Raised By Wu-Tang: Sophia Chang's Journey Through the Weed Industry as a Non-Smoker
My name is Sophia Chang and I was raised by Wu-Tang.
Based on that introduction, there are many assumptions you could make about me—a perfectly safe and sensible one being I roll that shit, light that shit and smoke it. And yet, you would be wrong. Despite having been weed-adjacent plenty, I’ve never partaken and can’t even stand the smell. As a result, I have spent countless hours backstage, in studios, on tour buses with my nose covered by my signature Gucci leather brim, an ersatz designer gas mask. As the guys in the Clan lit up, they would routinely say, “Sorry, Sophie!” and blow the smoke in the opposite direction.
So imagine everyone’s surprise, including my own, when I found myself working in the cannabis business last year. My friends laughed at the irony but understood it as a logical step in my consistent narrative as a serial entrepreneur. What better industry for a hustler like me than one on the verge of exploding? In the fall of 2015, a friend had asked me to sit down with MedMen, an L.A. based turnkey cannabis management company, who wanted to talk to me about a former client.
I met them after my morning workout and was singularly focused on consuming some combination of protein and carbs. As my muscles absorbed the amino acids and my blood sugar rose, I was able to focus on the new frontier they were laying out before me. It sounded like the Wild West and there was no doubt in my mind that these extremely smart men were on their way to creating a hugely successful and lucrative business. The more they talked, the more questions I asked and analyses I made. By the end of the meeting, they were so impressed by my inquisitiveness and insights that they said,“Whether or not we work with your client, we’re definitely going to work with you.”
They stayed true to their word and last spring hired me as Vice President of Business Development to create strategic partnerships with the entertainment world. At that point, the company was in the nascent stages of developing its marketing strategy which would ultimately give shape to how I would incorporate my network and experience therein. In the meantime, I performed a variety of tasks, including developing new business and helping raise capital for the private equity fund that they had just launched.
I was thrown into the deep end of a new pool and told to swim, a challenge which I appreciated and accepted with full commitment, as I do everything. Admittedly, this was the most mercenary position I’ve ever taken. Outside of music—my passion—the only other industries I’ve dabbled in were advertising and fashion, both still creative, and Shaolin, a deeply physical and spiritual journey that yielded two extraordinary children and a lifelong practice of Chan Buddhism and kung fu. At MedMen, however, only my entrepreneurial curiosity was piqued.
As I embarked upon my steep learning curve, I studied the astonishing medicinal properties of CBD, the strains, science, cultivation, production, regulations, retail, and, perhaps, most importantly, investing. I had never had enough money to invest nor had anything I was pitching to investors so it was all new to me. Chris Ganan, the Chief Strategy Officer, graciously pulled me into countless meetings and calls and answered every question I had about this unfamiliar territory. As a woman of color, it was incredibly empowering to learn to navigate this world.
I was further delighted by Newsweek’s August 2015 cover that touted “Women In Weed: How Marijuana Could Be The First Billion Dollar Industry Not Dominated By Men.” However, of more than twenty women profiled, only five were of color: two Asians, one South Asian, and the two black women were Congresswomen Eleanor Holmes Norton and Barbara Lee, who are not profiting from the industry. And, to my knowledge, none of the women were Latina. And, frankly, in my observations, this is an industry largely dominated by white men who hold the seats of power while women and people of color fill out the rank and file.