Freedom, Representation, And Reform In Cannabis

This article by Taylor Mclamb was originally published on Cannabis & Tech Today, and appears here with permission.

At our recent Emerge Virtual Cannabis Conference & Expo, transformative thinkers and innovators voiced their insight on diversity, expungement, and prison reform to hundreds of eager virtual attendees.

The event hosted several prominent speakers from the industry, boasting a powerhouse assembly of enthusiasts.

Hemp and cannabis culture is all about community; it’s a space where everyone deserves representation.

As the demand for cannabis continues to grow, many revolutionary leaders within the industry, including Andrew DeAngelo, Wanda James, Steve DeAngelo, and others have been fighting for change within the hemp space to better reflect the inclusive nature of the plant. 

Wanda James

Wanda James. Photo courtesy of Wanda James.

James is the CEO of Simply Pure and the first African American woman to own a dispensary in Colorado.

On why James transitioned from working in politics with President Obama to becoming a successful cannabis entrepreneur:

“When I met my brother and I discovered the grave injustice that was done to him, 10 years with a prison sentence, four years picking cotton, to buy his freedom for having possessed less than four ounces of weed.

That to me, was an American failure on a grand scale when I found out that it wasn’t just my brother, but 800,000 people a year.

And when you find out those kinds of statistics and it hits your family, then that political policy becomes very personal to you.”

“I’m tough as nails. So whatever you throw at me, we can do it, thank you military.

I understand business, thank you Fortune 50 companies for giving me outstanding business training.

And politics, thank you for giving me the passion to be able to fight for policies that change people’s lives and that hopefully, no other 17-year-old black boy ever has to pick 100 pounds of cotton a day to purchase his freedom in America.” 

James reflected on her time serving on a transition team for Governor Polis, where she looked at over 300 resumes of highly-qualified men and women who all wanted to work for the governor’s cabinet.

While conducting interviews for the position, she came across a fascinating discovery: 

“Men do a really great job of building themselves up to be there for the competition. And then you have this amazing woman that has a Ph.D. and has solved all types of civil engineering issues, has built bridges all over the world. And yet, she puts something very small in her resume, like, ‘I had
70 projects,’ instead of all of that which she does…we have got to stop being humble and we
have got to want to brag about ourselves and what we do…

“I just want women to really feel comfortable in discussing what it is that they do, because I promise you ladies, the competition, the men on the other side have listed everything that they have ever done.

Every committee that they’ve ever sat on, every idea that they’ve ever had, it’s in their resume.”

Towards the end of her session, James offered some memorable advice to women entrepreneurs:

“Don’t be fearful, always be cautious, look at all the things around you, but don’t let fear be the reason why you don’t grab the brass ring.

If there is something that you believe you can do, and there’s something you believe you want to do, it is imperative you take that step and you do it…

“Figure out what you’ve got to do, one step at a time. The journey of a thousand miles starts with one step. So take that one step. It will lead you to the next step that leads you to your next step. And then 10 years from now, you’ll be sitting here at the Emerge Conference, having great conversations with wonderful female entrepreneurs. And that’s what it’s all about at the end of the day.”

Andrew DeAngelo 

Andrew DeAngelo. Photo courtesy of Andrew DeAngelo.

Co-Founder of the Last Prisoner Project, DeAngelo also founded cannabis retailer Harborside alongside his brother, Steve DeAngelo.

The Last Prisoner Project is a cannabis criminal justice nonprofit that fights to release incarcerated individuals for cannabis offenses, as well as record relief and expungement.

DeAngelo shared the origin of the Last Prisoner Project and his involvement in activism. He gave credit to his brother, Steve, for the vision of LPP:

“When we opened Harborside, we launched a program where patients could write letters to cannabis prisoners and get free medicine in exchange for that.

We began our connection from the legal industry to our brothers and sisters in prison with that program…

Then about a year and a half ago, Steve was hit with a thunderbolt when he was in a conference room with a …

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