This Pride Month, and always, we hope to create a safe space for everyone to explore their cannabis curiosity. In the spirit of visibility and affirmation for people of all genders and sexual identities, we interviewed four of our LGBTQIA+ team members—Cindy Widmer, Eric Neville, Janna Sharp, and Tyler Hayden—to learn about what Pride means to them, the link between Pride and the cannabis movement, and how the cannabis industry can better foster inclusion for all.
What Does Pride Mean to You?
For Tyler Hayden (He/Him), our Senior Operations Manager in south Florida, Pride means “having the freedom to be myself, speak up, and speak out about who I am.” This freedom is especially meaningful to Tyler, who bravely came out as trans at 19 years old, and in doing so, endured discrimination instead of the support and acceptance he deserved. “Prior to 19, I didn’t see life past 40,” Tyler told us. But since coming out as trans, Tyler has found a way to thrive despite continued adversity. In sharing his story, Tyler aspires to show other LGBTQIA+ community members—within Verano and beyond—that there is life beyond the initial hardship of coming out, and create an environment where everyone can discover and celebrate themselves.
Pride isn’t just a celebration, though. “Pride is a riot,” voiced MÜV Store Manager Janna Sharp (She/Her/They) in reference to the watershed Stonewall riots of 1969, which began in response to a police raid at the Stonewall Inn and served as the catalyst for the LGBTQIA+ rights movement. “People think the fight is over, but it’s not—and we have to do something.” As a queer woman and trans ally, Janna passionately promotes advocacy programs like Transcending Adolescence, a summer camp for transgender youth, and JASMYN, which partners with local organizations to provide care, counseling, and shelter to young LGBTQIA+ people. Far beyond the month of June, “I will continue to fight so people don’t have to experience what I experienced growing up,” said Janna.
The Cannabis/Pride Connection
“Cannabis and the LGBTQIA+ community go hand-in-hand,” shared Eric Neville (He/Him), a MÜV Store Manager who worked his way up from making deliveries to opening dispensaries statewide, to now managing his own location. He expressed that both communities face stigmas, stereotypes, and injustice as they work towards a more equitable future.
For Cindy Widmer (She/Her), both movements represent embracing your true self and living with less pain. A Patient Care Advisor for Zen Leaf in Bowling Green, Ohio, Cindy first pursued a career in cannabis after witnessing how medical marijuana significantly improved her father’s health—and his life. “I want everyone to live a happy, healthy pain-free life,” she shared. And to her, part of being happy and healthy is living as her authentic self. “Choosing this career path helped me live without fear of rejection, and become more confident in myself. It feels great to be out and proud.”
What We’re Doing—and How Cannabis Can Do Better
Verano’s Pride initiatives vary by state and by store, and are largely spearheaded by our trailblazing team members. Our teams work to amplify LGBTQIA+ voices and bolster their local communities through both monetary support and service. Eric’s branch had a presence at St. Petersburg’s three-day, 300,000-attendee Pride festival. Cindy’s store carries Pride-themed products like rainbow cookies and a Pride strain called, fittingly, Strain-bow. Tyler affirmed the importance of Verano’s work with Center on Halsted in Chicago—dedicated to advancing community and securing the health and well-being of the LGBTQIA+ community—along with the trans visibility and “all are welcome” messaging on our website. This article, itself, and the opportunity to show that Verano is a safe haven for the LGBTQIA+ community, also meant something to everyone interviewed.
But we can always do more: More Pride-themed products and signage outside of June. More events, company-wide donations to LGBTQIA+ efforts, and more internal communication about the work we’re already doing across the country. We’re here for all of it, and eager to keep growing. As Janna said so well: “We can improve our inclusion of all [gender and sexual] identities. Let’s make it known. Let’s show people in a bigger way that we do care.” And let’s continue to encourage everyone—no matter how they identify or who they love—to feel at home at Verano.