Oaksterdam Interview: Tamika McPhail Helps Build Connecticut Cannabis Equity with reSET

Head shot of Tamika McPhail

For over 20 years, Tamika McPhail has been a leader in advocacy and cannabis. As the Connecticut State Director for Minorities For Medical Marijuana and a graduate of the Black Cannabis Business Mastermind, she most recently added Program Manager for the Connecticut Social Equity Cannabis Business Accelerator, powered by Oaksterdam University, to her resumé. 

“We are super excited to have Tamika on board with all of the resources and knowledge she brings,” says Amy Enders Walsh, a spokesperson for reSET, the local technical assistance provider subcontracted by Oaksterdam to fulfill the mission. 

Tamika’s goals are to help social equity licensees successfully open the doors to their cannabis businesses and be a resource to the Connecticut cannabis community.  

We caught up with Tamika to learn more about what brought her to cannabis advocacy and social equity.

Oaksterdam: How did you get involved with the cannabis industry?

Tamika McPhail: I got into the industry as a consumer and operated in what they call the ‘legacy market.’ I hate to call it that. I haven’t found a fitting name for it yet, because a legacy is something you can leave behind and you can’t leave operating in the legacy cannabis market to anyone. I operated in the gray market and jumped into advocacy about ten years ago. 

OU: How did you evolve into cannabis advocacy?

TP: Advocacy came out of a number of things. As a consumer, I use cannabis to treat a condition that you cannot see, and it is often very hard to explain to people how I benefit from the use of cannabis. So that kind of led me to advocacy. 

The biggest thing is, as I mentioned, I did operate in the gray market and my home was raided. I had state and federal police in my home. Guns were pointed at my children as they were watching TV, and ultimately my little brother was sent to prison for the sale of cannabis. We had no violent history, were not gang-related, and there were no guns in my home. He ended up serving almost nine years. 

He spent almost 2,000 days in solitary confinement in that prison. When we picked him up he physically looked different. He was dark-skinned, like me, but when we picked him up, he was four shades lighter. He looked like a jar of peanut butter because of lack of sun exposure. His head had actually shrunk in that span of time. Of course, mentally he wasn’t the same person. He had four children, one that only got to meet him for four months before he was incarcerated.

The year he was released, Connecticut had implemented the medical program. There was no access for anybody, not just people who looked like me. Nobody could access a license to the medical program. It was ridiculously expensive to start a business here. 

That outraged me. I could move to a number of different states and open a cannabis business but not in the state I lived in, paid taxes in, that my brother served time in and that changed our family forever.

My anger propelled my advocacy. I started to travel in the legal industry, go to different states, learn their legislation, what’s working, what’s not working, and used all of that research to testify in most of the hearings we would have here in Connecticut regarding cannabis legalization. 

It was very important to me that at home, we get it right and that at home, we have opportunities. The advocacy piece became very, very personal to me. 

OU: What brought you to the role of Program Manager for Connecticut’s social equity program?

TP: This position, for me, also became a very personal mission. I’ve traveled the country learning about social equity, and speaking about social equity. It’s a very broad term. There is no clear definition of what social equity is. When we legalized and had adult licensing, I was very nervous. I’ve seen other states legalize and have nothing in place for social equity. 

This is a very hard business to start. I don’t care if you’ve been running a successful business for 50 years. The owner of Walmart couldn’t start a cannabis business on their own without experts involved. It’s very complex, and when we’re talking about everyday people, it can get really dicey. 

OU: How did you find out about the position with Connecticut?

TP: I was at a listening session for the MCBA, and my mentor from MM4M, Roz McCarthy, invited me to jump on and listen. I tuned in, and the more and more I heard about what my responsibilities would be, the more and more I felt like it was my position.

The application process was very rigorous. There was a test, an assessment, three interviews, a writing assignment due on New Year’s Day, and a listening session. The week of Christmas, I really had to decide whether to pursue the position. I spent my New Year’s Eve perfecting a writing sample. On my birthday, I had a four-person panel interview. I was hired. 

I took the position because I have all of these resources in this industry. I’ve become a very resourceful girl, and I know how important it is to businesses to have the right resources. It all came together. 

OU: Tell us more about Connecticut’s social equity program.

TP: Connecticut did a really wonderful thing by offering this business accelerator. That has not been done in any other state. I thought that was really really cool. It offers technical assistance to new business owners. 

They learn about the history of cannabis and the business of cannabis. They’re going to get coaches that are experts in their specific license types that they’ll work with on a weekly and monthly basis. We’ll be walking them through every detail of their business plans, and they’ll have a pitch deck at the end. 

We’re teaching them how to build their own ecosystem within the cannabis supply chain. They are the new cannabis supply chain.

They’ll also learn the importance of collaboration and state partnership, and spot the red flags of predatory partnerships and lending. All those things we have seen to be harmful to social equity. The point is to be a bridge between the participants and the businesses. 

They are embarking on a wonderful journey and we are here to usher them through that journey. 

OU: The program has three phases. Can you explain how it works?

TP: First is a series of online classes based on the Oaksterdam curriculum tailored specifically to Connecticut. Phase two consists of workshops and walks them through building a business plan with their coaches. Phase three will be workshops based around funding your business that will culminate in a pitch event. 

We have one cohort of 32 participants, broken down into smaller cohorts based on license types. They are assigned a coach and attend workshops every other Friday from March until the end of June. These are 3-hour, in-person sessions where we really dive into the live issues that are happening as you’re building these businesses — legalities, business formation, contracts. 

OU: How is the program being received?

TP: I have the task of interviewing all of the participants to match them with their coaches. So far I’ve gotten a little more than 50 percent through and I haven’t had any negative feedback. Even folks that have some industry experience are really enjoying the refreshers that the classes are offering. They’re very excited about starting the next phase and what that will look like. They’re also very grateful they have this accelerator. 

Other places like California and Massachusetts, have done accelerators only after their social equity programs have failed. 

Massachusetts rolled it out, had wonderful applicants but didn’t know what to do next. We found most social equity applicants couldn’t meet the timeline, were paying exorbitant amounts of money for consultants, or couldn’t get money from the states. 

Connecticut did a good job of saying, ‘these things are probably going to come up, let’s get some people with experience in place.’ Those are the things that make and break our social equity business owners. We help them meet obstacles where they’re going to be. That has been the wonderful thing about this accelerator, put in place to make sure our social equity applicants are as successful as possible.

OU: Are you hopeful about the outcome?

TP: I’m really hopeful. Success is determined by the person, but after interviewing most of the participants they all have wonderful commitment and passion, and that’s going to take them a long way. They also have this accelerator for support. I’m really excited to see these things through.

The advantage of the workshops is going to be priceless. That is where they’re going to build their resource list. The cannabis space is all about being resourceful. We can’t do things other business owners can do. You have to learn how to collaborate.

This group of participants is ushering in a brand new cannabis market here in Connecticut. We only have four cultivators here for the whole medical program. This program is bringing in a whole new generation of cultivators. This group of people got into this business because they love this plant. I’m really excited to see what they’re going to contribute to the Connecticut cannabis industry.

The State of Connecticut’s Social Equity Council has selected Oaksterdam University, which formed a coalition with reSET, a local social impact-focused entrepreneurial support organization based in Hartford, along with the International Cannabis Bar Association, the Minority Cannabis Business Association and Arcview. Learn more here

Technical business assistance and entrepreneurial support are available through the Connecticut Social Equity Council program to assist verified social equity applicants in starting a licensed cannabis business. For inquiries about Connecticut’s Social Equity Program, please email [email protected].


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