Today we’d like to introduce you to Beth Waterfall.
Beth, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
I never could have imagined I’d be where I am today. My professional journey includes more than 15 years of experience working in a variety of marketing roles in the financial services, legal, publishing, nonprofit and hospitality industries. In those roles, I learned the skills and business acumen I needed to rise through the ranks but also experienced many of the same roadblocks and challenges women face in traditional corporate environments. I always hoped that there was something more fulfilling and generally pleasant for me to devote most of my waking hours too.
In August 2015, I read an article about medical marijuana (MMJ) patients in Massachusetts and realized how uninformed I was not just about the Commonwealth’s MMJ program but about the cannabis plant itself. I sought and secured my MMJ card and embarked on an information-gathering journey that led me to my first cannabis convention and then to classes with the legendary Ellen Brown. In those classes, I learned about the Endocannabinoid System (ECS), the history of cannabis prohibition and the family- and community-destroying effects of the War on Drugs, and about a nascent industry that was bubbling up here in Massachusetts and across the globe.
My initial goal for my work in the cannabis industry was to consult to small businesses with a clear need for sophisticated and compliant marketing support. But the more I learned about how cannabis was helping the sick and elderly, but that the Federal government would not make cannabis therapy legal and accessible to those who needed it, the angrier I got. I thought about my friend who’d passed from cancer and my grandmother who’d suffered for years with dementia, and how if I’d known what I knew now about cannabis, and if it had been legally accessible for them, how less would my loved ones have suffered? How more good memories would we have shared if I’d been able to also share cannabis with them?
I became an activist. I supported the Question 4 campaign by canvassing, holding a Yes on 4 sign outside South Station at rush hour, attending and speaking at press conferences on the State House steps, and creating Massachusetts Mothers for Regulation and Taxation of Marijuana. I started a networking group, Women Grow: Boston, for women in the cannabis industry and built a community of engaged activists, entrepreneurs, and business leaders, bringing in experts to help people understand and explore various opportunities in the cannabis space.
In 2017, TaShonda Vincent-Lee, who served as campaign manager for former Boston City Councilor and mayoral candidate Tito Jackson, and Cara Crabb Burnham, former director at the Northeast Institute of Cannabis, and I created the nonprofit ELEVATE Northeast (elevatene.org) in response to the industry’s need for education both within and proactively outside the industry. We now create events and programs that educate and empower a diverse and inclusive workforce and advocate for cannabis businesses in communities across the Commonwealth. We’ve experienced first-hand how education can change minds and impact the very history of a town, so we show up and encourage others to show up and educate their local leaders and neighbors.
Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
My greatest struggles were before I started my marketing consulting company and the nonprofit ELEVATE. I struggled with identifying my purpose for being on this planet. I struggled with the thought of remaining in the traditional corporate environments — in the herd of sad-faced commuters grumpily exiting South Station every morning or the road warriors commuting up the Expressway — which my younger self insisted I’d never been a part of. I’ve found my way out of the herd because of cannabis and the people I’ve met along the way. So, when I encounter challenges when I’m running my two businesses and planning multiple events and conferences, I remember how uninspired and forlorn about my future I used to feel and look at these new struggles as gifts to keep growing and building.
That said, of course, anyone working in the cannabis industry is going to face struggles that come from stigma and ignorance. And with cannabis still being federally classified as a Schedule 1 narcotic, our industry faces major roadblocks that the deadly alcohol and cigarette industries don’t, such as limited access to banking, unfavorable zoning, and rampant prejudice. But that’s why TaShonda, Cara and I created ELEVATE: Through education, we will overcome these industry-wide challenges and help good people create good businesses.
Alright – so let’s talk business. Tell us about ELEVATE Northeast – what should we know?
Created to support the Northeast US’s growing cannabis industry and the corresponding need for workforce and community education, advocacy and networking, ELEVATE Northeast provides a variety of exceptional events and experiences that connect attendees and elevate the perception of what cannabis professionals are and can do. And because cannabis businesses cannot succeed without the inclusion of multiple perspectives, an educated community, and informed customer base, ELEVATE’s mission is to empower underrepresented populations to work and lead in the cannabis industry, and to empower our communities to be educated customers and responsible consumers.
Currently in the process of becoming a registered 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, ELEVATE exists for the good of the cannabis industry. We live by the Matshona Dhliwayo quote: “Your mind shines brightest when you enlighten others; your heart, when you encourage others; your soul, when you elevate others; and your life when you empower others.”
We are proud of our members who are the vanguard of the cannabis industry here in Massachusetts and beyond. We are also proud of the events we put together and the businesses who support our mission to educate about cannabis. In September 2018 we launched our first 5-week Cannabis Business Education Program which certainly sets ELEVATE Northeast apart from other cannabis industry groups. To help entrepreneurs make their dreams a reality through effective education, ELEVATE NE curated a faculty with more than 25 years of combined experience in the cannabis industry, from activism and entrepreneurship to consulting and helping to shape legislation across the nation. Additionally, an all-star panel of successful cannabis business owners from Boston to Denver to Oakland came together during the final class for an interactive discussion with students.
Any shoutouts? Who else deserves credit in this story – who has played a meaningful role?
There are too many to mention! But one person who deserves major credit is Scott Moskol. Scott is a partner and co-chair of the cannabis business practice at Burns & Levinson in Boston — a firm I worked at as Marketing Communications Manager for several years. He has been a mentor, advisor and an all-around integral part of my and ELEVATE’s journey. Scott and I used to get together to talk about the growing industry and how we could create a platform for women, LGBTQA+, people of color, baby boomers and more to come together to learn about cannabis and explore opportunities in the industry that could change their lives as it had ours. Our conversations at Les Zygomates planted the seeds that blossomed into ELEVATE.
TaShonda Vincent Lee is ELEVATE’s director of community outreach. We met when I was running Women Grow: Boston and she became one of our most enthusiastic volunteers, adding her signature energy and humor to our team and events. She’s an incredible person with a past that would make others crumble, but instead of letting those hardest of times make her retreat she has put into ELEVATE and the MA cannabis industry a commitment and leadership that other organizations aspire to have.
Cara Crabb Burnham is our director of education. No one in the local industry has Cara’s experience and knowledge of cannabis education and advocacy. In addition to her role with ELEVATE, she is a teacher with Fremont College and works full time for EVIO Labs. ELEVATE would not be what it is today without TaShonda’s perspective and progressive ideas or without Cara’s incomparable knowledge and connection to the industry.
ELEVATE is also lucky to have our director of development, Heather Parsons, on board. Heather’s dedication to ELEVATE and our team, and her gregarious personality make her an asset as we build our business membership community. And as a nonprofit organization ELEVATE has a board of directors comprised of some of the most experienced and respected business leaders in the local industry. Former Boston City Councilor Tito Jackson, The Healing Rose founder and CEO Laura Beohner, Burns & Levinson attorney Scott Moskol and I make up the Board, and we will expand the board in 2019.
I would not be who I am today without knowing these amazing people. I am humbled and indescribably grateful for their energy, passion, loyalty, and intelligence.
- Individual membership – $99
- Business membership – starting at $500
- Cannabis Business Education Programs – Varies (scholarships available)
- Networking events – price varies
- Website: http://www.elevatene.org
- Phone: 617-329-1370
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Instagram: @elevate_ne
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/elevatene/
- Twitter: @elevate_ne
- Other: https://www.facebook.com/groups/elevatene/
TaShonda Vincent-Lee, Beth Waterfall, Cara Crabb-Burnham