The Weed Issue
A framed black-and-white photo of a baby-faced Barack Obama smoking pot hangs on a stark white wall in the lobby of La Mota’s outpost in Southeast Portland. Named after a Mexican slang term for dope, La Mota is a sleek, minimalist dispensary without pretentiousness. Like the photograph, the storefront exudes a crisp, spirited youthfulness, but beneath this playful façade is a powerhouse to be reckoned with.
At the age of 28, La Mota’s CEO, Rosa Cazares, is leading the cannabis industry as an executive of one of Oregon’s largest dispensary chains and a pioneer of equality. As of late 2016, Cazares—a Florida native who’s lived on her own since age 14—leads a workforce at La Mota comprising nearly 80 percent women. Though managerial positions in the cannabis trade continue to be dominated by men, a study conducted by Marijuana Business Daily revealed a sizeable margin for executive positions held by women, at 36 percent compared to the nationwide average of 22 percent for all trades. And while it isn’t shocking that a 2015 Newsweek article explored the possibility that cannabis might become the first billion-dollar industry to flip the gender bias, La Mota has been living that vision every day since they opened their doors three years ago.
During my Thursday evening visit to La Mota’s Brentwood-Darlington location, customers steadily shuffle in and out of the doors with purpose. A gray-haired middle-aged man wearing a puffy vest receives assistance as he sniffs various strains from the Mason jars of weed that line an entire wall. Meanwhile, a queer white couple searches for the perfect introductory vape pen, radiating the timidity and care of new parents shopping for their firstborn’s car seat. When a regular named Eric pops in and offers to bring pizza for the whole staff, he understandably garners numerous enthused cheers.
Though this La Mota location is just one of nearly two dozen stores statewide, it feels like a neighborhood spot in the truest sense. Kira Persaud, a 21-year-old assistant manager at the Southeast location, explains that the shop’s atmosphere creates a sense of comfort for employees and customers alike. After she moved to Portland in April 2016 looking for a job, it wasn’t long before she stumbled upon the store and fell in love with its energy.
“When you walk in here, everyone is smiling and everyone is moving,” Persaud says. “Other dispensaries just feel like stores, but when I came in here it was kind of like a party. You just want to be here.” After visiting the store two days in a row, she asked if they were hiring and landed a position with swiftness.
“Party” is synonymous with positivity in Persaud’s book—it’s a descriptor she uses with frequency when describing her work environment. “I haven’t found a place that I enjoy more than this,” she says. “There aren’t very many pictures or things to look at, and it’s not really homey because of its office look. But I feel like the vibe, in general, is way better.” When asked what contributes to La Mota’s uplifting mood, she replies, without hesitation, “The employees.”
Persaud, who will celebrate a year working with the company in May, will soon spend her time managing La Mota’s Hollywood location, which is scheduled to open in the coming weeks. It’ll be the latest in a string of stores that reach as far away as Medford and Shady Cove. Though Persaud had never worked in weed before joining La Mota’s workforce, she found the transition natural. “I’ve personally always wanted to be in the medical field, and marijuana is slowly drifting into that category. When I was younger, I was really interested in heat-of-the-moment medicine and ambulances. Marijuana is more laid-back, but it’s still in a medical field, and I appreciate that.”
With La Mota, Cazares has mastered a delicate approach to work that’s as seemingly community-oriented as it is capitalistic. According to her employees, her professional drive is contagious. “We are under Rosa and her attitude reflects on everybody. Being 28 and where she is now, I look at her as a role model,” says Persaud, describing an ethos that emanates through each La Mota location and the staff members who work there.