If you’ve been around the East Coast cannabis scene lately, it’s highly likely you’ve run into the crew from the Cultural Cannabis Association (CCA). From Boston down to D.C., the CCA has been hard at work spreading their message of diversity and inclusion from their home base in New York. The group, made up of minority millennial activists and industry entrepreneurs, is making waves in the NYC, holding monthly events aimed at attracting new voices into the cannabis conversation. We sat down with CCA cofounder Jacob Plowden to learn more about his organization and their plans.
Jake is a graduate of CUNY Baruch College and got into the drug policy world once he was introduced to the Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP) organization by a friend. Once bitten by the drug policy bug Jacob started attending events and meets up throughout NYC.
Drug Policy and People of Color
Kevin Cranford: What made you want to start a drug policy nonprofit?
Jacob Plowden: We set out to make the group because there was nothing else. My fellow cofounder, Kamani Jefferson, had asked at multiple industry events, “How do we get more people who look like me, more POC?” He was constantly sidestepped. At these same events, Kamani met our other cofounders, Nelson Guerrero, Kristin Jordan, and myself. We saw a need for there to be a space for people who look like us, in an industry that seems set on closing out the very people it used to criminalize.
KC: There are so many other cannabis non-profit organizations out there, why not join NORML or another organization like that?
JP: Aside from a select few organizations, no one is talking about race and how it’s played an integral part to cannabis prohibition and criminalization. The communities who have been most harmed by the Drug War don’t have resources to utilize information about how to enter legalized cannabis industries.
KC: You’re right. The activism, education, and awareness around cannabis haven’t been historically pitched to people of color. But that’s beginning to change. In the last year organizations such as the Minority Cannabis Business Association (MCBA), Minorities for Medical Marijuana (M4MM), and CCA have stepped up to fill the void. Can you tell us about the organization’s audience, who are you trying to attract with your events?
JP: The stigmas from the Drug War, and particularly cannabis, are ever-lingering, so we seek to re-educate communities who still see the plant as the villainous “devil’s lettuce.” We are speaking to people to who want their grandparents and peers to know that public perception of cannabis has come a long way. The Cannabis Cultural Association seeks to connect a diverse community of passionate, curious, and energetic people, especially people of color, around the plant. The ideal audience is open minded and interested in learning about cannabis and all that it has to offer. The CCA is creating safe spaces for underrepresented communities, where you don’t have to fear making your voice heard.
Medical Cannabis in New York
KC: And your organization attracted just those people when you held your program on the one-year review of the Compassionate Care Act (the New York state medical marijuana law) in late January. This event gathered together four of the five dispensary license winners in New York, as well as the NY Department of Health. What can you tell us about it?
JP: New York has only given five licenses, soon to be five more, to vertically grow, process, and sell medical cannabis. And, only medical card holders are allowed inside the dispensaries. So, beyond a handful of mentions in the media, there has been no real public contact with the dispensaries. We rounded up four of the five dispensaries who agreed to come speak to our audience about the program from their point of view. It allowed a dialogue that wouldn’t have happened otherwise. The dispensaries heard directly from patients and non-patients about their concerns, their experiences, and vice versa. The questions were tough, but the dispensaries handled it well, and the attendees left feeling more informed about the program and connected to the process.
Cultural Cannabis Association’s Early Success
KC: In its first year, the CCA is punching well above its weight by organizing and executing events that are vitally needed in our communities. What do you see as your biggest early success?
JP: Our biggest successes have been connecting with so many well-established organizations in such a short span of time. Being in the space, you have to recognize who the movers and shakers are. With CCA’s initial creation, we were getting nothing but positive feedback from Students for Sensible Drug Policy and Minority Cannabis Business Association about the work we were trying to do. With these connections, we have been able to put together great events and collaborate with some of the most accomplished people in the industry. It’s great being able to meet the successful POCs in cannabis that I used to read about like Shaleen Title, Wanda James, DC Scroger, Dr. Uma Dhanabalan, and Shanel Lindsay.
What’s in Store for CCA?
KC: For a new organization to be attracting names like those in such a short time is a very good sign. But it’s clear the Cultural Cannabis Association won’t be resting on its early accomplishments. What’s the plan for CCA to bring more education and awareness to the communities who need these resources most?
JP: We see ourselves doing more events centered around community organizing, mini policy summits, cultural festivals, and interactive workshops/webinars that will help underrepresented communities to have a more hands-on approach on how to take part and benefit from the emerging cannabis industry. We also have a Community Health and Wellness program in the works to help bolster New York’s failing medical program in conjunction with some the NY dispensaries. CCA will target diverse communities who might not even know about the program to teach them about it, and hopefully register people for it. We’ll also be working with Drug Policy Alliance on their SmartNY campaign to pass adult-use legalization in New York.
The CCA will undoubtedly continue to be on the cutting edge of diversifying the cannabis landscape in New York City and beyond. These young activists and entrepreneurs have found a real niche in a crowded cannabis market. If they can make it there…they can make it anywhere!
Photos courtesy of Cultural Cannabis Association