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Taylor and I are both from the DC area, but we never met until I started working at NCIA in Denver. We were both settling into our new jobs and new office space during the month of January earlier this year, excited to be part of the cannabis industry. In between the symposiums and summits and networking events, we occasionally get a chance to catch up for happy hour. I was happy to meet up with her so I could share with Ladybud Magazine readers the woman who’s in charge of much progress and respectability in the emerging regulated cannabis industry. -Bethany
Bethany Moore: You’ve been working as Deputy Director of National Cannabis Industry Association since last winter. What are your responsibilities and how do you like working in the cannabis industry?
Taylor West: Working in the cannabis industry has been one of the most exciting, interesting, and educational jobs I’ve ever had. As one of our members told me, cannabis industry years are kind of like dog years – one is equivalent to seven in any other business. That certainly feels like it’s been true for my first year!
My job at NCIA covers a lot of different areas, but one of the most important is strategic communications and media relations. Our industry is in a very bright spotlight these days, with an intense amount of media interest. I try to make sure we’re telling the real story of our members, highlighting the businesses that make up our responsible, legitimate, and community-engaged industry. It’s really important that policymakers understand that we are an industry of hard-working, innovative small-business people, and that we deserve to be treated fairly.
Aside from the communications work, I’m involved in various aspects of our organizational development, which really just means working on ways to manage NCIA’s incredibly fast growth!
More about the NCIA: MISSION & VALUES
BM: What other work have you done in the past? I know you’ve worked on political campaigns. Can you tell us more about your previous experiences and background?
TW: At various times, I’ve worked in the nonprofit, political, and corporate worlds. The largest amount of my experience has been in politics, working directly for candidates on campaigns in Georgia, Virginia, Iowa, and Colorado, before moving to D.C. to do public affairs consulting work. But before I started working in politics, I worked for a nonprofit in New York City called The Fortune Society, which is dedicated to criminal justice reform and helping ex-offenders make successful transitions from prison to the outside world.
When I was in college, I spent two summers interning at DRCNet in Washington, D.C., now known as StoptheDrugWar.org. During that time, I was mostly focused on the issue of syringe exchange as a method of HIV prevention for intravenous drug users, but I also got a full education in the broader ideas behind drug policy reform and harm reduction.
TW: I really enjoyed the four years I spent in D.C. It’s an exciting, dynamic city, full of smart, ambitious people. Perhaps the saddest part of the political dysfunction that seems to have consumed Congress is all the potential that’s being stifled. D.C. certainly has its share of blowhards, corruption, and ego. But it’s also home to a large number of deeply committed men and women who are genuinely trying to make a difference, and it’s frustrating to see so many of those efforts chewed up by the system.
I moved to Denver for personal reasons almost two years ago, and I haven’t regretted it for a minute since. I love that my life here includes such a diversity of people and experiences. The city is big enough to have new and exciting cultural things happening, but small enough to feel like a recognizable community. Colorado is leading the way in a number of policy arenas, with cannabis being the most obvious and influential one.
And the opportunity to escape into the mountains, to have my breath taken away by a natural world that completely dwarfs any human creation, is something I’m incredibly grateful for.
BM: The cannabis industry is one that has an opportunity to be molded and shaped by the people running it as we go along. What do you see as the most important issues for cannabis industry leaders to tackle right now? How about the near future, what is “next”?
TW: All of us in the industry right now have a responsibility to build something sustainable. It’s not enough just to fight for expanded legalization and access for patients and consumers. We have to prove to the doubters that a legal cannabis industry is safer, more responsible, and more beneficial to the community than an underground, criminal market. We also owe it to the many advocates who have worked so hard to bring us to this point to build an industry we can be proud of.
I think the most important thing industry leaders can be doing right now is pushing for a seat at the table in any policy-making that relates to the industry. All the laws and regulations being developed now are brand-new, and no one has the perfect answer yet. But the more that industry leaders are involved from the beginning, the more we see policies that work in the real world, with reasonable rules to address legitimate concerns and enough freedom to allow for successful businesses and well-served patients and customers.
A hugely beneficial side effect of cannabis business people staying closely involved in the political and regulatory process is that policymakers get to know and respect the responsible, professional, and community-minded leaders who are building this industry. Nothing destroys a negative stereotype like a positive first-hand experience.
BM: In addition to your professional side, you’re also a lover of music, especially live bands. Tell us more about your passion for music and your involvement in the music arts scene.
TW: I think I first really got into live music – especially rock shows – when I was working in the very high-stress world of political campaigns. So much of my life and work was about control and containment, and a good rock show was one of the few places I could really let loose. Singing, dancing, and sweating along to a great Drive-By Truckers set was an outlet I desperately needed in those days.
Once I moved to D.C., I was lucky enough to live within walking distance of two amazing venues – the Black Cat and the 9:30 Club – and saw a lot of fantastic bands pass through.
Since I’ve moved to Denver, live music has become an even more integral part of my life. This city has a really phenomenal music scene, helped along by a large (and growing) number of small-to-medium-sized venues and a real appreciation for local bands playing original music. And I don’t know too many other cities, especially ones the size of Denver, that have a radio station as committed to supporting indie music and the local scene as we have with OpenAir 1340.
Live music has become a more personal passion, too. My boyfriend Ryan and I first bonded over our similar tastes in music, and we love going to shows together. His band, Bear Antler, plays at venues all over Denver, and we have a number of friends who are musicians in the Denver scene. It’s great being surrounded by creative, talented people (especially when my own musical abilities are…not so impressive).
BM: What else do you like to do in your free time?
TW: Ryan and I try to take advantage of the great life that Colorado offers. We’ve got a big, goofy Golden Retriever named Tucker, and when we can find the time, it’s a lot of fun to take him hiking and camping. (It’s also pretty much the only time we can ever really tire him out.)
If we’re not in the mountains or going to a show on the weekend, you might find us biking around town to breweries or friends’ backyards. When the weather’s not cooperating, or when we’re just feeling more homebody-ish, I’m probably curled up on the couch reading – history, mystery, classic lit, random websites, celebrity gossip, you name it. There’s likely a football game on in the background, and Ryan’s in the kitchen, making the house smell amazing with some kind of day-long, slow-cooked meal. (Eating is another thing I like to do in my free time.)
For previous Lady Business pieces published on Ladybud, click here.
Photo Credits: Feature image – Kim Sidwell and personal photos courtesy Taylor West