The steady state-by-state legalization of marijuana is allowing the cannabis community to come together with a sense of freedom. The timing of this shift has been particularly meaningful in New York, where legalization came at the end of March, just weeks before COVID-19 vaccines became eligible to all adults. So this summer, when Solonje Burnett and Danniel Swatosh, co-founders of cannabis marketplace and consulting firm Humble Bloom, hosted their first in-person event since spring of 2020, it was extra special.

“It was a physical manifestation of what our company’s ethos is,” says Burnett, referring to Humble Bloom’s focus on community. Hosted at The William Vale hotel in Brooklyn this past August, The Happy Camp (THC) was a place for people to come together, consume cannabis, shop (brands like Lock & Key Remedies, Calm Better Days, and Kind Fine Jewelry were selling their wares), and laugh: The night ended with a comedy show in partnership with Auntie’s House.

Walking around the space, Burnett says she felt “this inclusive and intersectional energy rooted in community connection and care for each other.” She loved seeing everyone embrace. “It was just so beautiful to see folks come out, be cautious, careful, aware, open, honest, and just so loving and ready to laugh. And consume cannabis.”

Founded in 2018, Humble Bloom not only hosts events, but also consults with cannabis brands to help them take an “inclusive, humanist approach to branding and marketing.” Plus, its website is home to a marketplace where you can shop from cannabis-centric brands that share your values—there are collections dedicated to Asian-owned brands, Black-owned brands, LGBTQIA+-owned brands, and more.

With everything they do, Swatosh and Burnett are focused on bringing people in the cannabis industry together and forging bonds—between both cannabis business owners and enthusiasts.

Cultivating community in a growing field

Throughout the pandemic, Humble Bloom hosted virtual events ranging from new moon meditations to allyship workshops. But actually bringing people together in real life allowed Swatosh and Burnett to fully appreciate the depth and breadth of their community. One of the people Burnett met was a Black man raised in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, who came with his mom. “He even had little jars of flower that he was growing that he wanted to share with me,” says Burnett. His mom said to Burnett, “I’m just so grateful to be here in this fancy hotel that I never would set foot in, but I’m here surrounded by people of all ages and races.”

This event also marked the first time that many people working in cannabis had a chance to meet each other—from street dealers operating in the legacy market; to a PrestoDoctor physician setting people up with medical marijuana cards to use in medical dispensaries; to folks from Rebelle, a recreational dispensary in Massachusetts. “Some people would be like, ‘But isn’t that competition?’ We’re like, ‘No, it’s not,'” says Swatosh. “Just because I started growing my plants in my backyard—getting those clones soon, can’t wait—it doesn’t mean I’m not going to still go to the dispensary and get the weed from someone that I love to support and to try.”

Nurturing strong kinship within the legal cannabis industry will be essential to ensure it remains open and accessible to small businesses. This is especially important when it comes to Black- and brown-owned cannabis businesses, because these communities have and continue to disproportionately suffer the impact of decades-old discriminatory drug policies.

Operating in a hazy space

Anyone in New York age 21 and over can now legally use marijuana recreationally. But the sale of cannabis won’t be legal until April 2022, and there aren’t yet any regulations in place to guide the sale of cannabis. New York’s new governor Kathy Hochul is working to establish the governmental offices and boards needed to create rules and licensing for the sale of cannabis, but it could take up to two years to fully establish such regulations.

Although cannabis use is legal in New York, Burnett and Swatosh say there’s still a lot of work to be done to make this state a welcoming place for usage. “Technically, there aren’t safe spaces for people to consume still. Even though it’s decriminalized, it doesn’t mean people aren’t being targeted because of cannabis,” says Swatosh. “What [cannabis legalization] really means to people’s lives hasn’t been worked out.”

And there’s a lot of work to be done to make the cannabis industry welcoming to smaller brands and business owners. “Cannabis really does offer the opportunity to flip social, political, environmental, economical paradigms. But at the same time, as a commodity, it is going to wreak havoc,” says Swatosh. “You have these big companies that have [control of] the manufacturing, they have the distribution, packaging and everything else—it’s all monopolized.”

Operating in the legal cannabis industry isn’t cheap. For example, Humble Bloom had to get consumption insurance for The Happy Camp that allowed people to smoke, “which jacked up our insurance costs,” says Burnett. “It went from something like a couple of hundred dollars to nearly $3,000 for a single event.” These costs make it difficult for small brands to survive within the legal cannabis industry, taking cannabis revenue out of communities and putting it into the pockets of bigger brands.

While lawmakers iron out the logistics of legality, Burnett says it’s important for individuals to fight for policies that will help make cannabis an accessible and inclusive industry. “Advocate for the things you want to see in the cannabis industry before it’s too late,” she says. “Be a part of the process.”

Up next for Humble Bloom is Más Xula, a three-day event in New York City with Mexico City-based, Latina- and Black-owned hemp brand Xula. The series kicks off with a roundtable discussion, Femme Sessions, on Sunday, October 3, in the Vale Garden Residence at The William Vale; then on October 5, guests will gather at the Williamsburg plant store Pollyn for a night of DIY herbal education. The culminating event is Fiesta Despedida, a “full-spectrum party” at Ideal Glass Studios on October 8.

After Más Xula wraps, Humble Bloom will continue celebrating the cannabis community, both IRL and URL, as Burnett puts it. “People have these stereotypes of what stoners are and how they interact,” says Burnett, but the experiences Humble Bloom curates are “a tribute to stoners who do, who care, who love, and share.”

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