Member Spotlight: Gentleman Quinns Blunt Company

Member Spotlight: Gentleman Quinns Blunt Company

“We wanted to create something we’d buy ourselves.” – Jarell Wall, Gentleman Quinns Blunt Company

 

“It’s all about respect to the flower and the consumer,” says Jarell Wall, Co-Founder, CEO, and Creative Director of Gentleman Quinns. The Colorado cannabis company produces unique, one-of-a-kind products at the intersection of where luxury, cannabis culture, and high-quality meet.

A Blunt Too Good to be Real?

Wall had been enjoying a successful career in television production in Atlanta, Georgia, when he had the opportunity to move to Colorado in 2015. Knowing that Colorado had a new growing cannabis industry, visions of blunts and pre-roll joints came to his mind, but when he took a part-time job in a dispensary, he soon saw that the joint product category certainly didn’t match his expectations. 

“There wasn’t much creativity,” he observed, noting it was about “what’s cheap and fast.” He says that the influx of vertically-integrated companies in the market puts flower quality at risk in efforts to keep costs low. “They thought weed sold itself,” he notes.

At that same dispensary where he took what would become a fateful part-time job, he met Austin Pflumm and Colorado-native Gentleman Quinn. One evening, the three friends were ready to share a smoke, with Gentleman Quinn electing to take on the task of rolling. Head down, fingers moving fast, he got to work. Under the dark of night, when he looked up minutes later and produced his piece, Wall and Pflumm assumed he was playing a joke on them, with a tree twig or a gag joint because it certainly didn’t look like your regular run-of-the-mill joint. They laughed and quickly tossed it on the ground and put their hand out for the real joint.

When Gentleman Quinn retrieved what he produced off the ground, dusted it off, and began smoking it, what his friends recognized was that their friend had simply rolled a masterpiece in the beautiful blunt that smoked like a dream.

That is when Gentleman Quinns was born. As Pflumm took a pull of his friend’s perfectly rolled blunt, he exhaled and said “The name has to be The High Class Big Ass Blunt”. And that’s exactly what they sought to bring to Colorado’s cannabis consumers.

Honoring the History of the Blunt in Cannabis Culture

It’s believed that the blunt made its way into cannabis culture and history in the mid-1800s in the Caribbean, with several theories forming why Jamaica, in particular, had a penchant for cannabis rolled in cigar wrappers. These theories range from smoking devices like bongs, pipes, and even cigarette papers not being readily available to using the cigar wrapper as a method to mask the smell of cannabis smoke.

Around this time, cigar wrappers were starting to become manufactured in the United States. With an influx of immigrants from the Caribbean, the blunt made its way into American culture. It’s definitely no secret that these special bringers-of-the-blunt, among others, became the target of racialized stigmas and punishments when it came to cannabis, which forms the basis of why social equity is so important to the legal industry today.

“We wanted to create something we’d buy ourselves,” says Wall, “A centerpiece that would be part of normalization that could be displayed on a bookshelf or be a talking point.” Some people advised the trio that using the word “blunt” in their branding could bring a negative connotation towards cannabis’ heavily racialized past. The three eager business partners begged to differ. 

“It was important that we keep the name because it is important to the culture of cannabis,” he acknowledged, “Some aspects of the previous culture aren’t going to be appealing to new folks. [The blunt] appeals to the people who have been smoking for a while.”

A Focus on a Quality Blunt Smoking Experience

To bring the concept of the blunt into Colorado’s emerging cannabis industry, the three co-founders of Gentleman Quinn’s Blunt Company went on a quest to match quality with shelf appeal, also recognizing their product needed to be compliant since you can’t sell cannabis and tobacco together in Colorado.

Wall, Pflumm, and Gentleman Quinn, now named the Lead Bluntador, searched far and wide for a tobacco- and nicotine-free paper that would replicate the cigar wrapper smoking experience, trying leaves of all kinds, and finally landing on the perfect hemp paper with no flavors or additives. “It’s important to taste the flower,” says Wall.

Each 2-gram High Class Big Ass Blunt is hand-rolled by Gentleman Quinn and his trained team, using the Lead Bluntador’s proprietary method, and only full flower bud (no trim) that has been hand-selected by the business partners after careful sourcing from Colorado’s finest growers. All flower is fully tested for pesticides, heavy metals, and any other impurities.

Before their placed into their wood-crafted packaging, the blunts are inspected by Gentleman Quinn, who ensures his method has been perfectly followed to guarantee the blunt won’t “canoe” or run. What results is an even and smooth pull that won’t scratch the throat or make you hack a lung.

Now eight years after that fateful night of three friends smoking the perfect blunt, Gentleman Quinn’s High Class Big Ass Blunt, and it’s 1.25-gram counterpart the High Class Mini Ass Blunt, is in 21 stores across Colorado, with plans to expand across Western states.

Proof of Concept as Key to Success

We asked Wall to share some insights for those within the BIPOCANN network, and those thinking of bringing a unique product to the cannabis industry.

He attributes much of the success of the High Class Big Ass Blunt to proof of concept, first using the dispensary the business partners met at as a focus group for the product’s appeal. “Get as many voices as possible to try it out,” he says, “See what the consumer feel is for the product in terms of pricing, and get them to try it and see if they like it.”

Another key is to never just assume you know what your ideal consumer likes. “You may think what you have is perfect, but no one wants to buy it,” he laughs.

Wall also notes that understanding the different cannabis stores and how they’re selling products is crucial, with store engagement being an important part of helping them share the appeal of your product to consumers. “What kinds of products are they selling? How can you help them sell your product?” He includes holding pop-up events, direct customer engagement, and educating budtenders as strategies that connect the cannabis producer to the consumer.

 

Hope With Recent Progress

The company received its license before the State of Colorado began implementing strategies aimed at helping social equity applicants find success in the cannabis industry. However, Wall often found that when he was at industry stakeholder meetings, he was often the only Black man in the room. “I saw that the industry had to have more diverse conversations and ownership,” he says.

Wall is a member of the State of Colorado’s Social Equity Advisory Committee within the Colorado Marijuana Enforcement Division, and holds hope for the future of cannabis, believing his state, and the nation overall is going in a positive direction in terms of cannabis. He reminds us that it was just 2018 that former Attorney General Jeff Sessions threatened to take down the cannabis industry, and just recently, our current president became the first to make a declaration representing a possible positive step towards eventual federal legalization.

Wall recognizes that among the steps ahead, the industry experiences its fair share of steps back. “Since it’s federally illegal, there are still banking issues, normalization, and propaganda issues that push people to harm the industry,” Wall states of some of the anti-cannabis legislation we see across the nation. “A lot of work needs to be done to bring people along, and everything needs to be done incrementally, and it can’t be flipped overnight,” he says of federal legalization efforts.

He definitely feels that more assistance is necessary for social equity applicants in Colorado and across other states. In Colorado, for instance, even though more social equity applicants are getting licensed, there is now a shortage of properties zoned for cannabis retail, and lack of financing is a persistent issue for applicants. “There is also a cognitive thing where folks don’t want to get into the industry because they have been pushed aside due to prior issues,” he tells us. 

He sees Colorado’s Cannabis Business Office’s efforts working directly with social equity applicants as a positive step, believing that the health of the Colorado economy hinges on the health of the cannabis industry. BIPOCANN is proud to be a part of these social equity initiatives in Colorado through a partnership that provides mentorships to social equity licensees.

Upon closing, Jarell Wall shares how our organization has helped him and Gentleman Quinn’s Blunt Company. “Seeing the work of BIPOCANN and Ernest has been so important,” he says, “I’m so appreciative of the networking and connecting of people within the industry.”

Join Gentleman Quinns as a member of BIPOCANN by learning more about our program here.

Member Spotlight: Expunge Colorado

Member Spotlight: Expunge Colorado

“Bills Need to be Written by the People and for the People” – Rosalie Flores, Expunge Colorado

 

“Marijuana has been a part of our lives for as long as I can remember,” recalls Rosalie Flores, Co-Founder of Expunge Colorado of growing up in New Mexico during the War on Drugs and witnessing the systemic  injustices that occurred within underfunded,  communities of color that impacted so many close to her.

Flores’ journey towards seeking reparative justice is as authentic as it gets, representing true work from the heart. Expunge Colorado is a non-profit designed to provide education, training, consultation, and access to pro bono legal services for record sealing and expungement of eligible criminal cases in Colorado.

 

Growing up “Real Fast”

Growing up in Albuquerque, New Mexico in the nineties, Flores saw the damages of the failed War on Drugs play out around her, seeing poverty compounded by a lack of social support and a poor education system as the norm. “It was really rough,” he recalls of her earlier years, “We experienced some pretty major trauma as youth, and it was pretty devastating. I know  more people from high school who have addictions than went to college. We grew up real fast,” she adds.

These early experiences always stuck with her after graduating high school, when she pursued working within the Forestry Service and focusing on environmental issues before moving into a sales role within the natural foods industry where she found great professional success.

When she became a single mother, Flores was forced with the decision of whether to raise her son in Albuquerque to experience the same systemic shortcomings. “When it was time for my son to go to middle school, I knew that the situation in Albuquerque hadn’t changed,” she says, “I moved to Colorado so my son could get a better  education.” Flores also saw this as an opportunity to pursue a career in cannabis.

Excited about the opportunity to work in the legal cannabis industry after a youth of seeing the plant and people criminalized, Flores began a role as a sales manager for a  cannabis manufacturer with bright eyes and high hopes. “I knew the first week that something was off,” she recalls of this pivotal time that would shape her future.

“I didn’t understand why there wasn’t diversity here,” she explained. Having lived most of her life in New Mexico, Flores had hoped that entering the legal cannabis space in Colorado would be more reflective of the diverse communities she’d grown up within. “I thought it would be different,” she says. Flores remained in this confused state as she witnessed the Colorado industry grow but knew that there were so many people who’d had prior cannabis charges who were banned from participating. She simply couldn’t shake the feeling that something needed to change.

And so started Rosalie Flores’ journey towards reparative justice for the legal cannabis industry.

 

Is Anyone Actually Doing Anything?

Flores soon plunged herself into a long and detailed learning journey on some of the policy issues affecting developing legal cannabis industries across the U.S. and in Colorado. “I started reaching out to almost everyone in the entire country,” she says, “I became obsessed.” She became familiar with the work of groups like Minorities for Medical Marijuana and the Minority Cannabis Business Association and learned about the concept of social equity as it applies to society as a whole and specifically the cannabis space. “I was hoping someone was doing something, but I knew the barriers were there,” she recalls.

The path in front of her became a bit clearer when she had the opportunity to volunteer at the Opportunity Summit held by the Minority Cannabis Business Association in 2018, which included an Expungement Event & Business 101 session. Hearing of people’s experiences of being unjustly targeted helped her understand in further detail what the various layers of inequities within the cannabis industry are, and the systems and historical events that caused and perpetuated them. “This event was life-changing,” she says, “This is how people get empowered. You give them education and you clear their records.”

Flores’ drive to do something was kicked into high gear when she received a call from Adam Vine, Founder of Cage-Free Cannabis. This national group advocates for equity within the cannabis industry by creating opportunities for people of color and achieving restorative justice. The organization helped launch National Expungement Week, a cross-country event that offers legal relief and wraparound services, such as employment workshops, health screenings, and voter registration to those who have been criminalized for cannabis and other non-violent crimes. 

Flores wanted to get involved right away, as she knew that helping people get legal relief would result in immediate changes in their lives. “I knew people who had a record, but I had never known anyone who had gotten relief,” she says, “I went in extremely new and [Cage-Free Cannabis] told us what we needed to do.”

 

The Foundation for Expunge Colorado is Put Down

Flores met and partnered with Abbey G. Moffitt Hruby and Melanie Rose Rodgers to plan and execute the first record sealing event in Colorado in October 2018. Record sealing doesn’t destroy a criminal record, but significantly limits who can have access to it, whereas expungement typically means that a criminal record is destroyed. Flores, however, notes that neither record sealing nor expungement is true restorative justice as sometimes people with expungements can have unnecessary complications down the road. But, it’s a start. 

During that first event, they worked to get the records of eight people with cannabis convictions sealed. The following year after recognizing the importance of these record sealing and expungement events, the Governor of Colorado made a proclamation honoring National Expungement Week within the state.

In 2019, Flores, Moffitt Hruby, and Rodgers helped seal 31 records across seven counties in Colorado. When the pandemic hit in 2020, Expunge Colorado the trio didn’t stop their work. Despite the logistical heavy lift of holding the event online, the group managed to seal the records of 33 cases. Holding this event during the pandemic made the group realize that there were significant opportunities to create a strong infrastructure that makes record sealing or expungement as accessible as possible. 

At the 2021 event, they helped 24 people seal their cases, and in December of that year, Flores, Moffitt Hruby, and Rodgers registered Expunge Colorado as a Colorado 501c nonprofit with the hopes to one day offer assistance year round. 

The Path Towards True Reparative Justice

What does reparative justice mean to Rosalie Flores? “Repair is giving back to the communities that have been most harmed,” says Flores, “For me, specifically it looks like acknowledging first of the harms that have been done and changing that. It’s the acknowledgment that low income communities of color are targeted and criminalized in a way that affects multiple generations. A criminal record shuns individuals from society for the most part,” she describes.

“The acknowledgment is followed by empowerment. Then, really concerted, focused efforts on how to make that happen,” Flores explains, “That means reinvesting tax revenue to communities for those who have been unjustly targeted.”

Flores notes that she prefers to use the nomenclature “unjustly targeted” rather than “disproportionately impacted”, as it acknowledges that there was intent in the harms caused to targeted groups. “Those communities are now not just consumers there to make cannabis companies profit,” she states, “We have to give [tax revenues] back. In a state like New Mexico with such poor education, reparation is about education on knowing how and if legalization affects them.”

Flores notes that reinvested tax revenues need to focus on providing adequate and accessible education, financial literacy, and mental health resources. “In these unjustly targeted areas, people avoid systems because they’ve been harmed by them,” she notes, adding that legalizing the drugs that have systemically caused people harm is simply not enough.

 

The Need for a Comprehensive Approach to Legislative Change

The founders of Expunge Colorado have put hundreds and hundreds of hours of work into their education, record sealing, and expungement efforts. Holding non-profit status allows Expunge Colorado to gain funding to help with educational campaigns, providing resources, and holding legal clinics that make the record sealing or expungement process as easy and accessible as possible. Flores notes that the organization is always open to new funding avenues.

“The biggest barrier that advocates and equity representatives really have is that they have to do their work for free to ensure that things are getting done,” Flores states, “When we want to move these bills forward, there is no money behind it. You’re sacrificing your day job just to do what’s right, whereas cannabis companies are paying legislators for listening to them.”

One of Rosalie’s biggest concerns is the rapid rate that large cannabis corporations are moving towards what they deem legislative change without the involvement of those who have been unjustly targeted. 

“Corporate cannabis is moving too fast in passing bills, and are going to legislators without consulting communities and advocates,” she explains, “This puts communities into fast-paced mode. You need years and years of planning when bills move forward in order to do it comprehensively.  Cannabis legalization requirements are being implemented through a prohibitionist mentality where impacted individuals can’t ever afford to get into the game.” 

“These bills need to be written by the people and for the people. Not by cannabis companies and not for profit,” she says.

 

Expunge Colorado Defines Its Future

Expunge Colorado had a strong hand in the writing and subsequent passing of Colorado’s Clean Slate Act this year, allowing for arrest records that don’t result in a conviction and certain older criminal records to be automatically sealed, starting in 2024. 

“There is always a need for petition-based process, so our services will always be needed,” says Flores, “Our next goal is to provide education and self-empowerment pieces going forward. We want expungement to become common knowledge that is shared. We want to get people involved so that people aren’t unnecessarily suffering.”

 

Flores’ Work Comes Full Circle

Always feeling a tie to her home of New Mexico, and the traditions of the land based tribes and communities that have inhabited the land for centuries, Flores saw an opportunity to take what she’d learned in Colorado, and work towards some improvement in her home state.

In 2021, with the imminent passing of the state’s Cannabis Regulation Act, Flores saw that the proposed language of the bill did not mention equity and recognized that many of the tribes and communities she’d grown up around were not consulted and could be negatively impacted. Flores and a coalition of advocates called The New Mexico Acequia Association helped change that. They ensured that the unique land-based and tribal communities of New Mexico were at least mentioned in the bill as “underserved” and that some protections were in place to protect them from the water theft and misuse already in practice from cannabis producers in the medical program.  

Flores now holds a contract with the City of Albuquerque as a Cannabis Equity Consultant, and she is now able to see her efforts come full circle to where she started, allowing her to work towards a better future for her home state.

 

Advice for Others Who Want to Help with Expungement

We asked Flores what advice she has for people in other cannabis states who want to help move the needle on equity and expungement.

“Learn, learn, learn, learn, learn,” she begins, “Find mentors and learn. If you don’t throw yourself into it and read every possible thing you can read to figure out what is even going on, the current state of affairs, it’s going to be difficult to change it. Meet with legislators who express interest. Get comfortable engaging with the system. It’s hard to do because it’s a failed system,” she goes on, “Accept that we are part of it and that we’re unfortunately taking the brunt of the policies and the need to change them. The system isn’t going to do that for us. It’s about wiping our hands and just getting in the game.”

In closing, Rosalie acknowledged that while she’s working hard, there is still so much to do to bake equity into our legal cannabis industry: “Because we’re talking about equity means we don’t have it. We’re barely scratching the surface in justice, expungements, and equity, but these conversations are happening now and we need to start understanding what they really mean.”

Support Expunge Colorado

BIPOCANN honors the integral work of Expunge Colorado and is grateful for their work so that other states can build on what they do. Support Expunge Colorado by donating or volunteering your time so that no more people need to suffer unnecessarily for what they sacrificed for a plant millions of us freely enjoy.

Member Spotlight: Wyld

Member Spotlight: Wyld

BIPOCANN Member Spotlight: “Understand How to Participate with Respect.” – Jonathan Ross of Wyld

It was Jonathan Ross’ background in international diplomacy that gave him the unique lens through which he approaches his role as Community Relations Manager at Wyld, a leading multinational cannabis edible brand leading the way in creating environmental and social impact through cannabis.

Serving in the Marine Corps for six years, Ross traveled the world, spending extended periods living in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Colombia, and parts of Africa and Australia. Providing national security for ambassadors, foreign nationals, and then-Vice President Joe Biden, Ross gained first-class training in international diplomacy, which opened his mind and heart to how to approach and engage with different countries and cultures. 

“In order to maintain diplomacy, peace, and good relationships, you have a good working relationship with these cultures,” he says, adding how important it is to “understand how to participate with respect if you’re invited into these spaces.”

This community-centric approach formed by his international experiences in diplomacy is undoubtedly one of the most valuable traits that Ross brings to Wyld and the cannabis industry as a whole.

 

From the Marine Corps to Corporate Cannabis

“My experience with cannabis was null and void,” says Ross when we ask him to describe his journey from the Marine Corps to Corporate Cannabis. Entering the Marine Corps at a young age, and essentially growing up within that environment, he took a rather rigid view on cannabis. “There was a cultural perception of cannabis that it was bad and there was nothing good,” he notes. As many are aware, it is prohibited to use cannabis while serving in the U.S. Army or Marine Corps.

After 6 years in the Marine Corps, Ross focused on working within non-profits and community initiatives as well as VA Public Affairs, which allowed him to apply the cultural sensitivity he’d acquired abroad in his own Portland, Oregon community. Concurrently, he received his B.A. in Communications with a Minor in Advertising Management at Portland State University. His experiences and education led him to start Ever Wild Studios, providing clients with graphic design, brand development, advertising, marketing, and communication strategies for social media and customer engagement.

By this time, Ross had tried cannabis, but hadn’t had the most positive experience, which only made him more curious about the plant. He began his own research into cannabis, its medicinal properties, its cultural relevance, and understanding its impact on communities. This learning journey would lead to one of the most rewarding community-focused work opportunities that Ross has been involved in.

 

Forging Community Relations Through Cannabis

In early 2021, he was given the opportunity to interview for a role as Community Relations Manager at Wyld and meet with the company’s Founder and CEO, Aaron Morris. He was struck by the degree to which the company valued its role in making environmental and social impact, while placing high priority on diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Ross explains that Wyld has four pillars of Community Relations and impact, including Social and Racial Justice, Health and Wellness, Combatting the Failed War on Drugs, and Environmental Sustainability. He says that the company culture surrounds asking, “How do we do these things?” and that there are an immense amount of resources and time that goes into the company’s community work. “We had a lot of time and grace on the community relations side to create space to learn about best practices instead of hard charging into it,” says Ross.

Because of his global experience, Ross has come to understand that the United States has a white supremacist dominant culture. “It’s a ‘we know what you need and because of our position we know how to fix this’ mentality,” he says, “This is where we fall into the biggest gaps and are polarized by people in different cultures. Most people don’t take the time to get a high-level understanding of the [community] needs and the importance of empathy.”

“It isn’t about marketing and sales,” he says about the company’s external impact, “it’s about community impact and going directly to leaders and understand community needs and how to make systemic change.”

 

Putting the Why in Wyld

Wyld credits their community partnerships with the success of the company’s impact strategy, which is detailed in the company’s 2021 Impact Report, for which Ross and Chris LoConti was an author.

In 2021, Wyld’s staff and leadership took over 3000 hours of diversity, equity, and inclusion training; spent 400+ hours working with external community organizations and initiatives; provided 20,000 meals to food insecure communities; contributed $50,000 to Black and Native owned businesses; planted 65,000 trees and 1,500 shrubs throughout North America; and has achieved full carbon neutrality. The company also provides Narcan to communities to help save lives while also changing the narrative on drugs as a criminal problem to a health issue.

Ross is particularly proud of the role that Wyld has had in making expungements for cannabis-related crimes a reality for hundreds of people through partnerships with other community organizations like California’s Root and Rebound. The company strives to have one expungement per day, for a total of 365 expungements per year. Ross notes that the success of initiatives that help with expungements for cannabis-related records is “about meeting folks where they are”, noting that existing within community-centric locations such as barbershops are crucial for true connection and engagement. 

He says that with Roots and Rebound, they found that an effective strategy was placing Expungement Toolkits in transition homes, and also providing this information through print materials, recognizing that not everyone has access to digital information. “This is what people of privilege don’t realize,” he says.

 

Hopes for a More Diverse Future

Ross hopes to see a future in cannabis where there is balance within the industry, specifically between owners, which starts with better access points into the industry, better licensing support, and education. 

“One thing we often overlook is that BIPOC folks are still traumatized by the effects of being criminalized by cannabis,” he says, “There is still a sense of skepticism, fear, and uncertainty. I’d like to see more diverse owners: women, Black owned, veteran owned; a true balance.” Ross credits Wyld’s partnership with BIPOCANN as crucial for helping create education to increase BIPOC representation in the cannabis space. 

Since his first not-so-positive experience with cannabis, Ross has tried Wyld’s gummies to a much better experience. He appreciates the consistency of the product and hearing from others how the products help them, especially when it comes to providing a safer alternative for pain management.

As for Wyld and the future of community relations in the cannabis space, “I feel like we always can do so much more. We’re excited to do more,” he says with enthusiasm and passion, “We don’t think we’re going to change the world but we’re going to do our part.”

Member Spotlight: Latino Cann, Hyve

Member Spotlight: Latino Cann, Hyve

Julio Urrutia Brings the Inaugural Latino Cann to Chicago’s Fiesta del Sol

Latinos in the United States are the most potentially profitable market for cannabis in the country.

Latinos in the United States contribute more to the GDP than the entire GDPs of countries like Italy, Brazil, and Canada, according to the Latino Donor Collective’s 2021 LDC U.S. Latino GDP report. To further quantify this, Latinos in the U.S. have the seventh highest GDP contribution in the entire world, which is tied with the GDP of the entire country of France.

“If you’re a cannabis C-Suite person and you’re not marketing to this audience, someone else is going to!” said Julio Urrutia co-founder of the cannabis social media platform Hyve. “If you get the Latino consumer, you can live and die on that.”

Through Hyve, Urrutia is now working to help cannabis companies target Latino communities for marketing while also helping expose Latinos to the opportunities within the cannabis industry. Urritia is also working alongside Chicago’s upcoming Fiesta del Sol (July 28-31) to increase the Latino presence in the cannabis community.

Recognizing the Consumer Value of the Latino Community

Urrutia is from upstate New York and now lives in Chicago, Illinois. As a graduate of Syracuse University with a B.A. in International Relations, he holds a unique background that blends politics, advertising, community engagement, public affairs, and technology. His experiences encompass working within immigration reform, helping to preserve Puerto Rican arts and culture, and providing consulting services to government, public agencies, nonprofits, and businesses. His passion is now working with cannabis businesses and entrepreneurs to embrace the power and potential of targeted advertising.

Urrutia co-founded Hyve when he and his partners recognized the capacity for social networking within cannabis, especially within Latino communities with their extensive market power. It’s been known since social media began that marketing and promotion of cannabis goes against most social platforms’ community guidelines. “Hyve is an attempt to address this,” Urrutia says. 

Hyve’s capabilities include allowing users to create profiles and make cannabis-related posts and share products they’re enjoying. QR codes for product promotions will help the user make a cut of the sale, and brands can make direct relationships with users and influencers to help promote their product. “We are leveraging the internet so that people can be online cannabis entrepreneurs,” explains Urrutia.

Celebrating Cannabis at Fiesta del Sol

Hyve will play a part in the upcoming Fiesta del Sol in Chicago, happening July 28 through 31. Fiesta del Sol is the largest Latino festival of its kind in the United States and averages more than one million visitors each year. 

This year marks the 50th Anniversary of Fiesta del Sol and in recognition of its rich history and with an eye toward amplifying the Latino culture the event inviting cannabis industry partners to the Cannabis Expo called “Education in Cannabis”.

Over the four days of Fiesta del Sol, the Cannabis Expo will be offering activities around cannabis business and entrepreneurship and education around cannabis. Of incredible social impact, over the weekend Fiesta del Sol will be hosting the first cannabis expungement event, where members of the community will have the opportunity to start down the pathway to clearing their records.

Speakers at Fiesta del Sol cover four main topics: Know Your Rights, The Art of Advocacy, Get Your Career Started in the Cannabis Industry, and Latinas in Cannabis: Carving Out Your Space in the Cannabis Industry and are spaced over the four days. An expo will happen on July 30 where cannabis brands can be visited by potentially hundreds of thousands of people.

Julio Urrutia says that this large cannabis event within one of the largest events in the world will serve as a springboard for exploring targeted marketing with cannabis businesses and entrepreneurs through Hyve. The developing Latino Cann platform will serve as a space to help drive traffic to Hyve’s targeted marketing efforts within Latino communities.

Further Exploring the Latino Economic Impact

Fiesta del Sol latin

“I believe that Latinos are responsible for the growth of the U.S. economy. They’re young, they’re educated, and they have resources, and that will continue to grow,” he says. “That should be prime cannabis consumer targets. There hasn’t been enough done yet to envision how the products fits into [Latino] lifestyles.”

In 2019, the Latino population was 60.6 million, up from 14.6 million in 1980, according to the 2021 LDC U.S. Latino GDP report. Of most important to note are the staggering numbers of Latino Post-Millennials, those born between 1997 and 2020, who are entering the workforce and economy with more education and resources than Baby Boomers. Their emergence as a large demographic will cause a “slingshot effect” that will create one of the most powerful and profitable generational markets.

When considering the Latino experience, the Latino lifestyle, or how to market cannabis to Latino communities, Urrutia provides some valuable insights. “There’s no template that exists for all Latinos. It’s an eclectic, wide-ranging group with different backgrounds and experiences,” he says. Indeed, “Latino” is difficult to define because of the differences between cultures and communities, however, it is generally classified as a person of Cuban, Mexican, Puerto Rican, South or Central American, or other Spanish culture or origin, regardless of race.

“What Latinos have going for us collectively is a culture – it’s not a status thing,” says Urrutia, “[Latino culture is] something you have to constantly recreate, like when you celebrate a birthday, holiday, or any other tradition. Over time, it evolves and adapts to the times,” he describes. “There is a powerful way to attach that with what is happening in cannabis and what will happen in the space moving forward.”

Urrutia’s vision for Hyve is that it will be a resource for cannabis brands, companies, and entrepreneurs to tap into the power of the Latino cannabis community. “We want to be the place where the connecting and engagement happen,” he says.

He acknowledges that there is still work to be done to undo some of the harms placed against Latino communities. “MSOs are making money hand over fist when we have historically been punished for what they’re doing now,” says Urrutia, “Like anyone else in cannabis that aspires to normalization, there is a tremendous amount of work to be done to address the propaganda and the War on Drugs,” he further says, echoing the sentiments of members of the BIPOCANN network highlighted in previous member spotlights. “That is very real,” he adds.

Hyve has been developed and will soon be available through app stores. Urrutia’s passion for the plant is undoubtedly going to rub off on the communities he works to impact through targeted market. “Cannabis the plant has recreational and social uses as well as pharmaceutical grade and medicinal,” he says, “I don’t know if there are any products exist out there that mirror those type of qualities. It is a unique product, period.” We couldn’t agree more.

Join the BIPOCANN Network

BIPOCANN supports BIPOC cannabis entrepreneurs in various stages of entering and navigating the market, both in plant-touching and ancillary services. We look forward to continuing our relationship with Julio Urrutia and Hyve to ensure that Latino consumers and prospective cannabis entrepreneurs have the support, visibility, mentorship, and resources to thrive through the potentials of the cannabis industry. Learn more about BIPOCANN and the benefits of becoming a member here.

Member Spotlight: Green Qween

Member Spotlight: Green Qween

Andrés Rigal and Taylor Bazley of Green Qween: “Queer All Year!”

“Many people don’t know that the cannabis industry was founded by queer people,” said Andrés Rigal, co-owner of Green Qween, a queer-owned downtown Los Angeles dispensary that opened last month with a mission to increase queer and QTBIPOC (queer, transgender, and BIPOC) representation in the cannabis industry, “We are reclaiming our story. We are coming back and educating people. We want Green Qween to be the intersection of queerness and cannabis.”

“It’s Important to Tell the Story of How We Got Here”

While BIPOCANN is of the mind that we need to authentically celebrate and elevate the contributions of LGBTQ2SIA+ and QTBIPOC people in our community in all we do year-round in the cannabis industry, Pride Month provides us all an opportunity to pause, reflect, recognize, and celebrate the importance of this group’s advocates for our industry. 

Thus, we couldn’t think of anyone better than Andrés Rigal and Taylor Bazley of Green Qween to remind us why the queer voice is so important, and that beyond Pride Month, our colleagues are “queer all year” which forms one of the retail brand’s taglines.

Indeed, the industry owes so much to the efforts of Dennis Peron who saw the positive benefits of cannabis on HIV/AIDS patients, having lost his partner to AIDS in 1990. A year later, he opened the San Francisco Cannabis Buyers Club and went on to coauthor California’s Proposition 215 which allowed Californians the use of medical cannabis. “It’s important to tell the story of how we got here,” adds Rigal.

Business partners Andrés Rigal and Taylor Bazley have very personal reasons for entering the cannabis space with Green Qween. “Taylor and I looked at the cannabis industry and didn’t see ourselves in it,” explains Rigal. “It was important to create a vehicle that properly represents queer people in the industry.”

And represent it does! Rigal says that the design intent was “ queer, colorful, and fluid, as everyone expresses themselves in different and beautiful ways.” The building itself, located on S Broadway in DTLA, can’t be missed. The outside is adorned by a colorful mural by notable artist Patrick Church whose works are renowned for exploring the queer identity. The interior aesthetic screams good taste with its sleek and sophisticated design, attention to detail and the customer experience, and intentionally chosen color palate. The interior and exterior colors represent those of the trans pride flag, and the store’s queer flair shines through with a moving disco ball installation on one of the shop’s walls.

Motivated by the Need for Safe Spaces for QTBIPOC in Cannabis

Both Rigal and Bazley bring to Green Qween impressive business backgrounds and histories of service to the QTBIPOC communities. Rigal, who is originally from Puerto Rico, got his professional start as a Hollywood talent agent and transitioned into a queer nightlife event producer, holding everything from Club Kid parties to Drag Shows, and everything in between, over his long and remarkable career. Bazley started his professional journey serving in public affairs for the City of Los Angeles. After earning his MBA from UCLA Anderson, he began working in social enterprise as a means to support the QTBIPOC community.

Both Rigal and Bazley are accomplished and experienced business people, but both admit that the cannabis industry has never felt like a safe or inclusive space to them as proud gay men. After all, it’s no secret that the cannabis industry is largely made up of cisgendered white men. 

“A lot of cannabis events are boys’ clubs,” explains Rigal, “There is tense, heterosexual masculine energy. While I can think ‘If people have a problem with me, tough shit!’, I still go into these events and feel a bit uncomfortable.” These occurrences led him to conclude to himself “Maybe I just need to build my own space!” and thus began his business partnership with Bazley and the path to building a QTBIPOC owned and curated cannabis dispensary in the heart of downtown Los Angeles.

Yes, the Queers are REALLY Here!

Last year it was discovered by the Census Bureau that up to 8% of the American adult population identify as gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, or transgender, which represents 20 million people in the country, with potentially millions more having other identities such as pansexual, or asexual. Of this group, 42% identify as people of color. 

Needless to say, the queers are here in cannabis, and they’re here all year!

“LGBTQ people are often overlooked in the BIPOC community,” says Bazley, “If people are fragmented, they disappear. When you’re [queer or trans] and you add in BIPOC, you only become more invisible in a community that centers around the white community and the male community.” Bazley notes that the black and brown stripes were added to the Pride Flag to recognize the experiences of being silenced in a small community, which is something Green Qween strives to fix within cannabis.

“In cannabis, [QTBIPOC people] are all that kid in that small town who is by themselves. They feel alone. They need a safe space, and a family, and a network,” says Bazley, “The only way anything is actionable and moves forward is if we do it together.”

Part of Green Qween’s mission is to be an incubator for QTBIPOC brands to launch within the greater cannabis space. “It’s difficult enough to break through the industry, nevermind if you’re BIPOC or queer,” says Rigal, “We’re creating an ice-breaker ship to break through the glacier of cannabis,” he adds, referring to the pervasive favoring of cisgender white men for industry opportunities.

Giving Back to the QTBIPOC Community of Downtown Los Angeles

The company is very serious and intentional when it comes to not just talking the talk, but walking the walk when giving back to their community.

Green Qween recently signed an agreement with the Chrysalis program that helps people with barriers to entry to employment, job-readiness, and workforce re-entry services, demonstrating that they want to go above and beyond the required “good faith” hiring efforts required by the City of Los Angeles. While the company cannot discriminate on sexual orientation, gender, or gender identity for its staff, Andrés and Taylor say they are “creating an exceedingly open workplace where employees can be who they are.”

In addition to this, Green Qween will donate a percentage of their profit to the DTLA Proud Community Center which holds a homeless youth drop-in center, mental health services, and testing for LGBTQ+ people in the area.

Authentically Celebrating Pride in Cannabis

With Pride Month being a time where many companies will simply put up a rainbow flag or change their logo to the rainbow on social media, Rigal and Bazley remind us that celebrating pride has to be authentic, and again, honoring queer and QTBIPOC employees is a year-round thing.

“Creating safe spaces starts at the top,” says Rigal when asked how businesses can be more inclusive to the QTBIPOC population, “Having a space where their teams and employees can represent themselves in an authentic way so that they don’t have to hide who they are. For instance, hold events with queer vendors, create moments or events, and or products that are queer-leaning. Have that moment where they can be themselves and also transform and grow and be a higher version of themselves.”

The company noticed that at last year’s MJBiz Con, there was not one queer vendor or speaker represented. “We’d love to see a Hall of Flowers type event featuring queer brands, or even a convention of queer,” says Rigal. Bazley adds that the QTBIPOC community can be supported all year through donations to queer charities, queer product activations, and speaker series’ focused on QTBIPOC experiences. “It’s not us against them, the idea is that we’re all working together,” adds Rigal, “When the tide rises all the boats rise together.”

Rigal and Bazley recognize that opening Green Qween is just a small start towards creating truly safe spaces within a cannabis industry that is actually representative of QTBIPOC people. These goals require the efforts of not just the QTBIPOC community itself, but also the entire cannabis community at large. “It’s hard work, and a lot of responsibility,” says Rigal, “It’s a canvas that is not yet finished and we’re holding a paintbrush. We can finish painting this together.”

Member Spotlight: Wana Brands

Member Spotlight: Wana Brands

“If you’re not helping your community, who is going to help you?” – Karla Rodriguez, Wana Brands

 

“At the most human level, the most important thing we can work on is equity,” said Karla Rodriguez, Corporate Social Responsibility Director of Wana Brands when BIPOCANN caught up with her to talk about all things CSR in cannabis, “For everyone to have the opportunity to succeed at life, build generational wealth, and always have something to eat.” We couldn’t agree more.

Personal Motivations to Build an Equitable Industry

Rodriguez is someone who not only talks the talk, but authentically walks the walk of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) in cannabis. This Denver-based advocate has very personal reasons for wanting to enter the cannabis industry as a means to bring about positive change in the world.

Her father’s side of the family is Mexican American, and Rodriguez witnessed the devastating and lasting impacts of the War on Drugs at an early age. She saw many of her family members incarcerated for cannabis, and tragically lost one cousin to unsafe synthetic cannabinoids, a by-product of prohibition. The scars left on her family will never truly heal.

“There is some real room to make incredible change and impact right now, and we can still see the impact of what has happened, and we have a responsibility to do something about it,” said Rodriguez of her personal motivations, “That is why I eat, breathe and sleep equity and social responsibility every day while walking through this industry.”

An Authentic Path to Community-Based Work

Rodriguez comes from a very impressive background that in many ways, made her the perfect person for the role of Corporate Social Responsibility Director for Wana Brands.

For over 15 years, Rodriguez was a participant in the film industry, working as the Community Partnerships Manager for the Denver Film Society and then as the Private and Community Events Manager, and later as the National Culture and Community Manager at the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema, where she found herself working “in tandem with the C-Suite on community engagement”. Rodriguez describes this time in her career as “when I recognized the power of coming together and working collaboratively.”

When the pandemic hit, the landscape of employment in the arts drastically changed, and Rodriguez experienced a layoff. However, to her delight, before she’d lost her job in the film industry, she had applied to Wana Brands in the cannabis industry which offered her an interview. “I saw the true heart and intention through which Nancy Whiteman ran the company and I knew it was the place for me,” she said. She also was attracted to the opportunity to work for a Denver-based company with a national and international focus.

A Journey in Corporate Social Responsibility in Cannabis Begins

Just five days after giving birth to her daughter, Rodriguez had her first interview with Wana Brands. “Never have I been my more authentic self,” she says as she recalls her initial time with the company during her recruitment. It was that undeniable authenticity that ended up with her landing the role of Corporate Social Responsibility Director, which she has enjoyed since March 2021.

Rodriguez explained that Wana Brands has four pillars of giving: racial and social injustice (which also includes the LGBTQIA+ community), sustainability, domestic violence, and fighting food security and homelessness. Wana Brands very visibly mobilized their authentic spirit of giving this past 420. “We are trying to shape what would be days of marketing into days of giving,” she explained. 

To mark the monumental cannabis holiday for 2022, The Wana Foundation distributed $140,000 among 14 community organizations across the country. The impact of this donation resulted in helping to open a grocery store in a historically Black community that is also a food desert in Tulsa. Food deserts describe geographical areas that are under-serviced in terms of access to consistent, fairly-priced, nutritious, and culturally appropriate foods. The donation also contributed to building community gardens within food desert neighborhoods in Miami, and bringing an LA-based food desert neighborhood closer to opening a grocery store.

The company has also participated in campaigns with Legal Women Voters to increase voter registration and education, and during the pandemic, provided free vaccination clinics for those who wanted the option, but didn’t have adequate access.

Wana Brands’ CSR initiatives aren’t just about looking outward. “It’s really important that when you’re doing this work in the external community to not neglect your internal community,” Rodriguez advises, “Support equity, inclusion, and growth within your own company. Factoring that from within is going to fuel the intention to do the work outwardly.” As a measure of giving back to their own workforce, the company created an Emergency Assistance Fund that employees could apply to if they’re experiencing financial hardship.

Executing Authentic Corporate Social Responsibility in Cannabis

We asked Rodriguez about the required mindset needed to change marketing into giving and awareness of community needs. “Corporate Social Responsibility programs have to work with the balance of taking what we know in our hearts as the right thing to do and also have a business lens,” she explained, “Sometimes you need to pull off that business lens just because it’s the right thing to do. It’s a balancing act, and it’s about taking that passion and injecting it into the soul of corporate industries.”

Rodriguez went on to share how cannabis companies can execute their CSR strategies in true, impactful, and authentic ways. “When it’s baked into everything, then it’s authentic,” she says, adding “pun intended”. “It’s not just someone sitting in a room and writing checks and that’s the end of it. It trickles down and it’s a part of all the thoughts when a new product launches or a new initiative is undertaken. It’s not just a one-time performative act.”

She enjoys working for Wana Brands because that spirit has been at the forefront of the company since its inception. “We are here to serve. Nancy created this company to serve the world, to serve the cannabis industry, and enhance the world for others through our products and programs.” She refers to giving, volunteerism, community events, and awareness campaigns as some of what make Wana Brands unique in its CSR approach. “It’s a holistic approach, all year round,” she says.

“Pride is great, but what are you doing year-round? Black History Month? What else are you doing the other 364 days of the year to recognize the contributions of Black and Brown people?”, she posits, “It has to be built into the day-to-day of everything you’re doing.” She also noted that when considering their CSR strategies or reporting on diversity hiring within the industry, Indigenous people are often left out. “I don’t want Indigenous people to be lost in the shuffle,” she said.

We asked Rodriguez how cannabis companies direct their community engagement in a way that truly has impact. “You can’t make assumptions about the needs of the community,” she said, “You need to honestly step back and listen. It’s hard because we often want to react and fix things quickly. But if you don’t know what the true needs of the community are, you won’t make an impact. Half of my job is listening and following the lead of people I meet with.”

Her Hopes for the Future in Cannabis

We asked Rodriguez where she would like to see the cannabis industry five years down the road. 

“We don’t ask ourselves that question enough because we’re so busy fighting on a day-to-day basis that we forget to project towards the future,” she says. “We know that so many social equity programs aren’t working. My hope is that we can get to a place where Black, Brown, and Indigenous businesses can thrive and have as much chance to succeed as any other large MSO or large manufacturer out there. My other hope is that obviously that we keep getting closer and closer to federal legalization, and access to banking.”

Rodriguez also places access to formalized education for BIPOC and women in the industry of high importance, seeing a lack of access to formalized education both outside and inside the cannabis industry that teaches people how to succeed in business. “I have faith that five years from now we’ll be light years ahead around education which will lessen the stigma about the plant.”

Before we closed off our conversation with Karla Rodriguez, we asked her how to combat some of the resistance that can be rampant in cannabis toward Corporate Social Responsibility. She left us with a great tidbit of advice for cannabis executives who may be a bit resistant to sharing a bit of their piece of the pie with others: “What got you where you are is by the help of others. No one gets success without the help of another,” she stated, “Your continued success will definitively rely on the support and loyalty of your community, so if you’re not helping your community, who is going to help you?”

“It’s your responsibility as a global citizen of this world.”