Ever since I started working in the cannabis industry, it was clear that I was a representative of a greater movement. Both socially and professionally, everywhere I went, it became the central topic of conversation, which I welcomed with open arms as an unencumbered entrepreneur. People assumed I knew everything about the plant, products, and industry, but little did they know that I was the student. Where politicians, the media, education, and even doctors fell short, people expected me to have the answers. Perhaps I expected it of myself. While empowering, in many ways, it was enraging – I was the last person who should be giving medical advice. Some would jokingly call me a drug dealer. Not so jokingly? Regardless, it pushed me to learn as much as possible, as quickly as possible, and I begin sharing it with the world.
When I launched Gateway Incubator in 2015, I felt that the decision was forever changing my image and resume. Since that day, I’ve worn the label of cannabis entrepreneur and advocate as a badge of honor – who wouldn’t after what I’ve learned? It became my goal to leverage my straight and narrow image to signal to the world that cannabis is mainstream, here to stay, and 100 percent deserving of it. Everywhere I went, all the conferences in which I spoke, I was “the cannabis guy.” I was proud. I still am, even more so now more than ever, but nothing could have prepared me for the test of that pride when I became a father, and our young son began preparing to enter school.
My wife and I, along with our son, began interacting (or interviewing) with school administrators, teachers, and other parents.
I suddenly felt as though I were under a microscope.
“What do you do for a living?” They would ask innocently. Not in a loaded way -- it was honest -- a simple greeting when first getting to know another adult. I can deliver a talk in front of thousands of strangers, but this made me sweat. The weight of our child’s acceptance is on my shoulders and judged by my career decisions. I hadn’t really prepared for how I might go about introducing what it is exactly that I do while ensuring that I didn’t impede any opportunities for our kids. As parents, we want to give our children everything, but more simply, definitely not act as an impediment to their opportunities.
It’s no secret that cannabis can be polarizing, albeit much less so nowadays than before. I’m generally known for jumping feet first into things, but here I quickly found myself slowly wading into the shallow end of the pool. Now the CEO of Vertosa, I’d respond by saying that “I run a company that manufactures active ingredients for beverages and other types of products.” Purposely starting out with making it sound as vanilla and professional as possible, near boring, then reading the body language as I proceeded. I didn’t want to leave it at just that in case they did indeed look me up; as my mother would say, an omission of the truth is a lie. “We focus our technology on the hard-to-work-with plant extracts derived from hemp…” -- brief pause here to do an additional assessment of body language -- “… and cannabis …” Now holding my breath for what seems like an eternity to receive their reaction.
Not for my ego, but for the sake of our son’s acceptance and future.
By the time I finally actually said the word cannabis, I felt I had adequately positioned myself as a professional first, but still felt like a child admitting to their parent that they had done something terribly inappropriate.
One year later, I’m happy to report that our son has just finished his first year of school where we became great friends with the school administrators, teachers, and other parents, free and clear of any negative reactions to my involvement in the cannabis industry. Not only can I not recount any negative reactions, but I’d also have to say that they’ve been overwhelmingly positive.
Other parents have opened up to me as if I was their therapist, singing the praises of cannabis and how it makes them a better parent.
I’m constantly asked for recommendations on products, praised for products that my company has infused (especially Mad Lily), and approached for career guidance within the industry.
We’ve come a long way.
As we emerge from the pandemic, I am now excited for our one-year-old daughter – our pandemic baby – to attend the same school as our son in the coming years. Not only will I not hesitate to state what I do for a living, but I will say it with pride. I celebrate this Father’s Day knowing that I am being the best father I can, probably better than those not so familiar with the plant, and I shall go confidently into the future as a “cannadad".