Kendra Norwood wants to smoke.
She offers me a joint before our interview, sitting in her sunny, cozy apartment at Adams and Crenshaw, where she lives with her partner and a sweet pitbull named Daisy Mae. But weed often clouds my ability to be a close listener, and I really want to hear what this extremely charismatic polymath has to say. A fairly recent transplant to Los Angeles — she moved to the city in mid-2018 — Norwood spent a decade in New Orleans prior to her arrival, and the hospitality of that city still runs thick in her blood.
“I started smoking pot — which is what I learned it as, when I was 18,” she explains between puffs. “Up until moving to LA I smoked recreationally, literally to be stoned. But my transition to LA gave me an opportunity to learn cannabis, and use it as medicine. Now, I use it as a grounding exercise. It’s very ritualistic for me. It used to be rolling blunts, but because I’m aware of the effects of tobacco, mostly joints now, as well as cooking with it. Daisy Mae also gets dosed with CBD three times a week in her food. I’m very intentional about how I consume.”
As a Pastor’s Kid who grew up in Rapid City, South Dakota, weed was one of those completely taboo substances for Kendra when she was younger. “It was very drug-free, weed might as well have been cocaine or crack, any of those things were equivalent,” she remembered. “So being able to get past those stigmas, and learn about it as a plant and a medicine, and a tool for my own life has been very special. My relationship with cannabis is intimate, and in this moment it will be part of my life consistently, even if I can’t speak to forever.”
Along with using weed as medicine, ritual, and tool, Norwood’s connection to cannabis began to shift in another way when she started working in the budding (heh) industry as an advocate for social justice and equity. After moving to California, she became the West Coast Lead for Cannaclusive, an organization that supports diversity, inclusion, and education in the cannabis industry.
Founded in July of 2017 by Mary Pryor, Tonya Flash and Charlese Antoinette, Cannaclusive lobbies for restorative justice regarding the way Black and Brown people have historically been targeted and punished when it comes to selling and using weed, and helps make space for them as entrepreneurs in the expanding legal market. “The women of Cannaclusive are fucking phenomenal women,” she said. “To know that they do all these other things, and then come back to cannabis as a ritual is very inspiring.”
At Cinnamon’s launch party last May, Cannaclusive was present due to their familiarity with our sister publication, Dope Girls Zine. At the party, learning about what kind of work the organization does, it immediately became clear that Cinnamon and our community wanted to support them in all they do — especially on the ground in LA, where the legality of weed changes the conversation in a big way.
Some people assume Cannaclusive is a dispensary, or create their own brand of paraphernalia, pipes or vapes, but that isn’t the way their work in the space unfolds. “I tell people I work in cannabis, but not in the way you think,” Kendra said. ‘We’re an ancillary business, so we don’t touch the plant. We’re focused on social justice, social equity, and education in the cannabis space. When I moved to LA, I was initially in touch with Mary via Instagram, but that turned into me being very involved with them on the ground here. Anything on this side of the country, I have my hands and eyes on, and mostly, I produce events for them.”
Like the rest of the women involved with the organization, Kendra is involved in a handful of other projects, too. While in New Orleans, she befriended a band called CoolNasty, who also recently uprooted from Louisiana and transplanted to Los Angeles. Eventually, she evolved from friend of the band into their full-fledged manager, and has also recently begun to manage an interdisciplinary visual artist, Rei Lorin.
Aside from her work in cannabis and artist management, Norwood is a facilitator of Relational Mindfulness with a company called WE, a role that allows her to embrace the relational power she has been gifted with. “Sometimes people say, like, ‘yeah there’s good people in the world,’ I am one of those good people and I thrive in that,” she asserted. “I thrive in the kindness and the love that I can offer. I think being able to cultivate relationships is a big part of success in life. And the vision I have for my life and being successful is having relationships with really special people.”
Norwood also produces events for Pineapple Collaborative, a collective that seeks to connect and celebrate women who love food. Then, in her free time, she works a couple shifts a week at the Black-owned coffee shop, Hilltop Coffee + Kitchen. Though her collection of part-time jobs is very different from the structured, corporate job in radio she held down in New Orleans, the eclectic set up of her many LA career paths is working for Kendra in a new way: helping her be strategic with her time.
“The answer to making it work in Los Angeles was a bunch of different part-time jobs, with things that I’m passionate about — music, people, relationships, cannabis, Black and Brown people, and in that, I’m finding income,” she said. “So I’m running with it, and I’m loving it. And it’s a challenge, because I literally have five jobs, so I have to manage my time well enough that I can do all those things successfully and still be learning every step along the way.”
When I ask her dream for the future of cannabis, her response is instantaneous — no one should be in jail for using or selling weed. “Release everyone in the jails and the prisons that are there for cannabis,” she answered immediately. “That’s what those people and those humans and their families need. Once that does happen, the support beyond being released. Are those people being employed by the cannabis industry? Do they even have access? Can they be employed in the cannabis industry?”
Despite the current lack of diversity and inclusion in the cannabis space, and the overbearing whiteness of mainstream weed culture in Los Angeles, Norwood points to companies like Besito, who vocally oppose building a new system of legal marijuana while so many people from communities of color are still incarcerated. In September 2019, Besito partnered with the non-profit Equity First Alliance, who work to repair harm caused by the War on Drugs, to launch the campaign A Record Shouldn’t Last A Lifetime.
As initiatives like this become more common and gain more awareness, inequalities within the cannabis industry will shift. And Norwood is confident that her work with Cannaclusive – along with all the other projects she currently has a hand in — are leading toward a higher path for her own life as well. Los Angeles might not be her forever home, but for now, smoking weed and sharing stories in her West Adams apartment is exactly where she wants to be.
“I won’t be here forever, but I’m here for now,” she said. “And the work that I’m doing here is the foundation for the continuation of an incredible life.”
This profile first appeared in shortened form via LA streetwear company The Hundreds’ blog for our Hint of Cinnamon monthly collaboration.