Cosmic Profile: Scheri Mathaya
As states continue to embrace their own versions of cannabis legalization, wider national acceptance has given many a chance to celebrate. However, while states decriminalize nature, the budding industry has shed a bright light on the imbalance that not only created the demand in the first place but how it simultaneously casts a wide shadow on people of color who have been unfairly treated as a result. The long tail is not only fraught with injustice but obvious hurdles that still stand in the way of success for Black people and POC. Unfortunately, there is still a stigma attached to a narrative that unfairly marries an ideology of cannabis and the color of one’s skin, leading to limited opportunities for many who want to make the leap into the legal business.
On the upside, the conversation is evolving in tandem with the need for national legalization. No longer can brands—let alone policy makers—turn a blind eye to antiquated ideas and it’s becoming a collective effort. Allyship is taking on new and exciting forms ranging from company messaging to new organizations who adopt innovative strategies to get people engaged.
An example of that is Scheri Mathaya, Old Pal’s Sacramento Territory Manager, who owns and operates Put Color Back in Cannabis, whose merch-first mission keeps things simple by connecting the human element to simple yet powerful messages. PCBIC not only makes a statement through a series of wearable items but also layers in give-back efforts that empower cannabis equity brands, minority owned dispensaries/delivery services and Black Lives Matter organizations. Here Mathaya shares the story in her own words along with suggestions of how anyone new to the cannabis space can join together and march toward a fair future.
On the Path That Led You to Start ‘Put Color Back in Cannabis’
Put Color Back In Cannabis is a mission and message-based brand using merchandise to start conversations and encourage cannabis equality. The mission of PCBIC is to bring awareness to the BIPOC community within the industry, from the struggles we face to the achievements we make, while simultaneously highlighting & amplifying those voices for community growth.
I started the brand at the end of 2019 and officially launched it in March 2020. Starting a brand was never something I planned to do, but it was something that I needed to do. During my time in the industry as a brand educator, I met some very unique individuals both good and bad. Unfortunately, I received a negative remark regarding my race and my education in the industry even though the two have nothing to do with one another. Fortunately, it activated something inside me and it opened my eyes to the fact that I wasn't alone in this disrespect and that many have been dealing with it longer than I can even remember. I didn’t understand why this wasn't talked about more. I didn't understand why more conversations about creating cannabis equality were not being had so I decided to start them.
On The Challenges the BIPOC Community Face in the Cannabis Industry
The list of challenges the BIPOC community faces in general is so long it hurts and the lack of access to capital and education to progress in the legal market is probably some of the biggest struggles our community faces. Those with criminal records from the legacy market—the ones who got us to where we are now—have to fight ten times as hard just to claim their space.
Unfortunately, most feel so untrustworthy of the government, they don't even want to try and apply for a legal license and justifiably so. Thankfully, a shift in the air has happened and people are trying to be better about supporting BIPOC businesses and brands,including with cannabis. More voices around cannabis equity and equality in general are being brought up and slowly but surely consumers are starting to make an effort to ask for inclusivity and pushing retailers to do better about supporting BIPOC brands.
Examples of Impact and Influence
Wow, this one is hard only because I always say this brand isn’t about me as much as it is about the community. When the community wins, I win. To give you an example, I was able to help get one of my role models in the cannabis space on the shelves at the new High Times Oakland retail location. My friend who handles purchasing there is a proud Black man in the industry who wants to see more diversity on shelves too so he called me and asked, “ Do you want to help me Put Color Back In Cannabis? I want more equity on the shelves, will you help me?” I gave him my top favorite equity brands in the state and one of them happened to be Gift of Doja by Nina Parks. When I saw the picture of the display in the middle of the store, LOUD & PROUD, I started crying. That’s what a win is to me—to see my people and my community have a chance to grow in this industry. When they get it, they thrive! When I can help get equity brands and/or BIPOC brands on menus, that’s the only win I need.
I have been blessed to have had the PCBIC mission shared on different platforms such The Sacramento News & Review, Infections Magazine, Point 7 Group, and MJLifestyle Magazine.
The Connection Between Humanitarian Activism and Cannabis Reform
Changes are definitely starting to form within the industry and more actions are being addressed on a regular basis, but I really started to notice a big shift in 2020 when Black lives were in trouble and injustice toward minority lives became the main topic of conversation. That’s when things really kicked into gear. People got mad, sad and finally were feeling over it. They were over seeing POC struggle or just not seeing POC in the industry, period. So now people are doing more and demanding more. Consumers are becoming more conscious with their dollars, really putting in more effort on who they give it to but also becoming more vocal about what kind of product they want to see on their menu! They are demanding their local shops and delivery services do more. The more vocal we all are, the more moves start to get made, but consistency is really key.
How Merchandise Helps Amplify the Conversation
This one is hard for me cause I always say this brand isn't about me as much as it is about the BIPOC community. But as a unit, we’ve made moves! In just a year I launched two different merch campaigns with four different pieces of merchandise. The first campaign was the introductory campaign: ‘Put Color Back In Cannabis’. I have a white tee, a black definition tee and a tote bag all to explain what the brand is and what we are working toward. The second campaign that I launched was ‘Smoke Loud Speak Loud’; designed to start the conversation of how privileged we are in the industry. There are many people who still have criminal records for selling, purchasing or even even having cannabis in their possession. We are privileged to be able to do that same thing every day that many are still suffering the consequences for doing. So while we smoke loud, we must also speak loud too, ‘cause we got a lot of work to do. I’m currently working on my first summer launch: ‘This Is How We Roll’, ‘This is How We Reclaim Our Lasting Legacy’.
What A More Fair and Equitable Future Looks Like
Each city puts a cap on how many retail locations can be in each city. In my ideal world, at least 70% should be Black owned licenses across the board. We started this and we should be leading it, but I may be biased. Overall though, I do believe 70-80% of the licenses—dispensary, delivery and or distro—should be owned by POC. Ideally, when new states come online and they make a cap on licenses, they should already have a number available solely for equity members, as well as offer up proper resources. The paperwork is sometimes the hardest part, and there isn’t anyone to guide people through it. With the right education, capital and support, POC can not only build a business but be extremely successful at it, giving everyone a fair opportunity to be a part of the legal market!