Tiffany Bowden – Chief Happiness Officer at ComfyTree
Tiffany Bowden might be the exact opposite of someone you would expect to see in the cannabis industry. A PhD candidate at the University of Illinois, she is also the Chief Happiness Officer at ComfyTree, a business that specializes in educating future or current cannabis industry professionals. Despite not being a cannabis user, Tiffany became tired of seeing the industry marginalized by mainstream media, who clearly were not representing the true value of the cannabis community. She set out to inspire change, using her skill set to help illuminate truths in the industry like; cannabis is medicine for many people, is recreationally safer than alcohol, and that entrepreneurs should all have an equal chance to participate in the significant amount of opportunity in the industry. Tiffany felt shut out of the industry and ComfyTree was created to help, not only herself, but all those who hoped to enter the cannabis space. Thankfully, she didn’t shut us out either as she recently spent some time to talk about her journey into the cannabis industry.
What was the deciding factor for you to join this particular industry?
One of the biggest reasons I joined the industry stems from when I saw, first hand, the medical impact cannabis could have on someone suffering a debilitating disease. I watched my father go from medicating with very harsh and addictive prescription painkillers, prescribed by his doctors, to using medical cannabis. I was amazed at how it could allow him to manage his symptoms and still maintain a functional life. He wasn’t walking around like a zombie, much in the way you see patients react when they are doped up on pharmaceuticals. Eventually he lost his ability to obtain cannabis when his friend passed away and he was forced to return to the debilitating prescription drug cycle. When my father passed away I took it upon myself to use my background within communications, media, advertising, to be able to shed some light on what’s really going on in this industry.
As for myself, I don’t have any background as a cannabis consumer, medically or recreationally. I think that is one of the largest misconceptions that people outside the industry have; that in order to advocate for the industry or the cause, you yourself must therefore be a recreational user. Outsiders who are uneducated as to the cannabis industry still think those who do business in the cannabis space are ‘just a bunch of potheads trying to get access to marijuana’. I am one obvious example of how that stereotype is no longer the case. I’m a PhD candidate at the University of Illinois. I could have pursued countless other business opportunities but I chose to dedicate myself to this industry because I believe very much in it.
Outsiders who are uneducated as to the cannabis industry still think those who do business in the cannabis space are ‘just a bunch of potheads trying to get access to marijuana’. I am one obvious example of how that stereotype is no longer the case.
What were you doing before Comfy Tree?
Before ComfyTree I was working with an advertising agency as well as a marketing firm. They were companies much like Procter & Gamble or Barefoot Proximity. Fast forward to now and I’m currently a PhD candidate at the University of Illinois, focusing on communication research. Although I spend most of my time looking at the cannabis industry, I also specialize in consumer insights, media representation, as well as intersections between marketing and advertising.
Tell me about the point in the time you realized the coming of the ‘green rush’?
I actually discovered the green rush when I was in Illinois for my PhD program. The laws in Illinois certainly weren’t helping people who wanted to enter the cannabis industry, so we focused our energy on opening our own dispensary and doing what we could to help others. We adopted a ‘Let’s help ourselves by helping others’ mentality. For us, the best way to do that was through access to education. So we decided to start putting together affordable, educational seminars. Instead of charging a small group an egregious amount of money to talk to one expert, we reached out to multiple experts that we could put in front of people for a fraction of the cost.
It doesn’t matter to me if you are a student, minority, female or a member of the middle class, I want to create an industry that works for everyone.
The moment we knew that ComfyTree was something special was on the night of our first event. We had over 115 people in attendance, including a US Senator, reporters and we even made the news that night. We looked at each other, looked at the event, the media coverage, and thought ‘Wow. We’re actually on to something here’. There are so many people out there that want to get into this industry. The fact that we are able to help them, however we can, is something incredible to me.
Right now, where are you guiding your passion and energy?
I am very passionate when it comes to helping people gain access to cannabis, especially those people who otherwise would not be able to. It doesn’t matter to me if you are a student, minority, female or a member of the middle class, I want to create an industry that works for everyone. That’s what ComfyTree is all about. In addition, I recently contributed to the creation of the Minority Cannabis Business Association. We’re constantly coming up with new and innovative ways to create more inclusion in the industry.
In fact, we recently staffed a sign language interpreter for one of our latest events in Washington DC. The interpreter was so well received that, since the event, we have seen a ton of interest from the deaf community. They want to start attending our events, especially now that we have provided them with a vessel to make that experience possible. Additionally, the spanish speaking community has reached out to us as well, asking for an interpreter at future events. Whether it’s working to include interpreters or bringing in students who otherwise couldn’t afford an event like this, for us to be able to provide support for this community is something we take great pride in.
ComfyTree, in a sense, is built on two parts. One part advocacy and one part business. We help ourselves by helping others. My passion goes towards that and it continues to fuel our energy.
Describe your work ethic to me in one word.
Who is a person that you consider as a role model? Maybe someone who has been a mentor to you? Why and how did this person impact your life?
My father had a big impact on me because he was a fighter. For decades, he suffered from kidney failure but he just kept on fighting. Even through the times where he was very tired and it seemed like there was no end in sight. He fought all the way to the end and tried to keep a very positive spirit, even when it seemed like there was nothing to smile about or be positive about. He is frequently my muse and my point of reference when I feel like, “Why am I doing this? I feel like giving up. Why am I here?” He is frequently the beacon of light that guides my ship.
Tell me about an esteemed achievement of yours.
Launching ComfyTree is something that I am very proud of because it’s something that was built from the desire to help other people. Instead of a competitive, winner take all mentality, ComfyTree was and is more spiritually based on the idea of abundance; the principle that if we help others, others will help us. If we give more, we will get more in return. Even though some people say the cannabis industry is capitalistic and cut throat at times, we have created a space that is built on inclusion and community but it is still profitable. We are striving to create and industry that works for everyone and I am very proud of it.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever gotten?
Follow your heart.
‘Follow your heart’ is probably the best advice that I’ve gotten. We all find ourselves in those moments where feel what your gut is saying versus what your brain is thinking. It goes all the way back to when you were a kid and you’re taking a multiple-choice test. You have an inkling of what you’re supposed to do and you mark down the right answer but then you go back and you second-guess yourself. Invariably you put the wrong answer the second time around.
I find that when I trust my gut and I go with that what feels right, it usually ends up being right.
I find that when I trust my gut and I go with that what feels right, it usually ends up being right. For me, there is something that’s actually connected there. Something that actually communicates with you in terms of the way that you should go. And that’s the way that we operate with ComfyTree is that we don’t always have the right answers. We don’t always know the best thing to do. But we just trust our gut and go with it. I think that the people who interact with us can sense that.
We treat everybody as human beings. Everybody is important whether you’re a customer who came to our free CannaBazaar, somebody who has paid for the all-inclusive package or a sponsor that is headlining the whole thing. You’re going to get an experience with someone who values you as a human being, because we feel that that’s the right thing to do.
What is the most important thing for us to know now about the legal marijuana industry?
I think we need to shift our collective focus in terms of how we are going about the process of legalization. A lot of the reporters kind of keep asking redundant questions like, ‘Do people think that marijuana should be legal or not, yes and no’. Inevitably and routinely people will always say yes, we should legalize it. It may be by a wide margin or a narrow one, but the stats are remaining steady and the answer is always a resounding yes. Well then the kind of question remains, well why hasn’t it happened yet?
We need to shift our collective focus in terms of how we are going about the process of legalization.
I believe that legalization hasn’t happened yet because we are asking the wrong question. We’re thinking on the wrong level. The question isn’t ‘should we legalize?’ but ‘how do we legalize?’. How should we go about the process? When you ask that question, it gets a little more complicated because people are a bit fragmented on the execution. Should we do CBD only legislation? Should we do 18 and older adult use? How about 21 and older adult use or medical marijuana only? That’s where stuff starts to get sticky and the devil is in the details in that sense.
I would say to people that legalization is coming. It’s just a question of what kind of legalization is coming and when. Those are the things that we need to be paying more attention to. People need to take the time to understand the different kinds of measures that are on the table. Just because a bill says ‘medical marijuana bill’ or ‘legalization bill’ doesn’t mean that all bills are created equally. Some of them are not necessarily created with the consumer’s best interest in mind. People need to take the time to dissect these bills so they can be fully aware of exactly what they are voting for. The last thing this movement needs is to hurriedly pass legislation because of the excitement and novelty of the industry.
If we are sitting across from each other a year from now, how will our conversation about the ‘green rush’ be going?
The conversation about the green rush will be going like;
“Hey, look I told you. Look at all of these people who have been able to get involved in the industry. I’m glad that we and other organizations were able to get in front of the legalization curve to where we can create some diversity in the industry. We’ve got women, minorities and small businesses all intersecting at the same level with your blue chip cannabis companies like Dixie Elixirs and Harborside. It is that amazing.”
By bringing attention to these issues and supporting growth in the industry, we are working to create a more positive trajectory for the cannabis community as a whole.
That is the conversation that I would like to be having. By bringing attention to these issues and supporting growth in the industry, we are working to create a more positive trajectory for the cannabis community as a whole. People are waking up to the industry, educating themselves and discovering that they want to be apart of everything. For those reasons, they are going to start paying attention to all the different legislation that is going to make that possible.
What do you think about ComfyTree’s concept? How do you see the industry shifting over the next year? Join the conversation and comment below!