Restoring Bodies, Remapping Relationships in LA’s Cannabis Economy: Feminist Geographies in the Shadow of the Carceral State

Authors: Robert Chlala*, University of Southern California
Topics: Gender, Political Geography, Ethnicity and Race
Keywords: Carcerality, Labor, Feminist Geography, Gender and Sexuality, Cannabis, Drugs, Racial Capitalism, Race
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/5/2019
Start / End Time: 9:55 AM / 11:35 AM
Room: Ambassador Ballroom, Omni, West
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


The enmeshed labor and activism of often-queer women of color reshaping California’s cannabis economy offers fresh perspectives into production and social reproduction that contends with the grip of U.S. carceral state power and the globalized racial capitalism. Women of color in Los Angeles perform the vital labor of growing, moving and providing cannabis. They engage in intimate healing work via marijuana that recognizes racialized and gendered traumas. Drawing from AIDS-crisis era queer and prison abolition organizing, women are leading new labor movements and efforts for reparations on the war on drugs challenging the corporatization of cannabis by mostly-white elite “cannabiz” entrepreneurs. Drawing from more than four years of ethnographic research, this paper suggests the work of queer/women of color in cannabis spaces indexes formulations of a more life-generating epistemology in contradistinction to the violence of carceral state elite dispossession that have transformed neighborhoods in Los Angeles. Their labor and organizing blur the lines of public private, market/non-market and eschews the relegation of cannabis as mere commodity. Women’s experiences vis-à-vis a decade of changing cannabis political economics captures how much of the impact of a global carceral shift is rendered at the scale of the body and “nature” but also actively countered via work that scaffolds from the intimate across a multiplicity of vantage points. Such spatial processes are entwined with gender, sexuality, Blackness and Latinidad, and elicit key insights for a feminist political geography that can grapple with present inequalities and generate knowledge supporting new futures.

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