This week we are spotlighting the exciting work of Vladeric Belizaire, a student at the UMass School of Law. He is a first-generation child of immigrants. Both of Belizaire’s parents immigrated to the United States from Haiti in the early 1970s and completed their medical residencies at Howard University Hospital in Washington D.C. Belizaire grew up in Lafayette, Louisiana, and joined the military after high school. He served in Iraq from 2004-2005 during Operation Iraqi Freedom 3 (OIF III).

“After the military, I relocated to Massachusetts where I live with my beautiful wife Jessica, two amazing children Amarah and Andre, and our family dog Harrison,” Belizaire says. 

Belizaire also attended Le Cordon Bleu where he graduated as a classically trained chef. As a natural entrepreneur, he started his own business after working in the restaurant industry. 

“I started a personal chef/small catering business called Belizaire Bayou Bistreaux,” he says.” I was hired by clients to cook and give cooking lessons, for small intimate gatherings. I also created a line of small-batch artisan jams and jellies called Beliz~Jellies. Although I love cooking, I felt like something was missing in my life and I wanted to do more.”

This desire to do more inspired Belizaire to go back to school. He graduated from UMass Dartmouth with a bachelor’s degree in Marketing in 2017. After that, he decided to pursue his law degree.  

Belizaire has devoted his studies to learning about the cannabis industry. “The war on drugs, specifically the war on cannabis, disproportionately targeted Black and Brown individuals,” he says. “As states like Massachusetts legalize recreational marijuana, the communities that were not disproportionately impacted by past prohibitions have begun profiting the most. It is my goal to bring equity to the cannabis market by helping those who historically have been over-represented in our prisons for cannabis participate fully with legal representation in the recreational market where they have been under-represented.”

He first explored his academic interest in this topic as an undergraduate. “As a Commonwealth Scholar during my undergraduate study, I authored my thesis on the Cannabis Industry under the supervision of Dr. Steve White from the Charlton College of Business,” Belizaire says. “It was titled “How To Operate A Legal Cannabis Company In A Federally Hostile Environment.” It was the first Honors Thesis examining Cannabis at UMass Dartmouth. While earning my B.S. a very close and dear family member and his significant other began working on their own cannabis company. I worked with them using the business skills I had learned from school. I was able to draft their business plan, market research, and marketing plan.”

For Belizaire, it is important that his work in the cannabis industry help the people who the War on Drugs has hurt the most. “I understand that when one thinks of Racial Justice the Cannabis Market probably is not the first thing to come to mind,” he says. 

“However, I believe that one way to bring racial equity and justice to BIPOC communities is through the power of economic building, and patronization of BIPOC owned businesses. The more I worked with and talked with other BIPOC (Black Indigenous People of Color) trying to do the same thing, the more I saw first-hand how those who had been disproportionately affected by cannabis laws were being systematically left behind in this new and emerging industry. I consider myself a Social and Racial Justice Zealot and if I can use my law degree to bring equity to BIPOC communities and smiles to the faces of those who live in these communities then I would feel as though I have contributed something to society: I left this world a better place than where I found it.”

The cannabis industry can be a difficult one to successfully navigate and Belizaire plans to help BIPOC small businesses do just that. “Because the cannabis industry has a plethora of legal requirements and regulations to regulate cannabis businesses, it can be expensive for cannapreneurs, start-ups, and small businesses to enter the market,” he says. “These people need access to justice and I would like to be the one to provide it to them. This work is important to me because it is important that those BIPOC communities that have faced financial disaster due to federal and state policies via the War on Drugs be included in what has been termed the Green Gold Rush.” 

Belizaire hopes to create real change in the industry and the larger community as a whole. He says, “I learned while in the military that the only way to make an impact is to get involved. Physical action brings physical change. I knew that the best way for me to help the disenfranchised was to be a legal voice and resource for them. My hope is to use my Juris Doctor degree to work as a cannabis attorney after graduation,”

Belizaire expects to graduate in May 2021. When he isn’t studying law or spending time with his family he loves to cook, fish, go to the beach, try new restaurants, collect cookbooks, read, and watch stand-up comedians.

You can add Vlad on LinkedIn or read his thesis  “How To Operate A Legal Cannabis Company In A Federally Hostile Environment” below