Updated: Sep 28, 2020
I’ll be the first to admit that owning a dispensary was not a huge goal of mine. I knew I wanted to be in the cannabis industry and I knew I wanted to have ownership but owning a dispensary seemed more like a fantasy than a reality. There were definitely some hard lessons in this new industry I had to learn, but I’m glad I learned them early.
A Place of Ownership
Over the last few years I’ve been working to create a brand, WeedTravelFood, that would help me get to a place of ownership in the cannabis industry. That brand and the content we create has helped me attract different cannabis companies and create partnerships all over the country.
One brand in particular, Revolution Cannabis, pursued me heavily and in September 2019 asked if I would be a brand ambassador for them. They said all I would have to do is show the free products they gave me on my social media accounts and give my honest opinion.
Of course I asked about monetary payment, but they said that because we were still in a medical market (at the time, September 2019) they couldn’t pay me for marketing and promotion yet. The thought was that with January and the adult-use market just a few months away we could revisit terms on compensation then.
I was already familiar with one of Revolution's social responsibility efforts (they donated money to Chicago NORML for 4/20 in 2019) and connecting with a socially conscious cannabis brand has always been important to me. Free weed and all I have to do is talk about it on the Internet? I thought it sounded like a good deal.
”Sure” I said.
Worst. Photoshoot. Ever.
Before they even sent me any free product, they asked to do a photoshoot with me. ”We would love to get a few shots with you in your element, eating and taking pictures of food in a restaurant with some Rev products nearby.” they told me. Ok I thought, could be fun. But I should’ve known it was bullshit from the start.
I get to the restaurant, Green Street Smoked Meats, and the guys are there but they didn’t come with any product for the shoot...so we ended up using an empty container that I brought just in case. I also ended up paying for my food. So the content they pitched me to create for them...I ended up paying for out of my own pocket. Bad way to start a relationship. The pictures came out ok and they used them on their social media accounts, I used them on my social media accounts and everybody seemed happy.
A week later I got a call from them again...“Hey those pictures are doing really well on our social media accounts, we would love to use them on our marketing material.”
Red flags immediately start to raise in my head. For one they still hadn’t sent me any free product like they initially said they would, secondly, they’re a million if not billion dollar company. Why would I allow them to use my image, brand and local status to legitimize and promote their products for free??? The answer is I wouldn’t...but a lightbulb went off.
The state of Illinois already mandated that MSO’s (Multi-State Operators) that want to operate throughout the state needed to help social equity applicants get ownership in the industry as well. There were many ways they could do that. They could set up an incubator program, they could help write the application, or they could do a mixture of both.
Knowing that I qualified as a social equity applicant, I told Revolution that if they wanted to use my image on their marketing material, they in return should help me write my dispensary application...they agreed.
First Cannabis Expo in Illinois
From the beginning... things weren’t quite right. A few days after we had that conversation there was a convention in Rosemont that was the first cannabis expo in Illinois. I went to that expo and didn’t tell Revolution I was going. What do I see when I get there…my face on their marketing material. I was furious.
It was obvious to me that they were going to put my face on the banner up anyway and they hadn’t planned on me being there to see it.
I didn’t have a completed application, I wasn’t paid, and I didn’t even sign any paperwork saying it was ok for them to use my image. To make matters even worse, they used a picture that I asked them not to use and misquoted my survey answers so that the caption on the banner said I thought they had “the best cannabis in the country”...which I DID NOT SAY.
I was pissed. But at that point they already had my image up on their marketing material and I still wanted to get the deal done. So instead of going crazy on them, which was my initial thought, I grinned and beared it, and continued to press for a formal in-office meeting.