For legal cannabis to spread across the country, people need to speak up in more ways than with Facebook comments and on Gallup polls. Lucky for cannabis users, Wanda James can be loud enough for all of us. The pot entrepreneur and activist was the first black woman to open a dispensary in Colorado, and was honored with a lifetime achievement award at the 2017 Cannabis Business Awards for her role in the commercial rise of the plant.
But even with all her success in pushing cannabis forward, James still has an ax to grind with state regulators and corporate interests. She’s frequently at government hearings speaking up for consumers’ rights, social consumption and fair pot policy, and is a regular presence at public demonstrations criticizing law enforcement or elected officials for anti-cannabis actions. Westword recently caught up with James to see what she’s been up to.
Westword: You’ve been a vocal opponent of past city measures that concentrated cannabis businesses in traditionally lower-income neighborhoods like Elyria Swansea and Globeville. What can we do to reverse that trend?
Wanda James: First and foremost, we must lay the issue at the feet of the City of Denver, which zoned dispensaries and grows to be in low-income neighborhoods in 2009 through 2012. Since then, many neighborhoods, including my own (lower Highland), have accepted dispensaries. Now we’re seeing grows in numerous Denver areas because zoning has allowed for it. Sadly, the city is creating the same issue all over again by only allowing social consumption applications in lower-income neighborhoods. Frankly, it’s becoming tiresome having the city create issues and then blame the cannabis industry for issues City Council created.
These issues could be easily fixed if Denver City Council and the Mayor’s Office (and the Governor’s Office) began to act as positively about the cannabis industry as