Ophelia Chong didn't set out to become a cannabis activist. She graduated from the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, CA and established herself as a photographer. From there, she moved into the entertainment field as a creative director. It wasn't until a close family member became ill and needed to use medical marijuana that she realized the stigma attached and that she needed to change such perceptions. Knowing the power an image can hold, Ophelia created Stock Pot Images.
One reason you started Stock Pot was to increase diversity in representation regarding cannabis and the images are not your typical stock photos, cannabis related or not. What has been the general reception?
When StockPot Images launched on 4/20/15, it made a small ripple in the ocean that turned into a wave by the end of the year. It was at first a learning lesson for most of the cannabis community to understand the stock photo business model; there was pirating of our images by large companies that surprised me by their ignorance of intellectual property laws. One call to a company turned into a 90-minute call about copyright and why it protects artists.
As for our diverse imagery it was a surprise to most because of the issues of race in cannabis. People of color have been targets for arrests over and above Caucasians; StockPot Images’ mission was to show POC as they are, not as the stereotype promoted by government and media propaganda.
Have you had any negative reactions artistically or business-wise?
We have had no negative reactions, rather it has all been positive. Most of my work comes from IP infringement within our own community. The cannabis industry is moving into legality and with that the learning of how to conduct a business; copyright is just one facet of the learning curve the industry is being educated on.
The photographers you work with only use real people in their images. Is this a specific requirement you instituted or did it just happen organically?
Yes, I have been in the business of photography for three decades. I’ve been a creative director for stock photo agencies and as a marketer and I’ve seen enough of set-up shots of actors and models art directed to “interact” as though they all know each other; it all comes off as “stocky.” I encouraged my photographers to use their friends or models who are comfortable with cannabis.
Our model releases are different as well, in it the “model” acknowledges they are holding a Schedule 1 drug.
Obviously a lot has changed since you started Stock Pot in 2015. Has there been anything in particular that has surprised you?
What has surprised me...the way word has spread through “word of mouth” and the amount of press we had. Everyone has been so supportive in and out of the cannabis industry. Another milestone in the industry is 10 states with both medical and adult use approved by voters shows the voters’ swing to legalizing through education, media and most importantly via tireless advocates across the states. As well as having Australia, Chile, Greece, Israel, Italy, Germany, Uruguay, Columbia, Mexico, Canada, Peru, Poland, Sri Lanka and the UK on board with some form of legal medical usage is changing the minds and hearts around the world.
You are also one of the founders of Asian Americans for Cannibis Education. What has been the general feeling towards cannabis in the Asian American community? Have you noticed it shifting?
In the last presidential election, Prop. 64 was on the ballot in California. Past propositions were always voted down by Asian Americans, however in 2016, Prop. 64 passed with a majority of APIs voting "yes" to pass it. Change came with the age groups voting (skewing younger) and with the cannabis industry bursting at the seams that needed to move forward with clear regulations and out of the gray market.
A goal of AACE is to reach out to Asian Americans and tell them what cannabis is about.
So far, do you find it easier or harder to educate this group to be open to the idea?
At the beginning I had thought it would be a hard road, however I’ve been surprised time and time again about how open APIs are to learning about cannabis. From my 83 year-old parents to my younger cousins. It was an open secret that there are many Asian Americans in the ancillary business of cannabis, from suppling packaging to vape cartridges to hydroponics.
What is one thing you would like people to know about cannabis?
It is a plant, not a pharmaceutical and to open your mind to it’s medicinal properties. Or rather consider it as the new “aloe.” CBD will be everything on the health and beauty shelf as well as grocery offerings. It’s a plant first used by people in Eurasia and Africa. Although it has been in use longer in the previously mentioned areas, I like to say that it was used in Asia for over 27 centuries as medicine, building materials and clothing. That’s the Chinese pride in me.
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