Leina‘ala Ahu Isa, Ph.D., Trustee, At-LargeThere’s no doubt that the cannabis industry is here to stay, as more states begin to organize programs to legalize marijuana.

In Nevada, the first medical marijuana dispensaries opened back in 2015, and as of July 1, 2017, recreational marijuana sales are up and running. With an annual rate of 40+ million visitors in Las Vegas alone, the marijuana industry is on the cusp of a major explosion, and a Hawaiʻi young man stands in the forefront.

Hawaiʻi has provided the world its fair share of superstars, but in order to break the boundaries of social class, it seems that one must sing like Bruno or fight like BJ. In the realm of business, Ranson Keola Shepherd (formerly Ranson Keola Kepa) has positioned himself to be one of the islands’ great success stories, though the road to get there has been paved with obstacles.

Born and raised in Waimānalo, Hawaiʻi, Shepherd, along with his siblings, became a ward of the state at a very young age. Though he was dealt cards that weren’t ideal for success, Shepherd felt motivated to create a better life for himself and his family from the time he entered school at Waimanalo Elementary. He carried this immense sense of purpose throughout his formative years, and by the time he was a student at Kailua High School, he had become highly involved in all facets of his education and community. Shepherd excelled at both sports and academics, often bringing home a 4.0 GPA and receiving many acknowledgments for his participation in various programs.

After graduating high school in 2003, Shepherd received academic scholarships to attend the University of Nevada at Las Vegas, where he also walked onto the football team. Although his family needed him back home, Shepherd decided to stay in Las Vegas. Over the next four years, he mastered the martial art, Jiu Jitsu, and attained black belt status in four years. He used these skills to begin a career as the head Grappling and Self Defense Instructor at Fight Capital Training Center, from which many amazing opportunities arose. Slowly, he was able to move his three siblings from Hawaiʻi to Las Vegas, while also becoming a father twice over – the ultimate drive to his success.

George Marnell, Trustee Leinaʻala Ahu Isa and Ranson Shepherd – Photo: Courtesy

Through his work with Jiu Jitsu, Shepherd formed some unexpected relationships that gave way to new and exciting ventures. In 2014, he, along with a strong team of Las Vegas based businessmen, was successful in attaining both state and county licensing in the highly competitive application process for Medical Marijuana Establishments (MME) in the state of Nevada. In addition, an exclusive partnership with Clade 9 Genetics, a leading marijuana cultivator with proven results in Arizona, provided them an advantage in the market. Thus, the foundation for a successful new venture was born, with Virtue Las Vegas (@virtuelasvegas) being their very first cannabis brand to market.

Once the business was up and running, Shepherd sought out the talent of close friend and fellow Hawaiʻi native, Steven Fountain, who assists with branding and product development. Fountain is the owner of Lacer Headwear, an internationally distributed headwear brand.

“I was very honored when Ranson asked me to be a part of his journey. It’s opened my eyes to a whole new market and has allowed me to be creative in an industry I’m passionate about,” says Fountain. Ranson is helping to make our world for Hawaiians to be Future Strong. His desire to help OHA is beyond amazing. I am so PROUD of him! Mahalo nui loa, Steven Fountain for this article.

Mahalo Ke Akua for Ranson!


Editor’s note: This guest column was written by Steven Fountain.


Note: Trustee columns represent the views of individual trustees and may not reflect the official positions adopted by the Office of Hawaiian Affairs Board of Trustees.