B&W: DECEMBER FEATURE
Chatting with the founders of Maine Women’s Cannabis Connection
WORDS / CYNDLE PLAISTED RIALS
Within minutes of meeting the four founders of Maine Women’s Cannabis Connection, I can see they are exactly what their organization purports to be: A welcoming group of women who love the Maine cannabis industry and are dedicated to the positive impact they can make in the cannabis community and Maine as a whole. Also? They’re just a hell of a lot of fun.
Hallie Mitchell, doll-eyed and turquoise-haired (for now anyway), is deceptively soft-spoken, yet under that gentle delivery is a lion-hearted belief in what’s possible in Maine cannabis through the power of collaboration.
Haley Knaub embodies the “HBIC” moniker bestowed by the rest of the team in her Zero Gravity crop top and slick black pants. She speaks with a no-bullshit clarity I’m sure many have found intimidating over the years. Let them — she really knows her shit.
Heather Dadiego, in suave-as-hell aviators she’s loath to remove, is clearly the one ready to rumble for the cause, verbally at least. She’s super passionate about educating people out of their ignorance and preconceived notions about cannabis and the people who grow and sell it.
Taylor McElhinny has a classic vibe, with softly curled golden-brown hair and a light dusting of freckles. She might seem quiet to an outsider, but her enthusiasm for the work MWCC is doing is apparent in the warm and earnest statements she makes about their charitable aspirations.
It’s an unseasonably warm fall afternoon when I meet them at The Thirsty Pig, in Portland. They’re enjoying some snacks and drinks after dropping off a whopping $5000 donation at Wayside Food Programs. Their Cannabis Job Fair held earlier this fall up at Stonehedge in Gray was a major success, judging by the proceeds, and it makes one wonder: If this is how far they’ve come just eight months into their journey as an organization, what heights might they reach? It’s obvious this powerhouse team is setting the bar high.
So where did this whole thing start? Haley and Hallie met serendipitously one night at the now-defunct Pearl Ultra Night Club, through the age-old question and friendship starter: “Hey, wanna smoke weed?” They dissolve into laughter remembering the moment, arguing over who posed the question to whom. It doesn’t really matter at this point how the connection was made — it’s a strong one.
Not unlike the cannabis industry in Maine, their organization is in its infancy, and they have all the shiny enthusiasm of a zealous troupe on a new quest. What’s not new, however, is their collective experience in Maine cannabis. Haley owns Earth Air Organics and heads marketing and operations at both Zero Gravity and Bobblehead Bar. Hallie’s company, Hallie Mitchell Art and Design, has worked with 40+ weed businesses on their branding; Taylor also works for the design firm. Heather’s experience as a grower spans the last eight-ish years and she operates a medical delivery and consultation business in Windham — Mind Body Soul Cannabis — which has a strong wellness focus.
“We have a lot of great ideas all at once,” Hallie says. I have no trouble believing that, from the breakneck pace of the conversation and the notes I furiously jot down.
“That’s our greatest challenge: we want to do everything,” Taylor chimes in.
And of course, while the group is bubbling over with plans and projects, they also have a member who knows how to rein it in. “When something sounds like a really good idea, Haley is the realist,” Heather says. She notes that Taylor is integral to the group, too. “(She) keeps everything organized. Without her it would be a shit show.”
So what are they organizing?
A couple things, actually: Obviously they want to connect women working in Maine cannabis. “The cannabis industry is hard to get into. Reaching out for advice can be intimidating,” says Hallie. And of course there’s that old stereotype that any woman reading will be familiar with. Haley sums it up easily: “People think a bunch of women together are catty, but everyone in this industry is so friendly.”
A big part of the impetus for making these connections is the general lack of clarity in the burgeoning weed industry in general. Things are growing and changing so quickly that even policy makers and lawyers aren’t always up to date or in agreement about the interpretation of regulations and procedures.
For example, all of the women have experienced the impact of branding regulations, which isn’t a novel problem. Just this year, SeaWeed Co. appealed the state decision that their mermaid logo violated regulations intended to prevent weed products from appealing to minors; in our conversation the women of MWCC noted varying rules around logos and packaging and how that law is interpreted and applied to businesses. It’s hard to find a straight answer on some of these questions, and in their experience, Maine cannabis businesses want to be compliant — it’s just tough to comply with regulations that might not be super clear.
Another area of focus is public education and stigma-breaking, which is really two sides of the same coin. Heather, relaxed in posture but fervent in speech, is super passionate about this aspect of their mission, especially because she’s seen first hand how weed has helped tons of medical patients. “It’s a lack of education around everything. Our history did not teach us the whole truth,” she says. “Our grandparents were lied to. We can’t blame them for their ignorance but we need to find a way to educate.”
Hallie says the job fair and other events have been successful in getting people from outside the industry to see what’s really happening in cannabis. “We’re not drug dealers,” she says. “That’s always been the narrative around this. Us giving back helps us break that stigma to educate more people about cannabis. They can come just learn for a day with an open mind.”
Their regular donations to designated causes around the state are intended to raise the profile of canna-business, to show how invested the cannabis community is in doing good in the state. Other donation recipients have been Cross Cultural Community Services and Portland Outright. Originally, they planned to designate their efforts to a different organization each month, but they’ve started to space out those donations a bit, to allow more information to be spread and more funds to accumulate for each cause they select.
And how has Maine cannabis responded to their presence, especially considering how male-dominated the industry still is? They say the reception has been overwhelmingly positive. “Men in the cannabis industry have been extremely supportive,” Haley notes. Because of that, Heather says they’ve shifted a bit to include “women and supporters of women.”
As we talk, they take turns apologizing more than once for veering off-topic; at one point Heather is rhapsodizing about what water shoes are best for protecting one’s feet from stony riverbeds while kayaking (those Keen sandals with the protective toe are preferred, in case you were curious). The rest of the women tease and chuckle at her, lovingly of course. There’s been a lot of laughter throughout, in fact. It’s further evidence that this group walks the talk in making the space for people to be themselves and bring what they have to give, paving the way for joyful connections while they collectively spread the gospel of giving and canna-culture in Maine.
Maybe you’re wondering how to acquire membership to this enterprising club? Haley says if you want to join, you’re pretty much in: “We kind of consider everyone to be members.” But they do have plans for a more robust official membership offering. Some of the features would include a database of professionals in all facets of the cannabis industry, from lawyers to security providers to growers, processors, designers, and more; monthly events featuring panels and presentations with experts and educators all over the spectrum of canna-business; and making the job fair a more regular thing. “I think the community wants to hold them twice a year. We just hope to keep growing, see where this takes us. We’re really happy with the last eight months,” Taylor says.
“It’s all about helping each other out, the collaborative spirit…” Haley says, leaning forward in her chair, her brown eyes piercing.
Heather, still chilling behind her shades as the sun dips below the roofline, agrees. “We definitely wanna see everyone succeed.”
Brave New World
You might be wondering if the beer industry has an answer to Maine cannabis’s MWCC, especially in the wake of May’s firestorm of allegations — all in response to one seemingly small tweet — around sexual harassment, discrimination, and toxic work environments for women, BIPOC, and LGBTQ+ folks in brewing.
Enter Brave Noise, a global organization advocating for “a safe and discrimination-free beer industry.” They center education and awareness, helping breweries to take a close look at their policies, procedures, and company culture as a whole, hosting panels and events to educate and enlighten folks in the beer business.
Another aspect of the movement is the collaborative brewing of Brave Noise Pale Ale — because what will get more attention than a new beer brewed all over the country to raise awareness for this cause? Through a four-step process, breweries are expected to provide their Code of Conduct to Brave Noise, brew the beer and publish their Code of Conduct for staff and customers upon release, make a non-profit donation from the sale of their Brave Noise Pale Ale, and commit longterm to the creation of a safe, inclusive environment for the benefit of staff and customers alike. The hope is that they’ll brew their beer by Dec. 2021 in order to make the most “noise” and bring the greatest awareness possible to the movement.
So far, seven Maine brewers (along with 15 others around New England) have joined with Brave Noise to do their part to ensure a safe beer industry: Allagash Brewing Co, Austin Street Brewery, Foulmouthed Brewing, Goodfire Brewing Company, Liquid Riot Bottling Company, Oxbow Brewing Company, and Tributary Brewing Company. Be on the lookout for their offerings of Brave Noise Pale Ale as the year closes.
Pink Boots Society is another organization that centers women in brewing — it differs from Brave Noise in that it operates more locally, and its regional chapters are focused on connecting women in the fermented and alcoholic beverage industry to encourage collaboration, education, and advancement. One thing they have in common with Brave Noise is the collaborative production of a branded beer each year, with the official annual brew day falling on International Women’s Day (March 8th). PBS provides the hops blend, plus some aroma notes, and brewers are encouraged to take creative liberties within that framework.
In 2021, COVID changed things up in that it didn’t allow for collaborative brew days, but Maine breweries still worked on their own brews using the provided hops profile. Our neighbors in New Hampshire even put together a Pink Boots NH Beer Trail event stretching over the state from Hampton to Lincoln. Voting has already started for next year’s hops blend; however the Pink Boots brew ends up playing out for 2022, it’ll be something to look forward to in the new year.
Where can you find us in the wild?
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