On this Cannabis Creative Blog, I talk to Dustin Hoxworth about making the transition from the legacy market to the legal market. He hits on some seriously important points about respect and diversity in the industry, and why companies need to value the experience people from the legacy market bring to the table.
We’re living through the cannabis revolution.
Legalization across the country is making it faster and easier to get your hands on cannabis in all forms. But this rapid change also comes at a cost, allowing big businesses to use their bank accounts to take control and shutting out trailblazers from the legacy industry, who quietly supported cannabis for years.
One of those trailblazers is Dustin Hoxworth.
Hoxworth is new to the legal industry, but his history with the plant dates back to his childhood. He was born into a family that used cannabis, and he grew up with a deep understanding of the plant and what it could do for people. He entered what’s now called the legacy industry (also called the grey market, the black market, or the illegal market) in college when he began selling weed to his classmates.
This decision was not without its perils, and Hoxworth recalls the stress and anxiety he dealt with regularly to buy and sell cannabis. He’s come a long way since then, and when we sat down to chat, he was in Las Vegas, ready to start his day at MJBizCon, the largest cannabis conference in the country.
As you can imagine, Hoxworth is overjoyed to see how far cannabis has come and to be a part of the industry. He’s glad to see an aboveground cannabis culture forming but cautions against letting what made the legacy market special slip away. Coming from this market gives him a unique perspective, and we dove into the lack of respect people in the industry have for the legacy market and how big business has been able to push its way in with money.
Today, Hoxworth is the co-founder of Cecily Skincare, but he’s also still breaking into an industry he’s spent most of his life in. He has partnerships in the works, but nothing concrete yet, and the roundabout hiring processes in the industry have caused more than a bit of frustration. He wants corporations to be more open to hiring people from the legacy industry because they bring an important diversity of thought and perspective on cannabis culture to the corporate structure.
The cannabis industry is undoubtedly at a crossroads, but that gives us a unique and unprecedented opportunity to create a diverse, equitable, and just marketplace that supports sustainable practices and uplifts small businesses to elevate communities. It takes people like Hoxworth, not multi-billion-dollar corporations, to get us there.
What are you most excited about in the industry right now?
DH: It’s been an amazing thing to see overall, to experience what a real industry is based around cannabis is. Seeing how many different people consume, and aren’t scared to tell everybody they consume, seeing all the different types of products, whether it be actual flower or oils or ancillary products and services.
Seeing all the different diverse people, women, people of color, and indigenous folks getting involved. It’s been an excellent thing to be a part of, and it really reminds me that cannabis culture is a real thing. It’s something I’ve always been a part of, and to see it in full action, full-blown, making millions and millions of dollars here in the US is a super cool thing to be a part of.
What do you think needs to change in the industry?
DH: One of the most important things that we touch on when it comes to this industry is that every single person in jail for possession needs to be released, given compensation, have a written formal apology, job training, and expunged records.
Leadership under these big corporate cannabis companies is another one. A lot of these people are unfairly using power and influence to control the industry that they were never really a part of, to begin with. They’re making decisions for a lot of people, especially people like myself that they have no business making these decisions for. Many of these folks never came from a place of supporting the plant, and yet they run these huge cannabis companies. I think it’s a little bit ridiculous.
I also think hiring practices need to be improved within the industry. I won’t name names, but I’ve gone through months of interviews at this point only to be told at the 11th hour that the recs and the pay have completely changed. Show a little bit of respect to the people that helped the industry get here. We wouldn’t have the industry without legacy folks. The culture around the plant and legacy culture overall is about respect; respect for our farmers, respect for our hippy culture, just respect for the people that came up in cannabis and made this industry actually exist, to begin with.
What’s your perspective looking at current diversity levels in the cannabis industry?
DH: When you say D&I (diversity and inclusion), a lot of people automatically think skin color or culture, or ethnicity. But that’s not the case. You want to create diversity in thought. Diversity thought, diversity of background, diversity of anything and everything you can think of. It’s not just skin color; it’s not just ethnicity. It’s having more women in leadership positions, it’s LGBTQ. It’s everything that if you’re not a white guy, basically, that’s what we’re talking about.
Since I’m not fully engulfed in the industry at this point, as far as working with a cannabis company, I don’t want to jump the gun and talk too much BS about what I believe is going on when it comes to diversity inclusion within the cannabis industry. But let me kind of touch on how I personally have pushed for diversity inclusion.
I naturally fell into consulting with some very large corporations on the importance of D&I. I actually presented D&I workshops in person to CEOs and executive teams and felt that it was some of the most important work I’ve ever done. But I get pretty tired of watching the world burn, working for the fake leadership of a bunch of wacky old white guys who care about nothing other than their bank accounts. I believe that there needs to be a lot more done or a lot more in the forefront. And I know that there are some people that are really doing an excellent job with this.
Overall, no matter if it’s the cannabis industry or any other industry for that matter, diversity inclusion matters. Diversity, inclusion, equity, and belonging matter. And hopefully, as we continue to grow as a country and as some of the older generations move on from leadership positions, we can at least gain the ability to continue to grow the D&I aspect of every single industry.
What’s been a big challenge you’ve overcome in the cannabis industry?
DH: So, I’m not even working in the cannabis industry right now, as far as having a full-time position in a cannabis brand or a cannabis-focused company. I’m still trying to break in. Entering into the cannabis industry period is a big challenge, and I think a lot of people like myself face this regularly.
I didn’t know how to go about entering the industry, especially being in Atlanta, Georgia, where no one is in the industry. I had to figure out a way to kind of drop my guard and stop being scared. Coming out on LinkedIn was kind of scary and mind-blowing at the same time. I dove in; I started to make connections, started to talk to people on a daily basis, I started getting on zoom calls. And I was really nervous about posting all of this stuff on LinkedIn because all of my regular connections were going to see this. And I could absolutely be ostracized from the normal (or what we have been told is the norm) when it comes to the corporate side of work. I was pretty nervous about doing that.
I think the biggest hurdle been really just the biggest challenge is finding a way to communicate with people that I not only have this knowledge background of the plant, a love for the plant, a passion for the plant, but I also have all of this corporate experience over the past couple of decades that I can combine and really bring a lot of knowledge of normal corporate operations and mixing that with my passion for the plant. Getting that point across having people understand who I really am and what I can do, that’s really been the challenge.
What’s something you’re proud of that you don’t get to share often?
DH: I grew up with an indigenous stepfather for nine years, so I have that cultural background and that cultural knowledge. It comes with love for nature and plant medicine and respect for our planet overall. And back in 2016, there was something called Standing Rock.
Standing Rock is a reservation in Cannonball, North Dakota. And basically, there was a very large company coming in laying down the Dakota Access oil pipeline. And they, along with politicians, decided to steal, desecrate and destroy indigenous lands. It hit home with me so heavily that I decided to do something about it. And what I did was create a fundraiser with my best friend, Chris Birdsong.
He and I, through a fundraiser and a donation drive over two days, raised over about $4,000. We collected a truck and trailer full of supplies; tents, sleeping bags, axes, wood, gasoline, water, anything and everything that you could think of; clothes, food, shoes, whatever we could get. We drove all of that with all of that up from Atlanta, Georgia, to Cannonball, North Dakota, to Standing Rock Reservation, where we proceeded to spend a week. We helped fight against the corporate and the political takeover of indigenous lands, the stealing and desecrating, and destroying of their lands.
It made me more connected to not only myself but to the environment. It also connected me even more to the cannabis culture because, of course, I smoked the entire way and talked about it the entire way. And it was something that was such a big thing in my life, and it really helped push me even more towards the cannabis industry as well.
What’s your favorite fun fact about cannabis?
DH: We, as humans, have been consuming cannabis forever.
Most people don’t understand is that from the 1600s throughout the 1800s in the United States, you could be thrown in jail for not growing cannabis. David Paleschuck talks about this in his book, Branding Bud. You were required to grow cannabis in this country. And that’s something that no one knows; absolutely no one understands this. Then all of a sudden, it turned to if you’re growing cannabis, you’re going to jail.
It’s really weird how our country did a full 180 on cannabis. It’s really kind of ruined a lot of lives and, and really helped to ruin the environment. And it’s been controlled through a bunch of lies and BS and racist nonsense. I think the fact that not many people know that we were really required to grow it here in this country for so long, well over 200 years is kind of a mind-blowing fact.
What’s next for you?
DH: I’ve been in interviews with some tech companies. I don’t want to say any names because I have signed NDAs at this point. What I see happening for me over the next, I would say six months or so, is that I’m actually able to step into a cannabis tech company and help out any way I can. And if that’s not the case, what I truly would love to do is to build a brand and work with a brand or help create a brand, or you know, bring my knowledge, passion, and experience to a brand and really move it forward any way that I can.
Then, just continue to make connections and continue to be a voice for good within the industry. And hopefully, people take me seriously. That’s where I see myself going with it over the next several months.