In honor of Women’s History Month, The Weed Blog is highlighting several fascinating women from the cannabis industry. Today, we’re featuring Portland-based cannabis educator Emma Chasen. Learn what inspires her journey, and more, in this insightful Q&A.
How did you get into the cannabis industry?
I’ve been working with cannabis illegally for quite some time. However, I first entered the legal cannabis space in September 2015 as a budtender. I have a bachelor’s degree in Ethnobotany and Medicinal Plant Research from Brown University, so I am very familiar with the secondary properties of medicinal plants and how they can interact with human physiology. After graduating from Brown in 2014, I went on to work for the Brown University Research Oncology Group coordinating clinical oncology trials nationwide. After my supervisor openly laughed at a cannabis trial and instead chose to go with another billion dollar pharmaceutical trial, I quit. I packed up my car and drove across the country to Portland, OR. Two weeks after arriving in Portland, I got a budtending job at the popular Portland dispensary Farma. There, I was able to study cannabis and help patients reframe their relationship with the plant. I was named Portland’s Best Budtender by the Willamette Week Reader Poll and was quickly promoted to General Manager of Farma. After managing the shop for just over a year, I stepped down and carved out a new role for myself as Director of Education. I trained staff on cannabis science, kept up on the latest research, and worked with patients who had severe medical issues. After working for Farma for two years, I left the company to focus on creating a cannabis science training program and consulting.
What’s your current position?
I am a cannabis educator and consultant. I work with cannabis businesses to elevate their brand presence by creating consumer facing educational marketing collateral and educational programs. I also help retail cannabis businesses successfully navigate the transition from medical to adult-use cannabis. I help with business organization, structure and also create in house educational training programs so that employees are better able to service the consumer market. In this highly competitive market, cannabis businesses must distinguish themselves and the way to do that is with highly trained and educated staff. I also teach workshops in Portland for both lay enthusiasts and cannabis industry professionals on the fundamentals of cannabis science. Since I have a robust background in medicinal plant research, I feel it is part of my job to explain cannabis science in an accessible and meaningful way for people of all backgrounds.
What’s the biggest misunderstanding about your job?
Most people, especially those who have worked in black market cannabis, are very suspicious of educational efforts. I think these people already feel displaced by the legal industry, so to them education is seen as an elitist way to further remove black market growers from the cannabis scene. However, this is so not true and definitely not what I am about—I am here to help bring as many people into the fold as possible while communicating the highest level of information in a way that is accessible to everyone. I realize and understand that most people working in the cannabis industry don’t have a background in science, therefore I try to make the information I teach as fun and enjoyable as possible for people of all learning levels. I also get a lot of mansplainers - men in the industry who think they know way more than me. I always welcome feedback and constructive criticism, however when it comes from a person who is clearly just recycling the same false information they saw on an internet blog, that frustrates me. I spend a lot of time reading peer-reviewed scientific articles and keeping up with the latest developments in cannabis research. This kind of education benefits everyone and I'm trying to make it as accessible to everyone as I can.
Do you have to deal with the stigma around marijuana from family or friends? At your job? If so, how do you manage it?
Luckily, my nuclear family is very supportive of my work with cannabis. My extended family not so much. I know that most of the negative stigma surrounding cannabis comes from fear. Fear of getting caught. Fear of being criminalized. Fear of becoming addicted to “drugs.” Fear of the whole industry being shut down by crazy people in the government. I get it. I sympathize with their fear and know that they are ultimately looking out for my safety. However, I also know that most of their fear has no validity, so I try to educate whenever I can. I debunk their cannabis myths with scientific information. I engage with them regarding the thriving climate of the craft cannabis industry in Portland. I point to my allies in this movement who are strong, smart and committed to this plant. Sometimes it helps, sometimes it doesn’t, but it makes me feel good to communicate information in a reasonable, logical, intelligent way. Ultimately, it is my life’s journey and they can choose to live in fear or shed the stigma—that’s up to them.
How do you believe we can de-stigmatize cannabis?
The way that we elevate our industry is through education. Education is the way to further destigmatize this amazing medicinal plant and allow access for more people to feel comfortable considering cannabis therapy. There is a sea of misinformation regarding cannabis because of the government propaganda that was put out during the century of prohibition. Many people looking to explore cannabis therapy are very nervous due to the lack of reputable information. Will cannabis kill me? Can I overdose? What if I don’t have the language to get what I need? What if my budtender is dismissive of my needs and gives me a bad experience? As a cannabis industry, we need to be able to answer these questions and many more with reputable, scientific information. We need to reassure novice consumers while simultaneously being very honest about what we still don’t know and how much there’s still to discover with this amazing medicinal plant. With this mission in mind, I went to work on creating a cannabis education program. I train participants in everything from cannabis science to how we can effectively engage with novice consumers to communicate this information. My hope is to create the nationwide standard for cannabis industry training. With more education and informative industry workers, we can help potential consumers and the general public to further destigmatize cannabis.
What is the most powerful benefit of MMJ in your opinion?
Cannabis has amazing healing potential. However, we don’t yet know much about the intricacies of how and why it can be so medicinal for some people. As more cannabis research comes out, we are able to uncover the power of the compounds in the cannabis matrix to work together to promote healing. This is called the Entourage Effect. It’s the theory that all compounds inside cannabis work together to produce the most medically efficacious response. This is why I am such an advocate for whole plant medicine. Whole plant medicine, such as cannabis flower, has the full range of compounds, and therefore is able to produce a much more healing experience than a distillate or extract for example. The potential of cannabis with its full range of secondary compounds, to act as homeostatic agent, anti-proliferative, anti-anxiety, anti-depressant, anti-spasmodic, analgesic, anti-convulsant, anti-emetic, the list can go on and on, is what makes cannabis such a powerful medicinal herb. It has the ability to hit so many targets in the body and enact healing on so many levels.