Cannabis Entrepreneur Solonje Burnett On A Burgeoning Industry Giving More Womxn A Seat At The Table

Solonje Burnett | Image: Didem Civginoglu

One of the fastest growing cultural changes we’re seeing in the United States today is the legalized cannabis industry and attitudes associated with it. As of April 2019, 11 states have fully legalized the use of cannabis while in 16 states it is fully illegal. The other have a mixture of laws relating to decriminalization, medicinal and recreational uses.

Along with the legislative and cultural changes has come an entrepreneurship boom in the cannabis industry, and most notably with female-driven and founded companies. In fact, because of this fast-growing sector that hasn’t had a traditional male-dominated power structure like other industries, there are reports stating how women in cannabis are breaking the “grass ceiling”, a take on the familiar “glass ceiling” moniker.

One of these founders and entrepreneurs is Brooklyn, NY-based Solonje Burnett, co-founder of Humble Bloom (along with Danniel Swatosh), a cannabis activist, and people advocate who is determined to see more more underrepresented people have a seat at the table in this industry. According to the website, HB “collaboratively curates the culture of cannabis, breaking stigma, elevating brands with integrity, forging partnership with thought leaders and experts, providing consultative support to humanize growing brands, and connecting diverse communities through plant education, advocacy and inclusive immersive experiences.” They do this through workshops, brand strategy, in-person experiences, networking events, and more.

And fun side fact about Solonje: she is a singer who performs with the Resistance Revival Chorus – born out of the Women’s March in 2017. After learning about Humble Bloom, we had a chance to speak with Solonje directly to learn about her business, her activism, and also dig into the work that still needs to be done around mass incarceration, stigma, and cultural attitudes toward cannabis.

Your mission at Humble Bloom is to “give the underrepresented a seat at the table in the cannabis industry.” Can you tell us what this means to you and Danniel?

Well actually that’s my specific goal generally in the workplace across all industries and my hope is that cannabis can lead by example.  Statics show that there has been a steady decline in womxn in leadership positions at major cannabis corporations which is leveling of at the national standard of publicly traded companies and executive teams in the United States. The same goes for the gender pay gap, cultural insensitivity, discrimination, and racism. If you simply invest and jump into cannabis without bringing an inclusive mindset, the American racist and divisive culture follows. 

At Humble Bloom we focus on elevating, highlighting, and partnering with brands and thought leaders who are diverse, inclusive, innovative and sustainable. We do that through partnerships, speaking engagements, experiential brand activations, and consulting to help them bloom consciously. I believe that leading with collaboration over competition coupled with building coalitions to breakdown oppressive systems is how we can have grow to have a equitable, fair, and regenerative industry.

It seems with every election cycle we are seeing more and more states legalize cannabis either recreationally, medicinally or both. What excites you most about this momentum? 

I’m excited about the opportunity for so many to have access to medicine if affordable, for those who have been criminalized or demonized to have access to financial equity and cleared records, and for the stigma to be lifted so I can smoke in peace across the nation. We need to make sure that this industry is for all as legalization happens. That the people come first as we create legislation, not just big corporate interest.

Image from Humble Bloom website feating founders Danniel and Solonje

Although legalization may have a lot of supporters from all walks of life, unfortunately our laws across the US show how some are still being criminalized more than others for cannabis, most notably the African-American population. What will it take to change this? 

Advocacy, education, and laws that are created to tip the scales toward equity.

Humble Bloom conducts field trips where you take participants on an excursion and teach them about different aspects of cannabis. What do they learn and what do participants leave with a more educated sense of? 

Our HB Field Trip series aims to build bridges between disparate communities, bringing the inner city to rural farms. We focus on education through hands on workshops, integrate various wellness modalities, have conversations with experts from those in agriculture to inclusionary marketing, as well as sprinkle in arts, entertainment and history — from the indigenous people who planted hemp on this land for years before prohibition to the Black and Brown bodies that are now in cages. This immersive and cross-pollinating learning both empowers and nurtures human growth using cannabis as a conduit. Through the HB Field Trip series we truly celebrate cannabis as a green ally for the power it has in elevating our experiences, bringing us closer together and building communities. Attendees leave more connected to themselves, eachother, the broader community, and the plant.

How can pop culture play a role in helping to destigmatize cannabis and those who use it, as we’ve seen so many negative representations in movies, TV etc in the past?

Pop culture should focus on normalization of usage and stop the racial/ethnic/gendered stereotyping. Whether it is bros taking bong hits, or half-naked girls who look porno ready, or black and brown drug lords shooting up everyone their own neighborhoods while the boys in blue try to save the day — media depictions and cultural reference in film, tv, ads and beyond are so out of touch and just plain wrong. Just as we demand and expect them to show a wide variety and intersectional cross section of race, gender identity, and sexual orientation, the same should be done in cannabis.

Humble Bloom logo

We’re seeing so much entrepreneurship in the legalized cannabis space, and especially among women and women of color. As a WOC yourself, how significant is this in the market?

It’s significant because it’s imperative to be present to be heard, affect cultural change and to advocate for our communities. You can’t have others speak to your experience accurately but they can be there to amplify your voice and be co-conspirators.  In addition to advocating for equity and social justice, womxn sit in the driver’s seat as consumers. The power of the female economy is real. We are the most powerful consumers, and our impact/influence grows every year. Brands should take note of that and cater to us. Same goes for African Americans who a Nielsen study shows as  spending $1.2 trillion annually and POCs in some cases represent more than 50% of the overall spending in key product categories. Black womxn are both creators and consumers. They better recognize or get left behind.

Along with being a business owner, you are also a musician and political activist. You are part of the Resistance Revival Chorus which was born out of the Women’s March. Can you tell us more about why you joined? 

I joined RRC as a creative outlet, a way to be politically expressive through song, as well as be held in a ReSisterhood of passionate, supportive individuals during a personally challenging time. I needed a new community that was aligned with my values and purpose. I’m filled with gratitude to stand side by side with such talented, incredible humans.

Solonje featured in Marie Claire

What advice would you give to someone who wants to become more educated and informed about legalized cannabis, but doesn’t know where to start?  

Make sure you understand the history of prohibition, mass incarceration, biased policing and injustice in this industry before you take the leap. Lean on organizations like the Drug Policy Alliance and Cage Free Cannabis for information and do your own homework. Stay curious. Get to know the uses of the plant and associated terminologies like terpenes and cannabinoids. Create community by going to events. And above all be a conscious consumer who advocates for an equitable, fair, and environmentally sustainable industry as well as know who/what you are supporting with each purchase.

To learn more about Humble Bloom, Solonje Burnett and the future of inclusive cannabis entrepreneurship, head to their website.

Solonje Burnett | Image: Didem Civginoglu


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