Smoke Signals

Stay True to Yourself in the Hustle

How to leverage your personal values to achieve lasting success in the cannabis industry

Looking into the cannabis industry from the outside, business is booming. We see corporate cannabis glitterati traipsing through the pages of Forbes, our Instagram feeds dazzling with tantalizing flower and concentrates. On LinkedIn, we read post after post about breakthrough cannabis research and technology, peppered with pictures of the canna-bro party life and inspirational quotes. But for those of us on the inside, that’s not the whole story.

There’s a secret that haunts nearly everyone in this space, whispering from behind all the hype: we often feel like we’re hanging on by a thread. With the exception of a handful of companies that have enormous financial backing, most cannabis businesses operate as small start-ups, scrambling and boot-strapping to make ends meet. This includes a number of companies and individuals who appear to have ”made it“.

It’s disconcerting to take part in on-site tours, listen to public talks, or read press releases that give an illusion of success to a business that I know is struggling. See it once, and it’s easy to believe there’s a flaw within that company. See it twenty times, and you realize it’s standard practice. When a company is trying to attract patients, clients, or investors, they want to appear confident. No one wants to hire or invest in someone who is desperate.

But let’s face it: many individuals and businesses in this space are desperate, because they have risked everything to be here (yes, even some of those ”evil empire“ companies). This fear inspires all kinds of shifty decision—making, and a whole lot of BS. At times, I wonder if this deep-seated insecurity drives our industry to be less than what we could be.

We don’t openly talk about how exhausting (and sometimes terrifying) our careers can be, because we’re supposed to present as successful, positive professionals. The few who openly discuss their fears often appear a little unhinged, since it’s generally at a breaking point in which they finally divulge their anxieties and frustrations. And that emotional barf doesn’t help anyone process the problems endemic to our industry, let alone address how we can make them better. It’s high time those of us who know this industry best start looking honestly at what we like and don’t like about our jobs and our industry, what common negative patterns keep poking up, and start setting things right.

It’s important to remember why we were attracted to cannabis in the first place. As with all things, challenge is only tolerable when you understand the ”why“ of it. For instance, if you want to climb Mount Everest, you know that you’ll need to undergo rigorous and exhausting physical challenges to make it happen. When your body tells you to quit, the reason you keep going is because you want to climb to the top of the world. You realize it won’t be easy, but when you imagine yourself standing on the summit of that mountain, you receive a boost of strength to persevere.

Imagine you were on that same grueling climb up Everest, but you didn’t know why you were doing it. Would you ever reach the summit? When the journey gets tough, we all need our Everest Moment to keep us inspired and working with integrity.

Until cannabis is legalized federally (and perhaps even after), operational strategies will have to change moment by moment. This is because there are ever-changing regulatory shifts, new research findings, technological advancements, and consumer trends to keep up with. At times, everything we’ve built seems to collapse beneath us. This is especially true in places like the small mountain farms of Humboldt County, but I’ll leave that for another post. I’ve seen companies go out of business overnight because a regulatory interpretation changed, and the business owner had no way to comply.

It’s hard to stay true to our values when we are under constant pressure. In life and in business, we need to make choices that are consistent with a defining set of values, or we will be blown off course. We may compromise, but if we lose our core values, we are no longer uniquely valuable—anyone could take our place. You can imitate the ideas and identities of others, but your success will likely be short-lived. Plenty of liars and fakers raise capital, or get a good job, but then, when it falls apart, no one wants you around. When you are honest and authentic, you can whether storms that the fakers can’t.

I find it helpful to remember that there was a singular universal value that legitimized our industry: cannabis is a powerful natural medicine that people deserve access to, and its presence can change our world for the better. No matter what your business model looks like, look to that core value (or your version of it) as your North Star, because it is compelling and has the capacity to resonate with virtually anyone. Start with that and add your own values to it so that it's authentic for you—so that it’s your own unique mission statement. It will make your brand more successful and the challenges easier to navigate.

I hope you are successful, make lots of money, and create teams that are proud to work together. I hope you make history! Perhaps our paths will cross, and if they do, I hope we can work together to make this industry beautiful and meaningful together. I will be sharing stories and tips that have been helpful for me in my 20 years in the cannabis space—on subjects ranging from plant health to team health, the best techniques to calculate cost of goods, and how to pivot when your initial strategy fails. Sign up for updates on this blog and more at

Cassandra Maffey
Cofounder and CEO of Fire Tower. Cassandra is the creator of Scalable Living Soil, an organic, high-volume cultivation system powering large-scale producers around the country. Recently named one of High Times' Top 50 Women in Cannabis.