Joe Dolce has lived two lives—one as a media consultant, another as a cannabis patient turned cannabis educator and advocate. Prior to joining the cannabis community, Dolce founded Joe Dolce Communications, a presentation and media-training communications company based in New York City. He was the former editor-in-chief of both Detail and Star magazines for multiple years and has written for numerous leading national magazines such as the New York Times, Travel + Leisure, and Rolling Stone.
As an openly gay man, Joe has made his support for the queer community known. After starting Joe Dolce Communications, he announced plans to apply to the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers for the domain address .GAY that that would provide an ethical source of funding for LGBTQ civil rights. More recently, his podcast has worked to uplift LGBTQ+ voices in the cannabis industry.
In 2016, Dolce published his exploratory novel on cannabis, Brave New Weed: Adventures Into the Uncharted World of Cannabis, where he delved into the past and present of the expanding cannabis industry. The research led him to look at the plant differently, meet clinicians and scientists around the world and, eventually, become a patient himself.
Several years ago, Dolce found himself with a chronic pain condition that only cannabis helped ease. From then on, Dolce became an advocate for “education before medication” through curating his online platform, Medical Cannabis Mentor to separate myth from fact and allow for a better understanding of the complex plant. Moreover, he now hosts the Brave New Weed podcast that attempts to normalize cannabis in conversation with people at all stages of their relationship with the plant.
HONEYSUCKLE MAGAZINE: You’ve publicly expressed that using cannabis firsthand as a medical patient has taught you just as much as, if not more than, journalistic research ever could. What have been the biggest lessons you've learned from using cannabis as a patient?
DOLCE: There’s a lot. One—it’s a very personal medication, so what works for you might not work for me. You have to be willing to toy and tinker with the dosage to find what works. You have to give it time, journal it, watch what works, what doesn’t work.
Also, the delivery methods, right? They all work differently. I happen to know that if you smoke, you get immediate relief. If you vape or use a tincture, it's pretty quick; an edible lasts a lot longer. And that relief lasts for different periods of time, depending on what you’re using it for. For example, if I’m looking for immediate relief, I’ll use a tincture or vape. If, say, I’m using it for sleep, I’ll take an edible because I know it’ll last me through the night.
So that’s a lesson I think most people don’t know. It is also the reason that people claim ‘it doesn’t work,’ because they don’t know that they have to give it time, that you have to experiment a bit. It’s not like the 'pop a melatonin and call-me-in-the-morning' approach. Almost all botanical medicines are like that; they’re not as targeted as pharmaceuticals we’ve all grown up with. They’re not as strong, not as powerful. Most of us who were raised in the American medical system don’t take the time to think and experiment. Most cannabis businesses certainly don’t take the time to think about it in a medicinal way; they’re all selling to the recreational user. These businesses don’t have the time, the resources, the education, the staff education to really have someone on premises that a patient could talk to in person about a problem they’re having.
I think they’re missing a huge opportunity. There’s a huge group of people who want to use it for wellness but really don’t know where to start. And right now, going into a dispensary and buying four pre-rolls really doesn’t do anything.
Do you have tools for regular recreational users who may be interested in using cannabis medicinally?
Right now, the information isn’t that available, but hopefully, soon it will become more accessible. I’m working on putting together patient education into an app so that it becomes a very guided experience: start here, see what you feel, escalate if you don’t feel anything, stop for a while once you do feel something, escalate if you stop feeling, and so on.
Will the app be similar to your Medical Cannabis Mentor website?
The website is quite technical, with courses meant for people in the business. I don’t think a patient using it needs to know all that stuff; I think they need the basics and then guidance.
I work with Dr. June Chin, who’s been treating patients for fifteen years with medical cannabis. Our courses are a mix of science, experiment and her medical experience. For example, she knows there’s a difference in the way women pre and post-menopause react to the plant because of the hormone balance or that there’s a slight difference in the sexes’ reaction to cannabis.
On an app, I’d put my age, my gender—whatever it is today—my weight, my general body type and condition. Then it will generate much more tailored recommendations with escalation charts. That’s what we’re currently working on.
What inspired you to work with Dr. June Chin to create Medical Cannabis Mentor?
Well, the fact that she had this clinical expertise is really important because all I can do is research. June has an MD, so she knows all about it, the body and the way it functions. She’s integrative, so she looks at the way you live your life and makes recommendations based on that. She’s holistic, which is important to me. She’s incredibly smart, humane, compassionate, and she’s willing to put the time in with patients. A lot of doctors won’t sit down and talk with patients for twenty minutes about dosage because they simply don’t have the time. That’s why many doctors aren’t into botanical medicine—they want the pills because they’re fast and easy.
I get it, totally get it. If I was a doctor, I would also want to move quickly, but that’s not what every patient wants. Some patients want more natural or plant-based approaches.
The cannabis industry has undergone many changes since you first published Brave New Weed in 2016, particularly regarding wider access to medical cannabis. What are the remaining obstacles standing in the way of even greater accessibility?
I think it’s great that awareness is finally coming; cannabis is a new business, a new industry. But there still seems to be a false divide, a binary between recreational or adult-use and medical use. There’s a belief that medicinal use of the plant tends to be for very serious conditions. But when you’re talking about the pain or stress triangle, these are things that almost anybody over forty experiences. That is what the plant can and should be used for.
Right now, the dispensaries are not focused on the medical market, and that may be because it’s small, it hasn’t sold well. But dispensaries could occupy this space of wellness because there’s really nowhere else that’s doing it. There’s nowhere to go for guidance in terms of dosage and whatnot, but I believe that dispensaries could be that space. At least, I would do it if I had a dispensary.
I also think that the industry is so stressed by all the things that the federal government is still making difficult: banking, regulation, increased liability, the difficulty in getting insurance, having to pay taxes in cash. There’s a lot of things that make cannabis a more difficult business.
You’re someone who has built their career as a media professional and as a media mentor; what would you like to see mainstream media coverage do for the cannabis community/industry that it hasn't done yet?
[The mainstream media] still treats marijuana with a wink and a nod, as if we’re still doing something illegal and wrong. They still buy into all the old myths; they’re very slow to change even though so many of them drink like fishermen and even smoke. I think they could be more nuanced, talk to people more. They tend to report a lot on the money. They’re not really writing about the medical conditions that cannabis can treat.
The media is so many different sectors. Sometimes you’ll read very positive pieces, stupid pieces, negative pieces—everything has a place. The cannabis industry isn’t perfect and it deserves to be criticized when it does something wrong, but it deserves a more nuanced representation.
Only recently has the stigmatization of the LGBTQ+ community in mainstream media ebbed. Do you think similar stigmas apply to the cannabis industry as well?
Look, I read The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Washington Post. I’m pretty mainstream at what I read for my news. And the things I watch, listen to, read are pretty progressive, left of center, but it’s the same thing. They stigmatize, stigmatize, stigmatize, up until not too long ago. And once they got it together, once [gay marraige] became legalized, once enough reporters said “Hey, I’m queer,” or “My brother’s queer,” or “I’m transitioning tomorrow,” did things start to change. The environment became more welcoming.
There is still a stigma about smoking a joint after work versus having a cocktail after work. You’re still considered more lazy, more of a fuck-off for smoking a joint after work as opposed to having a cocktail.
So do you see the path to normalizing cannabis as talking about it more?
That’s what happened with queer liberation—people started coming out. That’s what needs to happen with cannabis, too. People need to come out and advocate for the plant, for social justice, for fairness, full legalization. It’s time. I think queer people have really led the way in these matters. I haven’t read anyone in the cannabis space saying they should follow those guidelines, do what they did. And it’s probably because the industry is full of straight white guys.
Now, there was a lot of controversy in the '80s about people outing other people, and it’s an interesting problem. It’s not nice to do that, obviously, but on the other hand, it was effective.
Now, I was never a part of it or an object of being outed—I have been out since I was twenty-two—but, as a gay man, you do sort of think: you fucking coward, you’re going to be running this company, having a prominent position in this industry, maybe supporting gay causes, maybe, and you won’t come out and say [you smoke]. You won’t be a model for other people; make it better or easier for other people. Other people are [saying they smoke], why won’t you?
I found that it was the same when I first started writing Brave New Weed. I was a media consultant, and when I got the book deal, I started disappearing for months on end to go do my job as a reporter. My clients would ask me why I wasn’t available, and I started to think, oh well, I’ve come out once, why not come out again? So I started telling people, “I’ve started writing a book on cannabis.” Initially, I thought I would lose some business, get some blowback, but it was the complete opposite. Ninety percent of the people who I told responded in one of three [ways]: that they also love cannabis, [they] asked how I got someone to pay me to do research on the plant, or [they] asked where they could find some really good pot. And I work with clients across industries—I mean high-level people.
These high-end people fit into a saying in the industry: chardonnay moms. The moms who get home from work, who want to relax, unwind but don’t want to smoke a spliff. They don’t want to go to a dispensary. They want it delivered. They take an edible, vape some, use tincture, but they don’t stand up and say it.
And this is the same for a lot of people who use cannabis, and until you’re in a place like California, Colorado, Oregon, you’re not going to see people standing up and saying they use cannabis. That’s the problem with the state-by-state thing; it’s about locality. When I was writing the book, I would go to cocktail parties in LA, San Francisco. Everyone was smoking or talking about this new strain, where they got their edibles. It wasn’t like that in New York.
Well, that’s my next question, do you see that happening in New York in the future?
As soon as the new law was passed, in a day, there were consumption lounges. I mean, New York has always been a city of a lot of clouds; it’s the largest black market in the world, probably, it’s insane. Nobody enforces that stuff unless you’re a person of color and then it’s a whole different story.
Hopefully, that will change, and it seems like it already is. You know, it’s not a big leap for New York, just a big leap for the governor.
We have all heard the discussions about representation in cannabis regarding race. Do you think the LGBTQ+ community should be more represented in cannabis?
It’s interesting, isn’t it? Obviously, LGBTQ+ people are huge users, but they’re really not that well represented. In the business, I’m not seeing that many out people yet.
I’m watching for it. I’m interested in it. More women need to get into; cannabis is still a pretty white boy business. I think there are two reasons for this: one—many people who were growing and moving products in the illegal market were guys, who were generally white, and two—they were guys because it’s easier for them to take the risk over a woman with kids.
How would you recommend increasing diversity of cannabis representation?
I’ve put a few people on the podcast, like Seke Ballard, who’s a gay person of color who started a private fund to loan money to people who want to get into the businesses because banks won’t do it if they have a low credit rating.
Christine DelaRosa runs The People’s Dispensary, which has a number of dispensaries on the West Coast, and they’re all LGBTQ+ or disadvantaged community-owned. They raise money and help these businesses get going.
It’ll take some time to equalize. You do see more companies raising money because they’re women-led. There’s a company in Massachusetts, Rebelle, owned and operated by women.
Does there need to be a conversation about how to get more people of color in the business without increasing criminalization?
Of course, I just don’t know how to do that. I think Seke’s idea of having a private bank funding disadvantaged communities who want to get into the business is a good, capitalist way to do that. I mean, the government isn’t going to give funds for this and I’m not sure the government should be doing that either. This is a capitalist enterprise in a capitalist country, so I think his idea is progressive and interesting. The people who invest in it are putting their money where their mouths are. If you believe in this and want to support this, there’s a fund.
Photo: Courtesy of Joe Dolce