Taylor West is senior communications director at COHNNABIS, the cannabis-focused “agency within an agency” of COHN, one of Denver’s top 10 marketing, PR, and digital agencies. She has spent more than 15 years in communications and leadership positions in the political, policy, nonprofit, and business arenas. From January 2014 through July 2017, Taylor served as deputy director of the National Cannabis Industry Association. She came to NCIA after four years in Washington, D.C., where she worked first as a strategist for a variety of policy and regulatory reform efforts, and then as communications director for National Journal, a highly respected national media organization. She is also a veteran of several high-profile political campaigns and has appeared as a commentator on MSNBC, Fox News, and CNBC. Taylor first became involved in drug policy reform 19 years ago with an internship at DRCNet, now known as StoptheDrugWar.org.
When building the cannabis industry from the ground up, why is gender parity (having at least 50% women) so important?
It’s a rare thing when a new industry emerges, with fewer of the entrenched gender biases that you see in long-established business sectors. The opportunity to build something with a new foundation, in which gender parity is simply a rational part of the equation, is exciting. It’s also critical for the continued progress of cannabis reform that we have buy-in from women as consumers, voters, and lawmakers. When they see women are a substantial and visible part of the movement and the industry, we make a more persuasive case.
What social justice and/or criminal justice reforms do you want the US to make around its drug policy, particularly around cannabis?
Cannabis prohibition – and our failed drug policies writ large – have inflicted immeasurable damage around the world, on both an individual and societal level. We should end the criminalization of cannabis, taking away an unjust weapon that has been wielded disproportionately against people of color and lower socio-economic status. And we should create legal, regulated cannabis markets, taking the power away from criminal cartels and building opportunities for innovation, transparency, and socially conscious entrepreneurship.
Why are environmentally sustainable business practices essential to the future of the cannabis industry?
First and foremost, as an industry and a movement that is built on something greater than profit alone, we should be adopting sustainable business practices because they are the right thing to do. But in an industry that relies on resource-intensive cultivation, it’s also going to be critical to cannabis businesses’ bottom lines that they incorporate more efficient, sustainable practices. Moving cannabis from a criminal market into a legal one has already unleashed a tremendous amount of innovation on this front, and I’m excited to see how this continues to evolve in the future.
How do you incorporate gender parity, social justice, and environmental sustainability into your work and the growth of your business/organization?
As the only national trade association for the cannabis industry, NCIA has the opportunity to influence the way our industry develops and the norms and best practices it adopts. We take that opportunity very seriously. Our educational programs feature a heavy emphasis on social justice and support for the cannabis reform movement, as well as a focus on many aspects of sustainability, efficiency, and “triple bottom line” business strategy. We work very hard to feature a diverse array of voices at our events, and we’re fortunate to have an incredible group of women among our staff, Board of Directors, and most active members.
From a personal perspective, one of the most gratifying and inspiring things about the time I’ve spent in the cannabis industry so far has been the number of remarkable women I’ve met at every turn. It shouldn’t be a surprise, but when we still struggle for gender parity in so many other aspects of our society, it’s been amazing to watch women lead, thrive in, and shape the development of the cannabis industry.