Black Celebrities and Cannabis Prohibition: A Brief History
The prohibition of cannabis set a dangerous precedent for decades with targeted criminalization of Black and brown people. Since its introduction in the early 20th century, it had a devastating and wide-ranging impact on the perception of cannabis use in our culture for over 80 years. Marijuana use was criminalized because it was seen as a "gateway drug" and associated with violence and promiscuity. The U.S. government outlawed the recreational use of cannabis in 1937, and it has remained illegal for decades. The era of "reefer madness" purposely used propaganda and the media to target Black and Brown people to demonize them and the plant. This decision was largely attributed to fears of the social impact of cannabis in terms of interracial dating and its connection to harder drugs such as heroin. The choice to prohibit the plant has had a sustained negative impact on cannabis consumers, especially African Americans. As of 2022, according to the NAACP's Criminal Justice Factsheet, 65% of Black adults have felt targeted by law enforcement because of their race. The ACLU's marijuana and racial bias report found that Black citizens are still 3.73 times more likely than Caucasians to be arrested for cannabis-related charges. Popularity and celebrity status do not exclude people from being included in that pool of Black victims of weed prohibition.
Marijuana, Louis Armstrong & the Jazz Era
Although hemp was grown as a farm crop beginning in the Colonial Era and cannabis-based oils were used as some forms of medicine through the 1800s, marijuana as we know it today became widely used in the U.S. during the early 20th century. Marijuana was popular in the Jazz Era, specifically during the Harlem Renaissance. It has been argued that marijuana use helped fuel creativity for many jazz musicians of this era. Still, ultimately the connection between the two would be twisted into something negative. Arguably one of the most famous musicians of the era is Louis Armstrong. His rise to fame in the 1920s was due to how his music helped break barriers for Black musicians into the popular mainstream. Armstrong was arrested in November of 1930 while smoking a joint outside the Cotton Club in Culver City, California, along with his drummer Vic Berton. The arrest earned him the distinction of being the first famous person in American history to be arrested for marijuana. In an interview from around the time of his death, Armstrong had this to say of the incident:
"Speaking of 1931 - we did call ourselves Vipers, which could have been anybody from all walks of life that smoked and respected gage. That was our cute little name for marijuana, and it was a misdemeanor in those days. Much different from the pressure and charges the law lays on a guy who smokes pot - a later name for the same thing which is cute to hear nowadays. We always looked at pot as a sort of medicine, a cheap drunk and with much better thoughts than one that's full of liquor. But with the penalties that came, I for one had to put it down though the respect for it (gage) will stay with me forever. I have every reason to say these words and am proud to say them."
The War on Drugs, Hip-Hop & Stoner Celebrities
The War on Drugs was a campaign launched by the United States in 1971 to fight illegal narcotics use. The most commonly used drugs at that time were marijuana, heroin, and LSD. President Nixon's administration made cannabis use illegal alongside the other drugs in the early 1970s. A year after he started that campaign, there was a massive spike in cannabis-related arrests. These arrests primarily impacted communities of color, and it was designed to be that way. Previously in the first part of this series, Cannabis and Black History Month: A Brief Timeline of How the Two are Linked we covered the War on Drugs timeline.
By May 1971, the Controlled Substances Act had been signed into law, establishing a comprehensive list of federally illegal drugs. Cannabis was classed as Schedule I. The federal government does not recognize it as having medical value and sees it as unsafe for public use. Despite countless examples of the plant's medical benefits - including that 37 states and Washington, D.C. have legalized medical cannabis and that the U.S. government holds a patent on medical cannabis - attempts to de-schedule marijuana have been unsuccessful.
In a 1994 interview with Harper’s Magazine, Nixon’s Chief Domestic Advisor John Ehrlichman admitted that the Nixon Administration purposefully criminalized cannabis and heroin to attack the antiwar left and Black communities, both of whom they viewed as political adversaries. Ehrlichman infamously said, "Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course, we did."
How many Black celebrities smoke marijuana?
Numerous Black celebrities have been linked to either the consumption of marijuana or illegally distributing the plant. There are probably many more Black celebrities who have used cannabis than we know. Why is it important to highlight those who publicly align cannabis with their brands? What role are these figures fulfilling concerning a movement for change in the cannabis industry?
Cannabis prohibition has been around for quite a while. Still, recent changes in legislation have opened legal marijuana markets in some states. As the law changes and the list of legal cannabis markets grows, the conversations about the perception of marijuana in the mainstream have shifted. Black celebrities have played a significant role in shaping the conversation on cannabis use and its prohibition by sharing their personal stories as well. Many of them are veterans of what is known as the legacy market. They have experienced the reality of over-policing in Black communities.
Why aren't people of color who have suffered the most from the devastating effects of the War on Drugs benefiting more from the economic boom?
The War on Drugs has had a devastating effect on people of color, who have historically been disproportionately impacted by the incarceration and policing that it caused. People of color continue to suffer disproportionately as a result. This system persists despite proof that cannabis use is equal regardless of race. As it stands, the billion-dollar cannabis industry is predominately white-cis-male dominated, and black owners make up less than 4% of the ownership. Despite promises that states like New York and New Jersey were going to have a greater focus on social equity than those seen in earlier legal markets, that doesn't seem to be the case. A few weeks ago New Jersey Representative Donald Payne Jr released a statement via Twitter in response to New Jersey's perceived failure to grant licenses to Black business owners. Out of the 56 licenses issued by New Jersey's Cannabis Regulatory Commission (CRC), not one owner was Black. Though this has since been proven untrue, his concerns were not misplaced. While there are a few Black cannabis business owners and regulators, the future of equity in the industry can still seem bleak.
16 Black Celebrity Cannabis Industry Insiders and Celebrity Weed Brands
The following list of Black Celebrity Weed brands is not intended to be exhaustive. It does not include all the most popular weed celebrity brands. In reality, quite a few famous Black musicians, actors, and athletes have taken advantage of the billion-dollar industry. This list features some of the more notable Black celebs in cannabis, including Snoop Dogg, Wiz Khalifa, and Jay-Z.
Damian Marley is a Jamaican reggae artist who has been performing since he was 13 years old and is the youngest son of Bob Marley. Damian's nickname, Junior Gong, was derived from his father's nickname, Tuff Gong. Through his music and business ventures, he has worked hard to maintain the legacy of the Marley name.
Early in our Black History Month series, we touched on the legacy of reggae music as an influence on the spread of cannabis culture. Thanks to its history of being used for its healing properties and its presence in popular culture, the plant's popularity spread globally over centuries. Many would superficially attribute this popularity to the music of Bob Marley and other Jamaican musicians. However, Jamaicans had spent years cultivating the plant and still have issues with mainstream acceptance. Damian has previously discussed the problems related to the prohibition of cannabis on the island.
Brand: Ocean Grown Extracts
The Marley Family has been involved in many cannabis businesses, the biggest of which is Marley Naturals. Damian's personal ventures include his partnership with Ocean Grown Extracts, the parent company of EVIDENCE. EVIDENCE is a family-owned cannabis company that grows weed inside an old prison, intending to help get people out of prison. The company donates $1 of each purchase to the Last Prisoner Project, a social justice non-profit organization dedicated to helping free inmates serving time for cannabis charges. Damian and his brother Stephen are also members of the board for the Last Prisoner Project. In a previous interview with Honeysuckle, he spoke about partnering with Berner and his brand Cookies and Ocean Grown Extracts on a cannabis brand called HURB.
Wiz Khalifa is a multi-platinum-selling, GRAMMY®, and Golden Globe®, Award-nominated recording artist. He has joined a pantheon of artists who have produced music with the stoner crowd in mind. His 2010 mixtape Kush and Orange Juice and his role alongside the legendary Snoop Dogg in Mac and Devin Go to High School cemented his status as a cannabis icon early in his career. He has expanded on that position by venturing into the cannabis industry as an entrepreneur. Honeysuckle had a chance to interview the legend about his brand, Khalifa Kush, amongst other things, in our upcoming Black History Month print issue! Pre-order your FREE advance copy and get your tickets for our issue launch party in NYC on February 26th!
Brand: Khalifa Kush
Khalifa Kush brand and products were first introduced to the U.S. market in 2015. His signature strain debuted in 2016. The Khalifa Kush brand offers a growing lineup of flower, pre-rolls, vapes, edibles, and concentrates, powered by proprietary genetics, in partnership with Compound Genetics. Khalifa Kush is available in select markets, including Nevada, Arizona, and Utah. Recently Khalifa Kush and Cresco Labs announced an exclusive partnership agreement to bring Wiz's OG strain to California. The strain will be exclusively available at Cookies locations in Cali. He also has partnered with Trulieve to bring strain to the Florida market.
Ricky Williams is mostly known for his athletic accomplishments. The College Football Hall of Famer has broken numerous records, including all-times for rushing and scoring. He spent 11 seasons in the NFL, most notably with the New Orleans Saints and Miami Dolphins. Williams continued to break records in professional football throughout his career, winning multiple accolades. He also became known, perhaps infamously, for his cannabis advocacy in a time when it was largely still stigmatized. Since he departed from the league, he has dedicated his life to finding peach through his spirituality and prioritizing his mental health. Cannabis has been a large part of that process for Williams.
Williams, who will also be featured in the Black History Month print issue, recently sat down with his old college football friend Matthew Nordgren, founder of pioneering cannabis venture capital firm Arcadian Capital for an exclusive interview featured on the Honeysuckle Podcast. You'll find out much more about Ricky Williams' transformation with spirituality and cannabis in our upcoming print edition for Black History Month, featuring Wiz Khalifa!
Highsman is a cannabis lifestyle brand owned by Ricky Williams. With the brand of exclusive strains and cannabis apparel, Williams has realigned his relationship with the plant. In honor of Super Bowl LVI, Highsman partnered with Jeeter, the number one cannabis pre-roll brand in the country, for limited-edition cannabis and apparel collaboration. The collab included an exclusive strain, special edition rolling tray, and limited-edition capsule. All of the proceeds from sales from the collaboration benefited Athletes for CARE, a nonprofit that advocates for the health, safety, and wellbeing of more than 2 billion people of all ages who compete annually in sanctioned sports worldwide.
Known to the world as rapper Lil Wayne, Dwayne Carter has made his mark on Hip-Hop since 1995. He started out as a part of the Hip-Hop group Hot Boys and eventually ventured into a successful solo career. Wayne is known as one of the most creative, influential lyricists of the past two decades of Hip Hop history. As an artist, Wayne can boast three number one singles, 24 Top Ten singles, and 163 Billboard Top 100 entries. Not to mention 62 gold and platinum certifications to date. He also lends his stamp of approval to the high-end cannabis strains for his brand GKUA Ultra Premium.
Brand: GKUA Ultra Premium
GKUA Ultra Premium is known for its high quality, Lil' Wayne-approved buds and their work to bring cannabis culture into the mainstream. He recently performed at the UPROAR Hip-Hop Festival alongside the cohort of talented artists he’s mentoring and other special guests. The festival was organized in partnership with the team from GKUA Ultra Premium, Lil Wayne’s high-quality cannabis brand. Lil Wayne was also part of a history-making event in Times Square. He was featured as part of Honeysuckle's Diversity in Cannabis ad features for 4/20. The billboards went live in Times Square celebrating Indigenous cannabis collaboration, women, and BIPOC-owned brands. The launch coincided with Lil' Wayne's cover feature for our 4/20 Print Issue.
Jay-Z is one of the most known rappers in the world. Beginning with his debut album in 1996, he has sold over 100 million records globally. He is a rapper, songwriter, record executive, entrepreneur, and media mogul and is widely hailed as one of the most influential hip-hop artists in history. He is also well known for being the former CEO of Def Jam Recordings. The legend hails from Marcy Projects in Brooklyn, New York. Over the years Jay-Z has expanded on his music success into entrepreneurial accomplishments. He has achieved billionaire status through his various successful business ventures, including Rocawear, the 40/40 Club, acquisition of tech company Aspiro and the streaming music service Tidal.
Brand: The Parent Company
Jay-Z and Roc Nation created the largest cannabis company in California, called The Parent Company. The company has many brands, such as Monogram, under its umbrella. The vertically integrated cannabis company is a conglomerate of multiple California cannabis businesses formed by Jay-Z, Roc Nation, and top California cannabis operators, CMG Partners Inc. (Caliva) and Left Coast Ventures Inc. In August of 2021, the company appointed Troy Datcher as the company’s new chief executive officer. He became the first Black CEO to be the head of a major public U.S. cannabis organization. Hov is also showing dedication to diversity in Cannabis by aligning himself with established cannabis professionals like Mary Pryor and investing in cannabis community projects like the Josephine & Billie's consumption lounge.
One name synonymous with both Hip Hop legends and cannabis culture is Snoop Dogg. Snoop Dogg is a rapper, actor, songwriter, media personality, and entrepreneur. His fame dates to 1992 when he featured on Dr. Dre's debut solo single, "Deep Cover", and then on Dre's debut solo album, The Chronic. He has since sold over 35 million albums worldwide and is a 17-time Grammy nominee.His album 'Tha Blue Carpet Treatment' was released in 2004 and peaked at number two on the Billboard 200 chart. Collaborations with him have led to classic hits with artists such as Tupac Shakur, Eminem, Wiz Khalifa, Ludacris, Pharrell Williams, The Game, and many more. The west-coast legend has also founded his own production company, Snoopadelic Films. He has also appeared as himself in multiple TV shows and movies such as Curb Your Enthusiasm and Step Up 2: The Streets. He starred alongside Wiz Khalifa in the stoner classic Mac and Devin Go to High School. Can we highlight other accomplishments of his, such as founding his own production company, starring in three television series, having sold 35 million albums worldwide, being a 17-time Grammy nominee?
Brand: Casa Verde Capital
Casa Verde Capital is one of the companies that built the modern cannabis space as we know it today. One of the first of its kind, the investment firm focuses solely on cannabis industry businesses. The parent company has helped to finance all of Snoop Dogg's lifestyle brands, business ventures, and the Merry Jane platform. Leafs by Snoop, his exclusive line of cannabis, is the most recent brand released under the umbrella. Snoops company is the only cannabis venture under the Casa Verde umbrella.Other companies in Casa Verde's portfolio include Eaze, a delivery service known as the "Uber of cannabis"), Dutchie a leading point of sale (POS) and e-commerce software for cannabis businesses. They are also behind Miss Grass a premium cannabis lifestyle brand,l, and Vangst, a top cannabis industry staffing company. In 2021 he made his first investment in the European medical cannabis space by investing $15 million into Portuguese medical cannabis company AceCann.
Shall I proceed? Yes Indeed! Arguably the most known female rapper out of Brooklyn, Kimberly Denise Jones, known as Lil' Kim, paved the way for all of your favorite female artists. Initially performing alongside the Notorious Big and group Junior Mafia. Lil' Kim's debut studio album, Hard Core (1996), was certified double platinum has since sold more than six million copies worldwide, cementing her status as the Queen Bee of Hip Hop.
Lil' Kim recently announced the release of her cannabis line, Aphrodisiac. Lil’ Kim partnered with California-based Superbad Inc. to bring her cannabis brand to life. Aphrodisiac will be available in California sometime this year. The Lil’ Kim partnership also includes CampNova, a vertically-integrated marketing and distribution tech platform based in Northern California.
Master P is a rapper, actor, businessman, record producer, philanthropist, and former basketball player. He rose to fame as the rap group Three Six Mafia leader. He has released numerous albums, including Ghetto Dope, No Limit Top Doggaz, The Massacre, and I'm Back. In 1997, Master P founded his own label imprint G-Unit Records with artists like Lil' Kim, 50 Cent, and The Game.
Brand: Master P's Trees
In 2016 he launched Master P's Trees, a line of cannabis products that includes flowers and edibles and a "liquid gold" oil line produced with edible-grade, preservative-free oil. Inspired by a fellow Bayou State native who was sentenced to life for selling $20 worth of weed, Master P is leading the charge to acknowledge May 20 as Cannabis Freedom Day. The campaign was meant to champion widespread legislative change and freedom for people convicted of marijuana sales.
Ice Cube is a rapper, actor, and producer. He has released several albums, including "Lethal Injection" in 1992, "Kill At Will" in 1994, "Death Certificate" in 1995, and "The Predator" in 2000. He is perhaps most affectionately known in the cannabis commuter as the star of stoner classic Friday.
Brand: Fryday Kush
Fryday Kush is a brand developed by Ice Cube in partnership with the cannabis company Caviar Gold. He announced the partnership in 2021. The product is popular amongst his fans and other cannabis enthusiasts. The product can be purchased in California, Arizona, Nevada, and Oklahoma.
Raekwon is a rapper and member of the legendary Wu-Tang Clan. . Raekwon's debut solo album, an August 1995 release, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx..., is widely acclaimed as a 1990s Hip Hop classic. Raekwon is also a chef, restaurateur, and investor.
Instead of attaching his name to his own cannabis line, Raekwon has become an investor in the company CitizenGrown. CitizenGrown plans to open a cultivation laboratory that will teach people about cannabis and allow them to be in control of what they put into their bodies. They will do this by sending fully automated kits to people's homes, allowing them to start cultivating and growing their own cannabis plants. It will also empower people to step into that retail space as trained home growers.
Al Harrington is a retired professional basketball player. He played for the Philadelphia 76ers and the Orlando Magic in his career before ending his career in China. The former NBA star has now ventured into cannabis entrepreneurship ventures, making history as a black business owner in the process.
Brand: Viola Cannabis
Harrington launched Viola Cannabis in 2011 and has since made it his mission to develop 100 Black millionaire cannabis entrepreneurs through an incubator program. Viola was the first international Black-owned cannabis brand; it expanded into Canada in 2021. Viola, another of the flagship Black celebrity cannabis brands, was named for Harrington's grandmother because cannabis oil was used to treat her medical conditions.
NBA legend and cannabis entrepreneur Isiah Thomas has built up his growing weed enterprise. Thomas attended the University of Miami and played for the Miami Hurricanes from 1995 to 1998. In 1999, he was drafted by the Chicago Bulls with the third pick in the NBA draft and won two championships before leaving in 2003 to play for the Boston Celtics. He also won another championship in 2004. On February 20th, 2018, it was announced that Thomas had retired from basketball after playing 19 seasons in the NBA and winning multiple championships
Brand: One World Pharma Inc.
Recently, he invested $3 million into hemp and cannabis ingredient producer One World Pharma Inc. In June 2020, he was named CEO of the company. His hope is to help build up his cannabis investments to be significant players in the global cannabis and industrial hemp industries. One World Pharma is Colombia's largest Black-controlled and operated, fully-licensed cannabis and hemp producer. Thomas announced plans for the company to participate in the nation’s first black supplier development program.
Actor and comedian Jaleel White is famous for his role as Steve Urkel on the television show Family Matters. He was also the voice of Gizmo in the animated series Gremlins and the first actor to voice Sonic the Hedgehog, doing so in The Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog, Sonic the Hedgehog/Sonic SatAM, and Sonic Underground from 1993-1999. White most recently appeared on several episodes of the Netflix series The Big Show Show.
Brand: Purple Urkle
White officially entered the cannabis game in 2021 with the launch of his Purple Urkle cannabis strain in partnership with 710 Labs. He developed the cannabis line under the name ItsPurpl. The strain was released to much fanfare on 4/20 of that year. The new collaboration immediately went viral and even got an endorsement from OG weed expert and Hip Hop icon Snoop Dogg.
Mike Tyson was a professional American boxer who won his first 18 fights and lost only once in the ring. He held world heavyweight championship titles three times. Since retiring from boxing, he has made a name for himself as an actor and entrepreneur.
Brand: Tyson Farms
Tyson credits cannabis with helping him heal from cocaine and opioid abuse and making him a calmer person. His cannabis empire is now vast, and he plans on focusing on entrepreneur education as well. Tyson has been selling cannabis products since 2016 through his Tyson Holistic label. He now makes hundreds of thousands a month on his various cannabis products. The line has premium marijuana strains, edibles, and extracts. He also has announced plans to build a cannabis-themed amusement park on his property.
Rapper Coi Leray became a breakout sensation on SoundCloud in 2018 and her star has risen higher ever since. As the daughter of rap artist and media mogul Benzino, co-owner of The Source, Leray comes from musical nobility. She was featured on the song "Save the Day" with Ski Mask the Slump God and Jacquees on the soundtrack album from the hit film Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse. While she's released well-received mixtapes and her EP Now or Never and collaborated with artists including Fetty Wap, Keke Palmer and Tripple Redd, Leray's biggest hit to date is undoubtedly her 2021 single "No More Parties," which charted at number 26 on the Billboard 100 and was certified platinum. She was nominated at the 2021 BET Hip-Hop Awards for Best New Hip-Hop Artist and at the 2021 BET Awards for Best New Female Hip-Hop Artist and Best New Artist.
Coi Leray is a cannabis enthusiast who has been public about her love for the plant. Shortly after the debut of her single "No More Parties," she announced a brand collaboration with the cultivators of the celebrated Runtz strain for a limited-edition line of cannabis products. Bearing the name "No More Parties," the collaboration was a great success. Leray and Runtz teamed up again for a second limited-edition line, Donutzla, a hybrid strain available in flavors such as apple crumble, strawberry and blueberry. Ain't that sweet?