Izquierdo has used her role in cannabis to organize clothing kits for the homeless and provide aid to Puerto Rico with other cannabis leaders after the region was struck by hurricanes Maria and Irma. Now a YouTube channel host who gives advice to others struggling with addiction, Izquierdo hopes her story will inspire people who faced the same battles that she did while considering cannabis as a way to heal and find new communities of friends. We caught up with Izquierdo to learn more about what pulled her into the cannabis space, the challenges she's faced as a woman in the industry, and how she's used the plant to propel herself forward.
Westword: What makes you so passionate about cannabis?
Ana Izquierdo: I was a methamphetamine addict from ages nineteen to twenty. I had a friend who said to smoke cannabis, because I was having a lot of anxiety, anger issues and stuttering in my vocabulary. All of these things were results of the addiction. I noticed that things were changing and my speech was changing. I was able to function without having so much aggression and animosity. My childhood and my adolescent years were somewhat filled with a lot of trauma. When I became sober, it was like all of those broken bridges in my mind were just destroyed. I had more aggression toward the fact that I could not fix what was broken; I didn't know how to mend those bridges. And when I started to smoke weed, it was a matter of getting memories back, and my vocabulary was there without stuttering or getting frustrated to speak.
It helped me recover from the damages caused by my addiction. It was about a year and a half after using it consistently. I would say my consumption was more in social settings, but not necessarily only social. I wouldn't wake up in the morning and smoke; it was more like when my friend came over and she had it, we would partake, and things just kind of gradually started to fix themselves with the use of cannabis.
That's initially when I started using cannabis. Now, getting into the actual industry was a bit different. I noticed there were a lot of us who consumed cannabis around 2013. I had a couple of people that I had done couponing with and social-setting type of stuff. We all kind of came together and thought, "Well, we're fighting for legalization now. It's about to become an actual legitimate industry. Maybe we can actually create community groups." So I created Kind Buds Inc., which was a community group of couponers.
Essentially, we had stockpiled stuff we had saved in our homes, kind of like those extreme couponers that you see on TLC. We had a lot of products: toothpaste, toothbrushes, shampoo, etc. A lot of us got together and thought about the fact that that we had such an influx of people moving to Colorado, and our homeless population had an influx, as well. We wanted to get what we could out of our own supply that was just going to go bad because it's sitting in our cabinets. And so, a lot of us got together...and created Kind Buds Inc. We ended up going out and doing an event. It was more of a community giveaway called Kids Give Kits. We would create hiking-product kits and grab our kids, as well as their friends. We would extend invitations to our neighbors to bring their children out and have their children hand out kits to the homeless population.
It was about helping our community members, but also teaching our children the humbling experience of being able to serve the underserved, and being able to take care of the other people in your community. It's not just about taking care of yourself, but a matter of if you're taken care of and have extra, then definitely give it to somebody who needs it. That kind of progressed for about six to seven months back in 2014.
You've also dealt with other trauma such as facing homeless, assault, rape and racism. Did cannabis help with any of this?
It definitely helped me in the process of coping, in the process of dealing with the aftermath. I call it the aftermath. I've called it the aftermath for a majority of my life. For me, getting into cannabis and using cannabis was to help cure the aftermath of my addiction. I think that cannabis can definitely help cope with the aftermath of dealing with trauma. For me, personally, cannabis has helped me be able to express myself without frustration. It has allowed me to mend those bridges that were broken after addiction. It's allowed me to be able to be a better wife, a better mother and a better woman in society. I'm not so angry. I'm not just always wanting to scream at the top of my lungs because of what I've had to survive. It has made it easier for me not to feel like a victim, but to feel like a warrior.
Is that why you have the nickname "La Reina de Mota"? Because of what cannabis has done for you, and your role in the culture surrounding it?
I use the word "mota" because it's slang for weed in Spanish, and I am a very proud Latina. But I say "MOTA-vation." I'm very motivational. My platform initially in this industry was cannabis being the harm-reduction approach to addiction, to surviving it and getting through it. I say motivational, because weed, cannabis, marijuana, whatever you call it — the plant itself has so many beneficial properties that it can help with. It can motivate you to get off the couch. It can motivate you to go out and enjoy nature. It can motivate you to appreciate those things in life that stresses and anxiety and trauma and pain might try to take away from you.
What's the feedback you've gotten as a woman in the cannabis industry? Have you faced any discrimination because of your gender?
Definitely. I've had conversations over the years in the industry about this and about women excelling in it — and it is a struggle. I was in the I.T. field for nine years, and that industry is very condescending to women in STEM [science, technology, engineering and mathematics]. It's not a common occurrence for women to be in STEM. I have dealt with that sexist kind of mentality, that "machismo" kind of attitude that was very prevalent in the industry. And so when I came into cannabis, it was a little bit different. I got some pushback from some male counterparts in the industry. There are mentalities out there that you have to counterattack in a professional way when they say that maybe women should just do secretary work or administration work. Those type of little snide comments can set women back. It can make women think, "Maybe I'm not welcome in this industry," and you can get that. And I did get some of that. Honestly, most of the tension that I've experienced in cannabis has been from other women.
Really? So it's been more women against women?
I was just talking to another woman out of Humboldt County, which is in California, and she's been in the industry well over twenty years, because California has been medicinally legal for a long time. I told her we're in an age where social media is so predominant in this industry, because we don't have a lot of avenues for marketing. We did get a lot of Facebook accounts thrown off and a lot of advertisements bounced, but social media has still been our go-to in this industry for advertising, marketing and pushing your product and services. And because that has been such a predominant avenue for us in the industry, we face the same opinionated backlash that comes.
I don't want to say gossip, because gossiping is just for women, but the "he said, she said" type of atmosphere. It has become somewhat of the driving force to a lot of the beef in the industry, which is because of social media. You can't tell context. You can't tell any of that. You just see pictures and words, and you decide what tone to read it in. A lot of backlash or negative feelings that I've had while being in the industry have been from other women. Potentially, another thing we suffer from that's becoming a big issue in the industry right now is the fact that there are a lot of women working for companies freelancing, doing their own thing and owning their own businesses. And they're not getting paid.
Why would they not be paid?
It's kind of a big topic right now among the women in the industry. It depends on the situation. Some people don't get paid because the client will turn around and say, "I wasn't satisfied with your services. I'm not going to pay you," even though they had a verbal agreement or they had a relationship-based type of business.
What do you mean by "relationship-based" business?
It's something like being friends with someone before actually giving them services. I've experienced it with two women in this industry: one out of California and one here locally. With the woman in California whom I worked for, I invested months of services into her organization, and we were friends beforehand. When it came time to pay the bills, she said, "Well, I don't have money to pay you. I am not going to pay you. This was a favor. You did me a favor." And because there was no contract and nothing signed, I kind of got gypped. But, lesson learned.
When it came to this next client that I had to deal with here locally, I had contracts and documentation. I had the ability to go to a court and file a civil suit. So, lesson learned. I was out a lot of money, but that's kind of the way it goes. And a lot of these companies have this idea that because weed is not federally legal, they don't necessarily have to pay, because they assume that the people they're hiring can't go to a labor board and report their cannabis business to a federal government agency. But that's not the case. You can definitely go to a labor board. You can definitely file documentation and lawsuits, and go to court, and do all the same things that you would do with any other company outside of cannabis.
Would that be your advice to women interested in being in the cannabis industry?
Yes. You definitely have to make sure that you cover your backside. You need to make sure that you have all the proper documentation and all of your licensing. You have to make sure that your paper- trail method is strong. And that's with any industry, honestly, not just with cannabis.
Has there been an issue in the cannabis industry where men have been known to steal women's ideas or work?
Same thing happens here. Same exact thing. I've had people see my work on social media, snag it, change a couple of things and put it out as if it's their own. It is discrimination. In the beginning years of regulation and legalization, back in 2014 and 2015, I think there was a lot of animosity from male counterparts toward women who wanted to come into the industry. It wasn't necessarily active animosity, like saying, "Women shouldn't be in the industry," but the attitude of having a boys' club. These men are going to work together, and you women do what you want to do. So that's when you had organizations like Women Grow, which I was a part of here in Denver, come up.
We have all of these women-focused organizations because there was that lack of support from the male counterparts for the women trying to build businesses in the industry. That was a struggle for a lot of women who came into the industry, wanting to have things like dispensaries, grow operations and core industry businesses. There were a couple of women that I know of that created dispensaries, and they didn't have a lot of male investors. There weren't a lot of males at the table wanting to invest in women's businesses.
How easy is it to reach a breaking point without real avenues of support?
There have been women businesses that have decided they just want to shut the doors. They don't want to deal with it. They would much rather go into an ancillary business instead of being a core business of the industry. I've known women who have created great ancillary businesses; they had these amazing ideas for providing services to the industry, and because they had to deal with the lack of investment or the runaround given by male counterparts, they just thought, "I'd rather go and work a nine-to-five than keep doing this."
I have suffered homelessness [because of not being paid]. My family of five just got through homelessness from not being paid from a client. That had a huge impact on my children and husband. It definitely breaks down the family structure when you suffer from those kinds of things. When you have that type of backlash, you have that type of obstacle that you have to overcome, it becomes a matter of how it's affecting my livelihood. This is not just affecting my day-to-day and not just affecting my finances. It's affecting my stability.
That can really put you down mentally.
It did. It put me in a huge depression. I had never had to experience that previously in my lifetime. It was not something that was in the plan, but we survived it. I worked every day. It didn't matter how much it took out of me, because of the big downfall that it put my emotional state in. If anything, the type of negative obstacles that I had to go through could do one or two things: I could have let it drown me and potentially still be homeless now, or I could take that force, take that power back, put my family forward and keep going. And that's what my husband and I did. It was a matter of sucking it up and doing what we needed to do. As of October, we are finally under our own roof again, and my business is thriving. I actually do digital marketing for a couple of CBD brands now, and my runway show is coming back in 2020.
What was the inspiration behind the runway show?
This was back in 2014 and 2015. I was talking to a lot of people in the industry having struggles with advertising and marketing cannabis; I grew up watching runway shows or even cheerleading competitions. Stuff like that was always something that was in our home. I have two older sisters, so fashion's always been kind of a thing — not necessarily for myself, but I did like dressing other people. So I kind of put the two things together. I was watching the Victoria's Secret Runway Show on YouTube back in 2014, got to thinking, "There's all these brands on the runway, and there's all of this apparel, but what if we put a bong on the runway? And what if we replace apparel with a vape pen? Or what if we combine the two?" I started to write it down and bounce ideas off family members. My niece, who is actually a model, and my sister, who's done modeling, said this was an amazing idea if I could pull it off. I've always been one where if somebody tells me, "If you can do this..." And I'm like, "What do you mean if?".
Exactly. I got to talking to some of the women who were in Women Grow with me. (I was actually co-chair of events of Women Grow Denver back in 2015.) Finally, I just thought, "Well, screw it. I'm going just do it. I'm going to see if I can actually get these brands together and put it on." And, sure enough, August 22, 2016, we put on the first cannabis Canna Catwalk fashion show at Beta Nightclub, and it was a huge success. In 2017, we got picked up to be part of a pre party for the Grammys on February 16 in L.A.. We ended up having Montel Williams and Bonita Money walk our runway, [and] Charlo Green, who is actually the newscaster who openly said, "Fuck it, I quit." on TV during a live newscast, walked our runway in 2016. We've been super blessed. It was an event that was to assist the industry with marketing and advertising, but ended up becoming an event that celebrated art, innovation, technology and cannabis. We were super stoked about that, and about the growth. We kind of took it more underground, doing some private events throughout the years. We got picked up for a show in Malta back in 2018.
So now it's becoming more worldwide.
Yes. It's become an international show, but we're bringing it back to the States in 2020.
Is the Canna Catwalk going to be back in Colorado any time soon?
We were initially talking about bringing it back home to Denver, but we have had an abundance of people out of California reach out to us. So we are moving it to L.A. in 2020, and we'll be back in Denver in 2021...it's usually just a once a year event. And I keep saying usually, because things have just been picking up rather quickly in the last couple of weeks since we've announced that we wanted to bring it back. It is an annual show, but we definitely are open to joining other events and putting on smaller renditions of Canna Catwalk if anybody is interested.
On top of self-care and your professional life, how has cannabis helped spur your advocacy efforts?
It started out as United for Puerto Rico, but it evolved into RELEAF for Puerto Rico. My family actually lives in Puerto Rico, both my father and my grandmother. When the hurricanes hit Puerto Rico [in 2017], we were pretty devastated. I didn't have any contact with my father for a few days. I knew that there were several other industry members who also had family in Puerto Rico. I reached out to them, and got to talking to Tamara Anderson out in California, who owns Culinary & Cannabis. We wanted to do a huge fundraiser, [with] one in California and one in Colorado. She and I started talking about this fundraiser, and I got to talking to David Serrano, who is co-owner of Harvest 360 and also had family in Puerto Rico. His mother was doing a supply drive in New Jersey for Puerto Rico as well. We all kind of put our heads together and thought, "Why are we doing all of these separate things? Let's just make one big, huge fundraiser."
It initially started out as wanting to do fundraising and sending funds over to buy supplies, and it ended up becoming so much more, because David Serrano is actually a veteran. He's got some contacts with pilots who have access to planes, and we were actually able to get ahold of people who were associated with Pitbull. He had planes that were going out from Miami to Puerto Rico to take supplies. We decided that we were going to try to do something better than just taking supplies out there; we wanted to get boots on the ground to help rebuild Puerto Rico. We had over eighty volunteers sign up, wanting to go volunteer their time.
They were kind of set up like military missions, for twenty to thirty people to go to Puerto Rico for a one- to two-month stint. They would be staying at David's family's house, which could accommodate that many people. We sent supplies over in these cargo planes and these personal jets, and also sent two or three people at a time. We had teams A and B, which kept sending people to go and rebuild Puerto Rico, clear streets and put tarp roofs over houses. And we teamed up with Open World Supply Store, which was a kind of supply store that did T-shirts, printing, backpacks and promo material. (It ended up becoming Open World Relief, which is actually a nonprofit organization that continues to help people struggling in Puerto Rico, as well as any other country suffering from devastation from natural occurrences.) We did a lot of work in such a short stint. I reached out to local newscasts, because I was in charge of PR and marketing for our group effort. We got a lot of word out in New Jersey, as well. Before our little group became the nonprofit, we had helped over 200 families, and also had helped clear out a school that was on the brink of shutting down. There was so much debris, devastation and destruction from Hurricane Maria that they didn't think they were going to be able to reopen the school. Our team of eight went in there with the schoolteachers, the principal and the staff and helped clear it out. We got that school back up and running.
Did you learn anything about the cannabis community during your work for Puerto Rico?
I think it shows that we can come together. We can bring that devastation that we feel, because that's our homeland. That's where our families are, that's where our people and our heritage is, and we took all of those commonalities in that love and that passion for Puerto Rico. We all had cannabis in common. Cannabis brought us together to find out that we all had that common love for Puerto Rico, as well.
Cannabis can definitely be a conduit to change the world. It's just a matter of whether we want to recognize cannabis as being a conduit. Cannabis brings us together, now what else can we do to change the world? We would talk about how cannabis can change a lot of things in our world and provide a better foundation for us to find common ground. It's always been a cultural thing. Cannabis was not just an industry, but it was something that brought people together. We could all smoke, we could all consume, and we could all talk and laugh and enjoy life. Being able to have cannabis in a stressful time, like having to deal with the destruction of Puerto Rico, can definitely be the conduit to bring us together to make change if we let it.
So you believe cannabis can be a source of relief for a lot of people?
Yes, I feel like cannabis can definitely be an avenue to be explored and have people reach the potential that they want to in life. I came out with a YouTube channel a couple years back called "Ana's Playground." I did videos talking about addiction, the harm reduction approach and also dealing with things that don't necessarily get talked about when it comes to those type of issues, like family. Not just the addict is suffering, but the families are suffering, and we have to be able to recognize that. I try to do some videos that would motivate families to know that they're not alone. Some addicts do recognize that their families are going through it, too. We don't take a negative approach to discussing it. We open up the doors to having those conversations with our families, because they are affected, as well.
Is it like a ripple effect?
Definitely a ripple effect. It's not just a matter of it only affecting your intermediate family. It can go extensive. We have to be open to those types of realizations that it does happen. There are some families that don't want anything to do with the addict. They go on and they live their lives. But in a lot of cases, the husbands, the wives, the children, the mothers and the fathers, they all kind of get affected. Ana's Playground is going to be very motivational for not only addicts, but to provide motivation for just day-to-day life. If you're just waking up in a bad mood, maybe just hearing a little bit about how it's not that bad can help. You're okay. You can do this. That type of mentality can boost people. I definitely want that to be a factor of the channel.
What advice would you give to someone who is in a position like you were in, and is trying to explore cannabis as an option?
I would definitely praise them for taking the leap and trying it. Even with it being legal in so many states now, there's still some hesitation out there. There's still some lack of education that makes people fear whether they should take that leap. I would first and foremost tell every single person to educate yourself. Know whether cannabinoid therapy or CBD is going to help you. There are so many things that come up when you're trying to use cannabis as a medicinal method. You're trying to help cope with trauma or any type of ailment, [so] definitely educate yourself on what it could take, and tell yourself congratulations on taking the leap. It's going to take some time to figure out what your method is and what's going to work for you. But it's definitely an option to be explored, and it's a natural option. It doesn't kill anybody. It's never been on the record of killing anybody. It is definitely better than taking any type of Lexapro or Prozac. You don't have to wait thirty days for it to stop affecting you before you can try something new. It's something that should definitely be explored as a medicinal therapy avenue for any mental health issue.
If it doesn't work for you, that's okay. It doesn't necessarily work for everybody, and it's not an overnight miracle. It is something that you definitely need to have your body tell you whether it's right or not, so listen to your body. Listen to whether things are helping you or not, and see if you're progressing or you're digressing. Those are still things to look for, as well. But to explore it is definitely an option that should be looked into.