'Breaking The Cannabis Stigma' - Q&A With Neil Chau of Trym

"My passion is breaking the stigma that cannabis has by inspiring and educating future generations," says Neil Chau, Head of Partnerships at Trym.
'Breaking The Cannabis Stigma' - Q&A With Neil Chau of Trym
Image credit: Neil Chau

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Founder of Asian Americans For Cannabis Education
6 min read
This story originally appeared on Asian Americans for Cannabis Education

Asian culture has long focused on the next generation to support their parents by entering medicine, law, accounting, science, the most traditional and “safe” jobs that guarantee the multi-generational family stability. The outliers that don’t follow the well-worn path have met with anger, ostracism, and with at times the barrier of language a silence that is deafening.

When we veer from the path, we separate from the ties that bind us to a life of predictability and sadness of “what if”, Neil is an outlier and has forged his own journey by entering the cannabis industry. 

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This is Neil Chau of Trym's story, it is singular and we look forward to his next mile on his journey.

How have your views on cannabis changed?

Neil Chau: It has changed quite a bit since I was first exposed to it. My initial reaction to it was “only bad people and homeless people smoke marijuana” I think I was in 5th or 6th grade when a cop came into our class to show us a briefcase full of drugs and said how bad everything was and how if you “start smoking marijuana it will be a gateway drug” and you'll end up on the streets. Definitely scared me. It was freshman year when I started to begin learning more about weed. My dad got diagnosed with lung cancer and my family was looking at holistic treatments to supplement his chemo- that’s what sparked my interest.

A lot of my family members really pressed the idea of holistic treatments, more plant-based, and eastern medicine, but weed wasn’t really an option because of the negative connotations it had. And to be honest, I don’t think he would have wanted to smoke while he had lung cancer. He ended up passing away before my senior year. RIP.

What was the impetus of that change?

I’ve been a Cannabis Advocate since my high school days, but my biggest change in perspective really happened when I joined the industry as a Grower Representative at Oregon’s Finest. There, I learned the importance of sustainable growing practices and as well as the importance of integrity in the cannabis industry. Like, I knew the importance of the medicinal side of cannabis because it’s how we are where we are today, but being able to watch the stigma being broken every day was magical.

I’ve helped nurses learn about CBD Epsom salts and educated Asian elderly folks on the different ways cannabis could be ingested. Never thought that was going to happen! To this day I am amazed at the progress that this industry has gone through, but there’s still a lot more change that needs to happen. Who would've thought cannabis was going to be essential while people are still suffering in jail over an ounce? 

How did you enter the cannabis industry? 

I started getting into the industry in 2010. On my 18th birthday, I took a flyer out of an OC Weekly and went to LA with my best friends to get my med card. That was really my first real exposure to the industry; going into shops, and befriending the people who worked there. I ended up moving up to Portland, Oregon when I turned 21 and finished school up and got my Supply Chain and Logistics Degree.

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At the same time, the market was flipping rec and most jobs that were listed were way above my knowledge level so I talked to my mentors and they said, start from the bottom and learn as much as you can. I ended up at Oregon’s Finest and started my professional career there. 

Did you do research into cannabis before entering?

Much like everything I do, I just jumped in. The research I did was going into Google and searching “cannabis industry Reddit” and from there I started reading up on people's experiences in the cannabis industry. That gave me the courage to jump into cannabis. It's been a helluva ride going from a budtender, helping manage a wholesale/distribution center, to working at one of the top ancillary companies (Green Bits), to being the Head of Partnerships here at Trym. Not going to lie, it’s been tough as f*ck, but wouldn’t trade it for the world. 

How does your family feel about your cannabis businesses?

Great question… Most of my family are very supportive and encouraging about me being in the cannabis industry, and I'm extremely grateful for that! However, my mom… that’s a different story. She’s very conservative and she's the type of person who is “my way or the high-way.” She’s always associated cannabis with bad people, but I'm very hopeful that her perspective will slowly change. Especially, with groups like AACE tackling the stigma.  

Where do you see the cannabis industry in five years?

I see standardization and unanimous adoption in the U.S. I am not sure if it will be fully federally legal by that point, but what will be clear is the monetary benefit and the positive impact it has on bridging cultural gaps. In my opinion, one of the biggest problems in this industry is that there is no standardization across any of the markets. I think it’s going to become common for states to talk about interstate trade and that will ultimately lead to creating standardization across markets and all through the supply chain. 

Why do you think some Asians are against cannabis?

There’s a saying in Vietnamese… “gần mực thì đen, gần đèn thì sang,” It implies that If you hang out with bad friends (ink), you will become bad (dark).  If you have good friends (light), they will influence you to become good (bright).

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Speaking from my mom's perspective- cannabis has a really bad stigma behind it. She grew up in a war-torn country where she had to survive and hustle to go to school and to help bring food to the table. All her childhood and adult life she has been taught that cannabis is bad (dark). All she could in the last 60+ yrs is find a stable job that provided food for the family, and that‘s all she ever wanted me to do (i.e the engineering and doctor stereotype). She grew up thinking cannabis is dark and that it could never be bright. And I am hopeful that my mom will find the “light” and change her perspective. 

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