The New York state cannabis industry is coming online and Women of Color in Cannabis (WOCC) is on a mission to provide industry-related education throughout the five New York City Boroughs. WOCC, pronounced “woke,” is an education-first nonprofit group that empowers women of color to enter the cannabis space. The group was founded by Shaloma Wagstaffe, whose start in the industry was organizing consumption events throughout New York City before scaling that business up to WOCC.

Wagstaffe grew up in Flatbush, Brooklyn, New York and says that when she thinks of cannabis, she thinks of her neighborhood dealer. However, when she attended her first cannabis networking event in 2018, she didn’t see that reflected in the attendees.

“I started to go to industry networking events out here in New York, and I felt completely out of place. I felt like there weren’t a lot of people who looked like me, who came from my background,” said Wagstaffe. “So going to those events, it was very shocking for me because before that experience, when I thought about the cannabis community or industry, I thought I was going to see just a bunch of Black and Brown entrepreneurs who just happen to be in cannabis. I expected it to reflect the industry as I knew it at the time and that’s not what happened at all – not a lot of representation for my race or my culture.”

After that, Wagstaffe attended every event she could from industry networking mixers to underground seshs. She would enter these spaces and ask herself, would her weed guy be comfortable networking in them? Most of the time, the answer was no. In response, she established WOCC to help ease entry into the cannabis space for people of color, but more specifically for women of color. The platform has been education-based since its first offering, a class called “What’s the 411?” that explained the differences in policing, fines, and jail times for possession and intent to distribute in each Borough. Now, WOCC hosts monthly networking events to connect community members who are interested in cannabis entrepreneurship.

WOCC is involved in planning another track of events that are part of CannaCareers, a one-stop-shop employment services program founded by Wagstaffe, Ashley Boucher of Quality Control Analytics, and Danielle Schumacher of THC Staffing. They established the program in 2020 after recognizing the need for assistance in finding high-quality cannabis industry jobs. Each founder brings unique cannabis industry experience that they have used to build a well-rounded curriculum and other offerings. CannaCareers offers education, resume review sessions, and a well-vetted jobs board to people of color, returning citizens, veterans and LGBTQ+ community members looking to find a job in the industry. They often bring in experts to teach modules on topics outside of the founders’ expertise. The topics change monthly and are chosen based on industry trends and community feedback. Wagstaffe wants people to engage with these materials and walk away with usable knowledge.

“I think that education should be fun. I personally like education but a lot of people may not. If you make something enjoyable, people are going to pay attention, people are going to have something to walk away with,” said Wagstaffe. “We’re all about collaboration, we’re all about uplifting not only women but especially women and people of color. So we are very sensitive to the fact that we do not know everything and we are going to play to our strong suits. What was important to us was bringing in trusted partners that can help us build a really robust but equally useful program for our community members.”

CannaCareers builds new modules each month where guest experts provide session materials for members to review on their own time, followed by a live Q&A where experts provide in-depth answers to participants’ questions. For those who don’t watch the Q&A or engage with the speaker’s materials, CannaCareers releases a .pdf worksheet that contains the core information from each session alongside PPT presentations and recordings of the sessions.

In addition to classes, McDonald and Schumacher are available for free one-on-one office hours for resume and cover letter review sessions. They review the resumes before their meetings and provide personalized advice on tailoring the CV and resumes for the cannabis industry or to find a specific role. During these office hours, members are also encouraged to practice interviewing skills and discuss how to prepare for their job search. At this point, they can check out the WOCC Job Board. The board features industry positions across all pay ranges and titles but what sets it apart from other job boards is that every opportunity is vetted by WOCC and CannaCareers partners to determine whether they are safe spaces for BIPOC and other marginalized communities.

Before applying, companies are asked to fill out a basic checklist to show that they foster a safe work environment. Some notable checklist items ask whether there’s an HR representative on staff and another verifies if the company has a plan of escalation for racial sensitivity and sexual harassment. After finishing the checklist, companies will then go through an application process and an interview. Ensuring that members find positions they can thrive in is of the utmost importance to each CannaCareers founder — they have each had their own negative experiences in the cannabis industry, and they’re dedicated to weeding unsafe environments from the jobs board.

“We know a lot of these companies are not safe spaces. Not to women, not to minorities, not to members of the LGBTQ community,” Wagstaffe said. “Fine, let’s just operate under the assumption that everybody is just ignorant and they don’t know better – and that’s us being very generous. Let’s just help educate them, we’re going to provide you as much information as we can.”

“The interview process is another way to say, ‘let’s see your intent,’” she explained. “Maybe you don’t have everything on the checklist, but you have enough and you’ve expressed through the interview and application process that you’re on the right track. We take that into consideration.”

CannaCareers leadership is always interviewing and vetting companies but they will turn away brands who are just looking for a stamp without doing the work. Their goal isn’t to have 1,000 open positions on the job board, it’s to fill the board with valued open roles for the WOCC community.

The founders thoughtfully built these educational pillars and Wagstaffe has approached the next WOCC expansion just as thoughtfully — she identified that the next need for her community was re-entry support. WOCC will soon launch UnCaged, a new initiative that will support victims of the war on drugs and help repair damage caused by the prison industrial complex.

Once someone is released, they face countless barriers to re-establishing their lives on the outside. Many formerly incarcerated people stay in halfway houses with strangers without access to family and with limited job options. Many released individuals face homelessness and hunger as a result. Wagstaffe will be rolling out various initiatives to support the re-entry of the formerly incarcerated. More details will be released soon but she did inform us that part of this work will include providing re-entered individuals with NYC MetroCards to help them get to job interviews and visit family. With these initiatives alongside CannaCareers and CannaSessions, formerly incarcerated legacy cannabis entrepreneurs will have improved access to New York’s regulated cannabis industry.

To stay updated on the launch of UnCaged, get involved in CannaCareers, or support WOCC, check out wocc.world.