An Interview with Terryn Niles Buxton, Co-Founder of Oakland Extracts
Let’s start with an easy but personal one…Why do you smoke weed?
Man, why do I smoke weed? It makes me feel better. You know the first time I smoked weed was my sophomore year of high school and that was the first night I slept well in like 10 years. I immediately just felt better. We were trying a lot of different stuff, drinking and psychedelics and all these different things and I remember the first night I got stoned was just like putting on that jacket that fits perfectly like, this was made for me.
How did you get your start in the industry?
Like a lot of smokers, I started in the informal cannabis market in high school “curating selections” for friends of mine. I think that’s where many now cannabis business owners started. Then a friend of mine started growing and asked me for help. He knew I loved smoking weed, so I went to his house and helped him with his grow. Quickly I was more interested in it than him and I was in his house, working on his plants more than he was. I became a total geek for it.
All his friends were like you need to have your own garden, so we built a little garden for me and I was doing cultivation and that was a lot of fun but also mad isolating so I would go to Harborside around the corner from my house all the time at night, just to talk to someone and I would come there so often to buy a gram (that I didn’t need because I had a house full of weed) that they were like you should just work here. I started working there. Before that, I knew it was kind of medical but I had no idea how serious it was. This was 2009 and we would get people who had severe medical issues. They would come in, and we really didn’t know a lot about it so then you’re doing all this research so you can speak to these people intelligently. I was learning so much and I just fell in love with the depth of the plant. I realized this wasn’t just a hobby, this wasn’t like a little thing I was doing, this is where I wanted to be.
What made you want to become a business owner?
It was really getting together with my partner Tran. We start making hash together. I started bringing him material and he was making the most amazing hash ever. We saw that it can be really affordable. I mean this was ice water hash or they call them super melts and it was like $90 a gram at the store. We ran the numbers and realized we could do it for a fraction of that. I’d seen a lot of different things from working in the industry. Things I thought could be done differently. We realized, wait a minute, we can make this popular product better and cheaper and have the opportunity to operate a business in the ways that matter to us and follow our values.
I was on the Oakland Cannabis Regulatory Commission and I started to see the guts of politics and what was going on with the City Council in Oakland around cannabis and in general. I saw that the people who make change and who get listened to are the business owners. It made me realize that if I gave a f*** about my community and if I wanted to walk the walk that I like to talk, I need to do something. The way you do something if you have a business; you have money flowing through the city and then you actually have a voice.
How do you support Oakland?
Mainly, by being intent on staying here. Being intent on employing people here. I really want to highlight the people of Oakland because it has an amazing history for all these different cultures; The Black Panthers, The Labor Movement, The Peace Movement. I want to represent our city well, the diversity of it.
And then, most importantly, by fighting to keep prices low. It’s tough living here. It’s expensive living here. We’re committed to keeping our products as affordable as possible. We deserve to have top shelf quality at an everyday price. We’re actually dropping our prices now so they’ll be even more affordable and accessible and that’s what we’re really about.
What has your experience been like as a black business owner in cannabis?
It’s harder to raise money and people assume you don’t know what you know. I can have vastly more experience than other people in the room and they still talk to me as if I’m brand new, as if I haven’t been in the industry for 15 years, on the streets doing sales for nine and a half years…that’s super frustrating and it’s a constant. That happens from people who are on your side and people who aren’t. It’s this pervasive idea that you just don’t know what the f*** you’re doing. That’s probably the toughest thing I experienced.
I know for a lot of other black and brown people, especially back in the day, when you showed up as a vendor with flower they never acted like you were the farmer. It was like oh, who did you buy this from? You’re just a dealer. Everyone else in the vending room, those are farmers with authentic stories but you, you’re just a f***ing drug dealer. Coming from the informal market into the formal market it’s almost like we’re looked at as interlopers when it’s like wait a minute, you guys were coming to us for generations for this. We set these trends and then you want to act like we’re just hopping in late. It’s ridiculous.
And then the police issue. If you get in trouble, you’re getting in more trouble than anybody else. Whenever people talk about what might happen when you go to court, we know we’re getting the book thrown at us much, much harder. It was difficult to convince my family that this was a reasonable thing for me to be doing. The war on drugs created such a perception about any use of drugs that if your family is not in weed, they really kind of look down on it. I think that’s true with a lot of ethnic communities. The perception is that if you’re dealing with cannabis, that’s a drug and so you’re a drug dealer. So, trying to educate people in my family and my community has been a challenge. Even when my mom and my family kind of understood that this is a legitimate thing, they were still concerned because they knew I was going to be over-prosecuted. They knew this CAN be good, this CAN be legit, but if five people get in trouble for this you’re getting in more trouble than the other four. So for a long time, there were a lot of forces close to me and outside of me that were trying to pressure me away from doing this, but I love the plant.
Tell us a little bit about the support that you do with veterans…
I take community service very seriously. Before I was in the cannabis industry, I spent years working at nonprofits and a bunch of community service organizations. There’s a lot of communities, I feel engaged and passionate about supporting, but particularly vets.
I mean no one deserves a bad fate, but for people who signed up to try to do good, to try to protect us…everything they have to go through…it’s just ridiculous. So we are 100% committed, not just to contributing to organizations, but to hiring vets and engaging with the veteran community. It’s something we’re excited and honored to do.
Tran my business partner is a navy vet himself. Before we started Oakland Extracts, I worked with one of the vets over at Harborside to start Operation EVAC (educating veterans about cannabis) which is a great support group that has events where vets come together to talk about their experiences. They have them doing yoga and meditation and they give them a bunch of free products. Then we have the Weed For Warriors PAX Pod collaboration. We’ve worked to support a lot of different veterans organizations in the past and we’ll continue to.
What does being a legacy operator mean to you?
I take great pride in the fact that we’ve managed to hang on. We don’t beat our chest about it but anyone who is still here, we all wear the same scars. You had to be here when you feared going to jail every single day. In hard times, we survived because farmers gave a s*** and budtenders and buyers gave a s*** and we give a s*** about them. That’s why I try to get out as much as I can to talk to people. I care about that connection. Just dealing with people who are in it for the love of it and it’s like, if you’re a legacy operator, you must be in it for the love, because the money went away a long time ago. I don’t know how these fly-by-night guys make it. I guess they’re just blowing through VC capital but I like to support legacy operators because they didn’t get in it because of the green rush. They didn’t read something in The Wall Street Journal and come out here to start trying to make a bunch of f***ing money.
What keeps you personally dedicated and motivated?
The idea of quitting at this point pisses me off. I’m not just going to sit back and let all of us who are about the culture and helped build this thing end up working for idiots who turn the industry into a bunch of Nabiscos. There are things I want to do with this company. I want it to matter in my community. Tran used to work at Google, so all the time he tells me what it was like working on Google campus. Free food, dry cleaning, daycare, gyms, massages… everything for free. The potential is there for this to be an industry that creates a lot of wealth, and if we can transform that wealth into a dope place for more than just tech kids to work, the idea of creating that is more exciting to me than money.
When the country goes legal and getting high becomes completely normalized, what impact do you think that will have on America’s culture?
It’s going to have a lot of varied impacts, I think. Once it becomes normalized, in a recreational way, the medical side will be beyond reproach. I mean once it’s at 711, it’s going to be at St Mary’s Hospital. There are a lot of diseases and conditions that are going to be able to be treated with cannabis more openly. There will be fewer people in jail, especially people of a particular skin tone. Beyond that, cannabis is really going to kick the door down on plant medicine in general and that’s going to cause massive transformational and systematic change in society. So many different people will be able to be in that other space and have that other awareness. I think this is the dawn of a new age of embracing plant medicines and our ability to take care of ourselves.
Who are your heroes?
In terms of real actual heroes, my parents. I know that’s corny but my dad and my mom. Both of them did extraordinary s*** in an era where little was expected of them and they both broke through crazy f***ing barriers. Those are my most direct heroes for sure, and this is, again, going to sound corny but next is my grandfather and my great uncle. They did extraordinary things. Unheralded things. My grandfather when he retired was one of the highest-ranking black people in the federal government. His brother was on the Michigan State Supreme Court. These people had a dirt floor in their childhood. Growing up hearing the stories about them from people in the community was amazing. It created a wicked sort of pressure. It was like, oh my God, I need to do something that f***ing matters. Those are my greatest heroes, but Tupac, too, you know what I’m sayin?
It’s your last day on Earth – What’s your last meal tonight and what are you smoking with it?
My last meal would be something that my mom cooks. What am I smoking? The third round of the Strawberry Cough my brother John grew back in 2009. Not his first couple rounds, because he didn’t have it dialed in and not his later rounds because he lost the touch but rounds three through seven. Those were the best I’ve ever smoked in my entire life.
Oakland Extracts was founded by two friends and former budtenders, Terryn and Tran. Their combined experience growing and processing empowered them to deliver on a shared mission: to provide top-shelf concentrates at everyday, affordable prices. Culture over commerce. People over profits. Flavor you can feel. That’s Oakland Extracts.