Breaking Barriers: Black Trailblazers Of The Cannabis Movement

February is a time to honor the remarkable accomplishments of African Americans throughout history, and also reflect on hard-fought struggles along the way. While cannabis and black history have not always had an easy relationship in America– we're taking this moment to recognize some inspiring figures, both from the past and the present, who've worked tirelessly within our vibrant hemp & cannabis world to make a positive difference.

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Black History & Cannabis

Where does cannabis fit into black history? While currently, there are conversations taking place regarding the growing interest of marijuana legalization in the United States, we must also understand the historical context.

According to historical records, Indian traders and indentured laborers in South Africa were consuming cannabis for centuries before it was introduced to West African countries. Cannabis was first grown in central Asia. Then it arrived in Southeast Asia, India and Arab countries and spread across the continent. The plant then made its way to parts of Africa in the 13th century.

At the start of the 1800s the British Military moved thousands of indentured Indian laborers from Africa to the Caribbean islands. And those laborers brought their cannabis. Over time, imported enslaved Africans were introduced to the plant. Once slavery was abolished in Jamaica in 1834, Indian workers moved to Jamaica, and the cannabis they brought with them burst in popularity. Thanks to its many reported benefits and status in popular culture, the plant's popularity would go on to spread all over the world nearly 100 years later. 

How did Cannabis Get to America?

According to Barney Warf, a University of Kansas professor who published this paper in the Geographical Review academic journal, two different groups brought cannabis to the US. The first was Mexicans who were fleeing the violence of the Mexican Revolution. And the second was Caribbean sailors and newly freed immigrants who entered the US through New Orleans. 

Once cannabis was introduced to Louisiana, it became a welcomed addition to the black community. It was used for its medicinal purposes, as well as for recreational fun. Unfortunately, this fueled racist fears and “Reefer Madness” by white legislators in the 1930s. This led directly to the passage of the 1937 Marihuana Tax Act, which made cannabis illegal. 

The Marihuana Tax Act had devastating consequences at large who relied on cannabis products for medicinal relief from various ailments, as well as recreational enjoyment. It also paved the way for further criminalization of the black community who used it. This further perpetuated racism in America and only served to reinforce many existing negative stereotypes about African Americans and other minorities using it. 


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Nixon’s War on Drugs

Nixon's war on drugs had a devastating effect on the cannabis community, especially on black people and other minorities. In 1971, President Nixon declared a “war on drugs” as part of his domestic policy agenda. At the time, cannabis was seen by many states as a dangerous and illegal substance, and it became the main target of his drug-related policies. He even listed marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug, right alongside heroin, LSD, and ecstasy. While Nixon claimed that all people would be impacted equally by these policies, in reality it was minority communities who disproportionately bore the brunt of this crackdown.

There were numerous attempts by police to control cannabis production and usage, some of which targeted members of the black community disproportionately and unfairly. In particular, police enforcement increased which resulted in more arrests of black people for possession and sale of cannabis than any other ethnicity. This racial disparity was only made worse by the fact that law enforcement in some areas treated minor infractions such as marijuana possession as serious offenses — resulting in longer jail times for those arrested. 

Also, this legislation set forth an unjust precedent that has been hard to undo even today. According to the American Civil Liberties Union, or ACLU,” On average, a Black person is 3.64 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than a white person, even though black and white people use marijuana at similar rates.”

Nixon’s aggressive campaign resulted in a dramatic increase in drug arrests, with black people being arrested at rates far higher than their white counterparts. Not only did this affect their personal safety but it also had a long-lasting economic impact; those convicted often found employment opportunities limited due to their criminal record or the stigma associated with having been arrested for marijuana related offenses. And because this discrimination extended to areas such as housing and education, minority groups were hit even harder by Nixon's war on drugs — unable to access resources they needed in order to break out of poverty or otherwise improve their situations.


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Black Artists & Cannabis

Despite a radical war on drugs globally, cannabis has maintained a strong position in popular culture. This can largely be attributed to the impact of black art forms such as reggae, jazz, and hip-hop, which have had a long-standing relationship with cannabis. For over a century, black artists have been promoting the use of cannabis through their music. New Orleans, the birthplace of jazz and a significant city in American culture, is also known for its relationship with cannabis. The spread of New Orleans Jazz music across America brought with it a culture that embraced the use of cannabis, with artists of the time recognizing its medicinal benefits and creative potential.

Many legendary jazz musicians, like Louis Armstrong, have been renowned for their advocacy of cannabis. Louis Armstrong was highly influential in popularizing cannabis usage among jazz musicians. According to Armstrong, cannabis boosted his creativity. He wasn’t at all shy about smoking weed during performances or talking about its positive benefits, leading to it becoming more widely accepted in the music scene. 

Other black musicians like Reggae icons Bob Marley and Peter Tosh also played a role in shaping the introduction of recreational cannabis in more communities. Both are renowned for their pro-cannabis stance through their music and performances, with songs such as 'Legalize It' by Tosh and 'Kaya' by Marley highlighting their pro-cannabis stance. Cannabis became increasingly associated with creative freedom as well as an escape from social oppression that black people were experiencing due to racism during this time period. Through their advocacy, they brought attention to the medical benefits of cannabis and helped shift it from being stigmatized to being widely accepted. Even today, there are black artists, like Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre, who are still actively promoting the roots of cannabis through music. 

Black Trailblazers in Today’s Cannabis Industry

As cannabis legalization continues to gain traction throughout the United States, The medicinal properties and recreational uses of cannabis are becoming increasingly popular across many different generations and demographic groups. This has resulted in a growing number of both production and consumption of products derived from this plant. This includes edibles, oils, concentrates, and vaporizers and also high quality, hemp derived cannabinoids like Delta 8 THC, Delta 10 THC, and HHC products.

Brittany Parker

These days more African Americans are getting into the legal cannabis industry either as working in dispensaries or becoming business owners. One of these trailblazers is Brittany Parker. Originally a K-12 teacher, Brittany Parker wanted to become a superintendent. So how exactly did she end up becoming a passionate cannabis and restorative justice advocate, and also a prolific weed brand marketer? She spent four years as a St. Louis teacher. Despite the immense love she had for her students, she experienced severe burnout and decided it was time for a change. She got her master's degree and started working in advertising and marketing. She started working with clients like tech giants Microsoft and Amazon.

Parker had used cannabis for relief from both the stresses of teaching and gastrointestinal issues.  Discovering cannabis’s use as a health aid ultimately led to another career change. Parker then went on to get a Class A Certification at the Academy of Cannabis Science at Seattle Central College. 

After doing consultancy work in recreational dispensaries she landed an account executive role at Leafly, a weed e-commerce vendor and media company. It was this step into the cannabis industry that Parker noticed a problem.

She noticed that in this field, she encountered an overwhelming majority of white men. She soon realized that out of the hundreds of cannabis professionals she had spoken with, barely any were black or women. 

She recounted, "I talked to maybe 15 Black people specifically and about 10 to 15% of the people I spoke with were women. It was definitely jarring to actually see how stark this reality was." 

Parker then was a part of Leafly's series of layoffs, which eliminated 50% of the company's staff. First she wasn’t sure what her next step would be. Her friends and family encouraged her to strike out on her own. From her experience in the cannabis industry she knew she wanted to make sure that everyone - regardless of their background or gender identity - had equal access to opportunities and resources in the cannabis industry. So she founded A Green Legacy, an organization dedicated to amplifying voices from underrepresented founders and entrepreneurs in the cannabis industry.

A Green Legacy is all about bringing together women, non-binary individuals, people with disabilities, and people of color in the cannabis industry. But that's not all. Brittany is also a source of inspiration and support for journalists, publicists, and freelancers, offering guidance on negotiation tactics, equity issues, and navigating social media censorship. She is an advocate for destigmatizing weed and keeping these communities informed about exciting job opportunities in the cannabis industry.

This mission is especially important, considering the dark history of the unjust incarceration of black and brown individuals for marijuana offenses and the financial burden that comes with it. Parker is determined to bring about positive change and build a brighter future for all in the cannabis industry.

Timeka Drew

Another leader in the cannabis industry today is Timeka Drew. She is a social equity advocate and with a background in grassroots activism against systemic racism, economic injustice, voter suppression, and climate democracy, Drew brings a unique perspective to the cannabis space. As a co-founder of the nonprofit Our Dream, which supports LGBTQ+ individuals, immigrants, refugees, and those impacted by the war on drugs, Drew is dedicated to giving back to marginalized communities. 

Before entering the cannabis industry, Drew was a medical cannabis patient and has since co-founded Biko Flower, a cannabis brand that prioritizes both luxury and top-quality products. Biko's focus on bringing together people and cultures through cannabis is a celebration of the positive impact the plant can have on communities. The brand also aims to support underrepresented excellence and build lasting partnerships with other social equity entrepreneurs, creating a sustainable network powered by mutual respect and solidarity.

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Final Thoughts

The influence of black artists like Louis Armstrong, Bob Marley and Peter Tosh on cannabis culture have been instrumental in creating a more positive view of cannabis and its use. From Louis Armstrong's public embrace of cannabis to Bob Marley's prolific music and activism, these legendary figures have left a lasting mark on the industry. More recently, contemporary advocates like Brittany Parker and Timeka Drew are leading the charge for cannabis equity and inclusion. Their work is essential in breaking down barriers that have disproportionately impacted communities of color for far too long. In honor of these inspiring individuals, it is critical that we continue to uplift their stories, celebrate their achievements, and take action towards ensuring a future where everyone has access to this booming industry.

At Mellow Fellow, we’re committed to providing the highest quality hemp-derived products in the market. Be sure to check out our wide selection of vapes, edibles, and more for a premium experience like never before. We also provide premium cannabinoid blends where you can choose the experience that's perfect for you. Who's your favorite black pioneer who's made a positive impact on the cannabis industry? Let us know in the comments below. As always, stay safe, stay informed and stay mellow. 

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