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Fostering Diversity & Inclusion in the Medical Cannabis Industry, with Jacquie Cohen Roth

Medical cannabis is an industry that’s expanding rapidly in the United States. How can we make sure it’s a diverse and inclusive space? Jacquie Cohen Roth’s work, through CannabizMD and Tea Pad, is focused on equal access and education.

Everything Jacquie does is centered around the tagline, “Education, Build, and Engage.” Read her interview below to find out how she is putting those ideas into practice.

Tell me more about your business and the work that you do.

I have two businesses. The first one is CannabizMD which is an ecosystem and a robust platform supporting the medical cannabis industry, the center stone being a website with a focus on industry best practices, policy, law, compliance and patient stories. The patient stories serve three purposes. The first is for prospective medical cannabis patients who are exploring using medical cannabis to manage symptoms associated with their own disorders and diseases. Second, is for the owner operators to read about and understand just how patients are using their products and what they’re using their medical cannabis products to treat their disorders for or with. And the third is for the industry influencers inclusive of legislators so they too can understand how the patients are using medical cannabis.

I’m in the midst of editing a patient story right now. At first, our patient stories were going to be only from Maryland certified patients. This patient story is about a fellow who used medical black market cannabis in Tennessee to get off heroin and to treat the symptoms associated with his hepatitis C. He’s now a certified medical patient in Colorado. It’s a really powerful patient story and underscores that people will get medical cannabis however they can — black market or move to legal state as a medical refugee. Everyone needs to hear this.

Our tagline is educate, build, and engage an ecosystem for medical cannabis which is inclusive of patients, providers, license holders, legislators, influencers, and ancillary services; and to engage these folks. The focus is on advancing the needs of the Maryland medical cannabis industry. We launched in October ’17, and pretty quickly it has gained far more than a Maryland geographic boundaries audience, as other markets and folks are exploring it, reading about it, learning best practices, which the website offers. We also host education events, whether they are patient focused or more industry focused.

A big part of our content focuses on policy. Particularly in Maryland, and I see it with the emerging markets, there is a growing focus on diversity and inclusion in the industry via legislative policy. It’s been really challenging to gain access to the industry if you’re anything but a white male. I’ve seen a change in the industry since I’ve been focused on it. In Maryland, the original grow and process licenses all went went to White men.

There was a lawsuit brought on by a African American physician who’d applied for a license and was not awarded despite the fact that he scored above some of the awardees. That raised the awareness and engagement with Maryland’s General Assembly’s Black Caucus. Subsequently in 2017, Maryland Governor Larry Hogan ordered an economic impact study which, surprise, identified African American women and Native American women as the most disadvantaged in Maryland’s cannabis industry.

This need to focus on diversity and inclusion in the industry was the impetus for launching Tea Pad, a social enterprise. It’s name is borrowed from the speakeasies in the ’20s and ’30s known as “tea pads”, where marijuana was introduced to African American communities via jazz. At the same time, the infamous Harry Anslinger started his insane marijuana prohibition and racist laws which in turn has created decades of racial injustice and disparity in the Black and Brown communities.

These speakeasies started off in Harlem and then quickly grew to include Philadelphia and other East Coast locations. These were places where folks could relax, enjoy cannabis and listen to great music without the prejudice and fear of getting arrested. So, I borrowed that name for the social enterprise Tea Pad, which is a networking group for the cannabis industry and the cannabis industry-curious, with the mission to break down barriers to entry and empower people to gain access to in the cannabis industry — no matter race or gender — via education.

Proceeds of Tea Pad events fund the Tea Pad Scholarship for Black Entrepreneurship. The first scholarship is going to be awarded to a student at Morgan State University, a Historic Black College and University. The scholarship will be supporting, ideally, a woman of color.

What was your background originally? How did you get started in this industry?

Well, the cannabis industry is the puzzle piece that has fit into my brain and is a part of everything I’ve studied and done professionally. I was pre-med originally, daughter of a physician. And I was always asked, “Are you going to be a nurse and help your Daddy?” I said, “Nope, I’m going to be a doctor and be his boss.”

While I was in organic chemistry, I was also taking an international relations course, and I thought, “I like this a whole lot better than organic chemistry.” So, I changed majors and schools and ended up at the Maxwell School, which is at Syracuse University and which is always recognized as a top university for the study of public policy. I majored in both policy studies and economics with a minor in international political economies. After my first career in banking, I created a professional niche for myself combining high level healthcare and policy in marketing and publishing. That career gave me the greatest flexibility while I raised my three daughters.

I was publishing a magazine for physicians and healthcare stakeholders, in what’s referred to as the DMV region: DC, Maryland, Virginia, where our focus was on clinical innovation, best practices, policy, law, compliance in traditional healthcare. At the same time, I was developing B2B marketing projects, working all of the major health systems and large healthcare provider practices in the same region. At the same time I was focusing on innovations in traditional clinical treatments, I was following the rebirth of cannabis for clinical application and was educating physicians and our audience to consider treatments outside of traditional pharmaceutical products including medical cannabis

I’ve managed to accomplish quite a bit with success as cannabis “enthusiast.” I understand that I was self-medicating for what is now recognized as PTSD and medicine to treat it.

What inspired you to start the social enterprise side of this?

I have always been a champion for the underdog and the disadvantaged. There’s a Hebrew phrase: “tikkun olam” which literally means repair of the world. That phrase guides me and inspires me in most everything that I do both professionally and personally. I have been a victim of discrimination as a Jew and professionally as a woman.

So, Tea Pad is to make a change, to make sure there are no boundaries to folks who want to get into this industry — particularly, the folks of communities that have been disadvantaged by horrifically bad policy. This goes beyond the fact that Black and Brown men are arrested and incarcerated at significantly higher rates than White men. This is to help support women who have been put in a position where there are raising families on their own and supporting communities on their own. They don’t have the access to get out above poverty and the financial and economic challenges that they face.

My dad was first generation Jewish immigrant and faced incredible discrimination as Jew. He taught me how to literally fight against discrimination. On the playground as a 3rd grader (!), I was called a “Christ Killer.” My dad upped his game on the boxing moves he had been teaching me and I punched the perpetrator in the nose, bloodying it. My parents and I were called into the principal’s office and I will never forget the look of pride on my dad’s face.

Understanding that many of the discriminates didn’t/don’t have their fathers as part of their lives because of incredibly high levels of incarceration, because of discriminatory policies, and very limited access to the education I had, I fight on their behalf.

What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned so far throughout your journey?

At first I was concerned about any push back or questioning why a White Jewish woman would be fighting for equity in the cannabis industry on behalf of the Black and Brown communities. I’ve been embraced and encouraged by people of color.

Of interest, not Maryland’s original license holders.

I’m always up for a challenge and to support who I see as disadvantaged.

What advice would you give to social entrepreneurs?

It takes passion and it takes support from others. I have an advisory board that I’ve built together, with the focus of being diverse and mindful across our industry.

What’s your vision for the future? Either for your business or for the world, or both.

I would love to see Tea Pad spread across the country. I have heard from someone in Canada and out West. It does not have to be limited geographically. There are Historic Black Colleges and Universities across the country. Not every state has them, but there are education programs in every state that would afford somebody gain access to the industry via education.

I’m very excited that I’ve been invited to present at a conference in Malta, which is being very forward-thinking and somewhat aggressive towards establishing a medical cannabis economy in the country. My focus is on education, and there are no geographic boundaries to that.

What action do you want readers to take?

To support Tea Pad. Either attending an event, or with sponsorship. Proceeds go to the Tea Pad Scholarship for Black Entrepreneurship.

Find Jacquie Online


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Cassi Lowe

Cassi Lowe

I help social entrepreneurs grow their online presence through web design and inbound marketing.