The past year has been, for me and many others, a deep rumination on gratitude. Grateful to be alive, grateful for my loved ones, grateful I get to engage with quality cannabis in all its forms on a regular basis. Work from home orders and a new “essential” status mean a lot more people are smoking, eating, vaping, and eating at home, incorporating herb into their daily rituals and routines rather than waiting for the weekend. These rituals can be packing a bowl of, say, Grape Pie at lunch, smoking a dog-walker mini-joint on a neighborhood stroll, or spiking your morning omelet with infused umami oil or Sriracha.
As California reopens, let’s keep advancing. 2020 showed how cannabis was essential to the whole country, yet it highlighted shortcomings in diversity, sustainability, and equity. May is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, and much of what we know as California culture is owed to these communities’ contributions. In fact, today’s strains often descend from landrace plants in India, Pakistan, China, and Thailand. California is the American ganja epicenter, informed by generations of immigration and collaboration between cultures and communities. Asian American pot operators defy the cliche that they don’t partake, that cannabis is deviant, that they don’t belong in the industry.
“There’s a lot of stigma, especially with the elderly [AAPI community],” says Jessica Sharp, Co-Founder of conscious entertainment company Nouera and recently launched brand Smallz. “We received a lot of aggression, but behind closed doors, people were asking for recommendations. Part of the responsibility of Asian Americans is to destigmatize cannabis. It’s been used as medicine in Asia for thousands of years, but that history has been so oppressed in the community.”
What better time to clip that oppression in the bud? Try these stand-out THC experiences from six leading AAPI-owned brands. Leafly got the lowdown from the kickass individuals behind them.
We don’t recommend putting a few drops of this under the tongue; you may burn off your taste buds before the high sets in. The Emerald Cup-winning hot sauce by Potli comes in a 4oz dropper bottle with 100 mg of THC oil, making it ideal for potstickers, but not for those looking to catch a strong buzz.
Potli CEO, Co-Founder, and Bay Area native Felicity Chen knew she’d probably never get her mother to smoke weed, but she found a way to rope her into her canna-culinary business, and change her mind about the plant.
Chen’s family had worked in the food industry for generations, providing traditional spices and seasonings to restaurants, and her parents had just started beekeeping to harvest their own honey as a homeopathic remedy. That honey would become the inaugural Potli product and is still sourced from Chen’s parents’ backyard.
In just a couple of years, Potli has expanded to offer an unrivaled array of infused cooking ingredients that provide consumers a savory and spicy break from the usual overly-sugared edible market, from umami chili oil to apple cider vinegar. The line’s products often have two versions: the versions found in dispensaries and through delivery services will contain THC. Their site, however, offers products that don’t impart a high, using hemp-derived CBD and the non-psychoactive CBN, so they can be purchased online, no matter where you live. Good luck finding the Sriracha!
The Emerald Cup’s 2021 winners and where to buy them
Cannabis’ global history doesn’t fully translate to dispensary shelves or the stoner media canon. Humanity’s earliest medical texts—from ancient China—prescribe the drug.
“My parents practice Eastern Asian medicine; it’s about balance, and that’s what cannabis does. People now spend so much time at home, and our products are perfect for that, for ritualizing those good habits into a routine.”
2021 will also see the launch of Potli’s first flower product, a pre-roll collaboration with fellow Bay Area native Morris Kelly and his company SF Roots called “Protect Our Elders,” made with SFRoots’ Al Ajo strain and infused with Paradise Citrus live resin. The collaboration made sense—two operators from affected communities raising money for local mutual aid.
Where to get it:
LEUNE joints and vapes
Never vape the same thing twice. LEUNE’s speckled Naked disposable vaporizer contains extract from fresh-frozen buds sourced from a single hybrid strain that changes with the season.
‘What does it look like to build a brand that guides [consumers] towards the notes they’re trying to hit?’ is what LEUNE Founder and CEO Nidhi Lucky Handa would ask herself when building out her brand. The pot landscape is vast, and easy for casual users to get inundated in terminology while just trying to catch a nice buzz.
LEUNE launched on Eaze in 2019 as an accessible preroll and vaporizer brand. As of December 2020 now also offers flower eighths in five different types, like the indica-dominant CloudBerry or intriguing Naked, to suit people’s tastes day or night. A new varietal is in the works, as well as gram-bags for all existing themes.
The California pre-roll battle royale 2021
In 2020, LEUNE’s Piña Dream vaporizer sent proceeds to the Last Prisoner Project. For summertime they have a new philanthropic offering in the works, a Pax Pod called Hot Honey to raise funds for Equality California; launching June 1.
“Our industry is always under scrutiny and under a microscope,” she says. “This is what the plant represents: Diversity, community, kindness, compassion.”
Where to get it:
Asian cannabis history fast fact: Burning cannabis was used in Central Asian burial rituals as far back as 2,500 years ago, and spread throughout the continent through trade and migratory paths like the Silk Road.
Nouera Smallz mini-joints
Nouera co-founder Jessica Sharp would describe the company’s new pre-rolls Smallz as containing “pre-prohibition levels of THC.”
The joints are teeny, 0.2 grams each, packed five to a tube in sustainable packaging in Classic and Cosmic varieties. Both are cohesive strain blends; Classic will evoke an earthy stoniness, while Cosmic may inspire a more ephemeral experience.
Pot is only part of the Nouera experience. Founded by Cynthia Boedihardjo and Sharp in 2017, Nouera began as an entertainment company that sought to elevate social events by pairing them with cannabis and making them more accessible to women. They also wanted to foster a new era of socialization that didn’t hinge on alcohol consumption. Throughout the pandemic they’ve been streaming recipes, activities, and pairings as part of their @HomeExperiences.
After completing Eaze’s Momentum accelerator program, they also launched Smallz, their own line of pre-rolls, on Eaze on Lunar New Year earlier this year to give consumers something they could take outside. The pandemic paused Nouera events and shuttered weed lounges. But Nouera plans a comeback community lounge space for Japantown.
Where to get it:
- The Smallz products are exclusively on Eaze delivery.
Asian cannabis history fast fact: Ancient Indians and Persians lauded cannabis as a sacred plant, and it came to Jamaica by way of Indian indentured servants.
Biko Juseyo diamonds pre-rolls
Diamonds are a stoner girl’s best friend, so Timeka Drew put some (THCa) carats in her new infused craft prerolls for Biko, for intense medication you can still work through.
Drew wants to change your idea of what a heavy weed user looks like. She started her cannabis journey nearly 20 years ago as a medical marijuana patient in Los Angeles, and swiftly transitioned into advocacy and activism, helping the first dispensaries land ads in LA Weekly. She’s worked in nonprofits and helped countless applicants through the wringer to get permitted in the new rec market. As a longtime South Central Los Angeles resident, she was equity-eligible and obtained the permits necessary to launch her own brand, Biko, mid-pandemic.
Biko, the Nigerian Igbo word for “please” is a nod to Drew’s mixed ancestry. Their inaugural products, the Juseyo preroll and Juseyo (THCa) Diamonds preroll, translate in Korean to “please pass me,” in a nod to Drew’s husband-slash-business partner’s heritage. The infused Juseyo joints even placed fifth in this year’s Emerald Cup preroll category before public release. A selection of flower eights, the Red Series, is about to drop and Drew plans to release a broader offering through 2021. The ultimate goal is a Biko storefront that doubles as an artistic space.
“You can be an incredibly successful woman, executive boss and be a cannabis user.”
Timeka Drew, Co-Founder Biko
Cannabinoids are for everyone, from the most skittish, casual tokers, to the day-to-night dabbers, to the topical moms.
“There’s this [perception that] ‘Women don’t medicate, they just want to dip a toe in, they want CBD products.’ We wanted to create a brand that was the antithesis of that: this is created by women who are connoisseurs, for connoisseurs, people who are looking for high-potency products that are functional. You can be an incredibly successful woman, executive boss, and be a cannabis user.”
Drew co-founded the mentorship and media platform Our Academy, along with Hilary Yu to help social equity operators and others that don’t see themselves in the weed landscape.
Where to get it:
Remember Grape Pie? This brand’s weed tastes like a purple Skittle.
If you’ve cruised through San Francisco’s Financial District, you’ve likely glimpsed the iconic TransAmerica Pyramid. The enduring city landmark anchors tantalizing graphic designs by artist Aaron Kai for San Francisco-based brand Permanent Holiday.
They offer a range of flower products including pre-rolls, eighths, and vaporizer cartridges, sourced from Humboldt County. Strains include classics like Platinum OG Kush and Grape Pie, and exclusive offerings like Boba.
Where to get it:
Asian cannabis history fast fact: Vietnam War veterans brought seeds back to the United States that contributed to some of the biggest strains of today.
Packaged to resemble a vintage SFMTA transfer, these 10mg gummies perfectly balance sour and stony.
The Sunset Connect origin story is one for the ages. Founder Ali Jamalian grew up in Dusseldorf, Germany, and used to sneak over to Amsterdam’s coffeeshops to smoke in his youth. He opted to attend college in San Francisco, where he fell in love with all its possibilities for weed lovers and entrepreneurs. When police raided his undergrad weed business, he served his time and returned to Europe voluntarily to work in marketing, but couldn’t stay away from the city by the bay.
Jamalian founded Sunset Connect officially in 2014, and in 2015 began gearing up for the passing of Proposition 64. Jamalian’s record made him eligible as an equity applicant and Sunset Connect the first equity-owned manufacturer in San Francisco. They produce bulk flowers, hash, pre-rolls, gummy edibles, and a killer topical gel, and have collaborated with local nonprofits like United Playas and cultural figures like local rapper San Quinn.
Shop these 5 excellent Black-owned cannabis brands of California
“All we really care about is the city, we truly care about people here liking our stuff,” he says. And in a city as expensive as San Francisco, accessibility is crucial to connecting with people.
“I wanna be like the every day, good, bang for your buck—not Dom Pérignon. I’m a grower and I wouldn’t spend like that!”
Jamalian also serves on the Cannabis Oversight Committee and hopes to expand on the city’s existing equity program for others who have gone through what he did. And no, the SFMTA doesn’t sponsor them.
Where to get it:
Much more AAPI cannabis excellence
The complete rundown of superb Asian American weed operators would blow your mind. Here are a few more:
- If you’ve ever wanted your vaporizer to look like a vintage lipstick, or low-dose pastilles fit for a garden party, check out Beboe, co-founded by Clement Kwan.
- Try to eat just one Mellows, a THC-infused marshmallow. Founder Stephanie Hua founded the SF brand in 2015 and also wrote a book titled Edibles.
- Update your drug rug with Korean-born siblings Dae and Cindy Lim’s classy stoner streetwear Sundae School line of hoodies, tops, athletic wear, and accessories.They also offer limited supplies of Sundae School pre-rolls in Cali.
- Not every eligible patient has access to a doctor who can help them find not only the best product, but also the appropriate dose. Nurse Practitioner Me Fuimaono-Poe created the Alia app for patients to take a research-based approach to their cannabis and CBD care plan, which formulates a prescription that patients can take to a medical dispensary, as well as track how it works.
Celebrate more AAPI cannabis excellence in the comments below.