As part of our month-long series on women in cannabis, we’re featuring interviews with women who have found their calling in this industry. They are founders, CEOs, vice presidents and senior vice presidents who entered the industry through a variety of reasons—to help others alleviate their pain, to undo the effects of years of discriminatory laws, and to de-stigmatize cannabis.
Follow along as we speak with women in leadership positions not only internally at MedMen, but at popular brands that make cannabis products as well.
Read our interview with MedMen’s Senior Vice President of Government Affairs, Morgan Sokol, who saw the deleterious effects of harsh marijuana laws firsthand in the underserved communities she was teaching in as a Teach for America corp member. Read on to find out how this inspired her to get into policy and how it led her to build up numerous departments from the ground up at MedMen.
What brought you to MedMen?
Through Teach For America I taught in New Orleans and Philadelphia in underserved communities. I was really frustrated by the things that were impacting my students outside the four walls of the classroom—unstable access to healthy foods and housing, or how some of their parents were arrested and served long sentences for marijuana-related drug charges. And it made it really hard for them to be successful.
So, I decided to get a Master’s in Public Policy to learn how to disrupt the unjust, racist and inequitable system impacting my students. After grad school, I was introduced to Adam Bierman [MedMen’s co-founder and CEO], and later I was offered a job at MedMen. I was very excited at the prospect of making a difference, of helping undo some of the damage caused by the failed war on drugs on communities of color, communities like the ones I had worked with in New Orleans and Philadelphia.
What campaigns or programs have you led for MedMen?
I first started as Director of Compliance. MedMen only had two assets it managed at the time — an indoor cultivation facility in Sun Valley and a medical marijuana dispensary in West Hollywood. This was in 2016, before California passed Prop. 64 legalizing adult use and the state was yet to write formal regulations around medical marijuana. We had to build our compliance and auditing systems from scratch. I got to work closely with elected officials, thought leaders, other members of the cannabis industry and communities. I was proud that in January 2018, MedMen was one of the first businesses in California to get cannabis retail licenses for our stores in West Hollywood, Orange County and Downtown Los Angeles. I am also proud of the expungement clinics we’ve helped put together with local community organizations, and the robust government affairs team we have today with regional directors across the country.
What roles have you had at MedMen?
This is why I love MedMen. We truly have a culture of meritocracy. It is something that Adam, and our other co-founder Andrew Modlin, have instilled from the beginning. We hire talented people and ensure they have opportunities to grow and flourish at the company. I think I’ve had four job titles in three years, and it amazes me how I started as a team of one overseeing compliance and government affairs and now those are two fully staffed departments and still growing. I currently head a team of seven in government affairs.
Tell us a little bit about the work MedMen’s Government Affairs does?
We work to build relationships with local, state and federal elected officials and community members. We also share our experience of operating in multiple jurisdictions and states across the country so we can all learn from what works in different programs. We share best practices that we have culled from across the country, and we hopefully help avoid potential policy and regulatory pitfalls. MedMen has grown with the industry, we have experience building cannabis businesses literally from the ground up so we can speak with some authority on what has worked well and what hasn’t.
Is the the cannabis industry inclusive of women?
The industry offers real career advancement opportunities for women. It’s exciting to see more and more women hold higher positions in this industry. I love that we have two women board members who bring their unique perspectives as business executives and as women to the leadership of MedMen. Having diverse perspectives from people of different genders, races, ethnicities, ages, nationalities, sexual orientation and work experiences only helps strengthen organizations. Diversity is a strength because it gives us a broader view of the world in which we live, and in our case, the world we serve.
What hardships, if any, have you faced as a woman working in the cannabis industry?
I am often the only woman in meetings where I represent the company, but I see that as an opportunity to speak up and share my perspective. Whether in the cannabis industry or elsewhere, women still face condescending or chauvinistic behavior. Madeline Albright taught me that women must always support women in the workplace, and it is so true, we must lift each other up and be mentors so that others can follow on our footsteps.
How do you see the industry evolving over the next few years?
I see so much opportunity in the cannabis industry. More states will legalize adult use, presidential candidates are openly speaking of legalization, licensing programs will continue to evolve, and safe social consumption spaces will be created. We will continue to undo the decades of harm done by the failed war on marijuana, especially on communities of color. And we will definitely see the end of federal prohibition of cannabis in the near future.
How is MedMen supporting women in weed?
We must ensure that we are casting a wide enough net to bring in people from diverse backgrounds and experiences into our pipeline. We cannot rely just on traditional recruitment tools, we must be creative with how we find diverse, top talent. We also have to create internship and job training opportunities where women and people of color have opportunities to learn the skills necessary for leadership roles in this industry and beyond.