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There are so many aspects of health that disproportionately affect the Black community, and yet less than six percent of US doctors are Black — a deficit that only further harms public health. Many of the Black folks who work in healthcare have dedicated their careers to combat inequities. That’s why, this Black History Month, PS is crowning our Black Health Heroes: physicians, sexologists, doulas, and more who are advocating for the Black community in their respective fields. Meet them all here.
Growing up in a dry household, the last thing Payton Shubrick — the owner of 6 Brick’s Cannabis Dispensary — thought she would be doing for a living was selling marijuana. “There was no drinking or smoking in my house, and I grew up with the mindset that if you smoked cannabis, a lot of bad things would happen to you,” Shubrick tells POPSUGAR. “Everyone I know who smoked was labeled as the bad kid or a troublemaker. My perception of the plant was extremely skewed.”
But then Shubrick, who has a degree in political science, began to see inequities in recreational marijuana use as it started becoming legal in certain states in the mid-2010s. “The Cannabis Control Commission, which is the governing body for the state of Massachusetts, designated areas of disproportionate impact a few years ago,” she says. “This means that when the plant wasn’t legal to sell or use, these areas were the ones that were hit harder than others, in terms of people of color being arrested and going to jail at a higher rate than their white counterparts.” Her hometown of Springfield, MA, was one of those areas.
Weed first became legal in Massachusetts in 2012 for medicinal use and then in 2016 for recreational use. It was clear to Shubrick by that time that the tides were turning in terms of attitudes around marijuana use. But the effect of the war on drugs — an effort created by President Richard Nixon in the 1970s to curb illegal drug use — had a lasting and discriminatory impact that spanned decades. The result for marijuana use? Black people today are more than 3.5 times more likely to be arrested for cannabis possession than their white counterparts, despite both groups using the drug at similar rates.
The glaring inequalities in the cannabis space became more apparent to Shubrick when it was made legal in Massachusetts. Except this time, the disparity was in who was accessing licenses to sell. According to Shubrick, 6 Brick’s was granted one of only four licenses out of a class of 26 during her application period. It was also the only Black-owned company given one.
“[T]hese people were comfortable creating a narrative that I simply wouldn’t know what I was doing because of my gender and the color of my skin.”
Of almost 400 dispensaries in the state, a quick Google search will reveal that fewer than 20 identify as Black-owned. Even fewer, as woman-owned. As a Black woman, Shubrick’s journey to getting her cannabis license wasn’t the first time she was the only one who looked like her within a larger group. Frustratingly, something that should have been celebrated instead resulted in underhand offers and “advice” from people who presumed the brand was a pipe dream.
“I had so many experienced operators essentially tell me that I was in over my head,” Shubrick says. “I always say ignorance is bliss when it comes to building a business, so while I was unaware of exactly how large of an undertaking building 6 Brick’s was going to be, these people were comfortable creating a narrative that I simply wouldn’t know what I was doing because of my gender and the color of my skin.”
While she has often encountered false assumptions about her race and gender, Shubrick says some of the most shocking criticism came from her own community. “I’ve had other Black folks say things like, ‘How’re you going to sell drugs to your own community?’ and call me a sellout,” she says.
However, Shubrick says her purpose is “the complete opposite.” “I want people to buy cannabis from someone and a company that they feel good about supporting,” she explains. “They don’t have to constantly be reminded that white people are exponentially getting richer from the same plant that their loved ones from a generation or two before had their lives destroyed by.”
This desire to change the narrative around cannabis in the Black community is at the core of 6 Brick’s, and Shubrick intends to keep it that way. “We hire over 50 percent of our staff from the City of Springfield with a particular focus on people of color, women, veterans, and members of the LGBTQIA community,” she says. Shubrick also hosts educational events and fundraisers; she says she wants others to understand the past and use it to change the future. As she puts it, “It’s my goal to be authentic about acknowledging the harm that was done here and also to help people unpack that history so that they can use cannabis to better their day-to-day lives.”
Given this lofty mission, Shubrick says that she doesn’t have as much work-life balance as she’d like, but it’s her family, who helped her start 6 Brick’s, that keeps her going. “At its core, 6 Brick’s is a testament to the powers of community and family,” she shares. “My favorite memory from this journey so far has to be my dad being our first customer. It’s proof that regardless of what people say, family shows up. Black fathers show up — consistently. It’s a beautiful reassurance to have as we build this legacy.”
Image Source: Courtesy of Payton Shubrick