“It’s super important to me that we carry Black-owned brands and mission-driven brands,” says Nike John, Founder and CEO of The Heritage Club dispensary in Boston’s Charlestown neighborhood. “If a Black-owned brand asks me to carry their product, I will always give it a shot. I know how hard it is to get to the point that you have a product. Let’s get it on the shelves. Test it out. Use me as your litmus test and tell people: I’m in this Boston shop.”
The way John lights up when talking about paying it forward, it’s clear that community is just as central to The Heritage Club’s mission as cannabis. When John opened THC’s doors in September 2022, she was just thirty years old. Being both young and Black, John is part of two groups sorely underrepresented in dispensary ownership – and she doesn’t take it lightly. Community is one of The Heritage Club’s four core values; the others are: connection, diversity, and education.
As a kid, John knew marijuana by a different name. “My family is Rastafari and my dad smoked what we called ‘herb,’” she says of her youth in Chicago. “I didn’t know it as ‘cannabis’. I didn’t know ‘THC.’ I knew herb. And herb has always been medicine. It’s always been a plant.”
Her first personal experience with it was less-than-healing. “In high school, I remember my first bong hit – I was crawling on the ground coughing,” John recalls with a laugh. For the next several years, she was only an occasional smoker. “I’m not shy about telling people that I actually don’t use a lot of cannabis,” says John. “But when I got into this space I wanted to try everything we carry so I could speak to it.” The highlight? “I love edibles. That’s my favorite part of the industry,” says John, who counts Kiva’s Camino gummies among her top choices.
John, who at thirty-one is vibrant and youthful but also seemingly wise beyond her years, was a born entrepreneur. She was already several years into a career as a real estate broker when she conceived The Heritage Club. “From my first lemonade stand to when I got into real estate, I’ve always had so many ideas that I want to bring to life. I always struggled working in structured organizations.” She says even as an intern she knew she’d eventually need to pursue her own dream.
In 2019, Boston passed the Ordinance Establishing Equitable Regulation of the Cannabis Industry which led to the creation of the city’s Cannabis Equity Program. The news caught the attention of John’s mother, a medical doctor who also holds an MBA.
“She was the one who introduced me to the industry. She thought I’d be interested in it because of the social justice aspect,” says John. “She is my inspiration in a lot of ways. She always had business plans that she was working on and she always wanted to give back.”
John opened The Heritage Club through Boston’s Cannabis Equity Program, which promises to prioritize cannabis business applications of entrepreneurs from the communities most impacted by the War on Drugs.
“I do feel like it’s a birthright – being Black and working in cannabis” says John. “That’s the reason why the word ‘heritage’ resonated with me. “
The Heritage Club’s charitable arm, The Heritage Home Foundation, is also working to help those same communities. “Homeownership, from my real estate experience, is how I saw people – mostly white people – building wealth,” explains John. “We have a closing cost assistance program that we’re going to be rolling out through our nonprofit. Boston’s prices are going up and unfortunately, a lot of Black people are being priced out. It’s measurable. There are a lot of programs where you can’t see the impact but, if one person owns a home, you can see that impact.”
At THC, John works to create a luxury experience that feels approachable. The aesthetic seems to mirror her energy. “We really wanted it to feel feminine and friendly, creative and colorful,” she says. “This isn’t a sterile space. So many spaces are man-owned and black-and-white. But cannabis totally makes you see life in color!”
She hopes everyone will feel welcome regardless of their experience level with cannabis. “I want you to come in. I don’t care what you know – you could be a connoisseur or you could be brand new. I want you to feel like you can ask a question. I want you to feel like we’re here to take the time to answer that question. This isn’t just a transaction.”
Because of this focus on education – remember those core values? – THC’s budtenders are called flight attendants. “We call them flight attendants because it’s all about safety. We’ll help you board the flight, teach you how to put your seatbelt on and serve you snacks and champagne. We want you to have a safe ‘flight,’ or, experience,” explains John.
“We have a little consultation room, even though we’re not medical,” says John. “The idea is if you want to go in there and nerd out, talk to some of our most knowledgeable flight attendants, maybe even learn to roll a J! Just something different.”
The Heritage Club is consciously stocked with products for every budget. Their pre-roll menu, for instance, features high-end brands like Miss Grass and El Bluntos but also a $10 two-pack of house joints. “I’m hearing that our products are very well-priced,” says John of the customer response.
In addition to the dispensary, John is making plans to build out an attached, but separate event space for non-cannabis and cannabis-adjacent activities. “We’ll be able to use that for community space. I’m thinking morning yoga classes, and, in the evening, educational series with different vendors, and comedy and music. It’s a versatile, open space.”
John is passionate about fighting the stigma around cannabis and hopes those who might feel intimidated by the dispensary will find this space more accessible. “It’s a place where we could have a flea market with non-cannabis and cannabis craft brands. A space for people to check all of those out without taboo. Like what if instead of going to a cannabis event you were just going to a community event where they happen to have cannabis brands? That’s kind of how I see this space, kind of continuing the conversation on legalization and the fact that marijuana is not that weird.”
Personal developments that coincided with the opening of The Heritage Club have made John even more focused on her core values. “The month that we opened, I found out I was in the first month of my pregnancy. So I was doing both of these at the same time,” she shares. “I’m having a baby girl. I’m able to set up a little legacy for her to understand that whatever she can dream, she can do. I have to push for change. I have to create the world I want her to see.”