Melanie Randels: fighting for cannabis in the Midwest

Melanie Randall in front of colorful backgrouond
(Digital art by Greg Dubois)

When Ferguson, Missouri became the epicenter of the Black Lives Matter movement in 2014, nobody knew the ramifications and impact of the moment. Melanie Randels took that moment to reflect and found inspiration in her community.  

by Ryan Brown

Working with national and local grassroots organizations, Melanie opened the Canna Education Collective Educational Center in Dellwood, Missouri, just minutes from Ferguson. Her center is focused on reinforcing professional development, community vitality, and providing an access point for minorities to enter the multibillion-dollar cannabis industry.

Melanie and her partners are focused on being the change they want to see, and the Educational Center is the first step of that reality. She spoke with Leafly to describe her journey into cannabis.

Leafly: Let’s go back in time to 2014 when Mike Brown was murdered in Ferguson. Ferguson changed the lives of so many Black Americans. As someone from St. Louis, how did Ferguson get you to this point? 

A weed nug and protest signs for legalization

The Ferguson uprising and the untimely death of Michael Brown Jr. changed the trajectory of my entire life and the way I viewed and experienced police brutality personally, as well as throughout the nation.

I’d come from a conservative family and had never protested. But after seeing the footage and hearing the helicopters all afternoon, I started that night. I was catapulted into taking a deeper look at the policies and systems that plagued our communities.

I’ve organized with national social justice organizations like Color of Change, the ACLU, the Greenwood Cultural Center (home of the original Black Wall Street) and so much more. Since 2014, I’ve gone from a Ferguson community organizer to the Ferguson Human Rights Commission Chairwoman, and I owe a lot of that to the growth, community love, and progress I endured in this fight for social equity.

Why did you decide to put your business in Dellwood?

Dellwood is a neighboring community literally two minutes from Ferguson. Dellwood is also a predominantly black community, and residents here have no other cannabis resource centers to gain knowledge. So there is a huge need to provide the access here.

What’s been the biggest hurdle getting the Center open? Lack of resources, knowledge, equity? 

The biggest hurdle in getting the center open has been all of that! But it is mainly the same thing that has stopped many of us from entering the cannabis industry, and that is lack of wealth.

It really and truly does take money to make money. Although our space is reasonable in price, we have had to completely renovate and start our project from scratch. Thankfully, I secured a funding partner for construction but beyond that, all the needs of the center, such as educational equipment, operations, payroll, etc., are on me.

Additionally, there are many stigmas associated with having a cannabis business that we have to address (and oftentimes readdress) so that we can begin having the main conversation about how we plan to educate, activate, and cultivate the next generation of cannabis leaders.

What’s the advice you would give a minority trying to get into the cannabis industry?

Black female hands holding a jar of weed

The best advice for a minority entering the cannabis industry is to first know that you are the prize. It is your magic – the knowledge and abilities of oneself – that will encourage others to believe in you.

If I didn’t believe that I was a cannabis enthusiast and educator, I wouldn’t stand a chance. After you know who you are and what you want to do within the industry, go for it!

Study it, eat it, drink it,  and breathe everything canna. Get legal and change the stigma. To all of my black market hustlers, the industry has made a way for us to flip the game. Cultivators can make upwards of six figures, and owning a cannabis brand could gain you direct access to the billion-dollar industry being built.

Change the way you view medicinal cannabis and start today. The time is now.

Tell me what you want the cannabis industry to look like in five years in Missouri. Tell me what you want it to look like in 10 years. 

In five years in Missouri, I am believing that cannabis will be federally legal because that will reduce the stigmas and risks associated with the industry.

I am hoping to see more people of color operating in the industry; not just as budtenders or workers, but as cultivators and ancillary business owners.

I want to see a more transparent dispensary licensure process, and I’d like to see them address the possession of seeds and firearms because there are just way too many gray areas, and I want my people to be on the forefront of change.

What’s your favorite strain and why?

My favorite strain is Marathon OG. I am a huge Nipsey Hussle admirer. His spirit, his mindset, and his love and loyalty to his family and team are unmatched.

I went to Los Angeles and bought Marathon OG when I first consumed it, and the experience was amazing. Understanding the endocannabinoid system has really helped me to view the plant as a medicine. This strain helps me relax and is really euphoric. The Marathon continues!

If you could smoke with anybody in history, who would it be? 

If I could smoke with anyone in history, it would be Marcus Garvey. At a time when Black people were not even supposed to know how to read, he owned dozens of businesses and had millions of followers all over the globe. I would love to smoke a huge blunt with Mr. Garvey and in tandem say the phrase:

“Up up you mighty race, accomplish what you will!”

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