On the way home from a cannabis workshop on being better allies, my ride-share driver asks what an “ally” is. I stumble over an answer, unsure.
“It’s about being aware of how you can help others who aren’t necessarily like you. Like if you have friends who are queer, taking care to know how to support and respect them, and advocating for them when you can, is being a queer ally.” This definition is very basic, but applies to racial and cultural identities, folks with disabilities or neurodiversity, gender identities, sexualities, and beyond. Being an ally just means you’ve got other peoples’ backs.
One way of being an ally? Supporting the communities within your community that have been marginalized. In cannabis, underrepresented identities have long been pushed to the sides, denied capital or resources, or even just flat out punished for wanting to be in the industry at all.
If you’re reading this, you’re probably in some way involved in cannabis. You buy it or smoke it or work with it or educate others about it. But if you represent as male, especially as straight, cisgender, or white, and don’t suffer from a disability, it’s likely there are many industry and social barriers you haven’t had to face because of it—from being passed over for interviews based solely on a photo, being sexually harassed, stereotyped by an employer, or fired for a having a disability.
Friends, seriously, it’s not your fault. But you need to be aware of it, even if it’s uncomfortable or doesn’t seem true to you. No matter who you are or how you identify, there are little things you can do as a consumer to help bring balance to the culture over time and support marginalized communities in cannabis. Here are four simple things to talk about in your own group (at work, home, or with friends) to help each other be better allies to each other and others.
This is the most basic aspect of being an ally, and often feels like the most awkward part when you’re in the moment. When you see someone shutting down someone else in your group when talking or sharing, whether it’s with insults, insisting they’re wrong, or just never letting them speak, it can be uncomfortable trying to figure out how to respond.
Do you call out the aggressive person? Does the other person even mind? It can be so hard to tell, and to know what to do, but it’s critical to be brave and speak up. And you don’t have to be confrontational about it.
It can be as simple as turning to the person being shut down and asking, clearly, “Sorry, what were you saying?” If the aggressor interrupts again, make a point to either interrupt them back, or turn the conversation clearly back to the interrupted person, to make the point that they can interrupt as much as they want, you’re still going to respect everyone’s turn to speak.
Include others who may be left out of your group, project, or activity. When you’re invited to participate in a group action (such as a panel or workshop) and the involved group all looks like you, suggest replacing yourself with someone who represents a different identity—a different gender, culture, or ability level—than the majority to make sure multiple experiences are heard.
The second main tool of any ally, and often the one that gets left in the dust in folks’ attempts to be an ally. If you’re thinking about what the *right* response is, you’re not listening. Listening is not taking in words and preparing how you’ll respond to them. Listening as an ally is hearing the words they’re saying and internalizing what it means.
“I don’t feel like I’m being listened to.” “I don’t feel welcome in this group.” “It makes me uncomfortable when ____ happens.” “I have too much on my shoulders and need support with ___.”
Don’t just pay lip-service to their problem by brushing it aside or just saying you understand or making it someone else’s problem to solve. Don’t make it about your own different problems, even if you think they’re related, unless invited. What is this person telling you? What can you do about it?
If you’re not sure, ask! “How can I help?” “What can I do?” “What would make you more comfortable?”
Sometimes, the answer will be “nothing,” but may come with a “but it would be nice if….” and why not try?
Be mindful of your asks.
Often, confident people make requests of the women, or quieter, less assertive folks, in their lives on the assumption that it’s a “little thing” that doesn’t take much. But when you request anything from someone, they have to process that request, and go through more than just the -actual doing- part.
So, before you ask the woman in your office to answer some questions about a project (that you could find on your own with some research) or to get something done for you that is not their job, or to run an errand, stop and think about it. They’ve got their own lives, responsibilities, and needs. Are you asking them to use hard-earned resources, time, or energy? Particularly, is it something you could be doing yourself? What work are you putting into it yourself? What are you offering in return?
Don’t make assumptions about other people’s time and ability to help you. And if they say no, don’t be a dick about it. Unless they’re your direct employee, it’s not their job to make your life easier, so move on and figure it out yourself.
To be a part of the solution, attend workshops and gatherings that look to diversify the cannabis industry. Follow, donate to, or volunteer with organizations that help rebuild communities damaged by prohibition or groups that support local, diverse businesses. Support local political efforts towards equality, like those that work to wipe cannabis related crimes from criminal records. Find out what’s happening to folks in prison for non-violent cannabis charges in your state and reach out to your elected officials to make sure they’re doing something about it. Embed yourself in local communities outside of your own. Shop diverse-owned businesses, artists, growers, etc., and support their work!
Here are just a few of the incredible organizations and businesses working to help marginalized communities in cannabis, just to get you started:
Cyn Marts is an east-coast Boricua living on the west coast, searching for her own path through life’s bullshit. She spends her time practicing self-care, devouring pop culture, and working as a publicist and editor in Portland, Oregon. She writes a cannabis lifestyle zine series called Ganja Bruja and posts about it under her Instagram.