Latinx heritage and cannabis have a complicated cross-over history. The U.S. has largely had a racist view of folks in Mexico and South America thanks to prejudiced stereotypes about drug traffickers, making the industry a difficult place for Latinx individuals to break into.
However, there are many people of Hispanic and Latinx descent making some serious moves in the industry. We talked to a few
Oswaldo Graziani, Creative Marketing Director at
Oswaldo Graziani got his start in the cannabis industry when he was asked to develop a reality TV show about it. From developing the pilot, he came to fall in love with the industry, and then later accepted a position with Knox Medical in Florida, now known as Fluent Cannabis.
“It became apparent when I started getting involved with Florida sales data,” he says about noticing biases against cannabis in the Latinx community. “Heavy populated Hispanic areas like South Florida are not embracing cannabis as fast as other areas. Religion has something to do with it, for sure, but I blame mostly the consequences of the War on Drugs.
“Hispanics were vilified not only for being drug users but also for being drug traffickers. That had a massive impact on the whole region. Families were traumatized for decades. Even today, we are still fighting the perception demons within the industry.”
And despite the racist history against cannabis in the U.S., he feels very hopeful about the diversity in the industry today.
“One of the things I love about cannabis is that it’s multicultural,” he says. “Cannabis consumers are incredibly diverse. So, what the industry needs to do to be more inclusive is to mirror its consumers. That’s happening slowly, but it’s happening.
“One way to accelerate this trend is to keep pushing for full decriminalization, so all the fears generated by the war on drugs, which mainly affected minorities, are finally left behind.”
Angie Rodriguez-Smith – Chief People Officer at
A self-proclaimed good girl as a kid, Angie Rodriguez-Smith admits that it was surprising to folks at first that she entered the cannabis industry.
“I’m known to be a goody two shoes — sported my DARE t-shirt when I was a little girl,” she says. “For those that asked why, it was a simple response; I’d be working for a great company in a thriving industry.”
Rodriguez-Smith explained the irony between her view of cannabis while she was growing up compared to her position now in the industry. “Growing up Christian, my brother got a lot of heat for smoking weed and getting in trouble at school, including from me. Fast forward to 2021 — now I’m the one accepting a job with a company for a plant that cast a negative light on my brother.”
While she says she still carries some guilt for shaming her brother over smoking, she thinks in the long run, she has a stronger relationship with him after all their conversations around the plant. She continues to educate herself about cannabis to this day. As she immerses herself in the industry, she also hopes to see it become more inclusive.
“The industry needs to continually evolve intentionally in an inclusive direction,” she says. “We might not get things right from the get go. For example, in Nevada, a set number of lounge licenses are set apart for social equity applicants. This program came to existence because the state evolved from past license processes — from community partners discussing their experiences and learnings and listening to each other and then doing something about it.”
Jesse Naranjo, Chief Product Officer at
Jesse Naranjo first got into the cannabis industry through a company through the lens of products and technology through Metrc, the system that manages cannabis sales and cash flows in the industry. Naranjo chatted with us about the deeply rooted stigma associated with cannabis in Latinx culture.
“Latinx families have historically placed a lot of stigma on cannabis because it is ideologically associated with harmful drugs — in part because of religion, in part because of preexisting social stigma, but also because of the reality of situations that exist in some Latin American countries where cannabis production and transport is a component of crime,” he says regarding being a minority in the industry. “I believe that as Latinx families recognize the medicinal value of cannabis and that cannabis is not a ‘gateway drug,’ the stigma can go away and become more accepted in our community.”
Naranjo echoes the belief that as the industry grows, it also needs to become more inclusive and diverse.
“I believe the industry could be more inclusive through outreach, goodwill and resilience. Growing up in a Latinx community, a large sense of negativity is created from a young age against drugs — cannabis included — and as cannabis legalization becomes more mainstream education around cannabis is something that will create a brighter future for all.”
For anyone familiar with the cannabis world, there is a lot of work being done to make the industry more inclusive, but progress is far from where it needs to be. Naranjo in encouraged by the hardworking individuals who are dedicated to evolve the industry toward equity.
“There is still a lot of work to do to remove existing stigma and misunderstanding around cannabis and the industry, but there are also a lot of great people working towards that goal and making progress every day.”