Six years after medical marijuana was legalized in Maryland, cannabis dispensaries are cropping up across the Baltimore metropolitan area. The burgeoning cannabis industry is big business and offers tremendous opportunities for entrepreneurs who gain entry.

But according to Jacquie Cohen Roth, an Annapolis-based entrepreneur and self-described “social justice warrior,” the cannabis industry poses significant barriers to women and minorities.

As a result, Cohen Roth, founder of Mojo Media, a publisher of health-oriented media platforms, last year established Tea Pad.

Tea Pad is a professional networking, advocacy and educational vehicle for women and minorities operating in the cannabis industry. The group will celebrate Black History Month with a networking event on Feb. 27 at Jimmie & Sook’s restaurant in Cambridge, Md., featuring a talk by Darryl Hill, owner of the medical cannabis dispensary Sunburst Pharm.

“Just 1 percent of medical cannabis licenses in the United States are awarded to African-Americans,” says Cohen Roth.

She notes that this is not the first time African-Americans have faced discrimination in regard to cannabis. Cohen Roth says policies such as the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937 — which heavily taxed and regulated the use, sale, prescription and possession of marijuana — and President Richard M. Nixon’s “War on Drugs” disproportionately and negatively impacted blacks.

The “War on Drugs,” which continues to be fought today by the federal government (many say unsuccessfully), is frequently blamed for the mass incarceration of African-Americans.

“The African-American community has been decimated by this country’s drug policies for decades,” says Cohen Roth. “Tea Pad’s mission is to break down barriers to entry and to empower people to participate in the cannabis industry, no matter what their race or gender.”

Cohen Roth says she gravitated toward the cannabis industry because she wanted to “be in an emerging industry which has tremendous opportunity to heal millions of people with plant-based medicine.”

Cohen Roth’s own positive experiences with medical cannabis contributed to her decision to get involved in the industry. After she was struck by a car while riding a bicycle eight years ago, Cohen Roth says she found that medical cannabis helped with her physical injuries as well as the post-traumatic stress disorder she suffered after the accident.

“For me, [marijuana] works a whole lot better than a glass of wine,” she says.

Jacquie Cohen Roth
Jacquie Cohen Roth: “I founded [Tea Pad] because I saw a need for removing stigma, educating, engaging and building an eco-system inclusive of finance, compliance, law and delivery [of cannabis].” (Provided Photo)

Cohen Roth defines Tea Pad as a social enterprise rather than a nonprofit organization. “It’s a revenue-generating business that makes social change,” she says.

The enterprise isn’t Cohen Roth’s first foray into the medical marijuana industry. In 2017, she founded CannabizMD, a website with information about all aspects of the cannabis industry.

“I founded it because I saw a need for removing stigma, educating, engaging and building an eco-system inclusive of finance, compliance, law and delivery [of cannabis],” she says.

So far, neither CannabizMD nor Tea Pad have staffs, but Cohen Roth says she collaborates with other entrepreneurs and independent contractors, and is counseled by advisory boards.

Cohen Roth also started the Tea Pad Scholarship for Minority Entrepreneurship with her own funds. She continues to build up the scholarship by donating 10 percent of the proceeds from Tea Pad events and nearly 100 percent of contributions. The first scholarship recipient is expected to be awarded this spring.

Named after the speakeasy-style spaces of New York City where African-American jazz players and enthusiasts gathered to use marijuana and socialize during the 1920s and 1930s, Tea Pad provides its members with education about all aspects of the industry. That ranges from cultivation (growing) to processing (making ointments, tinctures and edibles) to dispensaries (the retail side of the business), as well as opportunities to meet like-minded individuals and make business contacts.

Cohen Roth, who supports and attends services at the Commodore Uriah P. Levy Center and Jewish Chapel at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, says Tea Pad, as well as her other social justice activities, are guided by the Jewish concept of tikkun olam, or repairing the world. She also feels that her own family’s history contributes to her altruistic nature.

“Just two generations away from me, my paternal grandmother was given the option to stay in her East European village and have her throat slit during a pogrom or leave,” says Cohen Roth. “She emigrated on her own as a 15-year-old and eventually married an abusive widower through an arranged marriage. That, coupled with the prejudice I’ve faced as a Jew and a woman throughout my life and career, have shaped my commitment to social justice. Everything I do is focused on tikkun olam. The way to [heal the world] is through education and building awareness.”

When she’s not busy with cannabis advocacy and education, Cohen Roth is a graduate student at the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy.

“They have the first program in the country and in the world in medical cannabis science and therapeutics,” says Cohen Roth. “I’m 59 and I recently picked up my student I.D.!”

For information and tickets to Tea Pad’s upcoming networking event, visit teapad.co.

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