“How do I include people of my community in this industry?” That question provoked Jake Plowden, Nelson Guerrero, Sonia Espinoza, Christine Jordan, and Kamani Jefferson to found the Cannabis Cultural Association (CCA) in 2015. Since then the nonprofit organization has been on the front lines in the emerging Green Rush, spearheading efforts such as a federal class-action suit against the Department of Justice and redefining social equity for people of color.

Plowden, who grew up in Colorado and New York, experienced the War on Drugs’ destruction firsthand. “A lot of my friends weren’t able to go to college. A lot of my family members were not able to access institutional resources due to criminal offenses or drug trafficking… Coming to [cannabis] on a career basis and hearing about legalization and the future of the medical industry in New York – I realized that there were no [other] people of my hue in the room… So we [the CCA founders] decided if we don’t provide our own solutions, no one will.”

Jake Plowden by Averie Cole(c)Photo By @AverieCole www.averiecole.com

CCA approaches multiple aspects of advocacy, focusing on health and wellness, urban development and policy. They host educational panels, business networking events, and communal meetups like monthly brunches to reach a wider audience. Plowden frequently speaks at churches, collaborating with local pastors to explain how cannabis fits into spirituality. He co-hosts the weekly podcast In the Know 420, which spotlights cannabis industry leaders from different fields – many of whom attest, as Plowden does, that using the plant medically turned their lives around. (Jake also mentions that his great-aunt has recently become a proponent of CBD among her friends, and that his work through CCA has inspired his parents to rethink their views on cannabis.)

But the primary step toward genuine diversity and representation, according to Plowden, is simply realizing the need to start a conversation. He admits that many Black communities hesitate to accept cannabis as a legitimate industry because of the stigmas that have been reinforced over the decades. The “lazy stoner” and sinful “reefer madness” stereotypes remain pervasive. Still others have more personal reasons for their opposition; Plowden remembers hearing one woman say she couldn’t stand the smell of weed because it brought back painful
memories of drug addiction in her family. Collectively, Jake notes, African Americans “are dealing with trauma that is more or less still very, very difficult to talk about.”

Yet Plowden hopes that as perspectives toward consumption shift, so will the
possibilities. “Honestly, it starts at home… If you are able to talk about cannabis with your family, then you will be able to evolve that conversation to your church leader, your political assemblyman or senator. [But] be prepared to be more financially knowledgeable than you have ever been in your life. Be realistic about your approaches to entrepreneurship. You have to emotionally prepare yourself for the harsh realities of how people truly view the economic hardships of being Black in America.”

Jake Plowden and comedy writer Nehemiah Markos (Never Sad)