Founder and CEO of the Cannabis Marketing Association Lisa Buffo shares her journey into being a convener of marketing professionals across cannabis.
In June, Denver’s McNichols Civic Center Building was the scene of the first in-person Cannabis Marketing Summit hosted by the Cannabis Marketing Association (CMA), an industry trade group that supports professional and creative growth by providing career resources and education-based events. Its visionary leader, Lisa Buffo, who is also the founder and CEO, has had a passion for cannabis and marketing since she worked with the Warrior Canine Connection in Maryland at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in 2012.
“I worked with veterans who had post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injury at Walter Reed … we trained service dogs for veterans who had PTSD and TBI,” she says. “So, I was sort of in the alternative medicine space, if you will, immediately in my career, and I loved it.”
Funding wasn’t flush, and government support was lacking, so Buffo took it upon herself to build out some marketing for the organization via Instagram when its social media channel launched in 2012.
“I would take pictures of the puppies and the dogs and put it on social media. Our content went viral and it helped build the nonprofit, and get us funding,” she says. “It was the first point in my career where I could see how marketing can help further a cause.”
Fast forward to the summit in Denver, and Buffo continues to use marketing for good in two ways. She’s fostered a space for cannabis marketing professionals to learn from each other in an industry that is still developing and where marketing efforts, compliance, and consumers are ever-changing. She is also solidifying that cannabis marketers have an ethical obligation on their shoulders.
“For us to uplift the communications professionals, PR, marketing design, anyone who’s putting out content that touches the public, [we have] a responsibility to understand the story of cannabis, the plant, the war on drugs, and how it’s been weaponized against certain communities, and to rewrite that,” she says.
Buffo contends it’s a big responsibility that shouldn’t be taken lightly in the name of revenue or a bottom line.
“For us, it’s supporting the [marketing] community and creating a bit of a north star for that conversation. But also helping with compliance education and best practices is our vehicle to destigmatize and bring a positive perception to it. That all ties into our mission … to bring a positive perception to, and authentic understanding of, cannabis and its consumers around the world.”
Buffo, like others, finds herself in cannabis as a result of helping others.
“I’ve actually had some very close friends and family in my personal community who struggled with drug addiction, alcoholism, and I had conversations with them about trying cannabis as an alternative,” she says. Buffo was living in Ohio then, and cannabis was still illegal. “I went out of my way to acquire [cannabis] for them, to present an alternative option to hopefully improve outcomes in a way a friend and family, but non-medical professionals can. And I did see improvement and I did see change in their quality of life.”
ABOVE LEFT: Cannabis Marketing Association CEO and Founder, Lisa Buffo, speaking with a Cannabis Marketing Summit attendee. Scenes from the 2022 Cannabis Marketing Summit.
“We want to be a force for good because there is a lot of responsibility and ethical obligation on our shoulders as communications professionals.”
The experience with family inspired Buffo to relocate to Colorado, where she joined Tradiv – the largest online wholesale B2B marketplace for the cannabis industry – as the chief marketing officer, again allowing her to flex a skillset that she was honing over time.However, she quickly learned that the traditional marketing tools she had used did not translate to cannabis.
“There was sort of this joke that I still get: ‘Why do you need marketing in cannabis, it sells itself,’ and that’s not true. And particularly now, so I needed a community and help and resources that I didn’t have,” she says.
She started asking her peers, which led to a greater community of like-minded professionals asking the same questions. What first felt like a grassroots side project quickly grew into meetups in Denver, then LA, then San Francisco. She began charging for the meetups and eventually created memberships. She used feedback from attendees to determine how to build out the membership organization.
” So it, very organically, grew from there. And then once I was ready to make the transition out of my job, I did. And I’ve been with CMA full time for about the last six and a half years.”
The CMA focuses on education and best practices for industry marketers with the vision of rebranding cannabis at the national level, evident at the June 2022 summit. Major brands were represented on panels, and attendees accounted for CMOs, PR professionals, small business owners, and the media. Together they shared best practices, explored the Metaverse, and strategized on how to overcome compliance challenges and how to improve the lines of communication between brands and retailers.
When asked about the future of CMA, Buffo is in the same mindset as most brands–scale. Grow membership, grow content, grow the impact.
“Marketers historically as a profession, cannabis aside, get a bad rap. We have an opportunity, like we say in the industry all the time, to build something new, build something different, build something up from the ground floor,” she says.
As the founder and publisher of SWEET JANE magazine, Katy has worked in publishing, both on the editorial and business sides, for over 15 years. In 2018 she decided to fuse her skill with passion to create SWEET JANE magazine, a print and online publication on cannabis for women and mothers. The magazine’s mission is to serve as briefing on all things cannabis for women, providing cannabis education, parenting and pot, the benefits of plant medicine to health, well-being, and cannabis in society. Katy believes that it has always been acceptable for mothers to consume cannabis.