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Black-owned dispensary ViolaSTL bucks cannabis industry trend with new downtown shop

From left, ViolaSTL dispensary staff member Wilson Chandler, Managing Partner Dan Pettigrew and Director of Operations Jamil Taylor were putting the final touches on the Black-owned store just as its doors would officially open on Monday, Jan. 23, 2023.
Wiley Price
St. Louis American
From left, ViolaSTL dispensary staff member Wilson Chandler, Managing Partner Dan Pettigrew and Director of Operations Jamil Taylor put the final touches on the store ahead of its opening Monday.

ViolaSTL, a cannabis dispensary outlet, is serving medicinal patients at its 2001 Olive St. location and is the only African American-owned shop in the downtown St. Louis area.

Dan Pettigrew, managing partner, and Jamil Taylor, director of operations, have a third teammate on the ViolaSTL ownership team — former St. Louis University and NBA star Larry Hughes.

Pettigrew and Taylor celebrated the store’s debut on Monday afternoon, and several customers stopped by before its doors were officially open.

“We want to be in urban areas,” said Pettigrew, who along with Taylor opened dispensaries in downtown Detroit and Chicago.

“A lot of these area are underserved, and Black ownership is important because few dispensaries are owned by African Americans.”

Pettigrew said he and his partners’ zeal to open dispensaries is based on past law enforcement efforts that “targeted certain people.”

The American Civil Liberties Union found in a 2020 analysis that Black people are 3.6 times more likely than white people to be arrested for marijuana possession, even though Black and white people use marijuana at similar rates.

It is also a lucrative business, especially since Missouri has legalized recreational marijuana use.

Marijuana Business Daily, an industry newsletter, estimates that retail marijuana sales will have reached $33 billion when final totals are released for 2022 and $52.6 billion by the end of 2026.

There are few Black dispensary owners in the St. Louis area, Missouri or United States.

Because states do not readily identify the race of dispensary owners, it is difficult to find an exact national percentages. However, the Missouri Medical Cannabis Trade Association reported in 2021 that there were 192 dispensaries in the state, and none was owned by a Black entrepreneur.

That changed in January 2022, when Adrienne Scales-Williams launched Luxury Leaf at 1463 S. Vandeventer Ave. in the Grove neighborhood.

A 2017 MjBizDaily survey concluded that only 4% of cannabis companies were owned by African Americans. In a 2022 update, it reported the share of businesses with owners who identified themselves as minorities was around 19%.

That figure includes 5.7% of owners who identified themselves as Hispanic/Latino and 2.4% as Asian. Another 6.7% labeled their race as "other.”

Jesce Horton, co-founder and board chairman of the Minority Cannabis Business Association, told MJBizDaily, “The biggest need and the biggest disparity and the biggest outrage has been the licensing process and the ability for small businesses to first get into the market.”

“And then to survive after dealing with large taxes, huge licensing fees or all these other things that we fear are shaping up in opposition of minority entrepreneurship,” he said.

ViolaSTL has overcome the obstacles and will “bring hundreds of jobs” to the city by the close of 2023, according to Pettigrew.

The location opened just over two months after Missouri voters approved recreational use of marijuana.

“Now that this is legal, it is important that we deliver a positive experience for our customers,” he said. “For now, we will prioritize medical patients.”

“We will soon transition to medical and recreational customers.”

As for Hughes’ role, Pettigrew said, “we wanted to be as local as possible and given his involvement with this city. Larry is excited to be involved.”

“He is always giving back to his community, and the best way to show that is to be an owner.”

Taylor said that the partners have been working to find a location and open a business for four years and that the area where ViolaSTL has opened “does not look like it did back then."

The store is located across from CityPark, the new St. Louis City SC soccer stadium, and is adjacent to the St. Louis Metropolitan Police headquarters.

“This is exciting for us,” Taylor said.

“We are going to have great product and great customer experiences."

Taylor navigated the details of licensing and the store’s design and buildout. According to Pettigrew, Taylor crafted “the highest scoring application in the state.”

“We love this neighborhood. We love being by the soccer stadium. We are huge soccer fans,” Pettigrew said, just hours before the location greeted its first customers.