Pantheon Collective's Tyme Ferris on Seeking Purpose and Inclusion in Cannabis
Tyme Ferris (he/him) is a cannabis consultant and co-founder and CEO of The Pantheon Collective. He is a member of the LGBTQ+ community and the former director of operations for Colorado's The Farm Co. and Massachusetts' Mayflower Medicinals.
We spoke with Tyme for our Higher Calling series, where we chat with leaders in the cannabis space.
Tyme, tell us...
Where you grew up, and where you live now.
I grew up in the small upstate (the real upstate) New York town of Boonville, home of the International Woodsmen's Field Days, in the foothills of the Adirondacks. After graduating high school in 2000, I moved to Harrison, New York, where I attended university at SUNY Purchase. Over the last 20 years I lived and worked in NYC (three times); northern New Jersey; Rochester, New York; Baltimore; San Francisco (three times); New Orleans; Pasadena, California; Boulder, Colorado (twice); Denver; Brandon, Vermont; Boston; and now, after all that, I finally returned home to Boonville (just before Covid began) and I don’t think I will ever stray far from here again.
Your current role in the cannabis industry, and where you're based.
Currently I am an owner, founder (along with my dear friend and business partner Thomas Kupiec) and CEO of Pantheon Collective LLC, a National Gay Lesbian Transgender Chamber of Commerce (NGLCC) Certified, LGBTQ+ owned and operated cannabis company awaiting licensure in New York for both an adult-use cannabis microbusiness as well as industrial hemp license. Although we are currently working out of an office which doubles as Tom’s acupuncture and Chinese medicine practice in Yorkville, New York, Pantheon’s brick-and-mortar facility will be in my hometown of Boonville.
A story about the positive impact cannabis has had on your life.
I suppose the best story would be about how cannabis helped me find myself. As you may have deduced by my name, much of my family were hippies and artist types. My parents (Ken Ferris and Pamela Lickfelt Ferris) met while on the road near my mother’s hometown of Flint, Michigan; both were working as carnival games people for Wade Shows. Once my mom became pregnant with me, the two of them moved to my father’s hometown of Boonville, New York, to make sure myself (and later my brother Dylan Ferris) grew up in a small town built on community, so as to have the best life possible.
Growing up cannabis always existed in the background at some level. Even my grandparents on my mom’s side were cannabis consumers. So, when I grew into my “rebellious phase,” I “acted out” by being (although very liberal like my family) EXTREMELY straight edge. I would tell my high school friends that they were going to hell (although I have never been religious) for experimenting with tobacco, alcohol and most definitely if they were smoking pot! I did, however, end up trying cannabis once or twice in university but did not like the effects at all at that time.
While in university I threw myself into the big corporate machine working for AE, drawn in by my love of systems, structure and the endless possibility for advancement. However, my idealist upbringing made working in the corporate world really hard. I didn’t like how employees or customers were treated. Although my competitive nature loved the aggressive competition of sales, I also struggled with the aftermath for those around me just there to make a living. Turnover was heavy, swift and constant for those not willing to draw blood and tears to feed big corporate’s hunger for money and market share. I thought, this couldn’t be the way for all these big successful giants, so when I was approached by one recruiter after the next, I eagerly jumped with the hope for greener grass on the other side. Some company, somewhere out there, had to take a people first approach, right?
Over the years I jumped from BCBG, Diesel, FCUK, H&M, Guess? and even Zumiez and Equinox Fitness for a while. I worked as store manager, district manager, regional manager, merchandiser, buyer, director of operations, East Coast expansion lead, head of U.S. expansion, corporate trainer, and a myriad of other positions and titles, each time thinking “This will be the one!” and each time increasingly disappointed. Many times, I found myself putting my job on the line to try to change this culture of disposable people and at times found myself having to look for new employment for being steadfast in my convictions.
Finally, around 2008-ish, I moved out to Boulder to help some friends with a vertically integrated cannabis company called Greenleaf Farmacy (known today as The Farm Co.). Colorado was preparing for its second medical marijuana laws to go into effect, which would become the blueprint for the regulated cannabis market seen throughout the U.S. today. I came as a consultant to help with what I loved most—systems and structure! While consulting, I felt the warmth that I had been looking for in the people that I worked with. I started learning more and more about the cannabis plant, its medicinal benefits, and the type of community which surrounded this industry. I was in an industry still so in its infancy that it hadn’t been corrupted by big corporations. This was my chance to protect and grow an industry which could finally be people first.
One day, while giving a hand on the sales floor, I met a woman and her 80-year-old mother who had stage 4 cancer. They shared their story with me of their experience with mainstream medicine inconsistencies, pill mill doctors, scripts that made her sicker and not finding anything that helped. They then shared with me how, for the last three or so months they had been coming to The Farm Co., they felt heard and genuinely cared for by the people that worked there, they found strains and products that nearly eliminated her pain, made it easier for her to eat, and ultimately allowed for a quality of life for the mother’s final days they had all but given up on as being a possibility. The mother passed peacefully at home with her daughter at her side about a month and a half later.
That day on the floor with them, I felt every emotion possible. I cried along with the two of them for both the sad and the uplifting moments. I felt purpose. I felt privileged that I could be a part of their story. I felt like I was doing something that had a genuine purpose for good and was part of something so much bigger than myself. It’s that emotional high of impacting the life of someone else, a stranger, I have chased after ever since.
I stayed at The Farm beyond as a consultant and later became the director of compliance and then the director of operations, starting my career in this industry which has given me the opportunity to be at the forefront of cannabis legalization and business development around the country. I found the person my family always saw inside and believed in, I found my hippie roots, I found my home, my community and in doing so have now found my way back home to Boonville.
A favorite flower, edible, product or brand.
My favorite flower is without a doubt Alpha Blue, a proprietary strain of The Farm Co. in Boulder. The couple of times in university that I tried cannabis, the options were green weed or brown weed; strains weren’t a thing then or an option. I hated the effects, it made me sleep, super introverted, and I struggled to get out of my head. Alpha Blue was a whole new world for me. It tasted and smelled amazing. It cleared my head and helped me focus, increased my creativity, boosted my mood and calmed me while at the same time felt energizing. Other strains over the years have come close but always just miss the mark for one reason or another. All these years later, my tried and true is still Alpha Blue.
The biggest challenge cannabis marketers face today.
The biggest, or at least one of the biggest, challenges for marketers today would be navigating the overabundant, extremely restrictive, ever changing and inconsistent rules and regs from state to state around cannabis marketing and advertising. Uniformity and consistency are critical to brand development; marketing is shouting into a void of undifferentiated companies without the focus and direction you get developing a brand. When these foundational necessities aren’t allowed by law, it's next to impossible to really build anything. If you can’t build anything, what is there to market?
One thing you're excited about right now in cannabis branding, partnerships or marketing.
Currently I’m super excited to see New York's emergence of minority community run brands, partnerships and marketing. For too long, the regulated cannabis market has seen cis gender straight white males take control one state at a time. With the social equity program under the MRTA encouraging the rise of minority groups and legacy operators, we are already seeing a rise in the development of brands who market to and tell the story of those who built the cannabis industry in the shadows. These groups not only are stepping into the light but into the spotlight as we shift to a more inclusive and diverse cannabis industry.
A cannabis trade/social justice organization that you support.
Personally, I have a special affinity for Women Grow, which serves as a catalyst for women to succeed in cannabis executive jobs and leadership roles. The first time I met the women who formed Women Grow, they came together in Boulder for a High Tea in the backyard of my friend and CEO of The Farm Co., Jan Cole. Although I am a cis gender male, it was this group of amazing women that made me for the first time feel welcome and that I had a place in a sea of “bro culture” based cannabis groups. Since then, Women Grow has expanded across the U.S., reshaping the landscape of the cannabis industry to become more inclusive and create socially responsible business models.
A recent project you're proud of.
I’m most proud of a project still underway currently. Under the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act (MRTA) legalizing adult-use cannabis in New York, the state has created one of the most robust social and economic equity programs we have seen in the U.S., designed to correct injustices created by cannabis prohibition and its enforcement on various minority communities. Currently the LGBTQ+ community has not been included as a community in the social equity program, even though:
- 95.5% of those diagnosed with AIDS between 1981 and 1987 died violent and excruciating deaths from conditions like HIV wasting syndrome, a condition successfully treated with cannabis, yet patients were denied access until 1996 (over a decade after the start of the AIDS epidemic) when native New Yorker and LGBT activist Dennis Peron co-authored California’s Proposition 215.
- The DOJ, various national organizations, grassroots organizations, and advocates across the country have documented widespread patterns and practices of police profiling and abusive treatment of LGBT people and people living with HIV who use cannabis as medicine.
- The LGBT community's culture is a beacon of acceptance, tolerance and hope for our society. It includes people of every race and class. This intersection between race, class, and sexuality makes these members of our community among the most vulnerable in society.
- No metric exists for LGBT participation/ownership in the U.S. legal cannabis market, although it is widely known within the cannabis industry that heteronormative cis gender white males dominate with toxic “bro” culture, leaving behind minimal opportunities for BIOPOC, woman, and/or LGBT communities.
- On Jan. 19, 2021, New York City recognized queer-owned companies as minority-owned businesses, making them eligible for city contracts alongside the Minority and Women-owned Business Enterprise (MWBE) Program. This sets a strong precedent in New York State that the LGBT community be recognized as a minority group.
Someone else's project you admired recently.
Sarah Stenuf, founder and owner of Ananda Farms and retired Army Apache Crew Chief, created a nonprofit called Veteran’s Ananda whose mission is to provide free support, care and rehabilitation for veterans. This year, Veteran’s Ananda announced a partnership with ESM High School Construction where ESM Construction students are building a Mobile Care Unit, bringing critical care directly to veterans in need. A truly amazing and inspirational project for sure!
Someone you admire in cannabis who's doing great things.
Personally, I admit, I do get a little giddy whenever I hear Christina De LaRosa is part of a meeting or event. Christina is founder at The People's DAO, CEO and co-founder at The People's Ecosystem, managing member of The People's Group, cannabis entrepreneur, advocate and speaker. Virtually everything she does is in the name of simply doing good! Both Christina and the organizations she represents are pillars for the cannabis industry across the U.S. and champion efforts of inclusion and social justice for BIPOC, women, and the LGBTQ+ communities.
What you'd be doing if you weren't in the cannabis industry.
Wandering around lost in a sea of despair.