Race is a topic that comes up a lot in cannabis, as social equity and the War on Drugs is discussed, but APPI folks are often left out of the conversation completely. Due to the harmful and racist “model minority” myth that Asians have to be model citizens, it is often assumed that they won’t have anything to do with even the world of legal cannabis—a myth that also shows there is still a major stigma against weed. To dispel those antiquated notions, we spoke with some of the major movers and shakers in cannabis who come from an AAPI background and are proudly bringing their cultural heritage to the world of cannabis.
Clark Wu – Attorney, Bianchi & Brandt
Clark Wu is an attorney with Bianchi & Brandt and appreciates that the team he is on, specializing in cannabis law, has a variety of different backgrounds and strives to increase overall diversity in the cannabis industry through their practices. His work with the firm includes assisting groups that secured social equity licenses in Arizona and providing them with the tools they need to succeed.
“I give back outside of work through the American Bar Association’s judicial internship program by mentoring law students to encourage a more diverse generation of lawyers,” he says. “I’m also a part of the International Cannabis Bar Association’s Diversity Committee, which seeks to promote diversity and inclusion in the industry while reducing barriers to entry by developing tools to help social equity groups succeed. My firm has not only supported but encouraged these efforts.”
Angela Cheng – SVP of Marketing and Communications at Pacific Stone
Angela Cheng was born in Hong Kong and grew up in Vancouver in a progressive household with artist parents. She feels that the immigrant experience and growing up creative helped inform her choice to work in cannabis marketing and help brands tap into their creative energy.
“I would love to see more people who look like me working in cannabis. Representation is important, and as the cannabis industry continues to evolve it’s important to not just show up but to actively participate in the conversation,” she says. “My parents are now very proud of my work but it took time, and I think part of the reason it took time was because there were very few platforms for AAPIs in cannabis.”
Socrates Rosenfeld, Co-Founder and CEO of Jane Technologies, Inc.
As the CEO and Co-Founder of Jane, a cannabis e-commerce provider, Rosenfeld initially got some pushback from his mom when he entered the cannabis space. As an Indonesian man, his mom had a lot of preconceived notions about cannabis but eventually, Rosenfeld was able to educate her about the good it can do.
“My mom came around once she realized our ultimate mission is to help people, and that Jane was founded on my own healing experience with the plant,” he says. “As Asian-Americans, cannabis is a part of our history. It’s up to the current generation to redefine what the plant represents for ourselves—as well as for previous and future generations.”
Anne Fleshman, VP of Marketing at Flowhub
As an active member of the cannabis industry for almost four years now with Flowhub, a cannabis point of sale company, Fleshman compares her cannabis journey to “coming out.” Cannabis was never something she spoke about openly before, and it took her a while to get over her stigma.
“For a long time, I felt guilty about my personal consumption of cannabis,” says Fleshman, “There is still a stigma for sure, but I believe it’s diminishing. It’s refreshing to see communities normalizing cannabis as medicine and more states legalizing adult-use sales. As the industry matures, we have a unique opportunity to create a diverse and inclusive workforce that reverses the damages of the War on Drugs. We must create clear pathways to mentorship and educational opportunities, and prioritize the experiences of people of color and women in industry leadership roles.”
Marion Mariathasan, CEO and Co-founder of Simplifya
As CEO of compliance software company Simplifya, Marion Mariathasan has founded numerous cannabis startups and is no stranger to the industry.
“It is nothing like how it was back when I first got into the industry in 2015,” he says of the stigma he faced. “When I first told my family and friends about my interest in the cannabis space and that I was starting a RegTech company, they were super shocked. Much of the shock I believe had to do with the fact that cannabis was still federally illegal, and due to the negative perception they had of cannabis—primarily due to misinformation.”
Vince Ning – Nabis
Vince is Co-CEO and Co-Founder of Nabis, the licensed cannabis wholesale platform. Vince’s prowess in technology, finance, and data analysis have helped him partner with cannabis brands across the state of California, where he has helped hundreds of businesses launch and scale. In doing so, he is always conscious of both his marginalization as an Asian person as well as his privilege.
“It was definitely something that was on our mind,” he says when discussing being Asian in the industry. “We knew we’d be put in that category, and we really tried to first learn more about the existing cannabis culture. We didn’t want to come in and just be these Asian techies coming into the cannabis industry, trying to just do things our way. We really wanted to learn about how the industry got here and really integrate ourselves into existing fabric and try to help it and help shape it rather than forcing anything.”
Sonia Lo, Board Member, urban-gro
As the only female AAPI CEO of two major indoor growing ventures under urban-gro, Sonia Lo would like to see more representation in leadership positions, because she knows it is there in the grow room. Many of the world’s poorest farmers are women of color, and she believes that for them, seeing that representation is critical.
“Sustainability isn’t just about carbon reduction, but also about creating better opportunities for farmers who wouldn’t otherwise have access to technology opportunities such as the ones I’ve had,” she says. “Over the next 10 years, I hope the indoor growing industry will reflect the increased diversity of industrialized nations’ populations and the adoption of these technologies in countries where women of color are the farmers.”