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Growing a Queer (Black and Brown) World: Invisible Geographies of Cannabis Cultivation in Los Angeles

Authors: Robert Chlala*, University of Southern California
Topics: Urban Geography, Cultural Ecology, Ethnicity and Race
Keywords: Labor, Queer of Color, Cannabis, Political Ecology, Los Angeles
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


In the last two decades, a landscape of repurposed warehouse-manufacturing sites across Los Angeles, many once housing the regional aerospace economy, became home to the largest indoor cannabis cultivation economy in the US (likely globally). Undergirding such an urban ecology is the labor and knowledge of often-queer women, men and trans workers, often Black, Latinx, API or Native. In more than five years of in-depth ethnography, marginalized workers shared rapidly-shifting agricultural repertoires that evince a deep care for the plant itself (often, herself) and for those who consume. These practices draw from HIV/AIDS-crisis queer (and disabled) medical activism and Black, Native and Latinx diasporic networks. Such labor involves risking state violence and spending numerous “off work” hours experimenting with the plant itself. Part of why workers sustained risk and devoted fugitive energy to learning complex cannabis-cultivation, I argue, is the ways in the potentialities for queer world building. Marginalized communities are able to access generative means of economic survival that break down alienation in embodied ways that include consuming the plant and the intensive labor of cultivating. The intimacies cultivators build signal invisible, collective ways that urban ecological practices can allow often-excluded queer Black and Brown actors grapple with past traumas, survive in the present and produce the future material ways. Such relationalities also point to how the emphasis on hetero-homonormative space (linked to middle class whiteness) has elided everyday work-places as rife sites where queer spatialities and futures are enacted and contested.

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