Cherron Perry-Thomas, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Cherron Perry-Thomas says she has long lived by Nelson Mandela’s adage that “a threat to justice to anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” After more than a dozen years in the natural products industry, Cherron came to realize that part of that threat is not having access to medical cannabis.

“My mission has been to give people alternatives for their wellness goals,” Cherron says. “If you have a headache, you may think tylenol is the only avenue to go down, if you don’t know about white willow bark or other alternatives.”

After teaching vegan nutrition classes out of her home, in 2005 Cherron started Green Dandelion Marketing, a sales and marketing company that has helped introduce almost 2,000 innovative plant-based products in grocery and health stores in the mid-Atlantic region.

Her interest in the therapeutic potential of cannabis began even earlier, when a neighbor disclosed that using Marinol, the synthetic THC pills that can be prescribed, was the only way to control the vomiting from cancer treatment, but the medicine was very expensive, and cannabis would be cheaper but was illegal and hard for the neighbor to obtain.

“Being a law-abiding citizen, cannabis was something I knew little about and had never wanted to pursue, but that was the first connection with treatment I made,” Cherron says. It was eye-opening.”

At the time, Pennsylvania had no medical cannabis law, but Cherron says she knew she the herbal remedies she had were not going to help her neighbor. So when advocates and legislators in the state started to talk about medical cannabis, she paid attention to the moms with children with severe conditions and the patients who were lobbying for it. She still didn’t see herself in it, but her background equipped her to understand how it important it was.

“I knew there are many viable solutions to wellness,” Cherron says, “And it’s a plant. It’s a plant. It shouldn’t be viewed as it is, as something evil.”

When Pennsylvania in 2016 enacted a medical cannabis law recognizing 23 qualifying conditions, Cherron had come to understand it holistically – medical, nutritionally – and historically.

“People could go in a pharmacy 83 years ago and buy a THC product, but then that got  prohibited due to racism, which made me angry,” Cherron recalls. “People had something they used but then lost due to bad policies.”

Through her company, she had a wealth of experience working with biodynamic plants and medicine made from plants. She says she had a “gradual bonding” with the possibilities of cannabis, once Pennsylvanians could apply for a card from the state, and decided to continue with the education she had been doing with herbs, just now with cannabis, too.

“The more I talked to black and brown communities, it was clear they were not making the connection that they can use this plant for their conditions,” Cherron recalls.

Outreach was the answer. In 2018, Cherron cofounded with Desiree Ivey the Diasporic Alliance for Cannabis Opportunities (DACO), the first minority-owned cannabis conference on the East Coast. DACO offers a conference workshop format geared to black and brown communities where experts and professionals—doctors, researchers, dispensary owners—cover wellness, education. The 2019 DACO conference was a free two-day event September 27-28 at Temple University in Philadelphia, with a legislative day Friday and seminars Saturday.

“People need to see this is something lawmakers are engaged with and they can be involved,” Cherron says. “We need to reach people over 40, those who vote and who officials listen to. One way is through church, the other through politicians.”

The cost of medicine is still at the front of Cherron’s concerns. She’s been working this session in support of SB 350, an adult use bill, which would allow co-ops where people can grow together. “Allowing personal cultivation would have major economic benefit,” Cherron says. “I know one family where three people are working to provide for the mother.”

Her experience working with plants has shown her that reduced cost is not the only benefit.

“The garden can be a holistic space,” Cherron says. “The plant can be therapeutic, but taking care of the plant can also be therapeutic for the caregiver and the patients.”

Last June, Cherron was part of a rally in the state capital of Harrisburg for legislators to see communities harmed by the war on drugs, asking for equity and inclusion. She’s currently chair for the Plant Medicine Community and is part of All Together Now PA, which is uniting urban and rural communities to build regional economies that work for all.

“We need to support and promote a local supply chain,” says Cherron. “As we move forward with new laws, it’s important to have language that protects local farmers.

This profile was originally published in the December 2019 ASA Activist Newsletter