How to stop weed stigma for Asian Americans? Translate the lingo

Sysamone Phaphon and Eunice Kim grew up with very different approaches to cannabis.

For Phaphon, 37, Bay Area founder and chief executive officer of KhuenPhu, a CBD wellness brand based on Asian healing traditions, it’s been a part of her life for as long that she can remember. Her father grew it in the family garden right next to lemongrass and chili peppers, and her mother used it as a cooking herb (“especially in her pho broth,” says Phaphon).

Kim, 35, LA-based founder and CEO of online cannabis education platform HiVi, became acquainted with the plant’s properties long later in life, looking for it just 5 years ago as a self-medication for anxiety. and insomnia caused by the “hamster wheel” of professional life.

However, as Asian Americans (Phaphon is Lao, Thai and Cambodian, Kim is of Korean descent) working in the cannabis environment, they have encountered similar stigma and judgment both within their families themselves as well as the wider Asian community. Using that shared experience as a catalyst, they embarked on an ambitious project to create a primer called “Modern Cannabis: A Beginner’s Guide to Conscious Consumption first” in an effort to increase education and reduce the stigma surrounding crops.

A Weed 101, it covers the history of the plant (including the war on drugs), explains terms like cannabinoids and terpenes, delves into consumption methods, and offers advice on How to read product labels. What makes the project so ambitious is not its scope – mostly basic, primary information – but the vetted medical advice that appears first in 14 pages of English, following it’s translated into 11 Asian languages: Bahasa, Cambodian, Hindi, Japanese, Korean, Lao, Malay, Mandarin, Tagalog, Thai and Urdu.

A portrait-type photograph of two women in blue tops.

Sysamone Phaphon, left, and Eunice Kim have spearheaded efforts to translate a cannabis article into 11 Asian languages ​​to help educate the public about cannabis.

(Dennis Saicocie)

Timed for release during Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, a version of the book was posted online at in early May with several thousand hard copies distributed – free – by members of the AAPI Cannabis Collective through direct-to-consumer and dispensing partners channels.

Before the launch, I chatted with both women via Zoom to talk about their experiences stepping out of the cannabis cabinet, how they hope their project will help others do the same, and some of the challenges they have encountered along the way. Here are the highlights from that conversation.

Can you share your ‘out of the box’ experience?

Eunice Kim: Your family should be the first to know, right? … I kept quiet until HiVi got its first Forbes feature. I started consuming cannabis in 2018, and I joined the industry with HiVi as a community platform in 2020. And for those two years, they didn’t know about it. I think the way Asian parents work is that they love a little external authenticity, and Forbes confirmed it great, so I decided to take out that wardrobe with that article.

Sysamone Phaphon: My immediate family is cannabis-friendly, but my cousins, aunts and uncles, they all fear it. I even had a cousin message me directly and ask, “Is your product like the others on the market laced with bad stuff and unsafe for you?” … I certainly still have to deal with family members who are stereotypical of what I’m doing, who are afraid to touch it and support it.

Pictures in many languages ​​explain the intoxicating effects of THC.

(Naphtali Rodriguez / KhuenPhu)

How has your family’s attitude changed since you ‘debuted’?

Needle: I am so proud. During the holidays, I stay at home, and we ate a low dose meal together…so we’re on the THC train – slowly. Would I ever smoke with my mother instead of enjoying a glass of wine with her? Sure is not. But edible in low dosage is a win.

Phaphon: It remains a challenge to this day. My parents are definitely okay. My mother uses [KhenPhu] Elephant skin cream [topical] all the time, and my siblings enjoy [CBD] chewing gum for their frequent ailments. But I still challenge the rest of my family to judge what I’m doing.

Needle: Its illegality is very scary, especially for the immigrant community. If something is illegal and you go to jail for it – or you have it on file – your future is predetermined, right? So anything illegal is automatically considered bad, no question asked. And then, through propaganda, we saw the description of marijuana right there… along with heroin and all these really harmful drugs. The immigrant mentality is that if it’s something that can mess with your brain and turn you into someone you’re not, it’s definitely a negative.

Phaphon: The fact that you could be arrested for this crime is a great fear for the community, as it also brings shame to your family. And not being embarrassed is a really big thing in the Asian community. If you have a son or daughter who is guilty of marijuana use, it brings shame to the family, and then you can’t show your face in public. And that’s really where a lot of fear and stigma reside. We also have a big prejudice about being the model minority. We must be doctors, we must be engineers, but seeing a successful stonemason is not in that picture. If you smoke, you will never be as successful as your cousin who is a doctor. You’ll just be locked up on your parents’ couch.

Who is the target audience you are trying to reach?

Needle: It’s true that for the immigrant community in America, there may be second-generation kids that understand or consume but – and this is exactly my situation – can’t have a smart conversation with them about science. behind it.

An image in multiple languages ​​showing the properties of limonene, a terpene found in cannabis.

(Naphtali Rodriguez / KhuenPhu)

What is the connection between education and destiny?

Needle: That’s the accessibility of that education, which has never been available in our native language. Lots of translators [we worked with] saw this document for the first time, and some of the native words don’t even exist – words like “cannabinoid” and “terpen” – which don’t exist in our Asian languages. Even something as small as translating it into different languages ​​is a big step forward in directing it, because it makes it more accessible.

I think it’s also about bringing together over 40 different AAPI founders and leaders in this space – as sponsors, advocates, creators and collaborators – to amplify it. I think it makes a big statement to the Asian community that it’s not just Sysamone and I who are the Asian founders of this space.

Phaphon: The whole book was a challenge for our translators, but certainly the long form of cannabinoids like THC – tetrahydrocannabinol – was a challenge. For our Cambodian interpreter, I actually had to record my own voice as I read each cannabinoid so they could understand how they were pronounced in the English language so that they could translate properly into Khmer, because they have no words.

It sounds like you’re sailing in some seriously uncharted waters with this project.

Phaphon: If you think about it, this country has a lot of refugee immigrants, and how did they learn about our different systems in this country? We had to translate for them. There are many translations into Spanish and Mandarin to help educate those who cannot speak or read English, so why not this one? How do we help them understand plants if they can’t even read about it?

Needle: It is also about misinformation and misinformation in general. With so much content at our fingertips, it is easy to mislead and misunderstand, which perpetuates stigma and prejudice. That’s why we are using educational content that has been tested and verified by our medical advisor who has been an integrative medicine doctor for over 28 years who understands the science, understand the latest research. Making sure that the right education is now translated and accessible to our community is really important.

An image in multiple languages ​​showing different ways to consume cannabis

(Naphtali Rodriguez / KhuenPhu)

How will you know your efforts are successful?

Needle: Community reception. We know this won’t be received with open arms the way we – in an ideal world – would love to see it. But we want to see that change, and we want to hear stories from the younger generations in our community coming back and saying, “Hey, look. We shared the book and [its] content with our parents, grandparents. And we started to have more frank conversations “or ‘They’re trying the product instead of relying on their prescription. “We’re excited to see that change happen – even if it’s been slow.

I want to remind the community that Asians have been consuming cannabis for thousands of years

– Eunice Kim, founder and CEO of HiVi

Phaphon: Keep an open mind in what we are sharing.

Needle: I want to remind the community that Asians have been consuming cannabis for thousands of years. It has been a healing plant for generations – since ancient history. The Chinese recorded the first use of this plant. So whatever complicated journey has happened since then, let’s remember that and go back to our roots. How to stop weed stigma for Asian Americans? Translate the lingo

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