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Stoner Owner: Burners Block

“What can I say… I have a soft spot for humanity.”

Whether it’s gifting pre-rolled Cannabis joints to the homeless or collaborating with dispensaries to facilitate book drives for underprivileged elementary schools, there aren’t many organizations whose initiatives mirror that of Burners Block. 

Established in 2019 originally as a rolling paper brand, but later shifting to community outreach, the uniqueness of the Maryland-based Burners Block can be traced to its founder, 29-year-old Shawn Wiliams. Identifying as “a Black transgendered person”, Williams says he loves to give back to the world, “even though society treats my kind of people like crap.”

“What can I say…I have a soft spot for humanity,” said the native of Greenville, North Carolina. “I’ve always been big on human rights. I just feel like it comes naturally.” 

Shawn began experimenting with Cannabis at the age of 13 and over time found the plant to be a helpful coping mechanism to combat anxiety and depression. As an undergraduate at North Carolina Agricultural and Tech State University, Shawn kicked off a lengthy stint as an underground Cannabis dealer. After graduation, he continued his trade while also transitioning from female to male, opening a world of new perspectives.

“Female [drug] dealers have to deal with a lot of harassment,” explained Shawn, who moved to Gaithersburg in 2021. “I started to get a lot more respect as a male dealer, and even to this extent, as a male businessman. No one really started partnering with me until I physically looked like a male. Even now, people are thrown off when they find out I am transgendered. It’s fucked, to be honest.”

Shawn has tough skin, though, and has learned to push beyond perceived barriers, especially in the Cannabis industry. In 2021, after years of splitting time between legal and non-legal Cannabis endeavors, Shawn decided to pursue a master’s degree from the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy in Cannabis and Therapeutics. As his scientific knowledge of the plant grew, so did his connections within the industry. 

“[The University of Maryland] changed my life,” he said. “I was literally vacuum sealing bags [of Cannabis to illegally sell] when I applied to the program. The master’s program opened up a lot of avenues and put me in a lot of rooms with powerful people. I started getting the attention of state delegates and state senators, and I began connecting with the right people. It made Burners Block grow in a different light.”

What began as a program created to support inmates charged with non-violent Cannabis crimes, Burners Block quickly expanded its vision to incorporate a broader, communal-based goal. An annual homeless initiative took off by incorporating four different dispensaries, all helping to support the less fortunate on the streets of Washington, D.C. with clothing, food, hygienic products and, of course, more than 250 pre-rolled joints. 

“I come from an impoverished community that doesn’t have access to a lot of resources,” said Shawn, pointing to a lack of insurance resulting in mental health difficulties. “People are trying to get through their everyday lives and Cannabis is something that helps take the edge off.”

A recent collaboration with Grow West Cannabis Company resulted in over 300 books being donated to Burners Block. Shawn says Grow West will now match that number of books and the total will be distributed to schools in need within Baltimore and Prince George’s County. A supply drive for local nursing homes in the area is also in the works. 

“The book drive meant so much to me,” said Shawn, who credits his mother for teaching him to give back. “It just really shows that we in the Cannabis industry can be for the community; we can break down these stigmas.”

Shawn is hopeful that others will see the proven results of Burners Block and be willing to partner up for further goodwill initiatives. 

“Burners Block isn’t the biggest name around, but we’re making an impact, and that speaks volumes to me,” he said. “As far as I am concerned, I only get one life. And while I don’t like how shitty the world looks on my end, if I can go out and make a difference, that gives me fulfillment. And for that, I feel very blessed and thankful.”


This article was originally published in the June 2024 issue of Maryland Leaf.

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