[Editor’s Note: Excellent interview on cannabis and business, entrepreneurship, family, future, and legacy building. A worthy read for all. ]
In honor of our “women of weed”-themed issue, High Times asked two of the most prominent women in the cannabis space to discuss the industry they’re so passionate about.
Dr. Dina is the founder of the Alternative Herbal Health Services dispensary in Los Angeles as well as the inspiration for the Nancy Botwin character on the groundbreaking pot-centric show, Weeds. A noted cannabis activist, Dr. Dina has made a name for herself as both a business owner and a philanthropist. Here, setting aside the traditional HT interview format, Dr. Dina talks to her colleague Corey Thomas, the founder and CEO of the Honey Pot cannabis company and winner of multiple High Times Cannabis Cups.
Dr. Dina: I’m honored right now to be here. I’ve watched you blossom over the years as an entrepreneur. I’ve seen you build your brand from the ground up. I’m really proud of you. I think that you set a great example for so many women in the industry. And I know that as a mom, you have something stronger to fight for. You should be pretty damn proud of yourself.
Corey: Thank you.
Some girl love—we got to put it out there because it’s true. We don’t always express how proud we are of one another as much as we should. What you’ve accomplished is really impressive. And it’s very difficult without taking on millions of dollars from the very beginning. But what I really want to know is: How do you think the role of women in cannabis has evolved in the last 10 years?
I wouldn’t say that our roles have necessarily changed much. I’ve been in the space for close to 20 years now and there’s always been strong women—the mothers, the sisters and the wives that made the industry what it is today. They’ve always been the ones that were trusted to run the [businesses]; some of the most successful dispensaries in California are run by women—current company included. We’ve always been integral parts of the space.
I think the real evolution over the last 10 years is society’s point of view on what we’re doing. The lack of education before and the stigmas that we dealt with created a fear-based lifestyle for us. And now with the changes in legislation, we’re able to come out of the closet a little bit more and step into the light and build businesses. But I think that’s the same for all genders. We’re all in a safer space now, at least here in California.
I agree. I’ve seen a huge difference. Twenty years ago, I feel like most of the women were stay-at-home moms, and they would take care of their kids while their husbands would grow. Because if something happened, they would go to jail. So the wives would be at home with the kids. That’s a situation we’ve had to fight for so many years. But eventually women started really getting involved in helping their husbands or their boyfriends build their brands. And all of a sudden, the women kind of stepped out from behind the men. Like, “Let us handle this. We can do this better.”
Oh, yeah, we’ve been here the whole time.
We’ve always been here. But now we’re in the front. It’s interesting, when you go to the High Times Cannabis Cups, you don’t see a lot of guys that show up to work the booths; you see girls. People want that because females are friendlier. They’re just naturally more nurturing and [people] connect with that.
Yeah, I mean this is a compassion industry first.
That’s what I think makes the difference. I think the compassion side of it is where the women really shine.
Oh, definitely. I will say numbers-wise, there’s probably more women working in the industry overall, because of those budtenders and all the women working in the retail space.
Yeah. So what do you think are the biggest misconceptions people have about you?
Oh, man. I mean, I’ve been labeled a stoner for the longest time. I think you can probably relate.
I understand that.
Ignorance created a lot of misconceptions about who we are and what it meant to have a relationship with cannabis. I think that the legalization and the change of legislation and us being able to step out and show that we are powerful businesswomen who have been able to accomplish things against those odds [challenges] the lazy-stoner stigma that we all dealt with.
Yeah, I mean, cannabis consumers. I have a relationship with cannabis that is extremely special to me. Whatever society wants to call us, that’s on them.
How were you first introduced to cannabis?
My parents are actually in the space.
So you had a head start then.
Well, honestly, D.A.R.E. class was the first time I heard about cannabis. I think that’s how most of us heard about drugs, even though they thought that they were teaching us what to avoid. Other than D.A.R.E., my parents were always really honest. But they didn’t share that side of their life with me. Because it wasn’t safe to do that. You don’t tell your kids because they just like to talk.
The first time I ever consumed cannabis was in the parking lot of a bowling alley… And it was actually from my parent’s roommate. So technically, it was through my parents. It was the summer before freshman year of high school. I turned 14 that year, and I never looked back from that point forward.
Bowling was very fun that night.
You know, I think the first time you consume cannabis, you’re so concerned about what it is you’re going to be feeling. I hit it one time, and the whole time I was like, “Am I high? Am I high? Is this what it is to be high?”
I was so paranoid.
I mean, it was introduced to me by someone that my family trusted. And my parents never looked down upon it or said anything bad about it. They were always honest about the medicinal benefits, but at the same time, I knew that we couldn’t talk about it, that this was a part of our lives that was a secret. It’s a different time now, for sure.
How do they look at your career? Are they blown away by what you built?
I would say so. I think that my parents are really proud. I hope they are. I feel like I owe it to them. There have been a lot of changes over the last 20 years. [We can’t forget about] the generation that survived prohibition and helped to make the space what it is today.
We gotta make sure they’re okay.
Yeah. My family [and I have seen] the dark sides, you know? I mean, this is all puppies and rainbows.
What do you think are the biggest achievements in terms of marijuana image and portrayal?
Well, first and foremost, shout out to High Times. High Times Magazine has been around for longer than I’ve been alive. [For 44 years,] they have been teaching the world about the wonders of cannabis. Not only cannabis, but also the other wonderful natural substances that we can use to enjoy life a little bit more.
Other than that, in the last 10 years, Sanjay Gupta’s docuseries and how monumental that was [that he admitted] his ignorance and that he was wrong.
Isn’t it crazy, though? Have you noticed when you’re driving down the street you look up and all these billboards are for cannabis brands?
It’s amazing. I mean, we’re in national publications. Newsweek, we’ve been in National Geographic, we’re on Netflix [Disjointed]. Thanks to you. You know, there’s Bong Appétit on Viceland, which is a show that is teaching people how to infuse their own food with cannabis. It’s amazing.
Let’s talk about product development with your advertising. The Honey Pot bear was that famous bear that everyone knew. And it was something that really helped brand your product. Everyone knew you guys, you stood out as the Honey Pot. But as everyone knows, with Prop. 64, and our new regulations, we cannot appeal to children. And so we had to say goodbye to the bear…
Yes, exactly. In 2012, when I started Honey Pot, I had to store the honey. The bears are kind of synonymous [with honey]. When I made that first batch, I just poured it into bear containers. It became the Honey Pot bear.
Then we won our first High Times Cannabis Cup in 2015, for Honey Pot Bear Balm. So that solidified the bear as being a part of who we were. Fast-forward to 2018 and the bear is considered to be attractive to children. The Bureau of Cannabis Control here in California has quite a few regulations of how edibles need to be packaged and labeled and so on.
We’ve committed to evolving. But it’s creative, like the creative process of building a brand, and building that package, it’s something that is really enjoyable. The regulations have taken a lot of that creativity out of it, but it still is amazing. I’m really happy with our new branding and our new logo and our new packaging, and I’m really excited about the future.
Well, people have always loved your product, Corey. It’s not about the container. It was cute and kitschy, and I think it opened up a lot of people to trying a product that they were scared of. So thank you for that, because there were a lot of older women that came in and they were really scared, they didn’t even know what to do. “Here, we have CBD honey, just put it in your tea.” That opened them up.
We were microdosing way before, and now everyone is forced [into] microdosing. We’ve been doing it for a long time. But cannabis consumers are smart. They’ll purchase something because it’s in a pretty package one time or because it has a celebrity’s name on it, but if it is not a good product, they’re not going to buy it again. The products speak for themselves there. I just try and use ingredients that are as medicinal as possible. And if they work well together and have a beautiful marriage and can help the consumer just feel better, that’s really the goal.
What would you like your legacy to be?
Well, first and foremost, my son is definitely my legacy—third-generation cannabis-educated. He’s 11, so he’s not anywhere in the space nor will he be, but I’ve always been honest with him about who I am and who our family is.
Well, you’ve had a legitimate business for a large part of his life, but that business has been kind of in the gray area.
I’ve always told him what I did and the products that I made. I was honest with him that you can’t talk about these things, because not everyone believes that mommy’s helping people. That was hard for him to understand. It’s hard for all of us to understand…
It’s really hard.
It doesn’t make sense. But other than my wonderful child, who I hope to leave as a better version of myself, I just hope that my relationship with cannabis and the products that I make could just help one person’s life a little, make their life a little bit easier, a little bit more peaceful. We all want to make a small difference here in the world. If I’m able to transform my personal relationship with cannabis into making people’s lives easier, then I think I succeeded at life.
So what do you think about the current censorship that is being directed at cannabis, like on YouTube and other platforms? There’s a massive movement that’s trying to [tell] the truth about cannabis and they’re not allowing us to do so.
I think there are two sides to that, because we were just talking about Netflix and Viceland, and all of these amazing things that are happening. But at the same time there’s no legislation and there are no rules for how this information is supposed to be broadcast. At the end of the day, big business still runs our government and our entertainment industry. I feel like there are a lot of monopolies in this country that would be affected by the legalization of cannabis.
So we’ve been talking about equality. We know there’s still some sexism and misogynistic behavior going on in the industry. Do you feel that we’re being treated equally?
We are equal, we are part of this industry. That’s how I see it.
I remember with my first shop, I would have a vendor come in and I would try to negotiate a price with them. They’d be like, “$5,000.” I’m like, “I’ll give you $3,500.” And they would look at me like, “She’s trying to lowball me” or something, and they would say, “Where’s your husband?”
Oh, yeah, it still happens today. I almost feel like it’s a benefit to be underestimated. Sometimes. I mean, we’ve been in this game a long time. And, you know, yes, there is sexism, sexism exists.
Do you have any thoughts about the budding female cannabis social-influencer market versus the female growers and owner-operators?
Well, I mean, first of all, we didn’t have social media. We had to have code names and burner phones. And I was taught not to say anything about anything.
All photos are evidence against you in court…
There’s been a big shift in social media that has helped to educate the masses about the wonders of cannabis. And it’s been great for brands when Instagram was first going and there weren’t the algorithms [it has now]. You’re really able to speak directly to the consumer and let them know who you are and tell your story, and I think that’s been really great for cannabis patients. Anyone that’s considered an influencer has a tremendous responsibility. You’re influencing a generation.
Where do you want to be five years from now?
I know that I always want to be a part of the cannabis space. It’s just a part of who I am.
Where do you see Honey Pot five years from now? What do you have in store for us?
We recently partnered with a beautiful organic facility, and we’re now manufacturing all our products in a state-of-the-art facility. So we’re very, very excited about that. There’s lots of growth and amazing things happening at Honey Pot. We’re coming out with a bunch of new products and the old favorites are coming back.
How does the packaging change for you?
We are now in opaque bottles with a measuring cup so the consumer can measure their 10-milligram doses.
OK, last question: What advice would you give to your younger self?
Just be confident. Believe in yourself. Don’t believe in that stoner stigma that everyone else does. It was a big moment for me when I won my first Cannabis Cup. It made all the struggles and stigmas worth it. It felt like I was on the right path and supposed to be here.
This feature was published in the November 2018 issue of High Times magazine, subscribe right here.