Diversify Portland founder Mss Oregon, has a simple but effective solution to ensure we see more faces of color in the cannabis industry. “I’m going to make sure everybody feels welcome in the spaces I create.”
The spaces she speaks of are the diversity and inclusion events she hosts in and around Portland — a town known for, among other things, an overwhelmingly homogeneous cannabis industry. For Mss Oregon, creating spaces for people of color to explore the possibilities of community building via cannabis, is fundamental to creating an equitable cannabis industry, and it’s an endeavor she encourages casual users to pursue as well.
Pre-COVID, her outreach events spanned industry mixers, mansion parties, cannabis panels, and family barbeques, all in the name of both diversifying her local cannabis industry and normalizing use for parents and professionals. Post-COVID, she hosts hybrid online/in-person meetups where people of color can network, commiserate, and consume in a protected space.
Diversify Portland was founded under a very familiar set of circumstances. Well, familiar to marginalized community members, that is; Mss Oregon was unceremoniously ousted from the cannabis company she worked for after speaking up about workplace discrimination. Her experience is so familiar, that while planning a commiseration party with friends over the termination on social media, the hashtag she’d assigned to her posts and invites, #diversifyportland, began to take on a life of its own. A life she’s been able to capitalize on in myriad ways.
Mss Oregon talked to Weedmaps about finding triumph over tragedy, squashing — and sometimes leaning into — stereotypes, and building a roadmap on how to turn a trending topic into a successful family business.
Weedmaps: What led you to found Diversify Portland?
Mss Oregon: I was fired from a popular dispensary when a new manager started putting me “in the back.” I was the main budtender, so the GM had me working the busiest nights. The GM wanted me at the front selling, but the new manager kept putting me in the back to make pre-rolls.
On the third week that this happened, I let the general manager know, “if you see my sales are low it’s because I’m not being allowed to sell.” And he was like, “What do you mean? Get out there and go sell or I’ll write you up for insubordination.”
I told one of my co-workers what was going on, “if I stick up for myself, they’re going to say that I’m being rebellious or, you know, looking unruly.” I said, “honestly, black people don’t get to stick up for themselves the same way white people do.”
The new manager walked in as I said that, and two weeks later I was fired
They told me they were firing me because I gave myself an employee discount on some weed I wasn’t supposed to [buy], but I said, “no, we know that’s not true. What’s the real reason I’m being fired?” And the new manager said, “It’s because you made that Black comment.”
It was the most hurtful situation I’d ever been in. I really wanted to make a speech about how we hurt each other with coded language and by speaking segregation into our world. We make connections with people, and then just segregate and separate them. We manifest our lives, we manifest all this.
So I threw a party. And at first it was just for my friends, but I was like, man, fuck it, I’m about to have a big party. And I just put the flyer everywhere. All the diverse groups I could think of online, I just put it everywhere. And it went crazy. Hundreds of people showed up in my backyard. I saw wheelchairs in my backyard. We had some 70-year-olds show up. My grandpa even showed up! When it was time for me to do my speech, I finally got to say what I wanted to say.
And people were like, “When’s the next party?”
WM: Once you had all this community attention, how did you capitalize on it?
MO: That specific incident led me to found my business. I teach people new skills to diversify their communication. I create events, curate panels, do training. It’s all about teaching diversity and inclusion to businesses — and not just cannabis businesses. The cannabis industry just swept me in because that communication barrier is why I got fired in the first place. You know, they felt like me talking at all was drama because they don’t understand how Black people deal with their feelings or how they talk. Maybe I can help teach people how to communicate with people outside of their normal cultural boxes by first getting them comfortable around people outside of their normal boxes. That’s where the events came into play. Diversify Portland was just a hashtag for a party. It became a business when I realized how much it was needed.
WM: How do you help a business diversify their communication? Could those tactics be used by consumers?
MO: My main tactic is to encourage inclusion and friendship. I encourage people to engage with people they wouldn’t normally engage with for the purpose of business or social growth. I always step into things with a positive attitude. Let’s make friends. Encouragement is the number one thing that’s brought to the table every time. Accountability comes after encouragement.
I love doing parties, I love being social and watching people make friends with people they never thought they’d make friends with. It’s one of my favorite things to do in life and I think other people enjoy it too. So I create those spaces.
And if you look up our articles of incorporation, my kids own this with me. Me and my kids have come together to put on events where kids can ask their parents questions about cannabis in a safe space. Hanging out with like-minded parents can help your kids hear the questions other kids are asking, as well as give them a space to meet other kids whose parents consume.
At a Diversify Portland party, you talk to a black person and have a conversation for the first time. Y’all roast marshmallows together and smoke weed together. And maybe you don’t really have Black friends in your circle and you see why; you need to talk to people outside your box. I want to inspire people to take this energy into their work life.
WM: The best example of that ethos in action is your flagship event, The National Cannabis Diversity Awareness Convention, which you bootstrapped yourself. How did you leap from inclusion events for small businesses to an event of that scale?
MO: It’s a lot of negotiating and a lot of trades. People think when trying to do things like this [that] it’s got to take a lot of money, but this was built off sponsorship trades. And people were scared, too. Some were like, “What’s a sponsor?” Some of them had never been offered the opportunity to be a community event sponsor. I got to introduce them to the reasons that building your business portfolio is healthy. You can do things for cheap. You don’t have to have a lot of money.
And it’s so funny, because when I had this event, diversity was not trending in Portland, now it’s a trend everywhere. And it’s lovely. I feel like, for the last two years, I was probably the most annoying mother out here. I just talk to everyone like, “You hear about Diversify Portland? Can I get you to help me educate people? Do you care about diversity?” Like, I’m just cold calling people, going into their stores, just trying to start little fires everywhere, starting conversations, getting people talking about it, and everybody gets sucked into this energy because it’s nothing but love.
WM: What advice do you have for BIPOC who feel trapped by the same industry struggles you faced and want to feel empowered enough to engage with industry leaders on those same topics?
MO: One of the most important things you need in order to create change is to just ask. If you don’t have what you need, ask for what you need. Believe in yourself, then make other people believe in you. Tell them what you need so you can go out there and make that change.
WM: Final question: are there any strains you’re obsessed with right now?
MO: Yes, actually I’m obsessed with Romulan. And my other favorite is Blue Cheese. I love blue cheese. It stinks. I love it.
Featured image by Bria Bronwyn/Dopeafide Creative Agency