A Pueblo native who has seen the cannabis industry grow from humble beginnings into a profitable industry over the past decade is sharing his knowledge in the hope of leading others who have faced social inequity to business ownership.
Steve Duran grew up in Pueblo as the son of a single parent in a low-income environment with “every barrier set up against” him, he said. At age 11, he tried cannabis for the first time.
“There is lots of negative impact associated with finding cannabis at a young age. You were put in a box, so to speak, for basically smelling like cannabis and that kind of went on my whole life,” he explained.
“When prominent people tell you you are going to be a loser for this certain thing, you kind of internalize that.”
Duran earned his General Educational Development diploma and when medicinal marijuana was legalized in 2010, he helped with the state’s rollout as a support person and grower before transitioning into ownership by launching his own retail marijuana business in 2017.
As founder and chief executive officer of Cookies Pueblo, 3003 W. Northern Ave., Duran and his wife Monique employ 18 workers. He is now considered a leader in the industry and has a passion for coaching others, especially those who were “most affected by marijuana arrests” prior to Colorado’s legalization.
Leading minorities to ownership roles
Historically, people of color have been disproportionately targeted for marijuana possession arrests.
“If we look at ownership across the cannabis industry, minorities and women are making up a very small percentage, about 5%, of minority owners in the industry,” Duran said. “When we are talking about social equity, we are talking about helping people who were most affected by the war on drugs.”
In Colorado, marijuana enforcement officials are committed to fostering an inclusive and equitable cannabis industry that acknowledges the effects of decades of criminal enforcement of marijuana laws on communities of color.
Qualifying social equity licensees can participate in an accelerator program.
Duran’s business qualified for the program because of an arrest for marijuana possession in 2000. He said the program gives people the “opportunity and resources that levels the playing field when it comes to ownership.”
“We are really getting some faces in there that were negatively affected – whether they were arrested, or their family suffered negative consequences,” Duran said.
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The marijuana marketing movement
Fast-forward to 2022, and Duran is getting ready to speak at the Cannabis Marketing Summit in Denver on Wednesday, where he’ll be educating attendees on how to use the retail customer experience to build brand loyalty.
That is particularly important as the industry has seen a recent “across the board decline in sales,” he said.
“As more states legalize, and especially as you look at the current economic situation with gas prices and inflation, you see people have less money for recreational expenditures,” Duran said.
There also is a movement among dispensaries in Pueblo to align with multi-state operators, so Duran said he is seeing the industry shift to a more corporate environment.
Customers are changing, too.
Many are moving toward concentrates and vape cartridges because they are more discrete. The older generation — who tend to take marijuana for pain management, as a sleep aid or as an appetite booster — “don’t feel like they want to smoke,” he said.
As a business owner and mentor, Duran finds himself in a place he never thought he would be.
“I would never have thought I would be doing anything like this, but I am thankful for the opportunity to show people that cannabis really is just a natural herb that grows on a plant. Now, I’m out there coaching people in this industry and it is a blessing,” he said.
In keeping with the business’s social equity focus, his wife Monique is poised to take over Colorado Kush, a retail indoor cultivation operation that focuses on bringing exclusive, high-grade flower and pre-rolled joints to the recreational market.
Colorado Kush is only available at Cookies Pueblo, he said.
“She and I built the brand. She’s going to be 100% owner and that’s well deserved for all that time and effort she’s put in. She came from the same sort of background I did and I feel it is necessary to reward her for what she’s done – she’s powerful,” Duran said of his wife.
“She’s not only a businesswoman but a wife and mother to our four children,” he said.
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Chieftain reporter Tracy Harmon covers business news. She can be reached by email at [email protected] or via Twitter at twitter.com/tracywumps.