Larry Smith lost his grandmother at a young age, but it wasn’t until adulthood that he realized the ways the cannabis industry could have potentially saved her life.
“I saw that it became real medicine, and that kind of inspired me, thinking back to my grandmother and the pain that she suffered when she had cancer,” Smith tells CASSIUS. “I basically could’ve made her life a little bit better. And that was the real escalation for me to say I’m gonna go forward with this and maybe help a lot of people.”
With the help of business partner and childhood friend Shawn Holman, along with the expertise of Dame Dash, Smith began GFive Cultivation—Las Vegas’ first Black family-owned and operated lifestyle brand specializing in ethically grown, premium grade marijuana for medical and recreational use.
And their timing couldn’t have been better. In the first few days of Nevada’s legalization of recreational marijuana in July, the state raked in a reported $3 million in sales revenue and nearly $500,000 in tax revenue. With the door open to leave an impression on the industry, GFive Cultivation is putting energy into signature strains like “Gorilla Glue Gelato,” “Platinum Girl Scout Cookies,” “Kimber Kosher,” among others—but marijuana cultivation is just the tip of the iceberg for these entrepreneurs.
“We have a couple other things I don’t wanna announce yet because we’re still doing the research and development on those things, but we’re definitely gonna have stuff no one else has,” Smith shares.
CASSIUS spoke to Smith about the inspiration behind the GFive brand, collaborating with Dame Dash, and where he thinks the future lies for people of color in the rapidly growing cannabis industry.
CASSIUS: To start, I wanted to know what the inspiration behind GFive was. You started it with a childhood friend?
Larry Smith: Yes. It was funny because I was actually in New York City with Jack Thriller and he does all the interviews for ThisIs50.com, which is 50 Cent’s website. I was out there discussing another business venture that I wanted to do with 50 Cent. I get a call from Shawn [Holman] and he’s like “Hey, man. Gonna start this medical marijuana program,” and I’m like, “Ay ay ay yo! I don’t wanna have anything to do with that!” I knew the feds didn’t like it, and I kinda like my freedom, so I wasn’t too interested. But I understood Shawn was a very smart person, so he wouldn’t just come and bring me something that wasn’t liable, so I said, “Listen, when I get back from New York I’ll take a look into it.”
I’ve always been intrigued by it. My grandmother passed away when I was young, and you start hearing the stories about cancer and all those things, and it made me say, “You know what? Maybe we can help people.” So I got home, talked to some attorney friends, and I basically was able to make a decision. After I went to Colorado and the Bay Area, I started to see that it was more than just people getting high and [being] “hippies.” I saw that it became real medicine, and that kind of inspired me, thinking back to my grandmother and the pain that she suffered when she had cancer. I basically could’ve made her life a little bit better. And that was the real escalation for me to say I’m gonna go forward with this and maybe help a lot of people.
C.: To clarify, Shawn is your business partner, right?
L.S.: Yeah, Shawn is the one that kind of brought everything [together], and he brings a wealth of knowledge. He’s always told me that this is medicine. And he was like, “I think we can pull this off,” and we had kind of foreseen that there wasn’t gonna be a lot of minorities [in this industry]. Once we saw the numbers and what they were coming out with, we knew right away that there wouldn’t be a lot of African-Americans participating in this.
C.: For people who may not completely understand how cannabis cultivation works, can you explain in more detail exactly what you guys do?
L.S.: We actually grow the product. It starts with us and then they basically transfer it to either production, which is where they make edibles and other concentrates or other things. Then we basically take it over to the dispensaries here in Nevada, and they can do whatever they want to it at that point. It’s just critical for us because we knew that there weren’t a lot of minorities in this business and I have a pretty decent background in business and I wanted to make sure that we represented. And as I said, as I got going and started to see more of the need for us to be represented in this business, I just thought that it was only right that we get in and go. GFive has been good for our community as well. We do a lot in our community and I knew this would be another way for me to be able to really help.
C.: It’s awesome that you’re giving back in that way.
L.S.: Thank you.
C.: Going back to the cannabis cultivation, can you tell us more about the strains you guys will be producing and where they’ll be available?
L.S.: Right now there’s so many dynamics to this market and it’s still new. A lot of people don’t know there’s so many things we can do. For right now we’re gonna be coming out with a strain called “Boss Hog,” which is already at the market. What Shawn and I wanted to do is we wanted to be real boutiquey, and that was the part about bringing Dame [Dash] on, is that giving us another level of taste. And so we’ve been able [to create] strains that no one else has in the market. We’re gonna be coming out with a strain that’s geared toward the rapper Cam’ron, and that strain will be called “Pink Mink.” We have a couple other things I don’t wanna announce yet because we’re still doing the research and development on those things, and I wanna make sure to give everyone the proper information, but we’re definitely gonna have stuff no one else has. Our scientists are getting everything ready.
C.: How did Dame Dash get involved?
L.S.: Well once again, it all goes back to Jack Thriller. I did a party here in Vegas and I wanted to kind of launch the GFive brand in a real big way. And so Jack kind of helped us with the entertainment portion of it and he hooked me up with the rapper Noreaga. Noreaga has this show [called] “Drink Champs,” and when we did our party here in Vegas, I brought in Noreaga and Capone. Capone-N-Noreaga hadn’t been together in years, so it was like a kind of reunion. I wanted to do a show and then have a “Drink Champs” edition in Vegas. That night, what we did was throw a big party. No one was charged. I brought in Dru Hill, who did an excellent job that night. I brought in the Dogg Pound, which are legends on the West Coast. I brought Capone-N-Noreaga, and I brought in Tony Yayo. Me and Noreaga just hit it off. We were just talking about things, and he has a pretty decent relationship with Dame.
One of my influences growing up was Roc-A-Fella, JAY-Z, Dame Dash, and I was telling [Noreaga] about the similarities between me and Dame in business and all those things Dame talked about on The Breakfast Club. All my other businesses I’ve pretty much been able to fund myself and just take my time going through that pain that he was talking about. So when [Noreaga and I] were talking, he was like, “Let me get him on the phone” and called him and said, “I got this guy in Vegas.”
I thought Dame would be great for us because we’re not just selling cannabis; we’re selling a brand, and I know that obviously Dame has brought on such celebrities and stars as Kanye and Kevin Hart, so I’ve seen what they’ve done with their brands, and I felt like he could take us to that level.
C.: Can you elaborate on the family aspect of the business?
L.S.: My son [Larry, 26] is a part of the cultivation. Shawn’s son [Jaliek, 21] is a part. He’s actually in the process of growing. They’re going to school. Jaliek’s been learning all the techniques and going to school for biology. They both have daughters. They’re both [young], but we’re prepping them. We’re getting them ready so that when they do get ready, they’ll have an understanding of what’s going on. Dame’s son, Boogie, he comes in when he’s in town. It’s become a family affair pretty much. My wife works with us, so it’s a real family atmosphere and I have two people that come from my neighborhood that work with me that we consider family. I’ve known them since they were in pampers. It’s nice to hire people that I know normally wouldn’t get the chance that we’re giving them.
C.: You mentioned earlier being a bit apprehensive about getting involved in the cannabis industry. What sort of information about marijuana did you receive when you were younger? Did you know anyone who used? What was your relationship with it as a kid?
L.S.: My entire neighborhood used. I never saw anyone smoke and go crazy, so I was like, “Okay, so it ain’t that bad.” Obviously, the stigma is that it’ll make you go crazy, it makes you lazy, it makes you this and that, so you kind of fall into that. But I knew guys when I played basketball that smoked it before games and it really calmed them down, so I never looked at it as being bad. I felt like the government was lying to us and I’ve always felt like the government has lied about those things.
C.: Recreational use of marijuana was recently made legal in Nevada. What do you think full legalization of marijuana in the U.S. may mean for entrepreneurs of color?
L.S.: Well, the first thing we have to do as people of color is we need to come together and cut the BS. We need to understand that we’re gonna get left behind if we don’t come together. When I started this process and I would look around the room [at] these meetings and see guys that I knew who had come to me prior to ask to borrow money, I’m like, “How is he getting in?” And all they did is form groups. And they form these groups and they put their money together and they went after the licenses. What we have to do as a people is we have to start putting our money together and understand that this is big business and we’re gonna get shut out if we don’t do that. We just have to stop fighting amongst each other and understand that there’s more than enough money in this industry and please just come together. That’s the biggest thing for me.
C.: How do you feel that Black people in particular are faring in the industry, and what do you think are some of the specific barriers or challenges that they face?
L.S.: I’ll be honest with you. I don’t see there’s a lot of—well, in Nevada, I didn’t get any of the pushback. I mean, we got it from other places like the power companies. That was the hardest thing for us. As far as doing the licensing, we had the money. We could show where our money came from, and I think like I said, we need to come together and not hold grudges. Sadly enough, I think the market is starting to pass us. There’s a lot of companies out there now that are getting into this game and African-Americans and people of color think, “Oh, we wanna be owners!” But there’s so many other things that we need to start getting our people into.
For example, we’ve been teaching our kids now. We’re gonna start a program here pretty soon to start farming, because cultivators, if you’re a good cultivator, a guy who runs a cultivation, he’s making $120,000 a year. This is a lifetime job now. These plants are unbelievable, and there are different strains. We need to start sending our kids to go to school for biology for all the technological things that are going on in this industry. The lighting, microbiology—there’s so many things that we can get into in this industry. It doesn’t necessarily have to be as just an owner. I would like to see more owners in the industry, but [there] doesn’t have to be. I think that we’re moving at a snail’s pace and we need to pick up the pace in order for us to get in. You don’t actually have to have a bunch of money to get in this. There’s other ways for you to get into this game. Transportation. There’s so many other ways to get in.
C.: And so many people are unaware of that.
L.S.: I just don’t want it to pass us by, and I feel kinda like “po-li-tics as u-su-al,” it kind of seems to pass us by. It’s sad that we’re kind of getting pushed out, but at the same time we’re playing chess and we have to make the necessary adjustments to get in the game and play. That’s why I bring a guy like Dame on to help me play those chess moves to make sure that we’re doing the right things. He’s done a great job with us and it’s been awesome. He’s helping take GFive to a whole ‘nother level.