White Smoke, Black Ash

Caron Marcelous goes global with ganja
Folio Weed #2

I’ve known Caron Marcelous for about 25 years, and he looks almost exactly the same. You can credit that to genetics and a healthy lifestyle because it’s certainly not about any absence of stress or preponderance of sleep. Instead, Marcelous has been keeping consistently late hours in multiple time zones for longer than some of you readers have even been alive, working as a manager and club promoter, but mainly as a singer for local groups like Big Band Theory. Not only has he shown no indication of slowing down, but if anything, his schedule is even busier now than it’s ever been before.

Marcelous would have it no other way, as he told me via Zoom not too long ago. The longtime Duval fixture has made his home primarily in Oakland for the last few years. He’s made his living in that state’s cannabis market.

“The name of the business is True Holistic Health Centers,” he explained to fellow Duval legend David “Uncle Nard” Robinson (who may or may not have originated the now-iconic “Duuuval!” chant) in a YouTube chat last year. “It’s actually a family business. It’s owned by me and my mother. Her background is in working with women with debilitating illnesses, primarily HIV and AIDS.”

In this capacity, Marcelous has witnessed firsthand the evolution of the modern cannabis industry, as it was the Bay Area that really got the ball rolling for legalization on a national level. While the feds flip-flop and the Democrats dilly-dally, California has exercised real leadership on the issue. The results have been staggering with over $2.6 billion in revenues generated in just the first half of 2021. Tax receipts alone likely exceeded a billion dollars, by the time the year was over. With the tech sector faltering and homelessness exploding across the state, cannabis profits have really helped hold off greater social despair.

A big part of Marcelous’ mission is helping to stimulate growth among people of color in the cannabis industry. When I asked about Black representation among holders of retail licenses in America currently, he told me, about 4.5%. “About 2.5 percent is Asian, 80-something percent is white. The disparity is alarming, but we’ve got about 40 percent of all the cannabis-related offenses that result in arrest, so what’s that about?” he continued. “Eighty-five percent of arrests in the hood are cannabis related. You’ve got guys locked up for petty possession crimes, and they’re losing all their rights. They can’t vote, they can’t get a job, they can’t get welfare, they can’t get food stamps. While, on the flip side, they’re making billions of dollars.” California has already gone a very long way toward addressing these disparities, and Florida will hopefully do the same, someday.

The restoration of voting rights for felons is a strong step in the right direction, but California has gone a few steps beyond by initiating large-scale expungement of old convictions creating special programs to help spur on minority investment.

“As an outside investor,” Marcelous said, “you could go to California, partner up with an equity applicant, then open up a business together and work out the terms of what kind of business you want to run because there are several different aspects. There’s the cultivation aspect, the manufacturing, the distribution, and the retail.” In Florida, businesses are required to be involved in all four aspects of that business—they can’t pick and choose their level of exposure. That’s called “vertical integration,” which Gov. Ron DeSantis opposes; it is, as far as I can tell, the only thing on which he and I agree, mutual friends aside.

Marcelous’ work is hardly restricted to California, however, as he’s also spent a great deal of time in Colombia, pursuing business interests in Medellín during the pandemic. He even had a birthday party at Pablo Escobar’s former mansion, and the pictures must be seen to be believed. Optics aside, his exploits underscore the growing international appeal of this American experiment. For Latin America, legalization here means presumably less profit motive for cross-border traffic(k) of pot and other drugs that are outside the scope of our discussion today. It’s a historical fact that anti-cannabis propaganda has always been central to the demagogues’ demonization of Mexicans and Latinos in general. Indeed, Trump’s ascent to power, which was largely achieved through the slandering and scapegoating of Latin immigrants, would have not been possible without the prior rhetorical flourishes of great villains like Harry Anslinger and the infamous J. Edgar Hoover. (Liberals love the FBI now. I don’t know why.)

And it’s not just the West embracing the gospel of ganja. Over the past couple of years, Marcelous has been (literally) cultivating fresh contacts in Dubai, which has rapidly become a sort of hub of young Black men with money. He may not necessarily be young, but he is a Black man with money, so, of course, they love him over there, as they do everywhere.

In this industry, as with most others, synergy is key, and Marcelous’ latest venture represents a synthesis of his greatest passions: weed, music and travel. “Black Smoke, White Ash” is a new video project that he’s been putting together in bits and pieces with the intent of selling the rights to one of the major streaming services, hopefully sometime this year. The series sees him in familiar territory, and other territory that’s not so familiar. He made sure to document his initial excursions into the Middle East, in order to capture his own wide-eyed wonder—well, as wide-eyed as one can be, under the circumstances.

(A quick housekeeping note: This is the fifth Folio Weed column published under the auspices of Folio 2.0. There were 124 published in the original version of Folio, so this is the 129th column overall. All the previous columns will be available to read and search through later this year, when the Folio website redesign has been completed. In the meantime, if there’s something in particular that you’re looking for, reach out to me and I can find the relevant text fairly quickly. Thanks and have a happy hempen new year!)


About Shelton Hull

Shelton Hull has been writing for Folio Weekly since 1997, but his resume goes back even further. He has written for almost every newspaper, magazine and zine in Northeast Florida, as well as publications like Orlando Weekly, Narrow GNV, Creative Loafing Tampa, Charleston City Paper, Ink19 and The Atlantic. He currently writes the "Folio Weed" column, which he created in 2018; he remains one of the widest-read and most influential cannabis writers in the world today. He also compiles material for "Weird Wild Stuff" column, and he previously wrote the legendary "Money Jungle" column for Folio Weekly from 1999 to 2009. He is a regular contributor to "First Coast Connect" on WJCT, as well as the Jacksonville Music Experience. He is a co-host of "The Contrast Project" and the "Bold City Civics" podcast. He is also a co-founder of the record label Bold City Music Productions. He can be reached at [email protected].