Clash of the Titans: Can Cannabis Culture and Big Business Co-Exist?

Can big business and cannabis culture cohesively build a solid industry? Five industry superstars met at MJBizCon recently to discuss this question.

Joe Bayern, CEO of Curaleaf CURLF and Jennifer Drake, co-chief operating officer of Ayr Wellness AYRWF joined Wanda James, leading advocate in the cannabis industry and founder & CEO of Simply Pure; Swami Chaitanya, a legacy cultivator from Northern California and co-founder of Swami Select as well as Vladimir Bautista, co-founder of Happy Munkey, LLC, a cannabis event business in New York City.

Big business cannot survive without what cannabis culture has brought to the table,” said Wanda James, the first Black dispensary owner in the United States.

Meanwhile, Bayern and Drake noted that their companies are based in cannabis culture. “Setting up this dichotomy of ‘Big Business versus cannabis culture’ is a false dichotomy,” Drake said.

At Benzinga’s Cannabis Capital Conference (Oct. 14-15), Ayr Wellness COO spoke about social equity and the industry's expansion into New Jersey. “When we talk about social equity, (...) access is important, but also the ability to participate in the industry and to do so in a profitable way,” Drake said in New York.

According to the COO, one of the ways Ayr is committed social equity is through an accelerator program in cooperation with The Harvard Business School Cannabis Club. Although the company currently runs this program in Massachusetts, it has intentions of expanding.

The CEO of Curaleaf said the company works to have a positive impact on the lives of employees, patients, customers and communities.

Bayern also referred to Curaleaf’s “Rooted in Good” initiative on social equity, which seeks to “deliver real opportunity across the cannabis ecosystem, particularly for those disproportionately impacted by the war on drugs.”

'Rooted In Good' is a Massachusetts-based company, under the helm of Bayern, who, earlier this year pledged to make at least 10% of the company's 2021 hires people previously saddled with cannabis-related offenses or criminal records. The company has contributed at least $1 million in community investment to programs that address collateral consequences associated with marijuana-related offenses.

The program is intended to provide mentoring and technical assistance to aspiring business owners, while also creating pathways to ownership for social equity license holders. By 2025, Curaleaf aims to do business with 420 new cannabis brands, ancillary suppliers and advocacy organizations in the cannabis ecosystem.

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Posted In: CannabisNewsSmall CapMarketsAyr WellnessCuraleafMJBizConsocial equityWanda James
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