Hispanic Heritage Month is about celebrating the history, culture and contributions of this vibrant community. At PAX, it’s an opportunity for our team to go deeper, understanding the role that Hispanics, particularly Latinos, have played in the cannabis movement. There are an estimated 62 million Hispanics in the US, roughly 18% of the population, however, they make up less than 6% of cannabis ownership. At the same time, Hispanics account for 77% of all federal marijuana sentences and have been a huge target and casualty of the United States’ failed war on drugs.
PAX recently hosted a discussion with our team to delve into these topics, featuring three impactful Latino forces who have all had very unique experiences within the industry. Facilitated by Audrey Orozco-Shields, PAX’s Senior Trade Marketing Manager and proud Latina, we also heard from award-winning journalist, Mary Carreon, who covers Schedule One drugs and the ways they impact our culture, and Jesus Burrola, CEO of POSIBL, a leading cannabis farm, and Humo, a flower brand focused on the Latino community.
AUDREY: I wanted to start off by talking about what it means to be Latino. For me, it’s so much about strength and perseverance. But it’s also about the vibrant culture that has totally shaped the person I am today. So, what does it mean to the two of you to be Latino?
MARY: For me, so much of it has to do with reclaiming the culture I was born into. My grandparents came here from Mexico and Guatemala in the 1930s. They were pretty much forced to drop their culture and raise my parents in a very white American context. And that’s so sad, because the culture is so vibrant and so beautiful. There’s just so much life. Being Latina for me is reclaiming what it is to be Mexican American — what it is to tap into the language, speak the native tongue and make the foods.
JESUS: I was born and raised in Mexico and came to the US States when I was 18. The first word that comes to mind when I think about Mexico is “family.” The US is a beautiful country and allows for a lot of economic opportunities for people. In Mexico, we don’t have the same upward mobility and opportunities per se, so there’s a very hard lean into family. You live where you grew up. And the friends that you went through kindergarten and elementary school with are still your same friends at 40 and 50. I remember going to church on Sunday. And after church we went to my grandma’s. And there’s a hundred family members there. So when I think about Mexico, I think about the strong family and community bonds. And those get celebrated through fiestas, which means great food and great music.
AUDREY: That tradition really resonates with all of us. Let’s talk about lexicon. Hispanic versus Latino versus Latinx. It’s so confusing, even for us. What are your thoughts?
MARY: I think it’s ok to be confused, first of all. Opening up a dialogue and asking someone how they prefer to be identified really shows a level of compassion for people of the Latino race. I think older generations, like GenX and above, don’t care and it’s just Latino. I think millennials are kinda both. And I think that GenZ are Latinx.
AUDREY: It’s such a personal thing. Mary, can you give some context on how cannabis came to the Americas, how the Mexican Revolution helped spark the War on Drugs and the impact?
MARY: The Mexican Revolution was roughly around 1910 and many people had to flee north to the United States - the Texas, New Mexico, Arizona areas. They brought what they could with them, and one of those things was cannabis. Eventually, the United States government weaponized cannabis against Mexicans. It became a sort of racist tool for propaganda; an imagery that people of the US could latch onto as a weapon against our people.
AUDREY: Let's dive into your personal journey into cannabis. How did you get started? And what was your experience like?
JESUS: I grew up in Mexico. And maybe a misconception people have is that a lot of marijuana used to come from Mexico. So it must be everywhere. But I didn't see cannabis until I came to the States and I was over 18. Mexico is very traditional, very old school, and a very heavy Catholic culture. And when the drug cartels became a big problem in Mexico, there was so much negativity tied to it. Cannabis kind of got included in heavier drugs. People didn’t differentiate. When I got into the industry, some my friends were shocked. They were like “what are you doing?” All because of that culture. But now we’re seeing this de-stigmatization of the plant begin to funnel into Mexico. So my experience with the plant really didn't come until I was much older. I tried it and it was nothing like what I was led to believe when I was young. And I just took to the plant.
MARY: By the time I turned 15 or 16, cannabis was around. It was kind of the bad thing to do. It was what troublemakers did. That was the stigma. And I was very scared to use it. I also grew up in a very Catholic environment — that was the part of Mexican culture my family definitely held onto. And under Catholicism, smoking weed is not allowed. It’s a bad thing. You’d have to go to confession and confess your sins. So I stayed away from it for as long as I could. There was this push-pull thing where I wanted to do what my friends were doing. But also God was going to be mad at me. And when I first tried it, I had a really terrible time. I was very paranoid and totally freaked out. But I did not give up smoking weed. I kept doing it. And learned to love it once I realized it wasn't going to ruin my life. I was pretty much full on after that.
AUDREY: I share the same experiences coming from a strict Catholic family. In the cannabis industry, we often talk about the lack of representation at the leadership level. But what does that look like throughout the rest of the industry, particularly since cannabis at its core is agriculture?
JESUS: The Latino community has such an important role in the whole agriculture supply chain. Our farm is in Salinas, California, which is what they call the “Salad Bowl of the world.” It’s where Dole, Driscoll, Taylor Farms, all the large ag companies, are. Salinas is primarily a Latino community because of who's working the fields and who is really growing the food in the US. Walk through my greenhouse or my processing facility, and you're gonna see 99% Latino workforce. Not because that's the rule, it's just who is applying and really pursuing those jobs. So you don't see a lot of folks in the leadership levels in cannabis today. But I think that will change. As this industry normalizes, I think there will be a lot of opportunities for the Latino folks that are helping to make it possible.
MARY: I think this is totally on point. The access to funds takes a little bit longer for Latinos to tap into. Now that we're almost six years into legalization in California, I think where we're going to start seeing more opportunities for people to rise the ranks a little bit and jump into leadership roles. Also, there's no better time for investors to be funding the BIPOC community for leadership roles.
AUDREY: Humo is very inspiring. Jesus, you created this brand to meet a need you saw on the market speaking to a community that's largely ignored. Can you tell us about the inspiration behind launching Humo?
JESUS: POSIBL helps empower 16 brands. This is a Latino owned and operated business, David, my main shareholder, is Mexican. My COO is Mexican. Our CFO is Argentinian. It’s very much Latino. We kept seeing all these brands going after the exact same demographic. And I'm like “California is 40% Latino, where are the Latino brands?” And there were none. And I thought “this has to change.” Our brand partner Susie Placensia was a big part in saying “we're gonna lean all the way in. ” And the fear was “do we make it where other people don't feel welcome? If you're not a Latino, would you buy Humo?” Because that's not what we want. This is an inclusive community. And we want it to be an inclusive brand. But we also want to show pride in our community. And I think we've managed to do that. The brand has taken off, it's been in the market for about six months, and we've gotten into 120 retail stores so far.
AUDREY: Who are the Latino folks that you guys are inspired by? Who should we know about?
MARY: Definitely Susie Placensia. Hands down. She’s the best. Not only is she a super inspiring, powerhouse woman, but she's also a really great person on the inside. She’s an incredible human. Compassionate, very funny, very smart.
JESUS: I would say the same thing. I have the pleasure of getting to work with Susie every day. And she's a pretty unbelievable person. The way the community supports her and the way she tries to support the community back is extremely powerful. I'm very grateful to get the opportunity to work with her.
AUDREY: I just wanted to thank you both for your time and your incredible insights. We are so fortunate to have had you join us today!