But between the flower-arranging station, botanical oil blending workshop, and adorable bunny petting zoo, the weekend raised topics increasingly urgent for those in the business: education, regulation, conscious brand-building, and social justice. Cambria Benson, founder of cult-chic dispensary Serra, helped warm up the crowd on a panel simply entitled Sharing Our Cannabis Stories. Visibly pregnant with her second child, she was candid about motherhood and marijuana. The talk then spanned trauma recovery, epilepsy treatment, and community building in the face of big pharma. ‚ÄúCannabis is incredibly problematic, complicated, unknown, and there are so many battles to fight, whether it‚Äôs for legalization, criminal justice reform, or even just getting some standards for CBD testing so that we actually know what we‚Äôre buying,‚ÄĚ Charbonneau said. Now that recreational use is sanctioned in 11 states, and most Americans support legalization, Charbonneau hopes that connections forged at In Bloom will help route marijuana‚Äôs rambling map.
The industry‚Äôs expansion has carried with it a promise of diverse, female founders who might finally wield equal power in an emergent space. But as opportunists rush in, inclusivity is far from given. Disproportionate marijuana arrests over decades mean black and Latinx people have greater barriers to entry in the now-legal and medical markets. And even since legalization, a January 2018 study from the Drug Policy Alliance (a non-profit that seeks to re-envision drug regulation) found that black people are still more likely to be arrested for marijuana offenses than white people in Colorado and Washington. (Screenwriter Aaron Covington‚Äôs recent widely circulated tweet may have put it best: ‚ÄúWhen the dispensary looks and operates like an Apple Store it‚Äôs time to release a lot of incarcerated human beings. A lot, a lot.‚ÄĚ)
A number of the women at In Bloom have been active in fighting the imbalance.
A digital marketing specialist, Mary Pryor was working at an ad agency when she developed Crohn‚Äôs disease. She began advocating for cannabis after she discovered it as a way to manage the chronic illness. ‚ÄúMost cannabis events make me feel very isolated,‚ÄĚ Pryor noted. ‚ÄúWhile I see people intentionally making attempts [to be inclusive], which is big, I feel like we always have to ask for our space in the room.‚ÄĚ As a direct response, she, along with co-founders Tonya Flash and Charlese Antoinette, created the organization Cannaclusive. They advocate diversity online, at events, and by consulting with brands. At In Bloom, Pryor spoke on a panel about brand-building with integrity, citing tokenism without real corporate responsibility as a major issue in the industry.
‚ÄúI hope that my talk was a way for people to understand that we built the table,‚ÄĚ Pryor said, ‚Äúand we‚Äôre coming for our seats. So you either make sure that you understand that there‚Äôs space that needs to be there, or if not, get ready to have some people knocking at your door, asking what your problem is.‚ÄĚ
The conversation continued during a live recording of High, Good People, a new podcast by journalist Tiara Darnell. An aspiring winemaker turned budtender while in grad school, Darnell received a grant from Portland‚Äôs Regional Arts and Culture Council to create a series that ‚Äúexplores relationships between people of color and cannabis in the new age of legalization.‚ÄĚ In one upcoming episode, she interviews the black owner of a dispensary in rural Eastern Oregon, contextualizing the story with the state‚Äôs racist history and the obstacles black business owners face across the country. For Darnell, the boon of In Bloom was making connections beyond the local scene. ‚ÄúI‚Äôm really excited to have met some people who I can hit up and just say like, ‚ÄėHey, I‚Äôm really interested in whatever it is that‚Äôs going on in your city or country,‚ÄĚ she said. ‚ÄúHaving that network is going to be really important because I know that this is an industry that I plan to create a career in.‚ÄĚ