When I found out Uruguay was the first country in the world to legalize marijuana in 2013, I was genuinely shocked. Growing up as a first-generation Colombian-American in a predominately Latine New Jersey neighborhood, I knew what my Latin American and Latine community, and especially its elders, thought about weed. For one, my immigrant parents made it very clear that my sister and I were never, ever to smoke hierba. But there were also stereotypes tied to being a so-called marijuanera, like being lazy, sketchy, and unladylike, whatever that means, and cautionary tales of what could happen once you start smoking this alleged gateway drug, and one included the very real prospect of going to jail.
While to younger generations like mine, smoking a joint has become as habitual as drinking a glass of wine, the criminalization of marijuana consumption has been violent for the Latine community. A United States Sentencing Commision report published in January 2023 found that in the last five years, Latines accounted for 70.1% of marijuana possession sentences. Of them, 59.8% were non-U.S. citizens. The wildest part: Latines make up just under 20% of the U.S. population. Targeted? Evidently.
"Latines accounted for 70.1% of marijuana possession sentences. Of them, 59.8% were non-U.S. citizens."
ashley garcia lezcano
While the growing decriminalization of marijuana across the country won’t repair the damage done to our communities, some Latines are after their well-earned bag by making a name for themselves in the legal cannabis industry. As both medical and recreational marijuana become legal in different regions in the U.S., we’re highlighting the trail(blazing) Latine entrepreneurs who are pioneering the movement. Regardless of how we’ve been taught to think about weed, understanding how politicians and businesses are profiting from the legalization of marijuana after its criminalization ruined (and continues to harm) so many lives and families, it is crucial for us to support Latines in the marijuana industry. That said, find some Latine-owned dispensaries to support below.
The Other Side — Jersey City, New Jersey
CEO Alyza Brevard-Rodriguez is no stranger to entrepreneurship. The queer Afro-Puerto Rican has two wellness facilities located in Hoboken and Jersey City offering everything from reiki and yoga to salt caves and talk therapy. Along with her wife, Mia, she opened SW3AT Studios in 2015. Her newest project, The Other Side, is a forthcoming dispensary and lounge offering free expungements to customers who have been arrested for marijuana-related charges. Brevard-Rodriguez is the first licensed Black, Latine, LGBTQ, and woman veteran to be awarded a coveted cannabis license in New Jersey.
In 2022, as New Mexico legalized recreational marijuana, five middle school teachers in Albuquerque founded La Tiendita de Motita. Selling their cars and personal belongings and dipping into savings and retirement accounts, this group of Latinas did whatever it took to launch their own storefront in South Valley. Today, they're using their maestra powers in a whole new way: to eliminate the stigma around cannabis through higher education.
In 2020, Cindy De La Vega, a first-generation Mexican-American, became the first Latina to open a dispensary in San Francisco. In 2021, she spoke with us about paying it forward as a pioneer in the industry. After growing up sleeping on the floor in her Sunnydale neighborhood to avoid stray bullets from the frequent shootings during the war on drugs, De La Vega, who almost lost her mom to a stray bullet, feels like her shop STIIZY is a full-circle success story. She was granted a license for her storefront through San Francisco’s Office of Cannabis Equity program, which seeks to give priority in licensing to applicants whose families’ lives were impacted by the war on drugs and incarceration for drug crimes.
Founded by Afro-Latina biomedical researcher and entrepreneur Dr. Chanda Macias, the National Holistic Healing Center is an entire experience. This medical cannabis dispensary carries more than 100 medical marijuana products from local cultivation centers and provides customers with specific strains and products to treat their symptoms and illnesses.
Mami always knows — especially when it comes to consuming our greens. In March, two Puerto Rican moms, CEO Christina Arez and her partner Krystel Bloomfield, applied for and received the first-ever license to open an adult-use retail dispensary in the Upper East Side of Manhattan. While this storefront has yet to open, we cannot wait to support them and are celebrating their win.
Standard Wellness has several shops across the country, but what makes its Maryland location special is CEO Christina Betancourt Johnson. In 2022, she made history as the first Black and Latina woman to own a cultivation operation in the state of Maryland, and in 2023 she was awarded a dispensary license and is its majority owner and CEO, as well. As CEO, she uses her cumulative nonprofit, real estate, healthcare, lobbying, and executive management experiences to lead a sustainable and community-centered cannabis brand.