Do a YouTube search for a vintage episode of American icon and public television landscape painter Bob Ross, and you can get lost in the whirl of his “happy little clouds.” Those happy little clouds look a whole lot happier after a puff from a marijuana joint or dose of a cannabis vape pen (try it with a strain of mellow indica, if you don’t believe me).
Allowing creativity just to explore itself can be an experience augmented by marijuana, and painting is an exercise that can be done. And in today’s U.S. social climate, this type of experience is marketable. With recreational marijuana now legal in 10 states, and medical marijuana legal in 33, enterprising dreamers are finding ways to create and provide new services to meet the growing demand from an evolving cannabis user.
When the state of Colorado paved the way to cannabis law reform by legalizing it in 2014, resident and paralegal Sarah Woodson had the opportunity to reassess her career path. I met Woodson at the Denver Press Club one night during a media panel event I was privileged to emcee. She explained how she had built her paralegal company over 10 years before it became no longer fun.
“What I could think of, what I could do to get out of the legal career?” Woodson recalled, all the while knowing she didn’t want to own a dispensary or a grow. “If I smoked weed, what is something I would love to do?” she continued. “Weed and paint!”
Woodson found that only one other company in the state was doing it and decided she could do it better. Her cannabis creative event company, Kush and Canvases, offers a cannabis-friendly all-inclusive art class aimed at providing the canna-enthusiast and canna-tourist with a safe, intimate environment to enjoy creative expression through art, paired with cannabis.
Woodson hosted her first classes in her home with a soft launch in 2016. By 2017, 500 students attended her courses and she closed her paralegal business for good. And in 2018, she served more than 1,000 people with operations that have gone from a home studio to a partial greenhouse customized to make space for her studio.
Kush and Canvases is not a “pothead” experience, but an open one, she explained. Woodson provides all the supplies, including a generous 16 x 20 inch canvas on which creativity can be unleashed. “We also offer games and trivia, so it’s an entirely professional, high-quality experience,” she said.
Students must bring their own cannabis, due to state regulations. And because Colorado’s Clean Indoor Air Act, I-300, allows for vaping and edibles indoors, and smoking outdoors, but not joint or bong smoking, participants can anticipate more marijuana concentrate vape than smoke.
“I had a wonderful time and can’t wait to return,” one Kush and Canvaser wrote in a recent review of her class. “Sarah has a personal touch that makes you feel like a professional artist while meeting new people, a must do on a visit to Denver!”
In another example, Woodson related to me a story about Emily, who along with her husband drove an hour from outside of Denver to come and attend her class. At the conclusion of two hours of acrylic bliss, Emily related, “I’m so happy you can offer this because I have cancer is the one thing we can do and have a good time.” She still stays in contact with the couple.
Supporting social justice reform
Kush and Canvases isn’t just about the imagination, artwork and embellishment in cannabis. The organization’s purpose is to help sift through the damage the war on drugs has done disproportionately to communities of color. “People have lost jobs, education, housing, their liberty, their families, and their lives to this war. Now they deserve equity, justice and repair,” a passionate Woodson explained.
Woodson, who is likely the only African-American person in the social cannabis consumption business in the state, is driven to encourage more Blacks and people of color to enter the cannabis space. The most readily available statistics reveal that minorities occupy merely 17 percent of executive positions in marijuana industry, as of 2017.
As NPR recently reported, Blacks and Latinos often remain left out of new cannabis business opportunities because of past interactions with the plant. “Advocates say people of color are often reluctant to join the growing legal marijuana economy because they were targeted far more often than whites during the war on drugs,” according to the article.
“We help cannabis companies, patients and consumers engage with this work,” Woodson told me.  To do this, Kush and Canvases donates 5 percent of its profits to Cage-Free Cannabis, an organization that helps facilitate full and automatic expungement of past minor drug convictions, and provides community reinvestment of tax revenue and corporate philanthropy.  
With contributions like Woodson’s, Cage-Free Cannabis (CFC) works with state and local municipalities to take advantage of policies and programs designed to help minority communities disproportionately devastated by the war on drugs. The city of Denver just launched an online portal under the “Turn Over a New Leaf” campaign aimed at dismissing and expunging thousands of convictions for marijuana crimes that are no longer illegal as of 2012.
Cage-Free Cannabis co-founder Adam Vine said the organization has served over a thousand people since its inception in October 2017. CFC was able to facilitate rehabilitated records for 298 people through National Expungement Week in 2018, creating more than $3 million in public benefit.
Woodson’s contributions as an advocate and financial contributor to social justice programs have brought her recognition in the cannabis space. “Sarah is a special entrepreneur who is uniquely committed to working on these issues with us,” Vine told me.
The next steps for Woodson is to expand her courses into a multi-state operation with particular eye on West Hollywood and Las Vegas, where public consumption lounge laws are forming. Colorado is still undecided on the way to handle marijuana flower consumption in similar establishments across the state, as its regulatory programs for medical and retail marijuana are scheduled to expire in 2019, and state legislators are working to revise and renew the rules.
As for Woodson’s last thoughts on art and marijuana-inspired creativity, she believes “cannabis creates a colorful mind which creates a colorful canvas.”
If you can’t make it to Denver just yet, just hold out for other states as she expands. Meanwhile, swing down to your local art supply store, make a few calls to procure some cannabis, throw this immersive whirlwind of a song on your Bluetooth speaker and practice on your own.
Andre F. Bourque is a cannabis connector and co-founder and vice president of media at Verdantis Advisors. Follow him on Twitter @SocialMktgFella.
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Born and raised in Compton, California, Jessica Bennett began her career as an intern at The Oakland Post, and later, The Source Magazine. She went on to write for respected hip hop publications such as DJ Booth and Hip Hop DX before becoming the Urban Editor of pop culture website, Wetpaint.com. She joined Ebony as the Entertainment Editor August 2017. Bennett has interviewed such names as Vanessa Williams, Spike Lee, Tyra Banks, Forest Whitaker, Magic & Cookie Johnson and several others.