How Asian Americans for Cannabis Education is Changing the Narrative

May is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month; an opportunity to reflect on the connection between cannabis and Asian culture that spans thousands of years and different continents, from ancient times up to the present day. Asian Americans for Cannabis Education intends to remind you of this fact early and often.

Known as “ma” in Chinese, cannabis has been cultivated on the continent for centuries. Fossil records and genetic studies indicate that the cannabis plant has a long history on the continent. Ancient Chinese texts, such as the Pen Ts’ao Ching (Classic of Herbal Medicine), dating back over two thousand years, mention cannabis as a plant with various applications, including medicinal uses and textile production.

Ancient archaeological sites in Central Asia have revealed cannabis residues and artifacts, evidence of cannabis’ presence on the continent thousands of years ago. One notable archaeological site is the Yanghai Tombs, situated in the Tarim Basin of present-day Xinjiang, China. Excavations at the site revealed well-preserved burial remains dating back some 2,500 years. Among the findings were cannabis plants and seeds, suggesting their cultivation and use during that time.

Another significant discovery occurred in the Jirzankal Cemetery in western China’s Pamir Mountains. Researchers excavating the tombs discovered braziers containing cannabis residue with exceptionally high levels of THC, the psychoactive compound in cannabis. This finding suggests the intentional use of cannabis for its mind-altering properties, making it some of the earliest concrete evidence of cannabis as a drug in human history.

PHOTO Josh Fogels

Ophelia Chong, Making Moves

The Asian American cannabis community has played a key part in moving the sector forward with their contributions to tech, design, development and social equality. And there’s no one more respected, revered and unrivalled than Ophelia Chong. The award-winning creative dynamo has helped shape the industry’s visual identity, changing misconceptions and stereotypes associated with cannabis and its users along the way. Chong is a US Cannabis Council (USCC) board member, Cannabis Media Council advisor, Emerald Cup judge, founder of StockPot images and the person to ask if you need an expert’s insight.

Chong’s passion for cannabis extends far beyond business and deep into the fabric of culture and social equity. She has consistently advocated for growing cannabis at home and her website is a hub for those seeking information on navigating “through the fields of cannabis and the forests of mushrooms.”

In 2015, Chong co-founded Asian American Cannabis Education (AACE), a non-profit organization that connects and empowers Asian communities by providing educational support and resources on various cannabis-related matters, including issues, news and policies. Through their initiatives and events, AACE actively promotes awareness and understanding to help break lingering stigmas surrounding cannabis, as well as highlighting the achievements of those within the Asian American cannabis community. AACE holds regular events for its members that, according to Chong, Angela Pih, Head of Marketing at StakeHouse Holdings, named ‘Pot Luck.’ “We had the first one in August 2021, two more in 2022 and one this past February for Chinese New Year’s that Ispire sponsored.”

The Goddess Magu
Hemp held great significance in ancient East Asia and was often referred to as an “elixir of life.” The goddess Magu is often associated with cannabis due to its historical usage as a healing plant. Image courtesy of Asian American Cannabis Education

The Problem With Prohibition

Chong says her reason for co-creating Asian American Cannabis Education stemmed from her entry into cannabis back in 2015. “I found that when I entered the cannabis industry, there was no space for me, so I needed to create space for me and people who are like me,” she says. One of Chong’s first surprises with AACE was the discovery that she wasn’t alone. “I didn’t realize there were so many of us,” she says [laughs]. However, she says, it was also hard to find people who were open to freely talking about cannabis and their involvement with it. The stigma associated with cannabis nearly a decade ago was strong—even in Los Angeles—and Chong faced an uphill battle. This was pre-Prop 16, meaning only medical marijuana was legal in California.

“At first, it was very muffled, Chong says. “A lot of people were very cautious about going in. Minorities that were extremely cautious to begin with were now super cautious. And if they were in cannabis, they weren’t talking about it, which is why I created this club to get the ones who were willing to talk about it.”

Throughout Chinese history, cannabis has unsurprisingly held both positive and negative associations. While valued for its practical applications and medicinal properties, cannabis also faced periods of regulation and prohibition. Chong says that part of the challenge with AACE was trying to undo the damage caused by prohibition to a generation of people that began with indoctrination of anti-cannabis propaganda when, in 1985, the People’s Republic of China became a member of the Convention on Psychotropic Substances. The United Nations had previously taken a stance on regulating psychoactive drugs in 1971, classifying cannabis as a narcotic drug and prohibiting its possession or use in traditional Chinese medicine.

“On that list were psilocybin and cannabis—two of the very top plants in our medicine cabinet that traditional Chinese medicine could suddenly never touch again. For some 5000 years, we were using hemp and all this stuff. Well, no more; it’s now illegal. Overnight, a vital part of their culture was stripped away. They—the children of the 1960s—were indoctrinated into the irrational and unfounded fear of cannabis and they, in turn, passed the fear on to their children. When they immigrated to the US, the anti-cannabis messaging and D.A.R.E. all that stuff became part of ‘stay within your own guardrails, don’t go outside the lines’. This all built up the hesitancy of people wanting to be on AACE because of their parents. ‘How can I tell my parents?’ Now, I get people saying, ‘I want to be on AACE’.” Chong puts it down to Confucius’s philosophy of “education, respect for elders, and following the rule of law. It’s ingrained in our DNA,” she says.

Ophelia Chong at the Ispire sponsored Potluck event in Los Angeles
The recent Potluck event in Los Angeles celebrated Chinese New Year. Photos courtesy of Asian American Cannabis Education

The Cast of Friends

Chong says that the greatest thing she’s gained from Asian American Cannabis Education is realizing the lifelong friendships she’s made with people within the cannabis industry. “I’ve been in many industries from film, photography, music and publishing,” she says. “What surprised me is the depth of my friendships in cannabis—not just through AACE, but just how many people I’ve met, that I’ve probably bonded tighter with than we would have in other industries.”

Another thing she’s learned from AACE is a better understanding of what drives people’s passions and how they find these passions. “Yes, the main subject is cannabis, but it’s also taking that risk to be that passionate, and also taking the financial risk of going into cannabis with all the restrictions on it,” Chong says. “You basically can’t make money right now; you just have to be in it for the long run and lose a lot of money to stay in it. Which is very hard if you’re a small brand.”

Chong says that she sees her role in the Asian American cannabis community as a mentor, a mother, a grandmother figure. “I keep checking in on people to make sure they’re OK,” she says. “Right now, we need to do that because everyone is so tenuous; everyone’s job is on a thread. Everyone’s brand is hanging by a thread. And what you need to do is check-in and make sure everyone’s OK.”

While the current play of California’s cannabis industry remains challenging, to say the least, Chong does see some. “What I see in the future for Asians and cannabis is to just keep working relentlessly and continue to innovate and think out of the proverbial box.”

The post How Asian Americans for Cannabis Education is Changing the Narrative appeared first on Cannabis Now.

U.S. House Passes MORE Act To Decriminalize Cannabis at the Federal Level

Cannabis advocates have a reason to rejoice this Friday with federal legislation moving forward to decriminalize cannabis at the federal level, which would change everything. The U.S. House of Representatives approved the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment, and Expungement (MORE) Act, or H.R. 3617, in a floor vote Friday. It’s the second time the House approved the bill as the historic piece of legislation makes its way to the Senate.

The MORE Act was approved April 1 on a mostly party-line 220-204 vote. A previous version of the bill was approved in December 2020—also on a mostly party-line vote—which was the first comprehensive cannabis policy reform legislation to receive a floor vote or be approved by either chamber of Congress.

The MORE Act would remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act, allowing states to legalize cannabis markets without fear of federal interference. It would include provisions for the expungement or resentencing of people with nonviolent federal cannabis convictions.

It would also promote diversity in the cannabis industry at the state level, and help repair the disproportionate harms caused by America’s War on Drugs. According to a recent Congressional Budget Office analysis, the Act, if passed, would increase tax revenues by over $8 billion over a 10-year period and would also drastically reduce federal prison costs.

High Times obtained several statements from leadership of national cannabis organizations.

“At a time when the majority of states regulate marijuana use and when the majority of voters of all political ideologies support legalization, it makes no sense from a political, fiscal, or cultural perspective for federal lawmakers to continue to support the ‘flat Earth’ failed federal prohibitionist policies of the past,” NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano told High TImes. “It is time for members of the Senate to follow the House’s lead and take appropriate actions to comport federal law with majority public opinion and with the plant’s rapidly changing legal and cultural status.”

“It is time for the Senate to have the courage to do what the House of Representatives has now done twice, vote to end our failed and racist war on marijuana consumers,” NORML Executive Director Erik Altieri told High Times. “The American public, no matter their political persuasion, overwhelmingly support legalization and the federal government should acknowledge the will of the people and promptly send the MORE Act to the president’s desk.”

“This vote is a clear indicator that Congress is finally listening to the vast majority of voters who are sick and tired of our failed marijuana criminalization policies and the damage they continue to inflict in communities across the nation every day,” said NORML’s Political Director Morgan Fox. “It is long overdue that we stop punishing adults for using a substance that is objectively safer than alcohol, and that we work to address the disparate negative impacts that prohibition has inflicted on our most vulnerable individuals and marginalized communities for nearly a century.”

Fox replaced outgoing NORML staffer Justin Strekal last January when he assumed the role as political director, and already, federal legislation is moving forward quickly.

“The time has come for federal lawmakers to put aside partisan differences and recognize that state-level legalization policies are publicly popular, successful, and are in the best interests of our country,” Fox added. “Now that the House has once again supported sensible and comprehensive cannabis policy reform, we strongly urge the Senate to move forward on this issue without delay.”

Other organizations agreed about the urgency of the legislation. The US Cannabis Council (USCC) is a leading force for ending federal prohibition—particularly creating an equitable and values-driven cannabis industry, which is one of the defining factors between the MORE Act and similar legislation.

“Descheduling of cannabis is on the march across the United States, and the House has now passed the MORE Act in two successive sessions of Congress,” USCC CEO Steven Hawkins said in a statement sent to High Times. “Today’s historic vote comes as the Senate prepares for the formal introduction of the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act. Taken together, Congress is strongly signaling that the end of federal cannabis prohibition is nearing.”

Hawkins also acknowledges the uphill battle the bill will face.

“There is much more work to be done before any bill reaches the President’s desk, but we are approaching the end of the cannabis prohibition era,” Hawkins said. “As more states launch medical and adult-use cannabis programs, as the majority of Americans who support reform continues to grow, and as more Americans have jobs in an industry that already employs over 400,000 people, the pressure will build on Congress to act.

“Despite the April 1 timing, cannabis reform is serious business. USCC broadly supports descheduling alongside specific reforms such as banking reform, expungement and tax relief.”

The bill now heads to the Senate where it needs 60 votes to advance. There is currently no companion bill in the Senate, however Majority Leader Schumer along with Senators Booker and Wyden are expected to introduce a comprehensive cannabis reform bill in the next month.

“With voter support for legal cannabis at an all-time high and more and more states moving away from prohibition, we commend the House for once again taking this step to modernize our federal marijuana policies,” stated NCIA Chief Executive Officer and co-founder Aaron Smith. “Now is the time for the Senate to act on sensible reform legislation so that we can finally end the failure of prohibition and foster a well regulated marketplace for cannabis.”

The MORE Act is certainly not the only federal bill moving forward. Meanwhile, on March 24, 2022, the Senate unanimously passed the Cannabidiol and Marihuana Research Expansion (CMRE) Act. The current version of the CMRE Act would streamline the application process for researchers, allowing them to study cannabis and push the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to promote and develop cannabis-based pharmaceuticals.

In addition, Sen. Nancy Mace introduced the States Reform Act, which some advocates believe has better chances in the Senate, while others disagree.

Because 10 Republican Senators are needed to pass the MORE Act in the Senate, some worry about its chances of crossing the finish line. George Macheril, CEO of cannabis industry lender Bespoke Financial, is one of those people. “While the House vote on the MORE Act is expected to pass again, we see this as more of a symbolic gesture which will have very little chance of surviving the Senate,” Macheril told High Times on March 25.

The post U.S. House Passes MORE Act To Decriminalize Cannabis at the Federal Level appeared first on High Times.

‘Cannabis in Common’ Rallies Advocates to Contact State Representatives about Federal Legalization

Headcount, a non-partisan organization that strives to get people registered to vote through music, has announced a new effort to legalize cannabis on a federal level and clear the records of thousands of people who have been convicted of cannabis-related crimes.

On November 9, Headcount and the U.S. Cannabis Council launched a nationwide education project called Cannabis in Common to mobilize cannabis-friendly citizens to start contacting their political representatives. In one YouTube video related to the announcement, Sarah Silverman narrates the current state of cannabis in the United States, inspiring people to rise up and take action.

Courtesy Cannabis in Common

“There’s at least one thing most Americans have in common: More than two-thirds of us agree cannabis should be legalized. And we have a real shot at getting federal legalization done now if we speak up,” Silverman says in the video. “If we don’t make a change soon, settling for laws that disproportionately land people of color in prison. We’re leaving hundreds of thousands of jobs on the table and giving up tax revenue that can go toward education and other community investments.”

Seth Rogen also appears in another Headcount video promoting the efforts of Cannabis in Common to make these issues a national topic. “Despite what you may have heard, Americans can actually agree on something. And that something is weed,” he said. “…You know who cannot agree on anything though? Politicians. So despite the fact that 69 percent of us want cannabis legal, less than half of Senators have come out in favor. In fact, some won’t even say where they stand on the issue at all.”

Rogen proposes that people hit up their representatives via email or phone to get their attention. “Legalizing cannabis for good is long past due, but if we make enough noise, we can make it happen.”

Cannabis in Common makes reaching out to House and Senate Representatives a breeze. By visiting its website, individuals can send a quick email with the click of a button or instantly locate the phone number of the desired representative to open up a discussion about federal legalization. See where each of state representative stands on the issue here.

The organization presents a wealth of facts on its website to rally voters to make their voice heard. “36 states and D.C. have legalized cannabis in some form, but it’s still totally illegal at the federal level. So what does that mean, exactly? It means thousands of people are still in federal prison for cannabis-related crimes. It means veterans can’t access medical cannabis through the VA system. It means state-legal cannabis businesses are criminal enterprises under federal law. It means Congress is not listening to the American people.”

Cannabis in Common also notes that while the current Congress is “the most cannabis-friendly in history,” it’s not enough to get the support necessary to make federal legalization a reality—which is why the organization is enlisting the help of the people to push things forward. “Our core objective is to get cannabis supporters to engage in the democratic process by contacting their senators and sparking a healthy dialogue around this topic. The polling on cannabis is clear, but polls do not create change. People do.”

The bill that is referred to in Cannabis in Common’s push for legalization is the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act, which was introduced by Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer, Senator Cory Booker and Senator Ron Wyden in July 2021. “The Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act aims to end the decades of harm inflicted on communities of color by removing cannabis from the federal list of controlled substances and empowering states to implement their own cannabis laws,” they wrote in a 30-page discussion of their bill.

Join the cause today by visiting the Cannabis in Common website and making your support of legalization heard by your elected officials.

The post ‘Cannabis in Common’ Rallies Advocates to Contact State Representatives about Federal Legalization appeared first on High Times.