A cannabis conference took place in Rochester leaving fifteen people one step closer to realizing their weed dreams.
In late June, events company Entertaining & Elevating with Cannabis partnered with Roc NORML to deliver a weekend of free information, connection, and true community investment. Entertaining and Elevating with Cannabis focuses its hospitality on culture and cannabis, with an approach that inspires, empowers, and normalizes consumption. In an effort to acknowledge the past, celebrate the present, and plan for the future, event organizer Brandi Hester alongside her business partner and wife Precious Brown invited cannapreneurs, those aspiring to join the biz, nonprofits, the Office of Cannabis Management, the Central Library of Rochester and Monroe County, and even churches to participate in the conversation, with more than a few individuals awarded a grant courtesy of the event sponsors.
The festivities kicked off Thursday with a Cannabis, Church, and Community Zoom event where members discussed spirituality and weed. The next day several people gathered in the residential gem, the Bogart Social Club for fine dining, THC-drink testing, and vapes, flavorfully provided by Ink Extracts. In speaking on E&E’s goals for the curation company, Brown tells Canna Culture Connect, “What we want to do is help reimagine the consumption of cannabis one event at a time, to really elevate what we do. Consuming cannabis isn’t just about smoking. We just want to bring it with etiquette, sophistication, and to make sure we’re representing our community.” And they brought that. The scene was beautifully decorated, resembling a noir garden, with a smoker’s room available to those wanting to spark up –all rollings included. (Hot tip: If you ever come across Weed Water, buy it. Take sips after smoking so you can really taste the terpenes.)
This portion of the weekend was the calm before the Business Incubator storm the next day that took place at Monroe Community College. Several organizations sponsored the event including Women of Color in Cannabis (WOCC), Rochester Education Fellowship, Rochester Digital Solutions, New York State Cannabis Connect, Sunlion Financial Group, Green Lion Compliance, Jessica Reily, and SLAY by Anarsha M. O’Nealy.
Keynote Speaker, Chris Alexander from the Office of Cannabis Management stopped by to answer any and all community questions. In response to conditional licenses for retail dispensaries, Chris says” We’ve been working on regs constantly,” before inviting community members to reach out any time with any questions or concerns via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
An attendee named Reggie from Buffalo snapped back at that generic response, pressing the cannabis board about if they plan on creating an advisory board to echo the concerns of the public. Alexander responds, “One thing that we did that we thought was really important was that we created that advisory board to be that funnel for twenty-something [folks across different industries and government].” Through having community conversations, Alexander says, “There’s a lot to learn, and we want to make sure we’re having meaningful interactions,” stressing that through leaving comments, change may come. Another attendee asked about the cannabis board recruiting a patient representative to accurately voice the concerns of somebody that is living and using cannabis as true medicine. Alexander answered by responding to how they arrived at the number of plants for home grow on the legislative side, pointing out they’ve expanded the medical program “to make sure we’re making it more accessible.” As they continue to work on medical regulations, Chris promises to consider the public input.
Following OCM conversations, guests were invited to learn about other businesses, tabled outside of the event hall. Byron Cage of The Higher Calling based out of Syracuse spoke about his company transitioning from a basic clothing company to a platform to destigmatize cannabis use. “We want to normalize use, share the positive health benefits, job opportunities. It’s pretty much about education and wellness for us, doing how-tos [such as] how to get a license, how-to properly research, and exploring the different ancillary opportunities. We hope to get more networking and spreading the news that we’re out here and it’s a community-based project and we can come together to reach our goals when it comes to this industry.”
Others were still figuring out their goals, like Zach Sarcis who attended to support community members like Brandi Hester. “As a white educator in this space, regardless of how hard I tried, I found finding pathways into the Black community incredibly challenging and, it’s figuring out traditional means for engaging community members I don’t have direct access to. Seeing Brandi, she’s been doing some badass work, bringing the force that Rochester needed, in a way no one f–king can. I wouldn’t say I’m legacy but I’ve been working with the plant since I was a kid. My relationship with the plant goes a long way. I’m still trying to figure out what I want to do in the space.”
Entrepreneur Alexis Burgess, who runs a prison van service, also came through to learn how they could get a foot in the industry. Alexis says, “I run One Love, One Way prison van service. Primarily the service is dedicated to the families in Rochester, aiding in transportation from home to jail and from jail back to home. Secondarily, I am creating a support group for the formerly incarcerated so that when they come home they have the support they need to have a smooth transition back into society, focusing on their mental health, the trauma endured while being locked up, and the trauma they endured coming back in society through the unjust justice system. I’m trying to help heal them in a way they can discuss their experiences and find a way to incorporate medicinal marijuana to help with that trauma.”
Real estate investor Anarsha N.Omealy or Anarsha’s Heart Inc. also set up at the conference to learn how she could create a space for Puff & Stays at their properties. “I just want to come here and network, and learn what I can improve upon.” This event was the perfect opportunity to do so, with resources provided at every turn.
$15K in grants were awarded, allowing for their recipients to expand their businesses in the cannabis community. These winners include Koriann Bishop, Kameko Overs, Time Hildebrand, Nate Bernardi, William Bucci, John Averil, Portia Thomas, Brandon Harrel, Justin Battles, Danielle Rider, Nikki Lawley, and Eunice Day.
The weekend wrapped up following breakout workshop panels, where folks in the industry led various conversations around brand development, employment and ancillary, advancement in cannabis, and mentorship, leading to more community engagement and connection. To truly claim to be about community, more cannabis companies should follow E&E’s lead. It’s one thing to say you support another person in cannabis, it’s another to do so financially.
Rochester follows NYC as one of the largest cannabis markets in the state.