Cannabis pioneer Shanel Lindsay’s revolutionary road

Wellness

Wellness

Cannabis pioneer Shanel Lindsay’s revolutionary road

9 min read

Shanel Lindsay is a cannabis pioneer, who began growing her own marijuana in a spare bedroom after the birth of her son left her with ovarian cysts. A young lawyer working in Massachusetts, Lindsay’s passion for the plant made her go against prohibition in order to explore the medical uses of marijuana for her own condition. Facing hardships, stigma and secrecy Lindsay made sacrifices to continue her work.

Now, Lindsay is not only the founder and president of Ardent, an at home decarboxylation device but also one of the authors to legalize adult use in the state of Massachusetts. Using her legal expertise to change laws and her years of first-hand experience to create a lab-tested method of transforming bud into oils, tinctures, and explore other methods of consumption, Lindsay is a true pot powerhouse.


The focus of all her work is to educate, de-stigmatize and give back tools to the cannabis community as well as newcomers who are seeking alternative ways of getting the herb medicine they need.

We spoke with Lindsay about her sometimes arduous journey navigating cannabis during prohibition, a life-changing trip to Jamaica, getting arrested, exploring science, fighting for community and cannabis rights and where she sees the future of the plant.

Q

Let’s start with how Ardent came to be.

A

The seeds of Ardent were planted when I started using and making cannabis medicine. After my son was born, I got an ovarian cyst. I had always smoked cannabis prior to that, it helped me relax and it was just my preference. I’ve never really been into alcohol. But I wasn’t using it necessarily in a medicinal way or a wellness way. Until that point, I wasn’t thinking about making topicals or as a really medically focused pain reduction, inflammation reduction way. I didn’t have that mindset until after my son was born and I was confronted with this medical condition.

I thought, let me take this plant that I really love and start turning it into medicine. I also started traveling to Jamaica and really seeing the plant being grown outside, in its natural environment. You can’t beat ganja in Jamaica, it was definitely the vision quest of my young adulthood. I started seeing cannabis as being more than I had originally understood it to be.


Q

I’m curious to know more about your change in perspective. How you started seeing it differently than you originally thought.

A

When I first started smoking when I was 18 and 19 in college, before I traveled to Jamaica, the weed I was smoking definitely wasn’t good quality. We’re talking back in the late ‘90s. I was interacting with it in a plastic bag after it was already dried versus seeing the plant growing in all its glory and realizing, this is really such a multi-faceted, powerful herb. I definitely fell more in love with the plant after those experiences.


Q

Seeing it grow, seeing it in nature, did that make you feel less of a stigma around it?

A

Absolutely. And the timing was perfect in terms of my understanding and use of it from something that was very stigmatized. In my late teens smoking cannabis wasn’t considered a good thing. It was something people were worried about for me, even though I was going to an Ivy League school at Penn. But when I started treating my own medical condition with it, I was like, this is something I need to take into my own hands and that’s when I started growing my own cannabis at home.

I live in Boston, so there was no growing it outside if I wanted to have a nice supply. At that time, it had to be very under wraps because there were no homegrown protections whatsoever. But I did a ton of research and started growing in my small extra bedroom when I bought a house. I was a young lawyer and my son was in preschool. I really loved that I was learning so much about the plant, I learned about the strains that were helpful for my condition, I was learning about the terpene profiles that I liked that are still my favorites to this day. But at the same time, through that activity, I was exposing myself to real danger in the form of prohibition.

When I was driving to work one day, I got pulled over and I was arrested. That was very scary.


Q

That’s terrifying. What happened? I’m sure being a young lawyer, that helped you out.

A

It did help me out. But honestly, as a person of color, I didn’t say I was a lawyer for fear that I would then be targeted because I am a lawyer and they would want to further strip me of whatever they could. This was in 2009, and I was a couple of years into my legal career. I had gone to law school and worked in the court system, then I went to a law firm. This was after decriminalization in Massachusetts. So, I thought I had protection at this point. Anyone who had less than an ounce was supposed to just get a ticket. I was still being careful, I wasn’t traveling with a lot of cannabis, but I was using cannabis as a medicine and I did have it on me.

So, driving to the train station, I got pulled over and the police officer comes over to my passenger side door and he must have seen inside my bag and seen some cannabis. He immediately told me to get out of the car. I’m standing there and he starts searching my car and I said, you don’t have the authority to search my car and he essentially said, I’ll do whatever I want to do.

He found a jar of cannabis in my bag and goes, turn around and he slapped cuffs on me and pushed me in the back of his police car. At that point I was saying, “What are you doing? This has been decriminalized. I have less than an ounce of cannabis on me, why are you doing this?” And he said, “No, it’s more.” I watched from the back of the police car as a tow truck comes and impounds my car.

He takes me to the station and I’m in cuffs, sitting on a cement block and he’s booking me. At this point, I’m crying because I’m like, I’m a lawyer, I’m about to get arraigned for this, I could lose my law license.

Then I thought wait, why am I sitting here in handcuffs? Is this not the definition of violating my civil rights and due process? They weighed what I had and said, “Okay, you’re free to go.”


Q

What a wake-up call in the sense that this needs to be destigmatized, decriminalized even more, and this should not have happened to you, because you weren’t doing anything wrong.

A

One hundred percent. But at the time, I just wanted to shove it all in the back of mind. The police started coming around my house after that and I had to cut down all my plants. That was a really tough time. The stigma and prohibition really came down on me and put what I had worked for at risk. Which I think is why a lot of people of color don’t come into this industry. We are punished more, we lose our licenses more, we are just more at risk. When you work so hard to even just get a degree, or get a job, or get ahead in life, you don’t want to put that at risk. I just had such a love for this plant, and it became such an integral part of my life for my happiness and my health that there really was no going back. I continued to research and make cannabis products and if anything, it gave me a greater need to be more precise with what I was doing and really understand the science behind it.

Another real wake-up call was when medical marijuana came to Massachusetts in a way that was very different than we had hoped. It came in four-year steps, 2008 was decimalization, 2012 was medical and 2016 was adult use. When decriminalization came, I still had rose colored glasses on. I thought great, we are protected now. Then I got arrested and realized it was all discretionary, protection was only going to the people they wanted it to go to. They were still finding young kids who might have had only two or three joints, but they would charge them with possession with intent to distribute.


Q

Right, you can decriminalize something, but that doesn’t mean you get rid of institutionalized racism in America.

A

Exactly. When medical came, there were a lot of caregivers who were ready to jump into the marketplace. But then our state made it a completely monopolized system, where you needed at least half a million dollars in the bank to even get involved. That laid the framework for only big corporations to come in. That’s when I got involved in more of the political side and became one of the authors of the campaign to legalize for adult use so we could have a more equitable system. In 2012, when medical came on board, a laboratory opened up about a half hour away from me and that was a huge opportunity. I went in and was able to take all my medicines I had been making over the years and actually test them.


Q

Was that the first time you had been in a more medical and scientific environment, where you got to test in a lab, things you had been previously going by instinct and personal experience?

A

Yes. That was first time I actually had access.


Q

That must have been amazing.

A

It really was. It was eye-opening. Before that, really all there was online was all this conjecture about what the right kind of temperatures were, extrapolated from other things that weren’t relevant. Or old test results from the ‘70s. I was finally able to test my medicine and I realized I’m wasting 30 percent of the THC, it’s either burning off or I’m not activating it.

I knew if there was a way to make a device that encapsulated all of the precision of the lab process, with the ease of being able to press a button, that would result in a product that would be a real hit. At the same time, it would be able to help all of these people access this plant and avoid all of the speed bumps along the way.


Q

Even today, there’s still a huge piece of education that’s missing. Many people still are not educated about cannabis, terpene profiles, different methods of use, or micro-dosing.

A

Yeah, there definitely were still hurdles. I really think showing the data is so important in removing the stigma. If we can show people, you don’t have to be afraid of this bud of cannabis, because you can know extremely accurately how many milligrams are in it. For the mainstream, that is what is going to get us there, because it’s about overcoming fear. A lot of people have a vested interest in keeping patients and consumers in the dark about cannabis and how it works. Because if people understand and know how to use it better, they can use it cheaper, they can take it into their own hands, they can grow it at home. For me, that’s where Ardent as a company and my past experiences come together and coalesce. I advocate for people to be able to grow at home and give and share information with one another, in addition to building the science.


Q

Where do you see cannabis going in the future? What are the challenges you still see out there?

A

There are major forces at play right now in the cannabis industry and the two opposing forces are that of the community and the movement, trying to educate and make sure people have more knowledge of cannabis and other helpful herbs and plants, ensuring that people are engaged and free. That we are moving back to our roots in natural medicine in ways that make sense. But pushing with even more force are the corporate interests. It’s nothing new, it’s the same corporate interests that are involved in pharmaceuticals, in oil, in tobacco. That is a movement to obfuscate, a movement to oppress, and a movement to harm for the sake of profit. I want to see many more people have access to this plant and I think the way to do that is through home growth, and insure we have a regulatory environment that allows communities to thrive.

Images Courtesy of Shanel Lindsay