By Melanin Mary
Let’s cut to the chase.
The cannabis industry is heavy with white men. That has been the nature of the game since colonial America when African slaves were forced to work on hemp plantations. Then came Harry Anslinger, the first FBI commissioner, who made a bed of racism and xenophobia for Marijuana Prohibition to lie on in 1937. It got so comfy and snug that former President Richard Nixon had perfect precedence to heavily police black and brown communities for cannabis and heroin starting in 1968.
Today, cannabis is the latest business trend, as people sit in prison serving mandatory minimums for possession due to racist laws. Companies are becoming a free-for-all for those with connections and capital in legal states; rich white men for the most part. This obviously excludes many groups of people. However, if I were to compile a list based on the gender pay gap statistics, black and brown women would be at the very bottom.
How is that fair when our experiences have been a part of cannabis history, starting from the women working on plantations, to Charlo Greene, to my great grandmother bagging weed at the dining room table? There's a need for more representation, and I don’t expect any single entity to make it happen alone or at all.
The only people I expect to be allies are the ones who claim to be. Activist, lecturer, and writer, Rachel Cargle said:
“In order to be an ally, one must do the work. In order to authentically do the work, one must connect with the people. In order to connect with the people, one must know their plight. In order to know their plight, one must educate themselves on their history.”
All too often, white people show up with an, “I'm here to support you!” attitude they wear like a badge as they prioritize their whiteness. Struggles aren’t extracurricular activities to get “ally points” for. If you care, as you so claim, then show up, roll up your sleeves, and DO THE WORK. Strategize with, not for people of color. Seek ways to leverage resources that you have privileged access to in order to dismantle systems of oppression. Gather your peers. Mobilize.
In many cases, supporting people of color means taking a back seat. As a WOC in the cannabis space, I want to see more major brands represent us in a way that isn’t hypersexual and racially insensitive. I want to see more brands of color continue to uplift and provide opportunities for each other. No more asking to be represented... represent.
There’s a woman of color in almost every field who goes home at the end of a long ass day and lights up a joint. There are WOC in cannabis with varying experiences. There are WOC who pair it with yoga and meditation, who consume to manage pain associated with reproductive issues, and so on. This is missing on a large scale. We don’t see, hear or share enough of these stories.
Ever go to an event dominated by a majority as a minority, and spot the only other person like you in that space? Be it a woman, someone black, a queer person of color, someone living with a disability, or all of the above? Seeing the only other person like you in a room overflowing with the status quo is one of the best feelings in the world. It’s an automatic and symbiotic connection even if you two never speak. It’s unfortunate that those moments only exist due to their rarity.
This love from lack is easily avoidable if inclusivity were to be enshrined in opportunity. Representation won’t solve world peace, but it’ll be a part of someone’s individual peace. With that, get used to seeing WOC as growers, dispensary owners, budtenders, green doctors, investors, and more.
Photo: Chicago NORML
Eventually, I plan to hire other WOC to write and/or talk about their experiences in the cannabis industry for Melanin Mary. Right now, it’s just my opinions, my experiences, and what I believe people want to read. I was that exhausted, code-switching, WOC in tech who went home to unwind by watching Shondaland marathons and smoking a blunt full of “loud.”
I'm part of a community suffering from being over-policed and underfunded. There’s a certain poetic numbness that comes with growing up in any hood. Injustices are stirred into concrete, soaked in the soil that malnourished the grass, posted on corners with police cameras, and tight-lipped at unsolved murders whispering in the wind. You don’t become numb, it just is, but you slowly become aware of how fucked up things are.
It’s one hell of an undoing - one that led me to show appreciation for my community through advocacy and support. I volunteer for an organization on a mission to reform cannabis laws and restore areas hit hardest by the war on drugs through social equity programs, like what Hood Incubator is doing.
I’d love to see the cannabis community move in that direction. Drive in a lane that forges a clear path for those whom would otherwise not have the opportunity. Melanin Mary won’t matter if black and brown communities aren’t revitalized in such a way that’ll allow cannabis to become a lucrative part of it.
Who's stories will be shared, appreciated, and told if they don’t happen to begin with?
About the author: Nisha, founder of online publication Melanin Mary, is a "regular-degular" QWOC, content strategist, and an advocate who found herself at the intersection of cannabis, underserved communities and non-profits. With over six years of digital marketing experience for SaaS startup companies in Chicago, she decided to transition into a community-focused role. Nisha currently serves as an active volunteer for ChicagoNORML, a chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, and Communications Coordinator for a non-profit at the forefront of democracy, social impact, and philanthropy.
For more on Nisha and Melanin Mary, visit melaninmary.com and follow @melaninmary.
Feature photo via Chicago NORML.