By Veronica Castillo
“There will not be a magic day when we wake up, and it’s now okay to express ourselves publicly. We make that day by doing things publicly until it’s simply the way things are.” – Tammy Baldwin
420, they say that it started as a timestamp for a group of high schoolers to meet and smoke. The Waldos, who attended San Rafael High School, would meet up daily at 4:20 pm at the same location on campus to smoke. They chose that time because, by that time, after-school activities were usually done. The name “Waldo” came from them meeting at the wall, to post up and sesh. Before the spark of the joint, they would say to each other, “4:20”.
This month, my tribute to 420 is celebrating LGBTQ-owned businesses in cannabis. Below I highlight four businesses, in/or serving the cannabis industry:
Matte Namer with Cannabeta Realty: the first real estate firm dedicated to serving the cannabis industry in New York and New Jersey.
O’Neil Rudolph with Cannachange: a company that offers incentives to consumers that recycle their cannabis packaging, through Cannachange app, designed to create a more sustainable cannabis industry.
Luke Anderson with Cann: a cannabis-infused beverage company offering social tonics as a fun alternative to alcohol.
Antuanette Gomez with Pleasure Peaks + Peak Pharm Labs: a Canadian medical cannabis company focused on developing therapies targeting sexual health conditions.
In the Q & A below, these LGBTQ business owners in cannabis share their experiences in life as gay/lesbian/bi-sexual/queer/trans people and as business owners in cannabis and the struggles they do/have faced. They talk about the people and things that inspire them, what they dream/dreamed of, their journey into cannabis from other industries, and advice for the aspiring LGBTQ business owner in cannabis.
Celebrating 420 with 4 LGBTQ Business Owners in Cannabis
We will jump into cannabis in a sec; I want to get into early life- pre cannabis business owner. Who were you in high school, and did that person change in college? If so, in what ways?
Cannabeta Realty: “I passionately believed I was a renegade and an artist in high school; I used cannabis often and became an advocate for cannabis early in my life. I started learning about my sexual identity in college and the communities that supported folks like me. In hindsight, realizing that I was very different from such an early age really contributed to a sense of being a maverick or renegade that I’ve kept for my entire life.”
Cannachange: “In high school, I was always very concerned with other people’s perception of me. I cared so much about what other people thought and spent most of my time and energy dwelling on that. This constant anxiety led me to be very quiet and introverted, spending most of my time alone at home and trying to do what I felt would make the people around me happy- even if I was neglecting my own needs in the process. After high school, I realized I’m still very much an introvert and honor my need to spend lots of time alone/at home, but it no longer comes from a place of fear of others’ judgments. I’ve changed a lot since high school and now put my own happiness above anyone else’s, which has allowed me to come out of my shell and discover what I truly want out of life, even when it’s unconventional in comparison to my peer’s aspirations. A big part of that self-discovery journey was realizing I was gay and being able to fully embrace that part of myself, rather than suppress it like I tried to during high school.”
Cann: “I was such a fucking nerd In high school. I was so straight edge, didn’t drink, and certainly did not smoke. We were taught that being a stoner was ‘bad.’ In college, I started drinking — a lot. I was a Division 1 diver and was gaining weight from all the beer (and chicken tenders and ranch dressing) and it totally derailed my athletic career because I started making very big splashes in a sport where you’re supposed to make a very small splash. So I basically came in as a goody-two-shoes and ended up a lazy drunk mess.”
Pleasure Peaks + Peak Pharm Labs: “In high school, I was depressed, had such a hard time with the outdated learning curriculum, and always questioned why we learned most things in school. It wasn’t until later in life that I went to the Canadian School of Holistic Nutrition that I learned about holistic nutrition and alternative therapies and started a journey of loving and healing myself and others. My biggest takeaway is how healing foods and herbs could be for so many.”
What was your dream job/business venture?
Cannabeta Realty: “Throughout high school and college, I wanted to be a rockstar, but I started losing confidence and passion for becoming a professional musician by the end of college and became interested in business. It ended up that I had a bachelor of music for undergrad and then got a graduate degree from the master’s program in real estate at NYU. I felt naturally talented at business administration, but also have always had a strong creative side. I guess it’s not terribly surprising then that I started the first cannabis real estate brokerage on the east coast.”
Cannachange: “I’ve had a ton of different dream jobs throughout my life, but many of them had to do with a form of public influence/speaking that would allow me to make an impact on the world. I did speech and debate in high school and was always very passionate about that, so for a while, I dreamt of being a lawyer. I’ve always felt that our medical system needs major reform, so I had other aspirations of being a doctor. I love creative writing, so I also considered doing that for a living. Then there was my phase of wanting to be a marine biologist because I love marine life and wanted to help better their ecosystem. At the end of the day, I realized I just see a lot of issues in the world that I want to be able to help solve, and I don’t think any one career path would be the right one for me. I care about the environment. I care about animals, I care about marginalized communities and creating the safe/supportive spaces that I didn’t have growing up. So my dream job is now one that allows me to be flexible and use my creativity to work on solutions to the problems I care about, so I can leave my mark as someone who made the world a better place.”
Cann: “I studied architecture in college. I wanted to design houses, but I always had a dream of making tiny washing machines that could only handle small amounts of workout clothes. Just like a little baby machine that would whir quietly overnight and take sweaty gym clothes and make them clean by the time you wanted to work out in the morning. So I guess I kinda always wanted to be a weird entrepreneur as well.”
Pleasure Peaks + Peak Pharm Labs: “When I was a kid, I wanted to be a veterinarian, but when I was around 21, I found myself being a Tantric Sex Coach and LOVED it. I loved showing people how healing and nourishing true intimacy can be. Growing up, I always wanted to be a CEO like my father and be in business, but my soul wanted other things. I like that I can reflect now and laugh at the perfect balance of being the CEO of a cannabis sexual health company.”
Who did you look up to/aspire to be like?
Cannabeta Realty: “I was drawn to rock stars like Jim Morrison, David Bowie, Trent Reznor, and others that I felt had a real message. But in my twenties, I started to be fascinated by friends who were starting tech companies based on really interesting novel ideas. I knew one person who shared an idea I thought was silly, and two years later, he had sold that company to a giant tech firm for hundreds of millions. It taught me that outrageous things were possible even if they were very difficult or unlikely.”
Cannachange: “I’ve always really looked up to my brother because he follows his passions unapologetically and always manages to make the best out of every situation. Seeing the way he navigates his aspirations has shown me that it’s okay to not just stick with one career path, especially if it’s not one that makes you happy. He’s so intelligent and creative and uses those attributes to make a positive impact on the world, which is always my goal as well.”
Cann: “My mom. Always my mom. She raised me and my sister, working three jobs and always creating a magical atmosphere even where there was nothing. She’s the ultimate hero.”
Pleasure Peaks + Peak Pharm Labs: “I look up to be like phenomenal women that I know of, like Michelle Obama, Arlene Dickinson, and women that have paved the path to leadership positions to do what’s right and leave the world a better place than how found it. It’s important for me to be a good person and restore people’s faith in humanity in a world of chaos. I’m a firm believer in leading by example. Sometimes I feel it’s the only way people learn.”
People talk about the ‘closet’, were you ever in it, or have you always been out and proud?
Cannabeta Realty: “I look at this a little differently than an either-or thing. My sexual orientation is one aspect of my sexuality, but gender identity, relationship styles or preferences, proclivities, and many other things are things one can come out about. I identified, for instance, as bi or pansexual from early on in college but only came out as being non-binary 3 or 4 years ago. In some ways, I am still coming out and even doing this article is part of that process. I think there were many times in my life that I thought I was out and seemed proud, but I had actually been holding some very essential parts of myself back. I am lucky that I have been met mostly with nothing but support from my friends and family throughout each stage of my journey, which obviously makes it so much easier to be confident. Many others in this world can face consequences as severe as death for being out, even in this country.”
Cannachange: “I realized I liked girls when I was in middle school, and “came out” to my family as bisexual around 12 years old, but still felt extreme shame around my sexuality, and overcompensated for that throughout high school by avoiding my attraction to girls and “dating” guys. This led to relationships where I’d try to force feelings that just weren’t there, making me feel even more guilty and ashamed. Although I initially thought I was bisexual, I realized through my experiences with guys that I wasn’t attracted to them at all and was never going to genuinely feel that way, no matter how hard I tried. After I graduated high school and was away from such a toxic environment, I was finally able to accept my identity as a lesbian after constantly running from that label and the feelings that come along with it. Since I came out as gay to not only the other people in my life but to myself, I’ve felt a strong sense of pride through being able to shed all the shame and guilt I held around my sexuality for so long.”
Cann: “I was gay for a minute when I was 18. I had a secret boyfriend named Spencer, but I didn’t really feel comfortable talking about him to more than my closest friends. I was still really attracted to women and had a number of really great relationships, so I honestly thought that I was going to be straight forever, and the ‘closet’ didn’t feel right as a description of what I was living. But when I met my husband and fell in love with him, I was like, ‘oh, I guess we have to get married, so I need to be publicly gay.‘ It wasn’t really a typical coming out journey, but I consider myself pansexual, so I guess all the rules are kinda different.”
Pleasure Peaks + Peak Pharm Labs: “I was definitely in the closet in high school. At the time, I don’t think there were many out and I didn’t feel comfortable doing it alone. I also struggled with my identity of lesbian vs. bi vs. pansexual. I desperately wanted to explore and love that I was very brave in love even at a young age. I think for me, it was learning that my sexuality is far more vast than a label.”
What role did cannabis play in your life between high school and college?
Cannabeta Realty: “I would say it had a profound impact on the way I experienced culture and community. For instance, I had friends I would smoke with and play music together (jam) or go to funky art museums with. Growing up in NYC, I also think about how much time I spent trying to avoid police or getting arrested while smoking pot. When applying that personal experience to the knowledge I learned in college about the impact of drug prohibition and how that has led to mass incarceration and racial injustice, it ignited a passion in me to reform our nation’s drug laws.”
Cannachange: “I got my medical marijuana card towards the end of high school, but still had a lot of fear around the use of cannabis, besides small amounts for things like nausea, pain management, anxiety, and sleep. I was only able to face the fear of feeling ‘impaired’ once I graduated high school and was living on my own. Since then, I’ve realized that fear wasn’t actually of feeling “impaired” but, rather, feeling afraid of my own mind and the things that would be brought up through the more intense use of cannabis. Once I made this connection, I was able to use cannabis more freely for medical reasons but also as a way to heal from past trauma and form a closer bond with myself and my mind. My life has improved greatly since I started using cannabis regularly, and I’m very grateful for the ways it’s helped me heal, grow, and expand in all aspects of my life.”
Cann: “My friend Jake had this idea for a microdosed THC beverage, and I thought I was really stupid because all of my smoking or edible experiences were so chaotic and unsettling. Then, after I had a two-day hangover in my early 30’s, I thought, ‘how doI never have this again?’ Turns out there is something to a non-alcoholic social drink that gets you a tiny bit buzzed but doesn’t make you feel like dog shit the next day. Plenty of people out there recognize how harmful alcohol is but don’t like the idea of being completely sober (yet), and I started really feeling that need. So we designed something for those people – something that would show them cannabis, in the right quantities, is a solution.”
Pleasure Peaks + Peak Pharm Labs: “I tried cannabis for the first time in high school and hated it. I never got the ‘high’ feeling and would just end up eating everything in the kitchen. It wasn’t until I was in college interning at a chronic pain clinic that I learned how many patients were using cannabis for their chronic pain ailments. This changed my perceptions of cannabis and consumers. This showed me how cannabis was giving people a quality of life from a life full of pain. People didn’t want to just get high – they wanted a life of no pain.”
Fast forward to cannabis business idea, plan, and launch- can you share insight into your journey?
Cannabeta Realty: “Since leaving college, I’ve spent my entire career in the real estate industry with a regional focus. I had also really been waiting for my entire adult life for New York to legalize cannabis which it finally did in March of 2021. Along with Connecticut and New Jersey, which also legalized around the same time, it became apparent to me that an industry which could ultimately reach $10Billion in annual revenues in these states was going to have to be created from scratch in a few short years. Essentially all of this creation would involve real estate. I felt our team was uniquely qualified to understand our local real estate industry in a way that would be incredibly useful to cannabis businesses and that our knowledge around cannabis policy would be incredibly useful to the local real estate industry. Finally and perhaps most importantly, as someone who has spent over 20 years as a cannabis activist, I felt it was important to be a part of developing this industry in a way that honors not just the activists who spent tireless decades to get us to this place but also the tens of millions of Americans that suffered incarceration because of draconian drug laws. We are proud of our mandate to donate 10% of our profits to these causes.”
Cannachange: “As a regular user who was always accumulating cannabis packaging waste, I was shocked to find out that there wasn’t a universal way to manage that. I had seen a few small dispensaries throughout the US try to launch recycling programs of some sort, but because of their lack of customer incentive and exposure, they often weren’t successful. I felt that the best way to facilitate a consumer and retailer relationship with a sustainability initiative was through a mobile app, which is how cannachange came to be developed. I wanted to incentivize consumers to return their recyclable cannabis packaging to participating dispensaries by distributing points that turn into dispensary credit, which increases customer loyalty for dispensaries and helps differentiate them from others. If dispensaries can address consumer concerns around cannabis packaging waste and leverage those concerns, they can greatly improve their profitability, benefiting both retailers and consumers that care about sustainability.
I also wanted consumers to truly feel like their actions make a difference- because they absolutely do. So quantifying waste saved in the app and displaying that information to consumers also incentivizes them to keep participating in cannachange and helps them see their positive impact on their environment. Since our launch, we’ve been able to expand into collecting compostable and reusable packaging through our program, along with recyclables, and can even offer points for cartridges and batteries that are returned in some states. My main goal now is integrating cannachange into more dispensaries to make the program as accessible as possible while establishing more relationships with waste haulers/processors on the back end to service our participating dispensaries and help them manage the returned packaging.”
Pleasure Peaks + Peak Pharm Labs: “I learned so much about medical cannabis at that chronic pain clinic. I had a variety of patients with MS, Cancer, Veterans, Crohn’s Disease,….. but what stood out to me the most was Endometriosis. People who suffer from sexual health ailments rarely get the respect they deserve and healthcare, and sexual pleasure is often looked at as not important to overall health, although I’d argue if you don’t have a healthy sexual health lifestyle, you don’t have a healthy life. This started my journey of creating cannabis formulations for patients since most were already expressing how smoking was helping them. I knew there must be better medical applications, and that’s when we first designed the cannabis lubricant and suppository. Over the nine years, we’ve expanded internationally and founded an incredible medical team focusing on furthering research-backed sexual health products.”
What was the hardest thing you’ve had to deal with as a cannabis business owner?
Cannabeta Realty: “Of course, there is this widespread misconception that anyone with a cannabis business is making money. Plant touching cannabis businesses deal with enormous state sales taxes and then, after that, pay the highest federal income taxes out of any industry. Sometimes the tax bills are even greater than the profits. So our government is honestly who is making any real money right now. For service businesses like mine, we don’t deal with these tax problems. However, we are still running a business with a long-term perspective in a highly volatile and rapidly evolving industry. Our company isn’t profitable yet, for instance, essentially because adult-use cannabis businesses aren’t actually open yet in any of the states we operate in yet. This makes it hard to scale right now, as most people who might join my team can’t wait two years to get a paycheck, even if it might be a radically large one, and therefore, we have to take on the risk of paying them in the meantime.
Changing legislative environments or industry trends can ultimately have an impact on our business as well. In New York State, there is this exciting $200MM fund announced to lease spaces and build them out for social equity candidates. However, if the state or the managers of the fund decide to hire only one corporate real estate firm to help them accomplish this goal, then small businesses like mine could suffer.”
Cannachange: “Besides the issues with a lack of flexibility around regulations and sustainable waste haulers/processors, being at the intersection of tech, sustainability, and cannabis as a Black, gay woman also brings up many challenges. Far too many people are under the impression that the cannabis industry is more diverse and equitable than others, but at the end of the day, it’s not any easier to navigate than other industries dominated by straight, white men, and I’d definitely say the same for tech and sustainability.”
One of the blindspots that I think a lot of people have when it comes to the management of cannabis packaging is how difficult it is to manage recyclable, compostable, and reusable materials that once came into contact with cannabis. Due to the restrictions around cannabis and its packaging, we’re unable to use one universal waste hauler/processor to service our participating dispensaries on the back end and cannot cross any state lines with the packaging returned through our program. Instead, I’ve had to work state to state to facilitate well-established relationships between dispensaries and waste haulers that can reliably manage recyclable, compostable, and reusable packaging. A big issue around sustainability is ‘greenwashing’, and companies saying they’re disposing of materials in a sustainable manner when they’re not, so I’ve had to work very hard to ensure that all the packaging returned through cannachange is truly being diverted from the landfill. Most typical recycling services don’t divert nearly as much from the landfill as they should, and there’s definitely a lack of recycling/ composting services in many states, which I think many people also aren’t aware of.”
Cann: “Taking care of my mom while she had brain cancer this past year and trying to deliver at work was extremely difficult. Experiencing personal and business pressures simultaneously is nearly impossible, and grief is isolating as hell. People are always like ‘oh I can’t imagine how hard that is‘; but kind of expect you’re going to be full of life and energy at the same time. And when you’re expected to be funny and engaging as a part of your job? Well, buckle up, it’s going to be a dark comedy.”
Pleasure Peaks + Peak Pharm Labs: “The incredibly restrictive and expansive landscape that is cannabis. For a queer minority who didn’t come from money but was directly impacted by the war on drugs, I can definitely say it’s been an uphill battle, but I wouldn’t change it for the world. As much as it’s difficult to really do anything in the industry – I know it must be done. This plant has the opportunity to change healthcare and sustainability as a whole. It would be a disservice to not be a part of the solutions for me after knowing so much.”
What are you most grateful for as a cannabis business owner?
Cannabeta Realty: “My high school pot-head self would be so ridiculously proud!! Kidding aside though, I get to love what I do every day and feel like I’m contributing to something I believe in. I have a greatly talented and entrepreneurial team who are also passionate about cannabis and enjoy working with one another. I also quietly chuckle when I get to see the looks on people’s faces when I tell them I’m a cannabis real estate broker. It’s particularly fun to tell people who were probably telling hippies to cut their hair and get a job their whole lives.”
Cannachange: “I’m always extremely grateful to meet like-minded individuals in the cannabis industry and to be able to have connections with them that energize me, even when I’m feeling very stagnant or defeated in my work. As a young person who sees the detrimental effects that climate change will have on my generation and feels a responsibility to do something about it, I feel so thankful to other young people who support my work and also have a passion for sustainability. I feel similarly when those in older generations reach out with support or want to take action because much of the defeat I feel when environmental issues are pushed aside comes from a lack of acknowledgment or urgency from generations above mine. The sense of community in cannabis culture and the passion that comes from other environmentally conscious individuals is what keeps me going and what I’m most grateful for.”
Cann: ‘I’m grateful to have a team of people who are incredible at what they do, and who generally let me be my weird self. It’s a gift to show up to work and be celebrated for who you are rather than have to pretend to be more professional.”
Pleasure Peaks + Peak Pharm Labs: “I’m grateful that I get to create a life I want and a team that I love working with. I’m grateful to witness these medical miracles and be at the forefront of cannabis research. I’m grateful to be a part of a community that’s so passionate about helping people.”
What advice do you have for lesbian, gay, bi, trans, queer high school, and college students working on becoming the next cannabis business owner?
Cannabeta Realty: “I felt I had gotten to a certain point in my career where I could be out about who I am in business circles and, for instance, have my pronouns listed as they/them on my email signatures. Given this is the first time I’ve done this in my career and that I’ve mostly worked in NYC gives a sense of how scary this can be. Folks like myself worry about it, distracting clients or colleagues or even getting rejections on things we may never know could’ve been the result of discrimination. However, I think, generally speaking, people will do business with one another despite what their beliefs are or who they are outside of work, or how they feel on the inside. Most importantly, if you do feel safe to come out at work, you are doing an amazing thing helping normalize our community and helping clear the path for the next generation as my LGBTQ+ forebears have done for me.”
Cannachange: “Your ideas are so extremely valuable, and no one, regardless of how hard they try, can take the value of your creativity away from you. There will always be people who don’t accept you because of your sexuality or gender identity, and although I hope to see that discrimination greatly declines, I know it can be so defeating and make it seem impossible to get ahead. Something I always keep in mind is that for every person who doesn’t accept you because of your identity, there’s someone who will embrace your identity unconditionally. I believe we need trans and queer representation in cannabis now more than ever, so if there’s something you want to execute, consider what’s holding you back, and remember that anything can happen once you take a risk and face your fears. You’ll never know where your ideas can take you until you make them a reality, and in doing so, you’ll become a role model and inspiration for others in the LGBTQ+ community. ”
Cann: “Be out and proud! There’s something inherently queer about cannabis. It’s seen as a ‘bad thing’ in public, but once you come to understand it better, people realize just how human it is. Just like being LGBTQ+”.
Pleasure Peaks + Peak Pharm Labs: “There’s so much strength in your individuality. Who you love will never define you, but how you love will. Network with everyone and anyone you can, build relationships in the industry, and follow your skills and passions; there’s truly a space for everyone in cannabis. Strap up your boots because we have lots of work to do!”
This article was sponsored by The Grl & Co; a woman-owned CBD company founded by Noel D’Allacco. Noel is passionate about healing with cannabis as well as LGBTQ causes. She was on the Westchester, NY LGBTQ Advisory Council and through the Grl & Co., donates a portion of sales to missions tied to LGBTQ charitable causes.
Feature Photo Credit: Brotherly Love Organics
Author: Veronica Castillo, a Writer from Miami, with a pre-Cannabis and Psychedelics Industries background in insurance and human resources. Currently, she is a resident of the road covering cannabis, psychedelics, and plant lifestyles all over the U.S and soon abroad. IG: www.instagram.com/v2_traveling_veg_canna_writer LI: https://www.linkedin.com/in/vee-traveling-veg-canna-writer/