The cannabis industry can serve communities of color rather than oppress them.
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Whenever I’ve confronted injustice in my life, I’ve leaned on my fellow women of color to heal, fortify my strength, and find inspiration.
This community has consistently been able to lift me up when I’ve been pushed down. Not only do these women of color create an environment where I can be heard and understood, their collective resilience helps me find my own.
To no surprise, I recently discovered that a wave of women of color has surfaced as leaders in the cannabis industry, reclaiming power from a substance that has contributed to the mass incarceration of their communities.
This is a powerful trend.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 33 U.S. states have legalized cannabis for medical use, and 14 states (plus Washington, D.C.) have legalized cannabis for recreational use for people over 21 years old.
Within those states, white entrepreneurs have emerged as an undeniable force. In 2017, a Marijuana Business Daily survey reported that 81 percent of people starting cannabis firms identify as white.
Several women of color are disrupting this pattern, leading the charge on diversifying the industry and empowering communities of color with new opportunities and outlooks for the future.
Historically, the police have targeted Black and brown communities for their cannabis use at much higher rates than their white counterparts.
According to the ACLU, from 2001 to 2010, Black and white cannabis users between ages 18 and 25 have used cannabis at roughly the same rate. But within this time period, Black users were on average 3.73 times more likely to be arrested in the United States for cannabis charges.
The greatest racial gaps exist in Iowa, Minnesota, Illinois, and Washington, D.C., where the rate of arresting Black users is between 7.5 and 8.5 times higher than the rate for white users.
These racist law enforcement practices have led to permanent criminal records for many people of color. These records are accessible by potential landlords and employers, forever altering the course of people’s lives.
The irony is that while Black and brown people are targeted for “criminal” cannabis use, the mostly white legal cannabis industry is booming.
A major purpose of the legalization movement is to correct these longstanding inequities, allowing people of color to emerge as true leaders in the cannabis industry.
This list of bold women of color in cannabis shine in entrepreneurship, education, advertising representation, wellness, and personal career development.
They are living examples of how we can all find strength by looking within the very forces that seek to disempower us.
Adams is the former chief operating officer of C.E. Hutton, a minority-focused cannabis business development firm.
As a woman of color, she’s is used to not being taken seriously by male-dominated firms in the space. That’s why she’s made it her business (literally) to expose the issues that communities of color often face, and champion Black-owned cannabis businesses.
“Although the industry has experienced massive growth since 2014, most companies still have not implemented a diversity, equity, or inclusion plan. Some that have implemented a plan still manage to exclude African Americans from the equation, and when it comes to equity, they falter,” Adams says.
As part of her efforts to change that, Adams recently co-authored The Minority Report, an annual marketing analysis on minority-owned businesses in the cannabis and hemp industries to “recognize the pioneers running them.”
She also co-created The GreenStreet Academy, an online educational platform teaching the basics of investing in the cannabis industry.
In April 2020, Adams decided to give back by founding Girl Get That Money, “a business coaching and consultancy movement that educates, empowers, and inspires women in business.”
Pryor first learned about the medicinal properties of cannabis after a series of high-risk hospital visits that ultimately led to a Crohn’s disease diagnosis.
In the immediate aftermath, Pryor struggled to maintain her quality of life. After two friends sent her cannabis studies, she began doing her own research.
In 2015, she flew to Denver, Colorado, to acquire strains that could alleviate symptoms of her condition. With the help of cannabis, Pryor has been able to recover and live an active, healthy life.
“Without cannabis, I wouldn’t be where I am,” she says.
That’s partly what inspired Pryor to move to California and co-found Cannaclusive, an agency that fosters inclusion in the cannabis industry through marketing, visuals, consultancy, advocacy, education, and wellness guidance.
Cannaclusive’s stock photo project seeks to normalize images of people of color consuming cannabis.
“We were tired of going to events and being asked why we were there and how we found out about it. It’s almost like the industry became a white, male paradise with no consideration for the people [who] have been damaged by it, and full of microaggressions,” Pryor says.
As part of a shared endeavor with Cannaclusive and the cannabis marketing consultancy ALMOSTCONSULTING, Pryor also spearheaded the creation of InclusiveBase. This online database is a resource for conscious consumers looking to support minority-owned cannabis businesses.
By creating this growing list of over 550 cannabis-related businesses led by underrepresented communities, Pryor is giving consumers tangible ways to contribute toward racial equity in the cannabis industry.
Outside of business, Pryor has also taken her cannabis advocacy work to Washington, D.C., to reform public policies. She’s been involved in the campaign for the Equity First Initiative, which “harnesses the political power of cannabis organizers [who] work at the intersection of the cannabis industry, racial equity, and reparative justice.”
She’s also the chief marketing officer of TONIC, the only woman-owned, vertically integrated hemp company in the Northeastern United States.
Is there anything she doesn’t do?
Before entering the legal cannabis industry, Dee used and sold cannabis recreationally in Baltimore, Maryland, where only regulated medical use had been legalized.
As a result, she was charged with seven cannabis-related crimes.
After expunging these charges from her record, Dee relocated to Portland, Oregon, where recreational and medical use has been legalized.
Working in cannabis foods became Dee’s first introduction to understanding the medicinal properties of both cannabis and hemp.
Through her job in a cannabis kitchen, Dee started learning about dosage and cannabinoids, receiving mentorship from another cannabis chef. Outside the kitchen, she started to research and educate herself on the plant in her spare time.
For Dee, cannabis and hemp are regimented tools to improve wellness, but she’s noticed a huge lack of education on the plant’s healing properties.
“I was hitting a brick wall of helping people understand the product and [look past] the stigma,” she says.
To fill the knowledge gap, Dee developed Cannacademy, a series of free online courses on the cannabis space and the plant’s medicinal properties.
“Creating this educational sidepiece was largely about normalizing the plant and giving it the respect that it deserves,” Dee says.
Dee is an open advocate for the full legalization of cannabis in the United States and champion for the expungement of cannabis-related convictions, felonies, and misdemeanors.
“I could easily be one of the people still sitting in jail right now. I have nothing but gratitude for being able to see the other side of legalization. All I can do is pay it forward and help others,” Dee says.
Dee sees herself as living proof of the possibilities of restorative justice.
Wright is an award-winning cannabis advocate as well as the co-founder and chief marketing officer of EstroHaze, a media company offering women of color a space to learn about the numerous lifestyle and career opportunities within the cannabis industry.
Her desire to educate others about this space stemmed from observations that “there was and still is a real lack of inclusion when it comes to highlighting Black women and other minority women working in front of and behind the scenes in cannabis.”
While working at Black Enterprise, Wright met Safon Floyd and Kali Wilder. She was instantly inspired by their thoughtfulness, commitment, and passion for building community in cannabis.
After attending Canopy, the nation’s top cannabis accelerators, they decided to co-found EstroHaze.
Wright also believes that the legal cannabis industry presents many incredible opportunities for people of color to build generational wealth.
“I think legalizing cannabis will help ease the hearts and minds of those who are still thinking limitedly about the plant and the many benefits it offers. With that, they can use this opportunity to learn all about the industry, understand how to invest in cannabis stocks and companies. With time and effort, this could be a very lucrative space for many families to be a part of,” she says.
Gates is a corporate wellness trainer and founder of the Bädé Collection, an organic, CBD-infused wellness skin care brand designed to reduce inflammation.
Gates was inspired to create the brand after experiencing extreme pain from her busy schedule of teaching an average of 20 fitness classes a week.
“I definitely overdid it to the point where I had serious shin splints for over 6 months, and even monthly [physical therapy] visits weren’t helping,” Gates says.
Gates began trying a number of natural pain relievers, but nothing seemed to work.
“During that time, I took a week off, visited my parents, and checked out some dispensaries. The only thing I could legally return [to New York City] with was hemp-derived CBD,” Gates says.
“After playing around in my kitchen with homemade remedies that ultimately helped reduce my pain and the pain of my fellow fitness peers, I decided to take the leap [and start my own business],” she says.
Gates went on to design the Bädé Collection for physically active consumers, who, like her, are looking to manage their pain with products that contain quality, unprocessed ingredients.
“We can’t be the leader in pain relief if we don’t have an understanding of both reactive and preventive measures, something that’s required as a personal trainer,” Gates says. “I am proud that helping people physically led to this new passion of helping people holistically.”
These women have created the possibility of reinvention and community advocacy for communities of color through their groundbreaking work.
They’ve also created an opportunity for consumers to easily support minority-owned and led businesses.
From marketing to education, they’re cultivating change in cannabis. In paving the way for a different future for themselves and their communities, these women are role models for young women of color.
Most importantly, they’re opening the public’s eyes to how the cannabis industry can serve communities of color rather than oppress them.
Juliana Clark is a freelance journalist and emerging audio producer based in Los Angeles. She enjoys reporting on communities of color and equality in the workplace.