How Asian Americans are blazing a new trail in a booming pot industry | Cannabis

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VSAnnabis has been widely used in traditional Asian medicines for over a millennium, but before its now widespread legalization in the United States, it was viewed by many Asian-American communities as a frowned upon illicit drug.

However, a new generation of Asian American businessmen has emerged as pioneers in the rapidly growing legal marijuana industry in the United States, entering the industry in hopes of lobbying for further legalization while expanding it to include traditionally marginalized communities.

At the same time, many seek to challenge societal misconceptions about the plant within their own communities and beyond.

The history of cannabis is largely rooted in prohibition. Since Congress passed the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937, which effectively banned the sale and consumption of cannabis nationwide, the plant has been illegal under federal law. According to the American Civil Liberties Union, although blacks and whites use marijuana at roughly equal rates, blacks are 3.73 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana.

Nevertheless, the sector has grown considerably over the years, with increasing public support for legalization. Recreational marijuana is now legal in 19 states, as well as Washington DC and Guam, in turn leading to a giant boom in legitimate businesses.

As a result, Al Ochosa, director of insurance, risk and security compliance at Curaleaf, one of the country’s leading medical and wellness cannabis operators, is not only seeking to destigmatize the plant, but also to support the participation of people of color in the rapidly emerging industry.

Ochosa, 51, is the oldest of four siblings and was born in the Philippines to a devout Catholic mother and a United States Navy father. “The education, while very loving and supportive, was definitely pretty strict, especially when it came to, you know, ‘illegal activities’,” he said.

“I was definitely a child of the 1980s. I still have my DARE [Drug Abuse Resistance Education] sticker at my parents’, he added with a laugh. In 2015, after 20 years as a commercial insurance professional, Ochosa turned to the cannabis industry after a college friend introduced him to the Curaleaf co-founders.

“I was a professional in the company at the time, but, in the background, I had always been an advocate for the factory and what it could do for people,” Ochosa said. “It was Christmas where I basically took my dad aside… I ripped off the bandage and pulled out my stash of cannabis and told him about what I was looking to do in the industry.”

The conversation with Ochosa’s mother was a bit more difficult. “She expected me to graduate from high school 4.0, expected me to graduate from four-year college… I even took piano lessons and played the violin.” , Ochosa said. “I tried to be that model Asian kid… but you know cannabis has been a part of me for several years now.”

At Curaleaf, Ochosa is part of the company’s diversity, equity and inclusion leadership team, where he focuses on social equity and sustainability, as well as food insecurity, health and wellness and cannabis education. “You have to fight disinformation with facts and just education,” he said.

Additionally, Ochosa co-leads Curaleaf in Color, a resource group aimed at creating a safe space for employees of color while amplifying their experiences in the industry. Earlier this year, on the occasion of Asian American Pacific Heritage Month, Ochosa hosted a panel on the experiences of Asian American cannabis leaders who highlighted their de-stigmatization efforts, as well as the challenges they have faced. faced when they entered the industry.

During his research, Ochosa discovered that there was very little educational content about cannabis portrayed through an Asian American lens. “I was actually quite surprised at how well the whitewashed [the industry] was back to the beginning and even today, simply because there are so many people in the communities who have traditionally been affected by the war on drugs, ”Ochosa said.


Yesoko Miyashita is also seeking to undo the damage caused by the war on drugs. As CEO of Leafly, a widely used online platform focused on cannabis consumption and education, Miyashita strives to destigmatize the plant through education and social fairness.

From an early age, Miyashita, who was born in Japan, saw the hardships her immigrant parents faced, including feelings of otherness in some of the many states she has lived in. Miyashita received a bachelor’s degree in ethnic studies from Berkeley, followed by a law degree from the University of Washington. She then established a successful career in corporate and digital media.

The number of cannabis products has exploded in recent years. Photograph: Canadian Press / REX / Shutterstock

In 2019, Miyashita became general counsel and later CEO of Seattle-based Leafly. “For me, it was seeing this industry emerge into one of the first recreational states… this experience of going into a dispensary and seeing kind of an industry in the making and really feeling that sense of the opportunity to create. an industry outside of Prohibition, ”Miyashita said.

As one of the world’s leading resources for cannabis information, Leafly has over 125 million visitors per year, who learn about strain consumption, cultivation methods, history and more.

“You have to highlight the data and the science of the plant, but you also have to highlight this unique story of ban that this industry has come from. When you look at this, you see that this unique story engenders a unique obligation in terms of how we give back and repair the communities that have been so disproportionately damaged by Prohibition. “

At Leafly, Miyashita helped launch Seeds of Change, a comprehensive report that aggregates state data and measures their efforts to integrate communities of color into cannabis legalization campaigns.

Miyashita has worked with cannabis organizations in various states, advocating for legalization and increased funding for communities of color, which have been particularly marginalized as a result of the federal ban.

“Black and brown business owners already receive very little funding available there – even less in the cannabis business. So what do you have left? Personal, family and friends savings to start a business. And if you have systemic issues, you don’t have generational wealth to back you up, so the game can be stacked against you, ”Miyashita said.

“It takes a certain level of intentionality in the industry to say, ‘Hey, who are the companies that aren’t getting the attention they deserve … and let’s make sure those of us with a spotlight shine? that light over there, ”she added.

While Miyashita advocates for social cannabis use, Los Angeles-based Geraldine Mae Cueva seeks to destigmatize the plant through her products, particularly by working with smaller retail companies.

Self-proclaimed “Chillanthrope,” Cueva is a Filipino-American who grew up in New Jersey and the founder of Art & Times of Chill, a consultancy platform that functions as a showroom for plant-based products. and plant-based.

Cueva, whose eclectic background includes experiences in nursing, fashion, and e-commerce, works with various cannabis companies to help them understand the modern cannabis user while connecting brands to foster conscious commerce.

As a second generation Asian American, Cueva takes great pride in connecting with the Elders in her community. “My family’s state of mind and their perceptions are always on my mind, and I deeply respect the sacrifices they made for me, so it’s part of who I am,” she said.

Cueva’s parents, who were initially suspicious of their daughter’s entry into the industry, have over time become one of her biggest supporters. “They were helping me create my first trade show experience. My mom was like my intern, making sure I was fed while I talked to people for three days in a row… My dad knows how to grow hemp and cannabis. He has a green thumb.

Cueva is constantly looking for ways to expand the accessibility of cannabis. “I’m really trying to make sure we’re not just marketing to millennials and people with disposable income, but also to people 50 and over,” she said. “I am convinced that you must learn from people before you do. “

In addition to running her own consulting firm, Cueva is the co-founder of Sesh-ins, an online smoke space that emerged last year at the height of the pandemic and social movements across the United States. . Past discussion topics include the responsible and intersectional alliance, white saviorism, and industry challenges surrounding inclusion, diversity and equity.

“When I was younger it was much harder for me to find someone who looked like me and I hope young Filipino girls can see that anything is possible. You can always do whatever your parents want for you, ”Cueva said. “But if you don’t like what you’re doing and what you want, it won’t do you any good.” Above her, on her bedroom wall, hung a print of a New York Post headline: “The $ 20,000 Hermès Birkin Bags Smell Like Marijuana,” he said.


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