Article by Phil Wong, High! Canada
At this year’s Lift Expo, we were fortunate enough to interview Cheryl Shuman and to get an update on what’s going on at this year’s CannaMexico conference. Cheryl better known as the “Martha Stewart of Marijuana,” brings decades of experience working with media, celebrities, marketing and health care in Beverly Hills. Cheryl was the founder of Beverly Hills NORML producing the largest cannabis convention on earth known as KUSHCon. As the face of KUSH Magazine, Cheryl Shuman was also founding member of the NCIA, National Cannabis Industry Association. What some people may not know about Cheryl is her humble beginnings, growing up on a tobacco farm in Buena Vista, Ohio.
So how does a simple farm girl become so successful?
I know what it’s like to grow up in poverty. We were lucky because we lived on a farm. We grew much of our own organic food so we ate well. We were taught that if you had food, shelter and faith, that we were rich. I remember the first day I went to a new school. It was a catholic school where we wore uniforms. I was thrilled to be attending because I knew that education was key to a better life. I was so proud of the fact that at age 14, I was making enough money on my own through my various jobs and the money I made from growing tobacco allowed for me to pay for my own tuition. To save money, I had my mother take me to a goodwill store where I could buy school uniforms for $5 each. The first day at the new school the popular girls invited me to sit with them at lunch. They asked me many questions about who I was, where I lived, where I got my uniforms etc. After we spoke for awhile, they told me that I could not sit with them anymore. When I asked “Why?” they said it was because I was “poor”. Up until that point, believe it or not, I wasn’t sure what that meant. So I got up, went to the bathroom and cried because I was so hurt. Then I went to the library and talked to the nun running it. I told her what happened and when I asked her what that meant, she taught me how to find the dictionary at the library and to look up words that I didn’t know the meaning of. I learned to be proud of whom I was and even more who I could become if I focused on the character traits that money can’t buy. I would much rather be rich in spirit than the way the “mean girls” are/were. That hurt my feelings to much because I was a “farm girl”. This taught me to continue to work hard and build my company. I made my first million dollars before the age of 21 and have built several multimillion dollar companies. To this day, I am proud to say that we have a very successful mentoring program to teach the less fortunate how to work in the cannabis industry and build their own empires.
What exactly is going on with the current cannabis legalization in Mexico?
Mexico is a conservative country with 81% of the population self-identifying as Catholic. The Catholic Church has come out against pot, medicinal or otherwise. One of their main arguments against legalization is that it will encourage teens to start smoking up. Although, we’ve seen in Colorado, ending prohibition lowers marijuana use among teens instead. Compared to the U.S., cannabis has less support from the public and is still heavily stigmatized in Mexico. In November 2015, just days after Grace Elizalde’s landmark case, the Center of Social Studies and Public Opinion (CESPO) surveyed Mexicans and found 82% were against allowing cannabis sales and distribution in Mexico, 73% rejected legalizing it for recreational purposes, yet 76 % approved legalizing it for medical use. Americans have an opposite opinion of ending marijuana prohibition: 60% support full legalization according to polls. Legalization in the U.S. has had a huge impact on the public perception of cannabis in Mexico. In a recent interview with Cultura Colectiva, President Enrique Peña Nieto, who was previously against legalizing marijuana, said, “I’m not ruling out that in the near future marijuana will be fully legalized in Mexico. It’s already occurring in other countries, particularly the United States.” The momentum to legalize cannabis in Mexico is there, and no one has been more outspoken about this than former President Vicente Fox Quesada. In the past, Fox believed Mexico could fully legalize marijuana by 2018, but in a recent interview, he admitted Mexico’s upcoming presidential election, scheduled for July 1st, 2018, could stall any progress on this front. “We’re getting into an electoral process for the presidency of Mexico,” says
Fox. “So I think it’s going to be very difficult to advance during this period.” Fox is also working with Mexican politicians, like Fernando Belaunzaran, on legalization efforts. Belaunzaran, a former congressman, has been a proponent for legalizing cannabis in Mexico since he proposed a bill for full legalization back in 2012. “I’m working with a couple of congressmen and senators that are very positive about the subject [of legalizing marijuana]. They’ve been pursuing, pushing, and promoting [the issue],” says Fox. But more than a cash crop, Fox views ending prohibition as the best way to fight cartel violence in Mexico.”It’s the very first step to start taking away from cartels all the money they get from this illegal activity,” says Fox. “This is a slow process, but I’m sure it will happen one day soon.” I’ve met President Fox several times on the speaking circuit in the USA. I respect him enormously, most for being a man of integrity, honour, respect and more specifically for him standing up for the ridiculous policies of Donald Trump.
Why did you decide to become involved with the CannaMexico Summit?
When I was approached by Christian Javier Roman the co-producer of CannaMexico event offering me a position on the strategy, media, public relations and promotion of the event, I was excited to be a part of it. It’s an enormous amount of work especially when I feel handicapped by not speaking the language. I’ve started to learn now and look forward to someday soon be fluent in Spanish, so I can better communicate with the people I meet. The team working with the President at Centro Fox where the event is being held is an inspirational group of people. I love meeting people who are dedicated to their mission – in this case the legacy that Fox wants to build for the people of Mexico. Together we can all change the course of history and leave a legacy behind when we are no longer a part of this world. To me, this is a once in a lifetime opportunity that I am honoured to be a part of. I’ve learned so much since I have been working with Christian Javier Roman. He really inspires me when he shares with me his own personal battles as a child witnessing the struggles of so many. He is a great example of how someone can rise up out of this sorrow and build an empire.
Why should people in Mexico pay attention to the legalization debate in the country, through an event like CannaMexico?
Mexico is an emerging market with the ability to import and export. Along with Canada this is a very limited opportunity. In the USA, we are restricted from many freedoms and laws vary from state to state. With Trump and Sessions recently rescinding the Cole Memo, many states have lost their sovereignty and could face arrest on federal law charges at any moment. This is bad for the USA market, but put Mexico in a unique position with enormous potential. It’s always best for aspiring entrepreneurs to get in with a first to market advantage.
Thanks Cheryl for your insights on CannaMexico! We will catch up with you later to see how the event went.