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AUTHOR: Heather Allman
PUBLISHER: CANNABIS LAW REPORT
Chopped 420’s Guest Judge and Cannabis Activist Laganja Estranja Dishes On Advocacy, Being Bold, Advice For Cannabis Consumers, and Discovery+ Cannabis 420 Themed Show
Discovery+ has an upcoming groundbreaking new series Chopped 420, which will be exclusively available to stream on discovery+ on April 20th of this year. According to Bruce Haring’s Food Network Plans Cannabis Cooking Series ‘Chopped 420’ Competition, the Food Network is about to launch a true “high concept” television series: “Chopped 420.”
Beginning Tuesday, April 20, 2021, on Discovery+, all episodes of Chopped 420 are available to stream. In each hour-long episode, four talented and experienced chefs create ganja-infused dishes that must not only provide a buzz but also wow a panel of recurring judges, including chef Esther Choi, drag performer and cannabis activist Laganja Estranja, chef Luke Reyes, chef Sam Talbot and comedian Tacarra Williams, to avoid being chopped.
Cannabis Conversation With Laganja Estranja:
Esteemed Chopped 420 Judge, Fierce Drag Performer, and Bold Cannabis Activist and Advocate
“The LGBTQAI+ community founded the Compassionate Act or Proposition 215 [in California] so that their brothers and sisters could receive proper medication for HIV/AIDS,” Laganja explains. “So yes, Gawd, we belong!
“We are the catalysts for this movement here in California, and I take huge pride in reminding others of our community’s history,” she continues.
Laganja finds the cannabis community to be more welcoming as the years go by, but recognizes there is still a lot of work to do. “You can’t stick a rainbow on your pre-packaged joints and call it an authentic collaboration between you and the LGBTQAI+ community!”
(Forbes, Javier Hasse, September 4, 2019)
On April 12, 2021, I talked at length with esteemed guest judge Laganja Estranja —fierce Cannabis Advocate and multi talented Drag Performer— about the new show Chopped 420, her advocacy efforts, the possibility of federal legalization, and advice for potential cannabis consumers and future advocates.
Cannabis Law Report: Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me and our readers today. Please introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about how you got involved with cannabis and how you got started in the cannabis space.
Laganja Estranja: Absolutely. Well, my name is Jay Jackson, but I’m most known as a fan-favorite contestant from RuPaul’s Drag Race, Season Six. And if you haven’t caught the innuendo in my name, Laganja, I am a cannabis activist. I was first introduced to the plant in Texas, actually, when I was in high school, and began using the plant then to help me be creative as an artist and as a choreographer.
When I moved to California, I discovered a lot more about Proposition 215, also known as the Compassionate Act, and discovered that there was a huge lineage between the queer community and the cannabis community. And so what I do and continue to do is try to bridge that gap between the two cultures.
CLR: When and how did you create and transform, Laganja Estranja to be this fierce, powerful voice for cannabis advocacy? How does drag culture, in particular, fit into cannabis?
Laganja: Well, I think drag is inherently political, I think males presenting us females has been something we’ve seen that goes all the way back to Shakespeare’s time as political.
I think I just inherently be who I am. I’m already making a statement.
The fact that I chose to add cannabis to that was something that I didn’t realize at the time, I would actually have to build the strength to have. I definitely think my voice is growing stronger and stronger.
Back during quarantine, I’ve seen the most attention from the cannabis industry as a drag queen, so I’m very excited that I do think we’re on the way of really changing and getting rid of the homophobia that still lingers in the industry.
Ultimately, what’s given me my strong voice is just practice doing this over and over for the last eight years of my life. Getting up on stage and being brave and being myself. That’s really how I’ve developed —and of course education. I’ve done a lot of research about cannabis and know a lot more about the planet than I did when I first started medicating.
CLR: That’s such an interesting story because you’re exactly right that it was that LGBTQAI+ community that pretty much founded that Compassionate Act, or Proposition 215, and I believe that they really have been a catalyst for the movement overall, so I want to thank you for your part.
I really am fascinated by this phenomenon that we call cannabis that’s happening. I know quite a lot about the subject matter, so what are some of the biggest challenges faced by cannabis advocates?
Laganja: Well, I think stigma is still a huge that’s out there. I think people who are not educated really do think that stoners are lazy and are going to forget to pick up the little sister after school program, plus all those numbers and drug statistics that we all were shown over and over.
At least for me growing up in the 90s, those were huge commercials and that’s honestly what I believed. It wasn’t until I actually medicated myself, and then received the proper education out here in California, that my idea of what a stoner is really changed.
As a result, I really try to show people that I am a very, very active person. I mean today I’ve got four things on my calendar and it’s Monday. So, I think that’s really one of the hardest things we face is that people really believe cannabis users are lazy and that’s just the furthest thing from the truth.
I think that the thing that really gets in the way, like I said, specifically with the industry here in California, is the fact that it is dominated by straight white males with money —not necessarily the education or the care to the plant itself.
So what that means is it trickles on down into their employees, and then into the atmosphere that they create. For instance, when I was attending Cannabis Cups before the pandemic, you felt like it wasn’t necessarily a safe space for queer individuals. That’s something that’s definitely near and dear to my heart, and that I’m really trying to change.
CLR: I believe that cannabis is a box that we can remake. As you said, I agree that the industry is mostly dominated by straight white men with money. There’s a few companies out there that have some diversity on their teams, but as far as areas for improvement before we get to a point of federal legalization, would you say diversity is a major issue?
Absolutely. I think diversity. I think empowering women. I think those are two “things,” again, that I also really try to do as an activist. Most of the companies that I work with are either women-run and owned or operated bybpeople of color, or in the queer spectrum, so I know I’m always trying to align myself with true diversity. I think being a drag queen, again, that and diversity come hand in hand and are part of who we are, and the culture that we surround ourselves with. I would like to bring some of that diversity over into the cannabis community. Absolutely, yes.
CLR: I think it’s this new, open cannabis space, and we can definitely build that type of inclusiveness.
Laganja: You bet. Exclusivity didn’t succeed when everybody was up on “Hemp Hill” smoking —it was everybody; it wasn’t just white people. That’s what I’m saying. I think because the white people took over and became the most successful, the cannabis message of one love and the idea of what a cannabis user really is has been diluted.
CLR: I agree completely. I think it’s been lost somewhat in not only that lack of diversity, but also within the stigma that cannabis is still something that is looked at by a lot of the communities and cultures out there as something that is, as you said, not respected as a plant. It’s something that people think of as a drug.
In your experiences, what is the most interesting story or the most challenging thing that’s happened to you in cannabis?
Laganja: Well, the fact that I don’t have to do that, I’ll be quite honest. Most of the people that are approaching me are in the space already, or wanting to learn about this space. So, I feel really lucky that I have a willing and listening audience.
I will say, however, I think that the hardest part is being queer, and, also on top of that, being a Drag Queen. How I’m presenting at these events is usually a lot more over-the-top than most participants. I think that’s because there is a lot of broken culture. It does create space barriers. It’s not very comfortable. Right?
CLR: I think that’s wonderful that you’re there trying to make it a little more comfortable for those out there —others who might be potential advocates of cannabis or potential drag performers who want to be in an inclusive environment?
Laganja: Thank you. I like to be to be in the space to because I think queer culture, in general, is something that is talked about often enough. With cannabis, everybody brings up banking and everybody brings up 280E, but I really think that what I’m mentioning —the lack of diversity, and the lack of empowering certain groups within the space who have not had as much access to these licenses— they ultimately embody the type of equity that we need to see all around.
CLR: What specific areas do you see as having the most potential for change right now?
Laganja: Well, I mean you just brought up social equity, and I think that’s a great area where we have seen many out here in California focus on both —first because they want to and now because, legally, they have to— which is amazing.
I think that was a great change that we made out here in California: legally forcing and making companies have to give back, and have to give back to the people of color, who this business was built on the backs of basically. It’s only right that they should benefit, at least in part.
CLR: It’s definitely been a drug war on people and not a war on drugs at all.
I want to jump a little bit to the show since you’re on this fantastic new show centered around cannabis, Chopped 420, on Discovery+.
Talk a little bit about whose brainchild this show is? Where did this idea come from?
Laganja: Well, I think it came from the lovely creators of Chopped, and from, of course, Discovery+, which is their brand new app. I believe they birthed this idea up on their own. I was just lucky enough to get called to part to participate and be a guest judge.
CLR: What about this role really attracted you to take the position, because I’m sure you’re offered a lot of roles that you might not want to step into.
Well, no, that’s not true. I’ve never met a role I didn’t like, my love.
CLR: Got it!
Laganja: As an artist, I feel that any time my voice can be amplified, whether that’s on television or through podcasts or interviews, that’s why I’m here in Los Angeles. I’m working hard to pay my rent every month. To celebrate and to have my voice and my message be heard.
That being said, I was extremely honored when they chose me. I did have to audition for the show, just like all the other guest judges, and I can tell you on that audition, it was a lot of fun.
They had me critique a fake meal, which was really great. They said that I critiqued it better than some of their professional Michelin star chefs on board. So I am very, very grateful that, even though I’m not necessarily a trained chef or cook, they found my perspective and my voice now. Unique, but virally important to the conversation.
CLR: I think it is an important voice to add to the conversation. As you said, you’re trying to break down that stereotype of cannabis users being lazy, and obviously, if you can critique food better than a chef, that’s something that you’ve cultivated on your own.
How is the environment working with your fellow judges, the host, and the contestants? Has everything been what you expected?
Well, actually it was above and beyond what I expected. I have had the privilege of working on several television shows, but I will tell you, this was probably the nicest I’ve ever been treated.
We stayed in a gorgeous hotel where I was able to have a bathtub and a fireplace in the same room, so I was very spoiled and I will be be honest: many a night when I came back from filming, I did have these tearful moments where I just thought about how many queer people have fought for this right, for me to be able to —as an unabashed drag queen— be respected.
Not only be respected, but also be treated like a star. I mean, it truly took my breath away that I was received the way I was on the Chopped 420 filming.
I will tell you that everyone I worked with was extremely professional and fun. I think a lot of people think “oh, it’s a cannabis show, i must be very lax.” No, it was still run very much like a traditional reality show with times and deadlines, and that just goes to show you that people who are medicating are still very much professional.
I love the host, Ron Funches, he was as hysterical off camera as he was on camera. I was so lucky that I was placed with Esther and Sam, two chefs that I’ve gotten very close to. In fact, we’re still friends after filming and have a dinner planned to watch the episodes together and celebrate as a group on 4/20.
Needless to say, the bonds that we formed were most definitely real. I think that’s why we made great judges because it was important to Discovery+ and to Chopped 420 that the judges had time to themselves to get to know one another.
I wasn’t flown, I drove, but we were brought to the hotel to be able to get to know one another, and be able to bond so that when we were on camera, we had that natural energy with one another.
Again, that’s something I’ve never really been given the opportunity to do. Usually, most shows I’m on want that “meeting each other for the first time kind of energy,” whereas here, like I said, they really wanted us to work as a team through the judging. So it was great. I learned so much about food from the two of them, and I think they learned a thing or two about cannabis from me.
CLR: I think that’s what this is all about. From everything that you’re saying, your life is your message. You are your message 24/7.
Laganja: I think what better billboard for yourself than yourself.
CLR: Exactly. I’ve read your article in Forbes from 2019 and I saw some of your wonderful outfits, and I don’t care who calls them “over the top” because I think they’re fabulous. Just absolutely fabulous.
Laganja: Thank you. I’m really excited that I’ve been taking my exciting wardrobes into merchandise. Just last year on my 32nd birthday, I launched my merch store which has a lot of fashion that I wouldn’t say are similar to, but are very much inspired by Laganja, my drag character. Plus, we’re growing that loyal customer base every day, so I’m really excited that my flair for fashion is taking off in a way that now others can access it if they want to.
CLR: That would be part of your influence too, because you’re not just creating that environment of inclusiveness, you’re also bringing in your style of fashion and you’re sharing cannabis tips. You sound like the whole package, and I think that’s a wonderful asset to have on our cannabis team!
I know you just mentioned your plans for 4/20: you’re going to have dinner with your friends and watch the show Chopped 420 on Discovery+ on April 20 of this year.
Laganja: Yes, I will also be working, of course, during the day, my dear friend Adam Hill, who’s also known as “The Highest Host,” is having a really exciting live stream all day long, so he’ll be hitting everyone’s 4/20 from across the globe.
I’ll actually be with him at 1:20 p.m., celebrating East Coast time. I’m not sure if you’re familiar or not, but Adam and I actually have a show called “Misters and Marys” that we live stream every Monday night, and It’s all about bringing the gay and straight community together one blunt at a time. So we play lots of different games like “Brofabulous” where I use a word from my community and he uses a word from his community, and we teach each other about it.
Also, there’s a great segment that we like to play called “Weed or Queen?” which is where you have to guess if the name listed is a drag queen name or a weed strain —we have a lot of fun on that show— and I’m really excited to be celebrating 4/20 on his live stream!
He’s been working on Twitch since the pandemic happened, and it’s just amazing to see the community that he has grown there. Again, to have someone who is like me with the same messaging, it’s just such a blessing.
CLR: That show is on Monday night and is on Twitch?
Laganja: It is, but we actually can’t do it tonight because I have gigs. Unfortunately, tonight has been cancelled, but Mondays at 6pm on Adam’s Twitch, which is “The Highest Host,” you can find our show “Misters and Marys.”
CLR: I will have to check that out. I’m very intrigued as it sounds wonderful, and, of course, I’m going to be watching Chopped 420. Speaking of cannabis, what kind of advice can you offer to new or potential cannabis consumers?
I always say slow and steady wins the race.
A lot of people, when they meet me, they’ve never smoked before and they want their first blunt to be with Lagasse, and I steer clear of this.
I do this mostly for safety, but also because I really do believe if you’re just getting into the industry and you’re just beginning to try out cannabis, you don’t need to go in headfirst the first time. I mean, it’s okay to take a little bit, like we’re gonna try a five milligram edible, to medicate, or an even smaller dosage.
I think for most first timers, there’s excitement. At least around me, and so I try to encourage people too.
I also love to really talk to their dispensary workers or to really get the right information that they’re looking for. Because again, everyone is going into a dispensary these days with a different idea of what it is they want to receive.
I think that’s why we’re so lucky here in California to have places where there are educated budtenders who can really help each individual visitor with their purchase, right? Because it is a very individualized medicine.
CLR: I have multiple sclerosis, and I’ve come down from 25 medications to six because of cannabis. I am a firm believer in the power of cannabis. The way that you use cannabis as part of your individuality and your personality —and the way you wield your own worth— is truly beautiful.
If I was a cannabis advocate, and I wanted to start out spreading the word, what would you suggest? What advice would you give me?
Laganja: Well, for advocates, my best advice is educate yourself before you educate others. I think there’s a big trend right now to hop on the green train, as they say, and I see a lot of new influencers who are just coming to the game and taking dabs and not really bringing, in my opinion, something that’s going to further the industry.
I say, for me, I always start with education. It took me learning about THC and CBD before I could develop a CBD line. I had to actually get the research and understand how it works, the entourage effect and, and really break it down. I think if you’re going to be an activist, make sure you’re educated, make sure you’ve done your research, and then go forward and lead others into the light.
CLR: I think that’s wonderful advice, because I think the education part is something very important. Some people starting out and wanting to help others haven’t really educated themselves first, then we have doctors that haven’t even been educated on this whole endocannabinoid system, so the education is a little bit tricky.
In the business, as you said, you have a lot of gigs and you’ve never met an opportunity that you didn’t love, and I can totally appreciate that. What advice would you give to other leaders, especially women and minority leaders, to help their teams thrive? We talked a little bit about inclusiveness here and diversity, what advice would you give to another brand, for example, as far as how can they help their teams thrive?
Laganja: Well, I would say know your worth. I think that’s something that I really had to learn, not only as a cannabis, business entrepreneur, but also as an artist.
I think knowing your worth, and not diminishing your light for others, or your rate for others, is really important.
I think when you come to the conversation with a unique voice, you’re often put in the corner, or you’re told to wait your turn. And I think sometimes you have to really not wait your turn, you have to make that turn happen for you.
You do that by knowing your worth. And I mean, of course, you have to be a good person, because if you’re not a good person, well, knowing your worth doesn’t really mean anything. I think, at least for me, that’s something that I work on every day.
Even now, people think you’re this big cannabis international drag queen, and you must charge thousands, and I’m like, “Girl, you’d be surprised what I charge,” because at the end of the day, I’m also looking at a job as a way to change the world, not necessarily always as a paycheck.
You have to be able to kind of weigh that out, and to really weigh that out seriously. Like say, you have to know your worth, you have to know “is my voice worth taking less money here or no? Am I really worth more in this situation? I’m going to put my foot down. So that’s something I would say. I think it’s good advice.
CLR: I think you’re exactly right. A lot of people who are starting out just don’t know their own worth, and it’s hard to build a team of other worthy players if you don’t know where you’re starting from. On that note, I’d like to talk a little bit about your lifestyle brand.
As you know, cannabis use was deemed essential during COVID and sales have just skyrocketed, especially in Florida here. We’re the third largest state in sales right now. As far as your own brand and being responsible for that and having your name on that product, why is quality, safe cannabis so crucial right now?
Laganja: Well, I mean, I’ve always been someone who is quality over quantity. I mean, I have taken years to put out projects and collaborations because to me, if it’s not a quality, what is the point of putting it out the market is so over We’re saturated.
Now both the traditional market and the federally recognized business market —they’re oversaturated. It’s sort of about, I don’t know, I just feel like it goes back into knowing yourself and knowing your brand as you go forward.
When I first started, I had so many people who really didn’t understand, and it would have been very easy for me to kind of go in their direction. It took a real sense of confidence and self worth to say, “No, my voice matters, and what I’m doing here is going to be inspiring to others.”
In that situation, I have to kind of say “no, to you, sir, and yes, to these women over here.” That’s really kind of how I got into this industry. Not even kind of — that is how I have: women! If I didn’t have these incredible women in my life, who managed me or who run these companies and collaborated with me, I really don’t think I would be as far along as I am.
CLR: On that note, do you have a specific person you would think of as your mentor? Or have you kind of just acquired a lot of your business acumen skill set on your own?
Laganja: Yeah, I have many mentors. My first mentor in the industry was my best friend Kristin Level, who’s currently working for an incredible company by the name of Beco. They just want first place at the Emerald Cup for their red joint, which is fire! Kristen was probably my first real mentor in the industry.
Since then, I’ve worked with Cory from Honey Pot. I’ve worked with Roxanne with Fruit Slabs. So again, like I said, most collabs and most people, even Dr. Dina, I mean, there’s so many amazing women who have really inspired me and who have kept me thriving in this industry.
CLR: That’s really what I like to do in my interviews, I like to get a lot of female voices out there. Thank you, again, for sharing yours. My last question would be, how have consumers changed since you got into the industry —as far as where we started a few years ago, up to 2021, where we are now?
Laganja: All consumers want more! They want more regulation, they want more lounges, they want more. So I think it’s actually an exciting time to really be a part of being a participant here, because people are getting education, people are learning what type of strains really work for them, or whether eating edibles or dabbing is going to be the proper way for them to get their medicine.
Now, they want more because they’ve identified and been able to speak about it with elegance and, and with someone across the counter who understands exactly what they’re talking about.
So that’s where I see us going — I do I see more spaces opening, hopefully safe spaces for the LGBTQ plus community, where people can medicate. As someone who struggled with alcohol, I see all these bars around, but I’m just thinking “when is it going to be more like Amsterdam, and we can just go and smoke at a bar instead,” right?!
I think that’s where we’re moving, at least here in California.
Plus, I think for me, I just really would like us to be federally recognized; that was something I fought for out here when they were trying to vote on legalization. I think until we’re there, we’re gonna run into a lot of issues. Right? So it’s my hope that we’re going to begin to see some federal regulations across state lines.
CLR: I am with you on that. 100% I think it’s going to happen within the next couple years because of the way it’s headed. But then again, we’re gonna have to piecemeal it out so it’s something palpable for Congress.
Laganja: I agree, I think there’s going to be many, many mistakes. Even when we went recreational here in California, I actually voted no on Proposition 64 because it absolutely killed all of my friends’ businesses. Anybody who didn’t have a million dollars, it killed them.
So, there’s going to still be some things that are going to suck and things we have to work through. But I just know if we could begin that journey as a community for federal federal recognition, we would be in a better place.
CLR: I think so too. I think if we all work together towards that, especially women —because we all know when women get together in any community, we can make our voices heard.
I thank you again for for using your voice for cannabis and advocacy, and for bringing together not only the queer community, but also other communities who have been quite marginalized in this industry.
Laganja: Absolutely, I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again, if women, people of color, and the queer community could get together, we would be able to overpower the white males. So together, I believe we can and will –eventually.
CLR: I hope 100% that you are right. Thank you so much for your time this afternoon and for the opportunity.
Laganja: You’re so welcome, and thank you for speaking with me!
Laganja Estranja is the stage name of Jay Evan Jackson, an American choreographer and drag queen based in Los Angeles. Laganja competed on the sixth season of RuPaul’s Drag Race, finishing in eighth place.
Jay Jackson is an American choreographer, drag queen, and cannabis rights activist based in Los Angeles, California. Under the stage name Laganja Estranja, she competed on the sixth season of RuPaul’s Drag Race, finishing in eighth place. Laganja performed moderately well on the show, winning a challenge while partnered with eventual runner-up Adore Delano.
During the show, Laganja became infamous for her over-the-top dramatics, catchphrases, and emotional breakdowns. Eventual winner Bianca Del Rio credited Laganja as the root of every memorable quote from the following season of RuPaul’s Drag Race. Jay is a choreographer at Beyond Belief Dance Studio in Mesquite, Texas, a studio owned by his drag mother, Alyssa Edwards.
In 2016, Jay and friends developed Laganja’s Dance School, a hip hop-oriented jazz-funk choreography class and confidence workshop. The workshop is held in North Hollywood, California, and also tours abroad. In 2014, Jay contributed vocals to a cover of RuPaul’s “Jealous of My Boogie”, for the album RuPaul Presents: The CoverGurlz. On June 4, 2018 he debuted on So You Think You Can Dance (United States) on Fox.
Further Info —Chopped 420