Tiara Darnell may be a self-described late cannabis bloomer, but she’s made her mark quickly. She first tried cannabis at 21, and after moving to Portland and working in the industry for only a year, became 2017’s budtender of the year. She’s a videographer, podcaster, and writer, and she sees what’s missing in the cannabis media landscape: perspectives of people of color. Darnell is addressing this need with a new podcast (or “pot-cast”), “High, Good People,” about cannabis in the new age of legalization from the perspective of people of color. You can check out the pilot episode on Medium or Soundcloud and follow her on Instagram.
I talked with Darnell in a studio inside an antique airstream trailer in Portland—Stream PDX, which supports independent podcasters. I’ve edited the interview for brevity and clarity.
Can you talk a little bit about the title?
I was just looking for something catchy, something sticky and the “high”, the play on words there made sense. And then, good people, just because I think that that is a phrase that seems to be very common in POC [people of color] circles, like ‘Hey, this is good people,’ or ‘Hey, you’re my good people.’ Anyway, it just kind of fit.
You talked about in the podcast about how, anecdotally, talking to some people of color, that their cannabis coming out stories were a little more complicated because of their identities.
Yeah. The initial question I went in with was, ‘Do people of color have a more difficult time telling their parents that they work in the industry—or, even if they don’t work in the industry, that they consume weed—than their white counterparts?’ Because at least here in Oregon, most of the people that I’ve met, or I work with, [in the dispensary]- My white coworkers basically said like, ‘Oh, yeah, my parents know what I do.’ It was kind of like telling your parents that you, I don’t know, joined a kickball meetup or something like that. It seemed like no big deal, but then some of my other friends who worked there who were people of color, they were like, ‘No, I haven’t told my parents yet. Like, they don’t know.’ And there’s just different reasons for that.
But I realize that it’s not necessarily about race in this case, but maybe race and class together, class being a main driver. Because there are so many people of color whose parents and their parents before them, have had personal experiences with the war on drugs and its effect on the communities, their families. In the case of Isaac [interviewed in the podcast], his whole family fled Mexico and moved to the United States because of the war on drugs and how it was affecting their life in Mexico. So, there are a lot of stories that are out there that are just starting to emerge because people are beginning to feel more comfortable being able to talk about this publicly. And this is just my one small step in trying to add to the conversation that isn’t happening.
I know you have a couple episodes under your belt that you haven’t released yet. Can you give us a little sneak peek of what’s coming up?
Yeah, one that I’m really excited about—and I don’t know what order I’m going to release them in yet—but the topic of marijuana versus cannabis, what words should you say or not say? There’s a lot of, if you google ‘Is “marijuana” racist?’ there’s going to be a list of ten plus articles that come up that are arguing that it is and it has all this racial baggage and we need to move beyond it and just say ‘cannabis.’ And when I first started in the industry, I learned pretty quickly that marijuana does have some racial baggage attached to it and I told myself that I wasn’t going to use that word.
Can you explain for people who don’t know the racist history? The word ‘marijuana’ emerged from when Mexican people were being demonized for smoking cannabis.
Yeah, it’s kind of similar to like now, actually. I mean this is in the 1920’s and ‘30’s, and there were a lot of negative attitudes toward marijuana that had already originated in Mexico. Those ideas got transplanted here in the United States when the country’s first drug czar—his name was Harry Anslinger—wanted to basically pass a set of laws that would prohibit marijuana among other drugs. He needed somebody to pin that to, and it was typically poor blacks and poor Mexicans living in the south and southwest United States. And that’s sort of how we got the first laws passed in this country that were related to the prohibition of weed. And his easy ability to scapegoat black and brown people for using it.
But I realized that in talking to my friends who are Mexican or Mexican American, that [marijuana] is just how you say ‘weed’ in Spanish. It’s just a word, and they did not attach the racial baggage to it, so why should that word be used over cannabis? Like, who gets to determine if it’s better or not? And at what culture’s expense are we erasing their contributions to weed culture by choosing to use one word over the other? Cannabis is the scientific term. It comes from Greek and Latin but if that person who coined that term had been from Mexico, would that be the word that- we don’t know. I think that people have the option to choose which word they want to use. I’m just laying out the reasons why some people feel like it should be ok to use the word marijuana, and why #dontshamethename is a thing, and then why other people choose to use cannabis instead. I think it’s been a very one-sided conversation in terms of, again, the media landscape. I just want to shed some light on the word marijuana, who is choosing to use it, and why.
Anything else you’re excited about subject-wise that’s coming up in your episodes?
This is one episode that I want to do, I haven’t gotten material for yet because I’ve been having a hard time finding someone to talk to. I do not know ASL or any sign language version, but I’m really curious about how deaf people experience cannabis social events and cannabis spaces like dispensaries. Because there’s an issue of accessibility in a lot of things in this country because we’re all privileged in that we’re able to hear or to see or whatever it is that we have or don’t have. I don’t know if I have a story yet but I’m just curious about the deaf experience or hard-of-hearing community and how they navigate cannabis spaces and what the culture looks like for them. So that’s something I want to explore a little bit more.
Another thing I’m interested in: there’s all these dispensaries here in Portland but I still know people that buy their weed from dealers. So, like, what’s the deal? No pun intended. But what’s the deal with like not wanting to go into a dispensary? Why would you rather do something that is illegal when you could do it legally now? So that’s a question that I’m interested in answering too.
“High, Good People,” the full season, will be released in Spring 2019.
Rachel Cassandra is a freelance writer and audio producer. She has the great pleasure of being the managing editor of bud.com. You can find her work at rachelcassandra.net.