WHAT CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT YOURSELF AND YOUR MARIJUANA CONVICTION?
My name is Michael Diaz-Rivera and I am a 36 year old father of two. I grew up in a single parent home on the south side of Colorado Springs as the oldest of three. I’ve always been gifted intellectually and some might even say that I’m a natural leader. My mom working multiple jobs to pay the bills left my siblings and I with more time than necessary to hang out in the streets. I quickly learned that the academic side that my mom valued wasn’t what the streets cared for, so I created a separate persona. This separate personality known as “Money Mike” was the ego I would need to survive homelessness and violence that comes with extreme poverty. Being homeless in high school I turned to the sale of marijuana as a way of survival, that is until I received a felony for possession at the age of 19.
YOU SPENT SOME TIME IN JAIL. WHAT DID YOU LEARN FROM THAT EXPERIENCE AND HOW DID IT CHANGE YOUR LIFE?
I only did a couple of months in jail before doing work release, probation, and paying thousands in restitution. In hindsight I learned that the war on drugs is a war on us. I was merely trying to survive and my life was forever changed based because of outdated drug laws. I was forced to watch Colorado create a billion dollar industry and I couldn’t participate. Because of this I focused on education and community until leaving the classroom and taking the risk as an entrepreneur. After learning more about the criminal justice system, and racial discrimination I realized that I wasn’t the only one to fall into this trap coined by Michelle Alexander as “The New Jim Crow.” I’ve since committed my life to help others from marginalized communities and identities.
DESPITE YOUR CONVICTION YOU GOT A JOB AS A TEACHER IN DENVER. WHY DID YOU DECIDE TO LEAVE TEACHING AND GO INTO THE MARIJUANA DELIVERY BUSINESS?
Establishing myself as an educator despite my felony was not an easy feat. I have taught in Denver Public Schools at University Prep, Columbine Elementary, and John H. Amesse Elementary. However after teaching for 7 years I decided to leave my dream career as a 5th grade teacher because I was experiencing burnout. Years of teaching in under-resourced and poorly managed schools I was disheartened to believe that the majority of the adults were more worried about money than the kids that we were supposed to serve. I still support our teachers and students however I can. Now that I’ve worked in the cannabis industry for over a year I can say that in this space I feel happier and more like myself.
YOU WERE A SOCIAL EQUITY APPLICANT. ARE THERE STILL BARRIERS TO ENTRY FOR PEOPLE OF COLOR WHO WANT TO GET INTO THE MARIJUANA BUSINESS?
The Colorado-Marijuana Enforcement Division qualifies someone as a social equity applicant when they have met one of three criteria: they’ve grown up in a “disproportionately impacted area”, were arrested for a marijuana offense, or they had a household income that did not exceed the median income. I met all three and I know several other people that come from similar circumstances. My hardwork and dedication to making Better Days Delivery a sustainable business has barely been enough to carry me this far. If it wasn’t for my network and my savings I would not be in the position that I am currently in. The combination of need for financial and social capital are the biggest barriers to social equity applicants despite everything else that we’ve overcome. The city and its respective jurisdictions have done alot to support us but that hasn’t been enough for everyone thus far. This brought about the creation of the Colorado Social Equity Group so that we could support each other, help each other grow, share contacts, resources, as we create an inclusive community within the Colorado cannabis industry.
WHY IS IT IMPORTANT TO OFFER MARIJUANA DELIVERY TO THE COMMUNITY?
I follow the CHEM Allyance call to action. This is the saying that we should, “educate, advocate, and demonstrate that cannabis is a core solution to achieving health equity for all people beginning with communities most divested of access to full health and wellbeing.” By focusing on the communities most impacted we can begin the healing needed to transform. In my situation, in particular outside of my family community, I am grateful for the people who pick me up after my mistakes and hold me accountable. Now that I am in the position that I am in, I feel as if it is my duty to pay it forward. Better Days Are On The Way!