CANNABIS SAVES: HOW THIS HEALING PLANT IS BUILDING COMMUNITIES, BRIDGING DIVIDES AND COULD BE OUR SOCIETY'S NEXT GREAT SAVIOR
Sparking A New Flame
When a new industry emerges, a great rush of inspired seekers and early adopters try to quickly stake their claim; and the millennium has turned on a new green rush of opportunities within cannabis, bustling in each new state that takes up the recreational call. But as with any great expansion, come the many histories and lives that are pivotal in the exonerating of the past and the creation of a new future, and one of those communities within cannabis is the Latino population. A community, that although has been highly affected by cannabis in a negative way, is now approaching this healing plant, with a sense of inclusion, respect and in true Latino style, grace. It is providing a blueprint for other minority communities to come together and engage in the knowledge, opportunity and emerging culture around cannabis to help save us all.
We met with the Latinos for Cannabis founder, Gabriel Guzman, to find out how cannabis is helping Latinos, and other minorities, to find their voice, equity, and future around the plant.
We started out as cannabis patients and advocates in southern California and then had an opportunity to start a delivery service in 2014 after working with a lot of cultivators and patients. We were servicing the community of Salinas, which is the most densely populated Latino community in central California, and the second most uneducated community in the country. While working there, we had the dire need for education and resources come to our attention from a predominant doctor in the area that was issuing medical licenses. She told me there are no resources, you are the only person I know that speaks Spanish, so we decided let’s do in-home translations to help patients understand cannabis and remove the negative stigma. From there, in 2014, we started sponsoring certain events, attending city hall meetings, and getting involved not only within the community but with the law at a local level. We knew there was a lot of information out there, but not a lot of information specifically for Latinos. We make up a large percentage of the population, in LA, in particular, 51%, so we said who is out there doing this kind of work? Or providing this kind of service? When we discovered there was nobody doing this work, that’s when we started or launched. We went from intimate mixers, inviting patients out to introduce them to some of the cannabis brands and from 2015 to 2017 we have focused on southern California and developed a tremendous amount of Latino support from entrepreneurs within the space, patients, advocates, and supporters. What we found was that there were a lot of people really passionate about making sure our community had safe access and information that would better our community.
Cannabis is great medicinally, but it has social and economic benefits too. Talk about helping our community better themselves, or have access to capital or pathways to participate in a growing industry. We were concerned about this because within the cannabis space we noticed a lot of employees were Latino and minorities, and very few were stakeholders. Being advocates ourselves, and understanding the effects on the Latino community from the war on drugs, we started to get involved politically, we wanted to demand an entry for participation, especially through the licensing process. Demanding equity for minorities and active participation.
Spreading Like Wildfire
When California drafted Prop 64 (see sunrise series here), the voices of multiple communities around cannabis were listened to, and one of the most troubling aspects of the war on drugs, incarceration rates from African-American and Latino populations, needed to be heard the most. Some of California’s largest minority communities, places like Oakland and Los Angeles, have taken this listening ear and started to take real action around creating minority equity. Oakland is committed to allocating half of its cannabis licenses to those that have been convicted of marijuana-related charges in the past two years, or that have lived in the six police districts hardest hit by the war on drugs, and LA has moved a program forward to serve individuals and communities that were disproportionately harmed by cannabis prohibition or unfairly incarcerated.
But the buck won’t stop there, and now is the time for the boots on the ground to bring this social justice and equity back to those most underserved within the cannabis space. We turn again to Gabriel to see where the local government is supplying the Latino communities with opportunities to grow and gain in this re-forming world….
WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON LOCAL GOVERNMENT SUPPORT FOR YOUR COMMUNITY?
It all goes back to our community and being involved. Going to the community meetings, to understand what is going on in your city, that is one of the things our community really struggles with, particularly Latinos. Latino owners or operators within the cannabis space are very, very few, and they aren’t always involved in the workings of the city. They don’t necessarily understand the importance of coming together with the community, unifying and demanding participation and an equity piece in measures being proposed. We are continuing to work with the cities, to put together their measures, we are hitting the streets with them, creating Latino campaigns with them, we are putting together town hall meetings to get constituents to come out and open up the dialog about cannabis and to allow them to see there is a great economic opportunity for their city and as local residents. That there are opportunities for them to become involved and become entrepreneurs or business owners in the cannabis industry.
Being able to look at cities like Oakland, and a percentage of minorities being given licenses, we are looking into these programs all the time, but as far as the Latino participation, we are the only organization doing it. As far as creating pathways, we are working on getting licenses, getting permits in certain cities, so that way under our permits, we can allow Latino owners and operators to come in and thrive under our umbrella. Allowing them to participate in this great time and opportunity.
SO, YOUR ORGANIZATION IS SECURING LICENSING FOR THE LATINO POPULATION?
We are obviously stakeholders in the industry, and unless you have access to permits, it will be difficult to compete in the marketplace. We need to come together, patients, community, how else would we secure participation? That’s what we are doing. We are coming together and making sure that we create a pathway and allow our resources and information that need to be accessed are there when they need it.
Fanning The Flames
Gathering a community around a specific rally or idea is how this culture came about, from the black-market activists and AIDS patients of the last century, cannabis’ voice of healing reason gave rise to an entire undercurrent of citizens that had already fallen in love with the plant and all her miraculous qualities. Decades later, a much larger understanding of cannabis is being addressed more and more by mainstream society and leading to a learning process for our entire country, unlike most others. The state by state approach to the legalization of cannabis is fathering many resources and approaches on how best to use the plant’s offerings, including the rebuilding of communities that had been disproportionately targeted in the past, and bringing the minority voice out into the open.
“There is no fundamental social change by being simply of individual and interpersonal actions.You have to have organizations and institutions that make a fundamental difference.”
– Cornel West
Latinos for Cannabis emboldens this timeless message about being an organization that is trying to make a fundamental difference within their own community, and outside their community, by sharing their core belief of “normalizing cannabis” in various ways. The organization markets their Tapas & Buds social events as “experience cannabis in a safe and judgment free environment” while “discovering local cannabis brands doing great things in our community!” speaking to the higher levels of awareness around this plant’s ability to bridge and grow communities.
To find out how Latinos are learning from others and taking this wisdom to the streets, again we turn to Gabriel from Latinos for Cannabis for his take on the current state of cannabis.
HOW DO YOU FEEL CALIFORNIA, AND LATINO'S FOR CANNABIS, IS APPROACHING A RECREATIONAL MODEL DIFFERENTLY?
We are learning from everybody. We are maturing, we are speaking with elected officials, we have grown up in the industry, and even though other states have been making progress, we have sat back and have been looking at other models and learning from them. We have been looking into the research and data, asking how many minority communities were impacted by the war on drugs? When the other states haven’t done this, they tell us that looking back now, that is one of the things they would have done differently, they would have developed an equity piece. We are fortunate in California, because we are all stakeholders, and we have believed in this plant and coming together for a long time. Speaking of minority communities within cannabis, let’s talk about the LGBT community. People don’t realize it, but had it not been for the LGBT community, we won’t even have Prop 215, all the chronically ill people that needed cannabis, it was all those terminally ill patients that were showing up, testifying on our behalf, and demanding safe access for their care. It’s a great time to be in this space now, to learn from all the experience of all the different states and communities and come together and say let’s use data and use our resources and let’s make some great things happen.
ARE THERE COLLABORATIONS HAPPENING ON A LARGER MINORITY SCALE?
Yes, that is one of the things I’ve been pushing for particularly. We have been talking to Bonita from Women Above Ground, Virgil Grant from SCC (Southern California Coalition), and Donny Anderson from CMA (California Minority Alliance), so we can bridge the gaps. We have been working closely with the Drug Alliance to look at Latino incarceration rates in the past, and to get the Latino voters out to vote and attend town halls and speak up. The organization that we are putting together and working on, is a group of minority leaders, and we are focusing on coming together and working together so that cannabis is inclusive of everyone from all our communities.
We are working with the DPA (Drug Policy Alliance) for mixers to normalize cannabis, talk about the war on drugs, to know our rights, to have a path or avenue to business, and to know how the provided funding is being given back to the grassroots organizations doing the work that gives back to our communities. We are still incorporating the organization that we are forming, so I cannot tell you the name, but ultimately, we are coming together to help all out communities in cannabis.
Latinos for Cannabis is not just an organization for Latinos. We appreciate the entire cannabis culture and the people, we love people to love our culture and we welcome them. Cannabis brings connectivity. With cannabis, all different types of people come together, they remove ego and they say I’m here to celebrate the plant, I’m here to celebrate the peace that it brings my heart, and let’s celebrate together. It always ends up that way.
Holding The Torch
If cannabis culture has been shining a light on one thing in our world, it is that the past ways of moving forward have less to do with staying hidden now and more to do with speaking out and showing up. Bridges are being built around cannabis that could have been a great divide in our country before, but now provide a deep sense of hope and connectivity to those largely impacted by the past. When a person thinks about the important items of their life, a sense of belonging, shared comradery, safety, security, and serenity usually top their list, not a joint. But if Gabriel Guzman and Latinos for Cannabis can add any part of that understanding to the greater community, it would be that cannabis IS providing that comradery, security, and serenity to millions of patients, advocates, supporters and users daily, and if that isn’t enough to save the world, we ask you what else could?