Green Hop calls itself "the world's first historical hip-hop dispensary." But for co-owners Karanja Crews and Nicole Kennedy, rap isn't just the theme. It's the thesis.
"Hip-hop has taken the brunt of the backlash to controversial music genres," Kennedy says. "There's a lot of stigma around it, and its content is more policed than other genres—just like cannabis."
The thread that connects hip-hop and cannabis is one of misunderstanding and social condemnation. It also reflects the story of Portland's black community, and the North Portland neighborhood where Green Hop now resides.
Outside Green Hop's front door, at Northeast 16th Avenue and Killingsworth Street, there are few indicators left of the predominantly African-American community from before. In fact, the dispensary stands on one of the last black-owned lots in the Woodlawn neighborhood. Kennedy mentions the former businesses on the block, like One Stop Records, that were repeatedly targeted with fines for building code violations until the costs and closures put them out of business.
With Green Hop—which celebrates its grand opening this week—Crews and Kennedy are bringing a piece of that culture back to the neighborhood. Inside the converted green and yellow Craftsman home, vibrant graffiti murals cover the walls, and classic records from Nas, A Tribe Called Quest and Dr. Dre are on display. Strains even have nicknames like Illmatic and Grandmaster Flowers. For the two owners, the "hip-hop pot shop" concept has less to do with marketing than paying homage to the artists who inspired them.
"I came of age during an extremely political time in hip-hop," Crews says. "It was about Brand Nubian. X Clan. Public Enemy. KRS One talking about Benjamin Banneker. I was getting exposed to African pride and 'Fight the Power.' Those artists planted a seed of faith in me that I could go against the grain of my environment. I had their lyrics reminding me that there's a bigger world out there, and that I didn't have to join a gang to be a strong black man."
Crews grew up a stone's throw from Green Hop. He came of age just as gangs from California were creeping up I-5 and drugs began to take over the area. He recalls watching his father go from running Portland's first black-owned bicycle shop to crack addiction and losing everything in the blink of an eye.
Crews made it out of the neighborhood, and went on to a career in education. Kennedy, who has worked as a nurse and medical assistant for the past decade, became fascinated by the medical potential for cannabis. Kennedy also taught nursing classes, and met Crews while attending his unique local teaching conference, Teaching With a Purpose. The conference draws hundreds of educators to Portland every October, and always features scholars, workshops and concerts with artists like GZA of Wu-Tang Clan. They quickly discovered a common interest in opening a dispensary, which they believed could help reintegrate the black community back into North Portland.
As soon as a business plan began to form, they saw an opportunity to incorporate vocational training to further assist young people of color in finding employment. They created the Green Hop Academy, an internship program in collaboration with POIC, a nonprofit that mentors at-risk youth. GHA teaches young people of legal smoking age employable skills in the cannabis industry, through classes that include certification by the Sativa Science Club. Some of Crews' former students have enrolled and since graduated from the program.
Though the shop's been operating part time over the weekends this year, it's celebrating an official grand opening on Saturday, June 16—Tupac Shakur's birthday. Mayor Ted Wheeler, City Commissioner Amanda Fritz and U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) will speak at the event in support of the shop's efforts to increase minority participation in the legal cannabis economy.
"I am returning to a neighborhood that's been gentrified," Crews says, "but now I'm able to open my own business and create new opportunities for people of color."