By Ricardo Baca
Honeysuckle is proud to present a new running column by Ricardo Baca, founder and CEO of the leading communications firm Grasslands: A Journalism-Minded Agency. A pillar of the cannabis community and a history-making journalist, Ricardo has been named one of Fortune's "7 Most Powerful People in America's Marijuana Industry" and an AdCann Marketer of the Year. His trailblazing work has appeared in the world's top publications, and he is a sought-after speaker on global platforms including The Colbert Report, NPR's All Things Considered, TEDx, and SXSW. With over 20 years in journalism and drug policy advocacy, he has pioneered many tenets of modern cannabis media that he and the Grasslands team are constantly evolving toward the future. Most recently, he was appointed by Colorado Governor Jared Polis to the state's first Natural Medicine Advocacy Board.
We are thrilled for Ricardo to share his insights on the cannabis industry with our readers. In this premiere column of his series, he unpacks the profound influence of the plant on leadership, culture and creativity.
The Cannabis Revolution: Social Change Is Here
Change is here, friends—the type of change that politicians promise but never seem able to deliver. A change that’s crushing the status quo, threatening deeply embedded systems of oppression and powerful special interests, and destroying stigma. Built on the backs of the queer-liberation and greater civil-rights movements, this change is freeing political prisoners while giving millions of Americans a second chance at life and success through expungements and social-equity programs.
It’s the type of change that only a diverse, nonpartisan, tireless and fearless coalition working for decades through policy, education and culture can accomplish.
And it’s all because the establishment is caving to the power… of a plant.
When I was privileged with the opportunity to cover Colorado’s burgeoning cannabis industry as the first Cannabis Editor at a major U.S. newspaper, I knew we were documenting the start of something bigger than our square state of, in 2013, about 5.3 million people. But I didn’t know just how big that something was, or the sudden speed of progress.
What Does Modern Cannabis Legalization Look Like?
Here we are, reader, a decade later, and there’s a good chance you live in a state where cannabis is legal. About half of the U.S. population now lives somewhere adult-use cannabis is legal. When you consider states with medical-only programs, that number grows to more than three-quarters of Americans.
There have been plenty of unforeseen consequences of state legalization, but this is the new normal. There are bad actors and bad policy mixed with the larger social good. That said, every time you shop at a locally owned cannabis retail store or purchase a regulated gummy manufactured by a social-equity entrepreneur, you’re pushing forward this revolution—accelerating it, even.
For the past seven years, as I’ve built and run the top cannabis- and psychedelics-focused public-relations agency in the world, I’ve been fortunate enough to work side by side with some of the people in the driver’s seat of this movement.
Yes, I’m proud that my firm Grasslands: A Journalism-Minded Agency represents Cookies, Puffco and other leading brands. But I take greater pride in the small part I’ve played in influencing policy and sentiment through investigative reporting, TEDx Talks, film and, most recently, being appointed to Colorado’s first-ever Natural Medicine Advisory Board by Governor Jared Polis.
I’m incredibly excited, too, to begin writing this regular column for Honeysuckle Magazine and its growing national readership.
In these pages, I’ll be exploring some of the many ways that legal cannabis enhances our lives individually and communally. Here’s how:
As a former music critic who spent a decade embedded in Denver’s music scene, I will undoubtedly be talking about music and art—and the myriad ways that cannabis weaves itself into all elements of artistic creation and culture.
As an avid and passionate consumer of the cannabis plant, I will definitely be writing about my penchant for low-temp dabs, my preference for rosin edibles and my obsession with well-crafted weed cocktails.
And as a political activist, I will without a doubt write about human rights, social movements and our still-critical need for more comprehensive and effective criminal-justice reform.
But with this introductory column, I want to share with you an immensely personal story about how weed has made me a better husband, a better friend and a better colleague to my team.
I want to talk explicitly about leading my small business and how weed has made me a better CEO.
How Did Cannabis Become An Unexpected Mentor?
Though I had officially been a leader at The Denver Post as editor of online vertical The Cannabist, I had never considered myself an entrepreneur, let alone pictured myself as the chief executive of a PR agency that pays dozens of full-time employees and contractors.
As with the cannabis industry itself, I was learning as I moved forward, and doing my best to incorporate those lessons back into building my business, the right way.
In my new line of work, it was serendipity that my passion for writing and storytelling was matched with business leaders who were so passionate for the plant.
How did cannabis help me be a better leader as well as a more effective advocate for my clients?
Let’s start with what is probably the most obvious to anybody who’s ever consumed both cannabis and alcohol: Weed killed the hangover. Losing that alcohol-induced productivity killer in and of itself has been a game-changer for my output and mood, and it’s informed the Grasslands culture. While I still enjoy a good mezcal tasting, I don’t drink nearly as much these days.
In my 24 years as a professional journalist, I had noticed a significant lack of compassion, respect and socio-emotional leadership in the communications sector. And my goal every day with Grasslands is to lead and make stronger a workplace culture that’s the categorical opposite.
My cannabis consumption has taught me an elevated sense of patience. The simple recognition that an edible can take a full hour to totally unfold and reveal itself to you has helped me understand that the best leaders are those who comprehensively understand complex issues before they manifest. That a knee-jerk reaction (like impatiently eating another edible 20 minutes after the first hasn’t kicked in) can be the key difference between a great outcome and a nightmarish experience.
The plant has helped me stay true to my desired goal of creating a human-centered business that revolves around core values: accountability and detail-orientedness, yes, but also compassion and empathy.
And I can’t neglect one of the most celebrated traits of the plant, as one of the items near the top of my long list of CEO roles and responsibilities is to think creatively. Cannabis sparks my imagination and has taught me to ideate differently, even when not under its influence. Some of our most successful ideas at Grasslands have been elevated by the use of weed.
This empathy, patience, creativity and passion goes beyond the walls of our offices near Denver’s historic Art District on Santa Fe, and the video meetings we hold with our coast-to-coast team, and extends to my homelife and personal relationships.
The same traits that make me a better boss make me a better husband. They make me a friend and mentor with better insights.
And I look forward to sharing those insights with you in the coming months.
Ricardo Baca is Founder and CEO of communications firm Grasslands: A Journalism-Minded Agency, The Denver Post’s former Marijuana Editor and a current member of Colorado Gov. Jared Polis’ appointed Natural Medicine Advisory Board. For more about Grasslands, visit mygrasslands.com. To learn more about Ricardo, follow @bruvs on Instagram.
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Featured image: Ricardo Baca (left), founder and CEO of Grasslands: A Journalism-Minded Agency, in his natural habitat of collaboration (C) Grasslands