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Photo by Nate Williams

Nina Parks: Plant & People Warrior

“I just kept going to meetings and bringing up the same conversations."

Just a Kid From San Francisco

Forged in the crucible that is life, Nina Parks is an inspiring, motivated and medicated pioneer in San Francisco’s Cannabis scene –– particularly within the realm of social equity. Born and raised in SF’s Mission and Excelsior districts, Parks’ experience growing up was similar to many from the area during that time.  

While San Francisco’s gentrification has ramped up and become the subject of national attention in recent years, it’s been slowly occurring for decades and has affected every single resident of the area, regardless of whether they’re impoverished, affluent or somewhere in between. For Parks, this meant her parents worked over 60 hours a week to keep the lights on and food in the refrigerator. When the lack of adult oversight and structure was coupled with the elimination of educational resources like afterschool programs, arts, music and sports opportunities from her school, as well as witnessing a lot of stress induced violence in her family and community, Parks began getting into trouble with the law and other authority figures.

As a result of her rebellion and an early indulgence in hard drugs she was using to quell her pain and deal with the trauma she’d been witness to, she spent her sophomore to junior years of high school at a ranch school in New Mexico before returning to San Francisco –– where she would take her California High School Proficiency Test, pass, and effectively wrap up her high school experience. 

Afterwards, she began taking Criminal Justice and Sociology classes at City College of San Francisco and eventually switched to San Jose State, ultimately becoming educated on a higher level beyond her real world experience about the the strategies being used to uphold oppressive systems that target people of color in America, including drug laws. This would effectively lay the foundations upon which she would develop a passion for social justice and equality, and when a close family member became incarcerated for working with the plant, her career in Cannabis would begin to take shape.

A Budding Passion

Fast forward to 2014 and Parks’ brother would be arrested for felony possession with intent to sell while participating in interstate commerce on a trip from California to New York –– while only a matter of months later, New York would vote to legalize medical Cannabis. Her brother’s arrest would turn out to be the impetus for Parks’ entrance to the Cannabis industry as her newfound profession.  

Previously, she’d copped a few ounces on occasion when she needed to make some extra money and would break them down and sell them in dimes, dubs, eighths, quarters –– whatever the customer wanted. Thus, she knew it could be profitable, but had never thought it would be her career.

Her brother, on the other hand, was deep in the scene and had been steadily building out a brand and retail business, with the intention of bringing it to life when California legalized Cannabis recreationally. He could see that this was imminent and by the time he was arrested in 2014, he had his Mirage Medicinals brand and business fully dialed. But when he was arrested, his entire future in Cannabis was put into jeopardy as the initial regulations drafted for Prop 64 barred convicted felons from obtaining a license and excluded language to support delivery-based businesses. Parks knew her brother’s passion for the plant was deep, and that him being disallowed from participating in legal Cannabis for being a participant in illegal Cannabis was unjust.

She went to work ensuring her brother wouldn’t miss out on the chance to build his business in the newly legal adult-use market. She began operating Mirage Medicinals, bringing the brand and business to life and set out to figure out how to ensure her brother had a chance to come back home and continue his career with the plant.

Affecting Change

Parks was smart and knew that the only real way to affect change would be on a group level. She began attending as many meetings in the Bay Area regarding Cannabis as she possibly could. She witnessed firsthand and was impressed by the efforts of people like Amber Senter and Lanese Martin, who helped develop Oakland’s Cannabis social equity program –– the country’s first.  

“I just kept going to meetings and bringing up the same conversations. Those conversations eventually turned into the equity program,” explained Parks. 

She would then connect with Senter and together, along with Sunshine Lencho and Andrea Unsworth, they would found Supernova Women –– an organization dedicated to empowering women of color and giving them the tools they need to be successful and stake their claim in the burgeoning legal industry. Parks then took what she had learned and turned her focus to her home city. She began going to San Francisco’s public Cannabis meetings and would continually prompt legislators as to what the city had planned in terms of a social equity program.

“I just kept going to meetings and bringing up the same conversations. Those conversations eventually turned into the equity program,” explained Parks.  

As Parks became more and more integrated in the conversations around social equity in San Francisco’s legalized Cannabis scene, she became co-founder of the Original Equity Group –– a facet within the San Francisco Cannabis Equity Working Group –– whose goal was to create a way of lowering the barrier of entry for those wanting to apply for an equity Cannabis license, providing education for a “quick and dirty” crash course on navigating regulation and running a business. 

A Relentless Entrepreneur

This year, Parks created and launched her own Cannabis brand called Gift of Doja, which features premium flowers curated from select legacy cultivators like Sanctuary Farms.  

Not satisfied with only a couple irons in the fire, Parks is the Chair of San Francisco’s Cannabis Oversight Committee, a founding member of the Cannabis Regulators of Color Coalition, a member of the Equity Trade Certification and co-founder of Locals Equity Distribution.

Today, Parks remains an active participant in the San Francisco Cannabis scene and continues to work towards positive change by helping bring the industry much needed diversity. Armed with a deep passion for people and for the plant, we are excited to see what Parks brings to the industry in 2021.

Photos by @natew415

About Nate Williams

Nate is a Bay Area born and raised Cannabis enthusiast and journalist working in the field since 2015. He worked as the Oregon Leaf Director until relocating to Sacramento at the beginning of 2020 to help launch California Leaf, where he currently serves as the magazine’s Sales Director. He enjoys organic sun-grown derived hash rosin, photography, and road cycling.

This article was originally published in the December 2020 issue of California Leaf.

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