Mennlay Golokeh Aggrey is an incredibly inspiring person to me. She is the author of “The Art of Weed Butter,” an instructional resource, as well as an educator on the ethics of weed. There is something holistic about Mennlay’s approach, and articulation, that is encouraging. It makes me understand the importance of thorough discourse, even about what we consume, and how we consume it. She is also the co-founder and creative director of Xula CBD, the co-host of Broccoli Talk podcast, and the founder of a new benefit pop-up dinner, Cenas sin fronteras. Today we’re talking about her journey through weed, African botanics, her future-dreams, as well as Xula—and what it means to create ethical products.
My darling Mennlay, how are you?
Well, if I’m honest. I’m not doing super well today. But I think this topic of conversation might be a beautiful way to process some of those feelings. Since we’re still in Cancer season after all.
As a double Cancer (moon and rising) you know I’m all about this. I have a lot of things I want to ask you because I’ve found over the years you’ve just articulated so many of the things that I’ve often thought about weed, and the world of weed… So I’ll start by asking, can you tell me when you first started smoking? Should we start there? I feel like there’s so much stigma about weed and what it represents, and there aren’t enough (especially femme perspectives) of a relationship with the plant and what it offers.
This is a beautiful place to start! When cannabis, weed, ganja, mota first came into my life, I was 14-years-old, a freshman in high school. At that time I was neither cool, nor an outcast. Just sort of floating somewhere in between. I was away at a boarding school for low income kids who might have “white potential” as far as success in school or whatever so I was away from home in Hershey, Pennsylvania. Dairy town USA. Life then was confusing and I suffered from what I know now as depression. Mostly because I was displaced from my family in a white town/space. So anyway one day I was at the roller skating rink with some friends from school. These type of activities were allowed on the weekends. So we were there and some of my friends had invited some dudes to come hang with them. As they were all sort of flirting and kicking it, I was passed a blunt. So I took the blunt and smoked what was my first hit of weed. It was less out of the desire to be cool, but more to avoid having to make-out with or talk to anyone—more so out of curiosity—to finally partake in this thing that I didn’t know much about.
This was that typical first time, this out of world experience where time stretched. My memory doesn’t allow for much more than that. But I know time slowed down and I found myself in a space where I didn’t feel depressed or anxious or awkward. I finally felt like myself (a space cadet LOL). At that point, I think I knew that this experience was for me. This feeling. It helped me connect with just being—a teen—a weirdo —whatever. It suspended time and allowed for me to be whoever and whatever I was.
I kept this a secret from my mother, other adults, and most other friends. My cannabis life was undercover from my first time in 1998 until 2005 when I first started cultivating weed in Humboldt, fresh out of college. For a long time, disclosure was dangerous and unacceptable. There just wasn’t space for me to talk about my experience. But I wrote a lot about it in my journal.
I’m trying to have transparency of my own journey with weed, because I’ve seen marijuana—Santa Maria—to be such an important facet of my own healing journey. It’s kind of wild to me that you smoked your first blunt by accident, in order to not make out with anybody. In that there’s this inherent innocence that I love, it’s so cool that we get to rewrite rhetoric that doesn’t always make space for us, and our relationship to this magical plant. Was this your beginning of smoking weed more regularly? Do you smoke weed regularly? I’d love to know your journey and where you are with marijuana.
That’s a really good question and something I often space out on. No, I didn’t smoke regularly because I didn’t know where or how to buy it. And honestly, I didn’t really yearn (lean on it) for it too much until college. In high school it was a once and a while ritual, whenever the so called bad kids would show up to the skating rink with herb, or if we snuck out. Which is another long ass story.
So, maybe I would consume herb every three to six months. In those times between, it was as if I was still able to hang onto that feeling of open time and space. An open heart and lightness that allowed me to enjoy my youth more than I had been. I think as the eldest child to a single immigrant mother of four, I often was the mother. Or internalized a lot of her woes. And so with weed, even in those few moments I could let go. And that extended beyond the moments of being stoned.
I wanted to ask about your upbringing. Was your mother strict? Or religious? Sometimes I have a hard time remembering exactly what happened in my relationship to smoking more regularly, but it has been really rewarding to go back to this teen self and try to understand her. Anyway—it’s also interesting to know you were the eldest, because even in your recollection it feels as if you were really mature about your decision to smoke weed (at a young age) and something I feel like is very “eldest child.” What began the transition to actually deciding to smoke?
LOVE THIS QUESTION. You’re right, there is something rewarding about going back to teen smoking baby. To be able to conceptualize or maybe even compartmentalize what and why and how is nourishing. My mother was sort of the black sheep in her family. She had me at a young age and didn’t go back to West Africa with my father when he wanted to send us back. I think she was an outcast in her African community and didn’t take to religion in the same way as other parents might have. I did have a teen bible that I read a lot.
When I started consuming herb it forced me to digest and question who this white Jesus was and why my family would worship a god that was brought over by missionaries. My mother and I did fight about this a lot and I think once I was regularly smoking in college I challenged her a great deal about my relationship to god. That’s when I became more spiritual and into the idea of something higher than me.
The transition was fluid. I started school and had more access to herb and smoked a lot more of it. But my family still never knew. I had to set the example for my little sisters who I think still saw me as a next to mother type influence. Someone who made the grades and did the right thing, but someone who was obviously getting weird when it came to my beliefs about the environment and other self-righteous first year of college bullshit.
White Jesus… Damn, the truth. Well moving from this idea of “the colonizer’s religion” (I definitely struggle with that myself, with Islam as well… that colonized a lot of indigneous cultures as well as profiited off the transatlantic slave-trade) but we started Studio Ānanda as a place to have these conversations.
I feel like with the rebranding of “CBD” there’s this inherent whitewashing that happens, and I wonder how that’s impacted your work—how that question of whiteness—has impacted the way you navigate these spaces?
CBD aka diet weed has been (for me) a reluctantly deeper exploration of white wellness for. From its unexpected legalization, to its ability to make other psychoactive cannabinoids aka TCH look “bad.” I was initially really hesitant to start a CBD company, but my business partner (who is Mexican and queer) really encouraged me reimagine what we could change about the CBD space.
One of the most vile aspects of white wellness is the constant appropriation of indigenous plant medicine. So it made sense for us to sort of reclaim it. To sort of position CBD as a gateway drug to plant medicine for BIPOC people. It is after all ours. Patient’s access to cannabis has unfortunately been left out of the discussion in legal markets For example, as we’ve seen legislation change in California from medical to recreational, we notice that free and or discounted access to cannabis for low income patients, and patients with HIV /AIDS, cancer, and other chronic illnesses have become second thought. Even though these same patients in the past are the reason why we have seen so many advancements in the industry. One of the most important parts of 1996’s Prop 215 was that it was a law passed for patients, The Compassion Act… Back in the day as a professional cultivator, it wasn’t uncommon to gift or donate herb to folks who needed the medicine the most. That was one of the most beautiful manifestations of the law.
So for Xula, the CBD brand I’m launching along with my partner Karina Primelles, we’ve been very mindful about ways in which we will offer compassion discounts and donations to people most vulnerable in our communities.
Yes. I wanted to actually start asking about Xula. What was the reason behind starting it? I mean you’ve obviously explained the need for it, but I’d love to know more behind the decision to start it. Especially during a pandemic (or maybe even more the reason for!)
Xula, as a company, started in 2018 though we don’t officially (legally) launch until the fall of 2020. We initially planned to launch here in Mexico, making CBD available here in the Mexican cannabis market. But as of now according to the Mexcian government herb and all drugs are technically legal to have and use but not to sell, that includes CBD and THC-dominant cannabis. So after a year or so of waiting, we decided to move into the US market since we’re both also US citizens.
I am not Mexican, though I finally live here legally, she has her papers!! Haha! But the idea of Xula spawned from Karina and I’s desire to give folks access to legal CBD and cannabis in Mexico while also trying to negate the stigma of cannabis initially created by Spanish colonizers. Hallucinogenic drugs like peyote had been used in Mexico for millennia, as you know, but it along with weed became controversial during the colonial era when the Spanish associated them with communion with the devil and with madness. Fucking haters. That vile racist rhetoric crossed the border to the U.S administrators. Mexico’s cannabis prohibition began in the late 1800s years before prohibition in the United States.
Getting a little off topic, but Xula is a direct response to that. Xula is a direct response to the absence of womxn, queer womxn, and BIPOC people in the cannabis space. We’re centered in Mexico City and honor not what it means to be a Mexican woman, a Latina woman, a Black woman, an indigenous woman. But also it means to be femme, non-binary and desire the feminine, softness that is cannabis herself.
We fuse ancestral herbal knowledge and modern scientific understanding to create our products. They focus on hormonal balance, cramp relief, sleep and anxiety. We grow our own organic hemp farm in Southern Oregon, and use about 50 additional herbs organically grown and sustainably wildcrafted. Xula’s philosophy is embedded in the idea of bringing our awareness of plant medicine back to its native people and the ancestors of those native people. Our philosophy is to shift CBD from being in a white, basic, vanilla, hetero space—to a one that celebrates the fluid aspects of cannabis. The indigenous aspects of cannabis, the feminine and non gender conforming aspects of cannabis.
Also—CBD/cannabis is that a good way to differentiate them?
Maybe the best way to differentiate them might be CBD hemp and weed cannabis. It’s such a fucking scam all of it to be honest I hate it. But I think yeah let’s do CBD/ hemp and cannabis.
You’re touching on something that—as a consumer of a lot of different cannabis products—I think is important to question. We need to holistically consider the impact of our consumption. I’ve recently been thinking about ways to engineer radicality in how we engage civically, and what if we started pressuring white owned CBD hemp companies to create a system where they were regularly donating to bail funds, or indigenous groups that harvest CBD hemp/ weed cannabis? Imagine if companies cared less about profit and more on making medicine accessible to everyone.
I wonder if any of these white owned companies think deeply enough about their responsibility? Because I think if you are white-owned and you have a responsibility to give back monetarily, significantly, and regularly. I wonder and worry about the future of sustainable CBD hemp / weed cannabis, but it sounds like Xula is considering these aspects (and even just how to have integrity as a company) which is really exciting. What are things that you want to see shift in the next few years in regards to how we create anti-capitalist /radical spaces for CBD hemp/ weed cannabis, and we can be dreamy about this.
So Xula also owns our hemp farm. And it’s operated by women. That’s been huge and important for us. We also plan on having an access / patient corner where we offer discounts to certain communities.
But dreamy anti-capitalist ideas for the entire space, for me, would be for all white-owned hemp and cannabis farms and companies to give 25%, 50%? 100%?! LOL of their sales, or harvest to some sort of board that distributes the wealth and or medicine to marginalized and queer Black, Latinx and indigenous communities.
In 1619, the Virginia Assembly passed legislation requiring every farmer to grow hemp—meaning that it was illegal to not grow hemp in the United States. Guess who were the people growing hemp? Enslaved Africans. Apart from normal reparations for Black folks, the cannabis industry (hemp and marijuana) needs to also pay. The hemp industry, the agriculture industry, the industry of Wall Street all owe M-O-N-E-Y to the families of enslaved ancestors and to the Native people whose land they looted and stole.
If there was a way for those payments to be made directly from especially corporate hemp and cannabis farms and companies (particularly those with higher gross incomes or whatever smart economists say) need to pay. We already know that only 5% of people in the industry with executive/leadership roles are Black. 81% white, so something radical has to be done to tip those scales. Because equity isn’t cutting it. Donations won’t cut it. They need their assets taken and redistributed directly from the government as a form of reparations from the establishment of the cannabis industry in the US.
THIS IS INCREDIBLE. We’re in the middle of a global revolution/global movement toward Black liberation and integrity in this sense seems so important. I keep saying this all the time, but we have to evolve as a species. I believe having these conversations, and just dreaming (which I feel like Mariame Kaba and a lot of abolitionists seem to emphasize how dreaming is SUCH AN IMPORTANT part of real liberation) so I’m grateful to be a witness to yours, as it reflects my future and hope to.
What are things we can learn from the plant itself?
One of the most interesting things about weed is what it teaches us. It’s hands-down the only reason why my curiosity and late night stoner nights turn into hard core albeit half-baked research moments. Some of the research I’ve done on cannabis, plants, food, flora and fauna has brought me to my own self discovery of Africa’s botanical legacy. And my ignorance to it. I think I’ve always had an innate understanding of who and how certain seeds and plants found themselves in different parts of the Americas, but I never considered it to be a legacy stemming from Africa. Like duh of course the original people would have had their hand in every species of plant and animal. Why the fuck it that so radical? Of course cannabis didn’t just show up in Asia and then somehow through magic end up in Europe and the Americas. It was changed genetically, chemically and consumed in Africa and like most plants brought to other parts of the world through trade, voyages and of course the fucking trans american slave trade. What I think we all can learn from Cannabis sativa is its ability to use itself as an example of how white dominant thought has plagued our knowledge of our collective botanical history. It challenges everything we know about plants, nature, healing and who is responsible for that knowledge.
Thank you for that beautiful articulation. This is the crux of something so major—how deep, and far, the impacts of colonization go—as well as the responsibility we have to rectify this. For folks that are maybe new to this conversation, where would you direct them to think more deeply about weed/the colonization of botanics… as well as maybe more holistic conversations around weed justice…
Botanics / orgs and readings
Cannabis prohibition + colonization readings
Any CBD companies you feel are worth supporting/ highlighting?
Dehiya Beauty (they only sell a balm but i still covet it)