40 under 40 Black Champions of Cannabis

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This entry has been published on February 1, 2023 and may be out of date.
By Jacob Plowden

The group of unsung heroes below are the rising stars of cannabis justice and represent the folks that are far too often not given the shine they deserved for the mountains they have moved to reduce incarceration, create economic opportunity for those who have suffered from prohibition, and building a more inclusive and powerful movement to finally end the war on our communities. While we could not feature everyone doing incredible work across the nation, we focused on community leaders who are not the usual suspects, and choosing to give flowers and appreciation to those who are new to the scene, new to the SSDP community, had recent victories, or in new roles and are due a reintroduction to our national community of changemakers and community builders.

If your organization is looking for young black leaders already doing the work, the 40 all stars below are a great place to start. Lift their work, and support their organizations vocally and financially.

Jai Kensey

Jai Kensey is the director of social impact for Good Green, a cannabis retail brand and subsidiary of Green Thumb Industries. Through her role and work with Good Green, she is committed to reversing the effects of the War on Drugs in Black and Brown communities. Jai leads the development and execution of Green Thumb’s corporate social responsibility (CSR) and social impact program, works cross-functionally to manage existing social impact and DE&I programs and initiatives, and serves as a spokesperson for Green Thumb internally and externally.

DJ Howard

Devlon “DJ” Howard creates desirable customer experiences and develops effective marketing strategies for brands, products and people. DJ is the Project LEader for SSDP HBCU Cannabis Accelerator program which recruited 11 HBCU Student’s across 6 states to join the movement to end the war o drugs and dramatically increased SSDP’s black leadership and our impact throughout the south. He has a proven history of executing dynamic campaigns online and offline to support sales and customer retention. DJ is also working to de-stigmatize cannabis in our communities advocating for the plant, people whose lives are improved because of it and especially for those who have been negatively impacted most by the demonization of hemp. Through various content channels including a podcast, membership group/coaching program as well as his advocacy work and businesses, he continues to learn, educate, market and help others do the same in and around the hemp space.

Lanese Martin

Lanese Martin is a community organizer with a background in electoral campaigns, policy and advocacy on issues impacting Black people and the areas they work, live & play – Lanese supports projects that address systemic inequality. As co-Founder of The Hood Incubator, which is a national grassroots organization, she guides the organization’s mission to end the drug war by 2040. In less than 5 years she has grown the organization to be the leading voice in its space. Lanese is the former Chair of Oakland’s Cannabis Regulatory Commission. Under Lanese’s leadership the city of Oakland has the most comprehensive equity program to date in the country. Lanese also serves as SSDP’s North Carolina Harm Reduction fellowship coordinator, a brand new program that seeks to empower young people of color in North Carolina to educate their communities on the benefits of harm reduction policies toward preventing youth overdose.


Kevin Cranford

Kevin Cranford is the creator of Cannacticut, a cannabis lifestyle brand that celebrates the unique cannabis culture of Connecticut and surrounding New England. With the north east being a concentrated area for cannabis legalization Cannacticut believes the states within should show their pride for the plant and the community around it. Cannacticut does that with Connecticut themed smoking merchandise and events for the cannabis community, including highkes and meetups. What started as a simple business idea between lifelong smoking buddies has blossomed into a growing community of New England cannabis users.

Raiden Washington

Raiden Washington (prince, fae, he, they)

BLKMKT Media, Founder

Raiden is a transmasc, nonbinary, queer, Afro-Indigenous 2nd year at UGA Law, social justice organizer, and freedom fighter on the front lines of abolishing systems of oppression. Raiden helped decriminalize cannabis in Athens and Stonecrest, GA, with Athens having the lowest fine in the state.

Raiden also serves as the Vice Chair of SSDP’s Board of Directors and the Chair of SSDP’s Communications committee. Raiden was instrumental in SSDP’s recent mobilization for Cannabis Clemency at the White House.

Mehka King

Mehka King has spent his professional career as a journalist and content creator. Beginning in 2004, Mehka covered hip-hop and sports for outlets like XXL, SLAM, and Rolling Out. In 2016, he set his eyes on covering the cannabis industry. Since creating CashColorCannabis, King has interviewed cannabis activists, politicians, business leaders, athletes, and entertainers for the CashColorCannabis.com network. His goal is to create a network that showcases the entire Black cannabis experience and curate the next generation of cannabis journalists.

Laury Lucien

Laury Lucien is the Education Director for the Parabola Center, a non partisan think tank that develops cannabis policies focused on creating an equitable cannabis industry.. Laury is passionate about giving back to underserved communities. Laury currently provides pro bono services to emerging entrepreneurs by helping them prepare business formation documents and filings. Specifically in the cannabis industry, Laury helped over 15 people obtain their certification for Economic Empowerment Priority status in Massachusetts. In law school, she participated in Suffolk University Law School’s Intellectual Property and Entrepreneurship Clinic, where she represented clients on a pro bono basis in a wide range of business disputes and intellectual property matters. Laury also worked with the Housing Unit of Greater Boston Legal Services, where she advocated for clients facing foreclosure.

John Calloway

John is the National Executive Director of DEI & Social Impact at Trulieve. John provides leadership and direction for the Office of DEI & Social Impact to include all aspects of DEI initiatives, budgets, corporate social responsibility, corporate partnerships, philanthropic giving, culture, state DEI strategic plans, supplier diversity, employee resource groups and volunteerism. John creates diversity programs in partnership with internal business leaders, Employee Resource Groups, and various other stakeholders. Johns leadership and commitment to equity has made our HBCU Cannabis Ambassador program possible, and growing into it’s 2nd cohort later this year.

Nickole Ross

Nickole Ross is the founder and COO (chief operating officer) of medicinal cannabis processing center
Noohra Labs. Ross started out in the medicinal cannabis industry seven years ago, when she co-founded Elevation VIP in Los Angeles, which specialized in infusing cannabis into fine dining. In 2015, she moved back home to Ohio. She opened up Noohra Labs in January 2019, right after Dayton decriminalized minor marijuana offenses.

Deandre Smith

Like most HBCU students, Deandré had a first-hand glance to see the unique ramifications the War on Drugs can have on a community. Mr. Smith heard about the Students for Sensible Drug Policy(SSDP) & Student Marijuana Alliance for Research and Transparency (SMART) launching an HBCU outreach campaign called “The Free the plant, Free the people.” He made it his mission to be a vessel aiding cannabis reform efforts so more minorities can get opportunities in a booming cannabis industry. Deandré Smith was selected to participate in the First Cohort of HBCU Ambassadors for Cannabis Policy and Awareness Campaign. SMART is a national collegiate network dedicated to providing college students with a trusted source of cannabis education, research, and professional development &Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP) is the largest global youth-led network dedicated to ending the War on Drugs. The “Free the plant, Free the people” Campaign is focused on empowering students to impact change on their campus and local community through grassroots organizing, policy efforts, and professional development.

Mikelina Belaineh

Since graduating Harvard Law School in 2016, Mikelina has spent their career exploring innovative, human-centric solutions to mass incarceration. Mikelina started their career working with street and gang-impacted individuals and communities in Boston. They then went on to do research and technical assistance work at the Vera Institute of Justice, working with local jurisdictions interested in pursuing evidence-based and data-driven jail decarceration strategies. While at Vera, Mikelina’s work and research focused on women in jails, and research was done in partnership with incarcerated womxyn as well as formerly incarcerated womxyn. Mikelina now serves as the Director of Impact at a non-profit advocacy organization called The Last Prisoner Project, which works at the intersection of criminal Justice & cannabis reform. Additionally, Mikelina is a scholar who writes and teaches on intersections of gender, sexuality, gender-based violence, and mass incarceration. They have two courses they developed, “Gender: a policed state” & “LGBTQ+ communities & mass incarceration” and are currently working on their first book.


Hunter Knight

Hunter Knight is the Chapter President of SSDP at Georgia State University and the founder of Legalize Georgia. Hunter has been instrumental in efforts to decriminalize cannabis across local municipalities in Georgia, and is now taking his work to the State Capitol to mobilize for statewide cannabis reform.

“There are many reasons why people advocate towards bringing an end to the war on drugs. The reason I work towards this effort is because I know my community deserves better. The narrative surrounding substance use is changing and it’s up to students to lead that conversation.”

Jocelyn Cerda

Jocelyn is the founder of SoChill CBD events in Hartford Connecticut. Jocelyn Cerda is an equity-focused social entrepreneur who founded the pop-up farm store Mercado Popular to promote local food business and address food apartheid. Jocelyn managed the Broad Street Farmers’ Market and co-founded the Promise Zone Farmers’ Market in 2019, which she managed until 2020. She is also owner of multiple cannabis licenses in Connecticut

Tauhid Chappell

Tauhid Chappell is an Executive Board Member and a credentialed Parliamentarian of the Philadelphia Association of Black Journalists, the first and oldest association of Black journalists in the country. An 8-year veteran of the media industry, he’s worked as a social media editor at The Washington Post, joined the Philadelphia Inquirer as an audience engagement editor, then moved to the Free Press, a media policy nonprofit focused on equitable access for broadband and internet, the break up of media conglomerates, equity and reparations in media and the defense against government surveillance. After organizing two cannabis conferences focused on media and equity in Philadelphia, he’s combined forces with dozens of stakeholders and has organized the Philadelphia CannaBusiness Association, Pennsylvania’s first Black-owned, Black-led cannabis nonprofit aimed at healing the damage done by cannabis prohibition and mass incarceration. Tauhid also served as a supporting parliamentarian for SSDP’s board of Directors, helping students learn effective non-profit decision making procedures.

Cecilia Oyediran

Cecilia Oyediran, Esq., is a cannabis attorney and was recently appointed as a Senior Extension Associate with the Cannabis Workforce Initiative at the New York State School of Industrial & Labor Relations at Cornell University, providing training and support to workers and employers in New York’s emerging cannabis industry.

As a cannabis attorney, Cecilia has helped clients navigate the legal cannabis industry in the areas of commercial transactions, compliance, real estate, labor/employment, and state licensing applications. Cecilia also serves as Chair-elect of the Cannabis Section of the New York State Bar Association and Co-Director of the Student and Academic Affairs Committee of the International Cannabis Bar Association.

Cecilia became inspired to refocus her law practice exclusively on the cannabis industry after her breast cancer diagnosis in 2016, having learned firsthand the healing benefits of cannabis. A passionate advocate for cannabis education, Cecilia is a frequent speaker and panelist on a range of topics such as cannabis legislation, state cannabis licensing, social equity, and business law, and volunteers her time to mentor students and young professionals interested in entering the cannabis industry. Cecilia holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from Yale University, a Master’s in Education from Harvard University, and a law degree from Stanford Law School.

Zach Tyson

Zach Tyson is the CEO & Co-Founder of Mr. Z Craft Cannabis, Inc based in Vermont.


Cat Packer

Cat Packer is the Director of Drug Markets and Legal Regulation for Drug Policy Alliance . Cat also currently serves as Distinguished Cannabis Policy Practitioner in Residence at The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law’s Drug Enforcement and Policy Center, Vice Chair of the Cannabis Regulators of Color Coalition, Advisor to the Parabola Center and is a contributing author to the Thomas Reuters Cannabis Law Deskbook. Cat envisions drug policy reform as both an opportunity and responsibility to promote harm reduction and advance equity and social justice.

Jacobi Holland

Jacobi Holland is the Co-Founder of On The Revel, the parent company for a collection of curated educational and networking experiences democratizing information for those interested in the regulated cannabis industry. On The Revel events, known as are conferences aimed at fostering an inclusive, collaborative, and flourishing cannabis sector. These regular in-person events along with On The Revel’s Dope People online membership community, podcast, and virtual experiences, celebrate the diverse people that have been and are currently building the cannabis industry in the aim of developing its gold-standard, with opportunities for all.

Ice Dawson

Ice Dawson aka the Cannabis Socialite is an advocate and influencer committed to educating the public about the health and wellness benefits of medicinal marijuana. Inspired by her late mother’s cannabis usage as part of her palliative care, Dawson decided to make dispelling myths and misconceptions about the herbal medicine and increasing access both in America and abroad her personal and professional mission.

Alexis Mena

Alexis Mena is a two-spirited multidisciplinary farmer, chef, and artist, born in Brooklyn, NY and identifies as Afro-Taino. Mena is a co-founder of Universe City, a business incubator and co-working space in East New York, Brooklyn, that also has a hydroponic farm that Mena expects to soon produce 3,000 pounds of food each month. Mena is now planning to make Universe City into a resource center for Black-owned cannabis businesses, offering expertise, indoor growing space and specialized equipment, such as lights

Caroline Phillips

Executive Producer, National Cannabis Festival

Principal, THS Presents Caroline Phillips specializes in conceptualizing, strategizing and executing campaigns, non-profit initiatives, live events and marketing experiences. In 2014, Caroline founded The High Street LLC, a public relations and event production company with the mission of cultivating projects and ideas that leverage business and advocacy for social good. In 2016, Caroline launched the National Cannabis Festival (NCF) in Washington, D.C. and in 2018 she expanded the program to include the National Cannabis Policy Summit (NCPS) and Four20 Month. NCF is now the largest ticketed cannabis gathering on the east coast and NCPS is the only nationally televised cannabis conference in the United States. Caroline is a native Washingtonian. She received her Bachelor’s degree from Wake Forest University, completed post-graduate studies at Howard University and received her Master’s degree from Georgetown University.

Grizzly Bocourt

Grizzly Bocourt @grizzlytherebel is an Afro-Latino rebel who has been challenging the status quo by taking action to advocate positive changes in society. As a cannabis community advocate and industry entrepreneur, he is deeply committed to a legalized market that provides affordable access to the plant for all communities and supports small businesses and employees, particularly those who’ve been devastated by America’s drug war. As the founder of A Rebel Minded Society @thirdeyerebels, Cannaware Society @cannawaresociety, and New York Cannabis United @cannabisunitedny, he continues to break boundaries by creating avenues of creative expression and cannabis education for people of color.

Tyler McFadden

Tyler McFadden serves on the board of BOWL PAC, which works to unify the public, interest groups, and policymakers behind a comprehensive approach to marijuana legalization and justice for those who have been harmed under its criminalization. She is currently a Senior Campaign Manager for Color Of Change, where she leads campaigns in pursuit of a more just and less hostile world for Black people. Throughout her career, Tyler has developed and executed winning campaigns and is a proven leader in progressive campaigning and digital organizing.

Tosin Ajayi

Tosin Ajayi is a recent MPA graduate from NYU Wagner, specializing in Management and Leadership. Her passion for destigmatizing cannabis led her to create the first cannabis policy club at NYU Wagner, leveraging the support of over 200 NYU students to persevere through the rigorous application process. She impacts the cannabis industry with her influence as a minority business owner of CBD company, Holistic Remedies LLC. She also uses her expertise in management to build a more equitable industry by overseeing CannaPolicy’s activities.

Cal Akers

As a business owner, Calvin is the co-owner/founder of an award winning hash company, Wisely Cannabis in Sanford, Maine. As a policy maker, he works with municipalities in Maine to develop licensing and ordinances surrounding the cannabis industry.

Councilman Martin A. Mitchell

Currently, he serves as the President of Prince George’s County Young Democrats (PGCYD), President of Chapter Presidents for Young Democrats of Maryland (YDM), and lastly, he is a member of the NAACP and Chair of the Maryland State Conference Political Action Committee. Martin A. Mitchell was sworn into office on Monday, November 22, 2021, as the At-Large Laurel City Councilman. He was appointed to serve as Chair of the Citizens Advisory Committee for Persons with Disabilities and a member of the Education Advisory Committee. Before winning the election, he served as a member of the City’s Board of Appeals since 2017.

Martin grew up in Laurel and went on to graduate from Laurel High School and Bowie State University. He is a long-time Laurel resident who is raising his twin sons, Julian and Jaiden, in the city. Martin continues to give back through his first passion – wrestling. He coaches and mentors youth through sports in Laurel. Martin earned plenty of accolades in high school and college wrestling, including earning All-American honors.


Ulysses Youngblood

Ulysses Youngblood is the President of Major Bloom, an impact-driven cannabis company in the Economic Empowerment program. The company has manufacturing, retail, and delivery licenses in Worcester, MA, as a vertically integrated operation. Major Bloom opened its retail doors in 2021, and Ulysses and Major Bloom are highly involved in the Worcester and neighborhood communities.

Ulysses is also an Adjunct Professor of Entrepreneurship, Innovation, and Cannabis Regulation at Clark University in Worcester. Before decriminalization, he was expelled from college for weed-related offenses. Still, he finished a business degree from Sacred Heart University and later earned an MBA from Northeastern University while gaining experience in corporate leadership roles.

Aariel Williams Esq

a recent graduate of William S. Boyd School of Law, University of Nevada-Las Vegas and has worked with Las Vegas NORML. Aariel Williams is an associate with Armstrong Teasdale’s Corporate Services practice group, where she focuses on cannabis and hemp law. She supports firm clients in this industry with all aspects of their business, from licensure and regulatory oversight to operations and financing.

Akele Parnell

Akele is an owner of a Chicago-based dispensary and craft cultivation business. Akele sits on the board of directors of Chicago NORML, and the Cannabis Equity Illinois Coalition where he co-led the negotiation and implementation of the cannabis industry’s first community benefits agreement (CBA).


Shayla Cabrera

Shayla Cabrera is the Founder and CEO of Tiaplanta, formerly a well-loved tiny plant shop located in Jersey City, now a Cannabis Microcultivator in NJ. She built her company rooted in community, diversity, and inclusion. Shayla is an advocate for social justice and all plant medicines. She plans to grow her cannabis business to help those most negatively impacted by the criminalization of the plant.


Cedric Haynes

Cedric Haynes works at Weedmaps as the Associate Vice President of Public Affairs. Prior, Cedric has led Weedmaps’ Emerging Markets team, overseeing legislative, regulatory, coalition building and advocacy efforts in newly-forming marketplaces and the federal government. He also collaborated with the public policy team on research, strategy and relationship building as Director of Public Policy and Partnerships. Cedric’s prior experience includes leading the Transportation Security Subcommittee in the US House of Representatives, as well as representing some of America’s largest corporations and prominent startups to state and local governments, largely focusing on technology and transportation

Reg E Keith

Reggie Keith is a legacy operator who runs Canna-House, a Buffalo-based private social club centered around cannabis.

Chaunce Dunbar

Chaunce has had an interest in the cannabis industry ever since 2014 after graduating high school. He wanted to study botany but the school he decided to attend did not provide that field of study, so he went on to study business management. In 2017, Chaunce was lobbying in Connecticut for the recreation bill that finally passed in 2021. From 2018-2022 Chaunce has worked with three different MMTC’s in Florida, Chloe Villano and her Cannabis Business Awards event in Miami, 710 Dab Day events, and the University of Miami as a research assistant. Working with the different MMTC’s Chaunce has been able to see all levels of the medical cannabis treatment centers from retail, marketing, operations, processing, construction/plumbing, extracting, and cultivation. Chaunce is currently looking to obtain a cannabis cultivation license, he’s been studying a few different states/countries to see where the best fit will be.

Donte West

Donte West is a decriminalization and anti-incarceration advocate whose experience with the criminal justice system changed his life forever. With a no criminal record score, and nothing illegal in his possession, Donte was arrested and convicted on charges that were later overturned. He spent three years imprisoned, where with the support of the facility’s Warden and staff, he worked to fight his charges and also spoke to area teens about his experience with law enforcement and the courts. He was released on October 15, 2020 and is re-establishing his life in northern California where he works with the Last Prisoner Project to help free anyone incarcerated on cannabis related charges.


Tiyahnn Bryant

CEO and co-founder of Roll Up Life, an East Orange delivery and technology company. A New Jersey Jersey native , Tiyahnn Bryant started Roll Up Life in 2018 after noticing a significant gap that needed to be addressed within the cannabis industry. While networking and learning more on how the industry operates, he noticed the lack of Black faces and others with his background represented within the cannabis community. As a result, Tiyahnn began on a voyage that would later become Roll Up Life Inc. It is now the mission of the company to connect the cannabis industry through transportation and delivery to create a seamless cycle that helps products circulate throughout the New Jersey market from seed to sale. Through new partnerships, brand distributions and important relationships, Tiyahnn has made Roll Up Life the only black-owned business of its kind in the entire cannabis industry.


Vic Styles

Vic Styles is an Instagram cannabis and fashion influencer and is the founder of Black Girls Smoke and Good Day Flor. Black Girls Smoke was created by Vic to help promote erasing stigmas surrounding women of color in the cannabis industry.

Floyd Jarvis

Floyd Jarvis is the founder and lead policy strategist of Ganja War Veterans for Equity. Ganja War Veterans for Equity’s work is informed by the expansion and fortification of the New York City legacy cannabis market post 1965 Hart-Cellar Immigration Act by Afro Caribbean youth who transformed their cannabis ventures into community betterment in spite of being targeted because of their race and gender.

Treyous Jarrells

Treyous Jarrells a former CSU-Fort Collins running back and cannabis entrepreneur discussing the benefits of cannabinoids and CBD for athletes. Treyous left the Colorado State University football team early in the 2015 season due to concerns he’d fail a drug test and risk losing his financial aid. Treyous is a strong proponent of utilizing plant medicine over prescription medication on and off the field and has now committed his life after football to talking to the industry about its benefits. Treyous is the co-founder of CannaEndorsers, Motives Made Just 4 Athletes, and 7NRG

Darrin Chandler Jr

Darrin Chandler Jr., owner of Premium Genetics, and an executive at RIPCO real estate. In 2016, Darrin co-founded and is president of Premium Genetics, an African American, family-owned, and operated cannabis company that currently provides consultant services for top-tier cannabis brands. Premium Genetics were finalists in New Jersey 2019 Medical Cannabis RFA for its vertical license, and its current mission is to be one of the first recreational cultivation and manufacturing cannabis companies in New Jersey.

Almaz Adeigbola

Chef Almaz Adeigbola used her 10 years experience and founded brwnbox wellness group. Brwnbox has features such as brwnbox kitchen, a mobile food company specializing in neo soul food and baked foods bringing people together through live experiences and dinner parties. Almaz also operates a CBD retail serving the Greater Tri State area in New Jersey.