A reflection of my experience in the cannabis industry as we enter a Lunar New Year
Celebrating the Lunar New Year is a highly traditional and exciting time. A time when families get together to welcome the new year with prosperity and riches and celebrate good fortune and bright futures of great luck and fertility. We’re coming to five years of recreational cannabis legalization in Canada. And yet I’m still hiding my joints and consumption practice and having the same conversation with my mother about working in cannabis because it continues to be challenged and ridiculed. This is my open letter to the cannabis industry and what I hope the future will bring as we grow together.
The past several years of post-cannabis legalization have been exciting and challenging. I came from an industry with little to no regulations to an industry that is heavily regulated but also gave off vibes that it ran on its own rules with ties to the legacy market. An increasingly exciting space that makes me more and more curious. I’ve been lucky to meet some of the most interesting people who are part of an intense race to leave a mark in the cannabis industry. It’s almost as crazy as the dot com boom and crash, where everyone has a new and unique idea that would change the face of cannabis (or the world).
Cannabis being such a divided substance, whether legal or illegal, medicinal or recreational, necessary or unnecessary, its existence cannot be denied or ignored. However, the industry needs to recognize and acknowledge the impact of stereotypes and stigma on Asian individuals and their relationship with cannabis. We must educate ourselves and others about the plant and its potential benefits and work to create a more inclusive and understanding society. As the conversation around cannabis continues to evolve, it’s essential to acknowledge the role that race plays in the perception and consumption of the plant. I want to bring forth a conversation with this open letter to the cannabis industry.
As an individual of Asian ethnicity who grew up in Markham, a city in the Greater Toronto Area that has voted against cannabis legalization—a sort of political-cultural censorship voted in by the people to keep everyone safe from harm. I have often felt the weight of societal stigma and stereotypes associated with cannabis consumption.
And although we have made a dent in advocating for a pro-cannabis society. There is still much work to be done to speak to a demographic of people who are still against cannabis legalization.
I want to use this open letter to the cannabis industry to address an even smaller demographic. My mom represents a demographic group that will show up to the polls and vote and exercise their political privilege. She is part of an elderly population that is shifting into a new role. One where she is one of many who will influence the future of cannabis in every small way because she’s not the only one that thinks and feels this way.
This demographic is the people that are largely an under-recognized force which holds jobs and careers of influence. They are your doctors, nurses, lawyers, accountants, bookkeepers, teachers, and individuals who care. They care about the responsibilities of the future based on beliefs rooted in the past and are blocked by their political and cultural privilege stemming from decades of stigmatized cultural influence.
In many Asian cultures, cannabis is stigmatized and seen as a sign of moral decay. This is partly due to the historical and ongoing “War on Drugs” that has disproportionately targeted communities of colour, including individuals of Asian ethnicity. The result is a negative perception of cannabis consumption in Asian communities and a lack of education and understanding about the plant and its potential benefits.
Furthermore, the Asian community is often portrayed as a model minority. They, therefore, are not associated with drug use, leading to a lack of representation and understanding of the Asian experience with cannabis. This further perpetuates the stereotype and reinforces the idea that cannabis consumption is not something that Asian individuals partake in, which is largely untrue. The lack of diversity, not just within the industry but also the lack of diversity in culturally appropriate accessible information, causes her to question the legitimacy of cannabis.
And with my mom being a part of a community and demographic of empowered people entering the final chapters of their life, my future will be significantly impacted. I will be shifting into a new role in her life shortly and want her to have access to cannabis as an option for medicine for her aging life.
However, how is she to know the benefits of cannabis as a medicine if she has blocked herself from seeing the work the cannabis industry strives to do when none of us are trying to speak to her?
Having access to culturally appropriate cannabis education and medicine is what will make all of the difference for her future well-being and healthcare. With censorship becoming a massive blockade in advocacy, how do we tackle that group of individuals? How do we encourage this shift and change?
Our job is to find out.
Despite legalization and countries following in the footsteps of Canada, it still feels like the Canadian cannabis industry is falling behind with the necessary conversations to propel cannabis forward. It proves that there is more work for the cannabis industry to address cultural stigma and race. Or at least be prepared to speak about it.
So with this open letter, I ask that as you innovate, cultivate, disrupt, and grow as an industry, please don’t forget about my mom.