By Antonio R. Harvey | OBSERVER Staff Writer
Zion Taddese, a local businesswoman and proprietor of Queen Sheba restaurant, held a groundbreaking ceremony in June to build a $25-plus million “Alternative Holistic Healing Campus” in South Sacramento.
The event marked the beginning phase of the construction of what’s being called the Shashemene Institute of Alternative and Natural Holistic Medicine. The campus is expected to have several uses for legal cannabis.
“Shashemene Institute is going to be a cultivation, manufacture, distribution, training and education facility, as well as a wellness center. The wellness center is going to support and heal our community,” Taddese said.
“This is a great time and opportunity for the Black community to get into the cannabis industry to learn how to create generational wealth for our people. Shashemene Institute will help guide that opportunity.”
Shashemene Institute, at 2759 Florin Road, focuses on the medicine and holistic aspects of cannabis to give people the opportunity to improve their overall health and wellness. Taddese’s brother Eskinder Taddese, a civil engineer and contractor by trade, will lead the construction efforts.
Shashemene is a Rastafarian community in southern Ethiopia where cannabis is grown and used for healing and ritual purposes. Rastafari is a religion that developed among Black Jamaicans in the 1930s.
The harvesting operation for Shashemene Institute is expected to occupy up to 22,000 square feet and be optimized to house and grow up to 65,000 pounds of plants under around-the-clock security, Taddese said.
The manufacturing will take up 9,000 square feet and include state-of-the-art extraction and refining equipment, vacuum ovens, and packaging machines on 3.5 acres.
Taddese said the facility on Florin Road will offer a “greater advantage in the development and manufacture” of Shashemene Institute’s flowers, compounds, and edibles. Shashemene Institute’s main objectives include growing one of the best organic medicinal-grade cannabis strains, producing premium high-grade cannabis products, and building a recognizable brand in a rapidly growing industry.
Taddese stressed the importance of being fully compliant with all state and local municipalities’ guidelines. She said she has prepared for national expansion as federal laws adjust and evolve to the benefit of the cannabis industry. “To educate and teach the Black community about the cannabis industry and how to prosper … we want to do it the right way.”
Taddese arrived in the United States from Ethiopia, Africa’s oldest independent country, in 2001. She has been a successful restaurateur for almost 20 years, serving healthful vegetarian and vegan dishes to the Sacramento region.
The businesswoman’s current effort is to branch out and build on her empire. Taddese wants to be the first Black woman, immigrant, mother, and community leader to own and operate an alternative healing space with yoga instructors, CBD (cannabidiol) shops, restaurants and gardens.
“It will essentially be a place specifically designed for vulnerable communities to get involved in an industry that has criminalized and marginalized Black communities for decades,” Taddese told The OBSERVER. “Right now there are way more White people and Asians in this cannabis industry, but Black people have suffered more hardship under the guise of the War on Drugs.
The War on Drugs, a movement begun in the late 1960s, is also a phrase used to refer to a government-led initiative created to stop illegal drug use, distribution, and trade. The action led to mandatory prison sentences for both drug dealers and users.
Nearly 50 years later, other parts of the nation and California began efforts to use cannabis as a revenue stream.
On Nov. 8, 2016, Proposition 64 was passed by voters allowing adults 21 or older to possess and use marijuana for nonmedical purposes. Prop. 64 created two new taxes, the revenues of which are deposited into the California Cannabis Tax Fund.
On Nov. 28, 2017, the Sacramento City Council authorized staff to create a program to address the negative impacts of disproportionate enforcement of cannabis-related regulation in the city of Sacramento and directed staff to return to the council with a resolution to establish the program.
On Aug. 9, 2018, the city council adopted Resolution 2018-0323, establishing a zero-dollar fee and funding for business permits for participants in the Cannabis Opportunity Reinvestment and Equity (CORE) program.
CORE assists individuals and communities facing barriers to starting cannabis businesses due to the historically disparate enforcement of cannabis crimes.
The city council in the last three years awarded $2 million to the Sacramento Asian Chamber of Commerce and Greater Sacramento Urban League to implement CORE, the city’s cannabis social equity program.
The Urban League and the Asian Chamber provide small business and technical support to help eligible participants become successful cannabis business operators. In November 2020, before the city council voted to add 10 additional permits, there were an estimated 30 storefront dispensary permits for operation. Not one was Black-owned before the city expanded the number, Taddese said.
Malaki Seku Amen, the founder of the California Urban Partnership, pushed the city to implement the CORE program and level the playing field with equity in a competitive market. Taddese has been an active participant in the program every step of the way, Amen said.
“I am in full support of her getting what she needs to open doors,” Amen said of Taddese. “This project not only creates family wealth, it also creates community wealth. It has economic development, education, health and culture as the key drivers of what makes the operation work.”
Her Aim: Create A Fair Shake
“I aim to make Black people entrepreneurs and provide employment opportunities in an industry where Black folks, from my understanding, make up 2% of the businesses,” Taddese said. “There is no reason why there should be more Whites and Asians owning more cannabis businesses than Black people when Black people stack prisons and jails at 40% behind marijuana. This is what the War on Drugs created.”
California is the nation’s No. 1 hotspot for cannabis businesses and jobs. The 2021 Leafly Jobs Report, a comprehensive cannabis employment study, found that the state remains the nation’s leading cannabis employer, with 57,970 full-time equivalent jobs, followed by Colorado with 35,539 jobs. In California, there are now more cannabis workers (57,970) than bank tellers (41,140).
The 2021 report also stated that California’s licensed cannabis sector jumped by roughly 80% in a single year, from $2.1 billion in 2019 sales to $3.77 billion in 2020 sales. The 16-page document also prefaces that in 2020, Americans purchased $18.3 billion worth of cannabis products, a 71% increase over 2019.
“Since 2014, when the nation’s first adult-use cannabis stores opened, the industry has created hundreds of thousands of new American jobs – and there are still plenty more yet to be created,” said Yoko Miyashita, Leafly chief executive officer, wrote in February. “We know the potential cannabis has as both an economic driver and force for good, and it’s heartening to see employment numbers continue to reflect this strong growth.”
The report also addressed the “life-shattering harms of the War on Drugs,” which largely fall on people of color, specifically Black Americans. Black Americans represent 13% of the country’s population, yet only 1.2% to 1.7% of all cannabis company owners.
“These opportunities should involve the release of cannabis prisoners, the expungement of cannabis convictions, the creation of Black jobs, and a laser focus on true social equity,” Leafly’s report commented as solutions to correct an initiative that filled prisons with Black people. “Dollars generated by the cannabis industry in each state should be funneled into community support instead of law enforcement, and cannabis licenses should be fairly distributed to promote Black ownership.”
As of July 20, Sacramento reported it has 30 CORE businesses that receive program benefits. It listed 16 in May 2021. Priority processing of applications, waiver of the business operating permit fee and exclusive access to any future storefront dispensary permits are benefits that trim the expensive cost of starting a cannabis business in Sacramento.
In May 2021, Councilwoman Angelique Ashby, who voted in favor of installing the CORE program, said issues remain and that program participants were given a “map to nowhere.” Some graduates have told Councilman Sean Loloee that they appreciate the program while others say it was “a waste of time” and money, he said.
On April 1, 2021, following a two-month request for qualifications process, the city’s Office of Cannabis Management (OCM) announced that 10 CORE applicants could apply for new storefront cannabis dispensary permits.
On May 18, 2021, OCM manager Davina S. Smith told the city council that there were “260 CORE participants” and “16 CORE businesses.” Taddese said everyone else in the program was “fighting for crumbs.”
“I struggle with this because the CORE program is the only thing that has made any sense to me,” Ashby said. “We haven’t given them anything but an opportunity to go learn how to do business (and) no opportunity to own the business and proceed. It’s ridiculous.”
Taddese graduated in 18 months from the CORE program facilitated by the Urban League. She was not among the 10 CORE applicants able to apply for a dispensary permit. She is in discussion with the city to get funding for the construction of Shashemene Institute.
Taddese in the last three years has struggled to spend more than $200,000 of her cash to finance her objectives. Setting up a business plan, legal work for a limited liability company, architecture drawings, website, and other costs have mounted, she said.
“We’re still fighting to get money from the city and the state,” Taddese said.
Taddese is one of few Black women in Sacramento trying to make her mark in the cannabis industry. “I am probably the only Black woman in California who has four (conditional use permits) for manufacturing, cultivation, distribution, and delivery,” Taddese said. “I have been leading this effort for over three years and it took about six months (to acquire) the permits. It is a lot of responsibility and dealing with bureaucracy to go along with it.”
Shashemene Institute is expected to open at the end of 2023. When it does, it will be part of a multibillion dollar industry that has minimal Black representation. While Taddese is specifically targeting Sacramento’s underserved to help individuals acquire real estate and the ability to cultivate their land, she has investors to help achieve the goal.
In the interim, interested parties can support Shashemene Institute’s fundraising efforts through monthly donations or by purchasing membership packages at $25, $50 and $100.
“Right now, everything from A to Z is done,” Taddese said. “But we want to keep in mind that this is for the people and I want to say that it was built with the help of my own people. We have to support Black businesses.”