Exploring Legal Cannabis at Yale Conference


After almost a year of planning, Billy Marks (SOM ’18) and his co-organizer Connie Lee (SOM ’18) saw their plans come to fruition on February 16, when they hosted the Business of Legal Cannabis Conference at Yale, the first conference of its kind to be held at an American business school. Billy chatted with CITY about the conference.

Q: Can you tell me about the Yale Business of Legal Cannabis Conference?

A: It was a student-run, one-day conference. The goal was to educate graduate professionals about the cannabis industry, as well as to convene leaders from all sectors of society—for- profit, nonprofit, social sector—to discuss the challenges and opportunities facing the cannabis space today. The layout of the conference was intended to both provide breadth and depth to allow individuals that are newer to cannabis and those who are more experienced to deepen their understanding.

Q: How did you get involved?

A: Connie and I started to talk about industries that are not necessarily getting enough attention from the graduate and professional side, but have really big societal implications in our world—cannabis being one of them. We realized there was an opportunity for management professionals to better educate ourselves about the history of cannabis and how it has been used to oppress and victimize people of color for decades and where the potential societal benefits are related to it as it continues to legalize and grow as an industry sector. I believe that there is a moral imperative for MBAs and other graduate professionals to better understand cannabis, particularly given the current legislative, political and cultural climate we’re in, with more and more individuals across political lines and across demographics supporting cannabis use. I hoped that the conference would inspire individuals that are interested in making a change in the world to think, “Wow, maybe I can make an impact via cannabis whether as a means for social justice, for reducing our environmental impact, or for helping make our society happier and healthier.”

Q: How did it go?

A: I think it went really well! Thanks to our awesome day-of volunteers the day went very smoothly, and I felt that the vision we’d set out to create back in April of 2017 came to fruition.

Q: How was CITY involved in the Business of Legal Cannabis Conference?

A: CITY was one of our funders, which was incredibly helpful for us. We used CITY’s funding to help pay for travel for our nonprofit and social sector speakers. Without CITY’s funding we wouldn’t have been able to bring as many diverse perspectives to the table.

Q: What are your plans going forward?

A: Cannabis, for me, is representative of the kind of work that I want to get involved in. I’m interested in spaces where there’s a lot of interdisciplinary and intersectional conversations to have. I want to push businesses and people that are in places of power to start thinking about new paradigms for the way the world could look. I’m curious about the intersection of human-centered design and environmental stewardship, and want to help organizations—whether private, public or nonprofit—design more sustainable systems of production, consumption and infrastructure. Just like the aim of this conference, I want to spend my professional and creative energies building capacity and awareness in others, and inspiring them to think about how the world could be a more inclusive, equitable and sustainable place.

EMMA CHANEN is the Digital Media Intern at Tsai CITY.


Emma Chanen