Speaking to Susan Soares of C.A.R.E.

Susan Soares is the Founder and Executive Director of the non-profit organization C.A.R.E., which stands for “Cannabis Advocacy, Rallies and Events” (formerly “Cannabis Awareness, Research and Economics/Events”). The iconography of the brand is similar to D.A.R.E., and the byline is “Just say know.” We wouldn’t normally write about the ways in which companies brand themselves, but in this case, it’s a masterstroke. Anybody who’s looked into D.A.R.E.’s success rate should welcome such parody, as it is likely that C.A.R.E.’s approach could be more successful in preventing future hard drug use! In fact, cannabis legalization could well bring down addiction to harder drugs, meaning that the gateway theory is tenuous at best. This is one reason why we think that anyone using opioids to control their pain ought to contemplate getting a medical marijuana card.

Anyway, a little bit more about Susan Soares. Like many in the cannabis industry (and entrepreneurs in general), Susan has worked on or is currently working on multiple projects, including being the Founder and Owner of UpYourAudio, VibeNation MultiMedia Inc. and various others. We have decided to catch up with her and ask where she the cannabis industry going, especially as she is working on the ground and attempting to raise funds for those affected by the wildfires that afflicted so many cannabis farmers earlier this year …

Susan Soares' NYE Soiree Poster
NYE fundraising soiree for those affected by the wildfires.

Could you tell us how you got into the world of cannabis and how you came to start C.A.R.E.?

I was living in Orange County. I was 33, and I was a Republican, a soccer mom and a leader in a Mormon church. I sustained a head injury while I was doing my job for the church, and it left me with a migraine headache that lasted 2 years. And I was going through a divorce, and I was just not getting relief from the opiates that my doctors were giving me.

My neighbour and I were gardening together, and she had cannabis growing in her garden. I was asking her about it, and she said, “You know, this might actually help you with your migraine.” At the time, I was so desperate, and I knew I’d be ostracized from my entire community and my family.  But I didn’t have a choice. If I didn’t have three little kids, I’d have killed myself because I was in so much pain.

So, I went ahead and started using cannabis for my medicine. My migraine went away, and I haven’t had a migraine ever since. That was a long time ago!

How long ago was that, if you don’t mind me asking?

Well, I’m 58 now and I was 33 then, so it’s been 25 years. And then I decided that, as soon as my kids were grown, that I would spend as much time as I could helping people that thought like I did to change their minds.

I was so bad, so misinformed … That one time, these kids across the street were smoking out of a pipe, and I called the cops and said, “These teenagers … They’re smoking drugs!” And they were like, “What is it they’re smoking? Is it crack or marijuana?” And I said, “I don’t know. They’re smoking drugs. Come arrest them!”

So, I felt like I was in a unique position to change some people’s minds.

Could you tell us more on what you thought of cannabis in the past?

Well, you know … I smelled my neighbours smoking pot, and I was very judgemental of them. To me, it was all the same thing. Cannabis is a schedule I drug, and it should be. But, it definitely saved my life. But my family didn’t see it that way, and they wouldn’t talk to me. My parents didn’t even see their grand kids for a good six year, because I told them that I tried cannabis and that it helped with my migraines. They knew what suffering I was going through. But they automatically assumed that I had become a drug dealer and that I was a lost cause!

Susan Soares with Cannabis Plants
Susan Soares, looking regal amongst some cannabis plants.

Have they changed their minds since then?

Yes, they have, actually. My sister still hasn’t and to this day won’t talk to me. My mother ended up in hospice after a head injury.  And she immediately went crazy. The dementia set in really quickly, and she got really violent. It was getting really bad. We found a really nice home for her with only 6 other people, but we got really scared because we thought she was going to be kicked out. So we were thinking, “Where else can we put her? This is the nicest place we could find.”

But she was just so violent. So I finally convinced my mom to to try one of those Madame Munchie macaroons, that were so pretty … You know, the rainbow-colored one … So I showed it to her and I said, “Mom, this has medical cannabis in it, and I really think it’ll help you not think about the past, not think about the future, but think about right now and maybe find some joy and relief to your pain.”

She grabbed it and shouted, “Give me that damn thing!” She ate it, and within 45 minutes she was laughing, in a great mood, and her pain was gone. We treated her with medical cannabis for about 6 months, and then she was just so far gone, and then we lost her. And then my dad saw how it [cannabis] helped his wife, and he started talking to some of his other Mormon friends.

He found out that his Bishop’s son had a brain injury and was using medical cannabis. He started hearing all these other stories, and now I make a CBD oil for him, which he uses for back pain.

Have you seen cannabis become more accepted in Republican-leaning communities?

I think it is. I don’t really hang out with Republicans very much! But I think the trend is going that way. We’ll see. Our administration is just so screwed up, it’s hard to say what’s going to happen tomorrow.

Graph from Gallup Showing

What have been your biggest barriers when trying to raise awareness, and how did you overcome them?

Well, sometimes you can’t. Some people are just so locked into the soundbites that they’ve heard. I got a call from an old friend yesterday. He’s a Republican. He’s African-American. He was a California State Senator. He was an LA City Councilman. And he hates cannabis. Really hates it.

We’ve had this discussion over the years, almost 20 years, about how I feel about it and how he feels about it. And he honestly believes that it is a gateway drug, because one of his relatives smoked pot and went straight to crack. And he’s just convinced, and there’s no getting over that. I mean, we’ve had arguments where I’ve just said, “Look, I’m going to hang up on you. You’re ignorant. It’s [the gateway theory] just a stupid argument.” [There is reasonable evidence out there showing the opposite – legalizing cannabis tends to lead to lower hard drug use, in particular opiates like heroin.]

And he called me yesterday and told me he’s planning on getting three of what he calls “drug stores”! He calls dispensaries “drug stores”. He’s going to get three “drug stores”, because he’s buddies with an LA City Councilman. This guy is telling him that, “Because he’s African-American, he’s going to get preferential treatment in opening dispensaries in Los Angeles.”

So now, he’s going to get into the business, but he still thinks it’s [cannabis] a gateway drug!

Is that a profit-making venture for him, then?

Right. It’s because he wants to make a bunch of money.

OK. Well, I don’t wish him any ill, but people who think they can make easy money from this tend to fail if they don’t know what they’re talking about …

Right, right. I don’t want what’s worst for him, that’s for sure. But the hypocrisy is just ridiculous!

We’ve seen a shift in people’s attitudes. From your experience, what’s been the most effective way of changing people’s minds? Has it been one-on-one talking to people? Has it been your work online? Is it the events? What do you feel is the most effective “channel”?

I started doing The State of Cannabis Conference for a couple of reasons. First, I wanted to have a job in the industry, and I’m really good at producing events. I felt like it was the best thing that I could do to change minds. And so, my Conference in September was such a success because I hand-picked my audience and my speakers. And it was a great blend of the people that are writing the legislation, elected officials, business leaders, and people who are just interested.

I probably comped [compensated] about 60% of my ticket, because I wanted the right people there. I wanted them to see that we are professionals, and that we are good, hard-working people and yes, we consume cannabis.

So I found a beautiful venue, where the ballrooms – the conference room  – in the middle of these rooms, there’s a large, beautiful patio. I had my vendors outside, I had the food and beverages outside, and we allowed consumption and sampling. My vendors had set up “bud bars”. And so people were smoking cannabis, going in, speaking, participating and making an awful lot of sense.

I’ve heard from at least two city council meetings after my event. Santa Monica, for example. They talked about being at my event at a city council meeting in Santa Monica, which has traditionally been a very anti-cannabis and very conservative. They saw what other city leaders were doing. They saw all these other professional people that were consuming cannabis and being entirely functional, and it suddenly became not so scary. And now Santa Monica are moving forward with smart and reasonable regulations.

So, that’s what it’s all about. That’s the whole thing. That’s what my mission is. To create an event. Create a situation where minds could be changed. I mean, I invited people on city councils who were very anti- cannabis legalization. Because I can’t imagine a better situation where their minds can be changed.

Susan Soares with Matthew Healy and Band
The 1975 at Green Oasis 2016. Matthew Healy (lead singer) dubbed GO “the ultimate Green Room”!

Yes, the cannabis industry should be trying to do more of that – reach out to the people who are on the fence or against cannabis legalization. Otherwise we’re preaching to the choir, which is important to some extent, but won’t move us forward. So you feel that events like the ones you put on are the best way to raise awareness?

Yeah, and it’s really important that we do these things in a very transparent way. I’ve worked really hard to do that event in the way that I did it. I moved to Long Beach specifically, because I had very strong feelings about Long Beach and cannabis tourism. I did the hard work of getting a business license from the city to do cannabis events, and that’s how I was able to talk a hotel into doing my event last year, and this venue into having consumption and sampling at this event.

Other promoters don’t necessarily don’t follow such procedures. I just went to a conference in Oakland at the a big hotel. They told the public that there was going to be sampling and allowed the vendors to set up inside the ballroom of the hotel. The hotel was not happy with this, and probably won’t allow cannabis events there anymore. One big company did the same thing to a hotel. Didn’t tell the hotel what they were going to do, and it turned into a disaster, because there was another family event that had to be shut down, and now the hotel faces a lawsuit.

Many other events do the same thing. They go in and book a fairground. They don’t tell the fairground exactly what they’re going to be doing, that there’s going to be cannabis sales and the like. Their only audience is the choir and they’re not reaching out to others, because they’re doing things that they’re not supposed to be doing. This leaves a bad taste in the mouths of the city. I call them “berzerkers”. They go out and they leave a path of destruction.

Could you tell us more about C.A.R.E. and the programmes it helps fund? What does contributors’ money go towards?

It goes towards educating people. Right now, I’m raising money for the farmers that were affected by the wildfires, because I really feel like we’re in a little bit of trouble here. The cannabis industry here in California is looking more and more like it’s going to be “warehouse weed” – and I mean weed – and the mom n’ pop businesses and the small farmers are being pushed out. And they’re the heart and soul of the industry.

They’re the innovators, and their stories are the ones that are going to be interesting to tourists. And a lot of them, with these fires, barely had the chance of carrying on. It just destroyed them. Getting ready for the new regulations is a real challenge for them and many of them won’t be able to get into the regulated market. Those that were and then lost everything in the fires, now can’t afford to get a license.

I also produce many educational events, blog about current cannabis news, and reach out on social media with messaging to create awareness with higher standards.

I was looking at your branding, and I quite like the “Just say know” slogan as well as the D.A.R.E. parody, especially when considering D.A.R.E.’s success rate. Could you tell us what you mean by the byline, as well as why you chose to go with this type of branding?

It just was so obvious to me that this was the way to go. I just boldly went into it. I went to the Emerald Cup about 4 years ago. They gave me a free booth, so I printed out a big banner with my logo on it. This man just walked by, and he just stood there and stared at my banner! He was just staring and staring at it. And I said, “Hi. How’s it going?”

And he just said, “This … Is … Brilliant …  This is so brilliant.” And I’ll tell you why. He said, “I am a copyright and patent trademark attorney. If D.A.R.E. tries to sue you, I’ll represent you pro-bono. They can’t sue you, because you’d have to be trying to divert funds going towards them and towards you. You’re clearly not trying to divert funds from them, so they don’t have a chance. In fact, it’d be great if they did, as it’d make a good story.” I have not heard a peep out of D.A.R.E..

Susan Soares and Marc Blistein
Susan Soares with Marc Blistein.

Now, we know what you’re thinking. “That wasn’t enough, dammit. Stop teasing me and give me more! I know your conversation went on for longer than that!” And you’d be right. Our conversation did go on for longer. However, if you want to know more about the state of the industry for cultivators in the present and in the future, how to go about working in the cannabis industry and some interesting stories about Susan Soares’s experience of hosting a Green Oasis stall, then tune into Elevate the Conversation on Facebook Live and UBN Radio at 6 pm PST, Wednesday 11/15/2017.

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