The Rocky Road for Black Cannabis Entrepreneurs, Past and Present – Capital and Main – DC Initiative on Racial Equity
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This story is the fourth in a four-part series about cannabis equity in America.

When the 1980s wrapped, Ondria Smith was a 20-year-old dealer living on the Westside of Los Angeles.

Her flashy boyfriend trafficked in rock cocaine while she stuck with the green stuff, which she came up seeing as a signifier of health and good luck.

Mary Jane was enough. Delivering the plant earned her that sweet Monte Carlo. Dripped in trendy outfits, she would stroll her 5’1”, 105-pound body into the full range of happening Southern California parties.

Smith didn’t do dime bags. She only sold twenties and fifties, until cops busted her on the way to a sale in 1990. Mary Jane had seemed more than enough, actually, until Smith was taken into state custody.

*  *  *

Jesce Horton is an engineer who’s worked internationally. Massive weed fan. Growing up around the Southeast, he found his world rocked by misdemeanor arrests three times.

Today the 39-year-old sells pot that he grows legally. That Horton’s plying his craft in breathtakingly white Oregon makes him an almost literal one-of-one.

Though Smith’s and Horton’s trips through criminalized cannabis come about a dozen years apart, her past and his future illuminate the relationship between expungement and business equity on the road to cannabis fairness.

*  *  *

Ondria Smith in 1989.

Smith had been so certain she was going home on that day in 1991 that she didn’t even let her mother know about that day in court.

The way her life had been working before that game-changing night in Gardena:

Smith would leave her trainee desk at the Hall of Records downtown and light out for wherever discerning smokers congregated: Malibu. Orange County. The Valley.

“We’d go to Ontario, in the Inland Empire, to a party. I’d barely be in the door before I heard, ‘Hey, Ondria’s got some good weed!’”

She would sell out. Three, four, five hundred late-20th-century dollars’ worth would be gone by the time she would split.

With that one traffic stop, everything changed.

*  *  *

In 1990 there was no Cash App through which to hit up Smith. Most of her business got done in bills and after dark.

No Instagram assistance, but she did keep a 9mm gun in her purse. And when that Gardena cop stopped her — she says — randomly, he asked to show him her license, and when she did, he caught the unmistakable scent of cannabis terpenes.

Then he glimpsed her protection. She remembers him telling her not to reach.

Another officer ran the gun, told Smith it was clean, and said he would be taking both it and the damningly pungent two-and-a-half ounces of marijuana. Smith drove to her West L.A. apartment and, for months, took legal advice from family, friends and freelance street lawyers that amounted to:

“Girl, you’ve never been in trouble. Don’t worry.” 

A Farmer Is Born

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