Puff Puff YASS: 6 Queer Entrepreneurs Leaders Revolutionizing the Cannabis Industry

Last time on Puff Puff YASS, we shone a spotlight on five prominent queer personalities who are revolutionizing the cannabis industry through their activism and creativity. This week, we’re continuing to celebrate ingenuity in the cannabis community, highlighting five more queer individuals — only these five pioneers get down and dirty with the nitty gritty of running a cannabis company. They’re all industry folks, from founders and CEOs to creative directors, and they’re aren’t just managing their companies — they’re creating specific cannabis spaces for queers, women, people of color, and kink communities.

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Daniel Saynt

Occupation: Founder and Chief Conspirator at NSFW (New Society for Wellness) 

Age: 36

Sexual Identity: Bisexual

Website: www.ns-fw.com 

How did you initially get involved in the cannabis industry?

I was in the fashion world for years, developing digital marketing campaigns for brands like Burberry and Marc Jacobs through an influencer agency I created called Socialyte. I was paying attention to the trends and saw the cannabis industry was getting more coverage for its medicinal benefits.  I realized that I was tired of trying to convince people to buy shit they didn't need. I wanted to sell something that truly changed peoples lives, so I exited my agency and launched NSFW Creative as a way to provide cannabis brands access to influencers and experiential events. 

The events are marketed to a curated list of people which make up our membership. Our events are cannabis friendly and are a way for our members to discover new brands. 

What do you do now within the cannabis industry? 

Through NSFW Creative we've developed campaigns for Cherry Kola Farms, Higher Standard, Flow Kana and TopStone. We create social media focused campaigns with influencers and activist leaders in the cannabis space and host events which connect these brands to a curated list of new consumers. We connect these brands in many ways including secret dinners and private experiences designed to attract attention. 

We're also developing our own strain of cannabis currently with Cherry Kola Farms. It's been specifically designed to enhance libido and will be one of the first "sex weeds" we're bringing to market. We'll be using our network of influencers to help promote the product and providing exclusive access to our membership in legal states.  

Do you think the cannabis industry is diverse and inclusive of LGBTQ folks? 

There is little diversity amongst those running the largest companies and homophobia can run rampant at some companies. MedMen, one of the shining stars of the cannabis boom were recently sued due to homophobic slurs used by it's CEO. Those who've benefited the most from the legalization of cannabis have been cis white males and with that comes a less diverse leadership team. That's not to say these brands aren't targeting the queer community. Many made efforts to donate proceeds to appropriate causes and show their alliance with LGBTQs during Pride month. It's all the other months where it seems as if these brands are forgetting our community. 

Where does it do a good job? Where do you think it's lacking? 

Honestly, what's needed are more queer celebrities entering the space. I want Frank Ocean and Jaden Smith and other queer celebrities in the space. I want them openly supporting cannabis and creating brands in the space. I want more of an embrace of cannabis in the feeds of LGBTQs, and more visibility by being present and fighting for something we've been fighting for for years. 

I want brands to be more present at LGBTQ events throughout the year. There should be an effort to include diverse personalities in ad campaigns and to partner with other companies that are sex positive and inclusive. I think it's really important for the LGBTQ community to find their space within the cannabis world and use our dollars to support the brands that are supporting us. 

Did you see all the canna companies doing Pride things this year? Did it feel authentic to you?

In NYC, weed is still underground so there wasn't too much of a presence at the parade, but you could definitely smell the cannabis in the air. We're on the cusp in New York and we're just about ready for legalization. On Christopher Street, just a block from Stonewall, a new premiere CBD shop called Artemis House just opened. It’s very curated and a sign that our community is valuable to the cannabis industry. 

It's authentic. Cannabis legalization came through a long history of activism and protest. There's a language of rebellion that the cannabis industry understands. One we share. 

What cool upcoming cannabis projects are you working on?  

The big thing right now is our strain with Cherry Kola Farms. We're getting really excited about its release and are working on our marketing plan for the launch now. We're also working on our next Dankquet series event in New York and expanding the dinner to new cities in 2020.  

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Faun Chapin & M. Paradise 

Occupation Co-Founder & President of Sonder, Co-Founder & Creative Director of Sonder

Age: 42, 35

Queer identity: Gay for my wife, gay. 

Website: www.sondertime.com

 How did you initially get involved in the cannabis industry?

 Faun: If you were born in Mendocino in the late 70s/early 80s, chances are you’ve been in the cannabis industry your entire life. It was a way for the hippies who came from the counterculture movement of the 60s who flocked to the [Emerald Triangle] region to support themselves. My mother raised three children on her own by growing cannabis, and I grew up trimming and helping her out in her garden, along with my little brother and sister. Cannabis wasn’t my initial calling in life, but it did ultimately help fund my graduate degree from Yale, where I received an MFA in design.

M.: When we started our own cannabis company!

Do you think the cannabis industry is diverse and inclusive of LGBTQ folks?  

M.: Right now, the industry is in the middle of a tremendous amount of flux. Legalization is fantastic from the consumer side of things in terms of increased access and decriminalization, but the rollout of the new legal framework in California has been rocky to say the least. The laws changed a myriad of times in the first year of legalization, sending shockwaves through the industry as small businesses scrambled to keep up with the legal whiplash of changing regulation, resulting in many small cannabis companies desperate for funding, either going out of business or forced to sell to bigger companies for survival.

Faun: One of the reasons we got into this industry to begin with was that we felt that the industry as a whole didn’t represent the way in which we used cannabis in our lives and the way we related to the plant. Decades of government propaganda have led us to believe it’s only criminals and lazy stoners who smoke weed, and as A-type creative personalities who have been running our own business for nearly a decade, our experiences with the plant couldn’t be any more different from that stereotype. We wanted to show the world that cannabis can be a catalyst for creativity and escaping into the world.

M.: There is a lot of talk about diversity and inclusion in the cannabis industry today, and rightly so. The industry is being born in a time where many traditional power structures are being challenged, and that’s a good thing. I would say that there’s a lot of pressure on companies to hire a diverse and inclusive staff and some companies do seem to be walking that walk. But whoever holds the money holds the power, and right now the people holding the money in the industry (which is also reflected in the economy on a larger scale) seem to primarily be the same kinds of folks that traditionally have held that kind of financial power, which continues to prop up traditional power structures, and that is white cis men.

What do you think draws LGBTQ folks to cannabis? 

M.: Being gay makes one inherently an outsider with a different perspective than most people. You often value different things than what people who fit in value. Diversity and inclusivity of thought, of people, of experiences, of perspectives is foundational. Cannabis users have also always been outsiders due to the cultural stigmas that prohibition and racist government propaganda have driven and reinforced. 

Weed smokers and the LGBTQ community have both been forced to live in the closet, in a way, for a very long time. Things look very different, for everyone, when they come out into the light. Many cannabis users are naturally very inclusive because they feel they have been hiding a secret and have been marginalized and stigmatized, like the LGBTQ community, and there is a camaraderie with sharing that secret together. 

What do you think is the future of queer cannabis? 

Faun: Creativity! But in all seriousness, we need to answer: How do we create equity and build wealth within the queer community? We need to see more women and non-binary folks in positions of power. How do we create greater diversity in voices, in leadership, in ideas? And how do we create the conditions in which these individuals can thrive? Diversity needs to be embedded in every business model from the ground up, not just applied at the end of the day for an ad campaign or a parade float.

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Ely Kim

Occupation: Creative Director of Besito

Age: 36

Queer Identity: Gay, cisgender male 

Website: Besito.LA

How did you initially get involved in the cannabis industry?

It is through my creativity that I ended up in the cannabis industry. Working as a creative director in New York, I worked with a lot of fashion, lifestyle, and beauty brands. It was this work that got me in front of the design-minded CEO of Besito, Maggie Connors.

Do you think the cannabis industry is diverse and inclusive of LGBTQ folks? 

I think the cannabis community is inherently more open and welcoming to many kinds of people. We all share a "queerness" in cannabis born out of its counter-culture and illegal roots. However there is a lot more work that needs to happen to bring that mentality from the community into the industry, including inviting more people of color and the LGBTQ+ community to participate and benefit as legal cannabis flourishes. 

Did you see all the canna companies doing Pride things this year? Did it feel authentic to you?

The commercialization of Pride has become a divisive issue as it becomes more a marketing plot point than political protest. I can see both sides of the argument. While I don't want to be pandered to as a demographic, I also do like to see support coming from all sides. I think the cannabis industry has the opportunity to be a strong ally with queer people. It was exciting to see brands participate in Pride. At Besito, we dedicated 5 percent of our sales to the Los Angeles LGBT center for the months of June and July. We also hosted a dinner celebrating queers in Cannabis. We just wanted to get together with our LGBTQ+ friends from the cannabis and creative communities.  

How does your queer identity intersect with your cannabis identity? 

The way I express my queerness is in feeling free. Freedom to be my most extravagant self. Cannabis helps me feel that freedom. As a queer person, so much of my life was consumed with covering up who I am. So I have a lot of years to make up for! 

SASHA P MG

Sasha Perelman

Occupation: Chief Revolutionary of Revolver Productions

Age: 35

Queer Identity: Fluid

Website: https://www.revolvereventsco.com/

How did you initially get involved in the cannabis industry? 

It started a little over years ago at a cannabis feminist circle, passing around a joint, hearing awe-inspiring women in the industry talk about their relationship to cannabis. I had just moved to LA from New York and had no idea the extent to which cannabis was a proper industry. I didn't know what it would be, but I knew that my soul lit on fire being there and I'd figure out my role!

What do you do now within the cannabis industry?  

I run an experiential agency that produces events. Most recently I started a series called "Keep it Classy; A Pride Speakeasy," pairing LGBTQ performers and entertainers with a curated experiential environment, encouraging connection and community. Prior to that I completed a project called "Mary Talks" — which featured panel discussions with industry experts discussing cannabis as a lifestyle and wellness tool. My goal is to combine education with provocative experiences and augment the narrative around cannabis consumption.

What do you think draws LGBTQ folks to cannabis? 

The inclusivity of the community. The possibility of what can be accomplished because it's such a "new" industry. I also feel the LGBTQ community has contributed a lot to normalization. There's a lot of parallels between the LGBTQ movement and the cannabis movement. More and more people are coming out of the closet! 

How does your queer identity intersect with your cannabis identity? 

For me it's not about identifying as anyone but myself. I appreciate humans for being human. Same with small puppies.

What cool upcoming cannabis projects are you working on? 

Keep it Classy San Francisco. 

DonnieOrtegaMadden

Donnie Ortega Madden

Occupation: Global Brand Director, Sonoma Pacific

Age: 43

Queer Identity: Pansexual, cisgender male

Website: www.sonomapac.com/

How did you initially get involved in the cannabis industry?

Born and raised in Mendocino county I was around it, and it was normal for my friends’ parents to be farmers, so we had lots of exposure. As I became an adult, I rarely participated in the commerce of cannabis until prop 215. Under medical marijuana laws, I felt like I could use my lifestyle, wellness background, and interest in biohacking to make a difference in the education around the endocannabinoid system. 

I was recruited by a childhood friend and classmate to work at Cannacraft when they had just started Absolute Extracts and Care by Design brands.  

Where do you think the cannabis space does a good job of including LGBTQ folks? Where do you think it's lacking? 

The medical 215 companies all remember the HIV/AIDS crisis and know that the LGBTQ community has a strong connection to the legalization of cannabis. Where we do a poor job is remembering them and having visible people in key positions for social equity. Homophobia in hip hop culture and the Rastafarians have created an environment that is not always welcoming to LGBTQ folks, and we can do better at inclusivity across society at large. I know plenty of members of those communities that are open and welcoming and would like to see that modeled at a higher level. 

How can the canna community better address where it's not supporting the queer community?

Hire trans people for highly visible jobs. Invest in people who normally do not get the opportunities based on being different than what is currently normalized. 

What do you think draws LGBTQ folks to cannabis?  

Cannabis makes all people more comfortable. Anyone in the community living with HIV/AIDS can use cannabis for multiple symptoms. Trans people can use cannabis for post-op recovery and hormone optimization.

How does your queer identity intersect with your cannabis identity?

I have to be honest if I was not queer, I would probably step away from cannabis at the current moment. I am a white, cisgender male. I realize that many Latinx and people of color are in jail because of the war on drugs. I do not want to perpetuate white supremacy in any systemic component. Since I am queer and aware of my history both from Stonewall to current cannabis laws in California, I think I should use all of my privileges and resources to put marginalized people into jobs and also invest in them so they can overcome years of systemic negligence.

Latest.

California may have been the first in the country to pioneer cannabis law reform, but the Golden State is still struggling to eliminate the black market and sell affordable, legal pot. In 1996, California voters passed Prop 215 to legalize medical marijuana. In the years immediately following its passage, medical cannabis was a small and largely unregulated affair.

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