Maurice Morton and his family are building an empire. With the Tusk brand serving as the MOR-Hemp corporation’s flagship, Morton introduces the DMV region and beyond to a variety of hemp-infused goods, including a line of hemp-flavored liquors.
The unique flavor profile of Tusk’s rum and the complexity of Tusk’s vodka — part savory, part sweet — is overshadowed only by the origins of the family’s growing enterprise. The Mortons are descendants of former slaves and sharecroppers, who, with blood, sweat and tenacity, made an investment that 116 years later is altering the course of their progeny’s fate.
Morton’s great-great-great grandparents, former slaves, married the year slavery was abolished, and then entered the sharecropping industry. In 1906, they purchased five acres of land in Halifax, Virginia — the foundational piece to a now 65-acre holding — after which they became tobacco farmers.
Today, Tusk, a name Morton credits to his wife, is helping to redefine Black entrepreneurs’ place in the beverage industry and the narrative around generational wealth.
Rarely do we hear stories of Black families reaping the financial benefits of inherited assets. Instead, our nation’s history is riddled with tales of Black enterprises struggling to carve out their place alongside mainstream brands. Too often, Black business communities fell victim to violent expulsion.
“[Our company] is about closing the gap in generational wealth,” Morton says. “It’s not just about creating for the Morton family, but for other Black families as well. I see that it’s possible, but we all have to change our mindsets. Mindset can control how you project your emotions, how you treat other people and how you view yourself.”
Tusk means to honor their ancestors’ legacy and pass on an enduring gift to future generations and aspiring Black entrepreneurs.
We’re Not Drug Dealers
“Oh no, we’re not going to be a cartel family,” Morton says of his aunt’s reaction to transforming the five acres the family inherited into a hemp farm in 2017. “We’re not drug dealers.”
Even today, as the hemp industry blossoms, there’s a need to demystify the stigma that follows the botanical class of Cannabis.
Morton explains, “There’s a difference between hemp and marijuana. Though they both are derivatives of the hemp plant and they are grown the same way, they have different uses.”
According to Morton’s quick and dirty crash course, hemp is grown in three different ways: marijuana, CBD and grain and fiber plants, which are distinctive classifications with multiple applications.
“The plant, the seeds, the stock [from the grain and fiber plant] can be used to create sustainable products,” Morton shares.
Clothes and shoes can be fashioned from the plant. It can even be used to fortify concrete, making it 1,000 times stronger once its properties are broken down.
It’s the perfect ingredient for shaking up the spirit industry.
Loyalty, Togetherness + Wealth
In 2019, the MOR-Hemp company was launched, which also produces shoes, socks and coconut oils, followed in 2020 by the Tusk subsidiary. In September 2021, they launched their vodka and rum products (the first of their kind in the state), in partnership with Edwin Wright of Whiskey Wright distillery.
The Tusk brand is not conventional, especially the taste.
“The vodka is very smooth,” says Morton. “It’s very flavorful. You can taste the hemp grain on the back end, after your first sip. It’s very unique.”
Courtesy of the hemp seed, the spirits are also infused with vitamin D and Omega-3 oils, which diminish the intensity of hangovers, should you choose to overindulge.
Though Morton emphasizes deeply entrenching MOR-hemp and Tusk in the DMV, the brand is beginning to stockpile an impressive list of national and international accolades.
“In the London Spirits Competition, we placed silver with the vodka and bronze with the rum; [in] the Sunset International Spirits Competition in California, we placed silver with the rum and bronze with the vodka; and in the Las Vegas Global Spirit Awards, we placed silver with the vodka and bronze with the rum. We’ve placed in every competition that we’ve entered in the seven short months that we’ve been in business.”
Morton goes on to explain that many brands enter competitions year after year and are never acknowledged. It’s a testament to the family’s entrepreneurial spirit and creativity, and a powerful reminder of how far they’ve come.
In a recent trip to Detroit, Morton discovered there are more than 180 Black-owned alcohol brands around the country. The revelation reiterated for Morton that stewarding a successful Black-owned business is bigger than a singular destiny.
“If you’re not bringing your people up with you, or inspiring people to come along for the journey, then I feel it’s a waste of time, because then we’re not helping each other get to where we all should be.”
The elephant emblazoned on each bottle of vodka and rum is more than an eye-catching logo: It symbolizes the family’s past, present and future. The elephant embodies loyalty, togetherness and wealth, and pays homage to their grandmother, who collected elephant-themed novelties. As the sons and daughters of slaves, everything promotes healing, harmony and remembrance.
“This is not just for the moment,” Morton proclaims. “One hundred years from now, when I’m not on this earth anymore, my kids and grandkids will be able to represent us.”