When “Freeway” Rick Ross stepped out of a federal penitentiary in Texas in 2009, he was unaware that his home state of California had legalized weed.
Back then, the former cocaine kingpin — who rose to infamy during the ‘80s crack epidemic — was just trying to keep his nose clean after a federal appeals court cut his life sentence for allegedly trying to buy 100 kilos of coke from an undercover agent. Fearing that he’d squander his second chance and facing constant scrutiny from an overzealous parole officer, Ross steered clear of pot altogether.
“I didn’t want to look at nobody who was smoking marijuana,” he told the Sun-Times ahead of an appearance Saturday at a social equity summit and expungement clinic in Bronzeville.
Ross’ next foray into the drug trade began as soon as his parole ended. Cajoled by a friend who claimed a weed-friendly event would be a good place to offload a couple copies of his memoir, Ross drove about an hour east from L.A. to San Bernardino, California. When he sold all 300 books, Ross saw opportunity in the legal weed industry — which he claims is “identical” to the illicit cocaine business.
After initially opening a couple quasi-legal pot shops, Ross became involved in cannabis activism when he met Bonita Money, founder of the Los Angeles-based National Diversity Inclusion & Cannabis Alliance. Still hoping to go legit, Ross recognized that Money also knew how to navigate the various agencies regulating cannabis in L.A.
“She was well-connected in the industry, much more well-connected on the legal side. And the street people trust me, so it made a good fit,” he said.
In addition to launching a signature brand of pot products called L.A. Kingpins, Ross has also started speaking at NDICA events across the country. Ross will co-host the event this weekend at the Bronzeville Incubator, 5061 S. Prairie.
“We’re going to be teaching people about how to deal not only with applications and the expungement, but also how they should be dealing with the politicians,” Ross said. “We’re going to have investors who can help them with investments. There’ll be lawyers who can help with applications.”
Meanwhile, Ross is hoping to use his street cred to grow his weed brand.
“You know how I treat businesses,” said Ross, who just a few decades ago was shipping tons of cocaine across the country and raking in hundreds of millions of dollars in profits.
“I don’t play with them.”