“What if we all went in $100 on a Marijuana Handlers Card for somebody who can’t afford it?’
That was the question, Raina Casey, a Portland Death Doula, posed to her social media circle in the days following George Floyd’s murder. As the city rallied to support the Black cannabis community, Casey’s question illuminated just how undersized that community was.
It was a straightforward question, but the cascade of responses made it clear that in asking, Casey had presented an uncomplicated solution to this particular instance of industry gatekeeping; preventing anyone who can’t afford to spend $100 from legally entering the Oregon cannabis industry.
Casey, whose business supports the needs of those in life/death transition with cannabis advocacy, is well aware of the role cannabis plays in the criminalization of Blackness. She’s seen the community rally to support Black-owned business without addressing the dilemma of there being so few of them to even support, which gave her pause, “We need to support Black business and remind people that they need to support Black and brown people first.”
Propelled by Oregon’s first round of stay-at-home orders — which designated dispensaries as essential businesses and created a new pool of job opportunities — and following the initial wave of BLM protests, further cemented Casey’s position as a cannabis and minority activist. Soon, after she reached out to familiars with the experience necessary to expand on her central idea, Casey’s concept evolved and became the Oregon Handlers Fund, a nonprofit that covers the costs of receiving an Oregon Marijuana Handlers Card — a requirement necessary for farm, manufacturing, or dispensary work, and a major impediment to the diversification of the cannabis industry. Potential awardees and supporters alike can visit the Oregon Handlers Fund website to apply for or donate funds.
Weedmaps spoke to Casey about building a nonprofit from scratch, overlapping the nature of death and the business of cannabis, and how — with a bit of follow-through and the support of a community — small questions can lead to big actions.
Weedmaps: What is your relationship with cannabis as a Death Doula?
Raina Casey: In 2012 I had a stroke and I couldn’t continue my line of work anymore. I was an autopsy technician and I had always been fascinated with the funeral industry. When I was in the military, I was an affairs specialist, but after I had the stroke, I had residual numbness in my left hand. I couldn’t do that work anymore.
I got sad and depressed and I had used cannabis recreationally, but I started to find that when I used cannabis, I didn’t have to use a lot of my seizure medication. I started to research the medical benefits of cannabis, and soon after I started my research, a lady came into my life. I didn’t realize at the time that she would be my first [death doula] client. She was not only my first client, but she was also the first medical marijuana patient that I really had to advocate for legally and medically.
Her husband had worked in law enforcement and she was a legislator — cannabis had no place in their home or lifestyle previous to this. But God put me there, put me into their lives, and that allowed me to help them realize that cannabis is very, very beneficial. And you don’t have to have to smoke it to get those benefits.
WM: How much did patient advocacy like this inform the OHF?
Casey: [The OHF has] actually been years in the making, I just didn’t have the money or the clout or the know-how to get it off the ground. So many friends and relatives would say things like, “I want to get into cannabis. How can I get a job? Oh, the $100 is too much.” They couldn’t afford it and they didn’t have anybody in their lives that could loan them that kind of money.
We go and support all the Black and brown dispensaries and cannabis businesses, and it’s great to support our businesses, but we need help with the barrier of getting our people into the workforce. There’s no reason why all of these people, ready to go into the workforce, pass exams and background checks and everything, are just sitting there because they say they don’t have a $100 for the permit? There is something very wrong with that picture: You have all of these people who are qualified to work but they can’t.
For as much money as you spend on two ounces of top shelf, you can change somebody’s entire life. This is what needs to be happening and this is what it should have been happening the whole time.
WM: Even without nonprofit experience, you wasted no time letting this initiative grow into a 501c3. How were you able to pivot so deftly from your career as a death doula to the captain of a nonprofit?
Casey: I have no experience in nonprofits or sales or anything like that. This is my first go-around with any of this, and I’ve been blessed. My godmother, well, I call her my “god-diva,” has allowed me to tag along behind her and watch how she works — she is a retired consultant — to get these really major companies to give her what she’s asking for: their money!
Anybody who knows me will tell you I’m a very humble person. I just really want to live my life as peacefully as possible, and I want to help as many people as I can along the way. When I started getting into cannabis, a lot of people gave me flak, and all the while I was building my cannabis consulting business and tying it to being a death doula. I knew I was eventually just going to use my own money and start rounding people up in the community to help me pay for these permits.
WM: As of now, the OHF is solely concerned with getting marijuana handlers cards into the hands of those who can’t otherwise afford them, but what type of growth do see for the Fund’s future?
Casey: I would love to turn the OHF into something way, way bigger than it is. We are working to develop partnerships with the dispensaries and the companies that committed to hiring our applicants, bigger companies that have acted really excited about it when we were discussing what we were going to do. Now, we’ve been going back and hitting them up saying, “Do you remember when we talked about this? This is where you can send your money.”
Then my plan is to retire and have my son take over.
WM: Do you have any advice for aspiring changemakers facing similar social justice endeavors?
Casey: Go for it. Seriously, go for it. Because, oh boy, shit would not have happened if I had not just decided to go ahead and do it.
WM: Last question, what are your favorite strains right now?
Casey: Runtz right now but Obama Kush is a long-standing favorite.
Featured image by Gina Coleman/Weedmaps