The first time engineer Anthony Winston III, PE, consulted on an indoor agricultural farm in California, he was told it was a “tomato” operation.
“I took a look at the building on Google Maps, because it just didn’t sound right – and when I noted the equipment on the roof I knew something was off,” he explained. “When I got there and realized they were a fully licensed and legal cannabis operation under the newly regulated market in California, I told them they could have told me the truth and I wouldn’t have minded.”
The experience gave him a new perspective on just what it was like working within the cannabis industry. Even though the plant is legal in the state, Federal laws stand, with licensed farmers and manufacturers in the space afraid to let an engineer know what they were doing upfront – fearful he’d say no.
Aside from the secrecy of it all, Winston realized the very building housing this major operation, requiring a serious electrical installation and all that implies, was in disrepair in a sketchy neighborhood, at best. This legal, licensed company couldn’t find a better location or building due to the very nature of the business and the stigma involved.
“The first time I was handed a stack of cash as payment for work I realized just what a travesty it is,” he added. “Imagine trying to do business like that – with large sums of money. It’s just not right.”
Discrimination: Black, Brown & Green
Discrimination is nothing new to Winston, who grew up on the South Side of Chicago. It’s a part of the city that’s historically gotten a bad rap for crime, with the Black population targeted.
During former South Side resident and first Black President Barack Obama’s tenure in the White House, Chicago was wrongly named the top city for murders. The political smear was corrected, however, as the city ranked tenth on the list at the time. Crime data pulled from the FBI, city police officials, and the U.S. Census Bureau in 2019, put St. Louis, Missouri in the number one slot of 65 cities, with Chicago at 28.
In actuality, the region south of the city is diversified, with upper, middle, and lower class neighborhoods.
The misinformation on crime and the fear that ensues on this and other cities boasting higher populations of people of color can be readily traced back to political propaganda. Eerily similar to the way cannabis has been politicized and demonized.
In fact, the plant has been used systematically to discriminate against Blacks, Asians, Latinos, and even women, over the decades. Look no further than the 1936 propagandist film, Reefer Madness, and see that just one puff of “the marihuana” turns women into whores.
Winston, who considers himself a lifelong student of Black history, said while he understands the pain of discrimination within many groups of minorities, he can’t compare his own experience.
“I try not to compare struggles,” he shared. “My struggle as a Black man is different than that of, say, an LGBTQ+ person. You can’t equate it. You can equate the absolute absurdity of someone trying to get plant medicine and assistance, without having to buy expensive pharmaceuticals. In that respect, both are absurd. No one wants or should be treated unfairly – especially when it equates to the safety and well-being of their own bodies.”
Engineered for the Plant
Winston was educated at Arizona State University, earning his Bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering, with an emphasis in Power Transmission and Distribution. He later earned his Professional Engineering (PE) certification.
His company, Winston Engineering Inc., established in 2015, is the only Black-owned MEP and civil engineering firm in California, operating in multiple states and Canada.
“After working on that first warehouse in Los Angeles, everything snowballed. Because of the discrimination in the cannabis industry, when they find a professional willing to work, introductions by word-of-mouth are common. We were working on another warehouse in Long Beach and a neighbor stopped in that was doing extractions, so we worked on his facility. He was the first license holder in Long Beach for extractions.”
Winston’s company employs 10, providing mechanical (HVAC), electrical, plumbing (MEP), and civil engineering for a wide variety of cannabis related buildings, including cultivation, extraction, manufacturing, retail, and distribution.
Helping Himself, Helping Grandma
When California legalized, Winston tried an edible for the first time.
“I’ve always been an athlete, and still have knee pain from playing basketball. Instead of reaching for a painkiller, I take edibles, and it’s been amazing for taking care of the pain. I’m lucky, I’m healthy and only use an inhaler for exercise-induced asthma.”
Helping himself with the plant was one thing, but helping Grandma was everything.
“My grandmother has a lot of medical conditions, and at one point she was taking well over a dozen medications that left her in an almost sleepy, zombie state,” he shared. “I convinced her to try cannabis, and gave her a five milligram gummy to start with. So far, she’s cut her medications down by half and she’s back to being herself again.”
Aside from his cannabis use as medicine, he’s also changed his diet over the years to vegetarian, leaning to vegan, after his daughter was diagnosed with multiple food allergies, including dairy.
In a study published by the National Institute of Health (NIH), it was found that increasing fruits and vegetables in the diet for just two weeks, raises endorphins and creates dopamine in the brain, successfully treating depression.
We in the cannabis caregiving space know that adding superfoods or super plants, like cannabis, also raises endorphins and creates dopamine, while addressing all our biological systems, creating homeostasis or a place where illness cannot dwell.
“I do my best to stay as natural as possible, and I love the cannabis plant and all its possibilities,” he added.
Social Equity in Real Time
“When dispensaries start looking like Apple stores, it’s time to let Black and Brown people out of jail.” – Anthony Winston III
Social equity in the cannabis space means bridging the gap between the once illicit market, into the regulated market, for those who might have been marginalized within the failed War on Drugs.
In other words, if you were part of the cog in the wheel of meeting supply and demand of the world’s most beloved and illicit plant, chances are you might not have the wherewithal to come into compliance in a legal market, with all that implies.
“What the end result of helping people in the social equity space should be is setting people up to start-up and run a business, simply put,” he said. “What that looks like in real time is, we volunteer our time with various social equity groups around the country, teaching them about avoiding pitfalls when designing a facility.”
How they find people to mentor varies. Quite often Winston meets social equity organizers at various cannabis conferences.
“I’ll talk to them about everything I know about starting up and business, engineering, and everything else in between,” he said.
One big inspiration came when he heard Tracy Ryan, founder of CannaKids and mother of Sophie Ryan who has been using cannabis oil in tandem with traditional therapies to treat a brain tumor since she was nine months old.
“When I first [started] working in the cannabis industry, I thought of it as a money making opportunity,” he admitted. “Then, I heard Tracy Ryan speak and met her daughter, Sophie, and that really pulled at my heartstrings. When you begin to hear the stories of cannabis patents dealing with real illness, it changes everything.”
Winston said he’s seen the impacts of the War on Drugs firsthand, with numerous family members locked up over the years.
“Recently, a cousin was released from prison after spending the better part of his twenties in jail,” he said. “He missed out on the years … where he might have developed his own business. This is a common tale within the Drug War.”
The feeling is that those in the industry with the ability to lead in this way, have an obligation to help those coming up. It doesn’t just mean writing a check or adding a logo in support to your website. The victims of the failed War on Drugs, and the inequities that ensue with people of color, add another layer to the wrongs that need to be righted now.
For more information on Winston Engineering Inc visit: https://winstoneng.com/