The Industry’s Identity Crisis: Our Escape Has Gone Corporate

Remember when weed was fun? We used to love it here. Now it sometimes feels like a chore. The fuck’s up with that? Well friends, here’s the sad truth: pot ain’t what it used to be, for a lot of reasons.

Before we get into the nitty gritty, let’s go over how many of us got here:

Cannabis has long been a vibrant subculture – or counterculture. A plant that seemingly brought people together, helped them forget their problems for a while, and gave many of us outsiders – or weirdos, if you will – a way to find our tribe, hooked us all – though maybe not in the traditional ‘addictive’ sense. From the love of the plant, a community grew. And while much of the world laughed at us, we championed each other, and as a result, we flourished.

But good times don’t last forever, and I’m sorry to say, our inside joke got out, and now everybody’s in on it.

Early Days

Keeping an eye on ‘who we were’ for a sec, and before we get into some harsh realities, it’s important to note just how attractive we actually are. Many, if not all, of the most fun people I know, came to me through the plant – long before I was some High Times guy that people wanted to talk to. There’s a cool factor that comes with doing your own thing, and our community exudes that in spades. Some call it not giving a fuck, but to me it’s that search for originality – the act of finding yourself – that’s largely provided to us by the plant. While people often say things like ‘weed makes people friendly’, I think the truth is it actually just makes you more comfortable with who you truly are – and that’s a beautiful gift.

One of the most common things I hear when interviewing those I consider real heads – from cultivators, to trappers, to lifers – is that they got into the industry to fund, or grow their habit. While maybe they were also attracted by what they believed to be ‘riches’ at the time, it was the ability to make their own way that sealed the deal. We all wanted to blaze our own trail, and invest in this thing we truly loved. Most of us knew nothing about taxes, or compliance. We were outlaws, rebels.

It’s hard to say it was always easy, and we had more than our fair share of casualties. From fighting the federal prohibition and avoiding jail time to ducking into alleys to light up, it hardened us, and we had earned our places in this growing economy.

Now flash forward a few years, a piecemeal legalization, an insane tax structure in pretty much every state, and a whole lot of new, clean faces – what the fuck happened?

Coming of Age

Say what you will about where shit’s gotten, it’s hard to deny that things have largely worked out for us so far. We’re not getting locked up as much. We can be more open about our passions. Cannabis brands are worth billions of dollars, and many of our icons have become kings; fans still mob Cheech and Chong meet & greets, the Dead’s still touring – and with one of the biggest mainstream pop stars of our time, no less. Now Netflix is making shows about us, FOX News is talking about edibles – and with that, friends, we’ve jumped the shark.

Flash forward to today and the THC rat race is killing us, and publicists have decided microdosing is the wave. No one’s making the money they’re used to, and I know how frustrating it is to see a slew of new products coming to market that seem designed for anyone but you.

One of the most common misconceptions about legalization is that it was going to create more space for us. I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but what we were actually making room for was them. The outsiders. Those NOT in-the-know. Now while that may seem scary, it’s important to note that this is part of the process. Growing up is uncomfortable, but one of the first things you realize in your journey to maturity is that the world is a lot bigger than you. Creating space for something you love doesn’t mean you get to just clone yourself a dozen times to enjoy it 12x as much. It means you’re introducing your love to the world, and the world might not see her the same way you do. That’s a scary thing!

But recall, we were once on the outside too, and we did alright.

An even scarier thing perhaps is all the new players flooding the field. Not consumers, but VCs and executives from other ‘restrictive’ industries telling us how to sell our products. There’s no shortage of new money and new interest coming in to get a slice of the pie.

In order to get to the next level, we should acknowledge a basic truth: in almost all situations, people fear change. While that’s far more a mental hurdle than an actual object to jump over, things are changing in a BIG way right now. It’s natural to feel uneasy. Hold fast, and keep in mind that despite the turbulence, we’re moving in the right direction. We’ll have to learn some new tricks, and we’re not out of the fight, but pressure makes diamonds, and no one changes the world by staying comfortable. (Remember, we weren’t for a LONG time…) And don’t forget, we have home court advantage here.

All Grown Up

While I might’ve already turned most of you off by refusing to sugarcoat the reality we’re facing, the original intention of this piece was to offer some suggestions that may help with this changing landscape. I’m no scholar, and I’m not running your business, so take this as a guide more than commandments – I’m not Moses – but I’ve got a few ideas that I believe will help ensure you see the next level of this tower we’re building.

First, I know we all think ‘corporate’ is code for the Deathstar, but remember, if you do anything well for long enough, you eventually become the man. I know we all grew up saying damn that guy, but there are very real reasons why once your success reaches unmanageable heights, people hire a team. You’ve already done this, you’ve just got to take it to the next level now, and that’s what going corporate means. We’ve largely created the stigma we’re worried about. You probably don’t know the best tax loopholes, and compliance shortcuts – that’s why you hire an expert. A corporation, when built properly, is just a well-staffed group of experts with the support structures necessary to tackle bigger problems. A lot of cooks will enter the kitchen, and there will be many more conversations before taking action, but it kinda sounds like the dream not to have to worry about filing your own paperwork, no?

Next, and an example I make often, is that I’ve never had a problem taking money from rich kids. They usually don’t value it as much as you will, and they can afford to take more shots if they screw up so they’re not as worried about failure – utilize their blessings to get your goals accomplished, whatever that may be.

We will often need them to surpass the compliance hurdles legalization has placed on us. That said, be careful not to let the money dictate the conversation. You see, in MOST of these situations, the money is coming to you because you know what’s up. As long as you don’t let them forget that YOU are what they’re investing in, money’s helpful for a lot.

Another important thing to remember is that we’re in a race to the bottom right now. As all the new money tries to ‘achieve scale’ trying to make every step in the process as bottom-line effective as possible – which largely seems to mean in their minds ‘be so big we can tell the market what it wants’, they are losing hundreds of millions learning the market doesn’t want to buy boof, and values quality. As a real consumer, you know this. They largely don’t. That will change with time, and the only thing that will retain its value through this process, that they will eventually have to acknowledge and PAY FOR, is your experience. Your expertise. Now that may mean we’re in for a few rough years, no question. It might also mean some of you who have run your own businesses forever will go from owners to employees – that’s a hard pill to swallow.

The thing to keep in mind is, you can build a much bigger ship when you don’t do it alone, just focusing on your strengths. There’s an old adage ‘If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, build a team’, and that holds especially true here. It’s the corporate point again, right? Would you rather make $5 million by yourself, or collect 10% of $500 million? I’ve written a lot about the successes of players who have succeeded largely off of the strength of the network they’ve built. You don’t have to say you learned it from them, but please, take note. There’s an important lesson there. We’re not playing the same game anymore, and you’ve got to evolve to survive.


This last point may lose the rest of you, but try to stick with me, we’re almost there. Remember what I said earlier about that beautiful gift? Well the thing is, while showing us and helping us accept and appreciate who we are individually, it actually doesn’t always make us the most accepting of others who don’t fit a similar mold. Try not to take that as a slight, but as something to open your eyes to. It’s not an accusation, just something you should look for in your own actions, before you tear down the ideas of others. We don’t all have the same perspective – this is the root of why diversity is so important.

While I am absolutely not saying these new guys know what they’re doing, I am saying our overconfidence can sometimes be a turn off to outsiders who don’t get us yet, and that can hinder us more than benefit. Just think about how polarizing social media has gotten. We can’t even mention Sexism without a thousand individual and unaffected perspectives trying to tear down the basic notion based on their personal experiences. It gets visceral.

We need to remember to look outside ourselves, and when necessary, help them see your perspective from a place of understanding, not judgment. This is something I definitely need to work on myself, but I know will help many of you as well. Ego should be all of our biggest enemies.

If there’s one thing us lifers have in common, it’s that we’re here for the long haul. We’re not going anywhere – we couldn’t imagine being anywhere else. While most of these fair-weather fans will head for the new wave once the next billion dollar opportunity comes along (thanks Web3), we’ll still be here. But let’s not make the party we’re having unattractive to outsiders, because we’ll always need customers.

Finally, I often joke that most of the industry’s problems stem from the fact that not enough people involved in the supply chain are smoking. That’s especially true for all the new faces joining us to take advantage of the supposed ‘gold rush’. But a lot of the ones that are, also typically ain’t high enough (trust, I’m going to get to the withdrawal conversation at some point…) and we can all use each other’s understanding as we navigate through this trying time. I don’t know about you guys, but my love of weed is one of the only things in my life I’ve never had to fake, and we are finally in a time where we can celebrate that around the clock basically anywhere. Don’t forget how many people died, and went to jail, for this luxury (or basic human right, whatever). Things COULD be looking better than ever before, it’s just a matter of perspective. We’ll get there.

The post The Industry’s Identity Crisis: Our Escape Has Gone Corporate appeared first on High Times.


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