High Folks: Yareem Barnes-Ivey Balances the Two Worlds of Cannabis

As a Black man trying to master the art of growing America’s forbidden fruit, Yareem Barnes-Ivey lives in two different worlds.
High Folks: Yareem Barnes-Ivey Balances the Two Worlds of Cannabis

Editor’s Note: Welcome to one of our newest bi-weekly columns, High Folks: the cannabis-infused version of Humans of New York, in which we take an intimate look at people’s relationships with our most beloved plant. The connection between humans and cannabis is primal, dynamic, and profound. But it’s something that’s increasingly overlooked in the new age of weed. So in an effort to combat the superficiality of cannabis in the social media-age, High Times is proud to present to you a collection of work that highlights one of life’s most beautiful gifts: connection.

“It’s like having your feet in two different worlds,” says Yareem Barnes-Ivey who’s in Orlando, FL., on business for a Home and Garden Landscaping company he owns. “One foot in because you know you’re in a cutting edge industry; you’re at the forefront; you’re at the beginning and there is a lot of opportunities.”

His other foot rests in a world where cannabis gives Black Americans two options: covert therapy or public persecution. As a cannabis grower, the 35-year-old—like most Black Americans—has learned the art of shapeshifting, as he oscillates between growing herb and owning a mainstream business. Residing in Colorado Springs, Barnes-Ivey’s has nurtured an experimental relationship with the plant. It’s a new privilege– but he doesn’t experience it all the time, as he travels frequently around the United States for work.

Barnes-Ivey’s love for the outdoors and her gifts runs deep. As a boy, he loved playing with bugs and getting his hands dirty. “I’ve always been intrigued by nature,” he says.

Experimenting with growing clones came later. In 2007, he grew Yem OG, Tangerine Haze, Purple Urple, Afghani Haze, and Pineapple Express in his closet. “From those clones, I didn’t get a very big yield,” Ivey tells High Times. “I didn’t know about the environment, having the right [parts per million, feeding, and temperature. So all of my plants weren’t hitting on all cylinders when I first started.”  

Before Barnes-Ivey began his relationship with the herb, he says he acted as the “weed police” on Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University’s (FAMU) campus before he experiencing his first joint.

“I would literally grab guys blunts out of their hands and step on them,” he says. “I was in D.A.R.E and wanted to be an FBI Investigator growing up.”

Then, in 2001, Barnes-Ivey started heavily using pain pills as a freshman to deal with the pains of being a competitive football player. He also had toothaches caused by soft teeth. “Taking pain killers, like Tylenol, had always made me lack emotion, so I got to a point on the pain killers where I was like, ‘You know what? This is kinda bad. Let me see if I can find an alternative.”

That’s when he approached his neighbors in the Sampson Hall dormitory who were known for always having marijuana. “I went next door and talked to my neighbors, smoked a joint with them, and realized that [cannabis] was medicine, and I didn’t have to take pain pills anymore.”

During his senior year, Barnes-Ivey interned with the Gadsden County Public Defender’s Office in Quincy, FL., as an investigator working on small possession charges. His perception of cannabis drastically shifted because it showed him that the number of Black men in the Quincy jail was more than 20:1.

“People of color […] are vital to the future of the cannabis industry,” says Christopher Cano, the executive director of NORML’s Central Florida chapter and longtime friend of Ivey “Prohibition has caused damage to communities of color including disparities in arrests and convictions as well as mass incarceration. With rich White men making millions in a new industry that for years was kept afloat by the black market at the cost of communities of color, having more people of color […] will bring some form of social justice in the grand scheme.”

Jesce Horton, co-founder and chairman of the Minority Cannabis Business Association (MCBA), believes that the green revolution we’re currently experiencing is bittersweet for Black Americans. “The opportunity for economic empowerment and community wellness is amazing,” he says, “but we will inevitably leave behind [most of those] who were disproportionately affected by cannabis arrests unless we make drastic improvements towards industry equity.”

Barnes-Ivey says being a black man in the cannabis industry is similar to being a black man in any other industry: there is a lack of resources available for minorities looking to expand into the larger market. “For me and what I want to accomplish, finances are my issue, which is the issue [for] most small growers trying to compete or stay afloat with big businesses moving in,” he told High Times.

Though becoming a full-time grower would be ideal, Barnes-Ivey says that he got into the industry—first and foremost—because it gives him peace of mind. “I’m just doing it because I really enjoy it. I love being apart of the industry, and I love growing for myself and for a couple of other patients.”

Through his entrepreneurial skills and love for playing in mother nature’s garden, he wants to show his two young sons the importance of following their heart and not letting systems of mental and physical oppression stop them from cultivating their own freedom.

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