“I’m not afraid to say, ‘Yeah, I partake,’” says fitness instructor Soeuraya, as she explains her relationship with cannabis. Her video testimonial about the plant, where she recalls going from a conservative upbringing that stigmatized cannabis to becoming an open advocate for consumption, is one of several spotlights in the Faces of Cannabis exhibit that illuminated Manhattan this month.
What Is Faces Of Cannabis? Miss Grass, Honeysuckle Studios And Union Square Travel Agency Create New York's First Cannabis Portrait Gallery
Created by the community–driven brand Miss Grass in collaboration with Honeysuckle Studios, Faces of Cannabis is New York’s first cannabis portrait gallery dedicated to dismantling the stereotypes that surrounded prohibition. From December 6th to December 20th, the public could visit the free exhibit housed at 62 East 13th Street (sponsored by the space’s former occupant, state-licensed dispensary Union Square Travel Agency) and take in photo and video stories from a diverse array of cannabis consumers sharing their true-to-life experiences.
A mom healing from domestic violence. A teacher who finds new ways to relax and be creative. A sales executive recuperating from multiple surgeries who’s discovering inner happiness. All these and more New Yorkers are among the advocates choosing to speak their truths for the first time in the gallery’s stories. It’s crucial to break the stigmas, as so many of the people profiled point out. Even though adult-use cannabis is legal in the Empire State, the old attitudes from the criminalization days - popularized by the racist efforts of federal Narcotics Commissioner Harry Anslinger and anti-marijuana propaganda like the film Reefer Madness (1936) - continue to shape public opinion nearly 100 years later.
How Does Faces Of Cannabis Break Historic Stigmas?
“You don’t have to be in the [cannabis] industry to see the harms caused by the stereotypes and the decades of racially-charged criminalization or misrepresentation of consumers in the media,” states Kate Miller, co-founder and CEO of Miss Grass. “We see it in the tens of thousands of humans still in prison for this plant, and the countless others who can't access work, housing, or even vote because of past cannabis convictions. We see it in the federal policy that still parallels cannabis with heroin (thanks, Harry Anslinger). We experience the stigma all the time in our own lives.”
That pain was the genesis for Faces of Cannabis. Miller shares, “We had this idea… to take on this legacy of hate and rewrite the lazy, burnout, drug-addicted, and criminal narratives that harm our communities by showing the world who actual weed consumers are. It floated in our minds for years, and then with New York’s historic legalization, the time finally felt right to make it a reality.”
How did they cast such a project that featured New Yorkers representing wide ranges of ages, ethnicities, and professional backgrounds? “For casting,” Miller attests, “we wanted a diverse and representative menagerie of folks who authentically had a relationship with the plant. To find them, we simply put out a casting call to our New York community asking people to share their story with the plant–over 500 applied. Ultimately, we chose 15 that represented the beautiful prism of cannabis consumers.”
Miss Grass teamed up with Union Square Travel Agency to showcase the exhibit at the dispensary’s former pop-up location. According to Miller, the decision to partner “was an easy choice. We share the same values and a mission to reverse the damage caused by the War on Drugs—a mission they act by every day. They’re a BIPOC-founded company in partnership with the not-for-profit The Doe Fund, and redirect over half of their profits to programs for people who have experienced homelessness and incarceration. They hire formerly incarcerated and legacy operators, and make it a point to carry LGBTQIA+, BIPOC, and women-owned brands. They also just happened to have the perfect spot in their former store location to host our Faces of Cannabis pop-up gallery.”
What Makes The Faces Of Cannabis Videos Special? Honeysuckle Studios Shows "Full Spectrum" Of Consumers
Video for the project was overseen by Honeysuckle Creative Director Sam C. Long. “I really liked the idea [of Faces of Cannabis] and that’s why we partnered with Miss Grass for their innovative way of normalizing plant medicine,” he affirms. “It’s something that I’ve been saying for years. To destigmatize for the ‘normies’ - there are so many more people [in your lives] who you know are using cannabis. Your neighbors, your friends, your doctor or nurse, your bus driver, lawyer, teacher. As well as the classic stoner. So I thought it was great to show through the photography at the exhibit the different shapes, sizes, colors, ages of people. [It’s] showing a full spectrum of people who enjoy the full spectrum of the plant.”
“We have to give big love to Honeysuckle,” Miller enthuses. “Honeysuckle’s talented team joined [Miss Grass] at the photoshoot to capture interviews and video content with each of our ‘faces,’ which then featured at the pop-up gallery and across our media channels. It’s safe to say without them as our production and editorial partner, the vision for Faces of Cannabis (excuse the pun) would only have been half-baked and the stories we could share only one-dimensional.”
Long was blown away by the breadth of experiences the exhibit uncovered. “For the video work, I was able not only to show the variety of people who enjoy or use plant medicine, but also to hear and share their stories. There were so many ‘faces’ from different walks of life and distinctive cannabis cultures. They had a lot of surprising stories, and I can’t wait for people to hear them when they watch these inspiring videos.”
Some of the Faces in Cannabis are already known to New York’s cannabis community, like educator and entrepreneur Solonje Burnett of Weed Auntie and writer Liam Wamba, while others preferred to remain more anonymous. But all revealed pieces of their deeper selves through the exhibit, plus some good advice to boot. For many, the best suggestion was the simplest - don’t judge other people on the wellness tools they choose. And quite a few “faces” followed that up with the exhortation that those who are of age to try cannabis responsibly should take a walk on the greener side.
“Come out of the weed closet, let’s smoke!” Burnett exclaims gleefully in her video.
How Have New Yorkers Responded To Faces Of Cannabis?
As Faces of Cannabis transitions from its physical space to the digital one, Miller gives a final reflection on the response to the project. “We’ve received so much love for Faces of Cannabis,” she concludes. “Not just in New York, but from our community across the country. So many people have told us they finally feel seen in a world that only shows one version of a weed consumer. Others have told us the campaign inspired them to share their own stories of facing stigma and shame. It’s really been moving beyond words, and a sign that times are changing for the better.”
For more about FACES OF CANNABIS and Miss Grass, visit missgrass.com.
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Featured image: FACES OF CANNABIS gallery (C) Miss Grass