How this gay entrepreneur became the founder of the world’s largest cannabis science expo

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Josh Crossney didn’t initially set out to create the world's largest and most technical cannabis science expo, writes Zachary Zane, but that’s exactly what he did as the founder, president, and CEO of the Cannabis Science Conference (CSC). The conference, which will be biannual as of this year, brings together cannabis industry experts, instrument manufacturers, testing labs, research scientists, medical practitioners, policy makers, and interested novices with one goal in mind: to improve cannabis science.

At the inaugural event in 2016, the CSC hosted over 750 visitors. The following year, there were over 2,000 attendees from 24 countries, and this past year, 3,000 attendees shared their work from all over the world.

Civilized caught up with the cannabis entrepreneur to discuss the upcoming April CSC and what it’s like being an openly gay man in a straight-dominated industry.  

Josh, tell us a little about how you ended up working in the cannabis industry.

So as you know, I run a company called Cannabis Science Conference and actually started my career in cannabis with that. Before cannabis, I worked in the staffing and recruiting industry for analytical sciences. I recruited for testing labs, environmental food safety, and a number of instrument manufacturing companies. That's where my science-y background comes from. Before that I used to work in event planning for weddings and parties in the D.C. and Baltimore area. For the last four years, I've been in the cannabis industry working with Cannabis Science Conference. We had our first conference in Oregon in 2016, and we just wrapped up our third conference in August of last year. This year, we will actually have two conferences, one in Oregon and the other in Baltimore.

What exactly is the Cannabis Science Conference and what’s its mission?

The Cannabis Science Conference is the world's largest scientific and medical cannabis event. Last year we had over 3,000 people in attendance and close to 200 vendors. Fran Drescher was one of our keynote speakers. This year, our celebratory keynotes will be Ricki Lake and Montel Williams.  

My background, as I said, is in science and recruiting. When I started looking into the cannabis industry, I realized that there wasn't really a platform for the world's leading scientists, researchers, and medical professionals to connect, share their information, and advance the industry forward.

Most of what was on the market were general business trade shows. While many do a great job, they’re not going to attract a leading world researcher from across the globe. Even if a researcher did attend, how far would their information go? So it makes sense to give that information to a more scientific crowd. Our goal with CSC is to bridge the gap between traditional science, medicine, and the cannabis industry.

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In addition to bringing great scientific minds together, what else has the CSC achieved?

Some of the best things for us is when we get feedback from attendees. We've had people that got placed in really awesome jobs and have gone on to conduct groundbreaking research. One graduate student attended our 2017 conference, and he got to meet [Israeli cannabis scientist] Dr. Dedi Meiri. Now he's over in Israel at the Technion Institute’s Laboratory of Cancer Biology and Cannabinoid Research working under Dr Meiri. For me, personally, I get renown researchers like Dr. Ethan Russo and Dr. Sue Sisley saying some of the nicest things. They're just so grateful for a platform and feel like when they speak at our event, they have a greater impact.

Switching gears a little, what is it like being gay in the cannabis industry?

First, I would say the cannabis industry is the most colorful, open-minded industry that I've ever been a part of. I think the cannabis industry has fostered all [kinds of] minority groups, whether it be people of color, women, or LGBT individuals to work together and lift each other up.

Still, like any other industry, there’s room for improvement. At the end of the day, cannabis is still a cisgender, straight, and white male-dominated industry. When entering the field, I had to ask myself, do I want to “tone myself down” or do I embrace my true self, and even use that to my advantage? I went with the latter and embraced who I am, and put that into my personal brand. I use my style and fair.

There have, however, been times where I've fought harder than someone else in the boardroom because of who I am, unable to let my work speak for itself. I look at those situations as a challenge, and as a chance to show who I am and what I can offer. But more often than not, being gay and in cannabis has been great.

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How do you think the cannabis industry can be more inclusive of the LGBT community?

Hiring practices is a big way. Every company should make sure to include as many different people from different backgrounds as possible, specifically, women, people of color, and members of the LGBT community. I’d also like to encourage people to embrace themselves. I've recently started to get connected with more and more LGBT individuals in the industry, but many aren’t comfortable being out. While that is each individual’s own prerogative, I do think the more we stand up as a voice for our community, the more quickly we’ll see improvement.

The crazy thing about the cannabis industry is that it’s very entrepreneurial. Regardless of who you are, you can get the funding and make a career for yourself, which is what I’ve done in a nutshell and encourage anyone else to do.

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