This month, NCIA’s editorial department continues the monthly Member Spotlight series by highlighting our Social Equity Scholarship Recipients as part of our Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Program. Participants are gaining first-hand access to regulators in key markets to get insight on the industry, tips for raising capital, and advice on how to access and utilize data to ensure success in their businesses, along with all the other benefits available to NCIA members.
Tell us a bit about you, your background, and why you launched your company.
My name is Michael Webster, and I am the Founder & Managing Member of Exspiravit LLC, a licensed Michigan cannabis company. I earned a bachelor’s degree from the Harvard Extension School in Liberal Arts, and a master’s degree in Composition and Rhetoric from New York University. As a native New Yorker, I tried to wait patiently for cannabis legalization at the state level, but Michigan represented a unique entry point to the regulated market.
Like many NYC kids, my introduction to cannabis occurred at an early age. It was part of the local culture. However, it wasn’t until my late teens that I indulged. And it was even later, when my mom – a fierce cannabis advocate – was diagnosed with breast cancer, that I was introduced to the medicinal benefits of cannabis. I went on to write my graduate thesis on this very topic. From there, I embarked on my cannabis career path.
I launched Exspiravit for a myriad of reasons, not the least of which was to access a burgeoning market that held such promise for the creation of generational wealth. But as a frontline victim of the war on drugs – a simple possession charge of less than a gram of cannabis that temporarily derailed my academic pursuits – I saw an opportunity to educate and destigmatize this amazing plant, that, up until about 80 years ago, had been a staple commodity in human society.
What unique value does your company offer to the cannabis industry?
We are currently deploying our Cannabis Event Organizing license for consumption events throughout the state of Michigan – both large and small – while we raise capital for the build-out of our solventless extraction lab. We believe in clean plants and derivatives and are working closely with the Cannabis Certification Council on securing the “made with organic flower” seal. The event organizer license has proven the perfect complement to our other ventures, as it has allowed us to redefine what “an event” really is, and to take our show on the road. We also offer consultancy to other social equity and small operators, with a focus on regulatory compliance, helping to share what we’ve learned on our journey.
What is your goal for the greater good of cannabis?
When it comes to our company values, Exspiravit advances a unique position on social equity. For far too long, social equity has been considered a gift or non-transactional offering. We at Exspiravit believe equity – social or otherwise – is earned and therefore OWED. Most current social equity initiatives in the cannabis industry broadcast messages of handouts and favors. This is the wrong message. When accessing the equity in your home, or other assets, neither you nor the bank treats those transactions as gifts. Social equity represents a debt owed from those who have weaponized their racial or class privilege to monetize a commodity market that was built on the willful destruction of black, brown, poor white, and otherwise marginalized communities. Debts are owed. Debts are to be paid. And their payment represents the satisfaction of an obligation and not a benevolent gesture.
Quite the opposite, those tapping equity are claiming what is rightfully theirs. Again, equity is earned, accrued, developed, and owed, but certainly not to be asked or begged for. Exspiravit plans to use its voice to correct this adversely impactful interpretation of social equity, in hopes of realigning access to resources in the regulated cannabis sector. In addition to our work on the social equity front, Exspiravit’s goal for the greater good of the cannabis industry is to advance the for-purpose market. We believe that flower and euphoria only represent the tip of the iceberg when it comes to products and outcomes. We envision an ultra-specific and ultra-targeted market that features purpose-driven derivatives for a highly informed consumer.
What kind of challenges do you face in the industry and what solutions would you like to see?
Like many social equity cannabis operators, accessing capital has been our greatest challenge. And this challenge is intrinsically linked to our greatest criticism of social equity initiatives –- the lack of social equity funding. For social equity applicants, the process can be grueling. And for those of us who make it through to licensure, being greeted on the other side by predatory investment opportunities exacerbates our challenges. Social equity initiatives MUST feature a robust social equity fund. Without it, social equity operators are being positioned for failure. Diversion of existing tax revenue or special taxes levied against large and multi-state operators can easily address these challenges. Too, we would like to see more collaboration than competition. Regulated cannabis markets should be rolled out in ways that foster greater opportunities to collaborate. Support for collectives, and other similar strategies, are low-hanging fruit when it comes to solutions.
Why did you join NCIA? What’s the best or most important part about being a member of the Social Equity Scholarship Program?
We joined the NCIA for a variety of reasons. Firstly, it was accessible. Through its outreach, the NCIA met us where we were and provided us a robust package of resources that weren’t intended to lure us into paid membership, but rather to help us stand up and be able to recognize the benefits of such association. You can’t effectively inform a starving, homeless, injured person until you have fed, housed, and rendered aid to them. And that appears to be the NCIA’s philosophy – meet the immediate, pressing needs of social equity operators, positioning them to then effectively and efficiently access industry resources. The perfect example of this strategy is NCIA’s decision to offer one year of complimentary membership to social equity operators, including access to the national and regional conventions. The value here, to one’s first year of operation, is immeasurable. These events have provided the opportunity to forge important and lasting connections with other industry stakeholders that have made all the difference for us. Without question, we would not be enjoying such forward progression without the genuine efforts of the NCIA.