The Philadelphia Association of Black Journalists (PABJ) hosted a one-day convention dedicated to destigmatizing cannabis as an industry and its rousing discussions did not go up in smoke.
More Than Just Green: The Color of Cannabis featured nine different panel sessions at University City’s Quorum at the Science Center on topics related to cannabis. Discussions ranged from the plant’s medicinal use, to its all-but-certain legalization in the near future, and perhaps most importantly, how Black and brown people can enter the cannabis marketplace.
“[This convention] really came out of frustration of a lack of diversity, equity and representation in our industry covering things in our own communities and doing a better job.”
A medical marijuana patient, PABJ secretary Tauhid Chappell began researching the medical benefits of cannabis in 2017 and was surprised at how much he did not know about the plant. “The Color of Cannabis is trying to shift the conversation to focus not just on the capitalistic benefits, but talking about the people that have been hurt and why we as media professionals need to take it upon ourselves to do the work and inform people,” Chappell said. “[This convention] really came out of frustration of a lack of diversity, equity and representation in our industry covering things in our own communities and doing a better job.”
Dewey Thomas works in the natural food trade as vice president of sales for Green Dandelion and is mindful of the the historical context surrounding cannabis. “I want to lead with this: When you see the whole Transatlantic Slave Trade, it wouldn’t have happened without cannabis,” Thomas said. “The technology of the day, going back and forth, was sails made of hemp. Ropes on the boats were made of hemp. Those were like the computer chips of the day that led toward colonization and the Western expansion. If you want to talk about the history of hemp, that’s how we got over here. Because of the fiber.”
“It’s time we start rethinking the way we look at cannabis,” Bridgewater said. “We’re not just facilitating a cultural shift in the way we view this plant, but we’re also talking about facilitating a massive transfer of wealth.”
A former soldier and government contractor, Leo Bridgewater is a veteran and cannabis advocate who has seen firsthand how important cannabis can be in helping people like him that suffer from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). “It’s time we start rethinking the way we look at cannabis,” Bridgewater said. “We’re not just facilitating a cultural shift in the way we view this plant, but we’re also talking about facilitating a massive transfer of wealth.”
Dr. Chanda Macias is the CEO of Washington D.C.’s National Holistic Healing Center and has extensive experience in using cannabis to heal people. “I would treat [Bridgewater] with amnesia haze,” Dr. Macias said. “Why? Because it would produce a short term memory loss and he wouldn’t remember those vivid nightmares that he had doing these tours. The easiest way to say that is to show, if you have PTSD and you want to be able to have a normal life, there are certain strains that will induce the medical benefits you need to have that life. It’s the science of the medicine itself and we have to look at the individual and what they really need.”
State representative Jordan Harris is aware of where cannabis currently stands as a legal substance but would prefer its legalization rather than decriminalization. “I support decriminalization, but [would rather vote for legalization] and I’ll tell you why: Because Black people still get arrested if we’re telling the truth,” Harris said. “It sounds good, and I get it, but Black people still get arrested. [Decriminalization] also still encourages interactions with the police, and if you’re Black and brown in urban epicenters across the commonwealth, interactions with police could easily go the wrong way. I would vote for it because it’s better than sending people to jail, but we have to understand there’s still this injustice that happens with people of color in urban epicenters.”
“I believe legalization is happening at some point because I believe there are folks who would much rather legalize marijuana than vote for a tax increase. The auditing general believes we can do $500 to $550 million in tax revenue with a full legalization program and those numbers are going to be enticing to some of my colleagues who don’t want to vote for taxes.”
Harris points to gerrymandering as a reason why cannabis has not yet been legalized in Pennsylvania but believes financial circumstances could lead to its eventual legalization. “Quietly, there’s support from my [political] colleagues, but this is a prime example of how gerrymandering has affected policy,” Harris said. “You have 60% of Pennsylvanians agreeing to it but they’re split up in different legislative districts because of gerrymandering. I believe legalization is happening at some point because I believe there are folks who would much rather legalize marijuana than vote for a tax increase. The auditing general believes we can do $500 to $550 million in tax revenue with a full legalization program and those numbers are going to be enticing to some of my colleagues who don’t want to vote for taxes.”
As a Black woman going to cannabis events with her two business partners, Mary Pryor grew tired of microaggressions that they experienced and co-founded Cannaclusive, a business devoted to creating stigma-free photography for use in the cannabis industry.
Pryor’s experiences working in the cannabis industry have given her a sobering perspective on what it takes to move beyond its daunting barriers of entry. “I want to be really clear: I think everyone has amazing hopes and dreams and I want all of us to reach for the stars,” Pryor said. “The reality of money in this business, before you even think about submitting an application, is the biggest hurdle. At minimum–and I don’t care what you read or say, there are folks in this room that will verify this is the amount–at minimum for a dispensary, $10 million. You can’t get that at the bank, you can’t get that as a grant. We’re now in a very aggressive time where that $10 million might cover a lobbyist, or might have to cover paying someone off. That’s how this game is working.”
With a background in finance and economics, Hope Wiseman saw the significance of cannabis deregulation in Maryland and worked with her mother to open their dispensary Mary and Main. “I had just graduated from Spelman [College] in 2014 and noticed that Maryland was about to pass their regulations and start accepting applications,” Wiseman said. “I went to the biggest and baddest entrepreneur I knew, my mother who is a dentist in Maryland and was also a real estate agent at the time.”
Wiseman knew working within the cannabis industry was a generational opportunity. “I realized cannabis was going to be the largest industry of my generation that I would have the opportunity to be a part of,” Wiseman said. “We started to look at regulations that hadn’t been finalized yet and Googled events [and looked for people] to work with. We realized we needed upward of $200-300,000 of at-risk capital to lose just to apply. It was the craziest thing I’ve ever done in my life. I had a great career path in banking and moved back home with my mother just to pursue this opportunity. We knew minorities in this industry would not have a place and had a unique opportunity in Maryland.”
With facts and personal accounts that opened minds to new perspectives on cannabis, it’s safe to say Chappell reached his goal in bringing More Than Just Green to fruition. “The one thing I want people to take away from this is to open their curiosity,” Chappell said. “I want them to go home and say, ‘I really want to research [cannabis].’ When I learned about this in 2017, I was astounded by the things I didn’t know.”