The cannabis plant is often touted for its ability to bring people together. For thousands of years, the rituals of marijuana consumption have always been viewed as peaceful. The healing abilities have no doubt enriched - and possibly saved - millions of lives throughout history. Up until recently, it seemed like pot smokers were all on the same team.
But has the advent of the modern era of cannabis legalization cemented the old school vibes of community and connectedness or has greed and regulatory hiccups created a dog eat dog industry where no one seems to be able to get ahead?
When adult-use cannabis legalization began to happen in select states and Canada, a flood of excitement and anticipation flowed across a nation exhausted from the so-called “War on Drugs.” Customers lined up a dispensaries to be among the first people to purchase weed without fear of arrest or remuneration, buying out entire inventories (something that continues to happen in new legal states).
A sort of “green rush” mentality took hold. Investors hungry for the next big thing rushed to infuse cash into businesses that may or may not have been prepared to execute. Regulatory agencies built to handle a whole new industry rarely set up businesses for success. Antiquated tax laws and lack of access to traditional business funding due to the federal government’s stance that cannabis is a Schedule I illegal substance has made it nearly impossible for cultivators, producers, and retailers to make a profit.
This perfect storm led to the “cannabis bubble” bursting in the middle of 2019, leading to consolidation, layoffs, and a whole lot of companies not paying their bills. Now, at the dawn of a new decade, the pot industry has an uncertain future. Legalization has done little to stop the illicit market, which continues to thrive even in communities where dispensaries are plentiful. Efforts to bridge the gap between the generations of cultivators who for decades hid in the shadows and the new “corporate weed” world seem to have fallen short.
So where do we go from here?
XYZ NEWS CO. spoke with some of the foremost minds in the cannabis industry today to try and better understand the notion of the cannabis community itself. The response was overwhelming as business leaders, underground dealers, and former flower children alike offered up their takes on the struggles being faced and hopes for the future.
It’s important to note that regulations vary greatly from state to state (and country to country for that matter), meaning opinions were literally all over the map.
Is the notion of the “community” itself legit or a facade?
Nearly everyone we spoke with agreed that community is a crucial aspect of the cannabis industry:
“We started as a community and then became an industry. A sacred, healing plant filled with meaning and compassion became a commodity to be packaged and marketed for profit. The two tried to interact over the past 2 years but it is challenging because they are so different in values. I do see the community starting to circle outside the industry and return to its roots but the circle is much smaller.” - Karen Rumeric, Owner/Founder, Cannaflage Designs, Oregon
“I can say without hesitation that ‘cannabis community’ is very real, very alive and learning more everyday. We're not perfect, certainly full of flaws and disagreements, but we are certainly a community making a difference and righting the wrongs. Not all the time, not every time, but many times - and one time is sometimes all it takes. There is inspiration and motivation everywhere around the cannabis plant and community.” Amy Dawn Bourlon-Hilterbran, CEO, Millennium Grown, Oklahoma
“Having grown up in one of the original cannabis communities, the term ‘community’ is definitely legit, however it's been fairly gentrified and eco-washed, if you will. Many of the newcomers (and I mean the past five to ten years) have never had to experience how to help your ‘competitor’ when they lost everything in a CAMP raid. When you grew up in an outlaw community, you came to the aid of your friends and neighbors and helped each other with everything from sales of weed to raising their kids when they went to jail for growing. Our community was hard-core and you had to prove yourself for years (if not decades) before you were considered a local and knew how to fit in.” -Wendy Kornberg, Founder/CEO of Sunnabis and of WKornberg Consulting, California
“I’ve never met a community quite as close as the one we find in our industry. The thing about our community is prior to legalization we all had relationships and close ties. We knew how to work together to overcome seemingly impossible odds. Post legalization, we did see many treasures fall off however you saw everyone banding together to help push the whole industry forward.”-Dylan Brewington, purchasing manager, Eden Enterprises, California.
“In most communities you hope to find others who welcome you in and are supportive of your needs. Early results from the Women In Cannabis Study shows us that is true – more than 80% of women reported helping other women out by making connections and introductions for other women, offering free advice and specifically supporting other women-owned businesses. We’ve also found that more than 90% report having been helped by a male ally. That gives me hope!
“On the flip side, often in communities you will also find evidence of violence, sexism, discrimination, bullying and lack of support. Between the horror stories we all read about on social media about treatment of women, and our preliminary results, we have seen that is true as well. Our early survey results show that more than half of women have experienced bullying or lack of support from other women in the industry – and one third have reported being sexually harassed while working in this industry.” - Jennifer Whetzel, Founder of Ladyjane Branding and Women in Cannabis Study, Maine
Has legalization brought us closer together or driven us apart?
People within the cannabis space were far more divided as to how legalization has impacted the community:
“(Legalization has) driven us apart. With legalization came a lot of rules and rule breakers, people calling and turning in their competitors, and big business stepping in and lowering the price so much that small businesses can't compete. We were most definitely more of a community centered on helping people when it was medical.” - Scott McKinley, Executive Producer, Washington
“The idea of the cannabis community has evolved in the wake of Proposition 64 (adult-use legalization). Pre-legalization, the sense of community felt stronger it felt like everyone was working with everyone to elevate the industry. Unfortunately, post-legalization, it has saddened me to see people with more of a sense of every person for themselves. I’ve seen people turning on people that were friends. Companies trying to get up and comers into legal troubles as they did what they had to try and become compliant. What this is doing is dividing and conquering what was the strong roots that carry back to the days of Dennis Peron, Jack Herer, Wayne Justmann, Amy Fisher and the people who have made it possible to get this far. While we say we don’t want big corporate canna, our actions are paving the road for just that.” - Jason Rosenberg, Account Executive, Hearst Bay Area, California
“I think legalization has absolutely brought us closer together. From being able to openly collaborate with the existing cannabis community in regulated and legitimate forums all the way to engaging people who only recently acknowledge the beneficial properties of cannabis. With legalization comes conversation and education.” - N.K.M., California
“Legalization has brought those of a corporate mindset into the fold of those they ostracized for so long. But it hasn’t accepted in the marginalized. Those with lack of means or cannabis convictions. We have driven a wedge driving lots of those from the community underground where they should be uplifted.” - Jonathan Hirsh, Cannabis Educator, Education Station, Canada.
“In every emerging industry there are growing pains, and the cannabis industry is no different. What is unique to this community is the transition from a long-standing underground society to a legal industry. This radical shift in status is redefining the concept of a cannabis community, and what participating in this community means to an individual. In my experience, legalization is bringing like minded people together. For the first time in over 70 years we are free to talk openly about cannabis in public. Legality is helping to break down the old stigmas about the use of cannabis and creating new opportunities for the cannabis community to grow.” - Heidi Groshelle, Partner, Ingrid Marketing, California
“Legalization has both brought us together and driven us apart. It’s like football: Packers fans and Vikings fans all love football but they don’t like each other. Same can be said of indoor vs outdoor growers. There’s a common thread but also conflicting values. So when policy comes along that favors a certain value set over another there is division among people who share a common interest or passion.” - Sarah Grew, Co-founder, Crested River, California/Minnesota
What is causing the cannabis industry to fail?
It’s no secret that times are tough right now for legal marijuana. Stocks have plummeted, leaving investors skittish. Margins are basically non-existent. Regulators appear not to care. How have things gotten so bad in such a short amount of time?
Industry insiders XYZ spoke with had several opinions, but nearly all pointed fingers at the federal government first and foremost. Their failure to remove cannabis from the Schedule I controlled substance list is directly responsible for the lack of financial services and tax exemptions otherwise law-abiding businesses are entitled to. Many respondents also complained about the hyper-competitive nature of the legal industry as well as a lack of education and support from regulators. Corporate greed combined with shady practices are also considered key issues.
How can we fix the cannabis industry?
If life is a marathon, the legal cannabis industry is just warming up - they’re basically still tying their shoes. And while things may get worse before they get better, the notion of the community is still prevalent in many people’s minds.
When asked, professionals from within the space argued that lower taxes and a free market model would help the community thrive. Another common theme among interviewees was the old adage of “a rising tide lifts all boats.” They encouraged one another to promote others in the space, and to be mindful of the drama that too often plays out in the public eye, damaging the entire marketplace’s reputation. The majority of Americans may now support federal legalization, but missteps on the path may make those on the fence reconsider.
When it comes to all the problems facing the pot business, there is no one-size-fits-all answer. The cannabis community is real and remains steadfast in its efforts to succeed. Now more than ever, it is imperative to put the “us versus them” attitudes aside and remember who comes first: the patients who need this plant the most. If this industry fails, it is they who pay the price.
Nearly everyone XYZ spoke with for this piece could agree on that.
Have something to add to the conversation? XYZ would love to hear about it. Make sure to drop us a line.
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