2 Minutes With … Red Rodriguez, Director of Brand Partnerships at GRAV

On a career in cannabis marketing and creating a space for authenticity

Red Rodriguez holds a decade of marketing experience in the Cannabis industry. At GRAV, he is responsible for identifying and building creative strategic partnerships that help to enhance the company's visibility and reputation.

Prior to joining GRAV, Red worked as director of vendor relations at Cannabis Café in West Hollywood, CA, the first of its kind in the country. Red used his retail knowledge and industry insight to curate the renowned Flower Menu.

We spent two minutes with Red to learn more about his background, his creative inspirations and recent work he's admired.

Red, tell us …

Where you grew up, and where you live now.

I was born in East Los Angeles and grew up in the Coachella Valley. I currently live in New York City. My family is from The Bronx and I'm excited to be connected with my East Coast roots. 

How you first got interested in cannabis.

Right after high school I got a license to work in a pharmacy and while I was in school I learned about the medicinal cannabis industry. Within a few months of working at a pharmacy I got a job offer from a dispensary owner.  Before that, my experience with cannabis was sharing it with friends. 

One of your favorite projects you've ever worked on. 

Launching Lowell Cafe/OG Cannabis Cafe, the nation's first cannabis restaurant, is definitely one of my favorite projects. The policing of cannabis is deeply rooted in racism and, as a response to this, we birth Jazz/Hash clubs. The true normalization of cannabis will happen when we see more people consume it in public. The OG Cannabis Cafe was a magical place. 

A recent project you're proud of.

GRAV recently collaborated with cartoonist Brian " Box" Brown. The industrialization of cannabis and its subculture is happening right in front of our eyes and his work centers on the nuances currently transpiring within that. His method of delivery is through comics, which makes complex legal and business issues easy to digest. We collaborated with him and created a printed zine title Rebranding Reefer Madness: Resisting Modern Cannabis Propaganda.

We took some of the artwork from the zine and created a  Rolling Tray and T-Shirt. Leading this project with Box Brown has been amazing. From a culture perspective, working with him is important for us at GRAV. 

The biggest challenge cannabis marketers face today, and how to approach it.

The stigma of cannabis remains to this day and as a result, marketers in the space struggle to sell their products as an essential service. Cannabis was deemed as such during the global pandemic. Despite this, social media platforms, banks, and other service providers don't recognize us as an industry. Additionally, harsh regulations have stunted the ability of marketers to build brand awareness in the world of e-commerce. But these impediments have also spurred a measure of scrappiness and creativity.

One thing about how the cannabis industry is evolving that you're excited about. 

The intersection of hospitality and cannabis is exciting to watch. It feels like more lounges, hotels and restaurants that are cannabis-friendly are popping up all over the U.S. New York recently legalized cannabis and allowed its public consumption alongside any place where tobacco products can be consumed. I believe that the normalization of cannabis will happen in these environments. 

Someone else's work, in cannabis or beyond, that you have admired lately. 

Outside of cannabis I'm a huge fan of the agency Mischief. They leverage creativity in a way that gets a response out of their client's consumers which inspires me. Within Cannabis I am a huge fan of Sundae School, they are a Korean inspired brand that stays true to their roots, and they are also a streetwear company that is truly doing some creative shit. It's a dream of mine to work with them. 

A book, movie, TV show, or podcast you recently found inspiring.

I'm a huge fan of the Send Us Flowers podcast hosted by Liz Whitingthe Not 4 Nothing  podcast hosted by Natasha Przedborski  and Sarah Elsayed, and Ahead of the Curve podcast hosted by Coco Mocoe

A visual artist or band/musician you admire. 

Audio and visual artist Joshua Ellingson. 

Your favorite fictional character.

Batman. Out of all the superhero archetypes Bruce Wayne is so emo he breaks at the slightest mention of his parents. For a billionaire, playboy, kick-ass hero, there's something so powerful about his vulnerability and passion for justice that I empathize with. 

Someone worth following on social media.

If you want the real scoop on the cannabis industry, follow @Boxbrown on Instagram. I'm also obsessed with the content @itsthemayoforme makes, she crafts sandwiches while calling out internet misogyny and her writings are hilarious, plus her sandwiches look amazing. 

Your main strength as a marketer/creative. 

The ability to build connections. I am extremely passionate about what I do in the cannabis industry and because of that I show up as my authentic self — people vibe with that. 

Your biggest weakness. 

I don't know how to turn off. They say you don't ever work if you love what you do - that is a lie - haha! You work ALL the time when you love what you do. I'm grateful to have a boss and a work environment that encourages me to prioritize my well-being. 

One thing that always makes you happy.  

Food will always make me happy. I enjoy having any meal with friends and family. Some of my most cherished memories I have are in the kitchen. 

One thing that always makes you sad. 

It makes me sad that the industrialization of cannabis is happening in my generation and that it will probably be another monopolized industry that has zero inclusion of those most harmed by the war on drugs. 

What you'd be doing if you weren't in the cannabis industry.  

I don't know what I'd be doing if I wasn't in this industry. The cannabis space has let me earn a career that celebrates my authenticity, creativity and passion. 

2 Minutes With is our regular interview series where we chat with creatives about their backgrounds, creative inspirations, work they admire and more. For more about 2 Minutes With, or to be considered for the series, please get in touch.

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