Listen to this article here

RAW Rolling Papers (BBK/HBI), the independent international brand of high-quality rolling papers and smoking innovations, announced in August a donation of $100,000 to The JUSTÜS Foundation, a 501c3 non-profit organization that is dedicated to facilitating the entry of legacy cannabis operators to the legal cannabis market.

The Black Wall Street Times spoke with RAW founder Josh Kesselman about how they are addressing underrepresentation in the cannabis industry and overrepresentation in U.S. prison populations.

But first… why is it called “RAW”?

A nostalgic Kesselman said, “I grew up in New York City, I remember the first time I ever heard Big Daddy Kane’s RAW and it just touched me.”

YouTube video

“I was thinking about the paper and how I wanted it to look and give people a certain feeling different than what was already out there. I wanted to give them a more natural feeling,” Kesselman remembers.

After having a machine gun aimed at him and serving time for selling bongs in the nineties, Kesselman says this issue has been personal for a long time.

“In the nineties, my store sold a bong to the daughter of the United States Customs Service, Special Agent in Charge for the Northern District of Florida. He came in with a Bible in one hand and a search warrant in the other.”

Kesselman recalled, “They pinned me down to the floor with a machine gun to my head. I had a boot on my back over bongs that are now legal. Noting the silver lining, he admits, “If I hadn’t gone through what I went through, I never would have started RAW.”

“Along the way, I saw a lot of people that were not able to come back from being charged with something relating to cannabis,” said Kesselman. “And I really want them to come back [to the cannabis industry], I want them to succeed in the way that I did.”

“I want to help anybody who’s getting hurt by cannabis laws because it’s just a plant, man.”

Reflecting on his violent arrest and so many like it, Kesselman stated, “You remember things like that very clearly. I’ve had so many friends that have been hurt over the years by these archaic laws.”

According to Legal Defense Fund, despite using cannabis at a slightly lower rate than their White counterparts, Black people are roughly four times more likely to be arrested for cannabis.

Today, many Black Americans remain behind bars under mandatory life sentences, while the legal pot industry (run primarily by White men) is projected to bring in $45 billion in 2024.

Who are Legacy Operators?

A Legacy Operator is defined as, “An individual who commercialized Cannabis for the majority of their income, or sacramentally or ceremonially distributed Cannabis, outside of the legal framework, during the period of prohibition, predating legalization by 5 years.”

The RAW Seeds Fellowships will award grants to three emerging legacy cannabis operators who were also negatively impacted by the justice system due to the draconian laws.

“I believe that any person who succeeds has a responsibility to give back in a meaningful way,” Josh Kesselman. “We can all get higher together.”

Understanding the lack of opportunities afforded to those charged with felonies, Kesselman states, “when you end up with a felony on your record, it kind of forces you to be an entrepreneur because no one’s going to hire you.” He furthered, “However, with the right opportunity you can turn a negative into an extreme positive — but you have to have the opportunity.”

On Oct. 6, 2022, President Biden announced a pardon for people convicted of federal marijuana possession. In August, the DEA received cannabis scheduling recommendations to reduce “harm” as a first step toward easing federal restrictions.

A staunch advocate for the formerly incarcerated, Kesselman says, “A lot of people are getting out and we want them to have a real chance to succeed in cannabis. They’re already an expert and they’ll have their heart in it better than anybody without that level of education and dedication.”

“It benefits the entire industry when we have real people in it, people that have literally served time for this industry. Those are the ones who deserve to succeed,” affirms Kesselman.

The JUSTÜS Foundation outreach and support of underserved communities such as Rastafari community, Social Equity Participants, and Legacy Operators is unprecedented.

Also included in the program, up to $15,000 may be awarded in smaller grants to multiple legacy operators. This grant will also be used to launch legal cannabis businesses, or to facilitate a career in the legal cannabis industry. 

“We are in the barrier removal business at The JUSTÜS Foundation,” said Scheril Murray Powell, Chief Operating Office of The JUSTÜS Foundation. “Legacy Integration is the fast track to diversifying the Legal Cannabis Market.”

While Kesselman sees cannabis becoming legal across the U.S. in a matter of five years, he also says the Food and Drug Administration along with pharmaceutical companies are invested in delaying its inevitable passage, much like the bong he was once incarcerated over.

“I strongly believe that we would already have legalization if it wasn’t for large pharmaceutical corporations like Pfizer and alcohol company lobbyists,” asserts Kesselman.

 “I fought against the FDA in federal court before.” He continued, “In many cases they are protecting profits of established companies, and they themselves don’t have to care about their own profits, so they will often spend ludicrous amounts of money to try to prove their point.”

A longtime cannabis supporter, Kesselman argues, “When you smoke, it makes you more empathetic. You’re able to connect with people even if you don’t see eye-to-eye with them. You just see them as people.”

“It should be a plant that we grow in our garden no different than a daffodil or sunflower.” Kesselman concluded, “It’s nature’s plant. No one should have the authority to control cannabis. It’s not something that’s synthesized or manmade — you plant a seed and it grows.”

Regarding the partnership with The JUSTÜS Foundation, a RAW statement read, “By empowering these undervalued Cannabis Business Executives, we propel them to the front lines of the health equity movement and the creation of economic growth for jurisdictions around the world.”

Read more about the partnership at

Hailing from Charlotte North Carolina, born litterateur Ezekiel J. Walker earned a B.A. in Psychology at Winston Salem State University. Walker later published his first creative nonfiction book and has...

Join the Conversation

1 Comment

  1. So the Pinocchio of Pot wants me to admit to Tax Evasion in order to get a measly $20k grant? No one is that high.

Leave a comment

Leave a Reply