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How Sheena Roberson Became ‘The Olivia Pope of Dope’

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Sheena Roberson and attendees at the Official Cannabis Conference for Women of Color

Sheena M. Roberson is also affectionately known as “The Olivia Pope of Dope,” and her track record backs it up. The entrepreneur, marketing wiz, and activist is the founder of Cannabis Noire, a company that focuses on providing education and resources to underrepresented groups within the cannabis industry. Roberson is also the creator of the Higher Conference, a start up conference with the goal of creating space for BIPOC women in cannabis to learn more about the industry in ways that can help them elevate and or start their business as cannabis entrepreneurs.  

According to a survey from MJBizDaily, men make up nearly 80% of cannabis business owners. Black business owners account for just 2% of businesses in the industry, which is worth more than $18 billion. In addition, women are becoming more present as cannabis consumers, accounting for 48% of first-time cannabis buyers

“One of my goals with Higher is that it’s my love letter to Black women, and I very much focused on creating the Essence Festival of cannabis. That’s what I imagined, a festival, a family reunion of Black and brown women who could just exhale and feel comfortable speaking their truth without having to sugar coat for other people in the audience, or educate folks about why they feel the way they do,” Roberson tells AURN. 

Sheena Roberson at the Official Cannabis Conference for Women of Color

But it took Roberson a while to get here. Growing up in Philadelphia during the D.A.R.E. era, what she learned about drugs was that they were destructive, and witnessing people go through addiction, and seeing people get jail time for decades during the war on drugs also didn’t leave a good impression. 

“I’m from North Philadelphia. I grew up in a community that was impacted by the war on drugs. Cannabis was always ever present in my community and my family. I have cousins in jail now for cannabis,” she explains. “I’ve seen addiction, the full scope of overcriminalization. I was never interested in anything about cannabis in terms of personal use growing up because it was very stigmatized.”  

Roberson’s perception began to change when she got to college. She started experiencing extreme anxiety, but didn’t yet have an understanding of mental health. Eventually, she was introduced to cannabis by a friend who touted its calming benefits, but giving in to the offer wasn’t easy. She couldn’t shake her upbringing and her negative associations with the substance, so she questioned why her friend and fellow student, an engineering major, would give her such an offer. 

“I thought about how she was at the top of her class, she was one of the most respected sorority women on the campus and she said, ‘I’m not a drug addict’ and it started to click for me that this was not what I thought it was, and so I did try it, and I realized immediately,” says Roberson. “I found myself, and had to really start stepping back and re-evaluating the perceptions I had, and  it opened me up to a whole lot of different things, and I went from studying corporate law to criminal law, and realized at that moment that a lot of what the criminal justice system was built around was overcriminalization that impacted Black and brown people the most.” 

After graduation, Roberson embarked on a career that involved community outreach and marketing for a variety of organizations including, Boys and Girls Club Inc, Urban League of Philadelphia, and even the corporate side of Chick-fil-A in Atlanta.  

Things changed for Roberson, as life often does, when her mother got extremely sick for the second time. That brought Roberson back to her hometown, and navigating the care-taking process for her mother taught her a lot about healthcare policies, and women’s health especially. Throughout all of this, Roberson had a better handle on managing her anxiety with cannabis and was learning more about its therapeutic uses. She serendipitously stumbled across an educational symposium about the business and noticed that no one present looked like her, but that the information was robust, covering agriculture, marketing, real estate, business development, and finance. 

“The whole industry was literally being laid out and discussed, and there was not one person that looked like me in the room unless they were representing athletes for care, and I was like, ‘What is happening?’ she explains. “Meanwhile, my cousin is asking for money on his books right now, and I am walking around as they’re talking. Furthermore,  their dispensaries are operating in the city and I’m thinking to myself, ‘How is this possible that this room full of people, folks from out of town, from all over the country, are here benefiting from this?’ It meant that they weren’t marketing to me or my community. They specifically made sure that the people they wanted in the room were in the room, and I was mind blown because they were trying to sneak and corporatize weed.” 

The rest, as they say, history. 

The upcoming Higher Conference, the second of its kind after the first and wildly successful smaller event last year, is set to take place in Philadelphia from June 21-23. Attendees can expect workshops that discuss a variety of topics from how to set up a business, how to advance in the industry, the impact of policy and legislation and the push for equity, conversations about healthcare, especially women’s health, and more. There will also be a wellness pavilion with a variety of treatments from massages with CBD oil, a beauty bar, functional mocktails, henna light therapy and more. 

“My goal is to continue to make spaces where we can invest in one another and pour that same juice and that same energy back into each other and let each other just thrive,” Roberson explains, looking forward to the future.  

The post How Sheena Roberson Became ‘The Olivia Pope of Dope’ appeared first on American Urban Radio Networks.

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