Green State Q&A: Union Square Pioneer
Cindy De La Vega is San Francisco’s first Latina dispensary owner and holds the 11th permit issued by the SF Equity Program, which helps lower-income people get licensed in the cannabis industry. In October 2020, she opened Stiiizy Union Square (180 O’Farrell St.).
Q: What was your path into the industry?
A: Rudy Corpuz Jr. has been my mentor since he started United Playaz at Balboa High School in 1994, where I was a student at the time. He’s now made a multicity re-entry, violence prevention and youth development organization that I’m still really involved with. We have a building at 1038 Howard St., United Playaz Clubhouse. We hold food banks, gun buybacks, fundraisers, we help give proper burial to the families who are not fortunate with funds — anything.
A few years back Rudy told me about the SF Equity Program. I was skeptical. I thought, I don’t have any money. I’m just a high school graduate. Is this for real? Is this for me? I was really scared, but I went on with it and did it. I started the process in 2017 and finally opened the dispensary in October of 2020. But now here I am, CEO-owner of Stiiizy’s Union Square.
Q: What’s your relationship to the plant?
A: I smoked with my girlfriends in high school and remember loving it, but I grew up in the Sunnydale housing projects and the war on drugs hit us hard. I’ve seen it all — the crack, the drive-by shootings, the arrests. I was raised by a single mom — a Pentecostal Christian — and three older sisters. It was like having four moms. The house was strict, so I didn’t lean into cannabis use at that time. I was mostly afraid of it.
Years later, I hurt my back when I herniated a disc while working at the hospital. I was in more pain than I’d ever wish on anyone. We are vulnerable when we aren’t feeling well. We want to do whatever we can do to feel better. Unfortunately, what we’re prescribed isn’t always right for us. My sister called me out on taking too many pills, and when I had a whole bunch of excuses, I realized I was addicted to oxycodone. I knew something had to change. So I got a cortisone injection, still clutching my pills in case, but thank God the shot worked. I’ve been using cannabis ever since to help me relax, manage my anxiety and help with pain.
Q: Has your mom come around?
A: Yes. She’s suffered a lot. She migrated here, became a single mom, and raised us in the projects. She spent over 20 years cleaning rooms at a hotel in Union Square. She’s broken many bones and fractured her cervical spine. She’s got arthritis and diabetes. She was on a lot of medication that was causing her to nod off all the time. I finally convinced her to take a mint, and she loved it. Now I have her on Papa & Barkley tincture for her pain, and I have to keep a stash on hand because she loves it so much.
Q: What can people expect when they come to your shop?
A: They can expect to see people who look like them. I hired everyone through the Equity for Industry Program, a partnership between Success Centers SF and the city which helps get marginalized people jobs in the industry. Some of my employees are equity applicants in waiting. It feels good in my shop. When you go into my location, you can feel the story behind it. Plus, your money is going right back into the community pot. I will give a good portion of my profits to the Equity Program to help those who have been harmed by the war on drugs.
Q: What’s it like to be a shop owner in Union Square?
A: It’s amazing. Who would have ever thought? I can walk out the door and see the hotel my mom worked so hard at just to keep food on the table and a roof over our heads. And now I’m a CEO. Plus, this is a tourist area. We get people from all over the world. It’s beautiful. It’s like I’m on top of the world.
Q: What do you want people to know about you?
A: I’ve been through a lot. I’m a single mom of two daughters. I’m a survivor of domestic abuse. It’s not always the easiest to talk about, but it needs to be talked about. Like, hey, look, I overcame all that. I’m the first Latina female to open a storefront with the SF Equity Program. That gives a lot of people hope.
I want to make sure that no one gets left behind. You can’t just be granted a permit and go party. We can’t celebrate until everyone is celebrating, and we still have people who are behind bars because of this plant. People can reach out to me. I’m happy to chat about my experience from the start until now. I’m here for my community.
This story was produced in partnership with Represent Collaborative, a San Francisco media initiative focused on racial and social justice. Rep Co works with subjects to produce stories about Black and brown communities. Learn more at www.representcollaborative.com.