• Shannon DeGrooms

Celebrating Black Queer Womxn in Weed

Updated: Nov 2, 2020

Because White Supremacy and Homophobia Exist Year Round Including Pride Month

Similar to the criminalization of the plant, you may have noticed how the media produced within and about this newly regulated industry is rooted in systemic racism. In both subtle and overt ways, thus upholding the machine that is white supremacy, Black and brown queer folks, the most marginalized and susceptible to physical, mental, and institutionalized violence of all, have been disproportionately misrepresented, white-washed, or tokenized in cannabis-related media.

I first began this post after being called out for sharing one such piece of media on Facebook back in April. It was a piece titled “Queer Womxn in Weed” where those mentioned, including myself, had something glaring in common: white skin. I shared it haphazardly, proud to have been mentioned. But I saw it. I saw a lack of diversity and said nothing. We must do better. I must do better.

In the wake of movements like #blacklivesmatter happening all across our country and the world, the time to do better is now. This post is to acknowledge, celebrate, and get to know three Black queer womxn in weed. It’s about centering their stories not just during Pride Month, but all year long because these brave humans are existing at a time when that alone can threaten your life and livelihood.

Thank you for your time Amber, Tiffany, and CoCo. Thank you for talking experiences, racism, and your hopes for an industry with an enormous amount of work to do. You are seen. You are heard. You matter.

Amber E. Senter (she/her) is the Chief Executive Officer at LL Products, Inc., Co-Founder of Supernova Women, founder and CEO of Breeze Distro, a house of infused cannabis product brands and distribution located in Oakland, CA, and CEO of Shady Pines Box Club, a cannabis subscription box available in California.

What is it like to be a person of color in cannabis? As a newly regulated industry, how do your experiences differ from that of other industries?

Being a Black woman in cannabis is the same as being a Black woman in any other industry: it's racist and exhausting. My experience in cannabis is more burdensome than other industries because of all the regulations and lack of support (no federal banking, etc.) on top of the experience of being a queer Black woman. The cannabis trade is an industry that has been built on the backs of Black and brown people, however, most of the white companies that dominate the industry don't seem to want to acknowledge that. The regulated industry was introduced by queer folks and their allies in cannabis, however, that is rarely acknowledged. It's all very tiring.

Who’s one of your heroes and why?

My hero is my grandfather, Chester Massey. He is one of the strongest people I ever met. Resilient and brilliant. Loved by all in his community. He picked cotton as a kid, he actually had to drop out of school in 4th grade to help his mom pick cotton. My grandfather ended up being a sharecropper until the early 50s. He and my grandma left Mississippi and migrated to Chicago when the landowner tried to make my pregnant grandma work in the fields. Later he came into his own. He sang in a traveling band. He became a businessman. He started a courier service that employed our family and many black folks from the community that couldn't get jobs because they were seen as "unemployable". He was featured in Black Enterprise Magazine three times. He was the definition of grit. He was so dope and a hero to many. He passed away when I was 10 but thankfully he was a huge part of my life and I learned a lot from him. All of us kids did. A model entrepreneur and a model to the community. He is goals.

What’s one piece of advice you’d offer to a BIPOC or queer person entering the cannabis industry?

Do your due diligence. Have grit. Be resilient. This is not an easy industry to navigate. It is all constantly changing, from companies being bought out to ever-changing regulations we have to remain agile to succeed.

How can the cannabis industry better support BIPOC patients, caregivers, and communities as a whole?

Patients need access to affordable cannabis products. We need access to compassionate cannabis. As the market currently stands, Black and brown folks are being priced out of the legal market. The taxes are far too burdensome.

Tiffany Watkins aka LadyCanna (she/her) has been in cannabis for 28 years as an activist, distributor, mentor, and entrepreneur. She is the Founder and CEO of Vanguard Magazine, a platform for women in the Cannabis space. Cannabis is Tiffany’s passion and she works constantly to bring unity around this amazing plant.

How can the cannabis industry better support BIPOC patients, caregivers, and communities as a whole?

I think the first pathway to understanding what POC deals with is understanding that we are viewed differently and held to a different standard. That if I'm caught smoking a joint, my consequences will be far greater than my non-POC counterparts.

Allies will be our greatest strength... Those who will stand with us and help change the minds of those who stigmatize cannabis AND POCs. Additionally, I believe that speaking up when we see injustices is key in noting inappropriate behavior in real-time. Stop letting people off the hook for hateful acts.

What’s one of your favorite quotes?

I have always been moved by this quote, but with today's social and political unrest, I find it quite appropriate.

"I remember that I am here not because of the path that lies before me, but because of the path that lies behind me."

What is your hope for the future of cannabis, specifically BIPOC in cannabis?

My hope is to see POC thrive in this new industry. The war on drugs should have never included cannabis; a plant that can help and heal. I am grateful for the momentum and acceptance cannabis has in the mainstream market. I hope moving forward that same acceptance extends to POC. We should not be persecuted for what our non POC counterparts can enjoy without fear.

Coco Hoyne or "Coco" she/her is a cannabis advocate and the Founder and CEO of NeoAmerikana: An Occult Cultural Collective.

How can the cannabis industry better support BIPOC patients, caregivers, and communities as a whole?

Aggressively combat the War on Drugs. For decades, cannabis criminality has resulted in BIPOC citizens being arrested and incarcerated for a plant that non-people of Color are now profiting from. Until there is an equal playing field, no person of Color is truly safe within the industry. And that's not enough, we need to continue to demand justice for those who have given their life to the Drug War. There are still American citizens across the country doing time as prohibition rolls back. They must be freed and their records expunged in addition to having prime access to cultivating their own cannabis businesses. The BIPOC community is the spine of this industry, without the spine we cannot be healthy or flexible or continue to have sustainable growth.

Who’s one of your heroes and why?

Always and forever Kanye West. Despite some of his questionable decisions in the last few years, this King of Hip Hop has inspired me most of my adult life. We're both Southside Chicago but I also believe as a WOC, it's easier for me to understand some of the challenges that he speaks about as his experience as a Black man moving through the world. Regardless of how famous or wealthy he is, some people would never trade places with him based on skin color alone. He is always himself to a fault and I love that about him, he's the ultimate Gemini, so many faces that his face is a sphere. We've all bopped to a Ye production whether we knew it or not, the King is talented. No one can take that from him, he inspired me to believe in myself regardless of all the odds.

What’s one piece of advice you’d offer to a BIPOC or queer person entering the cannabis industry?

Be yourself unapologetically. We are entering a time in which people are craving authenticity, we no longer have to make ourselves small to fit into someone else's box. You do not need to cater to anyone. I remember first struggling with my own business, if I wanted to be the face of it or choose someone else or a mascot then Black Panther movie broke the box office. Remember that there is power in inclusivity and diversity when you are at peace with yourself and living your truth, success will follow.

What’s one of your favorite quotes?

"Success is not built on success. It's built on failure. It's built on frustration. Sometimes it’s built on catastrophe." - Sumner Redstone

This rings so true to me because those times I thought I would break, that I would hit rock bottom, were my best times. I learned so much and understood that life was making me like an arrow within a bow; it wasn't pulling me back, I was about to be propelled forward.

What is your hope for the future of cannabis, specifically BIPOC in cannabis?

My hope for the future of the cannabis industry is that we can all return to honoring the land, the plant, and the planet. There is so much wisdom in nature and it offers us so much material gain & abundance but we are so often consumed by our greed that we cannot absorb that knowledge. I hope that we get to a place within the industry that those of us that were the forefathers can be honored and given an equal platform to participate in the industry. I want to see an increase of marginalized groups at the table for the future of cannabis, not just as a working-class for the overlords but equity being shared. A paradigm shake-up led by social justice and diversity. And if that does not happen, I hope those groups pack up their talents and go build a better table.

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