Asian-Americans in Cannabis: Redefining the Stoner Stereotype

Written by Manila Hoang January 20, 2022
The HistoryThe People

When we think of stoners, our minds tend to lean toward scraggly fellows like Cheech and Chong or Shaggy from Scooby-Doo. Throughout the years, mass media has portrayed the average stoner to be lazy and disheveled. Maybe there is some truth to it, but of course it doesn’t apply to everyone. Nowadays, the typical stoner includes your stay-at-home mom or corporate worker. 

However when it comes to Asian-Americans, they were rarely to be found in terms of cannabis representation. Perhaps it’s in our culture to be law-abiding citizens, so we hide our weed stashes away from our immigrant moms and dads. 

As an Asian-American myself, the stereotypes of stoners can feel detrimental. Growing up, the ideals of having good grades and being a successful adult were bludgeoned into my brain. 

I kept my bong and vape pens away from my parents when I first started self-medicating until I felt “old enough” to come out to them as a cannabis user. There is a clear stigma in the Asian community against drug-use. Even today, my mother is weary of the fact that I’m writing about weed. 

The perspectives featured can agree that there is a need for a shift, and they’re coming at it in every direction.

Faces of the Industry

Ophelia Chong, founder of Stock Pot Images and Asian Americans for Cannabis Education (AACE), advocates for cannabis legalization and highlights the real faces of communities that are impacted by untruths. 

Ophelia Chong
Photo Illustration by Ashley Epping.

Stock Pot Images is a collection of photos from over 200 photographers that depict people of color using cannabis without stereotyping or using propaganda. Her emphasis was to push the boundaries by portraying cannabis as it is. Images that we see contribute to how we view certain topics— if more people of color are depicted using cannabis, then it becomes a stepping stone for normalization. 

AACE aims to push forward the Asian community in the weed industry through a series of articles and interviews with rich and engaging information. The interviews include CEOs, doctors, and executives to grad students. 

Because there are prejudices against cannabis, it was difficult for Chong to book any interviews at first. Those who had been invited for interviews either turned it down or asked for their articles to be removed to keep their families from seeing it online. Over the years, Chong states that people are more comfortable and are now asking to be interviewed.

Though Asian Americans are still a small percentage of the cannabis industry, she hopes to be the shining example for others who want to partake in the community. AACE’s other aspect is to network with women who want to get involved and aims to diversify the industry as we know it. 

Dressed in Sundae Best

Seoul-born Dae and Cindy Lim are the founders of a fashion line called Sundae School. The New York-based brand sells what they call “boutique smoke wear.” With soft tees and sweats, their goal is to spark a revolution in cannabis from here to Korea. With a manufacturer producing their clothing in bulk on the northside of Seoul, siblings Dae and Cindy, pay homage to comfort and non-conformity with their line. 

Pictured against a white backdrop is Dae and Cindy Lim, the founders of fashion brand Sundae School.
The brother-sister duo Cindy and Dae Lim are the founders of Sundae School and are paving the way for global weed culture.
Photo by Wesley Sun Photography

Born and raised in Korea, Dae reflects that the culture was stifling and didn’t realize it until his family moved to the United States. Like many American teenagers, the two discovered cannabis, but wanted to close the gap between fashion and activism.

The brand’s name Sundae School is a riff of Dae’s name and their observation of Korea’s ties with the Christian religion. Dae states that the connection between religion and education for cannabis is what really excites him.

“Chapter 1: Genesis” was their first collection of clothes that had subtle references to cannabis featuring a cap that has a tiny loop-hole meant to keep your spliff, joint, or pen. Most, if not all, of their line is a cross between fashion and function. 

Currently on Sundae School’s website, there is a Jeogori Work Jacket that features intricate details with detailed flower buttons and MANY pockets. Although still very sleek-looking, the jacket has pockets of all sizes to fit any of your cannabis accessories. In the world of fashion, there aren’t enough pockets and now we’re able to stash away our joints without having them getting crushed in our pants. 

Korea is still set on cannabis being illegal and drugs in general are very taboo. Mashing up fashion and cannabis culture teeters the acceptance within Korean culture, and the brother-sister duo hope to further their brand to become a step toward cannabis legalization.

Model image of Sundae School's Milk Tea Boba Flower Fleece Zip Up © 2022 Sundae School.
Model image of Sundae School's Milk Tea Boba Flower Fleece Zip Up © 2022 Sundae School.

Cannabis Rebrand

Geraldine Mae Cueva, founder of Art and Times of Chill, is a “merchant turned marketer in the cannabis industry.” With her decade-long background in fashion and retail, Cueva turned her efforts and passion toward helping brands, especially people of color, to develop ideas for their businesses.

Cueva wanted to use her skillset to carve out a space for marginalized people in the cannabis industry. After tirelessly working for companies that didn’t value her efforts or talents, Cueva created her own marketing firm to get folks excited about working in the cannabis space. 

A picture of Geraldine Mae Cueva for "Weed Like to Talk" with words curved around Cueva's image.
The "Chillanthropist" herself Geraldine Mae Cueva took the chance to speak about her experience as an Asian American in the cannabis industry with Jamal and Haleigh from Weed Like to Talk.
Photo Illustration by Haleigh Hoff.

In her interview with Almost Consulting, she says that “being Asian in cannabis means that we are here to build something meaningful and long-lasting… [We] are out here doing the most. I’m empowered by us and want to build more opportunity for us.” 

The self-proclaimed “Chillanthropist” connects with brands through social media to expand their visions through products and services. She hopes to amplify equitable systems to those who are advocating for policy change. Art and Times of Chill gives those who’ve had their voices silenced to be part of the conversation. 

To learn more about Geraldine, check out Weed Like to Talk with Hal and Jamal on their podcast here

Sriracha with a Twist

Potli, a brand that had been “accidentally created” jumps the gun when it comes to Asian snacks and condiments. Felicity Chen, founder and CEO of Potli, claims that in her childhood she was brought up to believe that food was medicine.

She had found that her father started beekeeping to harvest hyperlocal honey to alleviate her mom’s allergies. Her mom also suffers from an autoimmune disease and Chen thought that there was no way she could convince her conservative immigrant Asian mom to smoke cannabis for medicinal purposes. Instead, she took it as an invitation for innovation. 

Pictured is a jar of Potli's Feel Good CBD Honey.
Raw, wildflower honey meets sungrown hemp to create the Feel Good CBD Honey by Potli.
Photo Illustration by Potli.

Because honey has natural antihistamines and anti-inflammatory agents, this cultivated the idea that food can be used to ease other ailments. Potli’s products range from CBD honey to fight insomnia to infused shrimp chips!

To this day, her father’s honey is still being used for their products and they now have over 50 hives in the Bay Area of California. Her intention with the products is to use high-quality ingredients which are key for a healthier lifestyle.

Asian Stoners can get A’s, too

It’s very common for Asian families to push their children to be the best and go above and beyond. It’s ingrained in us at a very young age to achieve acceptance from our elders and to save face, to not stray outside of the lines which also means “no drugs allowed.”

As years have passed, more Asian-Americans have come to the forefront of policy reform and cannabis activism— we can be both successful and high. Our perception of the Asian stoner is shifting and maybe our immigrant parents are willing to open up to the idea that weed might not be as bad as they initially thought.