Legal cannabis remains a relatively new concept, but advocates all over the world have been championing the plant for centuries.
And just as Reefer Madness swept the nation to target People of Color for their cannabis use, several brave Black cannabis activists forged on, trailblazing a path for the industry as we know it today.
11 Black Cannabis Pioneers of Past and Present
From Louis Armstrong to Snoop Dogg, many Black celebrities with massive platforms have been unafraid to share their love of cannabis, despite the country’s obvious prejudice when dealing with cannabis crimes and who has paid the price for them.
Marginalized communities like women, the LGBTQIA+, and People of Color braved cannabis prohibition, building an underground industry from the ground up with the War on Drugs keeping a target on their backs every step of the way.
Despite the prohibition-era perils that have long accompanied admission to cannabis use – let alone actual involvement in the production and/or sale of cannabis products – People of Color have nurtured the plant, allowing it to flourish into the booming industry it is today.
When discussing notable Black and Brown activists who have contributed greatly to cannabis, there are quite simply too many to list!
The 11 trailblazers below are just a few who have moved mountains for the industry and the culture in a way that bluntly stands out to us and deserves to be highlighted:
1. Louis Armstrong
Considered one of the most influential artists in jazz history, trumpeter Louis Armstrong was an incredibly talented man. Not only was Armstrong instrumental in establishing the jazz industry for years to come, but he went down in history as one of the first African-American musicians to break into pop culture for his mindblowing skill.
And one notable Armstrong fact that likely contributed to his creativity on the trumpet? He loved to smoke weed. The musician first tried cannabis in the 1920s, when it was first demonized by greater society.
Armstrong would smoke before performances and recordings, fondly referring to the plant as “the gage,” and to himself as a “Viper” – the 1920s jazz colloquialism akin to today’s “stoner.”
Despite the country’s increasingly negative view of the plant, Armstrong wasn’t shy about his use, even working his love for cannabis into his music albeit in code.
But before Armstrong would go down in history as one of the most influential jazz musicians of his time, he earned his status as the first celebrity to be arrested for smoking a joint in November 1930.
2. Wanda James
Wanda James is easily one of the most widely respected and influential leaders in cannabis today. A military veteran, James is the co-founder and CEO of Simply Pure Dispensary, which she opened alongside her husband.
Once the dispensary was officially open, James went down in history as the first Black woman to own a legal cannabis dispensary in the U.S.
Since then, James has solidified herself as a total powerhouse in the industry, advocating fiercely for the plant through her marketing and consulting firm the Cannabis Global Initiative, speaking at international cannabis events, and making history again as the first inductee into the Marijuana Business Daily Hall of Fame.
3. Sha’Carri Richardson
Should-be Olympic Track and Field star Sha’Carri Richardson lost her chance to compete in the Tokyo Summer 2020 Olympic Games after testing positive for cannabis with the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency.
Although there is no proof that cannabis use would unfairly enhance her performance – and other non-Black Olympic athletes who are vocal about their cannabis use were able to compete with no issue – Richardson was subjected to a 30-day suspension, infuriating people all over the nation.
Experts and advocates everywhere called out the blatant cruelty (and racism) in disqualifying Richardson for utilizing a plant to help curb her anxiety as she dealt with the death of her mother.
Richardson definitely paid an unfair price for her cannabis use, but the elevation of this decision and subsequent uproar from the nation was incredibly encouraging.
Seemingly overnight, Richardson became an icon for much-needed paradigm shifts, and this is what makes her a trailblazer.
Richardson’s story shows that people are finally beginning to shift their views of the plant. But how many more People of Color have to be unfairly penalized for plant use until the powers that be finally make a substantial change?
4. Hope Wiseman
Wanda James went down in history as the first Black woman to own a dispensary in the U.S. in 2004, but Mary and Main CEO Hope Wiseman set a new record when she opened her dispensary at age 25 – the youngest Black woman in history to do so.
Wiseman dreamed of being an entrepreneur from a young age, and with a background in finance and sales, she decided to fulfill that dream and serve her community by opening her first dispensary.
“It’s hard to get into the industry no matter who you are. Being a Black person and being a young woman only exacerbates the challenges,” Wiseman said in an interview.
“Black women founders are very unlikely to receive any funding. Add in the cannabis industry, which is federally illegal, it’s almost impossible. But I’ve been able to raise money and break the typical barriers that have engulfed my race.”
5. Snoop Dogg
It wouldn’t be a Black cannabis pioneer roundup without Uncle Snoop, would it? Since the LBC native burst on the West Coast rap scene in 1992, he’s been out loud and proud about his love for cannabis, and his advocacy has remained an intricate piece to his overall success.
From his cannabis brand Leafs by Snoop to Grass is Greener, the 2019 Netflix documentary that recounts his history with the plant, the name “Snoop Dogg” is practically synonymous with modern cannabis culture.
The rapper definitely paved the way for other celebrities to be vocal about their cannabis use, like Cameron Diaz, Rob McElhenney, and even Martha Stewart. He’s also been crucial in upholding Black cannabis culture – something that society has tried hard to erase over time.
6. Amber Senter
Another major modern day cannabis hero and champion of the industry – first legacy, now legal – is Amber Senter, co-founder and chairperson of Supernova Women.
A U.S. Coast Guard veteran, Senter is a voice for all marginalized communities trying to make a difference in cannabis: People of Color, the LGBTQIA+ community, and veterans.
Senter has over twenty years of marketing experience, and has certainly thrown that into her work in the industry. Recently, she and Supernova Women have placed a heavy focus on California’s market, calling for reduced taxes and attention to social equity throughout the nation.
7. Maya Angelou
Maya Angelou was one of the most prolific poets of her time, using her literary skills to advocate for civil rights – including cannabis.
In her famous 1969 memoir I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Angelou wrote about sharing a joint with some friends before a dinner party.
“Before the cigarette was smoked down to roach length, I had to smother my giggles. The food was the best I’d ever tasted. Every morsel was an experience of sheer delight,” Angelou said.
The poet continued to include the plant in her work, describing how it supported and fueled her creativity and she had “absolutely no fear of using it.”
8. Ricky Williams
Former NFL running back Ricky Williams was suspended five times for cannabis use, and it never held the football player back from his advocacy.
Since then, Williams has retired and leaned into his true passion, launching his own cannabis lifestyle brand, Highsman, one of the first athlete-focused brands in the entire industry.
9. Peter Tosh
Peter Tosh is perhaps most notably recognized for being a bandmate of Bob Marley and the Wailers in the early ’70s, but to the cannabis community, he is regaled for his early-days fearless advocacy for the plant.
He was the voice behind the 1976 cannabis activist anthem “Legalize It,” and believed he had a natural right to cannabis, despite being regularly beaten by the Jamaican police for possessing the plant and challenging local political leaders.
Despite these attempts to frighten Tosh into submission, he remained out and proud about his cannabis use, refusing to let anyone change his mind or habits.
10. Al Harrington
NBA veteran Al Harrington is one of the biggest names in cannabis today, especially in in the realm of former professional athletes who’ve “come out” about their love of the plant.
Harrington was definitely a trailblazer in this arena, launching his Detroit-based cannabis brand Viola when legal cannabis was still a fairly new concept to the U.S.
The former athlete claims that cannabis changed his life, and began to use his platform to advocate for the plant and all of the benefits it can bring. Today he remains outspoken about cannabis, calling for equity and expungement for those who’ve been wrongfully targeted by the country’s so-called War on Drugs.
11. Hazey Taughtme
This one hasn’t gone down as a historical cannabis trailblazer quite yet, but he’s certainly a pioneer to keep a close eye on.
Hazey Taughtme has had an incredible influence over Black cannabis media and journalism. The founder of cannabis marketing and entertainment agency HAZE ENT., he also curated and launched Black Cannabis Magazine, the first of its kind.
Taughtme has worked with movers and shakers in the industry, repping clients who’ve appeared on BBC, Deadline, Forbes, Hot07, The Source, AllHipHop, and more.
He’s very passionate about cannabis, and even more so about spreading Black cannabis stories and uplifting Black operators throughout the industry. And he’s just getting started.
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