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Amber Senter Knows a Superwoman When She Sees One
Oakland’s Amber Senter is a co-founder of Supernova Women and owner of the Breeze Distro cannabis brand. The military veteran and Midwest native explains to Alex and Donnell the qualities that make her fit to judge top cannabis at the inaugural WeedWeek Weedys awards, drops rare social equity knowledge, and shares how her blogging background set the table for a royal 2013 Golden State welcome.
Amber Senter on Instagram
The Weedy Awards
Equity Gains Momentum
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Alex Halperin’s Cannabis Dictionary
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This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.
Alex Halperin (00:06):
Welcome to WeedWeek. I’m Alex Halperin.
Donnell Alexander (00:08):
And I’m Donnell Alexander.
Alex Halperin (00:10):
This is the WeedWeek podcast. You can subscribe to our free newsletters WeedWeek, WeedWeek California, and WeedWeek Canada, all at www.weedweek.net. And you can find us on Twitter and Instagram @weedweeknews. Got any feedback, write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. And we really appreciate it if you can leave us a five-star review on iTunes.
Donnell Alexander (00:28):
What’s interesting this week, it’s always interesting at WeedWeek, but we’ve got a special guest here. I think she’s special because I see her all the time and she’s going to be at our big event.
Alex Halperin (00:38):
Yeah. So, the ubiquitous Amber Senter, she’s an entrepreneur and activist, an upcoming judge at the Weedy Awards.
Donnell Alexander (00:47):
What she puts first on a resume. I don’t know if you knew that and she’s probably the most prominent member of Supernova Women, and they’re a very powerful bunch of advocates in Oakland, in East Bay in general.
Alex Halperin (00:59):
I first wrote about them in 2016.
Donnell Alexander (01:02):
So what were they doing then?
Alex Halperin (01:04):
They were just getting started.
Donnell Alexander (01:05):
Did they have stuff to work with? I mean, I didn’t hear about them until 2018.
Alex Halperin (01:10):
They were just started by, I think, four women. So they were just getting started and beginning to sort of become an activist and educate women of color about joining the industry. They’ve made quite a name for themselves.
Donnell Alexander (01:22):
Well, I wonder if they could have seen in 2016 where California cannabis is right now, but America in general. Because there’s a job’s report from Leafly. They’ve been watching the industry since about that long too.
Alex Halperin (01:34):
Yeah. What’s interesting about the report, we hear a lot of doom and gloom with public struggles at big companies like MenMen and Eaze. A lot of people are starting to get a little more optimistic.
Donnell Alexander (01:44):
Oh, they are. And you know, it’s easy to say I told you so, but in the fall, I think is when we really started hearing about the jobs being shed and it was upsetting, but in the grand scheme of things, I was startled to learn from this report that California is still the leader in the number of jobs in cannabis, despite constricting and making one in five jobs go away.
Alex Halperin (02:05):
Is that how many?
Donnell Alexander (02:07):
Alex Halperin (02:08):
California. I think just about everybody involved in the industry here thinks that it’s its natural birthright to lead the global cannabis industry and the last year of difficulties don’t really change that equation.
Donnell Alexander (02:24):
No, they don’t. And I think what I found powerful about it is that elsewhere this isn’t an anomaly, it’s just growth, growth, growth. It’s the fastest growing industry in America, legal weed. And if you count illegal weed, it’s huge. But we talked about 39,804 jobs in California, but that’s like 5,000 more jobs than they have in Colorado, which is a less bumpy ride than here. Those maturing states like Washington and Colorado are just turning into job machines.
Alex Halperin (02:55):
The job thing to worry about is that I think as soon as they allow interstate trade, you’re going to have nowhere near as much of a need for production facilities, because you’ll be able to produce the weed that you ship everywhere in one place.
Donnell Alexander (03:13):
So if you’re just building something in facilities now, should you be taking that into account?
Alex Halperin (03:17):
It’s an interesting question.
Donnell Alexander (03:13):
Yeah. I hadn’t thought about the interstate impact. I think about the positives and I don’t want to change horses in midstream; is that the expression they use? But I do think that these constrictions, the 20% reduction in jobs that happened in 2019, these are just adolescent-toddler, choose your analogy, immature market things that we’re going through. One that has especially difficult challenges it’s because of its illegal status at the federal level.
Alex Halperin (03:47):
Not everybody gets to see the promised land, that’s for sure.
Donnell Alexander (03:50):
They get to see it. They just don’t get to step on it. Okay, do we want to go straight to Amber? It’s a fun conversation. Cannabis makes learning fun. That’s the message.
Alex Halperin (03:58):
Political economic lessons are all wrapped up in a California roll, which is Amber’s pre-roll brand, but it happens to be one of my favorite kind of cannabis brands.
Donnell Alexander (04:07):
Yeah. We talked about the Weedies a bunch. We needed a best brand name category.
Alex Halperin (04:12):
Okay. Maybe we needed that.
Donnell Alexander (04:14):
Next year. Amber, come on in. Welcome to WeedWeek Amber Senter.
Amber Senter (04:46):
Yes. Thanks for having me.
Donnell Alexander (04:47):
God, I feel like I see so much of you. I have so many questions because it’s that legal weed thing where you kind of see someone for a hot minute, you get an idea of them. Sat in the audience at a panel, but we get to unfurl your whole world right here on WeedWeek.
Amber Senter (05:00):
All right, I’m ready.
Donnell Alexander (05:01):
Well you’re ready for the Weedies. We know this much.
Amber Senter (05:03):
I’m so excited about that. I’m really looking forward to it. I know it is going to be a great time.
Alex Halperin (05:09):
And the judging is over, right? You’ve made your choices.
Amber Senter (05:14):
Yes. Made my choices and I’m ready to announce the winner and the person of color run category.
Donnell Alexander (05:24):
Okay. Now sometimes I play ignorant on the podcast just to open things up for questions, but I have to say, I am embarrassingly ignorant about what’s going on at the Weedies. And I know there’s a category for people of color, but what is this?
Alex Halperin (05:37):
There’s a category for best business run by a person of color, as well as categories, you know, best edible, best flour, with a focus on California brands. Also, we are recognizing a company for its environmental practices. So, a bunch of different categories, some of which promote, I would say, the WeedWeek agenda, that we believe ownership in the industry should be equitable and that the industry should be sustainability minded.
Amber Senter (06:13):
I mean, I completely appreciate what you all are doing. I’m really looking forward to showcasing some of these brands, especially recognizing folks that are trying to do things better, socially responsible.
Alex Halperin (06:30):
Yeah. So, we’re going to be giving out the first annual Weedy Awards on February 28th at the London Hotel in West Hollywood. It’s going to be a great event. We’re going to bring some of our editorial credibility to the inherently suspect business of appraising marijuana brands.
Donnell Alexander (06:49):
Okay. Wait, Amber, do you agree with this? This is something we’ve gone back and forth about Alex and I, he thinks these contests are inherently dodgy because you can’t tell the products apart. Is that what it is? Do you buy that this judging, these contests about cannabis are inherently dodgy because you can’t tell the difference after the first couple hits. That’s why I’m asking you.
Amber Senter (07:12):
Listen, I can tell if I smoke a whole joint, if it brings me up or brings me down, and the next joint if it’ll bring me, you know, how it sways me.
Donnell Alexander (07:24):
Sways, is that what it is?
Amber Senter (07:26):
You smoke. Let’s say you smoke some really good LA OG. Southern California is known for their classic OGs, gassy, potent. If I smoke that and then I turned around, let’s say, and I smoke my weed, the Congo Club, red congo sativa. Like that’s going to swing me in a whole different direction and I’m going to feel it. And I’m going to be able to tell if it’s working or it’s not.
Donnell Alexander (07:53):
Okay. Well, the event is February. What? 29th, 28th?
Alex Halperin (07:57):
Donnell Alexander (07:57):
February 28th. And I’m going to check you on this. I’m going to see where you are.
Alex Halperin (08:02):
If you’re interested in sponsoring the Weedies, you should write to John Bollinger at email@example.com.
Donnell Alexander (08:10):
Yeah. That’s a good transition. You talking about your involvement here. You have a brand that’s different from Southern California OG. This is again, me playing dumb. I know a little about your brand but tell us about it.
Amber Senter (08:22):
So, the name of my brand is the Congo Club and actually I have a few brands. One of them is the Congo Club. That’s probably the most popular one. It is a red Congo and red Congolese varieties. So, Red Congolese is an African landrace strain, very popular here in Northern California. Hopefully it’ll catch on and soak out too. But very clear headed, creative sativa, it’s kind of unique and sativa has a very high myrcene terpene content. And that is kind of like a sedative type of effect that’s typically found in cannabis, usually in indica. So, what this does in the Red Congolese is that we have this very uplifting high, because it is this landrace sativa, but the high myrcene content takes out all of the raciness in the strain. So, you’re not going to get those heart palpitations that you get from soak on something like train wreck.
Donnell Alexander (09:30):
Well, that’s bad because I was in it for the heart palpitation. I’m just kidding. No, it sounds amazing though. It does sound like, I don’t know. Is it all over the Bay area? I haven’t seen your brand down here.
Amber Senter (09:44):
Yeah, it hasn’t made its way to Southern California yet, but it’s definitely all over the Bay in Oakland and San Francisco ripping pretty hard as well as San Jose, which is South Bay.
Alex Halperin (09:59):
And don’t you have a pre-rolled brand called California rolls?
Amber Senter (10:02):
Alex Halperin (10:03):
That is one of my favorite brand names.
Amber Senter (10:05):
Yeah. Thank you. So, it’s a top shelf pre-rolled dipped in hash oil coated in kief like a California roll. Yeah.
Donnell Alexander (10:14):
Last time I saw you was at WeedWeek Recharge event and we were on the stage. There was a conversation topic that seems super relevant at the time. And now it sounds like it feels like it happened, 14 years ago, but we were talking about Beto O’Rourke coming to Oakland. Can you recap that and your role in that?
Amber Senter (10:31):
Beto O’Rourke coming to Oakland. Yes. He came to Oakland really wanting to know from the community and stakeholders in the community about the social equity program and kind of what our ideal social equity program would look like and what was most important to the communities in developing some sort of cannabis equity, like social equity. So, it was really a good meeting with him. And I appreciated that he did a lot of listening. There was a little bit of talking on his part, but the majority of what he did was listen intently and took a lot of notes.
Donnell Alexander (11:08):
I guess, where I’m going with that is, there’s always a lot of political activity about cannabis. And in this present stage Beto O’Rourke is the footnote of the campaign at this point, do you feel like there was anything important that came out of that meeting?
Amber Senter (11:20):
I mean, if anything, it was awareness, he was the first presidential candidate to really recognize that there needed to be social equity in legalization, and he brought forth a lot of that conversation. Before that of course we were all talking about it, but none of the presidential candidates were. So, I think he did a really good job in bringing awareness in bringing forth that conversation to a national level and including it in the presidential race.
Alex Halperin (11:54):
Now remaining candidates are all over the place from Bloomberg who sort of thinks it’s pretty stupid legalization to Sanders. He says he’ll legalize nationally on day one.
Donnell Alexander (12:06):
Which is an amazing thing to say. I don’t know how realistic it is.
Alex Halperin (12:10):
I don’t think it’s realistic.
Amber Senter (12:12):
He says that all that on the first day, like, all right.
Donnell Alexander (12:18):
Hey, so I want to play you something, obviously I went to the Eaze event and I think that’s the last place I saw you, now that I think about it, but I listened in on one of the webinars and here you go.
Amber Senter (12:28):
Oh, by the way, we’re having a tax info session this Friday in Fruitvale, in Oakland. So, we’ll be telling everybody what this new tax structure means, you and your business, and also how you can get tax rebates if you participate in certain activities in Oakland. And then I do a bingo night every couple of months if you want to come and smoke weed and play some bingo and try to win some prizes, some weedy prizes. Starts at 5 and it goes until nine, there’s going to be food and lots of free weed smoking.
Donnell Alexander (13:11):
Yeah. And so how did you in your most frank terms, what did you think of that program? You know, I played the part with you sharing casual stuff, because I felt like a lot of the benefit was fraternal, like being part of almost like a growing up experience. How was that for you? The whole Eaze thing?
Amber Senter (13:32):
It’s been really good. I’ve learned a lot more on the fundraising side than anything. The best part of it has been being coached by these investors, mentors and them really helping me perfect my pitch. Before that, I hadn’t had any kind of real formal training. I’ve won a pitch competition a few years ago, but really that was me just kind of watching a couple of pitches and flying by the seat of my pants.
Donnell Alexander (14:05):
Can you tell us what specifically they did and what it gave you that you didn’t have previously?
Amber Senter (14:09):
Yeah, it’s been the formal training and going through the whole pitching process and what investors expect, I guess. I’ve raised money in the past, but not a ton of money, about $300,000. I feel like they have really prepared me for the big fish, the million-dollar investment that I’m looking for outside of my friends and family round.
Donnell Alexander (14:36):
Which of your brands, did you specifically get the Eaze Momentum, money and mentoring for?
Amber Senter (14:42):
So, it’s been for Breeze Distro, so that’s all of my manufacturing and distribution out of Oakland. So that covers the California Roll, the Congo Club and also the other house brand.
Donnell Alexander (14:58):
So, what comes off that money? What are you able to do with it? And obviously we know what the investment does.
Amber Senter (15:03):
Yeah. What I’ve done is I’ve actually hired two people with that money. I hired a production manager and I’ve also hired a salesperson. I was really involved in our metric transition. I’ve been really close in our production and also doing sales and that’s not sustainable because I need to go out and raise money so that we can keep this going. So it’s really allowed me to be able to just check in and manage people like I’m supposed to, and then get back to the fundraising, which is the CEO’s kind of primary function in a startup.
Alex Halperin (15:43):
Can you tell us a little bit about your experiences getting into stores in the Bay area and how that’s working out? Are you paying slotting fees? Is it really competitive? Tell us a bit about your adventures.
Amber Senter (15:58):
It’s very competitive. I’m not paying any slotting fees because I don’t have those kinds of budgets and money to throw away. And my opinion is that if you got a million-dollar marketing budget, then you can go ahead and do those kinds of things. But I don’t have that.
Donnell Alexander (16:13):
How do you compensate for not having that?
I mean, I go into these establishments and I’m like, “Look, I’m a, a woman of color, I’m a veteran, this is my company and I do a lot for my community. And I’m just trying to make space, not only for others, but myself included, will you take my products?” And it’s not like I’ve got a bad product. The Congo Club was the third best selling sativa two quarters in a row, according to BDS Analytics. So people really dig the strain and that’s in the whole state of California. And people really dig the product. So it’s not like I’m coming out with a myth.
Donnell Alexander (16:54):
We have this ongoing conversation about equity. And one of the points we land on Alex is that’s not how capitalism works. So I’m curious to know when you come to people with that pitch, what’s the response?
Amber Senter (17:07):
It kind of depends, some folks have said okay, and really, really doubled down and supported me, Harborside, they carry us in all of their shops, which is so greatly appreciated. Other folks I can’t even get a call back, you know what I mean? But then, that’s just how it’s going to go. But the majority of the buyers are white men. And I really want these guys and the owners to work with these guys so that they understand the importance of having a diverse shelf and making sure that equity does work throughout the state because really at the end of the day, it’s dependent on the buyers, if they’re actually buying the product so that it can be sold.
Donnell Alexander (17:55):
You know, they express that interest in social change ends where one’s front yard begins. It might have to change that to dispensary door.
Alex Halperin (18:04):
It’s true. I think an essential component of equitable ownership in the cannabis industry is educating consumers to support brands that they support not just because they like the product, but because they want to support an equitable industry or they want to support an environmental industry. And I was talking to some packaging guys the other day who I’d like to have them on the show at a future point because it was really interesting, but they said that people in the cannabis industry, at least on the environmental side, I don’t know about the equity side, they are more interested than buyers of other consumer products in having the product align with causes they support. That’s the start.
Donnell Alexander (18:46):
That’s good news. I have one more equity question. You talk at a lot of conferences and obviously you meet people from all over America who are dealing with legalization issues. When you get into that conversation about social equity and even social justice, have you seen some approaches that outside of California strike you? Things that maybe haven’t gotten as much publicity as what we’re going through?
Amber Senter (19:08):
Yeah. I have heard of, and I think it made its rounds pretty good, but what Evanston is doing, which is just North of Chicago, not too far from where I grew up, they’re actually taking the canvas tax revenues and taking that cash and putting it back into the community versus a straight up kind of licensing thing type deal, which is what we have out in California. And I think what Evanston is doing is what people should really be watching because at the end of the day, communities were destroyed by the war on drugs. And we have to repair the communities, just picking a few people to give a cannabis license opportunity is nowhere near equitable. What about the people that went to jail for cannabis, and then now just don’t ever want to deal with it again? Or the folks that lost their homes on the war on drugs, their home was seized, their belongings were seized. What do we do about these people? And so, I think it’s really important for folks to take a look at not the programs themselves, but the intent of the program. Like what was our original intention? It was to repair these communities that have been destroyed by the war on drugs. Well, how can we do that? And the answer is not giving a few people cannabis business licenses.
Donnell Alexander (20:35):
You’re from Chicago? Is that where you’re from?
Amber Senter (20:38):
Donnell Alexander (20:38):
How did you get out here?
Amber Senter (20:40):
Actually, it was my diagnosis from lupus that brought me to California. So, I was diagnosed with lupus on Halloween 2013. And I was in Chicago and I’m very sensitive to cold weather and I was really worried. I’m like, all right, I gotta get out of here or this winter might kill me because last winter I was definitely ill. I was kind of constrained to bed for two months. I couldn’t walk, I had surgery. It was really crazy. Lupus does some really strange things to the body. And so, I was worried about this next winter approaching. I did a Facebook post, like, “Hey, asking my Atlanta friends, if there were any creative director jobs available” because that’s what my background is. And I had a friend here in Oakland who had an edibles company and he hit me up, “Hey, did you ever thought about coming out to California?”
And I said, “Well, of course I thought about it, but you know, I don’t have any kind of job opportunities out here and I don’t know anyone out there.” Well, I just knew him through online chatting, blogging, but I had never met him in person. And so, he says, “Well, why don’t you come out here and work for me? I could use your art design skills and help in scaling my business.” And so I took him up on his offer and I moved here three months later.
Donnell Alexander (22:04):
When you say here, you’re talking about Oakland, right?
Amber Senter (22:06):
Donnell Alexander (22:07):
And you were warmly embraced?
Amber Senter (22:09):
I was, it was so awesome. The first night I got here to Oakland, I had dinner at Ed Rosenthal’s house with my then boss, Mickey Martin, and John Vergados and Julie Chiarello from Skunk Magazine actually cooked me dinner, Adam Rosenthal’s house. I felt like kind of Royal coming up here.
Donnell Alexander (22:35):
Were you connected in that? How, who did you know in cannabis? Did you have a background? Let’s cut to the chase before you came here.
Amber Senter (22:42):
I didn’t really know anybody, I was just a blogger. I used to blog for this website, Hail Mary Jane, it’s no longer active, I don’t think, but I would write all kinds of articles. I wrote like a recipe column and also a weed wisdom column. So, I would just tell folks how to grow. In one of my most popular posts was how to turn dresser drawers into a stealth grow cabinet. This got over 10 million views.
Alex Halperin (23:17):
How was the mood in Oakland cannabis circles right now? Is everybody still very down or do people think the recovery is coming?
Amber Senter (23:26):
There’s a lot of small operators here in Oakland. So I think everyone is feeling like they got to double down and be resilient because we know that it’s just a matter of time before things start to get better, but they are already getting better.
Donnell Alexander (23:44):
What’s the evidence of it getting better?
Amber Senter (23:45):
Sales, business picking up, things just getting a bit better.
Donnell Alexander (23:50):
When did you start seeing it?
Amber Senter (23:52):
I started seeing it at the beginning of the year, January, but you know, this is not the case for the bigger operators, in my opinion. The really large conglomerates with several hundred employees. I think the lean and mean operators are seeing an uptick because things are kind of leveling out. Everyone’s transitioned over into metric, no flaming hoops to jump through or in the next couple of months, it feels like people are very optimistic at this point.
Alex Halperin (24:25):
Where can people catch up with you?
Amber Senter (24:27):
People can follow my advocacy through Supernova Women at supernovawomen.com and also on Instagram Supernova Women. And, if you want to follow me personally, my Instagram handle is It’sMeAmberE, follow me on there.
Donnell Alexander (24:42):
Oh, Amber, I got to tell you it’s so good to hear you. I am happy. I thought about this while Alex was talking, I hugged your mother. I don’t know who else in the industry, the legal industry’s mother I have hugged, and that we have that and you were so sick at weed camp up in Mendocino. You sound like a different person. I’m so happy for you and your health.
Amber Senter (25:02):
Thank you so much. I feel a thousand times better. I was in bad shape at Meadowlands, but I’m feeling way better now. So, thank you.
Alex Halperin (25:26):
And we will see you at the Weedies.
Amber Senter (25:13):
Awesome. So excited to see you both.
Donnell Alexander (25:17):
Amber Senter (25:17):
All right. Thank you. Bye bye.
Donnell Alexander (25:19):
And that’s our show for this week, but as usual on our way out, we have a tweet from Alex.
Alex Halperin (25:26):
So this tweet comes from Jamie London Wollberg, which is on Twitter, Jlw3_0, Jamie’s a new member of the WeedWeek council.
Donnell Alexander (25:43):
Can you explain the WeedWeek council really briefly for people?
Alex Halperin (25:46):
An assembly of experts within the various factions and aspects of the cannabis world. Jamie is the founder of Tranabis and their Twitter handle is @_Trannabis. Here’s the tweet: “Sometimes, I cannot believe I live this life. I’m so proud to serve on the @WeedWeek Council.” Thanks so much, Jamie.
Donnell Alexander (26:12):
Yeah, people care about this. I learned a lot about the listenership from their engagement and the WeedWeek council has influencers too, right? There’s a lot of spirit and energy and hopefully we catch them at the Weedies.
Alex Halperin (26:24):
Indeed. So as always, you can find us on Twitter and Instagram @weedweeknews and email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. For lots more weed news, you can sign up for our newsletters WeedWeek, WeedWeek Canada, and WeedWeek California, all at www.weedweek.net. And of course, if you’ve gotten this deep into the episode, you’re going to want to subscribe and give us a five-star rating on iTunes so more people can find out about the show.
Donnell Alexander (26:48):
We’re also on Stitcher and SoundCloud and I’m Donnell Alexander.
Alex Halperin (26:52):
Alex Halperin. Our show is produced by Donnie Alexander and engineered by Larry Buhl, Alicia Byer wrote our theme music. We’ll see you again here next week.
Donnell Alexander (27:00):
Next week. Later.