Santana Harris is living his best life. The Pakalolo budtender recently celebrated his 40th birthday by getting engaged and being selected to show his art at an upcoming Black Alaskan Art Matters (BAAM) exhibition. We caught up with the star budtender to talk about his journey to self-acceptance and the importance of representation.
When did you first become interested in Cannabis?
So, I’ve been doing black market stuff for at least 25 years. I started around when I graduated high school.
You grew up in Atlanta. What was it like working in the black market in a state that is so anti-Cannabis?
In Atlanta, [the police] will chase you down and tackle you for a nickel bag of weed. They’ll put a ruler next to it, and if your bud is big enough, you’re going to prison for five years. That’s it. No questions asked.
That must have been crazy!
It was definitely a change coming up here where things were legal!
What made you decide to move to Alaska?
I wanted to detach from going to the club every weekend and buying the latest shoes. I needed to get my head somewhere more responsible. Alaska was a once-in-a-lifetime travel destination for people. But I’m not about vacationing in places, so I was just like … I’ll move and see what life is like. So, I settled in Fairbanks in a dry cabin, and it was really fulfilling fetching my own water and fire logs. You really have to rely on yourself when you live in a place like Fairbanks, but also the community is tight because it’s not an easy place to live.
You were doing packaging for Pakalolo in Fairbanks. What made you take on budtending in Anchorage?
I initially moved to Anchorage after a bad car accident. My specialist was based in Anchorage, so I needed to move to continue seeing them. I was already with Pakalolo, but they needed a budtender, so I thought I’d try it.
As an openly trans man, what has been your experience working as a budtender?
I was trans when I [originally] got hired, but I didn’t really express that side of myself because it can be really difficult being out. In other jobs, people will avoid you because they think something’s wrong with you. Others get uncomfortable because they don’t want to be called out for using the wrong pronouns. But as a company, Pakalolo has always been supportive and kind. I haven’t had to hide who I am.
What is the importance of having diversity in budtenders?
I haven’t seen any other openly trans people in the four years I’ve worked in the industry. It makes me want to own and operate a dispensary one day. You know, one that caters to the LGBTQIA+ community. It would be great to see more trans people working in jobs where they interact with customers. A lot of times, we work in back-of-house labor jobs to avoid the difficulty of interacting with people who might judge us. There have been times where I’ve corrected somebody for using the wrong pronouns five times in a sentence, and they just keep doing it. I don’t think people understand the harm something like that can do to someone.
And that’s why you wear your pronouns on your hat?
On my hat, my badge, and a button! Honestly, I’ve had some really great conversations with customers and they seem to be really receptive to it. I think me being prideful of who I am gives them the confidence to ask the questions they want to ask. They usually stay a lot longer and tell me personal things about themselves. It’s been a way to break down barriers, and I’m proud of that.