Gabriel Itoka, a cannabis entrepreneur based in Somerville, MA, got interested in the cannabis industry when he was a Peace Corps volunteer in Morocco from 2013-2015.
In Morocco, the cannabis industry was hard to miss. Indeed, it was and still is the largest producer of cannabis resin in the world, according to the 2016 World Drug Report, and is the biggest exporter of resin to Europe.
He noticed that Moroccan growers mostly made hashish, and threw away the buds. He started to imagine how they could grow a market for cannabis flower and this sparked an interest in cannabis agriculture.
Gabriel moved to Washington D.C. in 2015 to start Icarus International Incorporated, a company that pairs foreign investments with Liberian assets, like farms.
Washington D.C. had legalized medical use when he arrived, but it was very restricted. People continued to consume recreationally in a functional, if gray, market. Icarus started to serve local clients who needed help applying for licenses for cannabis grows and dispensaries. Twenty-one states had gone legal for medical, and the tide was turning in society, but there was still a lack of knowledge. In response, Icarus created the educational platform Green Thumb Academy, targeting people going into the industry. It covered medicinal properties of the plant, efficient ways to grow, and the unique challenges cannabis businesses face.
Gabriel left D.C. to get his MBA in Boston at Hult International Business School in 2017. After graduating, he found a job as Director of Business Development at Canopy City in Somerville. There he identifies new markets, develops partnerships, and organizes events.
The two areas of the cannabis industry that Gabriel focuses on most are sustainable growing and civil rights. His fellow Canopy members are working on making the cannabis grow process more sustainable. His experience and affinity with the agricultural sector make it an exciting place to work.
“I’m looking forward to the technology that will come out of here. Once you get your Harvard ILab, your MIT, all these groups to research better, more efficient ways of growing, it will be a boon to the country.”
He highlights examples like Freight Farms, a company that designs hydroponic farm kits in mobile shipping containers, and the Aldelano Solar Cold Box, which is a solar-powered water maker and refrigeration system.
As for civil rights activism, Gabriel hopes the Cannabis Control Commission of Massachusetts, which is currently developing cannabis regulations, will incorporate educational and civil initiatives into cannabis policy. He is working to help educate people entering the field, particularly those who were in prison for nonviolent drug-related crimes.
“With [Massachusetts] cannabis now legal, it’s going to be open season, but people will have to know how to navigate the rules. There has to be an educational element. People are going to be coming out of jail and we can’t shun them.”
Some of the cannabis events that Gabriel is involved with planning can be found here: http://cannacenterofexcellence.org/news-events/.
About the author: Christine Giraud, a writer in Boston, has become fascinated with the cannabis industry, as well as the culture, politics and history around it.
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