Many cannabis advocates and business leaders talk about repairing the harms caused by the decades-long War on Drugs, but Liz Jackson-Simpson and Angela White are doing more than just talking.
Through the San Francisco-based Success Centers, Jackson-Simpson and White provide job training services and educational workshops, as well as helping connect employers with workers in a variety of fields, including construction, health care, hospitality and now cannabis.
Success Centers works with about 1,300 marginalized community members annually, of which 95% are low-income and 87% are people of color.
“Social justice and education and workforce development have been core to our DNA, and we haven’t wavered from that,” says Jackson-Simpson, the organization’s CEO.
Jackson-Simpson has been involved in Success Centers for more than 30 years. About 10 years ago, she returned to the organization to revamp its services and has grown it tenfold over that time frame. The cannabis program was a logical next step for the organization.
“This is an opportunity for us to finally level the playing field, and if we can do it in this industry, it can be applied to tech, it can be applied to construction, it can be applied to any industry where folks have been pushed out or left out, and we can find benefits from incorporating people from all walks of life,” Jackson-Simpson says.
Although California legalized medical marijuana in 1996, the passage of Prop 64 in 2016, legalizing adult-use cannabis, expanded the entire scope of the industry.
“This opened up a whole new world, a whole new industry, a whole new opportunity for us,” Jackson-Simpson says.
When the subject of a cannabis program at Success Centers was first broached, people laughed. But after some initial jokes, they began looking more seriously at the topic, knowing that job seekers would need skills like horticulture and customer service, and would need to understand proper terminology and regulations.
Jackson-Simpson immediately knew the right person to oversee the program. She called Angela White.
“I said, ‘I need you.’ She said, ‘When?’ And I said, ‘Tomorrow.’ She literally quit her job and two days later she was here at Success Centers to grow the program,” Jackson-Simpson recalls.
White has now been the director of the organization’s cannabis program for about a year-and-a-half and helped create the Budding Industry Job Shop, in which employers have the opportunity to meet job seekers up close and personal. She also organizes expungement clinics to help people who have a criminal past or have done prison time for drug-related offenses get their records cleared and become eligible for employment.
“Folks in the industry need to change their view of what equity means,” White says. “This industry was built on the backs of black and brown people who have taken the chances and gone to jail. Now they’re shut out economically because of the wealth disparities that were created.”
White has been a godsend for the Success Center and the program’s participants.
“She gets some wonderful thank you letters because she’s so patient and so helpful,” Jackson-Simpson says.
White’s position also allows her to combine two of her passions: cannabis and helping people.
“This plant, to me, has the potential to heal a lot of the national problems that we’re having,” White says. “I believe in this plant. I fight for the plant and what it means to me, and I want to continue to have the growth and the spirit and the love and healing portions of this plant — and just continue to grow the love in this nation. I know that sounds like kind of a hippie thing, because I grew up in the ‘60s in the San Francisco Bay Area, but that’s what this plant means to me. It’s not just a job, it’s a lifestyle.”
People interested in helping the program or participating can find more information at successcenters.org.