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.”