How Kelly Perez and Courtney Mathis Are Pursuing Social Good and Racial Justice in Cannabis
Kelly Perez and Courtney Mathis are the leaders of three organizations—kindColorado, Cannabis Doing Good and the Cannabis Impact Fund. We spoke with them for our interview series Higher Calling, where we chat with leaders in the cannabis space.
Kelly and Courtney, tell us ...
Your current role in the cannabis industry, and where you're based.
Kelly/Courtney: We are Courtney and Kelly of kindColorado, Cannabis Doing Good and the Cannabis Impact Fund. kindColorado is our consulting agency, which works with cannabis companies to develop CSR or community engagement programs. Cannabis Doing Good is our company which aims to set the standard for social responsibility (inclusive of justice and equity, sustainability, and social impact), and we will be launching our membership program this fall. And finally, but certainly not least, we just launched the Cannabis Impact Fund—a nonprofit dedicated to gathering 1 percent pledges from companies to support racial justice organizations. Our current grantees are Black Futures Lab, Bail Project, Color of Change, Hood Incubator, MCBA and M4MM. In just two weeks we've had multiple founding members and over 20 companies pledge either 1 percent of a product or total sales. We are honored to be able to create a long-term strategy that activates the cannabis sector toward justice. We get to do this work from Denver, Colorado—or when we're lucky, from the mountains!
Your earliest cannabis memory.
Kelly: I grew up on a commune, so most of my earliest memories probably had some cannabis engagement that I could observe from commune staff—my folks and others. It was actually an alternative to youth incarceration commune, run by a psychologist—my mom and step-monster were teachers there. I didn't consume at all. Didn't want to be like the parents, and all of the anti-Black messaging in the world, and the don't do drugs mantra. I wanted to get out of the situation I was in as a youth, so I was a very straight-edge kid. Looking back, much of it was a form of protection to combat the perceptions of Black kids in my community.
Courtney: A little embarrassed to say, but smoking weed in the back of a blue pickup truck with my high school sweetheart in the rural backcountry of Louisiana. Stars out, joint rolled and all the teenage angst one could muster.
A story about the positive impact cannabis has had on your life.
Kelly: I have enjoyed cannabis socially since I was 21, but I was a very casual consumer until a head injury (wicked snowboarding crash) in 2015, which left me in a lot of pain, unable to process cognitively as I had. My love, who is a brainiac Eagle Scout, suggested that cannabis and lion's mane mushrooms were indicated to help people with brain injuries. Remember, I was brain damaged at the time, and thought all his ideas were the greatest I'd ever heard. A small amount of tincture helps me most days with chronic pain.
Courtney: As an entrepreneur, cannabis gave me the opportunity to build something from nothing—except from my wildest dreams. It's hard work and we are often knee deep in mud. I feel incredibly honored and humbled to be able to co-create space for social good and justice, and among so many others whom I look up to. I learn every day just how privileged I am and how beholden I am to use that privilege to lift up Black, brown, sick and marginalized communities. Being part of the cannabis sector constantly challenges me to unpack my own perspectives, address my biases and generational racism, and really keep my actions values-driven. In a word, being part of this industry definitely keeps me humble. I consider myself to be pretty lucky to be part of a cannabis community that keeps me accountable, even during the hardest of days. If anything we've created actually serves as a vehicle for making the right thing, the easy thing, then my team and I will be very, very proud. And in the meantime, we'll keep learning, evolving, reworking and creating space for innovation driven by social impact.
A favorite flower, edible, product, or brand.
Kelly: I love ioVia 1THC:1CBD tincture for sleeping. I love Ripple powder 1:1 for social situations—I don't drink alcohol and I can slip it into a beverage. I prefer flower's effect best, but have teens at home, so that is reserved for adult time—dancing, hiking, yoga and river adventures. I love to shop at Simply Pure, and The People's Dispensary for their values and brand leadership—BIPOC owned and operated, and LBGTQAI and BIPOC owned in the case of TPD.
Courtney: Sweet Grass Kitchens Buttermelts.
A movie, TV show, food or music you most enjoy pairing with cannabis.
Kelly: All food, unfortunately. I am looking for that strain that creates fullness. I am a seriously silly high person with low tolerance. I am a dancer—any Afrobeats, Rufus Du Sol and funk are my go-to's.
Courtney: Anything sci-fi or Stevie Ray Vaughan.
The biggest challenge cannabis marketers face today.
Kelly: This isn't really my area, but I would say representing communities of color accurately and not just as "culture vultures" to sell products. It is my understanding that following the legal guidelines, and talking about interesting topics rather than the price of an ounce of genetically similar cannabis, looks challenging to me.
Courtney: I'd actually like to say what I think the biggest opportunity marketers have today—which is purpose. So many marketers focus on product or price. I think cannabis brands and their founders have some of the most interesting stories that seeded their entry into the industry. More so, there is no better time than now to hang your company on a purpose or mission—directly tied to underserved, overpoliced or marginalized communities. It must be authentic and action-packed, but starting somewhere is important. Additionally, if brands and stores would focus their stories on purpose, I think they'd find that narrative being infinitely more successful in rising above all the "noise" in our space and truly finding connection with patients and consumers. The digital marketplace, in my opinion, will force more of this content-driven, purpose-driven storytelling directly aimed at customers. At leasts, that's my hope. And in turn, ideally customers then start demanding a more conscious cannabis sector.
One thing you're excited about right now in cannabis branding, partnerships or marketing.
Kelly: Cannabis Doing Good, the Cannabis Impact Fund and kindColorado are really interesting developments, as they are mutually beneficial ways for cannabis to move good policy forward and best business practices to contribute to the cannabis narrative from prohibition to regulation for shared economic benefit. Addressing racism head on in cannabis is our privilege to do.
A cannabis trade/social justice organization that you support and why.
Courtney: Through the Cannabis Impact Fund, we have chosen to support three cannabis and three non-cannabis organizations. In and out of our industry, these are Black and brown folks that have been working on creating equity and justice for their entire careers, and in some cases following in the footsteps of the family before them. We chose our six beneficiaries because of their mission, their work and their leadership. We'll continue to find ways to support more organizations and Black and brown leaders, I'm sure of it. But for now, we will be funding Black Futures Lab, Bail Project, Color of Change, Hood Incubator, MCBA and M4MM. The folks running these organizations deserve our respect and our resources. We are working to deliver both.
Kelly: The leadership team at the Hood Incubator, Lanese Martin and Ebele Ifedigdo are truth telling about the weaponization of cannabis to remove Black political and social power, and doing something about it by creating access to participate in the legal industry by individuals and communities impacted by the war on drugs and the war on Black people. Wanda James at Simply Pure, for her OG leadership and for her power and presence. Minorities for Medical Marijuana—Roz McCarthy has to be the hardest working woman in cannabis.
A recent project you're proud of.
Kelly: The Cannabis Impact Fund is an effort we just launched, first of its kind in the nation. The cannabis sector is contributing to national anti-racism efforts by organizing the cannabis response to our nation's reckoning with racism. We are contributing to the Color of Change, the Bail Project and to the Black Futures Lab as well as our inside cannabis efforts: Minorities for Medical Marijuana, the Minority Cannabis Business Association and the Hood Incubator.
Courtney: Cannabis Impact Fund has been a dream of Kelly's and mine for years. When Sensible Colorado offered to be our fiscal sponsor, it felt like the universe's way of saying "now." My team and I are humbled to get to highlight Black and brown communities, their efforts and drive meaningful engagement through our Pledge 1% Campaign. We also have the opportunity to build a larger narrative in cannabis—that justice and equity, the planet and community engagement are pillars to best business practice. Cannabis gets to lead by example. I'll be proud when even 5 percent of our industry commits a 1% Pledge. For now, we remain hopeful and hardworking.
Someone else's project you admired recently.
Kelly: Melek Dexter's ReUp, focused on Black wealth building in cannabis, is something I am watching closely. By marketing an SEC approved capital raise to the Black community, his effort plans to raise funds to power a collectively Black-owned cannabis management organization. I want to be a part of this interesting idea and its execution.
Someone you admire in cannabis who's doing great things.
Kelly: I admire Christine De La Rosa, CEO of TPD, enormously. Her strength and humility, graciousness, and just true goodness inspires me to learn more about accessing capital, community wealth building, and lifting up others as part of her leadership strategy. Lanese Martin is telling the truth about the weaponization of cannabis to remove Black political and social power and doing something about it with Ebele at the Hood Incubator. Roz McCarthy at M4MM, creating access for POCs in cannabis and changing policy. And Wanda James at Simply Pure, for her OG leadership and for her power and presence.
Courtney: Would it be cheesy to say my business partner Kelly Perez? She embodies passion, grit, humility and grace. She is often at the forefront of innovation in our industry, especially as it pertains to policy. She approaches even the hardest of conversations with compassion, even when she is exhausted. And believe me, there have been a lot of hard conversations, particularly around race and justice. And she lives every inch of the values she holds others accountable to. I can't state enough that our work is really challenging. And there are days it'd be way easier to be "cannabis doing just OK." But Kelly keeps our mission high and the north star bright, reminding us that people's lives and community health absolutely depend upon cannabis to do good.
What you'd be doing if you weren't in the cannabis industry.
Kelly: I am part of the first people of color owned yoga cooperative in the country, Satya Yoga, we provide de-colonized yoga and liberatory practices and community. I dream of opening a brick and mortar healing center in Denver where we can dance and practice, have healing arts, food ... I'd like to support this urban location with my other loves—outdoor adventure to create more access to BIPOC folks especially to paddleboard, camp, hike, ski for our joy and healing with the earth. I am an earth lover true and true and find my peace on the river and in the woods.
Courtney: Writing science fiction novels or comics. I have a sci-fi children's book series I'd love to get published. Using the other half of my creative brain and probably sleeping more. :)