These Two Event Planners Are Taking New Yorkers to Weed School
With nearly 900 members, High NY is New York’s largest cannabis meetup. But the group caters not only to people who love weed (though stoners do account for a sizable demographic), but to anyone interested in learning more about cannabis and the businesses related to it. High NY connects people looking to join the conversation, says co-organizer Josh Weinstein, but it's also a hub for leaders in the cannabis industry.
Every month, Weinstein and Michael Zaytsev host educational gatherings touching on various topics in the world of weed. Past events have included “The History of Cannabis Prohibition,” “Concentrates & Edibles,” and “High Tech: Lessons From Silicon Valley for the Cannabis Industry.” The events have featured speakers such as Dana Beal, longtime New York pot activist, Scott Greiper, founder of the cannabis business advisory group Viridian Capital Advisors, and Cy Scott, founder of the weed tech company Leafly. Later this month, they'll be hosting the New York City Cannabis Film Festival.
With members of all ages, ethnicities, and backgrounds — the group includes lawyers, artists, bankers, and engineers — the High NY community is diverse. “It makes sense,” says Zaytsev, “because New York is so diverse and cannabis is ubiquitous. It warms my heart to bring all these talented people together and have the common thread be cannabis.”
Both native New Yorkers, Weinstein and Zaytsev met at Stuyvesant High School in the early 2000s. They were both working in tech — Zaytsev worked for Google in Silicon Valley — when Weinstein hosted the first meetup, in April 2014. Soon after, Zaytsev left the West Coast, founded his own New York–based life coach business, TheCoach.nyc, and began attending High NY events before joining Weinstein as an official organizer.
"When I started learning about the history, social injustice, and medical properties associated with the plant,” says Zaytsev, “I was blown away. As an entrepreneur, I thought this was a once-in-a lifetime opportunity, not only to start a business, but also to create significant social impact.”
Initially, Zaytsev says, it was a challenge for High NY to find locations to host events — venues didn’t want to be associated with cannabis. “A year ago, everyone would just tell me I was crazy for doing this, like, ‘How could you put your name on this?' " he says. "Telling my parents I was doing this stuff was somewhat of a challenge."
These days the events, popularized mostly by word of mouth, are nearly always sold out. They take place at various co-working spaces throughout the city, such as the Harlem Garage. “Everyone wants a part of pot now; it’s the next big thing,” says Zaytsev. "Increased media coverage has given the movement momentum, allowing people to feel more comfortable talking about it openly. This dialogue encourages progress."
It’s easy to just enjoy cannabis without really taking a deeper look at it, says Zaytsev, adding that it's important for everyone to be well-informed about the science behind cannabis medicine. “This is a plant with tremendous power and healing properties which helps a lot of sick people," he says. “Because the laws are restrictive, the best way to get involved is to get familiar with the laws and engage the civic process. Make sure that future legislation is more progressive and more patient-oriented.”
Despite New York’s Compassionate Care Act only allowing for five growers and twenty dispensaries to serve patients suffering from just ten kinds of ailment, the entrepreneurial opportunities in the cannabusiness are beginning to grow.
“You can get involved without touching the plant," Zaytsev says. "Start a national or international company and operate legally from New York.” And while many continue to criticize New York's law for not allowing patients to smoke cannabis, the Compassionate Care Act's “pharmaceuticalized model,” with its vaporizable tinctures and capsules, does provide a window into the future of the medical marijuana industry, says Zaytsev.
“The industry will never be as small as it is today,” he says. “It’s on recreational users, business leaders, activists, politicians, and anyone who’s interested in public welfare to champion medical research and really build scientific evidence into this industry so people can consume safely."
High NY makes clear that cannabis is a fast-growing industry that demands a growing number of leaders in various fields, from medicine to finance to technology. “You don’t have to be a cannabis user to contribute to and benefit from this industry,” says Zaytsev, adding that expertise from other industries is increasingly necessary as legal cannabis expands.
“I feel like [Weinstein and Zaytsev] take the whole A through Z when it comes to the industry,” says Raj Tiwary, a member of High NY and vice president of the Manhattan vape shop Ultimate Vapor Source. As the industry grows, he adds, "it’s good to have knowledgeable people explain it to you along the way."
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