Woah Flow is on the record as New Jersey’s first black-owned cannabis dispensary. They were awarded a license to operate a medical cannabis dispensary during the December 7th meeting of the NJ Cannabis Regulatory Commission (CRC).
There has been a great deal of controversy over the winners of cannabis licenses in New Jersey thus far. One of the biggest issues is the winners are overwhelmingly White. But minorities, particularly African American men, were most impacted by the War on Drugs.
Moreover, ownership in the underground cannabis industry is far more diverse.
The seeming lack of a Black cannabis dispensary owner in the wake of NJ CRC Executive Director Jeff Brown said all the 2019 winners had minority or female owners* was infuriating. Congressman Don Payne Jr. (D-NJ-10) publicly lamented the seeming lack of black owners in the market, and the African American Chamber of Commerce of NJ echoed his concerns.
Woah Flow previously did not come forward seeking press.
“Once you win, your brain is going in a million ways. The top of the list is satisfying the CRC,” Woah Flow CEO Matthew Kutch said. “It’s been a whirlwind for our team.”
While Kutch himself is White, his partners Chief Operating Officer (COO) Frank Bucko and Director of Outreach Phil Charles of Black Cannabis, are Black. In addition, Bucko’s uncle Guy Rocourt is the Chairman of the Board and Black.
Rocourt has 20 years of experience in the cannabis industry as the founder of the California-based cannabis dispensary Papa and Barkley. He is also a member of the Rolling Stone Cultural Council. Kutch said the majority of their board is also African American.
He did not realize their ownership was not public knowledge.
“Everyone in our area was cognizant of it,” he noted.
The principal partners and offices are all from Trenton and won a license to operate there.
Joe Yuhas, a Trenton local, helped pass medical cannabis legalization in Arizona passed and has experience on the regulatory side. Thus, they had the experience in the industry that the 2019 Request For Applicants (RFA) valued highly.
Kutch did not think their ownership made them that special.
“It’s not something we focused on. It was naturally our team,” Kutch said. “The winners of the last round are doing a lot of work now. We don’t know who the winners are,” he added.
While they kept a low profile, Woah Flow is aware of the issue.
“We were always advocating and doing our part to get minority business owners in the industry through classes,” Kutch said. “It was important for us from the beginning.”
Winning the First NJ Black-Owned Cannabis Dispensary License
To secure a license, Woah spent nearly two years planning the business.
“Funding pre-winning of the license is difficult to get,” Kutch said. “We were able to look at the friends and family first and suffice for our funding. You still need a large partner to come up with millions of dollars.”
He noted their team had the key necessary regulated business experience and cannabis industry experienced elsewhere, which helped them score points on the RFA.
Because they were in the planning stage for so long, they found the old application requirements for the initial dispensaries licensed and followed that. While it required more information than was needed, it put them in a good place.
Kutch noted they had secured a property based on Trenton’s initial medical cannabis ordinance in the Marine district in Trenton by the Delaware River. They paid to hold it for so long.
“Two years to hold a building with no revenue… that’s very, very hard,” he said.
While they were not paying full rent because a tenant occupied the space, a significant amount of money was required.
“That was quite a journey,” he said regarding holding real estate.
However, Trenton’s adult-use cannabis ordinance did not allow a dispensary in that area. So, they had to move locations anyway.
Fortunately, they were able to find a large old bank downtown in the Mill Hill district as a suitable location.
“It’s just an amazing building,” Kutch said. “It’s a very large facility.”
“We’re under a time constraint to open,” Kutch noted.
He said they are supposed to be open a year after being awarded their license on December 7, 2021. They would like to open sooner, but it might be difficult.