This past weekend on December 5th, I was fortunate enough to attend the virtual Cannabis Meets Culture event hosted by Fully Integrated and sponsored by Blaqstar Farms. To say it was anything less than amazing would be an injustice. This event was a collage of the cannabis industry’s most inspiring trailblazers who see the successes and failures currently existing throughout our industry.
The conference highlighted the pros, cons, and barriers still in place within the cannabis space for BIPOC and other underrepresented communities. It showed the reality of how the legacy market and the black and brown people who kept it thriving, have been shoved aside by the government and rich white-collar men, who now intend to cash in on a plant they once believed was on par with heroin and meth.
The hypocrisy displayed by the American government and the reality it presents for BIPOC and those previously and currently incarcerated for cannabis possession cannot go unnoticed.
As Tammy Pettigrew, Founder of The Cannabis Cutie, stated, “The worst side of cannabis is the law.”
Day 2 Overview- Panels and Sessions
The best way to describe this monumental event can be summed up in two words: unapologetically honest.
From the panel discussions to the speakers themselves, nothing fell short of proving why this cannabis event needed to happen.
Mental Health & Cannabis
This panel, in particular, was one of my favorites. The first speakers of the day were Tracey Schultz (Founder of PuffnPretty), Jocelyn Harris (Founder of Mommies and Mary Jane and Angel Fire International), Dr. Oga Obie (Cannabinologist for Refine CBD) and Dr. Barry Iruke (Partner and Medical Advisor for Blaqstar Farms)
Tracy’s desire to encourage other women to feel comfortable and empowered when they’re smoking is what this community needs more of. The stigma for women who smoke cannabis is not just unfair, but it’s done in a way that makes women feel guilt and shame for wanting to light up. But I can’t think of a better form of supporting positive mental health and aiding a woman in her self-care routine than taking a long hit at the end of a stressful day.
Women are expected to wear 20 different hats all while doing it with a smile, yet people still feel the need to criticize a woman for how she chooses to heal herself. Elevating wellness with cannabis is a message that needs resharing every single day.
Much of what was discussed hit home on a personal level, especially when listening to Jocelyn Harris’ story. Harris, Founder of Mommies and Mary Jane and Angel Fire International, shared her brave story of struggling with postpartum depression and anxiety after having her daughter.
While I don’t have a child of my own, after learning about my anxiety disorder, I was left with more uneasiness than I anticipated. It was about finally coming to terms with a problem I had no control over, but where did I go from there? Talking about my cannabis consumption certainly was not the go-to answer. Even now, I still sense the stigma and silent judgment when I mention how I smoke.
Jocelyn’s experience was the perfect example of how cannabis not only can help with pregnancy but also the impact it has on a woman’s mental health during and after. Her organization, Mommies and MaryJane, is something every mother who uses or would like to use cannabis should be a part of and know about.
Whoever needs to hear this: Mothers who smoke cannabis are NOT bad or unfit mothers.
Dr. Oga and Dr. Barry solidified the ability cannabis and CBD have on calming symptoms of anxiety and the healing properties it has for women suffering from severe symptoms during and after pregnancy like nausea and postpartum depression and anxiety.
Taking Action + Ally Ship in the Industry
The next discussion panel involved activism in the cannabis industry, which shared some eye-opening information that I wouldn’t have considered. Many of us are aware of the disparity between police and people of color. Nothing proves that more than 2020.
Leading the conversation was Kerristen Brooks (Founder and CEO of Eunoia Herbals and Outreach and Communications Manager for Fully Integrated), Representative Ted James (State Representative of Baton Rouge), Jax Finkel (Executive Director of Informed Texas), Nadir Pearson (East Coast Project Leader for Cannaclusive), and Travis Maurer (Co-owner of The Weed Blog).
The greatest piece of information that I took away from this panel was the description of the MORE act and how social equity is severely lacking for BIPOC. Legalization is at the forefront of many minds right now, but is it really fair and legal when there are still black men and women sitting in jail for petty possession and distribution charges?
Is the MORE act fair and legal when it outlines that no one with a felony cannabis conviction can own or operate a dispensary or grow? Is the MORE act all it’s cracked up to be if there is still so much racial disparity that people from the legacy market, who supplied us with the plant when we needed it most, will most likely be left out because the current industry caters to powerful, rich white men?
The issues regarding social justice can’t go unnoticed, and every speaker was passionate about their stance on social equity within the cannabis industry.
Being an ally and recruiting more allies means getting involved with legislation and being more aggressive about cannabis campaigning. Having people understand the amount of widespread support there is for cannabis and proper legalization strengthens the cause and calls attention to the disparities this country still touts toward the ability of minorities to be successful in the cannabis space.
The current system continues to disservice BIPOC communities who suffered from the war on drugs. Until these communities and families receive the same opportunities afforded to multi-millionaires who may or may not have even touched the plant, the cannabis industry can’t move forward in a fair and just manner.
Finding Your Path in Business
Breaking barriers and pursuing new careers in the cannabis industry was at the forefront of this discussion panel. One aspect which was made abundantly clear is that more education needs to be provided and available in regards to starting and running a successful cannabis business.
What some people are unaware of is the ability to pursue any number of different jobs within the industry. For me personally, I remember being very intimidated by some of the qualifications cannabis job listings were looking for. Science and chemistry were never my strong suits, so I certainly didn’t go to college to receive a diploma in biochemical engineering or anything remotely related to this category. However, I soon realized I had other skills that could be offered and help put me on a track to working in the cannabis industry.
One piece of advice given by Laura Seddon, a marketing executive for Kandypens, was, “Do what you love and do it for the right reasons.”
If you’re passionate about cannabis, there is no limit to the possibilities available to you. What’s the best way to start? Network. Network. Network.
Vanessa Oliver, CEO of Cannabis Wedding Expo and owner of Infin8tly Elevated Events, commented that the greatest thing anybody can do for themselves is network with like-minded people and to not be afraid. Reaching out online fosters growth and can offer some of the most insightful information you’ll ever receive.
The other noteworthy speakers in attendance during the panel included:
- Steven Phan, owner of Come Back Daily– a CBD company based out of White Plains, NY. Their range of high-quality CBD products include gummies, vapes, skincare, tinctures, and more.
- Tamar Bibbs, CEO of IV20 Houston Consulting, LLC– This company focuses on educating and supporting minorities regarding farming, advocacy, health, and wealth opportunities in the Legal Cannabis and Hemp industry.
- Tess Taylor, Founder, and CEO of TAYLOR + tess– Plant-based CBD skincare that’s vegan and toxic-free. Their products cater to no one particular race, gender, or sexuality. The only marketing done is to the biggest organ of the body: your skin.
- Danicka Brown-Frazier, owner of Greenish Vibes– a husband and wife, black-owned company operating a cannabis accessories and CBD boutique online store that is soon to become a microbusiness in California. They work in several projects dedicated to improving equity for black farmers of industrial hemp in the U.S and West Africa.
In addition to networking, another point made by Steven was that if you want to learn, you need to show up and work hard. There are no shortcuts or magic tricks when it comes to working for this industry.
These speakers laid it all out about empowering your own network, promoting better advocacy, and how there are still many restrictions for who is legally eligible to run and maintain a cannabis business.
Getting Candid About Cannabis/Open Conversation About Normalization
We are all aware of the truth behind the war on drugs and the black and brown community. The sad part is, there still are hundreds of thousands of people who aren’t. Herein lies one of the biggest problems of the cannabis industry.
Here to speak on the topic for this panel was Najee Tyler (VP of Marketing, Viola), Tammy Pettigrew (Founder of The Cannabis Cutie), Tianna Smith (Founder of The Hemp House Foundation LLC), Dr. Barry Iruke, and Lori O. Lord (Executive Director of Fully Integrated).
An interesting part of the discussion was about how the “stoner culture” has and continues to impact the perception of cannabis. However, the reality is not everyone in the cannabis customer base has the same mentality as Bob Marley, which was a wise insight from Tianna. And I’ll be the first to admit that I do enjoy parts of the stoner culture.
I also believe there’s a time and place, which seemed to be the same page that all of the panelists were on. Bob Marley should not be considered as the only symbol of cannabis, and how we get that message across is by continuing to have difficult conversations.
Naj also remarked about the stigma of how cannabis has been policed. There is insurmountable evidence on the disparity in the number of arrest records and convictions for blacks and whites in possession of cannabis. All this combined with the classification of cannabis as a schedule 1 drug since 1970 has created a desperate need for more open and honest conversations about cannabis use. Normalizing the stigma is the only way more legal opportunities can be created for BIPOC and for others wanting to make an honest living caring for a plant that has healed them in so many ways.
Cannabis & Parenting
Many parents are wary of talking to kids about cannabis consumption. The stigma around parents who smoke, most especially mothers, causes enough worry to keep their habits in the cannabis closet. But these women in cannabis guided a well-thought-out conversation about normalizing the discussion of cannabis use between parents and their children.
The panel speakers included Jocelyn Harris, Vanessa Oliver, Leah Maurer (Co-owner of The Weed Blog), and Vanessa Coke (Founder of The Parenting Club).
One important note Jocelyn pointed out was to be mindful of the disparities between white and black moms who smoke. It’s shameful that mothers are judged on a different scale based on race, but until now, not many would openly admit to using cannabis out of fear of persecution from their peers. But thanks to organizations like Mommies and Mary Janes, women have an open platform to discuss their love of cannabis and how it’s healed them throughout pregnancy, post-partum, and adjusting to motherhood.
Another part of the conversation involved how to include children in conversations about cannabis, which Leah states that kids should be informed so they can make their own decisions.
Let’s not forget, there are still some sellers out there who sell low-quality, off-brand cannabis products that could potentially have extra additives. Vanessa pointed out how involving kids in research and setting the foundation for honesty is what aids in the decision making process.
Setting Up Your Cannabis Business
Jerome Chenevert (CEO of Greenlife Consulting LLC) presented with a highly informative powerpoint presentation on how to get started setting up your own cannabis business. Along with Tamar Bibbs, Jerome shared some helpful advice on what to consider when looking to enter the cannabis industry; from what you should consider beforehand to setting up a successful marketing strategy.
These were some of the best takeaways that I took from the discussion:
- Educate yourself about the plant- You don’t need to be a master grower, but earning a certificate in an area of interest to you shows your dedication and persistence.
- Decide what segment of the cannabis industry you want to pursue- There are a significant number of other areas in the industry where you don’t even need to be touching the plant. Going to cannabis events, figuring out your skill set, and meeting with a cannabis business consultant can all help you find a career path in the cannabis space that interests and challenges you.
- You’ll always want to consider start-up costs- Starting and running your own business is rewarding, but it’s important that you have the financial resources to support it. Licenses and permits can be ridiculously expensive, and federal, state, and local governments all have some different outline of what’s required of you to run a legal cannabis operation. Protecting yourself and your investment should always be a main priority.
Black Men in Cannabis
The men of this panel provided some of the most thought-provoking information for other black men wanting to put their hand in owning a cannabis business.
Mehka led the conversation right away by recalling the time he traveled to Denver and realized there were not many black-owned businesses in the city. He spoke passionately about his desire for more black ownership and to have more black men be represented in the rooms with the other white-collar cannabis CEOs. Mehka also remarked how there are not enough black men represented in the media and that more imagery of them working in the cannabis industry is needed.
Naj took the time to explain how BIPOC are the ones who can control the media. Up until now, the government was able to paint the picture of cannabis and those who used and profited from it. With 20 states allowing medical marijuana and 15 states that legalized recreational usage, 5 of whom voted for legalization in 2020, there’s never been a greater opportunity for BIPOC and other minority communities, as described by Mehka, to take ownership of new a narrative that also benefits their personal ideas and businesses and allows for more black representation and ownership.
Final Thoughts From the Day
Day 2 of the Cannabis Meets Culture event had some of the most well-informed speakers and panels so that no rock was left unturned in the conversations. There was certainly a ton of knowledge to fully absorb, and it’s crazy to think how much more there still is to discover about cannabis and the ways it can heal people physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.
There’s no doubt that Fully Integrated will become one of the leading organizations to provide education to minorities so they can be successful in operating and owning their own cannabis business. It was a delight to listen in on the events and I look forward to seeing what comes next from everyone involved!
“I’m Alyna, a writer from Florida and strong advocate for the mental health community. Through my writing and advocacy, I hope to add an educating voice that helps the with mood disorders learn to navigate life in a calm and self-fulfilling way. I consume Cannabis as a means to understand and connect with the world.“
Written By: Alyna Paparazzi
Edited by: Veronica Castillo
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