On Kinship and Inclusivity In The Cannabis Industry
Morris Kelly is the founder of cannabis lifestyle and apparel brand SF Roots and a tireless advocate who has opened many doors and conversations about securing social equity and inclusivity for marginalized communities harmed by the War On Drugs.
Social equity in the context of the cannabis industry was first established in the Bay area as a means to level the playing field and address the disparity of mostly white owned businesses profiting off of legal weed, while many of the early pioneers operating in the traditional market continued to be targeted for drug-related crimes. The language speaks to: “lower barriers to cannabis licensing for those hardest hit by the war on drugs”, with participants in San Francisco’s equity program getting the $5,000 application fee waived and additional avenues of support in joining an incubator program for technical guidance or space for three years.
To qualify for the program, equity applicants must meet three out of six requirements: earn 80% of San Francisco’s average median income; either have a parent, child, or sibling who was arrested for or convicted of a cannabis-related offense between 1971-2016 or have been arrested themselves; attended school in the city for a total of five years within that period; lost their home due to eviction, subsidy cancellation or foreclosure after 1995; or have lived for a total of five years in areas of the city where at least 17% of households… and it goes on. And that’s just to get a foot in the door.
Having experienced first-hand the brutal realities of incarceration and navigating parole, Morris Kelly sought out to change things for good. A pillar of strength for the community and a trailblazer championing social equity & inclusivity at the center of conversations – Kelly is also our good friend. We're lucky to work a floor apart in our little HQ and it all started with being good neighbors.
FC: What inspired you to dream up this collaboration?
MK: In light of recent events where acts of violence towards the Asian community, explicitly towards aging people have increased, I was feeling like there was a need that could be addressed. I wanted to see if there’s anything I could do to help, to educate ourselves and do our part to protect our community.
FC: I really appreciated you standing in solidarity with us, especially when the team went to the streets and started to organize. I feel that both Potli and SF Roots really resonate with each other as value-driven brands.
MK: At our core, we share a lot of the same core values – for community, compassion, and activism – which really enabled this collaborative effort to be possible. It’s the type of leadership that is needed in the cannabis community.
It all started to encourage people to take away learnings about a community that they may have never been previously privy or had access to.
Protect Our Elders was really a response to take action and use our collective platforms to highlight the creativity and courage from Asian creators & nonprofits in the Bay Area and beyond.
“I understand that I wouldn’t be here without the people who came before me, without the people who are beside me, and without the people who are behind me.” - Morris Kelly, H.I.G.H (How I Got Here)
Even the makings of this joint collaboration, we've had incredible talent from the AAPI creative community in every detail of the project. SF Roots used their cult favorite Al Ajo for the exclusive drop... which was inspired and designed by Al Freshko, a big giver and creator in the API community. He's been instrumental in bringing out the funky character of one of our most beloved strains.
Then, Potli brought on designer Eiselle Ty into the fold – dreaming up the 'Protect Our Elders' scroll to celebrate our joint collaboration.
FC: This is Potli’s first foray into the world of flower, and we couldn’t be more fired up about it. Especially with AAPI Heritage Month, we felt that it was the perfect opportunity to spring into action. What does activism mean to you?
MK: Activism is about showing up and shelling out. Making our voices heard, but there needs to be a bigger call to action that actualizes and solidifies results for underrepresented communities.
In the days when cannabis was recreationalized in California, fighting for the rights of equity applicants meant showing up to city hall in vast numbers to ensure our voices and opinions were heard. Although voices seemed to be heard at that time, inequalities still exist.
FC: That’s a great point. Activism is not only about showing up and raising an alarm, but it’s about amplifying each other’s voices. By listening and learning from one another, we can really begin the work & start to address inequalities at the root. What is social equity, especially in the context of our industry?
MK: 5% of cannabis businesses in the US are owned by POC, which vastly contradicts the rate of those who are prosecuted for cannabis (47% of people arrested for drug law violations who are Black or Latino). These figures only scratch the surface on the deeply rooted history of disproportionate criminalization and systemic racism that has inflicted harm on marginalized communities of color. Too often, these voices of those who are most impacted by these issues, the experts of their own experience, are the ones whose stories disappear.
Those that prosecuted cannabis now profit from it. Equity programs exist to ensure that some of the wealth, which has been transferred through generations of Black and Brown people, have a fair fighting chance of getting some of it back.
FC: That’s what I respect so much about SF Roots and our industry at large. Everything you do stems from your mission to build this industry for the people, by the people. Of course, not everyone operates with the same moral compass as you do, but what’s your north star as an entrepreneur?
MK: To be the change that I want to see tomorrow.
FC: What are some ways the community can do their part in ensuring inclusivity and equity is top of mind for leaders in this growing space?
MK: The community has power to shape this industry – and the most simple way is to pay it forward by looking into the brands that they are purchasing from. By supporting social equity brands and small businesses like us that are minority owned and operated, you are not only supporting the company, but you’re also supporting the community.
Who are the people you are investing your energy and your dollar in? What type of future are they actively trying to build? All of these decisions have a ripple effect on the products we make, the experiences we share, and quite frankly, how good you feel.
FC: I truly believe that cannabis, like food, builds a bridge and helps foster a sense of community. How do you perceive cannabis as a tool to shift perspectives and inspire empathy?
MK: Cannabis brings people together from all walks of life. Over a joint, I have had inspiring conversations with people that I would not have otherwise. Be it at a concert, a walk in the park, or in a coffee shop cannabis always opens up an opportunity to have a conversation that breaks down barriers. I have never seen two people get into a fight over bud.
FC: I love that. Over a joint, it really is an exchange of love and sharing goodwill. I can’t wait for people to try what we created together and thank you for standing in solidarity with us.
✷ PROTECT OUR ELDERS ✷
Limited release pre-roll infused with Paradise Citrus live resin. Rolled with love, the 1g of the SF Roots specialty strain Al Ajo is a perfect twist on the classic OG Kush crossed with Garlic Cookies – leaving you relaxed and elevated for all those warm fuzzy feels.
Get Early Access: getpotli.com/pre-roll
In partnership with Eaze, proceeds will be partly donated to mutual aid funds. Helping further our collective mission in protecting and driving social, political, and economic change for marginalized AAPI women and youth.