My senior research project for the Portland State University Sociology Department was on the blatant racial inequity that exists in the retail cannabis industry. Almost an entire year later, I recently graduated the first ever “Virtual” Business of Cannabis live semester at Oaksterdam University, the first recognized cannabis college in the U.S. I have been constantly exposing myself to even more sociopolitical literature regarding the world of cannabis since. I have worked as a budtender and delivery driver at a schmancy dispensary in the Bay Area for almost a year. Hours will pass and not one person who looks like me enters the door, meanwhile I deal with white veterans telling me they are “sure glad we don’t have to smoke that Mexican crap anymore” all day. Working in the industry, I see and know a lot of shit. That’s why when patients visit the dispensary I work at, I make sure to educate them about the big picture of prohibition, dispensaries, and “pot” overall because it truly expands beyond legalization.

My go-to starting place is the history of prohibition, so I began explaining to each of them the roots of how these laws were born and more importantly, who created them. Drug policy in the U.S. closely mirrors other patterns of punitive measures that the government has taken to construct fear and antipathy towards people of color. I highlight that the first laws against drug use in the U.S. came out in 1875 to outlaw smoking opium, but these laws did NOT ban opium itself– therefore, little white apothecary girls could use it and sell it in their products, while Asian immigrants who traditionally smoked opium to find the same sense of relief, were all of a sudden wrong. This is one of the first examples we see the government disguising racial profiling and targeting as drug safey enforcement. I would explain how in 1925, the U.S. military studied delinquency and addiction and found cannabis was not at all habit-forming, yet continued promoting gateway drug propaganda, despite finding the same results 8 years later. Most patients, despite their personal opinion on stoner culture and all things “pot”, agree that the federal government acted questionably and that they had no idea about any of this prior to us speaking.

With their interest, I continue to explain between the 1920s-1930s, domestic U.S. textile production was mainly in the hands of DuPont, who patented Nylon in 1937. According to Jack Herer’s book The Emperor Wears No Clothes, DuPont, Monsanto, Allied Chemical, and other big industries worked in conjunction with William Hearst (racist reporter) and Harry Anslinger (Direct of Federal Bureau of Narcotics) to outlaw cannabis and erase the competition of hemp fibers and cannabis medicine (which were doing quite well). To denounce cannabis and hemp, government leaders at the time would try anything to eliminate their biggest competitor by influencing public information. These people would pay for the research and advertising that claimed the danger of cannabis, instilling a massive fear in society. They did not want natural medication and industrial hemp production to overshadow their toxic and fast money makers. To keep citizens fearful, General Ford banned all funding for medical research of cannabis in 1976.

Why would you prohibit researching the benefits of an alternative drug if you had no motives to keep it out of people’s possession? Those big leaders knew the power of cannabis and they knew that by hiding the truth and making people fear cannabis, blaming shitty situations on weed, and creating a false narrative on addiction, they could attribute drug crimes and economic failures to people of color. They hated Black and Brown men just as much as losing money, so they lied about the danger of cannabis, banned all positive research/media that did prove medical values, and paid for over-policing of disenfranchised communities to secure a glass ceiling. 

What is worse is how the stigma that they created continues to linger in our own communities of color, today. Over the course of my deep investigative dive into the world of cannabis, it has become abundantly clear that there is still a major lack of holistic awareness of the industry. More specifically, its role in contemporary themes of race, gender, and economic inequity is disregarded far too quickly. I think it is imperative to hold space for conversations addressing the persistent generational trauma that the drug policy has inflicted upon so many of us. Our immigrant parents hold fears over the wonders of the plant because of the drug abuse and gang-related violence they have been forced to experience in their homelands. Their fear is valid. However, it is our job as the new generation of cannabis pioneers and entrepreneurs to create a dent in the narrative and open up the conversation once and for all. We cannot continue to thrive in the legal industry without exposing the lies that the government has told time and again. If we start telling the truth of prohibition and how we have arrived at the stigmas we all hold, we can all begin to unlearn everything we thought we knew about such an interesting little plant. It all ties together, and it is unfair that our community members are not learning their own history. If you thrive from the legal industry, you absolutely have a responsibility to educate yourself and others further.

Lo was born and raised in Santa Cruz, CA where she currently works as an advocate, budtender, and cannabis delivery driver. She studied Sociology and Communication at Portland State University and graduated with honors from Oaksterdam University, the first cannabis college in the country.

Find me on Instagram IG: @_lorainbow_ or shoot me an email lnunez@pdx.edu to connect 🙂

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