'Billion Dollar Dimebag' Author Jackson Tilley On Sobriety, LGBTQ+ Acceptance In The Cannabis Industry

Jackson Tilley’s "Billion Dollar Dimebag," which hits bookshelves Sept. 17, is an exploration of the intersection of business, diversity and THC.

Intrigued by a new perspective in the space, Benzinga reached out to Tilley to discuss his debut book, being sober in the cannabis industry and his experiences with prejudice in the sector. 

Cover image courtesy of Post Hill Press.

Behind The $1-Billion Dimebag

"There's never been a better time for more diverse voices to join the choir in talking about the world of regulated cannabis," Tilley said. 

Before "Billion Dollar Dimebag," Tilley's experiences in the cannabis sphere were almost mundane.

After college, he began working at Organa Brands and later at SLANG Worldwide. But those jobs weren't taken by an ordinary person.

For his book, Tilley depicts the cannabis industry through the lens of personal, rather than professional, growth. 

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"I originally intended to draw on that experience and paint a more journalistic tale about the industry, but, at the end of the day, I'm neither a journalist nor a historian, and so that approach felt insincere," he said. 

What was more compelling, in Tilley's view, was a contemporary overview of cannabis from the perspective of a young, sober person. 

The more Tilley wrote, the more doors within the space opened to him, he said. 

"I was lucky to be able to interview many of the greats in the cannabis space, but also talk with business icons like Barry Diller, a variety of media experts and voices from the world of entertainment and social justice."

Smoke-Free In The Cannabis Industry

Through some of his darkest days, Tilley said he questioned everything, including whether he could remain in the industry. 

"When I first got sober four years ago, I assumed that my life working in this industry was over — that to not consume the very products I market would bar me from participating in the green rush any longer."

Empowered by his sobriety, Tilley said attacked the industry with full force.

"Instead, what I realized was that I didn't get sober to be further shackled, but to be empowered to do and to accomplish anything that I wanted to without the burden of drug and alcohol addiction weighing me down."

The author told Benzinga he felt he could bring something new to the conversation — and he's hopeful the book could help to shed some of the stigmas attached to cannabis professionals. 

“Even though I don't consume the product, I'm an ardent supporter of personal freedom and ending the war on drugs. I'm hopeful this book can be a testament that one doesn't need to consume — or even have tried cannabis — to support its full legalization wholeheartedly."

Stigma In The Sector

The public-facing presence of most companies in the LGBTQ+ space is one of branded rainbows and sponsored events, all without addressing the underlying issues that impact the queer community.

In cannabis, that inclusivity extends to the actual workplace, Tilley said. 

"Truth be told, I haven't found much stigma as an openly gay person working in this space. Of course, I acknowledge my own privilege in that experience, being a white, college-educated male, I have certain opportunities allowed me that are sadly not a reality for everyone."

Tilley said cannabis companies still need to take steps to build a safe workplace for people from all walks of life.

"That said, LGBTQ+ voices are underrepresented in the cannabis industry, and I set out wanting to change that in writing this book."

Organa Brands is a progressive company with leaders from diverse backgrounds, he said. 

"Organa Brands and its employees have been marching in Pride parades every year since long before I started working here, so I feel a deep sense of gratitude to work for a company that acts as an ally to those in the LGBTQ+ community."

Outside of ethical and moral considerations of discrimination, Tilley brought up an often-overlooked point when talks of inclusivity arise.

"It's fascinating to consider the purchasing power of the LGBTQ+ community — around $5 trillion globally — yet we see very few products geared toward us. We have the chance to create a diverse, inclusive new industry from the ground up, so increased visibility of minorities, particularly people of color and those who identify as queer, will be essential in ensuring the future cannabis industry is reflective of the very values that built it."

The faces of cannabis activism have included people like the late Jack Herer, who had close ties to the LGBTQ+ community, and activists like Dennis Peron, who fought for his partner's right to ease his suffering during the HIV/AIDS crisis — an event that paved the way for medical marijuana in California.

"The cannabis industry and the queer community are inextricably linked as a result, and it's imperative to keep those roots in mind as we contemplate the future of our industry," Tilley said.

"There's this perception that 'bro culture' runs rampant in the space, and while it may be true for some, I'm proud to have avoided this."

At the end of the day, Tilley said cannabis is ultimately heading in the right direction.

"I'm incredibly proud to work in an environment that steers clear of those tired tropes and focuses on creating a sustainable business that's true to its origins."

Photo of Jackson Tilley by Karly Goranson.

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