Cannabis industry players hopeful about year ahead, despite continued business challenges and federal inaction.
Cannabis industry players hopeful about year ahead, despite continued business challenges and federal inaction.
The Women Grow Pavilion at the recent CWCB conference in New York City proved to be a big hit. Located in the back corner of the hall it looked as if the group wasn’t given the best location, but that quickly turned out not to be the case. It was the place to be and where all the action was happening. The opportunity for many of these small women-owned businesses to have a table at a trade show was invaluable. Women Grow President Gia Moron said have the pavilion was a dream for the group and thanked CWCB for making it possible.
On Thursday, April 26th, the first-ever Green Market Report Women’s Leadership Awards ceremony was held at The Green Market Report Women’s Summit in Manhattan, NYC to honor female and female-identifying cannabis professionals in categories ranging from Cultivation to Activism and Politics.
The Women’s Leadership Award in the Brands category went to Nancy Whiteman, CEO of Wana Brands. Honored for her adroit management of Canadian cannabis company Canopy Growth’s acquisition of 100% of each Wana entity as well as her commitment to social equity in cannabis, Whiteman was also lauded for her innovative new product lines and product development. Khadijah Tribble, Vice President of Corporate Responsibility at Curaleaf, (OTC: CURLF) received the Women’s Leadership Award in the MSO category. A highly-respected expert on equity and inclusion in cannabis, Tribble created and runs Rooted in Good, one of the most robust corporate responsibility programs in any industry, and is also the founder of Marijuana Matters, a cannabis education and advocacy incubator.
The Women’s Leadership Award in Marketing went to Natalie Shaul, Co-Founder and VP of Marketing at Springbig. Shaul was instrumental in Springbig’s pivot to cannabis and is known as a trendsetter, job creator, fundraiser and changemaker in the industry. Shaul has helped thousands of cannabis retailers while her business has created more than 80 jobs across South Florida while providing discounted services to support veteran and minority-owned cannabis businesses.
Kim Rivers, CEO of Trulieve Cannabis Corp., was given the Women’s Leadership Award in the C-Suite- Public Company category. She is the only female CEO of a publicly traded company in the cannabis space. A former lawyer, Rivers has since spearheaded the largest cannabis acquisition deal to date with Trulieve’s purchase of Harvest Health & Recreation. Rivers was also instrumental in Trulieve’s Environmental, Social and Governance report, the first of its kind from an American MSO. The award for Women’s Leadership in the C-Suite Private Company category went to Ralina Shaw, founder of House of Tyne and leadership team member of 4thMVMT, a leading social impact organization with a mission to support those disproportionally impacted by cannabis laws. She is also one of the few BIPOC executives in the PR and Retail space.
Founder and CEO of Women Employed in Cannabis (WEIC) Kyra Reed was given the Women’s Leadership Award in Activism/Politics for her helming of the largest association for women working in cannabis, psychedelics, hemp & CBD. Named as a “Social Media Pioneer” by Entrepreneur Magazine, Reed has grown WEIC into a 15,000 member organization as well as the premiere brand and international organization dedicated to empowering women to achieve their goals.
The Women’s Leader Award for Cultivation went to Joyce Cenali, COO of Sonoma Hills Farm. Under Cenali’s leadership, Sonoma Hills was the first farm to be recognized as “organic comparable” as designated by CCOF’s OCal program. She co-founded an Emerald Cup-winning organization and supports female founders innovating in cannabis with a mission to advance a regulatory model that unites capitalism and inclusion. Chanda Macias, PhD, CEO of Ilera Holistics, took home the award for Women’s Leadership in the Science category, in no small part for her role as the first Black woman medical cannabis operator as CEO of National Holistic Healing Center—the largest medical marijuana dispensary in Washington, D.C. She is also Chairwoman of the Board of Managers and CEO for Women Grow and First Vice Chair of the National Cannabis Roundtable Board.
Narmin Jarrous, Chief Development Officer at Exclusive Brands, won the Women’s Leadership Award in Social Equity. Jarrous’s social equity program partners with organizations like the National Birth Equity Coalition and The Last Prisoner Project while also helping Social Equity Applicants gain their licenses. Jarrous is also a mentor, educator, speaker, and advocate for women of color in the industry. Ronit Pinto, founder of Honeysuckle Magazine, took home the Women’s Leadership Award in Media. Honeysuckle has gained national distribution and also created Honey Pot Magazine, a sister print and digital publication focusing exclusively on cannabis and hemp issues.
Wendy Bronfein, Co-founder, Chief brand Officer and Director of Public Policy at Curio Wellness was honored in the Dispensary category. Bronfein drives the company’s legislative agenda across multiple states and oversees the brand as well as all corporate communications. She also helped initiate Curio’s Wellness investment Fund and a program to provide start-up capital for minority business-owners to open their own Curio franchise locations. The Women’s Leader Award for Public Relations went to Shawna Seldon McGregor, founder and CEO of Maverick Public Relations. She represents businesses across all sectors and is recognized as one of the most effective cannabis agencies in the industry. MacGregor has provided pro bono PR work and has served on the boards of numerous charitable organizations.
Honorees were nominated by colleagues from across cannabis sectors. Almost a hundred nominations were reviewed by industry insiders before they decided upon the twelve women executives and entrepreneurs to receive these special awards spanning several areas within the cannabis industry.
This year’s New York City annual cannabis parade brought out a who’s who of New York politicians and activists. Senator Chuck Schumer told the Green Market Report that he and Senator Booker will be introducing legalization legislation in a few weeks. In addition to Schumer, NY Attorney General Tish James spoke about social equity, Steve DeAngelo reminisced about his first NYC cannabis parade when he was 17. Vlad Bautista from Happy Munkey spoke for legacy operators, Tonya Osbourne represented cannabis women, Grizzzly BoCourt spoke on behalf of social equity applicants and Blinc CEO Arnaud Dumas de Rauly voiced his excitement over the soon to be legal market in New York. Thank you for watching the Green Market Report! Be sure to subscribe to stay up to date.
Gia Morón is the Founder & CEO GVM Communications, Inc a public relations, brand strategy and business development firm. She launched the company on April 20, 2012. The firm’s client base ranges from small to midsize firms to successful entrepreneurs. Ranked in Forbes in 2019 as one of the leading PR firms in cannabis, Gia and her team work closely with lobbying firms, policymakers, MSO to small operators. Her diverse team of professionals collectly have over 3 decades of experience.
In addition to GVM Communications, Gia is also the President of Women Grow, the largest professional network for women in the cannabis industry. At the company, Gia oversees the company’s day-to-day operations, internal and external communications, education programming, and strategic partnerships.
With over 25 years of experience in communications, prior to launching her firm and Women Grow, Gia was a Media Relations Officer in the Corporate Communications department for fifteen years at the investment banking firm Goldman Sachs Group Inc. Before joining Goldman Sachs, she was Director of Promotions and Publicity for six years at The Fremantle Corporation, an international television distribution and production company. Outside of her professional accomplishments, she continuously works with a number of non-profit organizations and mentors up-and-coming young women entrepreneurs across the country. She is a board member for Minorities for Medical Marijuana, advisory board member for CWCBE, and Coalition Member for Start-SMART NY. Gia currently resides in her hometown of Brooklyn, NY, with her daughter.
GMR Executive Spotlight Interview Q & A:
Full birth name: Gia Morón
Title: Founder & CEO
Company: GVM Communications, Inc
Years at current company: 9
Most successful professional accomplishment before cannabis: Instead of successful I would like to say most helpful professional experience before cannabis was working on Wall Street. The knowledge and experience I gained during my time there prepared me for the cannabis industry. But to directly answer the question, launching this company was my most successful accompaniment. I did it by myself. Self funded. No financial assistance from anyone. While GVM reflects the initials in my name, the company name actually stands for Great Visions and Minds Communicating.
Company’s most successful achievement: Lending our expertise in advising some influential people inside and outside of the industry. Seeing their brands and strategies flourish feels rewarding knowing we had a part in their success. Due to confidential agreements we cannot disclose names or details but we have full confidence in our knowledge and talents.
Has the company raised any capital (yes or no): No
Any plans on raising capital in the future? Yes, we have goals to expand into other areas of communications.
Most important company 5 year goal: Our goal is to expand to multiple communications platforms to provide service and education. COVID heightened our awareness that key tools are missing for small businesses and I strongly believe we can deliver a need to the business community as we see a necessary shift evolving.
Last month, for the second time, the Emmanuel Baptist Church (EBC) in Brooklyn New York teamed up with Women Grow, the largest professional network in the cannabis industry, for the Business of Cannabis Summit. Launched in 2019, the Summit is designed to be a resource to help Black and Latinx communities enter the burgeoning legal cannabis and hemp industries.
The inaugural Business of Cannabis Summit took place in 2019, with 400 people gathered in attendance at the church, and over 60 speakers. The two-day summit brought business leaders, industry experts, and advocates together discussing topics from social justice, to winning a license and creating products, to reinvesting in communities. After the 2020 event was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s Summit took place virtually over two days: February 19th and 20th, and more than doubled its inaugural audience, welcoming over 2,000 virtual attendees.
Rev. Anthony L. Trufant, EBC executive pastor, author, and nationally noted church development consultant, noted that the “collaborative experiment” between EBC and Women Grow may be seen as an “unorthodox partnership,” but one that has been successful at addressing the health disparities and economic discrimination that negatively impact communities of color — particularly African Americans.
“As Black entrepreneurs in the legal cannabis market, we appreciate the role the church has always played in our community,” says Gia Morón, President of Women Grow. “Creating a partnership with a Black church, especially one as large and influential as EBC, can be critical in helping the community better understand and accept responsible uses of cannabis as a medicine, and its potential as a business.”
The Summit featured live discussions from cannabis industry leaders and innovators including Niambe Tosh, daughter of reggae legend Peter Tosh; Drug Policy Alliance Executive Director Kassandra Frederique; Wanda James, the first Black person to open a licensed adult-use dispensary (Simply Pure); and Dr. Chanda Macias, the first Black woman to open a licensed medical marijuana dispensary (National Holistic Healing Center) and CEO of Ilera Holistic Healthcare, which partners with Historically Black College/University (HBCU) Southern University in Louisiana as one of only two cannabis licensees in the state. Through that historic partnership, SU became the first HBCU in the country to create and launch hemp and cannabis products. Others included Regina Smith, Executive Director of Harlem Business Alliance, Leo Bridgewater a cannabis advocate and veteran from New Jersey, Roz McCarthy of Minorities for Medical Marijuana, Jawanza Williams Director of Organizing of Vocal New York, Jessica Gonzalez a New Jersey Cannabis Attorney, Mary Pryor of Cannaclusive, Melissa Moore of Drug Policy Alliance, Cristina Buccola a New York Cannabis Attorney, Chenae Bullock of Shinnecock Nation Tribe and Jacqui Williams of 99 Solutions.
Medgar Evers Community College (CUNY) in Brooklyn, NY announced at the summit the Fall 2021 launch of its Cannabis Minor program. This will be the first community college in New York state to launch such a program.
Topics discussed included adult-use legalization in New York and New Jersey; how to start a cannabis business; careers in cannabis; creating CBD hemp products; trademarking your cannabis business; investing in cannabis stocks and businesses; majoring in cannabis (college/continuing education programs); understanding land use and cannabis real estate; and how the cannabis industry can reinvest in our communities.
Sponsors of the 2021 Business of Cannabis Summit included Curaleaf, Etain, Columbia Care, Zelira Therapeutics, Cresco Labs, Keystone Canna Remedies, Phytolive Organic, Nicolle Munroe Designs, and GVM Communications.
New Jersey: Ballot Advocacy Using Banner Planes
In less than two months, New Jersey voters might start a chain reaction on the East Coast to legalize cannabis and create a fertile market sandwiched between New York and Philadelphia – that is, if nothing goes wrong for advocates clinging to a close polling margin.
“It’s so easy to get trapped just talking to people on our side,” said Ellie Siegel, producer of Accelerate Cannabis events and lead sponsor for the Aerial Advocacy Campaign, “we needed a way to reach millions in the State with clear reasons why they should ‘Vote Yes’ and to tell everyone they know to make it down-ballot to the referendum.”
With social distancing in effect, Siegel sees this campaign as a way for businesses to reach both everyday voters and industry actors, “webinars and virtual conferences don’t tend to attract newcomers in the same way and as New Jersey becomes one of the hottest markets in the world, our mission has been to educate and create a sophisticated network of service providers and advocates who are ready for expansion.”
From 500 ft in the air, six feet of separation seemed to matter less as visitors flocked to the Jersey Shore over Labor Day Weekend. Accelerate Cannabis is flying a banner again this Saturday to keep the momentum going and hopes to continue mass market advocacy as the season changes.
Supporters of the Aerial Advocacy Campaign include Longview Strategic, an industry consulting firm focused on licensing and expanding emerging markets, as well as Women Grow, a female-led cannabis networking community, and Trichome Analytical, a local testing lab in the State. “We are all coming together to draw attention to the advocacy efforts of #NJCAN2020,” Siegel continued, “this coalition has been formed by people who have dedicated their careers to trying to get legalization right and we want the public to turn to them for information and resources about the ballot question.”
The campaign also links to Headcount’s Cannabis Voter Project, a multi-tiered effort through the entertainment industry to get-out-the-vote. With fewer venues, concerts, and live events offering spaces for mass market advocacy, people are finding new ways to support the legalization message and remain socially distant.
Editors Note: This article was reprinted with the approval of the writer Mai Perkins.
It was late spring 2018 in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn, not far from Biggie’s old stomping ground, when Emmanuel Baptist church hosted a free financial empowerment workshop called Exodus: Exiting Egypt. The all-day seminar was well attended by members of the congregation and featured panels on general topics like debt relief and estate planning.
What would set this event apart from others likely to be held at churches around the country with a vested interest in their community base were two unexpected workshops: Understanding Bitcoin, and The Business of Cannabis.
Being a member of EBC, I was amazed to discover that I could explore both topics of interest at my home church in a completely judgment-free zone, and decided to attend. I understood that these just were not your average subjects among Black churchgoers, and particularly not discussed at the house of the Lord. Or so I thought!
I’ll be honest. Part of my motivation was to attend just to see who else would be in the room. And considering the handful of people who sat around the table listening to Gia Morón, Executive Vice President of Women Grow, it didn’t really dawn on me that eight months later her organization would collaborate with Emmanuel to create the first ever church-hosted Business of Cannabis Conference.
So how did all of this come about, anyway? Ten minutes into that first low-key workshop, Reverend Anthony L. Trufant, better known as Rev., sauntered into the room to all of our amazement, and sat down to join the discussion. With great joy, he and Gia recounted a chance meeting, one that both believed was orchestrated by the hand of God.
Months earlier, they both had arrived at Penn Station on the same train and decided to share an Uber back to Brooklyn. During that divine appointment, Rev. asked Ms. Morón what she’d been up to, completely unaware that her answer would lead to a destined partnership between his church and Women Grow.
“$105 million: The estimated annual sales tax revenue generated by medical marijuana dispensaries in California, according to the Marijuana Policy Project, a Washington, D.C.-based group that supports legalization.”
Her countenance lit up as Gia explained her current role with the nationwide advocacy organization that supports women with connections to help them own and lead cannabis related businesses. Admittedly, she was a little apprehensive, sharing the details of a perceived controversial, if not taboo, choice of profession.
But Gia’s conviction for and commitment to dismantling what she felt were distorted, negative imaging and factually inaccurate beliefs related to cannabis, across the board, led her to share her testimony with Reverend Trufant.
It was the passion in her words, her keen fact-based knowledge, and her personal experience that convinced Rev. that Emmanuel would not only benefit from, but welcome her message as a cannabis evangelist. Taking a risk, to Gia’s surprise, he invited her to speak at the financial empowerment workshop months later.
From that chance meeting, and two small breakout sessions up on the second floor of the church, the vision for The Business of Cannabis Conference was established. And what has come to fruition nearly a year later is a cannabis event of great proportion, never before seen within the confines of a religious institution.
Certainly not the Black Baptist church. But unlike the meeting in June, this event emerged as a hot ticket item, selling out weeks in advance to attendees with varying levels of interest in cannabis from across the country.
“$134.6 million: The amount of estimated tax revenue Maryland would earn every year if it legalized and regulated marijuana, according to a 2014 estimate from the Maryland Department of Legislative Services.”
Very little was announced beforehand of what to expect beyond the workshop titles to register for during the week leading into the conference. The panels included: Acquiring Cultivation or Dispensary Licenses; Ancillary Businesses/Careers in Cannabis; Integrative Cannabinoid Medicine by the Knox Family; Medical Benefits of Cannabis and Hemp; The Need for Equity Programs; Cannabis 101; Social Justice and Policy Reform; Destigmatizing Cannabis; Parenting and Cannabis: Learning Together; Healing with Hemp, CBD and Cannabis: topicals, vapes, edibles, and more; Types of Businesses in Cannabis; and, Networks and Industry Conferences in Cannabis.
In addition to these twelve breakouts, there were five Q&A rooms where attendees could pop in and speak with professionals from the industry, which included: What is Unaccredited Investing?, How to Enter the Cannabis Industry, Questions About Legalization of Cannabis, Ask the Medical and Science Professionals, and, Opportunities for Women in Cannabis.
Each panel included POC and women entrepreneurs, attorneys and advocates, dispensary owners and growers, medical doctors and researchers, business analysts, public relations professionals, and content creators. Several cannabis advocacy and media groups from coast to coast contributed to panels including Estrohaze, Cannaclusive, MJM Strategies, Cannagather, and the Minority Cannabis Business Association.
A common thread among the speakers was that each one managed to take their prior work experiences and parlay that expertise into the cannabis industry. Moving throughout the day you could truly feel the essence of the mantra: Whatever YOU do, do it in cannabis!
As if the outpouring and overwhelming amount of information were not enough, the conference also welcomed a riveting keynote address from the CEO of Women Grow, Dr. Chanda Macias on dispelling the myths of cannabis. Dr. Macias, who earned her Ph.D. from Howard University with a concentration in Cell Biology, evoked the passion of civil rights leaders as she beseeched the packed audience with her searing words. She implored us to take our rightful ownership in this fight for equityfor people of color within the cannabis industry as legalization, from the state to the federal level, continues to take shape.
An overarching theme of the conference was the Social Justice component that points to why it has become an imperative to demand Equity Day One in cannabis legislation as the end of marijuana prohibition nears. Social Equity simply means reinvesting a portion of the newly generated capital from the legalized cannabis industry directly into Black and Latino communities.
These are the neighborhoods that were impacted by unprecedented marijuana arrests and convictions due to Nixon’s damaging War on Drugs campaign. Research studies and anecdotal knowledge have starkly proven how the War on Drugs targeted communities of color, grossly contributing to the United States having the highest incarceration rate in the world.
Because of this, advocates in the multibillion dollar industry are demanding that these very people are poised to stake their claim now that the same marijuana plant that locked up scores of men and women is being sold in their neighborhoods primarily by white-owned cannabis companies. “Do not miss this boat…,” Dr. Macias charged the audience, who responded in agreement.
Adding to the progressive conversation were remarks by New York State Attorney General, Letitia James; Congressman Hakeem Jeffries; Assistant Counsel to Governor Cuomo, Jason Starr; Councilwoman Laurie Cumbo; Senator Velmanette Montgomery; and, Brooklyn District Attorney, Eric Gonzalez.
Each representative acknowledged the need for deliberate goals and strategic policy planning on the part of advocates, lobbyists, constituents and elected officials to be on the right side of history by creating legislation with day one social equity as New York State approaches legalized recreational cannabis in 2019.
Lobbyists also distributed form letters urging attendees to be a part of the political process by contacting their Senators and Representatives in Albany so that they are fully aware of the demand for Equity Day One.
As the reverend, Anthony Trufant, thanked Gia Morón’s and his own staff for working so tirelessly around the clock to pull off this crowning achievement, particularly during Black History Month, you couldn’t help but feel how monumental and historic this day was.
Revolutionary in his own right, Trufant is a Morehouse College educated faith-based visionary with a commitment to moral and social justice, which is why he was entrusted with this mission to help bridge the gap between the cannabis community and the church, despite initial pushback from some of EBC’s established members.
When both he and Dr. Chanda prayed from the pulpit, there was a sincere and humbled thanksgiving each expressed to God for the many health and wellness benefits of the cannabis plant. “We thank you for reminding us that You have already placed on the planet resources that can help us to ease pain, resources that will enable us to move forward as a community, and to provide economic opportunities.
We pray, oh God, that you will enable us in the justice work, to join our Brooklyn DA and our Attorney General for the State of New York, as well as our legislature and governor as they deal with legislation that is pending. May we, the citizens, give them the support and the backing that they need to take this courageous step. And finally, God, we pray for men and women, boys and girls who are in great pain today.
We pray that they will experience some degree of relief, that they will have an opportunity to be able to partake of that which you’ve planted so that the pain will be eased for them. Oh God, as we go our respective ways, be with us. We ask this in the name of our God. Amen.”
– Contributed by Mai Perkins
Mai Perkins is Cali girl in a Bed Stuy world, with several blogs under her belt including Uberlicious.nyc and MaiOnTheMove.com. She is a contributing writer for the music publication Pop-Mag.com, and has written for Relevant and Bust Magazine.
With an MFA in Creative Writing from Sarah Lawrence College, and an MA in International Affairs from The New School, she reps her beloved alma mater, Howard University, every chance she gets. As a poet and a non-fiction writer, she has just published her first manuscript, The Walking Nerve-Ending, available now on Amazon & Kindle.
Fashion met cannabis this past weekend as Project Runway Allstar, Korto Momolu, partnered with Women Grow, the largest network of women in the cannabis and hemp industries for a runway show spectacular. The combination of high fashion and activewear emblazoned with the Women’s Grow logo was well-received by an enthusiastic audience.
Models sashayed down the runway with some proudly taking hits on vapes as they meshed glamorous high fashion and cannabis consumption. The show embraced the idea that women can be seen in flowing beautiful gowns and also consumer cannabis whether it be CBD or THC.
Momolu debuted a runway collection of women’s ready to wear that embodied the power, influence, and strength of female leadership. The fabrics chosen for the outfits were from many sustainable materials including hemp fabric, linen, jute, and cork. The activewear from the Women’s Grow line promoted the idea of a healthy lifestyle with the element of cannabis thrown in. The show was notable for its inclusivity with models of different sizes and ages. Yes, a model with grey hair came strutting down the catwalk. No ageism was allowed at this show.
“While the intersection of fashion and cannabis industries may not seem obvious at first, the collaboration was created to amplify the message of Women Grow – Empowerment, Inspiration, and Education,” states Chanda Macias, CEO of Women Grow. “Through Korto’s innovative and elegant collection, our goal is to break through the stigma of cannabis culture and bring to light the health benefits of the plant, and the value of women leaders in the industry.” Macias noted that Women Grow’s mission is not to cultivate cannabis but to intentionally cultivate female leadership within the cannabis industry as well.
As the beauty industry has embraced CBD with seemingly every product now claiming some sort of Cannabidiol inclusion, fashion has been slow to join in. Hemp was used for textiles for hundreds of years, but its characteristics of strength make it a difficult and expensive product to process for clothing. However, as more apparel manufacturers begin to work with hemp once again, the processing should begin to improve and become less costly.
“Women Grow has a great handle on an industry that is about to truly explode – and this offers a HUGE opportunity for women to make their mark. They’re all about empowering women, and that’s what resonated with me most,” commented designer, Korto Momolu. “We’re looking to normalize cannabis – we’re showing vapes on the runway and an assortment of hemp-based fabrics.”
Korto Momolu auditioned for, and earned a spot on the 5th season of Bravo TV’s hit show, Project Runway – earning her the prize of “fan favorite.” She was highlighted in the ‘Top 5 Designers to Watch’ at her debut season at New York fashion week SS09.
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