Women.Weed.Wifi Is The Seattle Art Collective Looking To Switch Up The Cannabis Industry
“It’s important that we, as women of color, control the culture.”
When the state of Washington legalized recreational marijuana in 2012, it created a new business frontier — but in a rapidly gentrifying city like Seattle, the legal weed industry quickly found itself as a white and male dominated arena, and in some cases, created tension in communities of color. In response, Amanya Maloba and Janice Ibarra created Women.Weed.Wifi, an art collective for “badass chicks who pursue their dreams, are committed to building strong communities, and share the same love of cannabis” that’s gained a lot of traction in the last two years.
The collective quickly grew into selling merchandise and zines, operating a blog and YouTube channel, and hosting large scale events like the “Black Market,” where vendors of color can sell their art, spiritual services, and merchandise and keep 100% of the profits. After Ibarra and Maloba made the collective official, another young local Vanity Thomas joined them in 2016. The trio bonded over their shared experiences as artists of color in the cannabis industry.
“Women.Weed.Wifi was this organic thing that came together from all the conversations our friends were already having,” Maloba said. “We were all pretty much in the weed industry, working in fashion or retail in some way, and into the same music. So we wondered, ‘How can we present all of these elements together?’”
While the collective is focused on shaping Seattle’s legal weed culture, it’s also become a center for spirituality, the local music scene, and the arts for smokers and non-smokers alike. The FADER caught up Maloba, Ibarra, and Thomas to learn about sisterhood, the industry dynamic that sparked them to organize, and their vision for the city.
Amanya Maloba: Janice and I founded the collective in 2015, after the recreational marijuana industry had been legalized in Seattle. Everything was all new. The recreational store I was working at is located in the Central District, which is a historically black community — and [vendors] are definitely capitalizing on that. The same dudes that would chill around the corners and shit have been locked up and are still dealing with those repercussions from when it was illegal. And now, there’s these businesses selling there, making crazy amounts of money. Millions of dollars. The cannabis industry is definitely white, male dominated, and made up of young people who come from wealth. Even when people of color are in the industry as budtenders, there’s still the exploitation of black and youth culture for sales or business image. We’re being underpaid, and being viewed as more threatening and therefore disposable than white employees. Janice and I have experienced this personally, and have many friends who are budtenders of color in Washington and Oregon who have all experienced this. In a way, this winds up as a force against us, and think it’s important that we, as women of color, control the culture.
We don’t have an image that we’re trying to uphold because we’re creating it. We’re in charge of it, so we can change what we do at any point. I think that’s part of why people fuck with us. It’s because we talk about all kinds of stuff. Women.Weed.Wifi isn’t just about cannabis, or just music; we’re about spirituality, yoga, creative expression. Our community extends beyond the three of us, and I think that’s been the best part.
“We don’t have an image that we’re trying to uphold because we’re creating it. We’re in charge of it, so we can change what we do at any point.”
Janice Ibarra: I think one of the main messages of the collective is that no one is self-made — we all exist because of our relationships. And Amanya and I vibed off of the spiritual aspect of marijuana, and it brought us together. We would smoke copious amounts of blunts and share stories with one another, sparking up ideas. The blunt was like a spell that got us entranced, and we connected through interlocking stories about failure, growth, and abuse. We wanted to find a way to feed this knowledge to others, or have it become a chain reaction. When we met, we connected over having multiple hustles. We were like, Fuck the idea of loyalty to these corporations and organizations. We should build a community of people we love, who love us back. We’re free agents.
To a degree, we are filling a void in dark places. This is our community. We’ve been rooted here. Ancestral empowerment is very important to us, as is feminism. To this day, there’s still a lack of spaces that allow women to be bold, you know? We hope that our courage inspires people. That’s the movement we need, that vivid demonstration. Doing what the fuck we want to do. Living from the heart and from a place of integrity. When you live from a place of honesty and then you meet other women who are honest as well, you can only go in the direction of healing.
We’re just each other’s plug, we rep each other to the fullest. We’re expanding into new arenas, and challenging ourselves. Our latest zine, which is called “Once Upon A Lit Time,” was titled after this analogy we have of how our friendship is like a blue flame. Each of us have a bright quality and when we revolve around each other, it just grows bigger.
Vanity Thomas: I first started working in the weed industry four and a half years ago, and I hadn’t told my family what I was doing for a solid three of those years. I met Janice and Amanya at the very first zine release, after I was approached by a mutual friend to contribute to the zine. After meeting them and learning what the collective was doing, I came to them with an outline and a proposal, and told them I really believed in the cause. Writing and organizing within this collective brought me this feeling and energy of family, and it was very uplifting. We all have things in our life that we have to hide, and this space is a positive space to be who you are. It’s about being your true self. I was going through a lot personally, and it was a really crucial time to have that positive energy in my life. I wanted to focus on my goals as a business woman, so I went full force with it. Women.Weed.Wifi was a judgment free space that empowered women, and I found that to be really valuable.
The thing about legal weed in Washington is that all of this is very new. What we’re doing is paving the way in how the culture is looked at, which is a huge responsibility. We’ve been so blessed with positive energy through social media, and people coming to our events — I’ve been blown away by how many people attend. I think it’s because they’re craving that sense of community. We’ve done a lot of fundraising for Native relief, where we set up donation buckets and stations, and that’s been really successful. It touches my heart because my mother is Native, and I went to Standing Rock myself last year. The fact that everyone in Seattle has opened their hearts and resources to help the cause has been amazing and breathtaking. I really do think we can really pave the way in culture, find our niche, and persevere.Women.Weed.Wifi, the Seattle art collective looking to shift Seattle’s cannabis industry, reclaim their community and pursue their dreams.
Women weed wifi
Women.Weed.WiFi is an art collective led by women of color that’s intent on challenging many of the stereotypes, stigmas, and disparities that surround women, young minorities, and marijuana. The collective gives space for artists from marginalized communities to learn about the medicinal and spiritual benefits of cannabis, as well as how the legal cannabis industry can bring about real change for people, particularly people of color.
Based in Seattle and founded by Amanya Maloba, Janice Ibarra, and Vanity Thomas, Women.Weed.WiFi writes weed reviews and “Mystic Marijuana” astrology posts, curates DJ mixes called “Swisher Sessions,” and provide spiritual healing services as “an alternative to expensive therapy, spas, and yoga classes.” The latter, WWWiFi’s Smoke + Stretch Series, allows participants to rejuvenate their mind, body, and spirit through yoga and guided meditation while safely exploring how cannabis can enhance the practice.
On top of curating events and safe spaces for women/femme of color to mobilize and celebrate all things marijuana, the collective also sells merch, including WWWiFi clothing and zines featuring cannabis-friendly creatives. The ladies released their first zine — Say Perhaps to Sobriety — in March 2016, less than a year after the collective began. This release focuses on “how we maintain our sanity — whether that includes sobriety or not.” Zines Hu$tle & Flow and Once Upon a Lit Time came next, each with their own themes and various contributors.
Creating zines was a natural way for Maloba, Ibarra, and Thomas to share art and connect with other like-minded women outside their home city. This weekend, the collective will release the fourth issue of its zine series, No Hell For Sinners. “This issue comes from the silent scream of living on the outskirts of society and what is deemed acceptable behavior while trying to survive and navigate the world,” shares Maloba. The crew elaborated on the project’s goal in a post on their site:
“This issue of the zine is for women who find their spiritual laws at odds with those of man; For those that dress up for court dates or who’ve ever said goodbye to an incarcerated parent or loved one. This is for those who pray for protection from the law and do whatever they want, for those who steal when they have to, and those who have permanently lost someone to the system or the hustle. For anyone that has previously been persecuted for weed… or if you’ve never been caught… We wanna know, is hustling in your blood? Would you do it again (are you still at it?)? Did you ever think it was all over, but somehow you escaped? Is your passion illegal? We want to know.”
Above, Vanity Thomas, Janice Ibarra, and Amanya Maloba — the founders of Women.Weed.WiFi — photographed by Meron Menghistab
The collective’s three founders all worked in medical and recreational dispensaries prior to forming the collective. The ladies say they experienced exploitative and unfair treatment, including racism and misogyny, as a result of being the only women and young people of color on staff. Rather than let their brushes with oppression deter them from pursuing their highest intentions, Maloba, Ibarra, and Thomas took it as an opportunity to create a platform and space for them to heal and grow; something that could unite other cannabis-inspired women artists and aspiring entrepreneurs of color, and ideally encourage more diversity in the legal cannabis industry.
“We started the collective to be a loving, healing, supportive space for ourselves where we can create without being under the gaze of a world that we find ourselves constantly at odds with,” Ibarra told MERRY JANE. “We have freedom that comes only from women/femme supporting and believing in one another.”
Although there are many cannabis organizations and feminist groups that claim to be “inclusive,” many of these supposedly intersectional groups don’t give much attention or extend their platform to young people of color, and/or individuals within the LGBTQ community. Women.Weed.WiFi believe this can lead to the perpetuation of racism, sexism, ageism, and classism being ignored or rarely addressed in the cannabis community.
“Intersectionality is a word that gets misused often, especially in regards to feminism and/or women’s liberation,” explains Maloba. “Intersectional theory was coined by a black woman, Kimberlé Crenshaw, to describe the complexity of experiencing oppression and discrimination when multiple parts of your identity are marginalized and subject to exclusion, and everything is integrated and interrelated including racism, sexism, and classism. This point of intersection is where black and brown feminism, or womanism, was created to redefine.”
In building a community of cannabis-inspired women of color artists, healers, and community activists, Women.Weed.WiFi have employed their voices and platform to advocate for true intersectionality in the legal marijuana space. In the same manner that flowers of the female cannabis plant bring healing and insight to the lives of those who seek it out, the ladies have empowered young female minorities, artists, and entrepreneurs to tap into their own divine feminine energy. And, as the collective rightly points out, this energy and presence is notably absent from the majority of cannabis businesses and startups.
“While the cannabis industry is exciting in its visibility of women, many of these professional women and prominent cannabis groups are predominantly created by and for white women, so we black, indigenous, women of color (BIWOC) are not included even there,” says Maloba. “This is why it was so important we carve out a space to provide support and share resources with other BIWOC.”
The collective’s criticism falls in line with racial disparities across the cannabis industry, as well as decades of disproportionate incarceration rates within minority communities. The echo chamber initiated by Women.Weed.WiFi is intended to drown out the murmuring of those who doubt the vision and ultimately shatter the status quo.
That said, the WWWiFi team willingly admits they have their work cut out for themselves: “From our experience, businesses and owners don’t always take us seriously or feel the need to treat us with the same professionalism they would extend if we were 40-something white men in business suits,” says Thomas. In the past, the group has been screwed out of payment for their services, and notes that cannabis brands have rejected working with them based on seemingly racially-motivated biases.
The ladies of WWWiFi hope that by sharing their experiences in the cannabis industry, they will inspire others to stand up for what they believe in. Maloba, Ibarra, and Thomas will continue to use the WWWiFi platform, as well as zines, curated events, and collaborations, to advocate for women, young people of color, and cannabis until their vision of a more progressive legal weed industry becomes reality.
“We hope to continue to use the cannabis industry as one of many frontiers to improve the quality of life for our people, using cannabis to heal individuals and our communities at large. We want to see black, indigenous, people of color be able to create generational wealth for themselves,” says Thomas.“We started the collective to be a loving, healing, supportive space for ourselves where we can create without being under the gaze of a world that we find ourselves constantly at odds with." ]]>