Tokin’ Female is dedicated to bringing women’s voices and deeds out of the background into the foreground of all things cannabis.
AMBER SENTER—positive, low-key, savvy and universally beloved—is blossoming in her roles as COO of Magnolia Wellness and co-founder of Supernova Women. She regularly appears on panels as a knowledgeable person in the cannabis industry; plans to become executive producer of a canna-based women’s comedy team; teaches cannabis cooking classes and edibles-geared towards women of color, and has been asked to join the Cannabis Regulatory Commission in Oakland to help make cannabis policy.
A well-rounded person, Amber Senter knows how to fight while speaking softly, and is sincerely devoted to spreading love of cannabis as safe medicine.
Please describe your upbringing, what your family did, how you lived and mingled, and what brought you to cannabis in the first place.
I did not grow up around cannabis. No one around me smoked cannabis until high school. I did not start until I was 18 years old.
I was always a good kid and wanted to wait until I was in college. My upbringing was pretty typical. I grew up in a single parent household with my older brother and younger sister. My mom is an amazing flower child from the ‘70s, afro and all. She doesn’t smoke weed but she thinks it should be legal.
I come from a family of very hard workers. My grandfather had a 4th grade education but ended up building and running his own courier service. I’m from the Midwest, a small blue-collar town in northern Illinois. I was first introduced to cannabis by my cousin when I was home on winter break from college. I found that after smoking cannabis a lot of the anxiety that I dealt with and stomach issues subsided. A lot of aches and pains in my joints were relieved. I didn’t understand this at the time, but I liked the way it made me feel.
How does cannabis affect you?
Cannabis is everything to me. It is my life. Everything I do revolves around cannabis. They say, “Find what you love and let it kill you”. But cannabis has not killed me, it has healed me.
I love everything about the plant. I love to grow it. I love everything about the growing process. I love the way the fuzzy white roots peek out of the coco plug where the clones are rooted. I love the shades of green in the leaves. I love the structure and watching the plant grow. I love the stretch the plant goes through once it begins to flower. I love the flowering cycle and the beautiful fall colors that come through towards the end process. I love everything about this plant. It is a truly amazing plant.
When did your use become political?
I was a good kid growing up. I did everything I was told. I thought drugs were bad, including cannabis. Once I finally tried it when I was 18 and saw how harmless it was and also how much it helped me, I become very angry. I couldn’t understand how something so helpful was illegal. I also felt like I had been lied to for a very long time and that was extremely upsetting. Several years later, I went to my first protest in Atlanta, Georgia in 2009; from there I began blogging and continued my activism.
Once I moved to CA, I felt like I needed to do more. After I saw how well the cannabis industry was growing and people of color were still going to jail for weed, I wanted to get involved. I wanted to help change the laws because I wanted to help keep people safe, including my own family.
Marijuana for medical purposes has become a household term with an astonishing 81-89% support in the polls and rising. In doing my research, I ran across a workshop you led on lupus, answering questions about your own medical condition to a supportive audience. You were pleased people wanted to know. Can you explain a little about lupus — symptoms, who gets it, how to prevent flare-ups and what results you’ve had treating it with cannabis?
Lupus is an autoimmune disease that causes inflammation throughout the body. It can attack any organ at any time. Some symptoms of lupus are fatigue, joint pain, rash and fever. Lupus affects a number of people; however it is seen mainly in women of color. I’ve had great success in treating some of the symptoms caused by lupus with cannabis. Heavy indicas and topicals help sore joints and muscle pains. Bath soaks infused with cannabis are also very helpful.
On a personal level, is your health the key to what connects you to cannabis?
I was diagnosed with lupus and other autoimmune diseases when I was 33 years old. I have been sick most of my life. I was a very sickly child. I noticed that when I began smoking cannabis many of the symptoms I was suffering from disappeared. The anxiety I was dealing with in school also dissipated. I became a daily cannabis smoker shortly after trying cannabis for the first time.
What are the most impactful decisions you’ve made in your life?
Moving to California was the biggest and most impactful decision I’ve made so far in my life. I moved here very sick and I only knew one person. I was scared that I’d be too sick to make it on my own. Living in California has allowed me to pursue my dreams and feel that there is no limit to what I can accomplish.
Has it been difficult finding your place as a Black woman in the cannabis community where the goal of diversity is still unfulfilled, to our great detriment?
It has been an interesting journey being a Black woman in the cannabis industry. It is largely dominated by white males. I have never dealt with as much sexism as I have in this industry. It is a great challenge. However, anything worth doing is often challenging.
What kinds of disrespect do you see the most? Please break it down.
I believe men in cannabis feel that they have dominated the space for a long time. That includes male growers, dispensary owners/operators, processors. Men have really had a stronghold on the cannabis industry for a long time. I feel that men try to hold women in certain positions, and keep them there. Budtenders, sales reps and edibles makers is where you see many women — the “pretty face” of the institution or literally in the kitchen. Women must do our part to let our voices be heard, and break out of these stereotypical positions. As women we excel in every position we are in.
That brings up your job at Magnolia Wellness where you are highly respected for your hard work and large contribution as COO (Chief Operating Officer). How did you challenge the stereotypes and what factors caused you to get hired there? What do you do as COO?
My mentor Debby Goldsberry is the Executive Director at Magnolia Wellness. When she took over managing the dispensary she asked me if I would help her. I was so excited about the opportunity and took her up on the offer immediately. As the COO at Magnolia I set up the operating procedures and I make sure that they are running as efficiently as possible.
You are also one of the founders of Supernova Women, a new group of women of color focused on cannabis. I noticed that you called out the recent DEA decision not to remove marijuana from Schedule I as “an outrage”, while you also lead cooking with cannabis classes. What is Supernova’s big picture purpose?
Supernova aims to lower the barrier of entry into the cannabis industry for people of color. We also work to empower women of color to own cannabis businesses and help them become self-sufficient. I am one of the four founders of Supernova Women.
What avenues are there for people of color with skills and knowledge to overcome society’s marginalization? Should they start at home?
I feel that the lowest barrier of entry into the cannabis industry for anyone is through a home grow. That is how I got into the cannabis industry too. You can learn a lot from your own home grow. You can learn how to grow top shelf flower, process the plant into hash and edibles. If you are in an area that does not have a medical cannabis program, there are ancillary businesses that revolve around cannabis to tap into also.
Do you grow cannabis yourself? If so, where did your knowledge come from?
I have been a grower since 2007. I learned from ICMAG (an online forum) and I bought several grow books. Lots of reading and research, trial and error, and asking questions online helped me gain the knowledge to grow high-grade cannabis.
With so disproportionately few Black, Hispanic and Asian people employed in the industry, is racism a big factor?
Racism in the cannabis industry exists. The fear of people of color entering the industry also exists. We’ve been targeted in this War on Drugs for decades. Our families have encouraged us to NOT enter the industry, as they fear for our safety. The Drug War has broken apart many families and communities of color and made it fearful to participate. People of color are under much more scrutiny than their white counterparts. People of color are targets of illegal prosecutions and raids. It’s not fair but it’s been this way for years.
What is your take on police practices that routinely escalate in minor incidents — Sandra Bland not obeying the illegal order to put out her cigarette; someone selling loose cigarettes; someone else not moving fast enough to an order because they didn’t understand English or were mentally impaired?
I feel that the criminalization of cannabis has greatly impacted the escalation of police force, giving them “cause” to violate citizens’ rights because they claim to “smell weed”.
Are you in a position to reach out to communities of color through Supernova seeking their involvement, or should a larger coalition take that on? For instance an outreach campaign through NAACP, which has nationally called to End the Drug War and Dismantle Marijuana Prohibition, including dealing with drug addictions, poverty, discriminatory practices like redlining, and erasing barriers to entry into the cannabis industry so that productive employment is an option?
Currently Supernova Women hosts panel discussions and workshops for people of color looking to get into the cannabis industry or looking to expand their business within the cannabis industry. NAACP should look to partner with cannabis advocacy groups to spread the message far and wide to not only end the Drug War but to call on our people to participate in the legal cannabis market and give them the tools and support to do so.
What should rookie growers know to produce health-conscious cannabis from clones or seed? How do you feel about chemical pesticides?
I am a big fan of True Living Organics, a term from The Rev that is used to describe plants grown from rich organic soil. Feed the soil if you want to grow great cannabis; do not focus on feeding the plant.
Is there a special connection between women and weed?
There will always be a special connection between women and cannabis. After all, a flower-producing cannabis plant is a female plant!
How can cannabis change the World, as we know it?
Cannabis is an enlightening plant. If the criminalization of cannabis comes to an end, this can have an outbound ripple effect to our entire civilization, as we know it. HEMP WILL SAVE THE PLANET.