Connie is any Asian American parent's dream, a Yale student and a cannabis activist/educator. Did that sound contradictory? No, as we move forward in cannabis legalization, the public is learning beyond the stereotypes and anti-cannabis propaganda of the last 60 years.  With daily news posts about cannabis, the public are seeing the benefits of the plant and they are seeing the potential of the industry, from growing to manufacturing to ancillary  –  we have not seen a new industry boom like this, not since the the mid 90's and the walls of communication came down via the internet. Connie and her generation will be the ones to explore this industry with new eyes and with less prejudice as previous generations, making them the ones to bring the plant with a fresh perspective to the public. Connie's conference "Yale Business of Legal Cannabis Conference" will be the first-ever cannabis conference held at a U.S. business school.

Thank  you Connie, we are honored to have you here on AACE. - Ophelia Chong

How did you get involved in cannabis?

This is my first major foray into cannabis. Part of the impetus for creating the conference at Yale was my own personal desire to gain a more holistic understanding of this complex, ambiguous space. I’m attracted to cannabis not only because of its potential benefits to users, but also because the topic sits at a fascinating and ever-evolving intersection of law, business, and society. I’m particularly interested, for instance, in the kinds of profiles and skill sets that will grow in demand as the industry continues to evolve and professionalize (and the extent to which that will have an impact on the “culture” of cannabis).

Was it difficult to get approval to hold a cannabis event at your university?

Surprisingly not! The Yale School of Management has been very supportive of our student-led event, which is the first of its kind held at any business school in the country. I think it’s incredibly timely given shifting cultural attitudes, the current political landscape, and the growing professionalization of the legal cannabis space. I also think business school students are increasingly interested in entering this industry – both Wharton and the Stanford Graduate School of Business, for instance, now have official student-led cannabis clubs on campus.

What is the mission statement of your conference at Yale?

The objective of our conference is to bring together leaders from all sectors of society – private, government, and nonprofit – to discuss the opportunities and challenges of the business of legal cannabis. The emergence of this multi-billion dollar industry provides a rare opportunity for debate on the legalization of a historically controversial substance and the way that various players – such as regulators, public health professionals, and entrepreneurs –  shape its future.

My co-organizer Billy and I assumed that most of our audience (primarily business school students but also other graduate and professional students at Yale and other universities) would be fairly unfamiliar with the business of legal cannabis; as such, we designed the conference to provide exposure and education for students who are simply interested in learning more about cannabis and also included content for those who are seriously considering pursuing a career in cannabis.

The morning session, which covers everything from the science of the plant to the history of cannabis in the U.S., lays the foundation for the day. The afternoon session then segues into breakout panels covering a range of topics from policy to female leadership to private equity and venture capital.

One of our goals is to provide an “a-ha!” moment for business school students who were contemplating going into more-established career paths such as finance, consulting, and marketing. For instance, a student who might have been recruiting for digital marketing roles with a more “traditional” consumer products firm might now consider a company in the cannabis space, which presents its own unique set of challenges when it comes to advertising and marketing.

A second and much more important goal, however, is to help set the tone for students and future leaders who are considering entering this emerging industry. We were deliberate, for instance, in building a diverse speaker and organization line-up (which includes Privateer Holdings, Women Grow, and The Hood Incubator) and addressing topics of race, class, and gender head on. On this front, we’ve been very fortunate in securing conference participants such as Mona Zhang of Word on the Tree and Jesce Horton of the Minority Cannabis Business Association who are also committed to driving forward the conversation on these topics. 

For more information on the conference go here.

Ophelia ChongComment