They built an empire together. Dan Gasby with his late wife Barbara Smith (better known as B. Smith) opened restaurants, ran a magazine, cultivated a retail line, produced a TV show...
Together the couple accomplished what most only dream of – defeating the odds every step of the way. Nobody could stop them.
And then it happened.
In 2013, Smith was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s. Over the next few years, as she slowly declined, Gasby transitioned from full-time executive powerhouse to a 24/7 caregiver as this cruel disease destroyed the beautiful, vibrant mind of his life partner.
Since then, Gasby has learned and witnessed how much cannabis could have helped Smith if she’d had safe access to it early on her Alzheimer’s journey.
Now, he intends to be part of the cannabis solution for others, as a means to restore balance, promote progress, and ease suffering.
Turning to Cannabis for Alzheimer’s
Did you know that every 67 seconds a person develops Alzheimer’s? By 2050, researchers estimate it will be every 33 seconds.
It is a terrible disease with no known cure, although studies are showing how cannabis can help.
Gasby only wishes he and Smith had known about that at the time of her diagnosis.
“For years, my wife slowly declined with Alzheimer’s taking a bigger and bigger impact on her life, mood, and mental stability,” Gasby says. “The pharmaceutical drugs she would take worked for a while, but I noticed at night she would get agitated – and her personality began to change.”
What a lot of people don’t realize about Alzheimer’s, Gasby continues, is that loss of memory and cognition are only one part of the disease. “What really happens is they start to do dangerous things because their brain is broken. And that’s everything from taking a paperclip and scratching things, to picking up all the floor vents in the house, or taking apart the Christmas tree.”
The experience of supporting Smith during her journey with early onset Alzheimer’s led Gasby to joining the American Brain Foundation Board of Directors, where he helps raise support for the cause while digging further into the disease itself, including the potential of cannabis to help Alzheimer’s patients.
“There are so many receptors in the brain that work naturally with cannabis, and no one has found any sort of toxicity to cannabis per se, so it seems like the perfect wellness product for these patients,” Gasby says.
Bringing Balance to the New Jersey Cannabis Industry
When Gasby understood that legal cannabis was coming to New Jersey, he knew he had to get involved.
“I wanted to be a part of this because I’ve seen what it can do from the standpoint of helping someone in the Alzheimer’s space particularly,” he says. “I understand all the other qualities that cannabis has, as an anti-inflammatory and pain reliever, etc., and that’s why I got involved with trying to get this license for a dispensary in New Jersey.”
In addition to these powerful motives, Gasby also brings three decades of business acumen and experience from multiple industries, including entertainment, media, hospitality, lifestyle, and retail.
While preparing for the dispensary application, Gasby partnered with people who know cannabis and the industry surrounding it inside and out.
“I’m not going in this just to make a buck, I’m doing this because I’ve seen how it can impact people in real time,” he says.
This is one reason why Gasby is considering New Brunswick as a potential dispensary location due to its proximity to medical schools like Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, St. Peter’s University Hospital, and The Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey.
“Science makes a difference,” Gasby says, emphasizing all the current challenges the world is facing.
“Black lives matter – science matters. Everything that is out of balance in this world, there is something there that can put it back into balance. That’s the nature of things. Cannabis is one of those things that just might be an elixir, and we are just scratching the surface,” he says.
We know the history of cannabis, Gasby continues, things we thought were bad weren’t actually bad – but rather politicized.
“For example, look at all the work going into the COVID vaccine. Scientists and companies all over the world are coming up with different vaccines, trying to attack the virus from different standpoints, intellectually, creatively, scientifically, and they’re coming up with different models. Imagine if we devoted the same number of resources to cannabis. What would be the outcome five years from now?”
Research and development are critical in how we decipher these things, Gasby adds.
“We have to have that kind of imagination to get beyond what we think should be, and take things to the next level,” he says. “So I’m excited. This is not just me putting a shingle up with these guys and selling cannabis out of a storefront. This is a story about growth, science, progress, and overcoming obstacles – finding new ways to manage age-old problems.”
Addressing the Minority Issues in Cannabis
One of the cannabis establishment’s greatest criticisms is the lack of diversity, sidelining people of color – the same communities that were disproportionately impacted and ripped apart by the prohibition of cannabis.
Gasby is no stranger to any of this. And it’s a part of what makes his journey into the industry all the more inspiring.
“I’m a black man, I know what discrimination is. I’ve experienced it more times than not. I’ve seen it in business. Being in the restaurant business, my wife and I had to chew a lot of hard, hard cheese,” he says, adding that the cannabis space needs more minority participation.
One of his greatest pieces of advice in this area? Choose your partners wisely. “Partner with smart people. Partner with people who understand the business, who understand the sales, the science, the distribution, the marketing, the history,” he advises. “Partner with people who have a passion for this, but also partner with people who are honest. That’s how [our team] came together.”
Because of his team, his motives, and his decades of experience and success with B. Smith Enterprises, Gasby believes they have a good shot at winning a cannabis license in New Jersey.
“If you look over the history of the B. Smith brand, it has always been about bringing a diverse group of people together under one umbrella. We talk about being trans-cultural, not multicultural – and B’s life was a prism.”
Bringing B. Smith Values to Cannabis
While it was Smith’s Alzheimer’s journey that convinced Gasby to get involved with cannabis, it also seems to be a fitting move for her legacy as a whole and the examples she set across the inspiring arc of her life and career.
“She was never afraid to step out or to do something different, or to look around the corner, and so I’m carrying that mantle now,” Gasby says. “And she wasn’t afraid of cannabis; she wasn’t afraid of looking at things differently.”
Indeed, Smith lived a life defined by courage and breaking through boundaries – doing things that people said she could never do.
“This was a woman who was always on the forefront, traveling to Europe and modeling for a living, making sushi as a black woman in the ‘70s when people didn’t even know what sushi was, having her own TV show, her own magazine, her own radio show, opening up a restaurant for women in Washington as a power center – she was always ahead of the curve,” Gasby notes.
“If we’ve learned anything over the last couple of years it’s that we’re going to have to get out of certain comfort zones and do things differently and realize major structural changes, sociological changes, psychological changes – we have to talk to each other.”
Gasby gestures to a painting on the wall behind him, a portrait of Smith smiling in her prime, capturing a beauty that he watched slip away one painful day at a time.
On that fateful day when they got Smith’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis, she looked at Gasby and said this: “Don’t let anybody else tell the story; you tell the story.”
If Gasby can help domesticate cannabis to the point all people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s receive early and safe access, B. Smith’s story will live on forever.
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