How My Love of Cannabis Grew Into a Thriving Career

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Lauren Yoshiko isn’t just a respected cannabis writer and co-host on the buzzy new podcast, Broccoli Talk. She’s also a respected advocate who’s done her fair share of schlepping to make this industry better for everyone. From working as a budtender, a harvest manager at a cannabis farm, a copywriter, and more—Yoshiko is a fountain of wisdom for women and minorities interested in a greener career.

Here, she shares what you need to know about working in cannabis. Including how to get started.

When people ask me how I ended up here, the easy answer is that I was in the right place at the right time. The inspirational answer is that I believed in this industry’s disruptive potential to show a different, better way of doing business and healthcare.

The realest answer though, is I just did my best to stay true to myself. That, and I never stopped smoking weed.

Up until the point when I left college—around 2013—the extent of my relationship with the plant was giggly smoking circles in the forest, recuperative wake and bakes, and solo spliffs between lectures. Although the habit hadn’t yet brought me any sense of direction, it had inadvertently inspired a more confident sense of self.

Enjoying weed as a young woman—who up until college was a fairly goody two shoes, people pleasing overachiever—drew its own kind of judgment. So choosing to smoke because of how it made me feel, despite the judgment from others, empowered me to think more critically in general.

“Choosing to smoke because of how it made me feel, despite the judgment from others, empowered me to think more critically in general.”

I still wrestled with the weight of guilt and impropriety when I found myself looking forward to a joint instead of a beer at the end of a long day. Comments from peers made me self-conscious of smoking more than plenty of guys my age. As if my comfort with cannabis was crossing a line of appropriate woman-ness.

As pictures containing the odd joint or weed cloud showed up on Facebook, childhood friends fell out of touch, magnifying my sense of isolation and creating a clear dividing line between my pre- and post-weed identity. I felt a growing sense of dread that whispered in my ear, a little louder each time, “You’ll stop eventually. You have to outgrow it if you want to be taken seriously.”

Nevertheless, when I graduated college and returned home to Oregon, I landed in Portland with my smoking habit intact. I still hadn’t acquired a sincere enjoyment of alcohol, and the self-assuring calm I experienced from cannabis had enough of a positive effect on my life that it just didn’t feel like time to quit yet, despite the dreadful whispers.

Having grown up in Roseburg, a small city in Southern Oregon, I didn’t have much of a community in Portland. Picking up fresh bud meant driving across town for a subpar twenty sack from the resident dealers at my sister’s art school. During every trip, I noticed more and more green crosses popping up as brick-and-mortar medical dispensaries flourished in Oregon.

“I thought to myself, ‘they need to have a woman. You can’t get away with only a male perspective anymore.’”

Between my desire to make friends who smoked, the allure of better flower options closer to my house, and income from my first full-time job as an administrative assistant burning a hole in my pocket, I started gathering documentation to apply for a medical card. Once a medical marijuana-friendly MD signed off on my routine teeth-grinding as a certifiable condition, I became an official patient in the Oregon Medical Marijuana Program.

Right around the same time (the start of 2014), Portland’s alt-weekly started publishing strain reviews authored by a nom de plume, “Willie Weed.” I also noticed Willie was the only byline so far. Louder conversations about equal representation of female artists and voices in media were happening, and I thought to myself, “they need to have a woman. You can’t get away with only a male perspective anymore.”

I wondered how many women who could write and also had a medical card were out there. The odds felt in my favor, so I emailed an editor. I emailed a nervous wreck of a pitch, unsure of whether to highlight writing experience or smoking experience, and completely unsure how to describe the latter in a professional manner.

But I was, in fact, the only woman who’d ever even tried. That wreck of an email led to a lunch, which led to my first strain review going live the next day, under my own pen name. Just like that, I was in the industry.

“I was, in fact, the only woman who’d ever even tried. Just like that, I was in the industry.”

Almost immediately, I learned that working in cannabis meant adapting ahead of the curve and identifying a sinking ship before I board. There is this fantasy of the Green Rush; the quick, easy money to be made by the people on the ground floor. But the real winners in this industry aren’t the first people on the scene—it’s the people who can adapt without losing touch with their vision.

Everything happens so fast, no one has research to back up any market or profit projections, and trends can change overnight. Surviving in cannabis isn’t about finding your niche so much as it is paying attention to the cultural shifts and adapting how you do things on a dime.

Since my first strain review, I’ve held about six positions in cannabis. Strain reviews led to budtending which led to helping open and manage a Prohibition-era, apothecary-themed dispensary, allowing me to leave my desk job. Then I managed a harvest at a medical farm, learning how to trim, cure, store, negotiate, and sell flower to dispensaries all over Oregon.

“Surviving in cannabis isn’t about finding your niche so much as it is paying attention to the cultural shifts and adapting how you do things on a dime.”

That job gave me the flexibility to continue writing about cannabis, with more assignments showing up as more and more media outlets got over their fears about publishing cannabis stories beyond articles about DEA raids.

I continued like that for a while, working for the farm and writing about cultivators, legal updates, and pot-centric experiences, as well as film and food reviews. I went to all-women weed parties, intimate infused dinners and even a cannabis-centric house show in a historical landmark featuring a four-piece quartet. I critiqued a sexualized dispensary called Cannababes and experienced writerly rites of passage like getting “critiqued” myself in the comments.

Not every decision paid off. I wasted great stories on websites that immediately ran out of money and shut down. When the farm closed out as recreational laws went into effect, I racked up credit card debt while supplementing my meager writing income.

“Not every decision paid off.”

I accepted a copywriting job with an investor and quit within the first week when I realized I hadn’t done enough research on them, a scorned businessperson of the community. There were some articles that took me weeks to research and write that only paid $20. The hustle is not always pretty. There were times I worried I would limit my potential career by putting my real name on cannabis articles. That I wouldn’t be taken seriously as a real writer.

But just when I felt a hint of regret for deserting a steady career path, I got a call from an editor at Rolling Stone asking if I’d like to write 2,000 words on cannabis in Oregon. It turned out, my jagged and risky path was exactly the indirect route I needed to becoming a real writer.

My smoking habit—my familiar glass bong and sticky red grinder—has become a sort of string tied around my finger reminding me to be myself and trust my instincts. I think that’s the only advice about writing or working in cannabis I can give: if it feels right, do it.

Send that pitch. Ask for that interview. Most importantly, take yourself seriously. Women don’t always get the privilege of seeing people they resonate with in the positions they strive for—you may be the first to do the thing you want to do, and that’s OK.

If your gut says it’s right, don’t wait another day.

Lauren Yoshiko is a Portland-based writer, cat-mom, and co-host of Broccoli Magazine’s podcast, Broccoli Talk. Her work has appeared in Broccoli, Rolling Stone, Forbes, and Thrillist.