Embarc's Lauren Carpenter on Rethinking Cannabis in Retail and Events

How the industry's challenges and regulations are really opportunities

Lauren Carpenter has over a decade of experience building prolific teams and leading successful strategy for some of the most diverse business coalitions and campaigns in California, including dozens of Fortune 50 companies.

Before Carpenter co-founded cannabis retailer Embarc, she served as chief strategy officer for Sweet Flower, and director of government affairs for Western states at MedMen. Carpenter brought her extensive cannabis experience in government, regulatory, public and community affairs to Embarc and into her role as CEO. Carpenter has become a trusted advisor to elected officials and continues to work with government agencies throughout the state and across the country to implement thoughtful cannabis regulations within communities to create mutually beneficial operations.

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

Lauren, tell us...

Where you grew up, and where you live now.

I was born in San Francisco and my earliest memories are in the city, but I spent my childhood beginning at about 5 years old in Sacramento. Like many 18-year-olds, I left for college swearing I'd never return to my hometown. Fast forward and I'm back in Sacramento, as my pre-cannabis career was in public affairs on legislative issues, and living here now allows me to travel to any of our stores and be home in time to sleep in my own bed that night.

Your current role in the cannabis industry.

I am a co-founder of Embarc and Embarc Events. Embarc is one of the fastest-growing independent cannabis retailers in California, a testament to our belief in integrating into and enhancing local communities while operating with integrity and transparency.  Embarc Events is rooted in our belief that cannabis and pop culture can and should co-exist in a safe and accessible way. It's been almost two years since we've collectively enjoyed live events and we are thrilled to be integrating cannabis into their return.

Your earliest cannabis memory.

During my freshman year of high school, many of my friends got caught smoking at school, and a letter was sent home to all the parents warning about cannabis use. My parents sat me down and said, "Hey, if you want to try cannabis so badly, just tell us." In that moment, my parents wanting to have an honest discussion about it made me instantly feel less rebellious.

In reality, I was one of the few kids growing up who never dabbled much in cannabis. It was only as an adult that I was introduced to the plant in a meaningful way. My husband (and business partner) suggested cannabis could help with my anxiety and sleep issues.

Cannabis changed my life by improving my sleep, and since then I've incorporated it in other ways as well. As someone who doesn't drink much, I love that cannabis beverages are becoming increasingly socially acceptable, and was grateful to be able to replace a glass of wine with low-dose beverages such as Cann during the height of the pandemic.

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

I tend to be 1,000 percent committed to anything I put my mind to, and cannabis has played a huge role in helping me to tune into myself. Cannabis helps me channel this innate passion and turn it into creativity, and to counterbalance that intensity when I need a respite.

A favorite flower, edible, product or brand.

I love winding down my day with a dog walker from Pure Beauty. I also recently discovered Sonder's Space Crystals—they're pure nostalgia.

The biggest challenge cannabis marketers face today.

Ha, where to start?! There are a myriad of challenges in this industry, but I'll reframe this question in a positive light. The biggest opportunity cannabis marketers face today is finding creative ways to directly engage with consumers given the restrictive advertising regulations in place today. That's one of the reasons we started Embarc Events—it allows us to directly engage with tens (or hundreds) of thousands of people over a day or weekend and help to destigmatize cannabis at scale.

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

I'm noticing cannabis brands (and branding) starting to emphasize factors other than just THC percentages. Brands are really doubling down on education regarding other cannabinoids like CBN, CBG and THCV in a more meaningful way. I am really excited about what that means for the consumer's experience.

A cannabis trade/social justice organization that you support.

We partner with dozens of social justice and community organizations throughout California, and each Embarc store donates 1 percent of gross receipts in perpetuity to local causes in the community it proudly calls home. This has created meaningful relationships with existing organizations doing the work to better their communities, and ensures that cannabis operations from within that community are ultimately beneficial.  

A recent project you're proud of.

Our team was the official concessionaire for Grass Lands at Outside Lands, bringing cannabis sales and consumption to the masses. This was only the second time cannabis has been sold at an event of this magnitude (and the first time it has been executed in the middle of a pandemic, and after so many brands had to cut event staff and marketing budgets). I am proud of the tremendous work our team put in and am grateful that a festival of that magnitude understands the importance of allowing responsible cannabis sales and consumption. I'm excited to see how other major events will be integrating cannabis in the coming months.

Someone else's project you admired recently.

One organization that I only recently connected with but that I very much admire is the Equity Trade Certification. California consumers are conscious in so many facets of their lives, from eating farm-to-fork to shopping local businesses. Creating a federal equity standard (and advocating for it to also be adopted at the state level) is such a critical component of educating consumers on the importance of shopping equitably, just as I believe appellations of origin can serve as a similar educational opportunity and point of differentiation for cultivators in the Emerald Triangle.

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

It's so hard to pick just one. I greatly admire Tina Gordon, founder of Moon Made Farms. She is a fantastic sungrown farmer, a fierce sustainability advocate (for the plant and within the industry), and one of the best humans I know.

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

Heaven = a joint + a couple of street tacos from Taqueria Jalisco in downtown Sacramento.

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

Anyone who knows me will tell you I love to talk, and I am happiest when I'm trying to solve a challenge. I would likely channel those passions into being a therapist.

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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Jessica MacAulay
Jessica MacAulay is a contributor for Muse by Clio. She's also a recent graduate of the University of Colorado Boulder's College of Media, Communication, and Information.

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