Afternoon in an agave plantation at Tequila, Jalisco, Mexico. Photo credit: twenty20photos.
The U.S. Hispanic community and cannabis have had a long and complicated history. Between 1963 and 1984, American scholars came up with the “Mexican hypothesis,” which helped fuel early racist cannabis laws.
More specifically, according to the Social History of Alcohol and Drugs, this hypothesis claims that:
““[…] Around 1900, waves of Mexican immigrants, many of whom casually smoked marijuana, began to enter the United States. As the Mexicans spread, so did their custom of marijuana smoking. Extreme prejudice, already well developed against Mexicans, soon attached to these immigrants’ drug of choice. It was this process that inspired most early marijuana laws in the United States, while also fueling racist fantasies that the drug caused madness, crime, and violence among its users. These developments helped transform cannabis from a ubiquitous roadside weed into the Schedule-1 “narcotic” of so much controversy today.”
Popular Netflix shows such as Narcos have glorified the War on Drugs. But in America, research suggests, incarceration rates for Hispanics involving cannabis are statistically higher than any other demographic.
The Hispanic and cannabis story is one of oppression and prejudice. The National Hispanic Cannabis Council (NHCC) aims to rewrite this narrative and empower the community in a sector they have long been ostracized from.
A Story of Oppression
In the early 1900s, immigration from Mexico to the U.S. rapidly increased. Many Mexican immigrants were casual smokers of cannabis and soon U.S. citizens began attaching their prejudice against the migrants to the drug.
Antonio Valdez, executive director of the NHCC, believes that the pre-existing embedded racism and the glorification of cartel violence has transformed cannabis into a taboo in the Latino community.
“Today’s pop culture glorifies the Pablo Escabars and the Narcos of our industry,” Valdez tells Emerald. “It doesn’t look good when you are trying to legalize a product that is associated with violence.”
Many Mexican migrants leave their homes to escape the violence that TV glorifies. However, the impact of living in a constant warzone remains a stark reminder of the dangers of the cannabis industry.
“As I talk to people that have been impacted by this violence — the ones that come from Mexico and states such as Michoacán, where violence was just permeated, because they experience this violence at such a young age — it influenced their entire lives,” Valdez continues.
The trauma experienced by the Hispanic community is passed down from generation to generation. Consequently, cannabis entrepreneurs find themselves shunned from their communities.
“One thing we did was, we asked Hispanic cannabis business owners from a scale of one to 10, with one being poor and 10 being high, how did your mom feel when you were going into the legal cannabis industry?” Valdez asks. “How did your neighbor feel? How about your priest? There are these stigmas. Even if you think you are doing the right thing, society labels us.”
Post from @nhccouncil on Instagram.
Hispanics and Cannabis
According to Pew Research Center, 62 million Hispanic’s reside in the U.S., making up 18% of the U.S. population.
From 2010 to 2020, the Hispanic community accounted for more than half of the total U.S. population growth.
Furthermore, as of 2019, 81% of Latinos living in the U.S. have full citizenship, Pew Research finds.
In 2017, U.S. News research found that officials gave 77% of federal cannabis sentences to the U.S. Hispanics, despite making up less than 20% of the U.S. population.
Additional research from the Drug Policy Alliance suggests that Hispanics and African Americans are more likely to have criminal records for the use of cannabis, even though white Americans self-report similar drug use rates.
In an interview with Forbes earlier this year, Valdez explains that “the many barriers to entry for the Hispanic community have resulted in an underrepresentation in the cannabis industry. In 2017, Hispanic business owners and founders comprised 5.7% of business owners in the legal cannabis industry.”
Post from @nhccouncil on Instagram.
Why Create the NHCC
The NHCC was established in March of 2021, in Denver Colorado. The organization is determined to address the issue of Hispanic underrepresentation in the cannabis industry.
The NHCC’s mission is to empower the U.S. Hispanic community’s participation and support in the cannabis industry, educating them on the health, wellness, and economic aspects of cannabis.
“We knew that the Hispanic community has always had these long held cultural taboos in regards to cannabis,” states Valdez, “we decided to focus on educating the Latino community on the health and wellness of cannabis, and at the same time empower them with economic opportunities.”
One of the NHCC’s main goals is to help this wounded community heal and explore this surging market, through education.
“We have to educate, and we have to educate with empirical data,” states Valdez. “You can argue and say that cannabis is bad because that’s what your priest told you, but scientifically, it’s a fact that it is not.”
Education is critical so that Latinos can thrive in the cannabis market.
The council also advocates for public policy that supports their mission, as well as facilitating relationships among industry stakeholders.
Post from @nhccouncil on Instagram.
A National Board of Directors governs the NHCC. For example, the board is composed of 16 members, all of which are professionals within the cannabis industry. They represent big names including Moxie, Can It Industries, LLC, Folsom and Forge, and Cresco Labs.
The board is in charge of determining the organization’s purpose and mission, providing financial oversight, and monitoring services and programs.
For example, the board includes leaders like Brian Vicente. Vicente is a founding member of cannabis law firm, Vicente Sederberg LLP. he is also the current president of the NHCC. Vicente has played a significant role in shaping the cannabis industry. Additionally, The National Law Journal named Vicente as a “Cannabis Law Trailblazer.”
Board members also include Jose Hidalgo, the NHCC’s secretary. Hidalgo is also the current CEO of cannabis brand, Flora & Forge, where he is determined to bring technology and innovation into the cannabis industry.
Additionally, Aaron Lopez of Trulieve, a Florida-based cannabis dispensary company, is the current treasurer of the NHCC.
The NHCC Welcomes All
One of the main goals of the NHCC is to create a Hispanic networking community in local cannabis markets. The council hosts a series of professional networking events, where sponsors promote their products. They also organize service and community outreach efforts at the local level.
The NHCC also offers grants and training for Latinos entering into the cannabis market.
Their website encourages visitors to stay tuned for updates on upcoming online and video-based events.
In the meantime, the NHCC offers a plethora of information on the medical and recreational cannabis market. For instance, their website includes medical articles detailing the effects of cannabis on a user’s body.
Furthermore, the site also includes information on cannabis career opportunities, and updates on the legal status of cannabis in every state.
The NHCC is still in the beginning stages. The organization further plans to add infrastructure and establish chapters around the country.
Nevertheless, the future looks bright for the organization and the Hispanic community’s success in the cannabis industry.