What if Josephine Baker and Billie Holiday Opened a Dispensary?

Ebony Andersen and Whitney Beatty discuss how they joined forces to launch a new speakeasy-inspired dispensary in Los Angeles.

Whitney Beatty and Ebony Andersen, founders of Josephine and Billie's | Courtesy of Josephine and Billie's
Whitney Beatty and Ebony Andersen, founders of Josephine and Billie's | Courtesy of Josephine and Billie's
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Many vital conversations are happening right now in cannabis around diverse representation. Around what it means to foster an equitable industry where communities negatively impacted by cannabis prohibition have as good a chance of getting licensed as those with multigenerational wealth. But the traumas inflicted by the War on Drugs represent only one chapter of cannabis in Black and Brown communities. Their relationship with this plant stretches much further back than the 1960s.

That’s what Josephine and Billie’s hopes to highlight. The new recreational cannabis dispensary opened this fall in Los Angeles, styled after “tea pads”—speakeasy-styled gathering places of the 1920s and 30s for Black and Brown communities, often to consume cannabis. For founder & CEO Whitney Beatty and COO Ebony Andersen, the history lesson is as important as plant education, and their considerations for the needs of communities who still aren’t being spoken to in most cannabis markets is reflected throughout. It caught the attention of The Parent Company—the holding company that includes the Caliva and Monogram brands, helmed by Jay-Z as Chief Visionary Officer—which has since invested in the company.

What follows is the origin story of the most soulful new addition to cannabis retail, as told by Beatty and Andersen themselves.

Courtesy of Josephine and Billie’s

Whitney Beatty: I’m from Detroit, Michigan originally, and I grew up on American Street, which at the time, was known as the most dangerous street in the country. I saw so much violence; battering rams breaking my neighbor’s doors—I watched the War on Drugs every day. Because of that, I never used cannabis growing up. Never tried it in high school—nothing. Maybe tried it in college twice, but Nancy Reagan told me to “say no,” and I believed her.

I ended up in Los Angeles working in the entertainment industry, and one day, I’m sitting at my desk, and I started experiencing heart palpitations and acute pain. I grabbed my keys and drove straight to the UCLA Medical Center. They rushed me back to the EKG machine and were like, “Lady, you’re not having a heart attack. You’re having an anxiety attack.” So now, my doctor is prescribing me Lexapro, Wellbutrin, etc., but I didn’t like how any of them made me feel. After a certain point, my doctor makes kind of an off hand comment, saying “you should try marijuana.” She might as well have been recommending me crack, I was shocked! But I’m glad she did.

Ebony Andersen: I’m a SoCal girl, so I was on the other end of the spectrum. Cannabis was never a scary thing to me, but the crazy thing is right around when Whitney experienced her first anxiety attack, I was going through the same thing.

Then I had a son, my anxiety ramped up. My doctor’s telling me I have anxiety, and I’m like, “no I don’t, I’d know if I had anxiety!” But I did. They put me on prescription medication, but I experienced tons of complications. My brother—who’s a big pothead—was like, “you need to try weed, like, for real.” I was skeptical, but I had read something in GQ about how you can get a medical card and order a weed delivery within 30 minutes [in California]. So, I gave it a shot. And I felt better. From there, I figured out how to find my right microdose; how to find strains that worked with me and avoid those that worked against me, because some do increase my anxiety.

Courtesy of Josephine and Billie’s

Beatty: Facts. My doctor changed the game for me, I’m so grateful to her for getting me to do my research. She also forced me to question why I’d had such a negative reaction; why I’d just associated cannabis with crack. I went deep. I learned about Harry Anslinger; about how, prior to the 1920s, cannabis was used more widely than Tylenol. I wouldn’t have believed any of that if a doctor hadn’t told me to hit the books.

Andersen: When cannabis was being legalized in California, I was working as a city planner. A friend with the city of Lynwood asked me to fill in with the city’s cannabis program manager. I already knew about land-use, zoning issues, etc., so it was an easy fit, and I sort of just kept doing that for other cities. After a point, it clicked for me that I have a piece of this puzzle. Everybody knows how to grow weed, sell it, package it, but they don’t know how to permit it. That’s the one thing I know how to do! Being an urban planner was finally, actually coming in handy.

I kept seeing Whitney around, and we had mutual friends in the industry, and I wanted to help bridge the gap between Black and Brown entrepreneurs getting into cannabis.

Beatty: I first got into the industry through the ancillary company I started called Apothecarry Brands, which carries more sophisticated accessories and storage options. It didn’t take long for me to get sick and tired of being the only Black person in the room; the only Black woman in the room. I got more involved anywhere I could, speaking at commissioner meetings and events.

Andersen: We first met at one of those events, and I was so struck with this woman’s passion, and was like, there’s something going on here. I kept seeing Whitney around, and we had mutual friends in the industry, and I wanted to help bridge the gap between Black and Brown entrepreneurs getting into cannabis. I myself never was interested in working in the actual cannabis business, but when investments fell through for her, I was like, “we can do this; we don’t need them.” People have called me the “Olivia Pope of CA Cannabis.” That’s a big part of how Josephine & Billie’s was able to get investment, city and state licenses, and be almost operational in less than six months—it’s what I do.

Courtesy of Josephine and Billie’s

Beatty: I always had the intention of opening up a shop made for women of color. Josephine Baker and Billie Holiday were both Black women who were persecuted for their cannabis use, yet made a positive impact on the world with their art; they rewrote the rules; they carved their own way; and most importantly, they held the door open for others to follow them. That’s the ultimate goal of our dispensary–do things our way, in our best interests, to make a safe and welcoming space for people like us.

We don’t do indica/sativa organization; we don’t have budtenders. We have “advocates.” We have our own potency rating system that factors in terpenes and THC/CBD for a more accurate assessment of effects. As moms, we understand how important dosing is. I need to know, “is this a weekday thing or like a Saturday night-I’ve-got-a-babysitter dose?” We’re here to serve those women.

Lauren Yoshiko is a Portland-based writer and co-host of Broccoli Magazine's podcast, Broccoli Talk. She was among the first journalists to cover the commerce and culture of cannabis starting in 2014 and her work has since appeared in Willamette WeekForbesRolling Stone, and Broccoli Magazine, among others. Follow her on Instagram at @laurenyoshiko for Portland breakfast sandwich recs, stoned nail art, and moderate cat content.
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