In celebration of Women's History Month, CULTA is spotlighting female canna leaders, like Keisha Reed who runs Explore Maryland Cannabis and The Connected Ecosystem. Her digital marketing background and hyperfocus on local communities has allowed her to provide underserved groups access to cannabis education and funding. Our Marketing VP Renier Fee spoke with Keisha to dig in deeper into her personal story.
Hey Keisha! How are you?
Hey there! I’m doing very well. So excited for the spring season.
I haven't seen you in person for a while, but you are everywhere! Grand openings, social media, podcasts, industry events, etc. Do you ever rest?
HA! Rest, what’s that? I do take intentional self-care days this month. I’m headed to Emma’s Tea Spot in Parkville, Maryland.
Nice! Are you ready for the interview? I promise this will be fun!
Cool. Let's get started. Where did you grow up and where did you go to school?
I was born and raised in Washington, DC, in a large family. After high school, I attended the University of Maryland Eastern Shore (Hawk Pride) and graduated from Towson University with a B.S. in Communication.
You have a long career in digital marketing. What made you focus on digital marketing as a career?
I literally grew up in the days of AOL CDs and chat rooms, digital pen pals...all of that. It was very natural for me to gravitate to a digital career and that was my main focus through undergrad pivoting to my first tech job at Apple. Apple was my first “real” job which allowed me to tap into my technical side. I worked at Apple Retail through college. I started as a Family Room Specialist to Genius to Community Outreach and Training. I had the pleasure to opening stores and traveling to California to learn more about the culture and ultimately landed in Baltimore Tech.
In 2016, it appears you began pivoting to cannabis. You created the Madame Green Grow. But it was a side hustle, right? What was your goal?
My goal was to create a community for women of color to have a safe space to talk about cannabis. Cultivation was our niche, so we cultivated a community around learning to grow and taking advantage of the I-71 ecosystem that exists in Washington, D.C.
Then in 2018, you created the Explore Maryland Cannabis organization that we all know today. How did your experiences at Madame Green Grow and later The Cannabis Patient Advocacy Association (CPAA) prepare you to create Explore Maryland Cannabis?
I’ve been a part of many organizations, from for-profit to non-profit organizations and it’s taught me that power of relationships and connection. I pride myself on the value of cultivating a genuine connection. I can’t work with folks if they aren’t connected to the vault of community.
Your mission, as stated on your website, is to "build an ecosystem of informed cannabis members in Maryland through education and access over all 23 counties and Baltimore City." How are you building this community and measuring your impact?
We provide unique pathways to the ecosystem through education and access, from outreach to events. Over the last 4 years, we tested out HOW people want to connect while instilling the power of the plant. The state still does a terrible job of public education and outreach and we are proud to fill that gap--from the beaches to the mountains, cities, and counties in between.
There's an obvious problem in the industry in that it is under-represented by women and minorities, most notably in leadership roles. According to a 2021 MJBizDaily report, women represented 22.1% of cannabis industry executives and minorities represented a mere 13.1%. What are your thoughts on how we can increase cannabis participation and ownership by women and people of color?
Capital and funding are the ONLY way underrepresented communities can have a level playing field in this industry. As a founder who is currently raising capital to scale, I don’t have traditional deep pockets nor connections that some of my peers have access to. I don’t shy away from a challenge though - I’ve got great mentors and guides who help navigate the path.
In November 2022, Marylanders voted to approve adult-use recreational cannabis for all adults starting as soon as July 2023. How does this change, if at all, your organization?
Adult-use coming to Maryland allows for more regulations and funding-a two-edged sword for small businesses like mine but we look forward to our workforce development programming being incorporated into the state’s training framework.
How can cannabis operators support Explore Maryland Cannabis?
Cannabis operators looking for complaint training and onboarding-which is required through COMAR can support our efforts by enrolling their staff through our programs. We also love to partner with organizations that want to serve communities harmed by the war on drugs through wrap-around services and community development initiatives.
How can our readers support Explore Maryland Cannabis?
You can support us by sharing our movement, visiting our website, or attending any of our upcoming programming. You can find more information by visiting www.ExploreMarylandCannabis.com.
Our mutual friend Sarah Meeker said I should ask you about "The Connected Ecosystem."
Love Sarah! The Connected Ecosystem is our social enterprise that houses Explore Maryland Cannabis and our other efforts. We specialize in community building, digital strategy & talent, and influencer management.
Please tell me more. Is The Connected Ecosystem focused specifically on cannabis or is it a broader movement? And where do people go to learn more about it?
Our focus at TCE is to help reduce overwhelm around building and growing businesses and branding. We work with founders from systems to pitching to experiential marketing. Our team has experience in managing medium to large festivals, influencer management, and more.
Taking on so much, you are clearly a motivated person. What drives you? Who are your mentors?
I am driven by the women who have come before me. My mother, my aunts, and teachers--so many who helped me and continue to help me grow and evolve. In cannabis and life--Khadijah Tribble of Marijuana Matters was the first person I saw in this industry who I believed I could be. I saw her work ethic, her connection to the community, and her ability to stand her ground amongst the behemoths in this industry. There is no one like her and I’m thankful to have her in my life.
Let’s talk quickly about the Explore Maryland Cannabis Awards. Thank you for the awards we won! For the brands that want advice on how to improve their chances of winning, got any tips for them?
Congratulations! We are proud to honor our local community over the past three years and looking forward to expanding regionally this year. The upcoming adult-use market allows us to get innovative with how we present in 2023. The biggest tips we have are: Be connected to the community all year, not just during awards season, do good, and be visible!
Good advice. You've created a path for other women and people of color. How can they reach out to you for help?
You can find me online via Linkedin and/or on Instagram at @TheConnectedCeo.
I won't be forgiven if I don't ask what you are smoking. How do you like to consume your cannabis? What's your favorite strain?
I am a flower girl! My all-time favorite strain is a well-grown and cured Sour Diesel. A tried-and-true classic.
What are your predictions for cannabis post-legalization in 2024?
My prediction is that companies and brands that have positive reputations in communities through their products and people will thrive!
I'm glad we had this opportunity to catch up. Will you be at the National Cannabis Festival?
Yes! It’s like a family reunion that allows me to see all of my friends from around the country. Plus, 2 Chainz is on stage this year! I can’t wait to meet him
See you there!