Put Color Back in Cannabis
July 20th, 2020
An Interview with Scheri Mathaya by Tyler Stratford
Image courtesy of @dabs_and_dialoge
Image courtesy of @dabs_and_dialoge
Scheri is a 26 year old African-American woman (she/her/Queen) from Eagan, Minnesota, making big strides in the US cannabis industry. In particular, her company Put Color Back in Cannabis is doing awesome work to bring awareness to inequalities within the industry, as well as highlight minorities in the cannabis industry. I sat down with her to chat more about her current projects that she is working on as well as her past experiences and what led her to work with cannabis.
Before Scheri moved to California to be in the cannabis industry, she was able to begin working for her grower friend in the very limited medical program back home in Minnesota, in November of 2017. She took her savings and moved to California, right as recreational cannabis was legalized. It took about 2 months of looking for cannabis work before she was hired. “That’s when I realized I knew nothing about cannabis. They gave me a test (a really basic test i.e. what is THC, CBD, etc.) and that is what really piqued my interest.” Scheri went on to educate herself about cannabis and started to focus on the different effects of cannabis. “I always saw cannabis as much more than ‘a bag of something to help me get through my life vs. a bag of something to help me function’.” She started as a budtender where her main focus was to learn about the product within cannabis as well as the benefits. “I really liked being a budtender because I got to know people, I got to be their nurse, or their bartender. I really like fixing things, and with cannabis I was always able to give them a solution.”
“Every successful step that I have made has been one that I was scared to make.” At the same time, Scheri also found out who she is, out here in California. “I finally figured out that I want to be, and I can finally be a full Black activist in the cannabis industry. Because I have a white mom, I was sheltered from some of the struggles of the Black community. This industry gave me a push, challenged people’s view of me and my level of education. It showed me how ignorant people can be.” This helped her create Put Color Back in Cannabis which is her brand. It's not so much a brand as it is a mission: to highlight minorities within the industry, and bring recognition where it needs to be. Black voices need to be heard, and if black voices by themselves truly made an impact already, we would not be where we are today. “If my voice was enough, I wouldn't be doing this right now. But, here I am. And I think it’s important to shed more light on the Black community’s work with cannabis.”
“I have always wanted to be a jack of all trades, I have kind of become that. I now know if I don’t know things I want to know them. I had never started a brand, ecommerce, bought a domain, designed a t-shirt or a bag. Every time I hit a snag I literally have to learn about what I am doing in the moment. Great for my experience and resume, but it has slowed me down. Doing it on my own has slowed it’s progress to benefit the community. In turn- I have realized I need help, a real boss knows when I need a team to help me grow.”
It hasn’t always been an easy path for her to follow, and sometimes she can get discouraged when she looks at some of the things happening in the industry. For example, “the town of Calabassas, CA charged $50k for licenses to cultivate cannabis and then took the money to fund their police, and reversed their order allowing cannabis cultivation. Then they came back once they saw a lot of cities making money from the cannabis industry, so they allowed cannabis cultivation again and then asked for $50k more. Feeding the beast. The industry is designed to fail, we are seeing the love of money and not the love of the plant.” It is hard for Scheri to stand by and have to watch that. Another example of this is the lack of black owned dispensaries in Sacramento, CA. “Sacramento hit their cap for the number of dispensaries, it's not based on being next in line any more, it's a pay to play system. There are brands around the state that have the opportunity to support Black owned businesses and they just aren’t.”
Unfortunately, the changes that Scheri has seen in the California cannabis industry over the past few years, haven’t always been for the best. “It is a system designed to fail, it was not designed for the consumer but rather it was designed for the state. The industry has so much money to give back and to donate, but they just aren't. Every operation should be putting revenue directly back in the community as a requirement, not a voluntary thing. Not for the growth of the pocket of the Bureau of Cannabis Control. It's designed to grow the government and not the communities.”
But it’s not all bad, “I want Put Color Back in Cannabis to be national, so that it can help people in the industry everywhere. I think it would be great if one day we could see 50% of cannabis businesses owned by People of Color (POC). And that at least 25% of that 50% be Black people, ok maybe 15%, but a big chunk. It's a generous statement, it's more realistic than reflecting the actual demographic breakdown of our country which would have more businesses owned by POC. I also would like to see people, the state leading by example of this, more efforts from cannabis licensees to have some kind of community equity program as a requirement.”
What does she foresee in the future? “I think if they raise taxes this year, I think it's the end of the legal cannabis industry. The legacy market is booming during the Covid-19 pandemic, and people can't afford the store prices as people are losing jobs. As such, sales are going up for the legacy market. Money is leaving the market due to Covid and thus, taxes, so I see if they raise taxes the legal market will fail, because they cannot survive. I see that as the potential solution the government sees as realistic to get more money, when it will kill the industry.”
Interested in learning more about Scheri’s work?
Check out her Instagram page here: https://www.instagram.com/putcolorbackincannabis/?hl=en