Honeysuckle is proud to present Trailblazers’ Authentic Voices: Pride ‘22 “Sweet Sixteen” series! Get to know sixteen LGBTQIA+ cannabis industry leaders who inspire us. Click here to find all their stories.

A Pride Month Message From Trailblazers Co-Founder Tyler Wakstein

Trailblazers is a curated community of cannabis and psychedelic business leaders, entrepreneurs, and innovators who work together to advance the industry. We are unified by a shared ethos and vision of the future of plant medicine and other alternative healing modalities. We are a group of leaders and visionaries from across the entire ecosystem - from brands, to operators, to investment banks, MSOs, policy and law makers, scientists and researchers. We believe in creating a new paradigm of doing business - where collaboration, authentic connections and an abundance mindset drives the industry. We believe equality, social equity, and justice are not just something to pay lip service to, but rather the cost of entry into cannabis or hemp at large. We are honored to celebrate PRIDE Month with Honeysuckle Magazine and want to help empower the next generation of change-makers and emerging leaders in cannabis through access to the Trailblazers platform. Diversity drives innovation within a community like ours and we recommend applying to our fellowship program if anyone is interested in getting involved.  trailblazerspresents.com/trailblazers-fellowship

Interested in finding out more about Trailblazers NYC, coming July 27, 2022? For details, click here.

 Joyce Cenali, Partner and COO of Sonoma Hills Farm (center), with Aaron Keefer, VP of Cannabis Cultivation (right) (C) Sonoma Hills Farm

Meet Joyce Cenali, Partner And Chief Operating Officer Of Sonoma Hills Farm

Joyce Cenali is Chief Operating Officer of Sonoma Hills Farm, a premium craft cannabis farm and organic culinary garden nestled on 60 acres in California’s Sonoma Valley. In addition to Sun+Earth certification, the farm’s cannabis was one of first to be recognized as “organic comparable,” as designated by the California Department of Food and Agriculture’s OCal program - a new cannabis certification program which ensures consistency with the uniform standards of the National Organic Program. Cenali also leads operations at Big Rock Partners, a multi-family office and strategic advisory firm serving investors and companies at the intersection of food, hospitality and cannabis. In her own words, “I have worked day in and day out to assist other entrepreneurs in cannabis.” A long time craft cannabis cultivator, Cenali co-founded an Emerald Cup-winning operation and began angel investing in various women-founded early stage cannabis start-ups, including Sava and LADY BUDS, an indie film that features women in cannabis. She was co-chair of the Sonoma County chapter of Women Grow, an advisory board member with various cannabis advocacy groups, and co-founder of Cannabis Media Council, with a mission to advance a modern regulatory model that unites capitalism with inclusion. In 2020, Cenali was recognized by the San Francisco Business Times as a Most Influential Woman in Bay Area Business.

TRAILBLAZERS: What is something unique that you bring to your work and the greater cannabis industry overall from your previous work or life experience?

JOYCE CENALI: My earliest role as a young professional was on the Sales & Marketing team at an independent record label, Six Degrees Records, and I managed various emerging bands under a management company that I founded, MIN Entertainment. A robust music industry existed with various independents and small businesses thriving. That reality was utterly destroyed when streaming music propped up in the early 2000s. Six Degrees was one of the first independents on iTunes and I in part managed that onboarding process, but I simultaneously witnessed the immediate decline in economic viability, where technology innovations for a long period squashed creative innovation and put a lot of artists and labels out of business (Six Degrees is still fighting the good fight!)

In cannabis, again technology innovations are valued more highly than plant touching innovations in the financial space. We see massive valuations for cannabis-focused tech-heavy platforms and lack of interest in regulatory complex plant touching operators. We are now at a pinnacle place in the cannabis industry where legalization is squashing product innovation and where access is siloed within each state. We absolutely must ensure that we as brands and operators lift up other allied companies and operators and fight for broader access. It is exceptionally disappointing for example, when certain states seek to close access and build insular programs. Cannabis should simply not be grown in many states - even certain indoor environments produce mediocre cannabis and are highly environmentally troubled. Mediocrity might witness a short term return but the majority will not endure in the long-term. Consumers will eventually see through and seek high quality products and those of us who are in this for the long haul, need to support others in the supply chain with an aligned outlook.

Why are you passionate about being part of the cannabis industry?

I’ve consumed cannabis for over half of my life, to balance anxiety and stress, and to socialize. I love that she always draws in such a wide spectrum of folks, and she’s led me to many crucial relationships with friends, colleagues, and mentors. She encourages a think out of the box and open-minded mentality. I started a home grow in 2004 for personal use, and it was the illness and subsequent passing of my dad that launched me fully into the industry. Observing his and the treatment path of so many in our troubled health care industry, the pull into cannabis was natural, instinctual. Societal and capitalistic constructs systematically deny us diversity in our consumption and wellness choices. Our team and I, and every operator that we’re privileged to work with, are slowly chipping away the long held and unjust stigma.

What does Pride mean to you personally? How are you celebrating or championing Pride through your company, the communities you do business in, or the industry overall?

Cannabis has been used for social, religious, stress relief, and medicinal purposes for thousands of years and the plants were (and remain) a critical therapy for AIDS patients. Patient advocates in San Francisco took that message to the people and secured the passage of Prop 215, which legalized medicinal cannabis in California in 1996, and thus began the march towards nationwide legalization. Each step we all take carries their efforts forward into this modern industry and despite how hard this is for us all, realizing that people lost their lives or sacrificed their lives in prison to get us to this point is a far more salient sacrifice.

Sonoma Hills Farm produces an annual Pride focused farm blend pre-roll line Double Rainbow which launches Pride month and runs throughout the summer! This year, 10% of proceeds from the sale of Double Rainbow products benefit Haight St Art Center and together, we are empowering queer artists in celebrating Radical Solidarity. At launch, Double Rainbow can be purchased on the LGBTQIA-owned platform Sava and other retail locations.

How are you supporting the advancement of LGBTQIA+ diversity, equity and inclusion efforts?

I’ll answer this with a call to action - if your company does not illustrate the tapestry of your community, either at its core or in context of your partnerships, you are discounting possibilities for your company's economic advancement. Gay folks from all backgrounds have hard weathered circumstances and are fortified to endure. To build products without taking varied parties point of views into account, is to build repetition at market. This plant draws a wide audience and she should be reflected as such on retail shelves.

(C) Sonoma Hills Farm

What is one of your favorite LGBTQIA+ organizations to support?

I mentioned Haight St Art Center, which is stepping up for queer artists in the Bay Area through their Radical Solidarity program, and their new Director departed Openhouse, which ensures our LGBTQIA elders are supported. They are also very supportive of pro-cannabis initiatives. I am so excited to see Green Qween open its doors in DTLA and they are introducing some awesome give back programs to the LA community.

What’s your favorite LGBTQIA+-produced cannabis product that isn’t from your brand?

I often consume Red Congolese, a Sativa African landrace strain offered by  Conga Club. Sonder’s Space Crystals are a party in my mouth and my choice product for any festival or music night out. Drew Martin’s pre-roll line is so very elegant. Sundae School’s Mochi gummies are super fun. Cann led the pack in the beverage game and continue to be a staple in my fridge (check the co-brand flavor with Sava, Lime Basil). Wyld really raises the bar in mainstream gummy taste and packaging. LGBTQIA+ brands that Sonoma Hills Farm are collaborating with: The Farmaceuticals Company pre-rolls line is extremely smooth and balanced, and MAISON BLOOM’s forthcoming beverage line is one of the best tasting elevated beverage experiences to be discovered.

Cannabis is all about community. What partnership opportunities with other companies have allowed you to create something even better than imagined due to your combined efforts?

I’m so proud of our collective efforts at Big Rock to enable other best-of-class innovators to find their footing with great partners. My earliest personal investment was the LGBTQIA+ women-led Sava, which is truly the launch platform in the Bay Area for many of the most efficacious and quality leaning  brands in California, and their conscious shopping interface allows folks to search by women-led, BIPOC-led, LGBTQIA-led, etc. Nearly half of Big Rock’s roster are female-led brands and that actually just happened organically in our interest in finding differentiated product types in targeting capital. We’ve also mentored through great programs such as Our Academy, The Initiative, and Eaze’s Momentum program and have absorbed as much from our mentees as they’ve learned from us. We have invested in, mentored, and consulted for a multitude of brands small and large across the California landscape and while we’ve paused active investments, in order to prop up Sonoma Hills Farm, we continue to seek collaboration partners in building California’s diverse and best-of-class ecosystem. Sonoma Hills Farm has partnered with brands including Select, Garcia Brands, dompen, Chemistry, Brother David’s, Green Bee Botanicals, Rose California, Emerald Bay Extracts, Kalya, The Pairist, The Farmaceuticals Company, The Optimist, and has launched unique retail strategies with great retailers such as Sava, Sespe Creek, and Sweet Flower. We’re also building a single origin supply chain solution with Vertosa and kicking off some gorgeous product innovations with the likes of MAISON BLOOM, Potli, Dad Grass and others. Collaboration is the name of the game to stay vital in this challenging industry.

What advice would you give to others who wish to join the cannabis industry and follow in your footsteps?

Leave your ego at the door and understand that we are all champions for this plant but that she alone is the prophet - be humble. We collectively need her to advance our cause in activism, community, and economic gain, but she’ll be fine without us. So many have been robbed, assaulted, or have gone out of business in trying to advance this legal market. The further that you get from the plant, the less friction those companies feel. Honor those close to the plant and do not forsake their stress and struggle. Support, collaborate, lift them up.

What are you most excited to see more of in cannabis next year?

I’m personally thrilled to be at the helm of the Cannabis Media Council, which seeks to end the media moratorium against this beautiful plant. I co-founded the CMC alongside another LGBTQIA+ teammate, Amy Deneson (Phenolution, CuraLeaf), and Lulu Tsui (On the Revel, Root Sciences), and a team of stellar industry leaders, to use the power of mainstream media to uplift wholehearted, people-centered advertising campaigns that show positive experiences with cannabis in order to normalize consumption across generations and finally break the media moratorium against this plant. We strive to be the collective voice in cannabis that, similar to the USDA’s “Got Milk” campaign, broadens consumer awareness and consideration for this amazing plant. There is an increasing need to advertise, market, and communicate with consumers about cannabis. Our overriding principle is to do so in a manner that is disciplined, ethical, and fact-based to uphold the high standards on conduct on which the council was founded. We’ve got a stellar list of members out of the gate, and will be introducing more partner members and launching a donations portal soon under our registered 501c3 status.

Learn more about Trailblazers by visiting trailblazerspresents.com. You can find out more about Sonoma Hills Farm at sonomahillsfarm.com. To learn how to support Haight St Art Center, visit haightstreetart.org.

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Featured image: Joyce Cenali, Partner and COO of Sonoma Hills Farm, and COO of Big Rock Partners (C) Sonoma Hills Farm