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DACO founders, Cherron Thomas (left) and Desiree Ivey (right).
DACO founders, Cherron Thomas (left) and Desiree Ivey (right).

Cannabis conference promotes diversity in the emerging industry

DACO's inaugural Cannabis Opportunities Conference welcomed 750 attendees over the weekend.

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Cherron Thomas and Desiree Ivey have a clear vision: ensure that historically marginalized communities of color do not miss out on opportunities in today’s emerging cannabis industry.

To do this, Thomas, who is African-American, and Ivey, who has Puerto Rican heritage, have set out to reduce the stigma deeply ingrained over years of ineffective, costly and hurtful war-on-drug policies. In April, they founded the Diasporic Alliance for Cannabis Opportunities (DACO), and last weekend they held their inaugural Cannabis Opportunities Conference at Temple University’s Medicine Education and Research Building to officially launch DACO’s work.

“Words like marijuana and weed are trigger words for many folks in the black and brown communities. Because they’ve had doors knocked in and they’ve had guns put to their heads,” Thomas told AL DÍA. “You’re talking like 40 percent of the drug arrests are really essentially cannabis or marijuana, and it’s like, why?”

“Law enforcement has taken this as an issue, and has said that this is something that will land you in jail or have a gun on you, so a lot of people avoid it,” Thomas continued. “We’re told from young ages, ‘Don’t touch it, don’t go near it, you’ll be in jail’, so a lot of people are very fearful.”

Legislative restriction on marijuana is relaxing at an increasingly rapid pace around the country, with neighboring New Jersey set to potentially legalize the substance by the end of this month. In Pennsylvania, medicinal marijuana is legal, and in Philadelphia, marijuana is decriminalized. Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney is actively promoting full legalization.

Amid this environment, Thomas and Ivey noticed a troubling lack of diversity as they traveled to cannabis conferences around the country.

“One of the reasons that the Diasporic Alliance for Cannabis Opportunities was formed was because Desiree and I would find ourselves being some of the few people of color at these cannabis conferences. We know other people who are interested, and other people who want this information, so why aren’t they here?” Thomas said.

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Originally from Memphis, Tennessee, 52-year-old Thomas first became involved in the cannabis industry through her marketing and sales company, Green Dandelion.

“Some of my first clients were hemp clients from India and Canada. Out of that I had an understanding of what cannabis was and how it was related. A lot of times people say cannabis, they just think of cannabis THC, and ‘How can I get high?’. They don’t think of the cannabis that the American flag is made out of, and hempcrete, and all these other things,” she said.

For the 28-year-old Ivey, who is originally from the Philadelphia area, it was her battle with Lupus Nephritis that led her to the cannabis space.

“I was traveling California and I got sick out there, I had a flare up, so a colleague of mine dragged me to a dispensary and swore up and down that this medicine would help me,” Ivey recalled.

“That was about six years ago now. From then on I got educated and I did research,” she continued. “I was able to incorporate it in my daily life.”

Ivey also recently opened Medicinally Jointed, an alternative wellness medical spa, to help caregivers and patients navigate the medical marijuana world.

The two DACO founders already have support from prominent politicians such as Kenney and Pennsylvania State Senator Sharif Street, both of whom spoke at the conference on Friday. New Jersey Senator Cory Booker, another champion of marijuana legalization, also addressed attendees via video message.

Last weekend’s Cannabis Opportunities Conference drew 750 attendees over the two days. Looking ahead, Thomas and Ivey expect the conference to be held annually, though if all goes according to plan, the conference will take on a new form down the road.

“Hopefully we won’t still have to have these conversations,” Thomas said. “Hopefully it’ll be more of a convention of the businesses that were started out of us just being able to introduce people to this space, and just showcasing that.”

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