Rávn Rae is the founder of MEZ. One of Jamaica's first established head shops, MEZ provides a variety of smoke accessories from chalices to water pipes. In fact, MEZ delivers products across the Caribbean and even to the United States. Growing up in Jamaica, Rávn is no stranger to ganja. Having spent her whole life around the plant, Rávn cannot remember a time when the herb wasn't a part of her life. Passionate about sharing her love and knowledge of ganja, Rávn aspires to open the first medical marijuana dispensary in Jamaica. When she isn't running her smoke shop, Rávn enjoys meditating and spending time in nature.
Starting out, what inspired you to first open MEZ?
I would say the first thing that inspired me was that I wanted to be my own boss. I wanted to create my own legacy. I grew up surrounded by strong female entrepreneurs. My entire family, we've always been around ganja/weed. Whether it be recreationally, medicinally, or traditionally. I also saw that there was a need for what I wanted to do in the marketplace – for a head shop in Jamaica.
Everyone thinks that all Jamaicans smoke marijuana but that's not true. While a high percentage of us do, it’s not true that everyone does. Because of this stereotype, you’d automatically think that head shops would be found everywhere and that isn't the case. So, I wanted to create the first comprehensive head shop that included not only smoking paraphernalia but vaping paraphernalia as well. That’s really where my inspiration came from. Just seeing that need, wanting to be my own boss, and having been around the plant for many years. I also wanted to actually help people.
It gives me an immense joy to really help someone. I have a deep understanding of the beneficial factors surrounding ganja. I thought that I could show people – I could kind of break the stereotype. Because there is still the stereotype in Jamaica where people view ganja as this bad drug that leads to other complications and causes psychotic episodes. I wanted to show people a different perspective. To give people a medium where they could use ganja in a way that would actually benefit them.
What does a day in the life of Rávn consist of today?
A day in the life of Rávn? Wow! Okay, so that really entails a lot! Focusing on my health and how I can better provide my customers is a lot of my day. I'm also looking up the new trends coming out in the cannabis industry and planning for the future of MEZ. In between all of that, I'm also keeping my home up and running like any woman would want. That's my life in a nutshell. But how would I start my day off?
I always start off with a very healthy breakfast. Usually, I try to get some exercise in as well. Then, I try to approach the social media aspects of the store. Anything that needs my attention on a social media level I’ll handle. Early in the morning, I'm dealing with all of my emails and paperwork that I need to do. If I can make it, later in the day, I try to head to the store. Fortunately, I have an assistant who is there full-time. When I am able to be at the store I ask for feedback on what customers are saying, what they like, and what issues I can resolve. Basically, how can I make my customers and employees happier?
I want people who work for me to be as happy as possible. So that they not only can enjoy what they do but also be a great ambassador for my brand. In the evening, I start to wind down a bit. I go into the research aspect of the business. My days fluctuate – some days are full and then some days are a little lighter. When the days are a little lighter, I use that time to get any personal things I want to get done. But one thing I would say is that you have to take moments throughout the day for some alone time. You need time to meditate and clear your mind. Just to get some ‘you’ time. That is really important.
Has ganja changed your life, and if so, in what way?
That’s a very interesting question primarily because ganja has always been in my life. On a personal level, it's hard to voice what it would have been like without it. But ganja has opened my eyes. I'm not sure how to explain this but I've always seen there were benefits to a natural healer like marijuana. That ganja could help us heal ourselves and allow us to live better lives than if we were taking chemicals from pharmaceutical companies.
I had a little bit of anxiety and other health issues in the past. Marijuana has alleviated those physical, mental, and emotional ailments for me. Which is why I want to share this knowledge. If I can meet someone that can also benefit from ganja, I'm happy to provide it. To hear those success stories, people being so pleased they’ve found an alternative to a chemical tablet or pill, there is no greater joy.
What are your thoughts on “big business” coming into Jamaica?
From an investment side, that is a great thing for Jamaica. However, if you are an investor from outside of Jamaica who would like to come into the cannabis industry here, you must have a Jamaican partner. I was very happy that the government agreed to keep that as one of the requirements to investing in the cannabis industry in Jamaica. It was a concern for all of us.
We wanted to keep Jamaica heavily involved in all the investments that were taking place but didn't want it to become a resource drain. So, I really like the approach that the licensing authority and regulatory bodies have taken to ensure that the Jamaican people are still protected. My point of view is that I’m happy. I’m happy that there will be this investment, it will help the economy. But I’m even happier that a Jamaican person has to be involved. You want to make the playing field as level as possible. I’m glad that they are serious about doing that in Jamaica.
How would you describe the people of Jamaica relationship with ganja?
Well, you know, the history of ganja in Jamaica goes very far back. Most people associate ganja with The Rastafarian faith. And this is getting into some deep Jamaican history but there was a divide. A socioeconomic divide between Rastafarians and other citizens in Jamaica. You had people living in the rural regions of Jamaica who have used ganja in traditional medicinal methods for years. In addition, a lot of people in Jamaica also used ganja for sacramental purposes.
On the other side, you had people in Jamaica who didn't use ganja. In fact, they thought you would go crazy or have a psychotic episode if you did. That if you smoked weed, you were not going to do anything with your life. So there was this divide. But since the US relaxed their drug laws, the people of Jamaica saw that there was a changing tide. Globally in a sense – especially because we are so heavily influenced by the United States and their laws. The general public in Jamaica is far more accepting of ganja now. While you're still going to have the people who don’t use it for whatever reason, we're finding that number is dropping.
So culturally, ganja has impacted the people of Jamaica in many ways. Ganja is something that you would see, for example, at a reggae music festival. You see people smoking weed in dancehall parties and in the dancehall community. Marijuana isn't only on the streets here, it's in people's homes. In the past from my observation, approximately 45% of Jamaicans were in favor of ganja. Today, that number is approximately 80%. Stereotypes are being broken. People are learning to really cultivate the plant in a manner that is not only used for recreation but for medicinal purposes as well.
What role do women in the Caribbean have when it comes to the future of ganja?
Ganja is a marketplace for everyone. I believe there are women that could get involved and greatly benefit from it. It is usually the men in the family working with ganja – the husbands, fathers, and uncles. Women can get involved with marijuana and be able to benefit, assist, and provide for their families as well. Being from Jamaica, people can go outside and learn about the plant.
It's not a very hard thing to do here. Jamaica is a matriarchal society. Anything that women try to get their hands on, we will all benefit greatly from. Jamaica is a country that has had ganja around for many years. The knowledge is literally at our fingertips. If a Jamaican woman were to become interested in the industry, I believe that she would do really well. Women can get things done! We organize and everything just flows better when there is a woman involved. So, the industry would probably run a lot easier. Woman power!