Before joining the cannabis industry and before founding GreenPort, located at 686 College St, there was one person I knew I had to share this news with face-to-face, my grandma, whom I affectionately call “mama”. Like many Jamaicans, I grew up with my grandparents. Though I hadn’t lived with them since I was a child, I still felt deeply rooted to the seeds that they had sewn for me. Imagine growing up in small community in Jamaica. Being instilled with pride for community, country, and the abundance of natural wonders around me. Then being uprooted and transplanted into a new soil and a much colder soil at that. In this new home, my roots were being shaken by the stereotypes that bloomed not like flowers but more like pine needles. On this new soil, the stigma associated with the Jamaican culture and the cannabis plant deteriorated much of its richness and diluted much of its nutrients. And this type of narrative was normalized though Bob Marley’s music was often celebrated as music that unified globally. So much so that it was played in most high school assemblies as a way for the administration to ‘connect’ with the students. This dichotomy and I might even go as far as to say hypocrisy forced me into a cage of silence. I felt barred from knowing and sharing the truth. In a sense, I was forced to walk around with a mask long before this pandemic.
But I knew that if I wanted to fully bloom in this cannabis industry, I had to go back to my roots. Before moving forward, I had to go backwards to get that final seal of approval. No, not the federal or provincial government’s approval but “mama’s” approval. I needed to go home to Jamaica.
I flew to Westmoreland, Jamaica to my childhood home. I sat on the verandah with my grandma. The same verandah that I would sit as she combed my hair for school in the mornings. I started the conversation with my grandma, like I always do. Complimenting how young she looks at 90. “Mama you look young man!” and she responded with a laugh, her head thrown back in joy. “Girl a so them a tell me!” meaning, she keeps hearing this compliment. This was the same response that I had received over the years. Surprisingly, I was nervous. But I still got to the heart of the discussion. “Mama, you know that ganja is a big thing now”. She looked straight ahead unsure of what I’m saying or the point I was trying to get to, so I continued. “Mama, you know what, I’m getting into the ganja business?”, I phrased my statement in a telling but still asking way at the same time. She just kept looking straight ahead to the grapefruit tree in our yard and even beyond to the coconut trees in the neighbour’s yard. A view that she had seen for over 70 years, but her gaze appeared as if she couldn’t believe her eyes at what she was seeing. No response. I could see the worry written on her face and knew what she was thinking, but she just waited for me to continue.
If you understand the history of this plant. If you know the war that was waged against the people on this tiny island, then you would immediately understand her worry. The pain goes so deep that even people like my grandma, who is 90 years young, still reacts in fear at the idea of her grandchild interacting with this plant in any way. Many people, especially tourists, are often surprised to hear that ganja is still not legal in Jamaica for general adult use. I would add here that the illegalization of the ganja plant in countries like Jamaica was not determined by Jamaicans. As a colony, they were told it was illegal after hundreds of years of use. And they simply had to comply, or else.
Mama knew the history, so I didn’t have to tell her about the past. I needed to share the present. I eased her worry by explaining, “Everything that I would be doing is now legal and approved by the Canadian and even the Jamaican government.” I watched as she started breathing normally again and without even turning her face towards me or thinking twice, she said to me, “you alright then.” That was all she needed to hear. That I would be alright.
Though my grandmother passed away at the start of the pandemic and was unable to share this leg of the journey with me. Her three words, “you alright then” gave me the confidence that I didn’t even know that I needed to continue on this journey. A journey that would enable me to ‘re-introduce’ myself to this plant in a wholistic way. A journey that would enable me to celebrate the history of this plant, recognize the people that introduced this plant to this world, while bringing together community.
Little did either of us know all the hoops and red tape that I would have to jump to get here. But we did it. I first obtained a federal licence to sell medical cannabis. I also went on a second and parallel journey, which was to open a cannabis retail store. It took almost 300 days for me to finally open GreenPort, a retail cannabis store located at 686 College St. But we did that as well!
Though the GreenPort team started a new business, in a new industry and during a pandemic, we are still standing and have been able to stay true to the roots of what we represent. At GreenPort, we’re taking cannabis back to the roots. Back to community, consciousness and integrity.
As a child growing up in Westmoreland Jamaica, I experienced the value of community. That community laid the foundation for what GreenPort represents. After being silenced for so long, we’re giving voice to the voiceless. By pushing for fair representation in this industry and by making space for those who have fought for centuries for the use and acceptance of cannabis. We’re building a community from the ground up. Where every single person that has been on their own journey, can join us, and know that they belong.
Welcome to GreenPort.
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