The cannabis industry is booming. According to a report by the McKinsey Global Institute, it could be worth as much as $54 billion by 2025. And with more states legalizing weed for both medical and recreational use, there has never been a better time to get in on the action. As we see more women breaking into this male-dominated space, Afro-Latinx women are taking center stage in the cannabis industry. From leading start-ups to launching their own cannabis brands, these women have proven once again that they are not afraid to think outside the box. Let’s honor Hispanic and Latinx Heritage Month by celebrating the accomplishments of these ladies who are making history in the weed industry below:
There is a Major Diversity Problem in the Weed Industry
When the cannabis industry first began to take shape, it was primarily led by white men. Although progress has been made to make the industry more equitable, the ratio is still as disproportionate as the statistics from the failed war on drugs. A major cause for concern for advocates for inclusion is that this lack of diversity could lead to a culture of exclusivity and discrimination in the workplace. While the number of women in managerial positions fluctuates, as of today, only one in ten executives in the cannabis industry is a woman. Similarly, only one in 20 board members in the cannabis industry is a woman. As the cannabis industry expands and goes mainstream, advocates are urging companies to make diversity and inclusion a priority. The hope is this could lead to a more progressive culture in the workplace where all employees feel respected and empowered.
In 2020, Afro-Latinas were Leading the Charge for Change
There are several Afro-Latina women in the cannabis industry who are making a name for themselves. Among them is Dr. Chanda Macias, CEO & Chairwoman, Women Grow, and Owner/GM, National Holistic Healing Center in Washington, DC. Another leading lady in the cannabis industry is JM Balbuena, a cannabis business strategist and compliance consultant in California. Balbuena serves as CMO at Prime Harvest Inc. and leads several cannabis-centric brands, including Boycott Shitty Weed and Synergy Studios. She is the author of the best-selling book, The Successful Cannapreneur. As Afro-Latinx women and experts in their fields, these canna-preneurs understood that the lack of diversity and inclusion in cannabis is a problem that needs to be addressed.
Afro-Latinas are being the change by creating brands that are intentional about increasing inclusion and diversity within the industry. For example, Zapata Cannabis Co is a licensed cannabis brand created with the purpose of representing and celebrating La Raza and the fusion of Afro-Mexican influences within the Los Angeles culture. Roni Solis Melton, L.A. native and founder of Zapata Cannabis Co., was directly impacted by cannabis prohibition as she was charged with cannabis possession at the age of 17. Zapata Cannabis Co. is Solis Melton’s way of advocating for safe access and educating the masses about the plant’s benefits, the history and effects of prohibition on the Black and Latinx communities, and the importance of mindful consumption.
Cannabis has Helped Many Afro-Latinas Deal with Trauma and Stress
Many women of color have turned to cannabis for medical and therapeutic reasons. For example, cannabis has been used as a treatment for stress and anxiety. A 2018 study found that cannabis use has been associated with lower levels of stress and depression. The research also showed that cannabis use was associated with improved stress and anxiety reduction in the short term. Similarly, a 2018 study found that medical cannabis use was associated with a decrease in PTSD symptom severity. Specifically, these studies suggest that cannabis has helped many women of color deal with issues such as trauma, stress, and anxiety. This is especially true for POC. According to a study, POC are more likely than other groups to experience PTSD while being less likely to seek help. Using cannabis allows these groups, which include Afro-Latinx women, to tackle their anxiety, stress, and PTSD without relying on harmful pharmaceuticals.
Balbuena suffered a concussion while deployed with the US Navy. Up on separating from the service, she turned to cannabis. “Cannabis helped me to regulate my sleep, which was chronically disrupted as a result of the concussion,” explains Balbuena. “That’s when I saw the opportunity and realized the stigma and prohibition have kept our communities from consuming cannabis for wellness and from entering the space as owners.”
Latinas Taking Social Equity Into Their Own Hands
Many women of color have launched their own cannabis brands with the purpose of claiming their stake in the booming industry. One example of this is Christina Betancourt Johnson, CEO of Standard Wellness Maryland (SWM). Christina is one of the first Afro-Latinas to run a licensed cultivation company in the United States. Another example are the twin sisters Coral and Rah of Buena Botanicals, a family-owned cannabis lifestyle brand launched in 2019. Buena Botanicals arouse from their passion for holistic healing, community, self-determination, plant medicine, and love for the planet.
These women are making a name for themselves in the cannabis industry by creating brands that speak to their culture and experiences. This is great news for women of color, who have traditionally been left out of the cannabis industry.
As the cannabis industry continues to grow, we can expect to see even more women making their mark. While it may be a challenge to break into the industry, women can use similar strategies and business models akin to the talented women above to help them forge their paths. The cannabis industry is booming, and all women should have a chance to be a part of it.