How Asian-Americans Are Beating the Stigma and Breaking Through the Cannabis Industry

Apr 20, 2022

What's the opportunity for Asian Americans in the cannabis industry and for the weed industry with Asian American consumers. 

It’s not uncommon for children of immigrant households to face a tsunami of backlash when it comes to discussion of any illegal substance use. Thus, with an industry as precarious as marijuana, one might not think of Asian-Americans to be the ones to step up to the plate and shape the landscape. As a by-product of toxic stereotypes, it is often expected of Asians to lay low and play by the rules, rather than blaze the trail in a booming, still-in-prohibition-stage industry. However, we at PingPong Digital believe that it’s time to move past this narrative, and many Asian-Americans are already way ahead of the game.

Asia’s medical cannabis market could be worth $5.8 billion

The prohibition of cannabis is a tale as old as time, and it is still relevant in our lives today. However, the embracement and legalization of the plant is increasing prolifically. As of now, recreational marijuana is legal in 19 states, and 27 states are moving towards legalization as well after decriminalizing the drug. Additionally, legal cannabis presents an astounding financial opportunity, providing over 428,000 full-time jobs in the U.S. and a 33% increase in jobs just last year.

Nonetheless, the war on drugs still persists, and Asian countries with memories of history tainted by the harmful effects of drug exploitation remain buried in their subconscious. And despite the fact that cannabis has been cultivated in traditional Chinese medicines for millennia, stigmatization of the drug remains strong. In defiance of all the frowned-upon misconceptions, though, a rising tide of Asian-American activists and entrepreneurs are forging their lane in the industry, as well as rectifying the lack of cannabis education and advocacy within the Asian-American diaspora.

Most notable of these initiatives may be Asian Americans for Cannabis Education (AACE), founded by Ophelia Chong, which empowers Asian communities to educate the public on cannabis news and policy affecting Asians worldwide. Jenn Wong, VP of Marketing at Curaleaf, has also spoken about how crucial positive reinforcement around the benefits of the plant is when marketing cannabis consumption, so as to combat the trite stoner stereotype. Geraldine Mae Cueva also created the consultancy platform, Art and Times of Chill, as a way to connect her love for plants with her passion for helping people of color develop their businesses. Her online smoke break and community platform Sesh-Ins and her Amplify Your Chill podcast both explore the art of well-being tied to the benefits of the plant.

Even in the face of social stigmas, the market for cannabis among Asian communities is high and continually growing. From 2016-2019, marijuana use among young adult (18-25 y.o.) Asian and Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islanders grew from 223k users to 278k in the U.S. Studies also showed that a significant portion of Southeast Asians living in the San Francisco Bay Area found smoking marijuana to be a way to cope with the all-too-familiar stresses of home and community life – a sentiment that prevails today as cultural pressures and expectations for the demographic remain alive and well.

the market for cannabis among Asian communities is high and continually growing

As recreational marijuana is normalized across the U.S., businesses revolving around the  plant founded by Asian-Americans are cropping up prolifically. As specialists in reaching the global Chinese demographics, we are also seeing sentiments shift on the consumer side, as interest toward hemp, cannabis, and CBD products rise explosively. For example, Mia Park and Dae Lim, founders of fashion line Sundae School, offer what they call “boutique smokewear” that incorporates subtle references to cannabis such as a cap with a loop-hole for your spliff, joint, or pen. They also launched a line of edibles featuring classic Asian flavors such as lychee, milk tea, and sour yuzu. Potli is another brand that pushes the boundaries for what specifically Asian snacks and condiments can be when it comes to cannabis healing. Founder Felicity Chen took initiative when her mother refused to smoke cannabis for her autoimmune disease, cultivating food that could be used as ailments. Potli’s products range from CBD honey to infused shrimp chips.

Medical cannabis is also gaining momentum in Asia. While recreational use of marijuana is fast-growing in Western countries, medical marijuana is more likely to take prominence and outperform in Asian countries. Currently, South Korea and Thailand are spearheading the legalization of medical marijuana with government licenses. Other countries such as Japan, Singapore, and China are also actively looking into the plant’s health-care applications.

Despite ongoing conservative mindsets, the investment opportunities in Asia are promising. Prohibition Partners estimated that by 2024, Asia’s medical cannabis market could be worth $5.8 billion.  All of this could potentially point to more Asian countries opening up and alleviating the taboo around the plant as a whole, and may be a sign of even more significant progress down the line.