I was born on Staten Island to West African parents. I grew up in an immigrant household, and since I’m the oldest of four girls, it’s always been sort of like, set a good example, go to school—yada yada.
My heritage has always been a very visible and sonic part of my life, but it’s pretty complex and problematic in its own ways. It’s just strange to never feel like I completely belonged there or in the U.S. I think a lot of people have this sentiment. It’s probably why I live in a place now where I also don’t belong.
I smoked for the first time when was 14. I was at this boarding school for low income kids who were “kind of smart, but we’re not sure and we’re gonna take a chance on them.” I would go roller skating with my friends every weekend, and one time I decided to skip and go hang out with the bad kids who were drinking and making out and all those things. And I just really clicked with a couple people who were smoking. I don’t recall being bewildered by it. I wasn’t like, “Oh man, what’s that?!” I thought, Okay, I’m gonna try this. I’m gonna just see how this feels.
I took to it pretty quickly. I definitely, obviously, kept that a secret for a long time, and, like most teenagers, I snuck out and smoked. It was my solace. It was like my first boyfriend. Before I had done anything else in life, I had this relationship with weed.
It’s strange to think about it now, but we were just these two young women growing weed and doing it really well.
Soon after I graduated university, I moved to Humboldt County because my partner was living there. I got my degree in journalism, so I started working for a PRI talk radio program. It was very hippy dippy, obviously. I worked there for a year and a half, covering anything from immigration law to water issues, stuff like that. But at the time, there wasn’t that much opportunity there for a young, 21-year-old Black woman. I felt like there was a glass ceiling.
All of my friends were working in cannabis and were like, what the fuck are you doing? Why aren’t you willing to leave? I was the first one in my family to graduate with a college degree, so I was adamant about sticking it out. Eventually I started growing cannabis—and that’s when I entered the industry.
Farming and cultivating wasn’t an easy thing to just jump into. It was, and still is, a lot of hard work. I spent about six months developing really strong bonds and relationships with other women in the community until finally I had the clout, experience, and knowledge to start my own grow-op with the sponsorship of a really close friend of mine.
It’s strange to think about it now, but we were just these two young women growing weed and doing it really well. I was lucky to have a very strong circle of people who shared not just ideals, but ideas, too. It was a very tight group, and it really helped me understand loyalty and science and business tactics. I learned everything in this bubble.
Back then, Proposition 215—“The Compassionate Use Act”—was in full effect, so for all intents and purposes, I was growing it legally. But even so, because it’s federally illegal, it felt like there was a lot more at risk, especially because I didn’t come from a background where I could just be bailed out of prison. I didn’t have stacks of Gs that could get me out—all of that was going toward my overhead.
I definitely stayed in the weed closet for a while—maybe four or five years.
I definitely stayed in the weed closet for a while—maybe four or five years. At the time, a lot of folks weren’t vocal or transparent about what they did. I had friends and boyfriend who would come to my home, and they didn’t know. They never were allowed to see my seed. I never really talked about it. As far as they knew, I was just a freelance writer.
So that was my cover for a while, especially with my mother. I think eventually she knew that something was up. I’d often treat my family to vacations and was always going back and forth to visit them. I kind of spoiled my family and I think that, after a while, you sort of put two and two together, especially as a mother. But it wasn’t until after I was done cultivating cannabis and doing more web design and content writing that I was more open it, both to my mother and to my community.
My worlds collided when a friend of a friend—Maya Elisabeth, who does Whoopi & Maya and Om Edibles—came to me. She was like, “Hey, I know I can trust you. You used to grow. We want someone to help catapult our brand. How do we really address and talk about cannabis from an educational approach?” I really found my footing in that.
While I was working with Whoopi and Maya, doing one-off recipes and different random marketing things, I was approached by a very small press to write a book. They were looking for recipe writers, and I thought, Yeah, I can do that. I’ve been doing it for a while, I can make it work. I was drawn to having a platform for my time in cannabis that was part advocacy, part education, and part journal entry. Why not take this opportunity to put it all down on paper—however colloquial—just to have something to show for all my time in the industry? But I wasn’t ready for how much work it actually was. I’m not a world-renowned chef. I’m not a food stylist. So it was really tricky to do it in a way that made me really proud.
When it comes to consuming THC myself, I am more analog. I really love just rolling a joint or smoking out of a pipe. I do make a lot of edibles, but I tend to give them away, or when I make an oil, I’ll use it topically. I’m really obsessed with Plant People. Their CBD topical is just so good. I really respect any sort of product that really lays it on you and allows you to get into all of those cells. Obviously, I’m always gonna be a fangirl of Whoopi and Maya, especially the rub. It’s just saved my life so many times—those moments when you’re home alone, and you just can’t move. To slather that on is just the best.
When it comes to consuming THC myself, I am more analog.
I eventually moved back to New York, but after a couple of years there with the cold and the winter, I was just like, "Why am I here? I don’t have to be. Nothing’s really keeping me here." Since I worked freelance, my best friends were my dog and my laptop.
So I considered a lot of the places where the “cool kids” move, like Berlin and South Africa and Marseilles. But it just didn’t seem financially feasible, and geographically, they were very far from my family. I had a couple of friends who were living in Mexico City and I just admired it for being this mecca for writers and creators and architects. So I came and thought maybe I’d last six months, but four years later, I’m still here.
People are really starting to appreciate Mexico City for what it is. It’s so abundant in plants and seed and culture. I think that’s what’s kept me alive. The fact that you can grow almost anything all year round—it’s really able to charm you in that way.
I mean, it’s hard. I’m not a baller. Maybe at some points in my life I have been, and hopefully will be again, but it’s not always easy. You can’t just roll up and have this beautiful loft and all these things and all these parties. It can be really grimy and it can eat you alive, if you’re not careful. There’s a sort of beautiful deception about things here, if that makes sense.
And I’ll tell you something about the weed culture: I don’t know if it’s because it’s not always as expensive at it is in the U.S.—because there’s a wide spectrum of quality—but people are very generous with the herb. I noticed that quickly. It was just constant sharing. They will just give you weed, and I appreciate that. As much as I can be a connoisseur, I still appreciate herb growing however best it can, reaching whoever needs it, wherever it can. I’m really drawn to that.
But on a broader level, there’s been a lot of hard and weird cultural differences. Not necessarily when it comes to language or the food, but mostly when it comes to classism and racism. That was really difficult for me at first.
I was really angry in the beginning, and a lot of times rage and anger turns into action, so I started researching the relationship Mexico has with Africa, Africans in general, or just Black folks, because it was a little strange for me to be in a community of brown people who didn’t like other people of color. That was my initial impression, and it felt like the best thing to do was really get to the bottom of it.
So a lot of what I do is researching and writing about the African diaspora in Latin America, particularly in Mexico. It’s probably going to be many, many more years of research and work because there’s not much available, but people are much more curious and willing to talk about it now, whereas in the past, there’s been a lot of dismissal and denial. But I think that’s one way that we protect ourselves—to deny things.
Working in the cannabis industry here has been such an eye-opener. Think about California and how people are still going through the process of regulations and permits—it’s very much the same thing here, but it’s more about educating the Mexican market and public, especially with the company I’m working with, Xula. That’s not to say people aren’t educated—I’m not trying to colonize with my English weed. But my partner and my colleague is a Mexican-born queer woman, and the two of us are into having even just pamphlets and articles written in Spanish on weed. That’s just not a thing. It’s very rare.
There was a pivotal moment where we realized that, regardless of what is going on with regulations and legalization, it’s really important to make sure people are educated about cannabis and aren’t continuing to be subject to the War on Drugs. It’s been really powerful and a struggle at the same time, but I cannot wait until legalization comes to fruition. It’s going to be really important for Latin America.
If I were to go anywhere, it would probably be back to West Africa, because I think that part of the world needs more people coming back home.
I love Mexico City, but the pollution and the water situation is scary—although that’s just the world that we live in. We’re losing almost all of our resources. Ideally, if I were to go anywhere, it would probably be back to West Africa, because I think that part of the world needs more people coming back home. A lot of places need that. After you come to the U.S. or the U.K. or wherever, it just seems like it’s really important to touch base back home to see what’s up, and to see how you can really enrich the modern state of culture there.
The soil in West Africa is very rich and fertile. So just on a level of cultivation, it’s a really important place to experiment. Legalization is slowly, slowly happening, and the continent of Africa that is large is so often left behind. When you think about the prospects and opportunities, it’s a very smart way to experiment with how cannabis might boost an economy. Especially when it comes to medicine and putting money in people’s—in farmers’—pockets.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. Mennlay Golokeh Aggrey photographed by Naima Green at her home in Mexico City. If you like this Conversation, please feel free to share it with friends or enemies.