I just had my first kid. I feel very transformed from that right now, like I’m still riding that high. Giving birth makes you feel like God. It was almost psychedelic. I lost all sense of time in the moment of birth, and I felt a profound connection to the universe and to my body at the same time. I was both in and outside of my body.
My creativity has gotten a big boost since giving birth. I’ve been calling it my nesting syndrome, which people usually experience beforehand, but I’m experiencing it after. I’ve been enjoying making things that I can rub on her body, or that I can eventually feed her, and mastering the recipes I want her to remember and ask for down the line. Being able to see her learn what the world is and how to use her body and her hands has inspired me to create memories and experiences specifically for her to enjoy happily.
I was raised by my maternal grandparents in Oregon because my mother had substance abuse issues. Her addiction was a defining part of my childhood, and definitely a part of the story that led me to cannabis. I remember her heart the most. That was the thing that constantly kept me bonded to her, even though she wasn’t always present to mother me. Even in the darkest of moments, her heart would shine through. I did not meet my dad until I was 18, so my family is all my maternal side.
I was a shy and sensitive little kid. My grandma and grandpa took care of me and made me feel secure and safe, but at the same time, I was watching my mom’s life spiral and decline into addiction and abuse. That was hard and sad. I went through moments of fear and anger, and the whole spectrum of emotions. But I am thankful my grandparents didn’t shield me from that, because I think I learned a lot of life lessons as a kid by watching the mistakes that my mom made. I don’t need to make those mistakes myself. I don’t know what my grandparents’ strategy was, or even if they had one. Maybe they just didn’t have a choice. It made me mature more quickly, but not in a bad way. I have noticed in my adulthood that I tend to learn lessons from other people—I’m very observational.
I grew up fearing drugs. In high school, I was president of what is called the O.S.S.O.M. Club, which stood for Oregon Student Safety On the Move. We were basically D.A.R.E. We would be on our high horse telling everybody, “Weed is bad.” In my mind I thought, I’m saving people from imminent death, or from overdose. I had such a shallow understanding of what it meant to take a drug. I thought, prescription drugs were good, and illicit drugs were bad. Looking back, that’s so naive.
At that point my understanding of my mom and her substance use shifted ... to realizing it was a mental illness.
Then I went through a rebellious phase. Junior year of high school was when I smoked weed for the first time. I contemplated it for a long time. I watched other people who smoked and finally decided, Okay, it doesn’t look too bad. That changed my life and my perspective. I felt inspired, less depressed. I remember sitting in my friend’s car having what felt like a two-hour philosophical conversation. I thought, How can this be considered bad? Our minds are opening, we’re finding kinship, we’re sitting here talking about life. That seems positive and productive to me.
At that point my understanding of my mom and her substance use shifted from, She’s a bad person, and she’s making these choices willfully to be away from her family and instead of being my mom, to realizing it was a mental illness. She was sick, and whatever led her to where she was, it wasn’t because that’s what she wanted, but because she was in the grasp of this scary disease that’s holding her down and she can’t escape.
I don’t know how to describe the idea of addiction other than saying that it’s a mental illness, and it’s hard to break out of on your own, even for people who go through treatment. She went through many treatments, and was eventually able to break that cycle. I still had some lingering resentment while I was in college, and there was a period of time where my mom and I didn’t talk for a few years. Even though I understood her illness differently, I needed to protect myself. I needed to build a wall between us emotionally, which I hadn’t had an opportunity to do up until that point.
The first time I ever smoked weed and then worked out was in my junior year of college. I did a really hard workout between classes, so I had both a runner’s high and a weed high. I was sitting in the sauna all by myself and started to sob. I was overcome with emotion. I felt compelled to write my mom a letter of forgiveness. I did it on the notes app on my phone. I don’t know if I even intended to give it to her—it just came to me and I needed to write it down.
As I was leaving the gym, I got a call from my grandma and she told me my mom had been arrested. I went and searched for her mugshot, which I don’t recommend anyone in my position doing. It was sad, and didn’t make things better. She was booked at the exact same moment I had started writing that letter to her. That was a holy shit moment for me. I felt reconnected to her even though it was an extremely sorrowful experience. I realized forgiveness is what I need to be holding in my heart. That is how I can let the past go, how I can be compassionate and there for her, and truly act on my belief and understanding that her life circumstances are due to a disease.
I’ve been able to slowly welcome her back into my life. Now that I have a baby, it’s really interesting. She’s a bit more stable. She’s on a methadone program, and she finally has the support of some city resources to help stabilize her. Watching her get to that place, and then having a baby, it’s making me reconsider what it means to be a mother and to have a mother. I am navigating that world now, introducing her to my kid, introducing her to my product, and reincorporating her back into my life. It’s an interesting chapter that I’m in right now.
I learned in college that I preferred a low-dose weed experience rather than getting super stoned.
My husband and I bought a fixer-upper house a few years back. It’s an ongoing project. He’s the kind of guy that’ll get burnt out on it and wants it to be done, but I enjoy the fact that there’s always another piece of it for us to look forward to around the corner. I’m in constant ideation mode. I’m totally comfortable in a space where things are always in progress. That translates to my business, too, with Barbari.
I started Barbari with a college friend, Meryl Montgomery. We met at Oregon State University and the concept of the product came from our days smoking weed. I learned in college that I preferred a low-dose weed experience rather than getting super stoned. I was working two jobs while going to school full-time, just trying to make ends meet. My creative brain was like, Well, smoking a joint gets me too high, but I like to sit down on my stoop and be active, inhaling and exhaling and watching the world pass me by for a few minutes of quiet solitude. That was something I wanted to maintain.
I started researching and found some smokable herbs I enjoyed and incorporated into my ritual.
The idea of a spliff came to mind, but tobacco never agreed with me. So I was like, There’s got to be other herbs you can smoke. I had this loose recollection of hearing about herbal smoking blends. I started researching and found some smokable herbs I enjoyed and incorporated into my ritual. It was really perfect for me.
At that moment in college, before it was legal on the recreational side in Oregon, I thought, Man, wouldn’t it be fun if I could sell these at the farmer’s market? I feel like people in Eugene would just love this. I kept that in the back of my head as a fun product idea that I would love to be able to sell one day.
Fast forward to 2016, right after weed became legal in Oregon. I was looking around at some of the emerging brands and products, and they just weren’t what I needed. Meryl had moved to New York after college, and when she was back visiting we got together for drinks. I told her about this product idea. I’d been working on it at home in the evenings—getting inspired, playing with mood boards, and trying to figure out what the brand expression could be around the product. I think I’d even come up with a name at that point.
She got really excited about it. Both of us were feeling a little burnt out at that point in our careers. We were talking about dream work scenarios, and how we wished we could start a company in the weed business. We ended the evening, hugged each other goodbye, and I continued to chip away at what this could look like on my own. Meryl called me maybe a week later after she was back in New York, and in a more serious manner presented the idea of us working together to pursue this company. And so we did.
She brought a lot of structure into our workflow and put limits and benchmarks on what we were creating so that we’re working up to the full realization and potential of what the business could be. One of the things I love about her is that she’s really data-focused. The two of us balance each other out really well. We both come from marketing, advertising, and brand building backgrounds, but she came from the more analytical side, and I came from the more creative side.
We did a bunch of research about regulations in Oregon and whether our product would even be allowed. We ended up having to start with just an herbal smoking blend without any THC, cannabis, or hemp. That was the first thing we launched to establish brand recognition and start to find our customer while working our full-time jobs on opposite sides of the country.
In 2019, we were accepted into an accelerator in Portland focused on women in cannabis called The Initiative. That was the moment we both jumped in. We quit our jobs. Meryl had already moved out to Oregon a couple of months prior to focus on building Barbari. The fact that we got into the program gave us confidence in our business and in our concept. It was a really big turning point for us.
That network enabled us to start having conversations bigger than we were previously able to conceptualize.
We were exposed to a really great network of awesome professionals in the cannabis industry across the entire country. That network enabled us to start having conversations bigger than we were previously able to conceptualize. It taught us what it means to fundraise, which we kicked off at the end of the program. It legitimized us in a good way, like a bootcamp. After that we were operating as an independent company—very humbly—but we were able to get some wholesale accounts, establish a pretty strong following on Instagram, and become recognized through collaborations with other brands that we really respected.
My favorite CBD edibles brand is Greater Goods, they’re out of Oregon. They also have a sister line on the THC side called Leif Goods and they make an amazing product. The flavor experience is what I am drawn to. A lot of gummies can have a bitterness to them, and chocolates sometimes have that weed flavor, which I don’t mind, but when I’m looking for a really decadent, wonderful mouth experience, it’s nice to not always have that as part of the edible.
It’s a constant project for us to make sure that we’re working as sustainably as possible.
2020 was a big growth year for us. We were able to have a safe operational setup, and most people worked from home. At the end of 2020, we officially launched our THC product in Massachusetts and Oregon. That product has always been our North Star but at this point it’s not the majority of our focus anymore. We didn’t see that coming. It was a lesson in going with the flow and leaning into those moments of uncertainty, because they can bring good outcomes if you release expectations.
Last year, we established ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance) metrics for our company. It’s a constant project for us to make sure that we’re working as sustainably as possible within our packaging practices, shipping practices, even ingredient sourcing. We are small, so we do have limits. Implementing environmental considerations into your business can be really, really costly. We’re trying to be scrappy. We want to work with farms that practice organic farming. It’s important to us that we know the herbs that we’re working with are clean. We also independently test for pesticides, heavy metals, and microbiomes.
We really believe that this has to be an equitable industry from all facets, and that records have to be expunged for people who were previously jailed for weed. We partnered with the Oregon Cannabis Association (OCA), and the Portland Community College Clear Clinic (PCCC) to help host expungement clinics and offer free legal support in the Portland area out of our space. People can show up for drop-ins or make appointments to come in, get all of their expungement paperwork taken care of for free, and get support with filing. The goal is to lessen the bureaucracy and headache of pursuing that process on one’s own. We did that a couple of times, and with just one of the clinics had saved people over roughly $150,000 in legal fees.
Professionally, legalization has offered a realm of opportunity. Being part of the front end of people figuring out what it means to have legal weed in this country is really exhilarating. Meryl and I take it really seriously in that we want to establish and be an example of a company in this industry that can do good.