Each year, Asian / Pacific American Heritage Month – which just ended May 31 — pays tribute to the rich heritage of the 23 million Americans who identify as “AAPI,” short for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.
These are people who trace their roots back to China, Japan, Laos, India, or any of the 40 diverse nations and cultures spread across the Asian continent. Website listings for May 2022 events included a ukulele virtuoso from Hawaii, a forum on Laotian and Hmong authors and a Chinese American chef’s demonstration of her nation’s culinary traditions. Eastern healing traditions also figured in.
However, it’s a safe bet, says Ben Larson, who identifies as Asian American – he’s half Chinese — that a healing tool particularly important to him, medical cannabis, was missing from that myriad of AAPI month events. Reason: the heavy stigma surrounding the “We find that it’s interesting that those cultures tend to be quite conservative when it comes to cannabis,” Larson, founder and CEO of the cannabis infusion-ingredient manufacturer Vertosa, said in a recent interview.
“Our involvement is to bridge that gap because it is a very large disconnect.”
Larson’s remedy for that disconnect is a new free online and printed book, Modern Cannabis,, Which Oakland, Calif.-based Vertosa is co-sponsoring. The main forces behind the book are two other Asian-led cannabis companies and their CEOs: Sysamone Phaphon of Bay Area wellness company KhuenPhu, who is former head of growth for Vertosa; and Eunice Kim, of LA-based HiVi, which focuses on cannabis education.
Phaphon has Laotian roots; Kim’s are Korean.
The two women’s “Beginner’s Guide to Conscious Consumption” offers translations for non-English speakers into 11 Asian languages, from Hindi to Urdu to Korean, and brims with information useful to anyone seeking relief from pain, insomnia and anxiety. The lowdown on cannabinoids, on terpenes, on the difference between hemp vs. THC, plus dosing advice: It’s all here, delivered in native languages in order to reassure reluctant AAPI members, especially elderly ones.
Harold Han, a Ph.D. emulsion scientist who works closely with Larson at Vertosa and who emigrated from China 15 years ago, understands that reluctance well. Growing up, Han witnessed firsthand the stigma that cannabis carries in his native land. in China is very, very strict, ”Han shared during the interview with Larson.“ If you touch one [drug]you’ll be going to jail; and there is a death penalty for smuggling and growing it. ”
The scientist also explained how the stigma around cannabis arose from China’s dark history with opium after the country was invaded in the 1840s by the British, who expanded opium distribution, especially among the poor. They smoked opium, and that just crippled the Chinese economy. ”He remembers that, when he was a schoolboy, the constant message was“ Don’t touch drugs! ”
Today, Han is actively engaged in changing that message for California’s AAPI community, taking advantage of his Mandarin fluency and Larson’s technology background – the CEO formerly ran a startup incubator, which is where he first met Han. The two men founded Vertosa to answer the industry’s need for trustworthy cannabis ingredients, especially oil extractions. Currently, their 40 employees make ingredients for beverages, gummies, mouth sprays and lozenges.
Along the way, the two men found that their target audience – the Asian community, including their own families – needed special attention. The founders also recognized that their efforts to supply it succeeded more and more as they themselves matured. opening their minds, and a lot of us are coming into our professional own, ”Larson said.“ That’s the beauty of this [book] opportunity: We’re old enough to be perceived as professionals and as responsible. ”
Larson is 41, Han, 38. “Those of us in our thirties and forties,” Larson continued, “are now taking that opportunity to effect communication to the [older generation]”In a population dealing with the physical pains of aging and emotional pain from the recent street attacks on AAPI residents,“ Cannabis can play an important role in improving your quality of life. ”
Larson said he’s seen the growing acceptance for what he does in his own wife’s family members, who are from India. He remembers an early holiday when, upon arriving at their home, he heard a relative jokingly announce, “Hey, the drug dealer is here! ”Six years later, those same family members were in a Mendocino dispensary buying cannabis and CBD products and video-chatting about those purchases with Larson.“ I thought to myself,’This is the impact we all hope to have.’ ”
Han said his own Chinese-American family members are similarly changing their view. “When they started to try CBD products and experience the different emotions… they became power users,” Han said.
That’s the impact that the involvement of AAPI cannabis leaders can have on the nation’s diverse Asian communities. It’s what attracted multiple sponsors besides Vertosa to the KhuenPhu-HiVi educational campaign; the CalAsian Foundation, Weedmaps and three cannabis other companies all contributed.
The key is trust, Larson said, adding, “Creating the access point from one person in the community can really be the change for the entire community.”