What does a lover of cannabis look like?
In this day and age, there are still common misconceptions about who is a “proverbial pothead.” The modern cannabis connoisseur encompasses everyone from the stoner bro who is obsessed with terps to the mother concocting the right cannabis oil for her epileptic child. Many different perspectives are taking form in this emerging industry. I sat down with Xen The Ganja Bella Donna, a medical patient who was the first black woman in her county of Maryland to legally purchase medical marijuana.
Tell the world who you are.
My name is Xen, I am a musician, lab technician, and mother to a 6-year-old with autism. I’ve been a long time recreational user but recently became a licensed medical patient. I never expected any of this would be possible until I discovered cannabis. I see the plant as something to be [used] almost like a trade skill.
How long have you been a medical patient?
I began registering back in April 2016 and was approved on April 21. I finally became a patient in Maryland on February 10, 2018.
I’ve been suffering from the effects of rheumatoid arthritis since 2016. I started losing the ability to walk and then began chemotherapy to help slow the degeneration of my joint tissues.
I did a guest appearance a radio show on Mother’s Day, where I talked about my disease but also the negative responses that I have received about being a mom who is both a professional and a cannabis user.
You were the first person to purchase medical cannabis legally in Anne Arundel, Md. How did that feel?
I thought I would see large amounts of people from my social media network when I showed up. I came in with news media and started my broadcast via Facebook Live, documenting the process. I was able to understand the dispensary’s prices, the facilities’ features, and their products. I ended up being able to watch the owner talk to the news and [gain] more understanding on how to run a dispensary.
At around 11:30, the dispensary realized that I was the only one there who pre-registered online and that I could be its first [customer].
I was very excited because not only was I their first customer, this had only been my second dispensary trip.
I realized that it was the first in this county of Maryland. The county I live in is fairly split as far as left and right wing, and being the only black person in the room (aside from a young lady who worked there), I realized what a massive change this was for the culture here. Now, I’m someone who can influence the narrative of what a medical cannabis user looks like.
Do you feel like there are stigmas surrounding the plant that directly affect you as a black woman?
I have always been the person who has a passion and drive for unlocking the potentials that the plant carries medically. I’ve also had to think as well as network intersectionally because of the stigmas and disparities between incarceration of minorities/people of color vs. caucasians.
I spent about five years in secret documenting, blogging, and covertly smoking cannabis in fear of retaliation prior to becoming a “legal” medical cannabis patient. I’d already been active using cannabis medically for a while, but after becoming a mother and working in a corporate laboratory environment, I had to hide it.
I had to take steps to conceal my online identity. It was not suspected that I was a patient because I don’t carry the “stoner stereotype.” I’m an educated professional in the field of laboratory sciences but I’m also a black woman enjoys teaching others about cannabis.
Becoming a legal patient is allowing me to do what I want on a larger scale. I’m creating my brand as a [cannabis] blogger with ambitions of owning my own dispensaries. From there, I want to establish clinical laboratories so more studies can be done.
Another aim of mine is to create generational wealth for my family but also for my people. The current industry is being dominated by white males and there’s women out here doing the damn thing too, such as Dank Duchess and Jay Mills. We can go even further than that and the time is now!
What advice do you have to offer the uninformed patient?
Start by researching the different ways that you may want to take your medical cannabis. Download Leafly or Weedmaps to narrow down what strains are available locally and read their profiles, see what attributes they have, learn the language, and also lean on the folks at the dispensaries. Some have prior knowledge and may be able to point you on the right direction.
Also, take advantage of Facebook groups and Instagram. Cannabis is everywhere and the knowledge of it is becoming so free-flowing and available.
This interview was edited for length and clarity.
Jacob Plowden is the co-founder of The Cannabis Cultural Association, a non-profit dedicated to helping underrepresented communities in the cannabis industry.