BIPOC Are Reclaiming the Healing Power of Cannabis For Themselves and Their Communities
Marijuana is a tool that can help BIPOC redefine what it means to really “feel good” during these chaotic times.
By: Tess M. Taylor
2020’s greatest lesson is that time is of the essence, especially when it comes to understanding and managing our health. Not only did 2020 remind us to reclaim our bodies and our time, but we have also been forced to reclaim healing as BIPOC.
As we enter into 2021, these unprecedented times have strongly encouraged me to stop being passive about my health care and get back into the driver’s seat. It also provided me with the necessary downtime to commit to personal development and healing from trauma. My attitude during the pandemic has been proactive rather than reactive when it comes to caring for my body and mind. This proactiveness requires me to put nutrition, rest, mindfulness, and movement at the top of my priority list. Cannabis is an integral part of my daily routine. It encourages me to be intentional and conscious about all of the decisions I make throughout the day. When cannabis was deemed “essential” during the pandemic, I became optimistic about our country’s progress and desire to reimage plant medicine and its role in helping our minds, bodies, and souls reach homeostasis.
Everyone’s experience with marijuana is different, so the plant will play a unique role in everyone’s life. However, the common sentiment is that plant medicine can improve our quality of life in more ways than one.
“[Wellness] is the understanding and unearthing of all of the dark places within ourselves,” says Cannabis Activist and co-founder of Humble Bloom Solonje Burnett. “Once we take steps to resolve those issues, we allow ourselves to show up in the world, in our communities, in our families, and our partnerships in an entirely different way.”
Though there is much to celebrate with several emerging states passing cannabis legislation, we must be realistic: All BIPOC don’t have legal, safe, and affordable access to marijuana. In the minds of many BIPOC, the story they believe about marijuana is laced with trauma and propaganda. BIPOC Cannabis activists like Burnett and Timeka Drew — a cannabis industry veteran, social equity license holder, and activist — are continuously working to heal the relationship disproportionately impacted people have with wellness and the cannabis plant.
Before managing her own social equity operating license, Drew was the Executive Vice President of Strategy and Innovation at 4Front. She managed funds that helped social equity applicants, from disproportionately impacted communities, start their own cannabis businesses. She also works closely with The Poor People’s Army and other organizations focused on economic rights, human rights, and environmentalism work. For two decades, Drew has also been using cannabis to successfully manage her Crohn’s Disease, which she was diagnosed with during her sophomore year at Catholic University.
Drew was a seemingly healthy student-athlete competing in track and field at Catholic University. Yet, while in school and battling Chrohn’s Disease, she found herself in and out of hospitals. Trying her hardest to push past the stress of balancing her scholarships and paying piling medical bills, she realized she was not getting any better. The side effects of her treatment plan were making her feel infinitely worse, and she was desperate to find a solution that worked.
“I made the decision to solely use cannabis, and it was a scary one. But I immediately started to see changes in my health. At that point, I was on medication for so long that all I was really experiencing were the side effects. I was a part of several Compassionate Caregiver programs at many LA dispensaries, and they were my lifeline. Those programs are how I got healthy enough to have my four kids, the career, and the life I have now. I am definitely the testament of someone who was worse off but was able to turn it around—to purge all of the bad stuff and start over.”
Drew acquired approximately a quarter pound of free, medical-grade flower per week from participating dispensaries before the legalization of recreational use in California. Dispensaries could no longer sustain gifting cannabis products, so the patients who needed it most were forced to pay expensive taxes to get weaker, less effective strains of weed. Drew is currently pushing for Senate Bill 34, which omits companies’ need to pay taxes for compassionate programs. “It has been a great development, but we have to find more communal ways to help BIPOC medical patients,” says Drew. She hopes that when federal legalization happens, the medical community is adequately included and can have safe, legal, and convenient access to their medicine that is written off by insurance.
“We have to connect the dots of how the War on Drugs and our lack of access to alternative medicine have devastated [the wellness of] our communities,” she says. “So many of our targeted, impacted communities are scared to use cannabis because it puts us in jail, which is not an irrational fear. But we have to work to understand our rights around cannabis.”
Cannabis is a powerful tool to aid in physical and emotional healing, self-care, and personal growth. The benefits of the plant are near endless and provide an opportunity for autonomy in health and wellness. The hope is that the federal descheduling of cannabis, its normalization, and emerging markets nationwide will allow healing for BIPOC, who have been disproportionately impacted by the War on Drugs. To achieve this dream, we must educate and mobilize ourselves. Our first step in making that change is ensuring we understand wellness, know how to cultivate it in our individual lives, and use it to heal our communities collectively. From chronic illness to pain and trauma, this plant has the potential to help us heal on multiple levels.
If you’re interested in learning ways you can use cannabis as an intentional tool for wellness, community advocacy, and social equity, then read what these six cannabis activists have to say:
Cannabis Activist and Cofounder of Humble Bloom
“For me, the cannabis plant is such a magical and mystical thing. It is something that has this duality around it. Some perceive it as negative because of mass incarceration and the trauma that BIPOC people have had to face because it has been used as a tool to imprison our bodies, minds, and spirits, and on the other side, of course, it is a healing plant like so many other criminalized healing plants.
For people to get access to the plant, they need information. So much of what I have been doing is normalizing the plant and promoting radical self-care through AfroPunk by communicating the different ways that cannabis is being used by professionals, the everyday person, and activists. The [BIPOC] cannabis culture is not just hip-hop or naked girls or jail sentences, and it is also not just CBD and the yogi with their legs behind their head. There is space for everyone and multiple ways to use it.”
Cannabis Patient Advocate and President of Mon Cherí Meds
“I was once told by the great Andy (Andrew) Young that you can’t impact the community with outsiders, you have to get with the local community and allow them to spear head with ideas and directives, which, in this case, are individuals from Black and Brown communities that have been impacted by the war on drugs who have become police targets. We are the individuals who need to put initiatives in place that will create real change in our communities. Un-training the mind is the hardest thing in the world to do, but the only way to encourage evolution in the cannabis community is to seek, listen, and follow the lead of those disproportionately impacted. We are the ones who truly know what direction the industry should be headed in.”
Cannabis Activist, Vice President of The Original Equity Group, Owner of Gift of Doja
“Cannabis Social Equity is a nuanced arm of Human Rights and Civil Justice. We cannot be in this industry without actively acknowledging we are trying to thrive in an industry whose prohibition destroyed lives and exploited power, just like we cannot be on American soil without acknowledging we settled on stolen indigenous land. While we were born into this world and did not actively participate in past harms, BIPOC continue to be victimized by social inequities. We must try to create something different.
I move through this industry and the world, having to protect myself from being exotified [...] As a warrior, healer, and creator, I’ve launched my brand, Gift of Doja, to try to help to take up space and create room for a more rebellious and nurturing feminine frequency [in the cannabis industry].”
Timeka Drew and Hilary Yu
Co-Founders of Our Academy
“Social equity initiatives have the potential to create real impact, but unfortunately carry no guarantees. While licensing laws have created a rough framework, the applicants they seek to benefit from lack the proper support, resources, and infrastructure necessary to stand up against corporations naturally incentivized to take advantage of them. We started OUR ACADEMY to use community-building and mentorship as a way to fill these gaps. By offering both resources and a safe space for knowledge sharing, we hope to empower members of our program to not only succeed for themselves but to carry the torch and uplift other members of their communities, as well.
OUR ACADEMY is a real community effort. All our mentors, workshop leaders, and program organizers are volunteers. We have even compiled a resource list of lawyers, accountants, and other professionals pledging pro bono hours to support the program’s members. Without the overwhelming support from individuals in the cannabis community who share OUR ACADEMY’s values, none of this would be possible.
There are many ways to support [BIPOC] without bells and whistles; it just takes a desire to make a difference.”
Cannabis Chef and Community Builder
“We need legitimate cannabis equity. The communities systematically targeted by the War on Drugs are selectively mainly communities of color. Besides legalization (on a medicinal level at the very least), the cannabis equity program is the first small step towards healing that wound. Cannabis has the power to truly build healthy and happy communities by welcoming people from all walks of life, bridging gaps, creating dialogue around a communal table through ritual, plant medicine, and the universal language of breaking bread together. I am focused on advocating for more seats at the table for marginalized communities to be represented, heard, and brought together as a collective.”
Cofounder of The Original Equity Group
“Cannabis advocacy is about changing our hearts and minds about our relationship with this plant. As states begin to loosen their War on Drugs policies and adopt medical or recreational use, advocacy is needed more than ever to ensure that the right message is coming from cannabis advocates. Some steps aspiring cannabis activists can take are: getting involved at your local level by talking with city council members and reaching out to existing cannabis companies to help you in your advocacy efforts."
As we embark on this new frontier of wellness and learn more about the plant, many ask how we can best utilize cannabis to improve our quality of life. Empowerment is the ultimate goal of our wellness journey. We can empower our communities to coexist in a way that allows us to thrive, grow, and heal together.
Learn more about the writer of this piece, Tess M. Taylor, through our Meet The Writers blog post here