakland’s longest running medical dispensary, Purple Heart Patient Center, is also the nation’s first Black-owned dispensary.
‘Only people that were Black in the dispensaries were buying the weed or security,’ Blunt said. ‘That always bothered me because I wanted to sell weed as a professional.’
So in 2013, Blunt decided to stop selling altogether. “I didn’t wanna just be selling people pounds and zips and eighths out my house or running back and forth,” he said. “I wanted to sell at a store. So it just was that lack of interest in seeing it go further, because my goal was always to be a business.”
A New Beginning: The Origins of the World’s First Social Equity Dispensary
Four years later, Blunt received a phone call from his associate Mike Marshall, the R&B singer behind the hook in the 1995 Luniz hit “I Got 5 On it”. Marshall asked Blunt if he’d ever caught a case in Oakland before looping him into the city’s social equity program. Blunt did the research and discovered that as a longstanding Oakland resident and someone who had been previously convicted of a cannabis crime, he qualified for the program. Marshall had more to say.
“He was like, ‘I know two sisters out of Atlanta, they don’t want anything, they just need somebody that fits the criteria for the equity program so they could try to apply for a dispensary’,” Blunt said. “So I’m like, well shit, I’ll talk to them.”
At the meeting he met Moore, a cannabis industry professional who had worked as a General Manager for multiple dispensaries in Denver and Oakland, and whose mother was also a paralegal in the industry. The family was searching for an equity applicant to serve as general partner in Oakland, so in November 2017 Blunt and Moore chatted over a meal at the local Red Robin.
“They had current legal side experience, I had the Prop 215 legal experience. I also had street experience, the connections in Oakland, [I was] the Oaksterdam graduate, so it all meshed,” he said, adding that Moore had met with two potential partners before him – this time, they had found their match.
They had current legal side experience, I had the Prop 215 legal experience. I also had street experience, the connections in Oakland, [I was] the Oaksterdam graduate, so it all meshed. Two and a half months later, he was one of four awarded the city’s first equity licenses. Blunts + Moore was born, and within the year they were open for business. Everything he’d gone through arrest had culminated in this moment. “Out of all the people [Mike] knew that he could have called in Oakland, he called me,” Blunt said.
In the nearly two years since fulfilling his dream of opening a dispensary Blunt has become the face of social equity, serving as living proof that these programs, though rife with challenges, can actually work. Now, Blunt is also using his platform to create positive changes in the industry.
Recovering From the Aftermath of the Memorial Weekend Protests: At the Store and in the Community
When Blunts + Moore was among dozens of dispensaries targeted by armed robbers during the Memorial Weekend protests against police brutality, Blunt allowed himself just enough time to get through the stages of grief. “I went to bed for 30 minutes, woke up, and was like, I got to put something together and make some money for other people,” he said. The result was “I Got 5 On It”, a live-streamed fundraiser held June 16 and featured several artists and performers, including rapper Scarface and Dwayne Wiggins of Tony! Toni! Toné! Blunt said the event, which he organized in two weeks thanks to the support of Weedmaps and a number of cannabis sponsors, made roughly $20,000 that was distributed between multiple dispensaries.
Meanwhile, Blunts + Moore has its own recovery to contend with. While the store recently resumed online ordering, customers are only allowed into the front lobby for pick-ups. “We gotta put up different types of doors now, we have to put up different types of locking mechanisms,” Blunt explained. “That’s gonna cost us more that’s not even covered in the insurance, the improvements we have to make now, because we have been breached.”
What’s Next for Blunts + Moore?
Still, Blunt only sees opportunity. In addition to being tapped to help organize similar fundraisers, he’s currently in discussion with a major sports franchise about Blunts + Moore becoming a potential advertiser. The break-ins also helped Blunt understand the degree to which cannabis businesses and law enforcement need to communicate and work together – especially since a portion of cannabis taxes fund the police.
Blunt now looks forward to franchising Blunts + Moore in other states and to being tapped as a Social Equity Consultant in legal markets that don’t have one. Blunts plans for the future all boil down to one goal – supporting more BIPOC people to become owners in this industry. “By me being ‘the first’, I can’t be ‘the only’,” he said. “When I franchise and I go to meet these other potential new owners, I want them to feel like me about their city. I would love for you to have your store in the same zip code you caught your case in. I would love for the people that you sold weed to back then to still come to your store. These are all things I deal with right now.”