Latinas are gaining representation in the emerging cannabis industry, and yet they — along with other minorities – face a culture with a deeply ingrained stigma that they still must work to overcome. The history of cannabis prohibition is complicated. What was once considered a health tonic and found in medicine chests across the country became vilified around the time that alcohol prohibition was being lifted.
Some accounts tell of the U.S. government associating cannabis — or “marihuana”— with Mexican immigrants to make it less desirable to white society. Some news stories from the early 1900s vilified marijuana as “locoweed,” an evil plant that could drive people to violence and insanity. Fast-forward to the present day, and the fears and misunderstandings around cannabis still exist.
Larisa Bolivar, Cannabis Consumers Coalition
“I have family who thinks that if you smoke weed, the devil will show up – literally show up,” says Larisa Bolivar, a cannabis business and policy consultant of Peruvian descent. Larisa is the first Latina in Colorado to get a recreational cannabis cultivation license for Grow Green Cannabis Company, her venture that is entirely minority-owned, operated, and funded.
Larisa began consuming cannabis in a social setting with school friends. She calls her early experiences smoking cannabis as “a miracle” that helped her focus more in school, reduced her social anxiety so she could make friends more readily, and eased some of the PTSD she experienced from childhood trauma.
She moved to Colorado in 2001 as a “medical marijuana refugee” in order to gain better access to the plant that eased her pain associated with spinal stenosis. Once there, she began volunteering to help provide cannabis to other patients, like her, who could not easily obtain cannabis anywhere else. Her family was not excited about her career choice. Her conservative Catholic Peruvian father was worried that Larisa would get mixed up with a cartel.
“He didn’t want me to be marijuanera, like a stoner,” Larisa recalls and said she heard rumors some of her aunts were calling her “Stoner Girl.”
In 2004, Larisa founded the Colorado Compassion Club to dispense medical marijuana to patients. That was also the year her home was raided by state and federal law enforcement because of 84 marijuana plants she and her husband at the time grew in their basement for patients. Larisa believed that, despite the run in with the law and associated dangers, her work “saving lives and emerging cannabis from the black market” was important. She persevered.
Today, after a year and a half of preparation, her business Grow Green Cannabis Company is putting plants in the ground.
“It’s a passion,” says Larisa. “I am driven by seeing cannabis heal people. If it doesn’t heal, it does improve people’s quality of life.”
Adelia Carrillo, Direct Cannabis Network
Hoping to improve her quality of life motivated Adelia Carrillo, a third generation Mexican American, to try cannabis. Pregnancy complications sent Adelia into a health spiral with internal bleeding, emergency surgery, and an array of prescription medications including painkillers that left her sick, dizzy, and unable to walk to recover from her surgery.
Her fiancé, who was a medical marijuana patient at the time, suggested she try cannabis to relieve her pain symptoms and reduce her need for pain medications.
“I never thought of cannabis as a medical thing,” recalls Adelia. “I think I kind of laughed. To me, I got the munchies whenever I smoked. I was not educated about it. But it was that last resort. I thought ‘let me just try it. If I can get off these pills and not feel this horrible and sick all time, if works, that will be awesome.’”
After some trial and error and testing out different forms of cannabis, Adelia found her cannabis use not only helped her with pain after surgery, but it also helped her with the anxiety and depression that followed her pregnancy loss. She dove into researching more about cannabis to learn why it worked. Her personal interest led her to start Direct Cannabis Network, a business-oriented digital news outlet.
At first, Adelia hid what she was doing in the cannabis industry from her parents and grandparents. Her parents found out accidentally when Adelia changed her LinkedIn profile to reflect her new venture. She had forgotten her father was connected with her on the social network. She got a phone call from him within 10 minutes.
When the rest of the family found out about her business – including her father, a retired sheriff, and her mother, a retired district attorney investigator, they were afraid at first but became supportive over time. Then they started asking a lot of questions about the benefits of cannabis.
“I wish I didn’t stay in the dark for so long,” says Adelia. “I could have helped answer their questions a lot sooner.” Her father used topicals and creams after shoulder surgery and her mother, who stays away from all medications, has been using CBD products. CBD, short for Cannabidiol, is a compound found in cannabis and its sister plant, hemp, found to act as an anti-inflammatory, anti-spasmodic, and anti-anxiety.
Says Adelia, “This plant has changed my life for the better.”
Priscilla Vilchis, Premium Produce, LLC
Priscilla Vilchis remembers as a child smelling something at a neighborhood park and asking her parents what it was. “Skunk,” they replied.
“We never spoke about marijuana,” says Priscilla. “It was extremely forbidden. I remember my parents and grandparents putting the fear of God into me, telling me that if I ever did any drugs I would die. Immediately.”
Priscilla went on to establish a successful career in the healthcare industry at a young age. Her motivation for transitioning into the cannabis industry came about after watching patients becoming addicted to pain medications.
“My vision is that one day I would love to replace opioids with medicinal marijuana that is reimbursable by insurance carriers so people can save money on drugs prescriptions and we can save lives,” says Priscilla adding that no one has ever overdosed on marijuana.
Revealing to her family that she was transitioning into the cannabis industry involved calling a meeting in her parent’s kitchen with her sisters, parents, and grandparents. She shared her business goals and vision with them.
“My mother was a little rattled,” Priscilla recalls. “She obviously wants the best for me and knew it was a very unregulated industry back then. My father was always very supportive. He looked at my mother and said ‘Priscilla has always been very responsible.’”
Today, her family believes in the medicinal benefits of cannabis. Priscilla’s mother takes CBD for its health benefits. Her father and even her grandfather use a CBD/THC vape pen to help them sleep at night. Her grandmother applies a CBD/THC infused cream on her knee for pain relief.
This year, Priscilla became the first Latina in California to be awarded cultivation, manufacturing and distribution licenses for her business, Premium Produce.
“I’m extremely careful going into this. I want to be in complete control. I’m very confident in what I do and what I put my mind to,” says Priscilla.
Her advice to other Latinas interested in getting into the industry is to keep an open mind.
“To the Latinos out there born and raised the way I was: Educate your parents and your grandparents. Show them the great work we are doing. The new generation is discussing, explaining, and showing what good cannabis does now.”