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FEATURE PHOTO: Shaleen Title by Alison Heckard, Bird in Flight Photography
I first met Shaleen Title at a photo shoot for Pot Couture in Brooklyn in 2010 and while that publication is no longer online, we formed a strong bond that exists in this new paradigm of cannabis legalization. She’s one of the movement’s great treasures who has helped carefully craft a responsible and professional image for diversity and female empowerment in our circle and in the mainstream news where she is frequently quoted. Along with her best friend, Danielle Schumacher, she founded THC Staffing Group and is a mother to a toddler. To say she is busy would be an understatement, but she’s doing just fine thanks to a balanced philosophy on life, motherhood, and changing this world for the better. We are honored to feature her in Lady Business. — Diane Fornbacher, Publisher of Ladybud Magazine
LADYBUD: It is a very different world these days than when you first got involved in drug policy — what initially brought you to reform and how do you feel about where we are now as a movement and burgeoning industry?
SHALEEN TITLE: Danielle Schumacher and I co-founded a NORML/SSDP chapter at the University of Illinois around 2002. It’s fun to think about those early days because we’ve come full circle. After ten years of working in the movement separately – her with Oaksterdam and the Cannabis Action Network on the west coast and me with LEAP and Vicente Sederberg on the east coast – Danielle and I are finally working together again as co-founders of our recruiting business, THC Staffing.
Working with your best friend doesn’t feel like work, and being together brings back some of the fire and energy we had in our first days with NORML. For the past couple years, the rapid shift of the marijuana industry from counterculture to (relatively) mainstream has been dizzying. We’re energized by the interest from new people as well as the talent, innovation, and opportunities that they bring; at the same time, it can feel a little bit discombobulating. So it’s the ideal time for us to work together again and focus on the values that brought us to this issue in the first place.
LB: THC staffing says it has an emphasis on diversity, can you tell us why you believe this is important?
Shaleen: As a movement and an industry, we’ve taken the first step; we’ve admitted that there is absolutely a problem with lack of diversity. It’s talked about openly and often, especially at conferences and events, where the problem is visually striking. But talking about it alone won’t solve the problem. After years of working to increase diversity, including creating and helping to initially fund the SSDP Diversity Scholarship, I’ve found that a major driver of this problem is a lack of effort and resources put toward recruiting. I hear from marijuana businesses all the time that they would love to hire more women and people of color, but they hire from their applicant pool which is 95% or more white men. We see this at THC Staffing too; although we enthusiastically emphasize diversity in all our recruiting efforts, the vast majority of candidates who proactively come to us are white men.
White men have made incredible progress reforming marijuana laws. That’s not in dispute, and no one is criticizing them. But we need to take purposeful and concrete steps to make sure we are addressing the devastation that marijuana prohibition has caused for people of color. It’s crucial for the marijuana industry to give back to the communities which have traditionally been targeted by marijuana prohibition and the war on drugs. The voters and legislators who changed the laws and created our industry did so for specific reasons and in support of specific values – supporting communities is one of those values.
The good news is that we are in a position to start making those steps. With public opinion continuing to change in our favor, we have more leeway to implement sensible measures in marijuana bills and initiatives. And business owners, especially those in the states with established markets, have the opportunity to find innovative ways to give back. I recently joined the board of the Minority Cannabis Industry Association, and one of our tenets is economic empowerment to help reduce the diversity divide within the industry. I encourage people who are interested in this issue to get involved with the MCIA.
LB: You became a mother a little over a year ago which is awesome! How has life changed for you as a very involved part of the movement and industry?
Shaleen: I’ve learned that it’s okay to step back a bit. A baby’s all-consuming desire for connection, eye contact, and human touch is beautiful. I’ve made peace with the fact that I’m no longer the person who is constantly executing new ideas or who has every state regulation memorized. I don’t work at night. I’ve resigned from a couple of boards and I turn opportunities down all the time. And at the same time, I don’t obsess over my son; if he’s eaten, spent a little time outside, and gotten some hugs, I consider that a successful day. Taking these steps has helped keep me relaxed and happy.
LB: You have contributed to the success of Ladybud Magazine with your articles about the industry but you also have written about other topics like breastfeeding in public and empowering women; you are obviously in favor of civil liberties and equal rights, thank goodness. What is your take on the current political climate in the United States nationally with regard to drug policy overall?
Shaleen: I wouldn’t have said this even a year ago, but I’m optimistic that we may soon see changes in marijuana law on the federal level. Between the solid work that ASA, MPP, NCIA and other groups are doing nationally and the ever-growing majority supporting reform, I think that rescheduling and federal patient protection may be on the horizon. We’ll definitely see the 2016 presidential candidates discussing this.
But even with marijuana legalized, drug prohibition continues to cause violence and drug abuse, just as alcohol prohibition did. I’m glad to see there is so much progress on naloxone and overdose Good Samaritan laws. Dangerous and addictive drugs need to be regulated and controlled, because adult drug abuse is a health problem, not a criminal justice matter. All of us who support sensible drug policy need to make sure our representatives know that the issue is larger than just marijuana. And as the population is starting to see that marijuana regulation – flawed as it is — is better than leaving control in the hands of drug traffickers and cartels, we can remind them that the same principle applies more broadly.
LB: Predictions for states with various proposed cannabis laws? Any favorites?
Shaleen: If I was the betting type, I’d put my money down on Maine, Arizona, California, and of course my home state of Massachusetts for legalization in 2016. Here in Massachusetts, we have a powerful and experienced group of activists and allies in the state who have been through this process in the last two presidential elections (we passed decriminalization in 2008 and medical marijuana in 2012). I think we can pass a robust initiative that protects the disadvantaged and marginalized. I’m also rooting for Vermont or Rhode Island to be the first state to legalize cannabis through the legislative process.
LB: At 4Front Advisors, you are involved with Regulations and Compliance, can you tell our readers about that company and what working there entails with regard to your position?
Shaleen: I mentioned earlier that working with Danielle has brought me full circle and brings back some of the energy from my earliest days in the movement. With 4Front, there’s a similar feeling – Kris Krane, 4Front’s managing partner, was the executive director of SSDP when I first joined and has been an inspiration and mentor to me ever since.
4Front’s mission is to defeat prohibition through sensible regulation, and Kris’s vision has been to recruit top-notch talent from the business world. I work with people who have developed operating protocols for brands like Old Navy and Disney Stores and led implementation for high-end hotels like Sheraton and Westin, and our goal is to help clients open world-class marijuana businesses.
My role is to help provide expertise on state and local marijuana laws and regulations. I love working at 4Front because they truly value their staff. Most of us are parents of young children, and we’re given a lot of freedom to decide how (and when) to do our jobs best. That flexibility leads to high morale and it helps 4Front attract some of the best talent in the industry.
LB: You are also involved with another well-known and important organization which seems to be a theme in your work — tell us about Marijuana Majority and why being a part of their growth is a great thing.
Shaleen: Marijuana Majority has a unique role in the movement by showing people that their support of reform is something to be proud of. I knew it was something great when we had just started and one of our first image memes was viewed on Facebook by 3.5 million people. We’re the first organization to truly take advantage of technology to demonstrate that it’s safe to embrace drug law reforms in public, and we’ve helped prominent politicians, actors, models, athletes and other role models to do just that.
The founder, Tom Angell, who is one of my best friends, has a combination of traditional PR know-how and good old millennial social media savvy that has led to major accomplishments in this vein. Tom even worked behind-the-scenes to orchestrate the first-ever endorsement of marijuana legalization by a Supreme Court justice, Justice Stevens (Ret.).
I’m especially proud to be involved because the organization is very new and all of these initial accomplishments were made with no full-time staff and no advertising. We have a small group of committed volunteers and supporters, and together we have some cutting-edge projects planned in the lead up to the 2016 elections. I can’t wait to see what the organization will accomplish as it grows.
LB: In these new cannabis paradigm days, how do you perceive media has changed in its dissemination of information and delivery of our culture as it evolves at such a fast pace?
Shaleen: Well, it’s a great thing that the barriers to reaching people have disappeared. If you put out quality information, people will come to you for more. But I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to a little disillusionment at much of our industry’s media coverage. I’m old enough to remember the media before clickbait and viral marketing were things to be concerned about. Back then, I learned a lot from interviews of true subject matter experts.
But recently, I’ve watched as the interest in marijuana and the focus on share-worthiness have collided, in a bad way. There is a lot of thoughtful coverage, but there’s also a lot of garbage – it seems that all you need to do is send out a press release proclaiming yourself an expert, and someone will print whatever you say, focusing more on the clever headline and the thumbnail picture than verifying your assertions. While this is true to some extent for every topic, there’s something about the inherent sexiness of marijuana as a topic that makes the problem worse.
I recently had a journalist from a very reputable publication approach me for an interview and then tell me outright that she didn’t care about the topic and was only writing about it for clicks. I haven’t done any press outreach for the past couple of years because a few bad apples have made the process so exhausting. But I need to start again, because people need quality information.
LB: What are some of your favorite media and news sources?
Shaleen: Besides Ladybud? I get most of my news from the Boston Globe and New York Times. I also follow The Intercept; Glenn Greenwald and Jeremy Scahill provide some of the best reporting out there. And I read theSkimm email newsletter every morning, in case there is some big sports news or something that I should know about. My favorite sources for drug policy news and analysis are the Drug War Chronicle and Drug War Rant.
LB: Do you have opportunities in your incredibly busy life these days to have some fun? What kind of music do you love and how do you spend your free time?
Shaleen: I definitely have time for fun every day. Toddlers are hilarious. I grew up in a home with a lot of laughing and very few scheduled activities, and I suspect it will be the same for my son.
As for music, my favorite band is Tool. I stopped listening to them for a while because they aren’t on iTunes or Spotify – their albums are meant to be absorbed as one piece of work so they refuse to do any streaming — but lately I learned that their full albums are all on YouTube. I owe whoever put them there for making me feel like a teenager again, which can be a useful thing for an activist! I also love classical Indian music and hope to get back into classical Indian dancing in the future.
Shaleen: Whether it’s the Hindu concept of karma, the English poem Ozymandias, or the saying “this too shall pass,” I think the most important wisdom in life is that everyone’s life has ups and downs. It sounds simple, but the thought has brought me so much comfort in hard times, and it has brought me down to earth when I needed to be taken down a notch. I like this passage: “When a bird is alive, it eats ants. When the bird is dead, ants eat the bird. One tree makes a million match sticks, but only one match stick is needed to burn a million trees. Time and circumstances can change at any time. You may be powerful today, but remember that time is more powerful than you. Don’t devalue or hurt anyone in life.”