If you’ve ever attended the First Friday Social on Oakland’s Lake Merritt, you’ve likely encountered the force that is Melodye Montgomery. Since she knows everyone, she’s rarely in one place for too long. She’s also always smiling, radiating a warmth so familiar you feel you’ve known her for years. Melodye is the de facto mistress of ceremonies at the event, organized monthly by the East Bay Cannabis Community, where she sits as a board member and actively posts on the Facebook page that started it all.
This is where she is known as Mama Bear. “They don’t have parents that smoke weed,” she explains, describing the youth in the community responsible for her nickname, “[and] I am the mother that smokes weed. I’ll hug if you have a problem, but I’ll tell you if you get out of line.” This fiercely protective instinct fuels Melodye’s work as a guide and mentor in the local cannabis scene, inspired by a longstanding history with marijuana.
“I’ve been smoking weed since I was 16,” says the Bay Area native. Melodye lived in towns like Pittsburgh and Antioch during a time of little diversity. “I grew up being one of the only people of color in a completely white neighborhood, at a completely white school,” she explains. Smoking weed was about more than youthful rebellion; it provided calm. “My life was full of anxiety without realizing there was anxiety,” she says. “Cannabis keeps me focused, it always has.”
Marijuana’s presence in Melodye’s life endured as she raised her own children, but she was curious to learn more about the plant. So in 2014 she cashed out two weeks of vacation time to enroll in Oaksterdam University. Over two semesters, Melodye devoured hours of homework and extra credit projects. She felt her life changing. “I learned a lot more than I expected,” she shares.
During school, Melodye noticed that most of her classmates lived out of state and had nowhere to go for Thanksgiving. She invited them to an infused holiday dinner in her home and, to this day, Danksgiving remains an annual tradition. “It feels really good to be able to offer a place for folks when they can’t be with their family,” she says. Through this community, she received an invitation for a smoke sesh on Lake Merritt one Friday after work. This gathering of a few friends became the catalyst for the First Friday Social, now attended by as many as 200 people monthly.
Meanwhile, friends always sought her advice regarding cannabis. Melodye started channeling her education, connections and lifelong marijuana experience into a consultancy called Learn What’s Right For You. “For $75, you get a one-hour consultation. After that hour, you get me for 6 months,” she states, explaining that patients can call her anytime. “I have vendors that give me samples or medicine at a lower cost. I’m tied to community in order to help my patients.”
Melodye volunteers and provides mentorship for Oakland-based programs The Hood Incubator and East Bay Cares, and co-founded the East Bay Senior Cannabis Club, a monthly group that educates elders about cannabis. TendaHead, a topical spray she developed to sooth an itchy scalp, has taken on a life of its own as relief for everything from eczema to arthritis. It has been picked up by A+Collective, Ganja Tribe Farmacy and Magnolia Wellness.
For Melodye, cannabis was and still is about fostering community: “I’m always of the mind that your community will be there for you when you’ve always been there for them.” Spoken like a true Mama Bear.
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