Curio Wellness, which has faced criticism over the past two years due to the cannabis company’s connections to right-wing Sinclair Broadcasting, and for filing a lawsuit challenging a state law encouraging diversity in the cannabis industry, has announced a funding program to support minority, medicinal cannabis business entrepreneurs.
Curio Wellness announced on December 1 that they will “connect diverse investors with up to 50 aspiring women, minority and disabled veteran entrepreneurs, providing $30 million in capital funding.” Dubbed “The Fund,” this is Curio’s way to bring more people of color, women, and people with disabilities into the industry and enable them access to capital. Current laws due to cannabis being a Schedule I drug make it hard to receive loans and other assistance to start a cannabis company and as a result, the industry is dominated by those with easy access to money.
“In looking at the systemic barriers that women, minorities and disabled veterans face in accessing capital, we decided to develop a solution that directly addresses this massive economic disparity,” said Michael Bronfein, CEO of Curio Wellness, in a statement. “The Fund provides qualifying entrepreneurs with the investment capital they need to become a Curio Wellness Center franchisee, while ensuring their success through our best in class business operations.”
The Fund arrives after Curio Wellness became known as a cannabis company that many social justice-minded patients avoid. That’s because one of Curio’s investors is David Smith, chairman of Sinclair Broadcast Group, the operator of a number of television stations known for a propensity to prioritize right wing messaging and even air outright propaganda.
In response to a law passed in Maryland that enabled the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission (MMCC) to give out additional growing licenses in an attempt to account for race and gender disparities, Curio sued the MMCC.The Baffler criticized Curio’s lawsuit in the 2019 piece “Sinclair Stole My Stash,” which focused on Sinclair’s connections to cannabis and summarized its intent like this: “[Curio] argued that the new licenses would cause the market to be oversaturated (i.e., it might deprive them of their projected profits).
The lawsuit was roundly criticized. And when Curio finally dropped it, Bronfein put out a lengthy statement. It reads in part: “I have seen the concerns from our customers on social media about racial insensitivity. I have seen comments and accusations that in no way reflect the values of this company and are not an accurate depiction of the hardworking people of all races and ethnicities I work with every day. These are concerns to which I cannot, and will not, turn a blind eye. What rattles me the most is I know that’s not who we are. At Curio, diversity is not just a goal we mindlessly put on paper, it’s not just about affirmative action or corporate social responsibility. It’s who we are. It’s the values we live by. It’s our culture—from management to our store floor.”
The Outlaw Report has observed a growing number of patients concerned about supporting Curio and more budtenders aware that they need to offer alternatives to Curio products. For those who are suspicious of the contrast between Curio’s actions and Bronfein’s statements, The Fund begins to deliver on the company’s diversity claims, though reckoning with financial support from Sinclair Broadcast Group would also go a long way.