Black CannaParents: Teaching Children Balance In An Environment Of Extremes

I am a 38-year-old Black lesbian woman of reproductive age who aspires to be a parent one day. Preparing to grow a family goes beyond charting my menstrual cycle to see when I’m ovulating, and navigating whether my girlfriend and I will go with an anonymous sperm donor or ask one of our sperm-endowed friends to contribute. It’s a fundamental right to get pregnant in a way that makes your body feel the most loved, and your life the most whole — ready to bring forth, receive and cultivate life. It's all about self-determination and bodily autonomy.

Enjoying cannabis daily is part of my practice of self-determination and wholeness. I am curious about where cannabis use overlaps with parenting, and what it looks like to hold both as a Black woman. So, instead of making assumptions, I asked questions.

I recently spoke with 20 Black and multiracial parents who are cannabis users or entrepreneurs, who shared with me the values that make their families whole and healthy. I think Black parents have the hardest job, especially right now. Extremist policies and practices thrive on myths that undermine the reality of our lives. These myths are informed by the uncertainty that comes with unpredictable, despotic leadership. Defying the alternative facts that surround Black parents, these moms and dads demonstrated their investment in caring for their families and building resources from a perspective of intergenerational wealth, not capitalist greed.

Allow me to introduce you to the amazing parents who allowed me to interview them:

Ashley Barnes, a San Pablo, California-based mom of 2 children ages 8 and 9, is the founder of Healing Inside Out, a wellness collective based in Los Angeles and the Bay Area with a focus on curating brave spaces and community gatherings for the cannabis community.

#GrowithLisa (Losia Nyankale), also a mom of 2 children ages 8 and 9, lives in Washington, DC, and is a local cannabis grower. She was recently featured on the “Half Baked” episode of Weediquette on VICE Network.

Msdankness_budliyfe (Renee James), a mom of 6 children and 2 grandchildren based in Washington, DC, is a horticulturalist and culinary specialist who provides a positive, nurturing environment for the medicinal and recreational cannabis connoisseur, through education and events.

Kevin Cranford, a father of 1 child based in Baltimore, MD, is a cannabis advocate and founder of SPLIMM, the pot and parenting newsletter and premier outlet for families whose lives have been enhanced by cannabis.

In the spirit of 4/20 and all things righteous and courageous about being a Black parent, I share with you four key themes from these conversations. I invite you to look through the lens that these Black parents in cannabusiness, advocacy, and wellness apply to the world, and with their children.

Setting clear, firm rules, and establishing themselves as a loving authority.

For Ashley Barnes of California, her wellness journey with cannabis started with how her parents raised her:

“I am a first-generation Liberian and child of immigrants. Growing up, alcohol was never off limits, from age 13 on; maybe I’d take a sip, maybe not."

This was a stark difference in comparison to her cousin who lived 3 houses down, where alcohol was forbidden. “When my cousin was 14 years old, she was getting her stomach pumped from drinking too much at least twice a month. They wouldn’t even talk about her being an alcoholic. It was a 'hush-hush' issue, something her family avoided.

"When you make things off limits and you don’t explain it, it piques your curiosity. Since alcohol wasn’t off-limits in my family, I never felt the need to abuse something that I had access to.

"If you want to abuse anything by over- or under-doing it, you can. Cannabis use, just like every decision you make, is all in perception, how you frame things, how you do it, and the tone you set. My kids know, this is mommy’s cannabis. I don’t buy things off the street. If they see anything that says medical cannabis or flowers, they know it's my medication."

Teaching their children to be independent thinkers.

"I've always been open. When I purchased it I never hid it, because anything you hide from your children that they are curious about, they will go out into the streets and learn from their friends.

Education begins at home; I prefer that method. My children know that it's OK to use it but not to abuse it. I make it very clear that cannabis, like any other medication, can be abused."

— #GrowWithLisa, Washington, DC

Talking with and listening to their child.

“Be honest with your kids. The more that you try to hide it from them, the more they seek it out as a drug. I have 6 children. The oldest, who I tried to be the most discreet about it [with], now has a heroin addiction. She told me that had I talked to her about it, it may have affected her desire to explore hard drugs.

"[Parents] have to be proactive. They have to know what [cannabis] is, how it works and what role it can play."

— Renee James, Washington, DC

“My partner and I talked, and he was completely fine with talking to them about cannabis when they became older and started asking questions. I have friends whose kids can’t see cannabis, let alone their parents medicating with it. I never want my kids to feel like [their] mom is doing an illegal drug or something wrong. I’m doing this as an adult.”

— Ashley Barnes

“Educating your child doesn’t mean you have to sell cannabis to them, or smoke with them. But be an open book.

"Legalization is growing across the country. It’s important to know the facts, educate your children and talk to them about it. My children were 4 and 5 years old and cannabis was on the cover of the grocery store magazine. My son said, 'It’s pretty, but it’s not for me.' They have always been good about pointing it out when they see or smell it, so they know the difference between marijuana and a house burning. It’s the little things that help to develop children to make informed decisions.

"As an advocate for legalization, I think it’s important for everyone to consume responsibly. We can’t sit around and do nothing; we have to get involved. Black people are still going to jail [for cannabis-related incidents], so we need to continue the fight. (...)  The medical fight is the easiest, but fight for full legalization. I hope that we’ll live to see full legalization.”

— #GrowWithLisa

Setting their household up for success — making it work for the whole family.

“Now I’m growing a fruit, veggie and flower garden with my children. I’m a home grower. If growing cannabis is legal in your state, you're able to sustain yourself. Growing is survival, not a skill or trade. I encourage a home grow, to decrease spending as a way to invest skills building and resources in your home.”

— #GrowWithLisa

“The best thing that cannaparents can do is get involved in advocacy in their state. [Cannabis] will continue to be stigmatized if we aren’t out front on the advocacy.”

— Kevin Cranford, Baltimore, MD 

“Cannabis is one of the tools in my wellness toolkit. It is one that I use with other practices... My collective with my sister and my sister's wife, Healing Inside Out, focuses on all aspects of healing: mental, physical, emotional.

"If you’re mindlessly using cannabis, you don’t have a cannabis practice. There’s a fine line between medicine and poison. Just like food, you can eat healthy food that poisons you from pesticides and other chemicals used to accelerate its growth and preserve it. If you aren’t using cannabis in a way that is useful to your body, you are doing more harm than good."

 Ashley Barnes

We’re living in a time where parents must do the impossible dance of humanizing the world to their children, while at the same time shielding them from the potential of other humans to cause harm. There is no single "correct" way to manage that dynamic; there are as many variations on parenting as there are parents in the world. The parents I spoke with are exercising a range of resilient practices through their optimism, nurturing and sense of purpose as they work to raise their families in safe and sustainable communities. I see their approaches to parenting as something I aspire to model when I become a parent.

This year, on April 20, I am celebrating Black cannaparents who are leading cannabusiness, wellness, and advocacy. For me, there's no better way to honor National Cannabis Day than to acknowledge parents who inspire us to push the limits of legalization in prohibition states; are creating thriving businesses and wellness opportunities for communities of color; and are building wealth for their families by reclaiming space in what was once considered an underground industry of people of color — which, through cannabis legalization, has now been turned white collar by white people.

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