How Ancient West African Cannabis Culture Inspires Blacks In US Marijuana Business

By Dana Sanchez Published: October 12, 2016, 2:09 pm
Marijuana BusinessMedical marijuana dispensary in Detroit, Michigan. Photo: Youtube

Marijuana is illegal in all of Africa. Enforcement varies from country to country. Read more about marijuana tolerance in African countries — or lack of it — in this AFKInsider two-part series.

When the city of Detroit began a push to regulate and shut down marijuana dispensaries, a group of citizens banded together with a common concern — that the few black-owned establishments would get squeezed out of business, according to a report in Metro Times.

Industry stakeholders held a series of informal coffee meetings and formed Sons of Hemp. The group’s founder is Ron Jones, a care giver.

Detroit’s Sons of Hemp is a diverse group of herbalists, caregivers, and medical patients in the hemp/cannabis industry. They work to unite, educate, create opportunities and support ownership in every facet of the hemp and cannabis industry, according to a recent press release.

The organization gets its name from the Bena Riamba — or “Sons of Hemp” — who lived in equatorial West Africa in the 1800s. Their cannabis culture included using the plant for spiritual and medicinal purposes. The Bena Riamba were credited with changing the warlike Bashilange tribe to one of peace, Metro Times reported.

Blacks are getting squeezed out of the marijuana business all over the U.S., Jones said.

“Because I’m a caregiver, I saw that all over the country we minorities had no representation on the business side,” Jones said. “In seeing that and then seeing what was happening in the city of Detroit (Michigan), we needed to come together, pool our resources, educate people and develop good relationships. This group of like-minded individuals saw this industry was here and going to stay. We recognized that unless something changed that indigenous Detroiters were not going to be part of it — another billion-dollar industry that we don’t have ownership in.”

The Bashilenge tribe worshiped hemp and formed their entire religion around cannabis, according to a report in Topix. They called themselves Bena Riamba, Sons of Hemp, and this ancient culture regarded marijuana as a god and the pipe as a symbol of peace. They believed that cannabis had universal magical powers and could ward off evil spirits.

Early researchers Pogge and Wissman visited the Bashilenge in 1881, Topix reported:

They found large plots of land around the villages used for the cultivation of hemp. Originally there were small clubs of hemp smokers, bound by ties of friendship, but these eventually led to the formation of a religious cult. The Bashilenge called … their land Lubuku, meaning friendship. They greeted each other with the expression “moio,” meaning both “hemp” and “life.”

Sons of Hemp sued the city of Detroit, saying that the zoning ordinance regulating dispensary locations is unconstitutional. The case is still alive in circuit court, Metro Times reported.

Like any other industry, cannabis businesses can use an incubator to help nurture startups. The group has plans for a cannabis school in Detroit focused around Michigan cannabis law, cultivation and how to successfully run a cannabis business.

Oaksterdam University, a California medical marijuana trade school, attempted a spinoff in Michigan but it didn’t take off.

Stigma and the fear of getting busted keep a lot of African Americans from trying to get into the cannabis business, Metro Times reported:

It is well known that although minorities use marijuana at about the same percentages as whites, minorities get arrested and go to jail for it at much higher rates.

South Africa and Ghana are becoming some of the world’s top marijuana and outdoor cannabis seeds producers, according to Topix. African experts say South African marijuana contains a deviant THC molecule that produces extreme hallucinogenic highs. Durban Poison is an example of this. Ghana is famous for its public marijuana cultivation.

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