Beth Waterfall next to cannabis.
Beth Waterfall in the weeds at Temescal.
Features

Marketing Marijuana: Beth Waterfall on Activism and Pivoting Her Career

When she was 35, Beth Waterfall leapt into the unknown. Before that, her marketing roles in legal and accounting firms had become more about paperwork, and less about creative output. Feeling stifled, she stepped away from the corporate world and found her real passion in cannabis activism. Now, Waterfall runs ELEVATE Northeast, an educational non-profit, using her marketing background to do consultations for cannabis businesses. Her goal? Teach others, particularly underserved populations such as women, people of color, and the LGBTQ community, about medical marijuana usage, legal rights, and business opportunities.

“We built ELEVATE for everyone – we want the [cannabis] industry to become diverse and inclusive. There’s often a lack of community outreach, so we’ll continue our events and education to become part of the change,” Waterfall said.

Stepping Away from Convention

Beth Waterfall

The path was far from easy. Waterfall shared that, growing up, her family always stressed climbing the corporate ladder and earning as much as possible. She followed their advice, but it never truly made her happy. When she decided to leave her job and eventually became involved with cannabis activism, her family and friends were horrified. Waterfall admitted she struggled with internal shame during the transition, recalling how she agonized over posting about cannabis on her LinkedIn profile.

Self-empowerment and education allowed her to overcome that stigma. Learning more about marijuana was how she became an activist in the first place. After leaving her corporate job, she attended a cannabis convention on a whim and became inspired. She attended panels discussing the long-lasting impacts of the War on Drugs and the potential health benefits of marijuana. For Waterfall, the latter discussion hit close to home.

“What I learned about [medical marijuana] was jaw-dropping. My grandmother had dementia, and certain cannabinoids could have helped. I couldn’t believe I had never heard about it before. I felt like could have done something to help her,” she explained.

Starting New Initiatives

She left that convention determined to take action. In 2014, she founded Beth Waterfall Creative, a consultation service targeting cannabis businesses. The business offers communication, marketing, social media, event planning, entrepreneurship, and recruitment coaching, in addition to her other services as a speaker and copywriter. She began writing articles and blog posts for programs such as New England Cannabis Conventions, where she now sits on the Board of Directors. In preparation for Massachusetts’ 2016 vote for the legalization of marijuana, she founded the Massachusetts Mothers for Regulation and Taxation of Marijuana to educate residents.

The feeling of warmth and acceptance she felt from others initially drew Waterfall into the cannabis community. Drawing on that idea, she helped start ELEVATE Northeast, a regional education and advocacy non-profit. ELEVATE focuses on those often overlooked in the industry. Waterfall felt everyone deserved to benefit from marijuana, whether by use or sale, but acknowledged that there are often complicated factors in the way. Not every cannabis organization is openly accepting of gay, bisexual, or transgender members, and black communities are wary around marijuana when so many family members were disproportionately targeted by the War on Drugs.

ELEVATE team
From left to right: Tito Jackson, TaShonda Vincent-Lee, Beth Waterfall, Cara Crabb-Burnham

ELEVATE aims to help the entire community through conferences and events such as their recent all-virtual Business Education Series for small business owners dealing with COVID-19. Waterfall was particularly excited about the upcoming Cannabis Core Curriculum, a two-day interactive program done in collaboration with Holyoke Community College. Students attend to speak with experts and learn more about potential careers in cultivation, extraction, patient care, and culinary uses.

Switching Careers

Waterfall doesn’t view her time spent in marketing as a waste. She was able to leverage those experiences and transform them into work that felt more meaningful to her. The consultations provided by Beth Waterfall Creative are based on years in the marketing industry. She drastically changed her career, but her new role still connects to her background.

When asked what she would say to someone else considering a career change, her advice was an enthusiastic “Go for it!” She immediately followed up with, “but be smart about it.”

Waterfall’s suggestions and how these strategies worked out for her:

  • Utilize the skills and strengths you already have
    • Helps cannabis companies with marketing
  • Take the time to learn as you go
    • Attended conventions and networked with others to expand her knowledge
  • Spend time on the side hustle – it could become your job
    • Wrote articles for organizations, which led to more executive roles
  • Instead of abruptly asking others to help you, volunteer your time to make connections
    • Found far more success offering to be a blogger than asking someone to be a mentor
  • Finding what makes you passionate can improve your work ethic and happiness
    • More suited to activism than the traditional corporate world

Final Thoughts

Being tied so closely to the marijuana industry, Waterfall had plenty to share on its changes over time – especially as she campaigned for legalization. In her eyes, the stigma is dwindling. Slowly, of course, but progress happens bit by bit. Much of her work is focused on making marijuana less “scary”. One final story emphasized the importance of this.

“A few years ago, when marijuana was still illegal, I met a woman who was so scared to attend an info session that she was shaking. She wanted to learn, but she was terrified that someone would ‘catch’ her there, call her a bad mom, and take her daughter away,” Waterfall said. “I want people to feel a sense of personal comfort. It all ties back to empowerment.”

About the author

Laura Grant

Laura Grant is a recent graduate of Western New England University with a bachelor's degree in English Literature. She spent her undergraduate term developing her writing and communication skills through internships, tutoring, and student media involvement. Her goal is to publish a novel one day.

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