Larry Smith has been a lifelong entrepreneur. He’s a managing member of a few companies, a shareholder for several enterprises including a VC company, and also flipping houses in his childhood neighborhood for original members of his community. Right now, however, his primary focus is being the CEO of G Five Cultivation, a cultivating company in the legal medicinal marijuana industry in Las Vegas.
READ MORE: The Fatherly Guide to Weed
Larry is one of a very few African-Americans in the business, an issue not lost on him. He runs the business with his long-time friend and business partner Shawn, his wife, and their children. Recently, they’ve got their eyes on opening up their own dispensary and organizing community efforts. Larry got into this for a lot of reasons — largely, a life-long commitment to helping his community. But he also wanted to be the type of father who could one day pass a business down to his kids, especially via a product that once and currently incarcerates millions of African-Americans.
Here, Larry talks about the work, his partnership with his son, and how he’s working to empower his community.
A childhood friend of mine, Shawn, called me one day. He said, “They’re starting a medical marijuana program in Vegas. And I think that you’d be a good fit for it.” My initial response was: “Hey man, the feds don’t like that type of stuff. And I like my freedom. And I wanna make sure that I continue to be free.” Upon my return home, I talked to a couple of attorneys, and some of them were thinking about doing the thing. Some of these guys were really staunch republicans, so I started to do the research.
If someone has a level 10 amount of pain, and my company can create a product that’s going to make her level of pain go from a 10 to a two? I think that’s an awesome thing.
There’s a big misconception that cannabis is this gateway drug to hell and it’s going to do all these bad things. I met a lady who had cancer and the government was providing her cannabis, but it was such a process to give it to her that it was no good by the time she got it. The medicine would make her day so much better, because she could actually eat, and her level of pain went down. At that point, I realized that this was a calling for me. If someone has a level 10 amount of pain, and my company can create a product that’s going to make her level of pain go from a 10 to a two? I think that’s an awesome thing.
I grew up in an era where crack cocaine came through and absolutely ravaged my neighborhood. My neighborhood was very beautiful, contrary to what they show on TV. We had roses. We had all the things any other neighborhood would have. We knew our neighbors and everything was good. And then when the crack epidemic came through. It tore families apart. My dream was to put those neighborhoods back together.
One of the ways I do that is through my business. We have to educate our people in the state of Nevada. There are so many ancillary things that people can start doing. If they already know how to grow, they can grow on the legal side. They can become scientists, work in the labs. We can poll our money together and start owning these dispensaries together.
But we also want to start giving people trimming classes so they can go be trimmers. We want to give opportunities for guys who may have been in trouble, who can get a second chance so they can become growers. It’s really unfortunate that some guy ten years ago got caught growing in his house and he has a felony. A guy like that may be a very good grower. If the county and the state are saying this is medicine, then I think that those people should be given an opportunity to come back in the market, especially if they paid their debt to society. We send such a bad message: “If you have a felony, you’re not allowed to work anymore.” All that does is promote more felonies.
We need to change that. It’s sad, too, to walk into a dispensary Vegas dispensary, you don’t see a lot of African Americans purchasing, either. The majority of people that are coming in are not people of color. It kind of baffles me.
This is something that we are going to be able to pass down to our children: the morals and values and principles of doing good, clean business in this cannabis industry.
Starting this business was about generational wealth. I didn’t have a father. It was very important for me to change and break that cycle. To be a father is an awesome thing: to shape and mold something in your image and to make it to where they can be a great part of society.
My wife runs the show. She does all of our paperwork, the book work, the licensing, the compliance. She just knows the rules and regulations up and down, probably better than anyone in the state. I’ve learned so much from her.
My son is 26. He’s been with us for the entire journey. My daughter is 18 and she helps us with graphics and design. She actually just got accepted to Columbia and Oregon, so she wants to go into business. Hopefully when she gets done she can come run the business. My partner’s son has also been a part of this. Shawn and I both want our children hands on. This is something that we are going to be able to pass down to them: the morals and values and principles of doing good, clean business in this cannabis industry.
It’s a great feeling to work with my son. Shawn and I walk in the room on a harvest day, and our sons are playing music, in there, working hard. It’s a beautiful thing to see our kids working and getting better. We have our father-son moments, but I have to respect the fact that he’s becoming a young man and he’s going to lead, and it’s not the old fashioned way. I’m an old-fashioned type of guy, so I’m learning a lot from him as well.
The one thing that I preach to my kids is that we don’t want to worship the money. Big corporations and big companies tend to put profits over people, and I think what I’ve taught them is it’s alright to make money, but we don’t want to step on and hurt people. We want to pull people up.
Tupac has a line in one of his albums. he says, “Picture jewels handed to an innocent child.” Usually, I’ll say that when I really want my kids to understand what I’m saying. I want my kids to understand that not everything in this business is about making money. Sometimes it’s about building the relationships. We want to save the world in different ways. We’re just starting: the sky is the limit in this industry.
— As told to Lizzy Francis