Updated: Sep 20
March is Woman's History Month and we are taking this moment to recognize some of the contributions made by women in this Cannabis space.
by LaWann Stribling
I'd like to 1st recognize and pay homage to Eleanora Fagan (1915-1959) better known as Billie Holiday. An American Jazz and Swing Singer from 1930s to her death in 1959. Her career began singing in nightclubs in Harlem, then known as a Speakeasy. Speakeasy is a place to visit discretely that served illegal alcoholic beverages during Prohibition for entertainment. Many Jazz musicians traveled from the South to the North performing at these speakeasys bringing Marihuana with them. It was known for Marihuana to be a substance for consumption, along with other drugs at these nightclubs. When Prohibition of Alcohol ended in 1933 and the FBN began.
The Speakeasy was a place everyone could attend, squashing the segregation rules. Billie was one of the 1st to break segregation barriers while traveling with an all white band. With Holidays fame and known use of Marihuana and other drugs, she became the 1st high profile victim of the "War on Drugs". Harry Anslinger was the 1st Commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics (FBN) in 1933 appointed by his father in law. Anslinger was instrumental in using militarized tactics to raid speakeasys and other places where drug use was suspected. In 1939 Holiday performed a song based off a poem about lynchings in the South called 'Strange Fruit' written by Abel Meeropol. Her popularity and notoriety increased after 'Strange Fruit'. Holiday was arrested in 1947 when her apartment was raided searching for narcotics. With her lawyer not showing up to represent her and the effects of withdrawal, Billie pleaded guilty and requested to be sent to a hospital. She was sentenced to Alderson Federal Prison Camp in West Virginia and served until 1948, released early for good behavior.
Her conviction took away her ability to perform at speakeasys and any venues that served alcohol. This put a strain on her income. On March 27 1948 Billie performed at Carnegie Hall in front of a sold out crowd. By the 1950s her health began to break down and was diagnosed in 1959 with cirrhosis of the liver. She was admitted to the hospital after losing 20 lbs and was being treated for liver disease and heart disease. With Anslingers continued harassment since Holiday's performance of Strange Fruit, narcotic police raided her hospital room and said they found heroin. She was indicted, arrested and handcuffed to her hospital bed. Anslingers drug policy made it so her methadone treatments would end. Billie Holiday died handcuffed to her hospital bed on July 17, 1959 from pulmonary edema and heart failure caused by cirrhosis of the liver.
Billie Holiday is 1 of millions of stories of Black Americans whose lives have been
destroyed by the failed "War on Drugs" orchestrated by Harry Anslinger.
Next we honor Mary Jane Rathburn better known as Brownie Mary, 1922-1999. Mary was began activism as a teenager for union rights in Washington State. In 1947 she campaigned in Minneapolis for Women's Abortion Rights. By the 1960s she was advocating for Marijuana and selling infused brownies from her home. In 1982 she was arrested in her home and was found to have 20 lbs of weed. She was given 500 hours of community service. This arrest gave her national fame and "Free Brownie Mary" organizations formed nationwide. Mary volunteered at a San Francisco Hospital for AIDS Patients where she brought her cannabis infused brownies to help patients cope with the ailments that come along with suffering from the virus. Mary was arrested 3 times for possession of cannabis. Those arrest brought attention to the legalization of medical marijuana. Through her advocacy and lobbying she helped pass San Francisco Proposition P in 1991 and California Proposition 215 in 1996 which allowed patients and caregivers to grow and process Marijuana. Mary also helped establish the 1st Medical Cannabis Dispensary in the USA. Brownie Mary gave her life to help care for those that have been abandoned and suffering from AIDS. Mary died at 77 years old on April 10 1999.
Celebrating Hope Wiseman as the Youngest African American Woman Dispensary Owner in the USA. At 25 years old Hope brought us Mary and Main Dispensary located in Capitol Heights, MD in 2018. A graduate from Spellman College with a Bachelor in Arts Degree in 2014, Hope volunteers her time as a Board Member for Supernova Women and The Cannabis Patient Advocacy Association. Mary and Main proudly serves and educates their patients about Cannabis in a community that has been traumatized by the failed war on drugs. Her journey began in 2014 when Maryland legalized Medical Cannabis. Mary and Main genuinely cares about social justice and equity in the Cannabis space. Mary and Main is also owned by Dr. Octavia Wiseman and Dr. Larry Bryant.
The Wiseman's and Dr. Bryant are providing opportunities for our culture to correct the wrongs done by the failed war on drugs. Mary and Main hosts expungement clinics and informational videos as well to give back to the community. Educating the community on the benefits of cannabis, how to start ancillary businesses, and building generational wealth for her family are all qualities Hope doesn't mind sharing to uplift our community.
Hope Wiseman is Maryland's Woman's History in Cannabis and our spotlight feature for March. Here's a recap of our Q&A session with Hope Wiseman.
Q: Women's History Month is a month dedicated to reflect on the overlooked contributions of women to United States history. At what point in your life did you realize you would leave a legacy as a Women in History?
A: When I first began this process I could have never thought about how I would make history. Once the first headline came out naming me the Youngest Black Woman to own a dispensary, I had an outpour of recognition and congratulations. I was in shock. That is when I first realized that I had achieved something that would forever leave a legacy. Q: What motivated you to be someone to make a difference for women of all ages, especially women of color?
A: I was raised by strong entrepreneurial women. There was always an emphasis on creating legacy for those who were to come behind me. With this background, it was natural for me to focus on reaching back to lift up other women of color. Q: For years we've celebrated 420 as the official Day to Smoke Weed. Last year Master P & The Ice cream Shop introduced the 520 Movement to honor the life of Fate Winslow who was sentenced to life in prison for $20 of worth of weed in Louisiana. Will you continue to support 420 Celebrations or focus your attention to 520 Cannabis Freedom Day?
A: I think both days are equally important to the cannabis community and the culture overall. 420 is more of a celebration while 520 is a day of recognition of those who’s independence way violated due to the war on drugs. Both will be staples in the industry!
Q: What are your thoughts on 280e tax bill?
A: I am happy that Maryland is considering allowing legal businesses to deduct regular business expenses, just as any other company in the state is able to do. This is often the main reason that companies in the cannabis industry cannot reach a true profit, and with state taxes being made fair - potentially, small cannabis businesses will be able to survive.
Q: Tell me about your other business ventures?
A: Right now we are working to launch our parent company, WISECO, and are actively applying for licenses in other states! Additionally- I am a co-founder of a non profit called Crowns of Love which provides wigs to women experiencing medical hair loss.
Supporting Hope and Mary and Main efforts will further bring equity and hope to the residents in our community that has been negatively affected by Cannabis criminalization.
Jacquie Cohen Roth, Founder of TeaPad and CannabizMD, is a true advocate for Equity, Equality, Diversity and Inclusion in the Cannabis Space. Jacquie is a recent graduate of Masters of Science in Medical Cannabis Science and Therapeutics from University of Maryland School of Pharmacy with honors. She just accepted a position as adjunct Professor at the same school.
TeaPad was founded 2019 to break down barriers for entry and to empower people to participate in the Cannabis Industry. CannabizMD was founded in 2017 to educate, build and engage an ecosystem of medical cannabis industry stakeholders, providers and ancillary businesses. TeaPad hosts events called Speakeasys to raise money for those interested in collegiate studies in Cannabis Science.
There are so many other women to mention for Women's History Month like Wandal James, Courtney Davis, Mary Pryor, Khadijah Tribble and Roz McCarthy. Take some time this month to search these names and read about their contributions. Women play an integral part to everyone's lives and it's only right to recognize us for these contributions.
Happy Women's History Month!