Editor’s Note: Eaze is celebrating Black History Month by supporting causes aimed at restoring equality to the industry and criminal justice system; with our first Black History & Cannabis event this week; and by highlighting the voices and experiences of African-American leaders in the cannabis space. Today, we hear from Eaze head of recruiting Michelle Ekwoge, who interviewed Chelsea Candelaria, CEO of SF Roots.
I’m asked often about my journey.
Working as a Recruiter for Eaze, one of the most progressive companies in the cannabis industry, gets me questions like, “How did you get to where you are?,” and “What can I do to work at a company like Eaze?” Yet, providing answers requires more involved discussion than simple one-liners. What I will say is this: as an African-American woman who works in cannabis, I have the opportunity to use my position and platform to build awareness around the importance of inclusion.
Well before the legalization marijuana, people of color enabled the mobilization of commerce and delivery of cannabis – often to the detriment of their future. Now, in the age of legalization, it is more important than ever that we do not forget or ignore minorities who’ve contributed to the success of this industry and that we support and enable the success of those individuals as this emerging market continues to take shape.
It is with this in mind that I decided to highlight Chelsea Candelaria’s story. As CEO of SF Roots, Chelsea has not only made a name for herself as a leader in the cannabis industry, but she’s done so as woman of color.
How/why did you get started in the cannabis industry?
I got started in the cannabis industry for many reasons. First of all, I am a long time cannabis advocate. I personally use cannabis to relieve pain, sleep and help with stress management. Prior to Prop 64 passing, my family cultivated both outdoor and greenhouse cannabis on a small piece of property in Mendocino as Proposition 215 medical caregivers. At the time, I had a full-time, pretty intense consulting gig in Silicon Valley. After my work weeks, I would go up on the weekends to work the farm. Once I realized that recreational legalization was very near, I made the decision to transition my career as Energy Efficiency technical consultant to cannabis.
Who are some of the key people who have influenced you?
There are so many amazing souls in the cannabis industry, but the most influential have been my peers. They are all leaders and innovators in this rapidly growing industry. A few examples include my business partner/co-founder Morris Kelly, for his relentless drive and deep knowledge of the cannabis industry; Nina Parks, for her advocacy, creativity and hustle; Seibo Shen of Vape Exhale/Hanu Labs for his brilliantly engineered devices, authenticity, and drive.
What’s been the most powerful moment in your career so far? Why?
The moment I was forced to exit my position at a well-known extract startup and was immediately offered the role as CEO of SF Roots. While I have had several management positions in my career, I have never been an executive. I was a bit nervous but I made the decision to ignore my fears and go for it. The past year has been an adventure to say the least. I’ve learned, triumphed, failed, and will continue to do everything I know possible to ensure our company thrives.
I made the decision to ignore my fears and go for it
Tell us about some of the challenges you’ve faced being in this space, and how you’ve overcome them.
Being a boutique, self-funded company comes with a whole host of challenges. My team and I have had to get extremely creative in ensuring we stand out in the crowded market. I see challenges as opportunities to learn and grow. Once you become the fire, nothing can burn you.
Since you started with SF Roots, the cannabis scene has exploded. How have you seen a change when it comes to women and minorities?
I have seen a ton of changes in the space. Seeing big multinational companies taking up lots of market share through acquisition has been the one of the biggest changes. As a boutique brand and company, we have had to make changes to ensure our survival. Unfortunately, there are limited women and people of color in leadership positions. However, it is amazing to see and be a part of collaborative business amongst companies led by women and POC.
What can we do within the cannabis industry to include more Black women?
The primary issue I see in the space is truly supporting businesses owned by Black women. This means investing, buying product and services, not just advocating for equity. Businesses like mine need access to resources in order to make it in this competitive space.
What is one piece of advice you can give to Black women trying to enter the cannabis industry?
Learn as much as you can, as quickly as possible. Immerse yourself in cannabis culture and get out and meet people. When I was just getting started in the industry, I went to conferences, mixers, and events to meet influential people and make a name for myself. This is the reason I started my IG @calling_marijane and blog. Lastly, don’t forget to ask for help!
What are your plans for SF Roots in the future?
My plans for SF Roots is to fully scale our brand to statewide distribution and to reach our fundraising goals. SF Roots is part of a family of brands, including my own Calling Marijane, and by the end of the year we are pushing to launch each of these brands as well.