This article/interview was originally published on Honeysuckle and appears here with permission.
“Let’s talk about being happy and joyful,” began legacy cannabis entrepreneur Buddha Chief as he joined Honeysuckle’s podcast for an interview with Creative Director Sam Long. “Right now we're in a moment, but this is going to impact the community for years to come.”
Formerly known as Von Jeff, Buddha Chief is an iconic figure in his home neighborhood of Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn. An artist of many talents, he created the area’s renowned murals depicting figures such as rapper Big Daddy Kane and the Bed-Stuy Landmark, a tribute to nationally recognized educator Frank Mickens. And while creative expression means everything to Buddha Chief, he uses that creativity as a means to fuel community healing, giving him his other name: The Cure Rater.
As Buddha Chief grew up, he experienced a Bed-Stuy torn apart by criminalization and intense street violence due to the War on Drugs. He started smoking cannabis in the fifth grade and by his late teens had been arrested for possession, but the entrepreneurial spirit running in his family gave him the strong instinct to hustle in the legacy market.
“The reality is I’ve lost friends and family to the streets,” he said. “To people that wanted to rob and kill for weed… And I thank God – He preserved me for a reason, especially for the things I’m doing in the community to show that, listen, we don’t have to be this way. There’s a better way. And with my brand, my intention is to employ and educate people so we can level up, not just treat it as a hustle.”
Buddha Chief credits his grandmother, who operated a hair salon out of the family home when he was a child, to inspiring his passion for running a business. With his Buddha Chief brand, consumers are able to come together for the ultimate cannabis experience. Themed game nights, comedy and poetry shows under the Buddha Chief banner allow people to relax and indulge in their cannabis delivery method of choice. It’s a far cry from the illicit weed dealers populating Bed-Stuy’s streets in the 90s.
New York’s passage of the Marijuana Regulation and Tax Act (MRTA) is the most social equity-focused cannabis legislation in the country to date. Buddha Chief is excited about what this will mean for legacy entrepreneurs like himself, who had been working underground for so many years. However, what he looks forward to even more is what the social equity conversations mean for breaking the stigmas of mental health in the Black community.
“There’s a thing in the community where they don’t want people to know their business, and I think that’s the wrong approach to it,” he noted. “Because what I’ve come to learn is, the more I’ve been able to speak about what I was going through, the more the information was coming to me how to navigate and get through to grow through. I don’t say ‘going through,’ I say ‘growing through,’ because each part is like a level of the journey. So you get information on how to grow through certain experiences. Because when you talk to someone and you’re releasing what it is, someone can just listen… [or] give you a perspective that you can take or you could leave. However, the information that you’re gathering is just meant for you to process what’s meant for you.”
He explained that in Bed-Stuy, it’s historically been easy for people to give up because they aren’t used to discussing their mental health with friends and neighbors. Through his artwork and educational initiatives engaging the community, Buddha Chief hopes to encourage the neighborhood’s locals, especially young Black men, to get comfortable being open about their fears, aspirations, and vulnerabilities. To this end, he is producing a documentary called The Cure Rater (with Team Honeysuckle) that explores his personal journey and those of his family and friends through the evolution of Bed-Stuy’s culture.
In a frank discussion with Honeysuckle, Buddha Chief outlined the history of dealing exotic strains in the legacy market, shared his predictions for New York’s emerging regulated plant economy, and detailed why he believes his brand will be the McDonald’s of cannabis. Beyond that, he is learning each day how to embrace happiness and growth, and how to help others cope with their traumas. The Cure Rater’s great work continues.
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