INTERVIEW WITH TIFFANY REYNOLDS
Owner of Chicago’s “Soul and Wellness”
Tiffany Reynolds is the owner of Chicago’s Soul and Wellness, a facility that provides services and education around the medical use of cannabis. An advocate for both holistic medicine and social equity, she is committed to breaking the stigma surrounding cannabis, and to providing a wide array of resources, information, and holistic products to her community to reverse the curse on the War on Drugs.
Wana recently sat down with Tiffany to discuss her entrepreneurial journey, the value of cannabis education, and the best ways to truly – and consistently – support minority-owned businesses.
WANA BRANDS: Tell me a little about your background and how you came to the cannabis industry.
TIFFANY REYNOLDS: My background is in education. I thought it would be a good time for me to transition to the cannabis industry when it had the medical pilot program for patients. It presented an opportunity where I became the office manager at a company similar to what I do, which is to assist people with getting their medical cannabis cards. So that was the start of my cannabis journey.
WB: And why did that resonate with you so much, helping people get their medical cards?
TR: I’ve always been an advocate for cannabis. And actually, because of that stigma, I didn’t want my parents to know, I didn’t want too many people to know besides people that I was consuming with. So I thought that education was huge to break that stigma, so I wanted to be surrounding myself with a company that could help me break the stigma.
WB: How did that interest dovetail into opening your own business, Soul and Wellness?
TR: Unfortunately, the company I was working for dissolved. And I still needed to make sure I was being an advocate for patients, so I wanted to make sure that I was educated and still providing resources. How am I gonna do that without a company that I’m working for? So Soul and Wellness opened up so I can help people to get into that holistic health.
WB: And do you consider it a business that has a mission?
TR: Of course, of course. People need to understand that there is a pandemic of people who are on those pharmaceutical drugs, those opioids, and they need to steer into this holistic journey which is cannabis. That’s where we come in. We are the pillar. We are that strong foundation for others to seek that journey. That’s the mission.
WB: In addition to that mission of education and advocacy, it’s my understanding that Soul and Wellness has often been used as a meeting place for Chicago NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws). Why was it important for you to get involved with them?
TR: It was very imperative for me to surround myself with organizations and others who had the same vision. And you see now that they represent not only people in general, but specifically minorities. That is something that I truly love about Chicago NORML. And so why not be involved with someone that is doing the same thing that I’m doing? Or helping each other to have that vision come into fruition? Why not?
WB: You know, we’re sort of bumping up against something and not quite naming it – and of course it sounds like your mission is to educate all kinds of people about the benefits of cannabis. But particularly as regards marijuana law, racial equity is a big part of that, combatting and undoing the damage that’s been caused by the institutionalized racism within cannabis laws.
WB: So is that something you’re thinking about a lot? Do issues of racial and social equity show up for you in your day-to–day business?
TR: Most definitely, it does. I have a lot of patients, just people in general, who come to me when they have social equity applications and people are trying to get into the industry. It was very imperative for me to provide resources – like Chicago NORML, for example. People who need lawyers, right? Who need help with getting those applications written up and making sure that they have as many points as they can to help them hopefully get approved for whatever they’re going into. We do see it a lot, and I hope that I am able to see a change when it comes to racial equity and bringing more minorities into this industry.
WB: So keeping with that track of racial equity… this is a very white-dominated industry with a lot of white-owned businesses. As a Black woman, do you feel like you’ve encountered challenges that you might not have if you were white or a man or both?
TR: I think that financially – financial backing was a huge hindrance, right? Without that financial backing, I wasn’t able to promote as easily as I could have when it comes to marketing and branding. It was more leg work! I had to physically go to all of these events, had to sell not just my brand, but myself. You know, popping up to dispensaries asking, “Well, who’s the person in charge?” Trying to figure out how we could work together. It was a lot of physical labor. But I will say this: I would not change it for the world. I cannot regret it. It helped me build more character. It helped me to sell my business and myself even better. And I actually have great relationships with people in the industry because of that! So even though it’s a lot, and a lot, and a lot of leg work, I cannot regret it, and I will not regret that.
WB: So it sounds like you had to work two or three times as hard as somebody else might have had to work.
TR: Yes, yes, indeed. But it’s ok. Here I am.
WB: This summer, we saw a lot of brands both in and outside of cannabis seemingly wake up to racial injustice in a new way. After George Floyd was murdered, you did not see a single corporate Instagram account that didn’t have some kind of statement about Black Lives Matter. As a business owner yourself, and as a Black business owner, do you see that phenomenon – of companies explicitly acknowledging this issue – as a net gain? Or are you skeptical? And a follow-up question: is there anything that other companies can do that makes those statements feel more meaningful? Is there a right way to do that and a wrong way to do that?
TR: Interesting question. I don’t think there’s any Dos or Donts to supporting minority-owned businesses. But I will say, financially, we always need that, and consistency is something that we need. So combining the two would be even better. You know, someone says, “Hey, I support this business.” Ok, what about more times? What about other businesses that need consistent support as well? What about not just buying one or two items, but how about investing? How about helping them to market? These are some things that people can actually do, not just saying, “Black lives matter,” or putting something out there, but what more can you do? It has to be more depth involved with that.
WB: So it’s a lifestyle change in some ways, right?
TR: That’s it! I love that, lifestyle change. Yes, yes.
WB: A follow-up question: obviously this industry is brand new, and it’s changing a mile a minute. Are you hopeful for the future of the industry when it comes to more people, and different kinds of people, being able to break in and stake a claim?
TR: Yeah, I think it is. I think it’s going in the right direction, slowly but surely. I think that people are really becoming more receptive and seeing, not only does this make money, but this is a true plant, not just a gateway drug. I think that now people are becoming aware that this is a male, white-dominant industry, and there needs to be a change in breaking that racial barrier, that racial curse that we have. I just hope that it continues on that path. And let’s see what happens. But I do see it, slowly but surely.
WB: Do you have any advice for other young professionals, and specifically young Black professionals, about how to carve out a space in this new industry?
TR: Don’t go with the wave. Think outside the box. Have a passion, integrate that into cannabis, and you can’t go wrong. If you’re gonna work hard, work hard with something that you enjoy and love. So why not build your passion into cannabis? And that’s exactly what I will tell any and everybody.
WB: That’s the fun thing about this industry, is that people are really passionate about it.
TR: They are, and you can make your own little lane, you know? And you can be successful with that. Yeah, I love that, I love that.
WB: As a final sign-off, where can people find Soul and Wellness and what can they expect when they get there?
TR: We’re in Chicago, we’re in the Pilsen neighborhood, and you can actually find us at my website, www.soulandwellness.net. We provide an array of cannabis services, whether that be trying to get your medical cannabis card, getting CBD products, education, cultivation needs. And in Illinois, you can grow up to five plants in your own home, so home grow is really huge here. So we’re now educating on how to properly grow in your own home. We do a whole bunch of stuff. We’re also on Instagram – @soul__wellness – and Facebook. Definitely check us out. We’re all here every day – Google, Yelp, find us!
WB: That was amazing, thank you!
TR: Thank you!