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Q&A: Grant Guthrie Talks Legacy Market, Queer Leadership in Cannabis

Kymberly Drapcho

by Kymberly Drapcho

June 10, 2024 08:00 am ET Estimated Read Time: 12 Minutes
Fact checked by Emily Mullins
Q&A: Grant Guthrie Talks Legacy Market, Queer Leadership in Cannabis

Grant Guthrie sits in his sunny office, surrounded by plants – shockingly, none of which are cannabis. The walls are decorated with musical festival posters, his Human Resources certifications, pictures of his friends, and a hand-painted piece of art from his colleague. 

The room is warm and comfortable and smells like a Mystic Woods wax melt. In his cupboards, he has lime juice and grenadine, a barrel-shaped chalice of whiskey, and a jar of Chem D flower (for his chronic pain symptoms, of course). 

In other words, Guthrie’s office is designed not only to reflect his personality but also to give Veriheal employees a safe and welcoming space to speak with their Head of Human Resources. 

But before heading HR for one of the biggest medical card companies in the world, Guthrie had a long personal history in the cannabis space — both in the legal and legacy markets. 

Growing up “quietly queer” in rural Arkansas, Guthrie often felt isolated, not knowing if he could ever be honest about who he was. When he started smoking weed in middle school, he found a community that allowed him to not only find safety but live his most authentic life. 

During our conversation, Guthrie discussed navigating Southern culture as a queer youth, gaining control within the legacy cannabis market, and advocating to end the shame surrounding cannabis and queerness. 

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Kymberly Drapcho (KD): So, let’s start from the beginning. What were your preconceived notions about weed before you started smoking?

Grant Guthrie (GG): I didn’t have a truly defined notion. I have always felt very compelled to question anything that is put in front of me. If someone is being incredibly adamant and finite about something, I always feel like nothing is ever 100% exactly what we believe it is. 

And not to immediately tie it into being queer, but – you gotta remember, it’s the ‘90s. I’d turn on any popular sitcom or any popular movie, and being queer is the butt of every joke. You are lesser than; you are inferior; you might even be disgusting. 

I already have this idea of, like, whether it’s the TV or church or the kids on the school bus, everybody says that being queer is this awful thing. So, I’m sitting here quietly, constantly trying to change the way that I talk, change the way that I walk and act. But the whole time, I’m like, “but there’s nothing wrong with me.” The dichotomy of living quietly and queer, and then being so exposed to these environments that insisted that innately made me evil or corrupt set a precedent at age 10 or up where anytime someone hated something and was like, “This is awful,” I needed to see it from the other side.

If everyone in the world is so wrong about me as a queer person, why should I take their word about cannabis?

KD: So, when did you become a frequent smoker?

GG: Pretty quickly. And despite my being in the closet, I was incredibly gay and was lying to no one but myself, but because of that, the people who I could be close to because I didn’t have to worry about slurs coming out of their mouths or them treating me differently were women. For that reason, I was very tight-knit with those women. They loved cannabis, and I didn’t have to be ashamed to love cannabis. 

And then I had to deal with – last week, you were calling me the f-word, this week, I’m a “drug addict” because you saw me smoking weed at a bonfire party. I used to have to do this back-tracking about my sexuality and my gender representation, and now I’m doing this back-tracking pretending not to like something that honestly, like, right now, I can’t wait for the school bell to ring so we can all go smoke a blunt. 

So, I became a very heavy smoker between 16 and 18, and it is simply because the community that it built for me socially provided me a safe place that I wasn’t sure was ever actually going to be real. 

KD: I understand that this wasn’t just social. You eventually became a key player in this community. If you’re okay with telling this story, I’d love to hear about your experience in the legacy market.

GG: There was no “good” cannabis where I lived. No one had ever seen “nugs,” they knew brick weed, 50% seeds.

When I went to a Grateful Dead music festival for the first time where people were smoking “good” weed openly, for the first time in my life, I felt so incredibly comfortable. I started talking to myself like, “maybe I’m gay.”

Maybe there’s not something “fixable” going on with me because there was never anything wrong to begin with. I felt so good about myself there that I actually felt like there could be a life where I lived authentically, and I never thought that was real before. And in this community, where a large part of it is the kinship that is shared betwixt cannabis users, I realized that if I was going to have a life worth living, I needed to have a space like this where I feel safe. 

And when I realized that cannabis and the scene culturally surrounding it was the only place I had ever felt safe being myself authentically, I said, “I want the control here.”

KD: So that’s when you started selling cannabis. 

GG: Yes, when I went back home and went back to smoking weed and being in social circles again, for the most part, cannabis built a barrier for me: people that I might not have been at the table with or been standing in a social circle with, but because we’re sharing a blunt, now I am. And they’re realizing that a lot of things that they might have decided about me were just imaginary or fabricated.

On a greater level, I wanted to be able to gatekeep bad or hateful people from my life. And if I was the only source you had for high-quality cannabis, then at the most, you had to change the way you looked at me or queer people. And at the minimum, you had to show me respect to my face.

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KD: It sounds like it gave you some sort of protection. 

GG: I gained this control – where you, at the least, were going to respect me, or you would go back to smoking brick weed again. 

On the greater side of things –  there were a lot of people in Arkansas where I grew up that I can tell you that if it had not been for cannabis, they wouldn’t have a lot of the views about people who are different than them that they do. It’s cannabis that brought them to the same table and put them standing next to each other at the same bonfire.

Then, it was moreso about protecting me and being able to shut you off from the good stuff if you were homophobic. But now, I can’t help but wonder how many people are no longer the same person now because they had never had a gay friend until the day they started smoking weed with me. And now those people won’t raise their kids starting out the way that their parents started out with them because they’ll remember me. 

And cannabis and having this madrina power over it in my small southern town gave me the ability to not only protect myself but may have caused some type of impactful change. 

KD: And this is why we shouldn’t paint the legacy market in a negative light. Because we’re all here because of the legacy market, and it introduces people to this sensation, this relief that they’ve never had before – and opens their minds to all of the people who are different from them but who they can connect to through cannabis, this common shared thing.

GG:  I think the point that I’ve tried to make to people that have that stigma is that their go-to is always “weed doesn’t just fix everything.” And it’s like girl, no one said that. The real tea is that we’re not saying it fixes almost anything. What we’re saying is that it alleviates symptoms from those things, not that it fixes them.

And when you take away symptoms like chronic pain and chronic anxiety and chronic nausea, you may not save some person’s life immediately, but you know what you are giving them? Dignity and comfort and ease. And everyone deserves that.

KD: And one of [Veriheal founders] Josh and Sam’s founding missions is to make the process of getting cannabis more dignified. 

GG: I love that you said that because there is a little bit of a tie-over there with queerness, too. 

A lot of the things that make me care so much about cannabis are things that make me care so much about being authentically queer and being loud about it. Because they are both things that everyone has been wrong about for a long time. And a lot of us have been beaten down over it, we have been incarcerated over it, and now the world just wants to start shifting and not acknowledge the past, but it is very important that we do not forget it and that we remain loud about it. 

I love that Joshua Green and Samuel Adetunji maintain the need for dignity in these things because, as a queer person who deserves to live authentically without shame, there is a great deal of crossover with my understanding that people who are in pain deserve to be able to ask for help without shame.

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I think the common denominator here, the villain of this story, is shame. If we can remove shame from professional and social settings for queer people and remove it from access to medicine for people who need it, I think those are two massive socio-political impacts that we can have by identifying one simple thing and asking ourselves: how do we deprogram this from our knee-jerk impulses and our secondary thought processes?

KD: Yes, and with that in mind, when did you make that step into the legal cannabis market?

GG: I had just graduated college, and I wanted so badly to work in cannabis. And just like any other shmutz, I wanted to move to Colorado to work in weed – I know, you can all read me for filth for that. 

In grad school in Colorado, I would leave class and go work at a dispensary for the rest of the night. At the end of one night, I was sitting there smoking a joint with my co-workers, and I thought, “I hated the first half of my day. And right now is one of those moments that I don’t want to take for granted.” 

I thought to myself, “I want to work in weed full-time. I don’t want it to be a cool part-time job while I get my Master’s. I want this to be my future.”

KD: So, what have your experiences looked like as a queer person in the cannabis industry? 

GG: It’s not to say that I’ve been in the closet in previous cannabis companies. For a decade now, in people-operation management and cannabis compliance, down to cannabis retail, I have been my authentic queer self. 

We’re all familiar with code-switching, and there has always been a version of code-switching that was necessary when speaking with my stakeholders or company owners.

I needed them to take me seriously, and a little bit of that was internalized homophobia, the idea that my own flamboyance should somehow indicate that I am not credible. It’s taken some unlearning on my part for that, but one of the most critical factors in my unlearning that type of thinking has been the time I’ve been at Veriheal.

I am able to be so authentically myself. Just zero inhibition. I get to truly be my authentic Grant Guthrie, and no one thinks that in any way that discredits my leadership, my strategy, how I practice ethics, my knowledge of labor law, and it’s something that I was so thrilled about when I joined. It was such a breath of fresh air.

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I’m coming up on two years with this organization now. Now that I’m down the road, I’m realizing that I wasn’t even done growing into who I am when I joined Veriheal. It has given me a space where I get to lead authentically as a queer man. But working with people like Joshua Green, Samuel Adetunji, Baiyina Abdas-Salaam, and everyone else in this organization has given me a place where – I already loved who I was and what I brought to the table, and now I love myself even more, and I have even more to offer, and I am so grateful to be able to offer it back.

KD: Which, I recognize, is still a type of culture that isn’t as prevalent across the country as we might wish it is.  

GG: I’m privileged to be able to sit here right now and speak to you from a position of leadership in an organization like this and be able to speak about my life as a cannabis user and my life as a queer person. But that the ability to live authentically like this both as a cannabis user and as a queer person is not a fight that’s over. Just because we’re sitting here having this conversation does not mean that the fight is over.

There are still people who believe that you should be in prison for using cannabis. There are still people that believe that you should be in prison because you are queer. And that alone means that this interview is a privilege and not a victory.

And I do not want that to be missed. 

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