With a master’s degree in public health and a law degree from Washington University in St. Louis, Akele Parnell began working as a business attorney after college, focusing mainly on health care matters. But he always kept his eye on another highly regulated industry: cannabis.
However, at that time, moving to Colorado or California just wasn’t a realistic option.
“I’d already taken the bar in two states and was like, ‘I’m not doing that again,’” Parnell says with a laugh.
When an opportunity arose to be in-house counsel at a cannabis startup in Chicago, where he lived, Parnell jumped at the chance to get his first taste of the industry. Today, he’s the head of equity partnerships for Lantern, the cannabis e-commerce marketplace and home delivery platform.
“As we grow, we want to increase equity and create opportunities for people from communities most harmed by the War on Drugs,” he says.
Originally from Birmingham, Alabama, Parnell has helped launch Lantern’s social equity incubator in Boston, established a partnership with The Color of Cannabis in Colorado to create a 10-week social equity course and partnered with Calyxeum to create the Detroit Cannabis Project, an incubator that was named the official technical assistance provider by the city of Detroit.
And in October 2021, Lantern launched the New Jersey Cannabis Project, a two-part incubator that helps social equity applicants with the knowledge, skills and resources they need to run a successful business.
“Then we’re going to do the same thing in New York,” he says. “Delivery is a huge opportunity in New York.”
Parnell says it’s important to Lantern and him that people of color have an opportunity to build wealth in the cannabis industry. This year, Parnell takes the next step himself as part of a team that received a social equity dispensary license and a cultivation license in Illinois. The store is scheduled to open in 2022 with a new flower brand to follow in 2023.
“All things social equity, all things cannabis and all things business,” Parnell says. “That’s sort of been my world for the past four years.”
— Brian Beckley