Women's Lib: Tsion 'Sunshine' Lencho

When the women of the legal weed world win, everybody wins.

Tsion "Sunshine" Lencho left one of the nation's top law firms to start her own practice—concentrating on cannabis. 

Sunshine specializes in the medical cannabis industry. She provides guidance on to entrepreneurs forming new businesses within the space, and advice on navigating the ever-changing local and state regulatory requirements for the nascent and newly legal cannabis industry. 

She is a board member of the Bay Area chapter of Women Grow, an organization whose mission is to empower women in executive roles within the cannabis industry;  and is co-founder of Oakland-based Supernova, which focuses on advancing women of color within the space.

Basically Lencho is changing the perception of what it means to work with weed (and a whole lot more important stuff along the way).

KINDLAND: What does it mean to be a cannabis industry advocate?

Sunshine Lencho: For the first 19 years of my life, I believed that marijuana was a gateway drug that was used by people who were destined for mediocrity. Growing up poor in a working class neighborhood just outside Washington, D.C.—I received free or reduced lunch pretty much my whole childhood and attended private school and college on full financial aid—my parents stressed education as a means of improving our economic status. My intellectual abilities were seen as a means for self advancement. If the D.A.R.E. instructor was to be believed (like most children, I trusted authority), marijuana and alcohol use would derail me from my path to financial success. I accepted without question that marijuana was a bad substance. 

I decided to try marijuana for the first time when I was 19. By that point, I had developed a healthy distrust of authority and no longer took what the government said about drugs, and their effects, as fact. When I was offered a packed bowl of purple kush, I was primed with the belief that this drug was likely far less addictive than my elementary school D.A.RE. said. 

Oakland, Image via Danielnavarro/VSCO

Girl bosses, lady entrepreneurs and such other terms serve to create a distinction between the women in the industry and separate us out from the mainstream.

Over time I learned of the affects of U.S. drug policy on mass incarceration, and the misinformation campaigns surrounding marijuana use. Our approach as a nation to marijuana prohibition had made a crime of activity that in past centuries was permitted. It had destroyed families, left individuals with few options for self advancement, and arguably helped fuel political instability and the rise of drug cartels in countries around the world.

To be an advocate for the cannabis industry is to be public in your support of legalization and decriminalization of cannabis, and to educate the public on the missteps along the way that led to marijuana being classified as a Schedule 1 substance. It means seeking out industry stakeholders and learning what their needs and challenges are and helping craft solutions to create a sustainable cannabis industry. It means helping the greater public understand the history of cannabis, what the possibilities are for the plant, and dispelling misconceptions. And it means making sure that any regulation, though welcomed by the industry, is enacted in a sensible way with an eye to providing reparations to those most affected by our previous drug policy. 

KINDLAND: You’ve mentioned that you are forming a weed activism group for women of color.

Sunshine Lencho: If you look around California’s visible cannabis industry, like at conferences and networking events, you will notice a dearth of diversity. The presenters, moderators, panelists, exhibitors, and attendees are by and large white. While inclusivity and discussions of social justice are often highlighted, the actual face of the industry is far from just or diverse. Somehow, even though I’m often one of the few Black people I see all day, the musical entertainment at these events is often a person of color (frankly, it’s almost always going to be a hip hop artist or reggae singer). 

Supernova Women of Color is an organization created to disrupt this homogeneity. The idea to found Supernova came from conversations with my friend and colleague, Amber Senter, which largely centered on how to organize and mobilize communities of color so that we have a seat at the table and help shape the future of this billion-dollar industry.

Amber is a marketer by trade, and runs an edibles business. We founded Supernova to create a force to counteract the decades of failed drug policy, to help increase the momentum already nascent in the cannabis industry to provide people of color equal opportunity and access to the new cannabis market, and, most importantly, to act as a resource to and sounding board for women of color involved and interested in the medical cannabis industry. We plan to be multilingual, with a website that has information and resources in at least Spanish and English. We are also keenly aware that there has been little discussion of the needs of trans women by industry advocates, and we welcome participation by and will look to provide leadership opportunities to trans women of color.

The federal government has done the American public a disservice in not allowing for adequate research into cannabis, its uses, and its affects.

Amber and I met at my first Women Grow meeting. She was accompanied by her dog Maximus (also a dachshund) and we were two of maybe three black women in a crowd of over 50 people. We ended up working together at a consulting company that provides licensing guidance to individuals seeking to open cannabis businesses, helping these potential business owners craft winning applications for state licenses. 

The ACLU’s 2013 report titled The War on Marijuana in Black and White shows that where African Americans represent 6.7 percent of the population in California, they account for 16.3 percent of the arrests (or citations) for marijuana, while rates of usage are virtually the same between black and white populations. There has been no long-term, visible organizing of communities of color to bring their voice to the forefront of the cannabis industry.

In the short term, Supernova will form coalitions to support state legislative efforts, ballot initiatives, and regulatory schemes that provide measures to ensure the equal participation of people of color within the cannabis industry. It is imperative that such laws and regulations include provisions that allow for the victims of the drug war, namely the formerly and presently incarcerated, to participate in the legal market being created in states around the nation.

On January 26, Supernova will be hosting the first of several free seminars throughout the state for the Oakland community focused on subjects relating to medical cannabis, legalization, and prison reform.

Oakland, Image via Hellodeer/VSCO

KINDLAND: Tell me about women in the space. What is the dynamic like for female cannabis professionals?

Sunshine Lencho: It’s funny because I am in contact with and supported by more women in the cannabis space than at any point in my career. From industry veterans who helped found California’s first dispensaries, to those whose first experience with medical cannabis came from a sudden illness, these women have inspired and motivated me to keep at my current career path in the cannabis industry. They share information and business referrals freely, and act as a sounding board for my ideas. 

Historically, the cannabis industry has been male dominated. The culture seen at industry events mirrors the general stereotype of the stoner dude. Hyper sexualized images of women are used to sell products that would surely move without any added “incentive.” While there has certainly been a shift from that kind of advertising, the industry has a way to go. When writing about female business leaders, journalists often use gendered modifiers when I highly doubt that they would have done the same for a man. Girl bosses, lady entrepreneurs and such other terms serve to create a distinction between the women in the industry and separate us out from the mainstream.

KINDLAND: Why do you think marijuana is not legal at the federal level? And, how are you working to change that?

Sunshine Lencho: Cannabis is illegal in the United States because the American public has, until recently, been largely ignorant to the underlying causes for cannabis being listed as a Schedule 1 drug. Many Americans would be surprised to know that for the first 140 years of our nation’s history, the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness included the right to consume whatever substance one pleased. The thought that a government would regulate personal consumption was unheard of. In fact, Thomas Jefferson criticized France for passing laws regulating diet and drugs opining, “A government that tries to control what kind of food you eat and medicine that you take will soon try to control how you think.” Control over consumption was so lax that as late as 1890, Sears and Roebuck offered cocaine and other narcotics for sale in its catalog.

The federal government has done the American public a disservice in not allowing for adequate research into cannabis, its uses, and its affects. Medical students graduating from the nation’s schools are not educated in the endocannabinoid system. Practicing physicians are ill equipped to talk about alternative therapies such as cannabis with their patients.

I’m working to change the perception of cannabis, its users, and uses through educating my friends and family who are less familiar with the plant and its history. Supernova’s policy platform will include legalization on the national level. Given my childhood within the Beltway, we will definitely include an advocacy day where we bring together our members to lobby congress to change national drug policy. 

KINDLAND: What are your favorite strains to smoke? Where is your favorite smoke spot?

Sunshine Lencho: In California, people have grown cannabis for generations. One farmer told me her family has grown cannabis for 100 years. One advantage of working in the industry is that you get to know the cultivators personally. My favorite strains to smoke are ones that are grown by people that I know, whom I can ask about their genetics and process, and who all exhibit an exuberance for and love of the plant. One of my favorites is a hybrid a friend created called Electric Mayhem. Red Congolese is another favorite that can be found in most Bay Area dispensaries.

I really enjoy smoking outdoors at night. Stanford’s campus had a lot of cool little groves. Being in the Peninsula was far enough from light pollution of the city allowing for great stargazing. But, like Lana del Ray says, all I really want to do is get high on the beach.

Each week "Women's Lib" checks in with amazing ladies and we make them fill out a feminist Mad Lib.