Think creatively about a business that you could add cannabis to, and essentially start a lane.
As a part of my series about strong women leaders in the cannabis industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Melanie Marie Randels.
Since the beginning of time, there have always been two types of people in the world; those who sit idly as things change and those who initiate that change. An advocate for the urban community and avid seeker of truth, the Bud Talk STL creator and Canna Education Collective co-founder, Melanie Marie has been on the frontline of fighting for justice, equality and change for minorities.
A native of St. Louis, MO, Melanie has been an advocate of the underprivileged for over a decade. After the 2014 shooting death of Mike Brown by police officer Darren Wilson, Melanie was catapulted into community activism both during and after the Ferguson Uprising. She began holding other community leaders and local politicians accountable for their actions and challenged the status quo of what was happening in minority and low income communities throughout St. Louis.
A longtime advocate of cannabis legalization and decriminalization, Melanie noticed a disparity in marijuana cases for minorities and realized African American communities were being left out of the growing cannabis industry. In 2018, Missouri legalized medical marijuana and in 2019 Melanie created Bud Talk STL, an organization dedicated to educating the minority community on marijuana legalization, consumption and cultivation and providing them with the resources to break into the 24 billion dollar cannabis industry.
Realizing there was strength in numbers. Melanie created the Canna Education Collective in November 2019, a Black-owned collective, composed of stakeholders with over a decade of combined organizational business experience gearing to remove the marginalization and exclusion of African Americans in the Cannabis industry and diversify the market. In February 2020, the Canna Education was incorporated as a 501(c) organization and in June received approval to build its educational resource center in Dellwood, MO. Melanie believes these efforts will also aid in combating the rising opioid crisis in St. Louis and its surrounding counties.
As the official Cannabis Correspondent for Real STL News, Melanie is able to provide hands on instruction and resources to over 30K viewers seeking to expand their knowledge of this growing industry as well as equip them with the tools to attain their medical card, meet with license Cannabis doctors to address mental and physical ailment in need of cannabis treatment and legally grow and sell their own cannabis products.
As the stigma around marijuana begins to shift, Melanie is at the forefront advocating for minorities to gain entry in the world of cannabis. After decades of being persecuted for the illegal selling of cannabis, her organizations aim to change the stigma surrounding blacks and marijuana and provide a new source of economic growth within the minority community.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to the cannabis industry?
I am a community organizer first and foremost and that is where most of my passion for the industry, particularly in social equity stems from. After operating a pilot court watch program in 2019 through the national social justice organization Color of Change, I learned statistically how much cannabis has been criminalized. I monitored courts collecting data for a year and learned quickly that there was a disparity; my people are 4 times more likely to be penalized for marijuana than any other race. I oftentimes reflect upon my first encounter with police ever at the age of 19. I was riding unknowingly with a headlight out and was pulled over. I had just left a friend from college’s birthday party and smelled strongly of good old fashioned weed. I also was never taught how to properly interact with police and my fear came out as attitude. Before I knew it, because I refused to unlock the glove compartment and hand the officer my 20 dollars bag of weed, I had a gun in my face and a 6ft tall stocky police officer in my face. I was jailed, my car was towed and I was heartbroken. I was a “good kid” and ended up having to spend thousands of dollars and risking my freedom over a plant that is worth billions today. I want to ensure that marijuana reform happens and that those most negatively impacted are in the position to break down the barriers of entry into the industry.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
The most interesting thing that has happened to me since leading my company is seriously the outpour of support from my hometown. I have had the pleasure of co-hosting a podcast called Ethnic Ish N More that fell into the hands of Cash App who now sponsors us. We stream on 22 platforms and have interviewed some top notch public figures from St. Louis and beyond. Bud Talk STL started from a FB live on the Real STL News platform that received 16,000 views within 5 hours. It was an eye opener to the fact that we offer something that the community wants to hear. I’ve learned that its true “you never know who’s watching” and the support has been surreal.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I mentioned that we started from being invited on a local news platform and I would just go live in my home weekly at 4:20p and thousands of people would tune in. One day, as I was in the middle of speaking my entire backdrop fell down and on me. There was no hiding it or stopping the video! It was so embarrassing but what I learned was to not try and take the cheap easy way out. Invest in quality items for your business if possible and always be prepared for the worst, even if hundreds of people are watching. Pressure makes diamonds.
Do you have a funny story about how someone you knew reacted when they first heard you were getting into the cannabis industry?
When I first started out I had gotten a sweatshirt made that had a big pot leaf and BUD TALK STL written across it to wear to our first social event. When the event was over I stopped for gas and I ran into my freshman college professor. She is in her 60s and immediately looked at my sweatshirt and said, “may I speak with you privately?” I began to explain and she stopped me and whispered “I can flash my card (medical marijuana card) but do you have any on you?” At this point I was so tickled. Although I am not a black market dealer, I enjoy moments like that which allow me to educate someone beyond consumption and to encourage them to look at this industry as an enterprise. She said I never imagined you would use your degree to get into the marijuana industry but I think it’s a smart move.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
Of course I am grateful for my immediate family, my friends and respected industry comrades, but I would like to take a moment and pay homage to my late friend and nationally respected activist, Darren Seals. He is the reason why I am so active in my own backyard and why I understand that social equity for the betterment of our youth is imperative. He was tragically and senselessly targeted and killed in 2016 but he is the spark that lit the community fire beneath me.
Are you working on any new or exciting projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Yes! Realizing there was strength in numbers, I co- created the Canna Education Collective in November 2019, a minority-owned collective, composed of stakeholders with over a decade of combined organizational business experience gearing to remove the marginalization and exclusion of African Americans in the Cannabis industry and diversify the market.
Ok. Thank you for all that. Let’s now jump to the main core of our interview. Despite great progress that has been made we still have a lot more work to do to achieve gender parity in this industry. According to this report in Entrepreneur, less than 25 percent of cannabis businesses are run by women. In your opinion or experience, what 3 things can be done by a) individuals b) companies and/or c) society to support greater gender parity moving forward?
Individuals can educate themselves on the statutes and laws that govern them and become more engaged with the political and local community processes. I am an advocate for self-accountability therefore, I feel like we as women have to take more of a unified stance and take our stake in the game. Nothing will be just handed to us. We are not outnumbered, we are out-organized and oftentimes not fully aware of how that is affecting the big picture.
You are a “Cannabis Insider”. If you had to advise someone about 5 non intuitive things one should know to succeed in the cannabis industry, what would you say? Can you please give a story or an example for each.
Know the laws that govern marijuana in your state/country. For us in Missouri it’s the Department of Health and Senior Services and they help me navigate through regulatory questions often.
Research and know about the scientific component of marijuana, this has helped me with a keen ideal of the full spectrum of how this plant is nothing short of a miracle.
Understand your endocannabinoid system, they only taught us about 5 sensory systems in school, your mind will be blown when you understand this.
Think creatively about a business that you could add cannabis to, and essentially start a lane. These are all things that I strongly encourage anyone interested in joining the blooming bud industry to consider.
Can you share 3 things that most excite you about the cannabis industry?
I love forward and progressive movements; The Cannabis Industry is just that. I am also very excited to be prepared to position myself and others to benefit off of a natural medicine that we have traditionally been persecuted for. The idea of educating the masses to think of cannabis beyond consumption and as a big business is very, very exciting as well.
Can you share 3 things that most concern you about the industry? If you had the ability to implement 3 ways to reform or improve the industry, what would you suggest?
Three things that concern me the most about the industry are taxation and the accountability we need to ensure that the tax revenue is being appropriated with the best interest of the community in mind. Also, cornering the black market and federal legalization actually concern me as well for regulatory reasons. If I could reform the industry I would remove marijuana from the controlled substance list. I would build in social justice and expungement programs as well as providing resources for underserved communities to break down the barriers of entry into the industry.
What are your thoughts about federal legalization of cannabis? If you could speak to your Senator, what would be your most persuasive argument regarding why they should or should not pursue federal legalization?
I actually have a great working/community relationship with my Senator in which our community worked hard to elect, Senator Brian Williams. Once I have concrete legislative ideas that I would like to introduce I’m almost positive he would be open to at least hear me out, and that’s as gratifying feeling in itself. My thoughts on the federal legalization of cannabis is that as long as social equity and fair practices occur, I am open to it. I just want to ensure that the industry is redesigned with those shown the most disparity against them are kept in mind.
Today, cigarettes are legal, but they are heavily regulated, highly taxed, and they are somewhat socially marginalized. Would you like cannabis to have a similar status to cigarettes or different? Can you explain?
I would like cannabis to be viewed as a natural herb that enhances homeostasis within our endocannabinoid system, because that’s exactly what it is to me. Marijuana doesn’t cause cancer and other diseases; tobacco does.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I am also a spiritual empowerment coach and owner of a local holistic health brand so spirituality is just as important to me as the business. I coined a phrase that I would hear often that says “everything is energy.” The good, the bad the ugly it all speaks even before we do. The frequency of our vibration speaks so I’m always cognizant of that in my decision making.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I am currently living out the dream in this moment. I recently leased a space in my hometown of St. Louis that will be North County’s 1st Cannabis Resource Hub. “The Canna Education Collective” is central space where people can learn and be trained upon how to become legal within the industry and start businesses as well. Once we are fully funded we will begin operations hopefully by January of 2021. This is a progressive project and will be very beneficial to the future of cannabis within our community. More information about the initiative can be found here: www.budtalkstl.com (Canna Education Collective tab)
Thank you so much for the time you spent with this. We wish you only continued success!