I had the pleasure of interviewing Adam Vine, co-founder of Cage-Free Cannabis. Adam Vine co-founded Cage-Free Cannabis to repair harms of the War on Drugs and advocate for an equitable and just cannabis industry. Since launching in October 2017, the Cage-Free project has supported re-entry programs for formerly incarcerated women, youth organizing in Central American immigrant communities, and expungement, job, and resource fairs. Adam has a B.A. in English from Amherst College and an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and he lives and works in Los Angeles, California.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?
I come from a background in politics and issue-based advocacy. After years of working on criminal justice reform and drug policy reform, my co-founder Andrew and I saw the necessity of making sure that communities of color, which have been disproportionately harmed by the War on Drugs, are reaping the benefits of the emerging cannabis industry. Those benefits look like ownership of cannabis businesses, employment in the cannabis industry, legal relief from prior cannabis convictions, and full access to the healing potential of the plant itself, among other things.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you started your company
Since starting the company, I’ve had the honor of receiving emails and letters from people who have been harmed by the War on Drugs. Some of these people have been incarcerated in the past, and some of them are currently incarcerated. Each time I receive a message from someone with that experience, I am reminded of the depth and breadth of the problems this War has caused: Jobs lost, student loans denied, families separated, and more. All because of a prohibition premised on bad science and racist rhetoric.
The most noteworthy and heartbreaking of these is a letter from someone who’s in jail and about to be sent to prison for 4 and a half years because of cannabis. He recognizes the absurd hypocrisy of the current state of affairs, in which cannabis companies are going public on the Canadian stock market, while he’s about to forfeit years of his life because he happens to live in the wrong state. We will try to help him as best we can.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Our mission and the integrity of our work make Cage-Free Cannabis stand out. We say no to collaborations more often that we say yes, and we’re absolutely certain that will pay dividends in the long run. The cannabis company with the largest gross revenue in the U.S. approached us about working together on an event. After it became clear that they were determined to direct their philanthropy in a manner that did not align with our values, we turned them down and they selected another organization.
A few months later, that organization dropped the ball on a collaboration with the Emerald Cup, one of the largest cannabis festivals in U.S. As a result of our reputation and our attention to detail, we were able to step up and collaborate with the Emerald Cup as the featured charity partner of their 2018 event. It was a lesson in patience and a reminder to lead with your values.
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?
I’m particularly grateful to Susan Burton, who is a legendary organizer and advocate for the rights of the formerly and currently incarcerated. Susan founded A New Way of Life to help women coming home from incarceration, as well as the Los Angeles chapter of All of Us or None, which fights for criminal justice reform.
Early on in the development of Cage-Free Cannabis, I called Susan because I knew that her support would be not only helpful, but necessary. She invited me to her office to explore the ideas I was working on, at a time when simply saying the word “cannabis” might get you laughed out of the room. Instead, she lifted me up: she asked me to present my project at the next All of Us or None meeting.
If a majority of the attendees approved, she said, All of Us or None-Los Angeles/Long Beach would allow Cage-Free Cannabis to put their logo on our website. A week later, I presented, and the attendees approved with near unanimity. Susan showed me the power of being open to new and controversial ideas, as well as the value of leadership that relies on collective decision making. It was a formative moment for Cage-Free, and I continue to reflect on it regularly.
Are you working on any exciting projects now?
In 2019, we’ll help coordinate the second annual National Expungement Week, we’ll continue to develop our pilot project in Seattle, in which our logo serves as a seal of social responsibility, and we’ll take our message of equity, justice, and repair to South by Southwest, where we’ve helped to organize two panels relating to those issues for this year’s conference.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
The “goodness” we aim to bring to the world is reflected in our mission of repairing harms of the War on Drugs. But we also aim to empower other individuals and organizations whose values align with ours. That means hiring young organizers to staff our events, continuing to stay connected with people who are locked up so that they know they’re not forgotten, and helping people clear convictions from their records so that they can re-enter their communities and move forward with their lives.
Do you have a favorite book that made a deep impact on your life? Can you share a story?
Always Running by Luis Rodriguez pushed me to work more closely with young people who have been impacted by the criminal justice system. Rodriguez’s poetic memoir transported me straight to the intersection of criminal justice reform, political organizing, violence prevention, and the healing power of creativity — without ever feeling preachy. Luis is one of the best writers in the U.S., and I recommend his work to everyone.
You likely have heard of the famous cliche that in a gold rush the one selling the shovels makes much more than the one who finds gold. This is the modern day “green rush”. Can you recommend to our readers 5 technologies or services that can potentially be lucrative “shovels” for the cannabis industry? Can you give an example for each?
Sustainable packaging — the regulated industry has created a packaging crisis, and the companies that solve it by creating sustainable, biodegradable packaging that complies with child safety regulations will win customers and heal the planet.
I’d also recommend hiring agencies and temp agencies that prioritize placing employees with both cannabis experience and experience in the criminal justice system.
Other ‘shovels’ include content creation (the need for quality content and lots of it isn’t going anywhere), supply chain technology (get ready for interstate commerce — it’s coming soon) that matches cultivators with buyers, and customizable cannabis education (every community needs it, but one-size-fits-all doesn’t work).
What 3 things would you advise to someone who wanted to emulate your career? Can you share an example for each idea?
- I would advise you to prepare for hardship and doubt (self- and otherwise) by incorporating strategies of self-care (exercise, meditation, yoga) into your daily routine from the beginning.
- Keep learning about the past, present, and future of cannabis. While there is indeed an emerging cannabis industry, humans have been using cannabis for thousands of years. Humans have been locking up other humans for cannabis use for about one hundred years. Understanding that past will help you understand the present and future of this industry.
- The most important thing is to stay connected with the communities that you serve. This will keep you humble and motivated, while ensuring that your work retains the integrity that it needs to be impactful.
What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive?
Listen to young people and treat everyone with equal respect.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. 🙂
I’d like to have lunch with Sean Parker. He invested millions of dollars in the campaign for Proposition 64, which legalized the adult use of cannabis, and I’d like to hear his thoughts on how we can repair the harms done by decades of cannabis prohibition.
What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?
Facebook — https://www.facebook.com/cagefreerepair/
Instagram — https://www.instagram.com/cagefreecannabis/
Twitter — https://twitter.com/Cagefreerepair
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!
Jilea Hemmings is the CEO & Co-Founder of Leaf Tyme. She is running a series on Leaders In The Cannabis Industry.