Cannabis Marketing Association's Lisa Buffo on the Industry's Challenges and Triumphs

How member orgs are approaching the space with spirit and creativity

Lisa Buffo is an entrepreneur and marketer with a passion for launching companies with experience in both the cannabis and technology industries. Lisa is the founder and CEO of the Cannabis Marketing Association, a membership-based organization focused on education and best practices for industry marketers with the vision of rebranding cannabis at the national level. 

Lisa has worked in the cannabis industry since 2014. She started working in commercial cultivation, where she grasped the important role compliance plays for cannabis companies. She helped launch 10 cannabis startups for CanopyBoulder, the industry's first business accelerator, in 2015. Lisa also launched the industry's first online wholesale brokerage as their CMO.

Lisa is the founder and co-chair of the National Cannabis Industry Association's Marketing & Advertising Committee, where she co-authored the Public Relations Crisis Manual and the Short Guide to Colorado's Marketing & Advertising Regulations. She also serves on the advisory board for Cannabis Doing Good.

We spoke with Lisa for our Higher Calling series, where we chat with leaders in the cannabis space.


Lisa, tell us...

Your current role in the cannabis industry, and where you're based.

I'm the founder and CEO of Cannabis Marketing Association and we're based in Denver, Colorado. CMA's mission is to bring a positive perception to, and authentic understanding of, cannabis and its consumers around the world. Our members are located throughout the United States and we help educate and connect the industry's marketing and communications workforce. 

Your earliest cannabis memory.

In high school, one of my friend's brothers loved smoking and he explained to us the difference between "schwag, mids and dank." Translation: he taught us how to evaluate quality flower. It was sort of an early budtender experience, in that he showed us the attributes of cannabis and educated us before we tried it. 

A story about the positive impact cannabis has had on your life.

How much time do you have? I can be a type A person and get very focused and serious about my work and life. Cannabis has helped me cut through that and bring so much more laughter and lightheartedness to my days.

A favorite flower, edible, product or brand.

I love the work that 40 Tons is doing. They are a cannabis brand led by Loriel Alegrete and inspired by Corvain Cooper, who was granted clemency in January from a life sentence without the chance of parole for a nonviolent cannabis charge. They put proceeds toward advocating for cannabis prisoners and are extremely vocal activists. 87 Months, a luxury brand, founded by Evelyn LaChapelle, who spent 87 months in jail for cannabis, is also an exciting one to watch. 

The biggest challenge cannabis marketers face today.

Censorship on social media. Cannabis businesses have to navigate a tough and arbitrary space on social media and it can be devastating to lose your Instagram account when you've spent years building a following and connecting with your community. It's remarkable what some brands have been through trying to maintain an online presence. It needs to change. 

One thing you're excited about right now in cannabis branding, partnerships or marketing.

The movement toward socially conscious brands. Smart brands are putting CSR at the forefront and responding to today's crises by investing in their communities and building stronger connections with their customers.The cannabis industry has a particular responsibility to remediate the harm done from the war on drugs and uplift minority entrepreneurs. It's a no-brainer. 

A cannabis trade/social justice organization that you support.

Marijuana Matters identifies and eliminates barriers to economic opportunity in regulated cannabis markets for those disadvantaged by marijuana's criminalization. They produce a social equity awareness training that's excellent and host a business accelerator. Minority Cannabis Business Association is also doing great work in their mission to create equal access for cannabis businesses and promote economic empowerment for communities of color. Both orgs are partners of CMA with fantastic leadership that do so much to empower entrepreneurs.

A project you worked on recently that you're proud of.

Our second annual virtual Cannabis Marketing Summit is this week. We're remote this year and so excited to be producing it. It's three days of workshops and networking to educate cannabis marketers leading brands across the country from the industry's top communications experts. All are welcome and can attend from anywhere in the world.

Someone else's project you admired recently.

Cannabis Impact Fund is a recently launched nonprofit whose mission is to promote racial justice and heal the planet through a conscious cannabis sector. They've accomplished so much in a year by allowing cannabis businesses to donate to nonprofits that normally wouldn't accept cannabis money. They are also partners of CMA. 

Someone you admire in cannabis who's doing great things.

Trang Trinh, CEO of TREC Brands. TREC stands for Trust, Respect, Equality, and Compassion and is a premium cannabis brand based in Canada. TREC puts 10 percent of gross profits to causes that support people and the planet in their community. Trang is a values driven, visionary leader I admire who gives so much of her time and energy to giving back. 

A movie, TV show, music or food you most enjoy pairing with cannabis.

I love everything created by Dave Chappelle. Standup comedy is my favorite.

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

Surfing, traveling the world, or standup comedy. I'd also go back to school to learn how to become a landscape architect. Although I'm confident I will be an entrepreneur for the rest of my life. 

Higher Calling is a weekly series, publishing on Thursdays, where we chat with folks in the cannabis industry about their personal history and taste in cannabis and the future of cannabis marketing. For more about Higher Calling, and our Clio Cannabis program, please get in touch.

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Tim Nudd
Tim Nudd is editor in chief of the Clio Awards and editor of Muse by Clio. Previously, he was creative editor at Adweek.

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