Why Representation Matters in Cannabis

In the suburban midwest, surrounded by whiteness and the occasional corn and soy fields, there was little to no positive representation of cannabis, for me. All I ever saw were, bro-y weed movies, rappers and the non-black women they chose to share their blunts with. None of these examples left me feeling drawn or connected to cannabis - in fact, it turned me off even more. I didn’t see myself on the spectrum of cannabis representation, from white-dopey-hippies to smokey-video-rappers. I felt as though I was being indirectly told that Black girls, womxn, and femmes don’t smoke weed - so I followed this idea. I held onto it so tightly, that even the smell of cannabis would make me leave a room. I surrounded myself with friends that didn’t smoke and the ones that did were at a constant threat of getting lectured on the dangers of weed smoke, by me.

Thankfully, I was able to shake those shackles of ignorance off around six years ago. But as I started my journey into the cannabis world, a handful of years after I smoked my lung virginity away. I was immediately taken back to the same doubts that clouded my thoughts on cannabis, in high school. Phone in hand and eyes glued to the screen, I remember scrolling for hours through cannabis-themed hashtags. Scrolling for Black Womxn to follow. Scrolling for non-hyper-sexualized images of Black Womxn genuinely enjoying cannabis. Scrolling for someone, anyone who shared my experiences, fears, and joy with weed. Only to close Instagram, disappointed and disillusioned on a budding green-rush, that evidently has no space for womxn that look like me. And while studies show that Black folks are using cannabis at the same rate of our white counterparts, the representation of Black people in cannabis was and is clearly lacking. So I made a point to start posting my own pictures with blunts, joints, and bowls. To start talking about my experiences with cannabis as a Black queer woman, in an industry that is resistant to reflect me.

Now we are in an age of creating responsible representation, in film, news, fashion and all other aspects of our lives. But for some reason, the powers that be in cannabis, feel as though what’s happening around them doesn’t apply to their hiring practices or to their advertisements. And that’s a problem. How many articles have to be published to realize that by not diversifying your company you’re subliminally telling the folks you’re excluding, that, they don’t belong here?

Dr. Nicole Martins at Indiana University describes this social conditioning as, “‘symbolic annihilation,’ which is the idea that if you don’t see people like you in the media you consume, you must somehow be unimportant.” This lack of representation of Black people in cannabis plays a large role in why Black people bear the brunt of cannabis-related charges. To cops, judges, and lawyers the narrative of marijuana and Black folks is still stuck in height of the War on Drugs.

Just as we’ve been rallying for better cannabis representation in the media, we need to rally for better representation of Black people in cannabis. Our experiences are unique, traumatic and invaluable. Generations of our families have been split, ripped and destroyed over this plant, only for us not to have a seat at the table. Every day I get DMs from Black Womxn, sharing their excitement, fears, and joy about cannabis with me - and it gives me so much hope for the future of this industry. But it all means nothing if the rest of the cannabis industry continues to cast away instead of embrace the folks that helped paved the way for legalization.

Megan Farley