Brooke Burgstahler launched her own online health and wellness platform, Budding Mind, which she says focuses on “the softer side of cannabis.” Photo credit: Emily Eizen.
Cannabis has been dragged through the mud for decades. Actress and journalist, Brooke Burgstahler, is on a mission to tell cannabis’ full story. But, she isn’t greenwashing it as she spotlights both the negative and positive realities of the industry, from prosecution to plant medicine.
Burgstahler is a content creator and actress who’s appeared on Mad Men, Black-ish, the Greatest Story Ever on MTV, and more. She is also an award-winning producer, and creator of the Golden Telly-award-winning docu-series, Prisoners of Prohibition. Currently, she hosts, writes, and produces the BigMike + Advanced Nutrients’ daily news show, World of Weed (formerly Marijuana Morning News).
The “actor-visit,” as she’s been described, got her start in cannabis as most people do — as a consumer. And though her career in cannabis was one where plan B turned into plan A, she’s defining what it means to be a professional in the pot industry.
In 2020, Burgstahler launched her own online health and wellness platform, Budding Mind, which focuses on “the softer side of cannabis,” she explains. Emerald spoke with her about the platform, creating conscious content, cannabis as a political statement, and more.
*This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Emerald Magazine (EM): Your work, including the World of Weed news show, which you write, host and produce, emphasizes “edutainment,” or educational entertainment. Why is this important when covering the cannabis industry?
Brooke Burgstahler (BB): Creating cannabis news has to be a blend of both information and some form of entertainment. While [some] might know about cannabinoids, the endocannabinoids system, and terpenes — the average consumer doesn’t have that same language. It is important when presenting information to have an element of fun to […] help make the information as digestible as possible.
It can be really intimidating how much scientific jargon is in the average cannabis conversation. […] Much like yoga, so many people are intimidated to dip their toes in the water because they feel like there is this whole world that has evolved far beyond what they can comprehend. That’s simply not the case. I want everyone to feel like they have a place in this community, because they do. Cannabis is for everyone.
EM: Despite the fact that most Americans believe cannabis should be federally legal, professionals in the cannabis industry still face stigma. What are the ways in which you are reminded of that stigma?
BB: When I first started working in cannabis […] — I didn’t tell anyone. There was a fear I had of coming out of the cannabis closet to my parents; fear that they would be disappointed in me; fear that they would believe I was working in an illegitimate industry. Then I had fear from an entertainment industry aspect. I had fear that opportunities would be ruined for me if I was vocal about using cannabis.
For a while, I was very careful about putting my work out there, and ever smoking on camera. That’s still something that frankly I’m very careful of because I don’t want to scare anyone away.
There’s definitely a lot of stigma around being a professional who uses cannabis. A lot of people think that I spend all day smoking weed. That’s simply not the case. I have a lot of boundaries with my cannabis consumption. I think that’s something that’s very important when you want to be a productive stoner. I do not smoke before I go on camera — I’ve had too many experiences of that going wrong. I typically prefer if people who work on my crew do not smoke cannabis [on set] either.
EM: Your Prisoners of Prohibition for Merry Jane Media series sheds light on people serving life sentences for pot. What was it like to speak with those prisoners. What moment stands out most to you?
BB: When we were working on this and I would share the project with my friends or my community, […] people would do a double take. I would say, “I am working on a project about people who are serving life for weed.” So many people’s retort was, “Wait, that’s a thing? That’s happening?”
There’s 40,000 people in jail right now for cannabis convictions. That’s 40,000 too many if you ask me. Any number of people who are serving time for weed — that’s a startling statistic.
When we dove into the creation of this doc, we were able to really look at people’s faces, and [put] stories to these numbers. That’s when it became very real. It was a very emotional ride for me. I don’t have any family members or relationships who have been in prison. This cut so deep for me because as I learned these people’s stories, and I spoke with their families — I [saw] the devastation it left behind. I kept hearing in the back of my head, ‘this could be your dad. This could be your mom. This could be you.’ That’s a reality that a lot of people don’t acknowledge. Especially now that there’s over 300,000 Americans that hold jobs in the legal industry. [The] legal industry and those job opportunities are built off of the backs of those people serving time.
There’s one particular moment that I’d love to share where we did a screening of Prisoners of Prohibition with Urban Outfitters. Amy Povah [founder of the Clemency for All Nonviolent Drug Offenders (CAN-DO) Foundation] brought posters she created of these people’s faces and brief files of their stories.
Cannabis lawyer, Bruce Margolin, took those pictures and passed them out to our audience members. [He] asked everyone to really look at their faces, and […] to pray for that person whose story is being held in their hands. To remember these are individuals whose lives have been ruined. At the very least, as cannabis consumers — we can say their names. We can remember them. We can hold them in their prayers. That’s not really action-based but it’s a beautiful thought. And that’s something that I try to do.
We get so caught up in the beautiful packaging and the Apple store-cannabis dispensary experiences that it can be a real bummer to think about [our] brothers and sisters left behind in prison. It is obviously the story line that needs to be repeated over and over again because we are finally at the breaking point where that may no longer be the case in a coupe of years.
EM: Do you believe the mainstream media has a bias against their coverage of cannabis? Conversely, what does it mean to be objective when reporting on cannabis?
BB: As more politicians become involved with behind the door deals with the cannabis industry, we are seeing mainstream media shed a more positive light [on the plant].
However, in cannabis media, we need to be more careful. [Fellow journalist] Mary Jane Gibson had really introduced this concept to me that as cannabis journalists, we oftentimes just want to lean on the positives of cannabis because who wants to talk shit about their own industry? It’s nevertheless important to be realistic and to educate people on the corruption, and the negative aspects of our industry so we can prevent it as it continues to evolve and grow.
That’s something that I have to remind myself of — cannabis is good for a lot of things; but it may not be good for everything. Cannabis legalization may solve a lot of problems; but it won’t solve every problem.
When it comes to cannabis journalism, there’s that feeling of duty to portray the plant in a positive light. But […] those who are dedicated to specifically covering cannabis, they need to showcase the entirety of a debate, and not necessarily lead it. That’s where the idea of edu-tainment comes in for me because it softens the strictness of [the debate]. Of course, you never want to add to the slander of the plant, you always want to open people’s eyes to its myriad benefits.
EM: You’ve said that being in the cannabis industry is a political statement. How so?
BB: Having any relationship with cannabis — whether you use cannabis or not — is a political statement because cannabis is so intrinsically tied to our criminal justice system. Whatever product you buy, whatever brand you support, whatever modality of cannabis you use — that has a domino effect on someone, somewhere.
If you decide to use cannabis, [it’s a] form of activism, of representation that when I use cannabis, I am choosing to use it as a free citizen. I believe that having access to this god-given plant is my right.; I am advocating for my government to align with my belief system.
When more than 70% of Americans believe that cannabis should be federally legal, and yet we don’t have legislation to support that public demand — that’s when you know the government isn’t really working for the people.
Cannabis being illegal is such a powerful representation of corruption in so many different intersecting industries, whether it be agriculture, or prison systems, or just legislative neglect.
When people decide not to use cannabis, or decide that they don’t agree with cannabis legalization — that’s also obviously a political statement too. Then, you’re validating the thousands of people who are serving time for cannabis convictions. You’re saying that’s ok, that you support the government’s decision to incriminate people for using a plant.
EM: One of your missions is to raise awareness about blind spots in the cannabis industry. What are some of these blind spots, and how are you drawing attention to them with your recently launched platform, Budding Mind?
BB: When I was growing up as a novice cannabis consumer, […] the archetype of who the typical stoner was did not look like me. They were typically very masculine, often grungy. It was hip-hop culture; it’s High Times. It’s flat brimmed hats and dads. That is not me. So, I decided to create the community that I felt I was lacking [with] Budding Mind to show that cannabis consumers are no one thing. They are male and female and everything in between. They are old and young, rich and poor, punk and poetic.
EM: Budding Mind also focuses on the “softer side of cannabis.” Tell us about this.
BB: A Budding Mind is someone who likes to dabble in perhaps an herbal refreshment along with a cup of tea. Someone who is interested in exploring the combination of cannabis and yoga, cannabis and mediation, how cannabis affects their sleep or can be included into their diet.
I am particularly interested in shedding light on the ancient practices and applications of using cannabis, and reminding people that our ancestors, and our ancestor’s ancestors had a reverence for this plant.
I’m very interested in gods and goddesses and mythological archetypes who have also been the keepers of this plant. Historical texts have made references to this plant, and I think it’s really important to remember where this plant has been so we can help shape better where it is going. Where it’s been was a place of reverence, a place of respect, healing and bowing to the giving tree that this plant is. I want to see people’s relationship with cannabis evolve as cannabis becomes more and more popular. It can be another substance for abuse; it can be a crutch. Or it can be a substance that enlightens you and livens you, evolves you, elevates you, and [one] that opens your mind and opens your heart.
EM: What are some of your favorite minority-owned brands?
BB: At the top of my list is Elevate Jane, a cannabis accessory shop owned by Angela Mou. She works with local female glassblowers who create the most incredible bongs, pipes, and bubbler artwork that you can imagine. My favorite thing that she has made [are] Lady J Fummets. The joint extenders [are] shaped like the female body and they are absolutely beautiful. […]
And then I would love to mention Frigg, a body and hair care brand started by Kimberly Dillon. […] She works with a team of scientists and botanical experts to make these gorgeous products chock full of all different kinds of herbal medicines, along with CBD, that will make your hair feel so freakin’ luxurious.
Dillon named her products Frigg after the North goddess Freya. Allegedly, Freya would give cannabis to the Viking men when they came home from battle.
Cannabis is almost like no other industry; it really pays homage to such deep roots. That is one of the more fascinating and just inspiring aspects of the industry and brand creation in general. There’s a bit more thought and intention behind cannabis brands that I think is typical of alcohol or clothing companies.
EM: As a budding health and wellness guru, what other plant medicines are you excited about?
BB: I love to dabble in a myriad of plant guides. I have a personal affinity for psilocybin mushrooms. I worked with Double Blind Magazine on their Grow Your Own series. I am a huge advocate for people growing their own cannabis, growing their own mushrooms — grow your own, take your power back!
I am totally in favor of the burgeoning psychedelic marketplace. I do think, just as cannabis has shown us, we need to be careful as we start to commercialize these plant medicines. That is not how they were naturally intended for humankind: not to be packaged beautifully and thrown up on billboards or have social media platforms pushing products. These are plant medicines that should be available to anyone and everyone.
[…] I think people are called to explore plant medicines. And when you hear the call, it’s something that you should listen to.
[…] When you have fear regarding plant medicines, that’s not your fear — that’s society’s fear. You’ve been given that fear. It’s not inherent to the experience. You have anticipation, you have excitement, and you have nervousness because you care about what’s going to happen. A shift may occur for you, and that is vastly different from fear. That is beautiful. That is what I would love people who are curious about dabbling in plant medicine to know… The fear that you feel has been given to you through propaganda, through plant prohibition, through your parents, through the DARE program. But fear, that’s not yours.
The unknown can be terrifying. […] We all have ego-ness that we want to protect at all costs. It’s ok to move beyond it. In fact, your evolution depends on [it].