Conscious cannabis

...whatever that means in the age of Big Cannabis

Hii! Long time no see, hear, speak, haha. As I’ve said countless times on Insta, I’ve been extremely overwhelmed the past six weeks or so. Many things needed tending to at once, and I felt like I was putting out fires left and right. Now that that’s slowly winding down, I’m happy to be back in the mood to write. I also appreciate those of you who reached out about missing this letter in your inbox. It was nice to have my absence felt. Thank you for rocking with my ebbs and flows; I truly appreciate you all. 🙏🏾

This week I want to chat about a topic that’s been top of mind for a few weeks, but I haven’t had the time to process my thoughts until now.

I get many questions about shopping consciously, and to be honest, there are no dispensaries in Chicago that I’ve been to that I’d recommend at this point. I recently learned that my go-to dispensary in Chicago, The Herbal Care Center (THC), has been acquired by Verano, a company run by a guy who thought it was appropriate to have his dog sport a MAGA hat during the protests last summer. I was anti-Verano before this acquisition, but their latest business venture has left me with no local medical dispensary to shop at. I can’t, in good faith, keep supporting THC, knowing Verano is involved. This makes me sad because I really liked the staff at THC. They knew me by name, always had great energy, and were more organized than other medical dispensaries I’ve visited in the city. THC was my last option after Ascend, another multi-state operator (MSO), acquired MOCA, where I used to work, and proceeded to mass fire employees of color.


A little background on MSOs. In totally not scientific terms, multi-state operators (MSOs) are like the Amazon or Walmart of cannabis companies. Many are seeking to own every aspect of production, from seed to sale. They will acquire small, family-owned companies to further boost their footprint across states, which sets them up for success if and when federal legalization occurs. The existence of MSOs flies in the face of social equity programs. Illinois has been touted as the best social equity program to date. I cringe every time I read that because our social equity licenses have been delayed due to corruption in the scoring process. The MSOs have already gotten to claim their prime real estate, many of whom are also participating in the social equity license lottery due to one of the many workarounds that allow Black and brown people to be left out of this process too. Look up #msogang on Twitter, and you’ll discover a long list of white faces who are proud to be a part of the movement to keep cannabis homogenous.

Ok, ok, back to the point.

Illinois has no majority-minority-owned dispensaries, no black-owned dispensaries, and the few options we have are owned by folks who find humor in Black pain and could not care less about the communities they move into. I won’t get into how BIPOC employees are treated if they are fortunate enough to be hired by dispensaries. That’s a conversation for another day. One of the perks of running Up in Smoke is that people love talking to me about the industry; this includes telling me about negative experiences they’ve had working for cultivators and dispensaries, even the most beloved places. So yes, I’m quite cynical about this, but I hope you can see why.

I have no desire to promote any dispensary in Chicago. Squaring that with my desire to get the IL cannabis scene some national recognition is hard, but I have to do what feels right. Some have said it’s my responsibility to educate people on the lack of equity in the IL market. To that, I say an emphatic hell no. Black women are often relegated to uncover the systems that oppress us. Not only is that risky, hello I live in the third most corrupt state in the country, but I also have no desire to write the same old story we see in every other industry. That’s not to say I don’t feel a responsibility, but I’m going to need the people who created these problems to show up and do the work. I’ve shared more than enough for those who want to know more to do their research, and so today, I’m asking for your help.

I can only reach so many people, so I’m asking you, regardless of what state you're in, to find out who owns the dispensaries and brands you like. Too often, I only see this research done and shared by other BIPOC folks who the industry has harmed, but rarely the allies who benefit from their services or consume their content. It’s not fair that they have to share their trauma in the midst of trying to rebuild their lives and find new jobs. So if you’re reading this, please, please, please do your homework on your canna brands and then share what you learned. In IL, most roads/brands lead to big names like Ascend, Cresco, GTI, and Verano. If you see your fave products from Cali in a dispensary in another state, it’s probably because an MSO distributes them. What you do with this information is up to you, but the first step is awareness.

Also, I don’t want to imply that all MSOs are as bad as Verano. Still, I want to be clear that the resounding sentiment about many MSOs is that they don’t care about product quality, equity, or fair practices for their employees. The current state of the legal market in Illinois is emblematic of what is to come if cannabis is federally legalized. For that reason, I’m interrogating whether I support federal legalization. It stands to reason that there will be more of what we’ve already experienced, especially because we’ve seen equity issues in other recently legalized states (see NJ). Many states can’t handle the current responsibility they have to atone for the war on drugs; surely, they’re not ready for more responsibility and bigger cash influxes.

I realize I came in hot after a hiatus, so if you’ve made it this far, thanks for going on a tour of my brain. I haven’t posted on IG in ages, so there’s nothing new in that realm. I’m not letting anything go this week because I need to build up a practice of rest, so that’s what I’m going to try to pick up in the coming weeks. I have burned myself out on all fronts, and I need to pour into myself.

Until next time,