It comes as no surprise that since the legalization of marijuana in America, the cannabis industry has been thriving. In a country where we prioritize work over living while health and stress levels are through the roof, it’s not uncommon for us to search for ways to self-soothe.
Thanks to the 2020 elections, the medical use of cannabis is now legal in 35 states, recreational use is legal in 14, and both are allowed in Washington, D.C. Although these are impressive numbers, it’s a complicated and unfair reality for cannabis users that are Black or a person of color.
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Between 2001 and 2010, there were over 8 million marijuana-related arrests in the United States alone. Although marijuana use is similar among Black and white people, a Black person is almost 4 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession. This disparity occurs across the country in all walks of life, although Black people only make up 13% of this country’s population.
The war on drugs, especially marijuana, has proven to be a failure, and it’s time for a change.
The exceptional Wanda James, CEO and founder of Simply Pure, sat down with theGrio to open up about being the first Black legally licensed cannabis seller in the United States. Returning home to Colorado after 14 years in LA, James focuses on remaining authentically Black while using cannabis as a tool for social change.
theGrio: How did Simply Pure come to be?
Wanda James: I met my brother at my dad’s funeral and he told me he just got out of prison. Usually, when people tell you that, you assume the worse, right? But this wasn’t the case. My brother was arrested for 4oz of weed at just 18 years old and did 10 years in the system. For four of those years, he ended up at a privatized prison where he had to pick 100lbs of cotton for his freedom. That small amount of weed they found on him equals no more than $150.
WJ: After speaking with many of my professional, established friends, I learned that most of them have gotten caught with weed at least once in their lives but were dismissed simply because they had an attorney. That was something my brother and many Black people are not provided. When I took my brother to my “social justice warrior” friend and studying the difference between the arrest rates and conviction rates when it came to marijuana across races, it told me an interesting yet troubling story.
tG: How do you plan to change how this country perceives black cannabis owners and cannabis users? In a perfect world, how do we go about creating this safe space?
WJ: It has been proven that the use of cannabis between Black and white people is identical. As business owners, we know the sale is almost identical as well. The only difference is how people perceive it. After 11 years in the industry, we are currently raising the finances to be the best possible partners and franchise to help bring in those black owners nationwide. We’ve seen a lot of people of color coming up in California and now the east coast. We just want to support and get them more involved in ownership.
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tG: What was it like creating a design team with Krystal R. Lucero (interior design) and Jamila St. Julien (visual design)?
WJ: Blackity black! As we create the new look and feel for the nationwide dispensaries, I looked towards people of color to create the image that we’ve been about. From the products to the store, it’s important that everything we can do and the opportunities I have to give, I always want them to be black.
They must be the best above all but the best in my mind starts with someone that looks like me.
tG: Tell me more about your two new products, LoHi and BCause?
WJ: LoHi is our line of edibles with a lower dose of THC. We want our customers to enjoy an edible where they can eat the whole cookie, gummies without worrying about the long-lasting effects.
The BCause line stands for Black causes. We want to hear from people and what their because is related to cannabis. With a portion of those sales, we plan to send Black and brown kids to law school on a free ride because of cannabis. It would be the dream if it was an HBCU law school but regardless, we want them to pay it forward not just for Simply Pure but for their community.
tG: What can we expect from Simply Pure next?
WJ: We’re on our way to becoming a nationwide brand. We plan to use our platform and brand to create more owners of color in the cannabis industry. Most importantly, we will not be sharks! We are what I like to call “dolphins” in the deal. We want to be the one everyone gets excited about. Simply Pure is going to make you money but make you feel good and special while sealing the deal. That’s the plan.
You can purchase products and learn more about Wanda James and Simply Pure, here.
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