The line outside of Shawn Kemp’s Cannabis began forming hours before the store’s namesake and legendary NBA player opened the doors of the dispensary for the first time Friday afternoon.
“This is why we had to be here and why I keep coming back here,” Kemp said as he surveyed a somewhat socially distanced crowd of hundreds that stretched down First Avenue. “Seattle has always supported me and shown me love.”
Kemp’s affinity toward his adopted city began three decades ago when the Sonics took a flier with their first-round pick in the 1989 NBA draft on an unheralded 19-year-old from Elkhart, Indiana.
“When I first got here, I wasn’t getting much playing time and I used to be so frustrated after the Sonics games that I would come downtown and play pickup games,” said Kemp, a six-time All-Star who spent the first eight years of his 14-season NBA career with the Sonics. “Then about midnight or so, I’d go over the CD (Central District) and play there, too.
“I used to live right down the street. … And awhile back, I had the restaurant nearby in Queen Anne. So yeah, this area is special to me.”
Kemp’s first foray into the service industry produced Oskar’s Kitchen, a place named after his pet fish. The Mediterranean-inspired restaurant opened in December 2010 and closed in July 2015; escalating rent was cited as the reason.
“When I opened up the restaurant, I said we’re trying to learn about business,” said the 50-year-old Kemp. “Just educating myself on how to do things. You try something and you wait for a little while and you try it again.
“This time I was smart enough to use my name. But also I wanted to interact with city kids who need an opportunity in life. When you take a chance business wise and things go halfway decent for you, then when you come back – you really want to make sure you got it right this next time.”
Shawn Kemp’s Cannabis initially marketed itself as Seattle’s first Black-owned dispensary, which caused a stir within the local cannabis industry and Kemp acknowledged was a misstatement.
Last year, Matt Schoenlein and Ramsey Hamide, co-founders of Main Street Marijuana, the top-selling cannabis retailer in Washington state, approached Kemp about opening a pot shop.
Kemp said he had always been “intrigued about the cannabis business” but couldn’t find the right partners until now.
Still, the former Sonics great is not listed among the store’s five co-owners, who include Tran Du, John Davis, Chelsea Dew, Schoenlein and Hamide.
“There are a lot of opportunities in this industry,” Du said. “It’s a young industry. That’s what we’re trying to strive as a team here, is to educate other people how they can break into the industry because there really shouldn’t be any barriers for anybody.”
Kemp signaled the importance of diversifying the cannabis industry and de-stigmatizing its reputation, particularly a negative association with the Black community.
“Marijuana has been a part of the Black community forever,” Kemp said. “This is putting a positive spin on it. If you go into any of these pot shops around town, very rarely do you see any of us Blacks working in those shops.
“But if you come inside here and you look at my shop you’ll see a mix racially of people. And that makes me smile. I think we’re doing something positive in that manner.”
In 2012, Washington was one of the first states to legalize marijuana. However, just 2% of cannabis title certificates were issued to African-Americans, according to the Washington Liquor and Cannabis Board.
Furthermore, only 3% of cannabis retailers are Black.
Kemp, who employs a racially diverse staff of 30-35 at the downtown store, hopes to open four additional shops in the Seattle area. His store’s website said it will “train people of color and women to become successful cannabis store owners.”
“If I’m going to do this, then I’m going to put my all into it and give something back to the community,” Kemp said. “I’m fully invested and making sure this works for everybody.”
Outside the store, a giant 30-foot-by-80-foot mural of Kemp in various poses adorns a brick façade. Inside, the dispensary is an homage to The Reign Man’s high-flying NBA days when he starred with the Sonics from 1989-97.
On Friday, Kemp received an assist from former Sonics teammate Gary Payton, who passed him an oversized pair of scissors for a ribbon-cutting ceremony.
“We started something big here a long time ago and he’s just keeping it going,” said Payton, who launched his own cannabis company in 2019 called CannaSports, which sells THS and CBS vape cartridges. “I’m so proud of Shawn and what he’s doing.”
During the ceremony, Kemp beamed in delight as the crowd chanted “Super-Sonics” and “Bring back the Sonics!”
“We’re going to be preaching the Sonics,” Kemp said in regard to Seattle’s former NBA team, which relocated to Oklahoma City in 2008. “I hope the Sonics come back here. I think the future is going to be bright after (Climate Pledge Arena) gets built and we’re going to be right down the street and that makes me smile.”
Marcus Grant, a 51-year-old medical technician from Shoreline, wore Kemp’s old No. 40 jersey and stood in line for more than 90 minutes for the chance to snag a selfie with the former Sonics great and to be one of the first patrons inside the store.
“You know what’s funny,” Grant said. “I don’t even like weed. I came to see Kemp and GP. But I’ll try some of that CBD oil and those weed cookies.”