LEUNE's Nidhi Lucky Handa on Seeking Gender Parity and Social Equity in Cannabis

Plus, a look at Honestly Grown, the brand's new lifestyle magazine

Nidhi Lucky Handa is founder and CEO of LEUNE, a California-based lifestyle brand forged on the principle of radicalizing the common narrative surrounding cannabis culture. Prior to founding LEUNE in 2018, Handa acquired years of experience in luxury brand communications while residing in Boston and New York. She then parlayed her business acumen and brand marketing repertoire to celebrity talent management in Los Angeles.

Nidhi's savvy, entrepreneurial spirit is now fully devoted to LEUNE. Honoring a cannabis 3.0 consumer who knows that "getting high" only begins to tell the story of what the plant represents, Handa is a force who is propelling a multitude of topics like inclusivity, restorative justice and cannabis etiquette forward within the space.  

As a woman of color, Handa has dedicated her career to building a cannabis brand that will not only disrupt the dispensary shelf, but also raise the industry standards for workplace culture, representation and social equity. Through LEUNE, Handa is on a mission to revolutionize the cannabis industry from the inside out and establish new consumer ideals for the industry.

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

Nidhi, tell us...

Where you grew up, and where you live now.

I grew up on the East Coast, suburbs of Boston, and moved to L.A. in 2008.

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

As a WOC entrepreneur and consumer, I couldn't find cannabis brands that spoke to me and knew that I could not be alone in that thought. I saw an opportunity to create a brand that would appeal to a wider demographic than just men and super-stoners; that's why I designed LEUNE's cannabis products to be sleek, gender-neutral and geared toward productive, high-functioning consumers who understand "getting high" is only one aspect of what the plant truly represents. LEUNE is a Los Angeles-based brand that is in the process of expanding into a few new markets later this year.

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

Throughout the pandemic I've personally managed my own anxiety with cannabis. It's truly been the greatest healer in my personal life.

A favorite flower, edible, product, or brand.

Trick question? LEUNE, of course. :)

The biggest challenge cannabis marketers face today.

Gender parity in cannabis.

Individuals can and should challenge themselves to see their own bias. To really even begin to tackle this issue, we must be honest and confront the problem head on, and that starts with self. This includes women, too—I've had just as many interactions with women who have a hard time accepting me as a leader/CEO as men. Bias is real.

Companies must hold themselves accountable by creating pledges and commitments to reaching equity. That means taking a close look at who is being hired, how much they're getting compensated and what their titles are, with a focus on creating and maintaining gender (and diversity) parity.

Society—if we're looking inward and taking actions outward with the intention of creating parity, it will reflect automatically in our media, in our zeitgeists, in our conversations and thus in society.

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

I'm excited to see the industry continue to grow toward federal legalization. This will allow more businesses to grow and stimulate the economy. As cannabis becomes normalized and less taboo, we'll see brands utilize strategic and creative thinking for their marketing campaigns. We'll see cannabis promoted everywhere the same way we see other consumer goods. It's exciting to have this business at such a pivotal point in the industry.

A cannabis trade/social justice organization that you support.

I'm committed to building a cannabis brand that will not only disrupt the dispensary shelf, but also raise the industry standards for workplace culture, representation and social equity. LEUNE is a sponsor of Eaze's Momentum business accelerator and also works closely with social justice reform organizations like The Last Prisoner Project. This is a nonprofit organization dedicated to criminal justice reform and works to release and rebuild the lives of those who have suffered from cannabis criminalization. They operate with the belief that anyone profiting from or freely engaging in the legal cannabis industry has a moral imperative to work towards restorative justice. No one should remain incarcerated or continue to suffer the collateral consequences of prohibition and the War on Drugs, which has and continues to disproportionately impact communities of color.

A recent project you're proud of.

Honestly Grown, LEUNE's new quarterly lifestyle magazine. My team really came together on this one in the most thoughtful way. It is a publication centered around social justice reform, education and cannabis lifestyle. The first issue has a beautiful interview with Michael Thompson about the politicization of cannabis and the necessary reform that's rolling out. I tear up every time I read it.

Someone else's project you admired recently.

Anything coming out of Bri Emery's (DesignLoveFest) magical mind. She's a truly inspired creative director who I've been a long time fan of and recently started working with on some creative projects for LEUNE.

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

Eaze's Momentum. It's an accelerator geared toward underrepresented business founders in the cannabis space. I've been involved since its first year and it's pretty remarkable to see how much good can be done when folks in our industry align to create positive change.

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

COOKING, all day every day. I love to cook and bake, and mostly I love to feed the people I love.

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.

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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