Throughout her life, The Dank Duchess has always been an artist in some form or another. In college, she took up web and graphic design, teaching herself how to create visual works. Later, she pursued her Masters in Landscape Architecture. However, in the middle of her thesis, it became clear landscape architecture wasn't right for her. So, she decided to help her husband develop an on-location spa company in Miami Beach. Flash forward to 2013, the business was a huge success. Still, though, something was missing. The Dank Duchess lacked the freedom to enjoy cannabis. It was time to head west. In late 2013, she attended Oaksterdam University. Determined to work as a budtender, she searched high and low for employment opportunities. However, nothing came through. As fate would have it, though, she was able to meet and learn from Hash Master Frenchy Cannoli. This led to an invitation to write for Weed World Magazine. Combining her talent for writing and passion for learning – it was the opportunity of a lifetime. Today, The Dank Duchess is a full-time hash maker and writer. In fact, she even cultivates her own flowers for hashish. Residing in Oakland, California The Dank Duchess is an active part of the cannabis community.
In the beginning, what inspired you to first get involved with cannabis?
Well, it really was an evolution over time. At one point, I was pursuing my Master's in Landscape Architecture. I left my last semester. I had come to hate landscape architecture. Ok, while it's not true that I completely hated it, at that moment in time I did. I realized I hated doing landscape architecture. However, writing about and talking about landscape architecture was super interesting to me. I knew that I didn’t want to pursue the program anymore. It was killing me softly and slowly.
I started my Master’s program because I wanted to get out of my job. I was working in education and wanted to work within architecture but I got waitlisted for the program. However, there was an opening in the Landscape Architecture program. At the time, I’m thinking cool, maybe this will be like HGTV. It was not. I learned a lot about myself during that process. I improved my graphic skills. I learned about presentation. I definitely took things away out of that experience.
Coming into the cannabis industry, I knew no one. My husband and I had only one contact, the director at Oaksterdam University. So we made the decision to move out to California without really knowing anyone. When we first arrived, I tried to get a job as a budtender. I felt that the budtenders had access to the most knowledge in the sense that they dealt with the customers and the growers. But no one would hire me. So I ended up falling into doing hash.
In Florida, the most hash I had ever smoked was the equivalent of half of a fingernail. My husband had brought home a little hashish and we had taken just this little bit. So I really knew nothing about hash. The way I came into making hashish was when we first came out to California. We were doing some preliminary searching and trying to take care of things like finding an apartment, job hunting, and speaking. We also wanted to get our medical cards. We managed to do so within about 3 days.
When we were in California, there was a Cannabis Cup being held in Santa Rosa. At the cup, I attended a panel that had featured a big grower named Kyle Kushman. His claim to fame was that he really developed Veganic Growing as opposed to just Organic Growing. He really took things one step further in the growing world. I had read a couple of his articles online. I knew who he was. So when he finished speaking on the panel, I walked up to him and said,
“No one has ever told me that before.”
I ended up actually having a really great chat with him. He was so easy to talk with. Just having the opportunity to interact with him made me more comfortable there. Later, I ended up walking to this booth. It was by far the busiest booth there. Two guys were working the booth, one was a super hyper dude. I couldn't tell if he was faking an accent or not. I remember everyone around me was calling this man Frenchy. Next to him were what looked like gigantic tootsie rolls.
As someone who doesn't like chocolate, I wasn't remotely interested. I was ready to keep things moving. Then, my husband tells me it is hashish. I had no idea. So, we end up going up to the booth. I met the man named Frenchy. He ends up giving me this dab of hash. It was good.
To make a long story short, my husband and I went back to Florida and prepared to move. When we made it to California I once again tried to find a job as a budtender. No one would hire me. Meanwhile, we were blowing through our savings. I was so frustrated. I felt like I had so much to bring to the table. I couldn’t figure out what was stopping me. I would have these 19-year-olds beating me for the job every time. I realized I needed to talk to someone who was older in the industry for advice.
I saw there was a cannabis event coming up. I knew it was a good networking opportunity. As soon as I got there, I saw a guy wearing a shirt I recognized. It was the same t-shirt Frenchy was wearing. The guy with the tee pointed me towards Frenchy. Frenchy was giving a passionate speech to someone about hashish. I knew that I had to get to know this guy. So I asked him to go for coffee.
That week I met with Frenchy Cannoli and told him about my background in design. He was also a web designer in the 90s and early 2000s so we related on that level. I lamented to him these young people were not feeling me. I felt like I brought a lot to the table but couldn’t find my place in this industry. By the end of the week, Frenchy asked me if I would like to write for Weed World Magazine. He knew I liked to write and said that he enjoyed my communication style. I, of course, immediately jumped on the opportunity!
I assured Frenchy that I wanted to take the position. He said that if I was going to write about hash, I needed to know how to make hash. At the time, I had no idea how huge Frenchy was, especially when it came to hashish. I was just excited to learn. So I learned how to make hash, even passed his tests he put me through. And that was that. Frenchy assumed that was going to be the end of things. But once I learned how to make hash, I wanted to take things further. I knew the power of social media. I also saw the value of high-quality pictures and telling a good story.
So I decided to start making hash without him knowing around October 2014. By November, Frenchy was aware of what I was doing. However, he was supportive. It was a completely priceless mentorship. With Frenchy, I learned how to make my hash better, improve the presentation, and so much more – I’ve been really privileged to have him as a mentor.
Everything happens for a reason. Being an entrepreneur is what I do. My husband and I have run businesses since 2001. From meeting Frenchy to seeing how everything unfolded, I can say it was the universe at work. Dealing with the ups and downs of this industry has taught me a lot. If I had come and immediately landed a job, then maybe I wouldn’t have been as pressed to push further. I cherish the fact that it was really rough. I knew that I was not going back to Miami. I was going to make it in California.
What does a day in the life of The Dank Duchess consist of today?
It changes day-to-day but everything is focused around cannabis. If it is during the growing season, the first thing I do is go and check on my plants. I am growing outdoors and I have to worry about caterpillars. So I go out on my roof and take care of all the plants every morning. I also take care of my husband’s as well and my neighbor’s plants. This makes for a total of 59 plants. Taking care of the plants is a minimum of a 2-3 hour process. That is only if I am spending a few minutes with each plant. Sometimes I need to be up there tending for several hours.
After that, I’m usually working on making hash for about 3 hours. In addition, I also manage social media accounts. I dedicate 2-3 hours of my day to social media and web work. Then, I generally go back to the garden and check on the plants one more time before nighttime. That is generally my day-to-day life – garden, hash, social media, and more garden. In the evening, I try and attend networking events. There are a lot of events that happen here in the Bay. As cannabis becomes more popular, there are more events to attend.
At least 5 or 7 days I’m dealing with something to do with cannabis. That is not even counting my personal interactions. A lot of my life revolves around cannabis.
Favorite event you’ve attended?
Everyone who lives in Northern California and grows cannabis looks forward to the Emerald Cup in December. It is held once a year. Why that particular event is so special is that the Emerald Cup is completely focused on outdoor grown organic cannabis. It is where all the big growers go to test their yield. To win the Emerald Cup is a huge honor. I’m very much looking forward to the cup this year. Last year I entered for the first time. I did not place. This year I plan on entering again and using some of the flowers that I have here on my roof for hashish. So I’m really excited about that! The Emerald Cup is a great atmosphere and a lot of fun.
Do you find more women are growing cannabis now?
Well, it’s actually not predominately men growing. It’s just predominately men that we know about – which is unfortunate. Women have always been integral to the cannabis industry. It’s just that women have not nearly been as visible. That’s due to a variety of reasons. There is quite a bit of sexism in the cannabis industry. As a black female, I don’t have to deal with many things pertaining to race. I deal with things much more about the fact that I have boobs. That is really what it comes down to.
For example, my husband is not a hash maker. I am the hash maker. While, of course, many people associate my husband and I as a pair – there are many times when something has to do with hash, people will immediately go to him. He is not the hash expert. At 5’2 I may not be tall but I am the hash maker. People who haven’t met me, and this frequently happens online, assume that I am a man because I make hash. Even with the name, Duchess people assume I am a man. They cannot believe a woman makes hashish.
It is very frustrating when I see young men being disrespectful. They will be in their teens or twenties and assume that I know nothing, yet I am a grown woman twice their age. Some will even try and talk to me like a child. I am a grown woman who is knowledgeable. However, the real growers will tell you that some of the best cannabis cultivators they know are women. Partially because we have a connection to this plant which is female.
So the sexism – let it go.
Any advice for women looking to enter the cannabis industry?
First and foremost, value every bit of contribution you can provide. Every single piece of our past life experience can be brought to the cannabis industry. Have the confidence. Women tend to want to dot every i and cross every t. We doubt ourselves before even moving forward. While it's important to be prepared, don't doubt yourself. Step out on and start pursuing whatever you are passionate about.
One word of advice I would give women who are serious about entering this industry is not starting out in edibles. Everyone, especially women, love to start out there. Edibles are a very crowded space. If that is your passion, go for it but be aware of what's already out there.
A lot of people don't realize there are countless key skills the cannabis industry needs. If you have the ability to tell someone else’s story – that’s a need. If you have the ability to bring people together – that’s a need. If you can share information online – that’s a need. You don’t always have to touch the plant to be working in the cannabis industry. There are so many ways to get involved. Think of what you did in the past and bring that to this industry. Cannabis needs marketers, teachers, event planners, and every single thing you can think of. The market is wide open.
Have the confidence to pursue your passions and never take no for an answer. The men are not taking no and neither should the women. Granted, you will hear no a lot. You will have people who tell you they will help you and then steal your idea. There are people who will prey on the wide-eyed naïve look of someone new to this industry. They will try and still their ideas, manipulate them, and take advantage of them in any way possible. Does this always happen? No. Does this only happen in the cannabis industry? No. I will say though that the cannabis industry has been far less "kumbayah" and more stabbing in the back then I thought it would be. Coming from Miami, where you are either a shark or on the menu, I thought that cannabis would be hippie town. It is not at all.
However, once you realize this about the cannabis industry and are aware that it is just like any other business but with the potential to feel a far greater sense of purpose – it is powerful. When those rose colored glasses are gone women can be jut as effective, if not more so, than men. Having passion and purpose will take you very far. The best thing I could tell someone is to believe in yourself and go for it.