Latinos in Cannabis: Meet BALCA

Written by: Cynthia Villamizar, @cyntivee

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The Bay Area Latinos in Cannabis Alliance (BALCA).

BALCA is a vision that came together after we hosted a community potluck at our place in September 2019. It was my first glimpse of this community’s incredible spirit and unstoppable energy. But first, some context..

As industry players, latinos are present across the cannabis industry in a variety of roles, from cultivation to the C-suite. They are mostly concentrated however, amongst the ranks at dispensaries as budtenders. Budtenders are largely responsible for explaining cannabis science to customers and are charged with recommending relevant brands and products. They are largely recognized as the gatekeepers to cannabis education and sales at cannabis retailers, and are frequently celebrated as the industry leaders of tomorrow. 

As consumers, latinos are a staunch brand-loyal demographic. They are 42 percent more likely than the average American to be Cannabis Campaigners—those consumers who are not necessarily marijuana users, but who are the most informed about cannabis issues, and who actively support legalization. Members of this group believe legalization is good for the economy as a source of tax revenue, and that marijuana consumption should be normalized (like alcohol use).


Similarly, Hispanics are 30 percent more likely than the average cannabis consumer to belong to a group that actively promotes legalizing cannabis, and 49 percent more likely to purchase clothing and accessories showing their support of cannabis and of legalization.

THE VISION

The numbers are there. Latinos are an integral demographic for cannabis brands to ‘win’ and are a large part of the workforce that’s gonna build the industry from the ground up. Working alongside Daniel Montero and Javier Armas, we set out to create a space to bolster the latino cannabis consumer and industry player. We knew that the Bay Area, a longtime beacon of cannabis culture, is a special place that should also be recognized as the birthplace of this movement. Our vision for BALCA is multi-faceted: 

  1. Education: We are committed to shattering stigmas and educating latino communities about the latest cannabis science, cannabis for wellness, and the growth of the regulated cannabis industry. 

  2. Professional Development: We are champions for upward mobility and will provide the resources needed for our community to ensure proper compensation, pursue growth opportunities, and build towards cannabis business ownership.

  3. Civil Rights: We will challenge civil rights violations in the industry (racism, sexual harassment, sexism, tokenism), and will remain uncompromising in our search for full worker’s rights. 

  4. Community-Building: We will share the stories of latinos in cannabis, and ensure that we provide a space for our communities to be empowered, educated, and celebrated. 

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MY TAKE...

For me, building BALCA is a dream coming true. It’s been almost two years since I launched Cyntivee and I’ve tried many things. I’ve created cannabis tutorials, hosted cannabis events, and manage San Francisco sales for beloved cannabis-brand, Kikoko. It’s been a long journey to find projects that both feed my soul and allow me to produce my best work. I am constantly facing the highs and lows of self-exploration: Is this work that I care about? Is this necessary work? Am I the best person to execute this work? 
 

For me, BALCA is necessary work. It’s the type of work that I’m committed to doing for the rest of my life. I’ve lived many iterations of the latino identity and I’ve contemplated my place in this conversation for a long time. 

I grew up in one of the most latino places in the United States. In Hialeah, Florida,  Hispanics make up 95% of the city’s population. When I was twelve, and smack dab in my awkward ‘mouth expander’ phase, my dad got a new job and we moved to Franklin, a suburb of Nashville, Tennessee where the Hispanic population was less than five percent. The move to Tennessee was a difficult (but net positive) transition for my family, and there is a lot that I could unpack about the experience. What I know for sure is that in those first few years, I became very aware of my “Latina-ness” and hyper conscious of how I presented it to the world. 


In high school, I shunned it. I used to mispronounce my own last name just to avoid the blank stares I’d get when trying to explain it. Two L’s in Spanish makes a ‘Y’ sound, ya know? I was a self-conscious teenager with an inferiority complex and frankly, by 9th grade I’d been to four new schools in a row and had probably explained it too many times for my adolescent-self to handle. In college, I went through a renaissance of self-acceptance, but didn’t make my most significant strides until I moved to Mexico City after graduation. Living in Mexico, and later in Colombia and Peru, were some of the best experiences of my life. I was forced to confront my fucked-up perceptions and unconscious biases; mainly that American things, white things, and modern things are generally the normal, better things. 
 

As we build a community for latinos in cannabis, I want to make sure we tackle some of these themes as well. Do we believe that we are capable of operating at the highest-level of the industry? Do we believe that we can do so by being our most authentic selves? Make ‘em say your last name correctly, girl! What resources do we need to become business owners and leaders more often? How are we making sure that our families and communities are reaping the health benefits of the cannabis plant, and the economic benefits of the cannabis industry?

“Latinos are 49 percent more likely to purchase clothing and accessories showing their support of cannabis and of legalization.”

— AD AGE

Later, as a  young professional at Google, I learned a lot about ‘climbing the ladder’ and how to advocate for myself. It took me years to figure out how to fight for promotions and pay-raises. I didn’t know the questions to ask, when to ask them, or what was appropriate in any capacity.  I obsessed over it. I’d think, “Don’t get played, Cyn! Latinas account for the largest pay gap in the U.S!” 
 

And it’s true. No matter what their job, where they live, or how much education or experience they have, Latinas are still paid less than white men. On average, Latinas are paid 46% less than white men and 31% less than white women.
 

Similarly, for those that are hoping to build a career in the cannabis industry, professional development and compensation must become pressing topics. In an industry full of start-ups, it’s important that we start maximizing compensation by exploring and negotiating for: salary, equity/stock-options, mileage compensation, industry certifications, continuing education, health benefits etc. It’s possible that many haven’t negotiated for these things before..and that’s why we have to get started!

I’ve learned so much from my experiences. I understand now, that I should always be carrying the torch for latino culture, education, and professional development. Within the cannabis industry, BALCA is the intersection of these. 

I’ve loved telling the stories of the people in this industry. I’ve loved understanding their dreams and dreaming alongside them knowing that the best of days are still ahead. It has truly been a privilege. I’m beyond inspired that I get to build BALCA alongside Javier and Daniel. Like our community, we bring completely different backgrounds and experiences to the table. We are a beautiful reflection of the diversity of the latino experience in Cannabis, in the Bay, and in the U.S. Ultimately we’re brought together by a love for our communities, and what we believe cannabis can help us achieve as a people. 

We are BALCA. #somosbalca. ✊

You can learn more about the Bay Area latinos in Cannabis Alliance on our IG page, @BALCA_bayarea


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