Most cannabis businesses and spaces are operated and owned by white people. Still, in Baltimore City, there are notable Black cannabis changemakers who are cultivating space for other Black folks to take up real estate in the industry.  

Ras. Langford “Crucial” Johnson was born in Baltimore City, but grew up in Calvert County, Maryland. In 2020 he co-founded Crucial Culture, a boutique event planning and marketing firm focused on cannabis-centered events. Last year, he introduced his event series, Juke Joint, at Luna Garden in Fells Point. The event created space for people to enjoy a shared interest in cannabis, laughing and dancing to sounds by Baltimore house music legend Karizma. Juke Joint will return on June 4 of this year. 

Paulette Simone Smith is the founder of Canna Heals, a medicinal cannabis concierge service. Smith is a licensed social worker and doctoral student who hails from Harlem, New York, and has roots in St. Croix, St. Thomas, and Ghana. Smith’s practice illustrates the fact that cannabis has healing qualities. After she obtained her medical card, she realized the difficulty of navigating the process of getting medicinal cannabis, and that was just the first step. She decided to go to school and obtained a master’s degree in medical cannabis science and therapeutics at University of Maryland School of Pharmacy. Now she offers classes to those interested in learning more about the plant, and helps cannabis consumers navigate the abundance of information available.

These two innovators are among the people leading the green rush in Baltimore City, destigmatizing weed and, like Johnson says, ensuring that “Brown faces are in green spaces.” I met with Johnson and Smith over Zoom and got their perspective on the emerging green rush and their work to solidify themselves as leaders in the Maryland cannabis industry.

These answers have been edited for length and clarity.

Paulette Simone Smith, MS, LCSW-C, founder of Canna Heals. Photo by Schaun Champion.

TH: How did you get started in this industry, and how did you carve a space for yourself in your work?

Paulette Simone Smith: I was having excruciating, debilitating pain because of the symptoms of ulcerative colitis, and I was on preventative medicine that wasn’t working. A friend was talking about the medical cannabis card she had just gotten in Maryland in their new program, and she invited me to a talk to hear about the potential of cannabis for what I was dealing with. 

From that talk, I heard Dr. Chanda Macias from National Holistic Healing Center, a cannabis dispensary in D.C.,  and she talked about the properties of cannabis that could reduce inflammation. They had a medical doctor on site who looked at your medical records, reviewed them, and gave you access to a medical card. I was qualified and was sent off into the world of medical cannabis. 

That’s why Canna Heals came into play, because… I didn’t know what to do to find the products that worked for me. Cannabis is not just what we heard back in the day. It is a viable medicine, even though it’s federally illegal.

TH:. Can you tell me a little bit more about Canna Heals?

PS: I was working at the dispensary for three and a half years as a budtender. Or patient advisor, as I’d like to say. I was also at the time doing my craft as a social worker. The core of me is a social worker, so I’m always looking to help with resources. I’m always looking to share and be of support to somebody. And so as I was doing that in the dispensary, I realized I didn’t have enough time to talk to people about what they needed to know,

What I started doing was helping people outside of the dispensary get their medical cards. That’s what we talk about with the concierge. I’ll take people from beginning to end. 

I go through and talk with them about what’s at the dispensary. It’s like one big swoop. I’ll even meet you at the dispensary. I go through your menu at your dispensary, and we talk about what products may work for you, what consumption methods may help. 

TH: There’s a lot of stigma with cannabis. Do you have any advice for someone who might just be curious about cannabis?

PS: Yes, absolutely. Cannabis is not a panacea. It’s not. It definitely has healing abilities and capabilities. The research shows it. Anecdotally, we know it. But it’s not a panacea. And so what I would say to people is if you are dealing with some kind of ailment, and you are interested in knowing how cannabis works with that particular ailment, look into it. Talk to someone like myself. Talk to your provider. Your general care practitioner might be someone who is versed in cannabis. 

TH: How has cannabis impacted your own health and personal health and wellness? How do you practice self-care holistically?

PS: Cannabis has been a shoestring that ties things together. Along with my social work, it really puts a purpose, in a lot of ways, to my work, when it comes to cannabis because it has the potential to help with physical health as well as mental health. It really does play a big part in the healing of the people who consume it for those purposes. Making sure that people understand that they’re using cannabis, that it is interacting with the body in a way that it’s firing things in our brain, It’s firing things in our immune system, and just to understand it’s not just benign. It does do things and we need to know what that’s all about.

Cannabis is a part of my self-care. I use tinctures to help with my ulcerative colitis. I take CBD along with terpenes that help with my mood, that’s a part of my daily routine.

Ras. Langford “Crucial” Johnson, founder of Crucial Culture. Photo by Cameron Snell.

TH: Can you tell me a little bit about your agency, Crucial Culture? 

RCJ: We’re a small boutique marketing and branding agency. We do ideation, graphic design, event planning, conference planning, things of that nature. 

TH: Governor Wes Moore directed the state to spend $46.5 million to set up an adult use cannabis market on his first full day in office, and $40 million will go towards supporting minority and women-owned businesses through the Cannabis Business Assistance Fund. Do you think that this plan is accessible to the average Marylander? 

RCJ:  Yes and no. Yes, because it’s there. 

However, I’ve been an outlaw since the ’90s. And I’ve been immersed in cannabis and ganja for a while, and I’ve seen it from the inside out. I don’t know if the average black or brown-skinned person has the outreach and resources that I have, because I’ve done this for so long. I’ve met all kinds of people. So it sounds lofty that it’s there, but if you don’t have the wherewithal to navigate that process, it’s not there for you.

It really depends on your access. It’s access and ingenuity and persistence. What that means is if someone sees that and googles “cannabis assistance” they can then take it upon themselves to do it. In theory the average person can do it, they just have to have that drive to do it. 

TH: I think a lot of people think that the only way to be involved in the industry is to own a dispensary. Do you know of any other opportunities or gaps or other ways that Black people can get involved?

RCJ: Yes. In the new bill, they are creating micro dispensaries. Which means that you don’t have to have a brick and mortar. They’re still defining it a little bit, but effectively you can access cannabis from a dispensary and possibly a wholesaler, and then sell it.

Delivery, security, and micro dispensaries are three ways to get in without having to have a brick and mortar space, or a grower. And then there’s building a better mousetrap. If you are creative enough, you can find a gap in the marketplace and create your own lane.  

TH: Last year, you did a series of events at Luna Garden. They were outdoor house music and cannabis culture events, and as far as I know one of the first events of its kind here. Are you bringing it back this year? 

RCJ: Juke Joint! Basically that event is the type of space that is needed. My goal was to have everyone come to one spot to do the same thing. Those folks are like-minded, but look different. I was very proud of the diversity that was there. Every version of a person was there. That’s what herb does. It brings people together. It’s communal.

Ideally, I am going to pursue a license myself, for cultivation, processing, and dispensary. My goal is to create a dispensary, with my business partner Jessica Meyer, that replicates Juke Joint. A space where you come in, and you feel like you’ve laid down beside your lover. You cross a threshold and it’s like “ahh we are here.” 

TH: What advice would you give to anybody who might just be thinking about going into this realm, getting in on this shift, this green rush that’s happening?

RCJ: Being in the room is half the battle. My mantra is “Brown faces in green cannabis spaces.” My goal is to be an advocate so that someone can see me in the room. A person sees me in this paper, and thinks “he’s doing it,” and that’s what we need. We need people that look like us as a light bearer. 

Ras. Langford “Crucial” Johnson, founder of Crucial Culture. Photo by Cameron Snell.

Teri Henderson is the Arts and Culture Editor of Baltimore Beat. She is the author of the 2021 book Black Collagists. Previously, she was a staff writer for BmoreArt, gallery coordinator for Connect +...