Last week marked a milestone in the era of recreational cannabis.

On Jan. 21, Prosper Portland, the city of Portland's economic and urban development agency, awarded $30,000 each to two Black-owned cannabis businesses, the delivery service Green Box and Green Hop dispensary in Northeast Portland. It was the first time any municipal cannabis program in the U.S. had used tax revenue from weed sales for that purpose.

The funds were administered by the NuLeaf Project, a nonprofit dedicated to providing individuals from communities of color the resources to thrive in the legal cannabis industry—and, in effect, begin to reverse some of the damage wrought in those communities by anti-drug policies in the U.S.

"I hope people see that the city is investing in these communities," says NuLeaf executive director Jeannette Ward Horton, who founded the nonprofit with her husband, Jesce Horton of Saints Cannabis. "Every city and state needs to, because it's the city and state—and the prisons—that reaped from these communities economically by arresting Black men and women. These are your own citizens, and this is how you help repair that."

NuLeaf's mission is befitting of a couple who both have direct experience running afoul of the law for cannabis-related offenses.

Both have also contributed significantly to restorative justice efforts, locally and nationally. They were instrumental in the creation of the Minority Cannabis Business Association and advancing its agenda of economic empowerment for communities impacted by the War on Drugs. And both contributed significantly to the development of the language of Measure 26, allowing for the allocation of cannabis tax money to fund record expungement and workforce and business development, particularly for women- and minority-owned enterprises.

Jeannette Ward Horton (courtesy of nuleafproject.org)
Jeannette Ward Horton (courtesy of nuleafproject.org)

But even with their extensive experience, when the city of Portland called for applications for grant money in March last year, the Hortons, then new parents, hesitated before stepping forward.

"There was this internal battle," Ward Horton says. "Are we this type of leader? Are we really the experts? Are we capable of doing this with everything else we have going on? In Portland, it felt like we had been doing this work for a really long time and we certainly needed to get our butts in there and to make a play for [the grant]. We certainly had to try."

Securing the funds from Prosper Portland last summer and awarding the first of many more grants to come this winter was a full-circle moment for NuLeaf. But work remains: During this latest round of funding, the nonprofit was unable to fund two of the top four applicants because the businesses are located outside Portland city limits and are therefore ineligible for municipal funds.

Even with recently secured private donations, the Hortons acknowledge more needs to be done to close the gap between predominantly white venture capitalists and the Black entrepreneurs they chronically underfund.

Beyond grant funding, NuLeaf is also extending its educational services arm, NuSchool, to the businesses in its program in an effort to close the resource gap typical of cannabis industry entrepreneurs of color. All participating business are required to go through the NuSchool program, which provides owners with a 360-degree audit to strengthen areas in need of improvement, while also building on their technical know-how by connecting them to mentors and community members that can offer long-term advice and support.

Ward Horton says NuLeaf is eager for the state of Oregon to do what California has yet to fully deliver on.

"They've already passed legislation at the state level," she says, referring to California's recently passed social equity program. "They've made a lot of noise, but they haven't actually done anything. We can get things done faster here. Why don't we beat them and invest in these communities?"

MORE: Find NuLeaf online at nuleafproject.org.