The day in the life of a full-time CBD bud tender
CMU alumnus and marijuana advocate turns her activism into professionalism
While her collection of bud trays rest in the glass counter, Ashley Nola discusses the availability of pre-rolled joints and cannabidiol (CBD) lotions over the phone during a 3-9 p.m. shift.
Once the 2017-18 president of the Student Advocates for the Medical and Responsible Use of Cannabis at Central Michigan University, the spring 2019 alumna has been able to make a full-time commitment to one of her passions: Weed.
After receiving a Bachelor of Science in psychology with a minor in fine arts, Nola now serves as a patient receptionist and CBD bud tender.
"When people come to me seeking assistance, it is most important each encounter establishes an immediate relationship of respect. It is so critical to perform successfully by listening and being professional," Nola said. "My first approach is always to allow any excess I have or feelings I'm experiencing to leave so they can open up and feel heard."
As individuals enter, she initiates engagement with key questions: "What are you in for today? How are you doing? How can we help you?"
Out of nearly 400 applicants to the Consano Marijuana Provisioning Center located in downtown Mount Pleasant, the Cheboygan native was one of 20 people hired.
Nola was introduced to the concept of Consano in June 2017, during a meeting for public input hosted by City Hall to analyze the Medical Marijuana Facilities Licensing Act and its possible presence in Mount Pleasant.
"During the meeting, it was extremely difficult to not realize the demographic that was very vocally anti-dispensary. They spoke about their fears of bringing drug money and shady people to the community and of marijuana ending up in the hands of kids," Nola said. "I was there trying to tell people its actually really beneficial if its run right."
Consano was one of three applicants plucked via a random lottery to be allowed to operate in Mount Pleasant.
"Consano in Latin means 'to heal.' (It) fits the business perfectly because that's exactly what we're doing, each and every day," Nola said. "We're healing stigma, healing patients and healing each other by treating one another with respect and working together to sell a product we're all genuinely passionate about."
Nola first experimented with marijuana when she was 19 years old while stargazing with a friend.
"In high school, I was devastated by a really bad snowboarding incident. I had completely blew out and dislocated my shoulder, tore my ACL and damaged my left rotator cuff," Nola said.
When she sought a medical professional three months later, she was greeted by a high-dosage Vicodin prescription for the pain.
"From 16-17 years old, I have no concrete memories in my brain. I took my high school exams on Vicodin and I took my driver's training test on Vicodin. It was like all of these key moments in my high school career were defined by a drug," Nola said.
She attempted to stop using Vicodin near the end of high school, but faced "hardcore depression" and withdrawal symptoms of anxiety, sleep deprivation, suicidal thoughts and sudden alterations in behavior.
"A lot of people say when they smoke for the first time they don't really feel anything, but I felt something instantly," Nola said. "First, I felt that anything was possible. I experienced complete relaxation and the next morning, I woke up to complete peace after sleeping throughout an entire night for the first time in years."
She said she couldn't believe marijuana stigma had kept her from "such peace."
"First and foremost, I believe that all use is both medical use and recreational use," Nola said. "I'm not really an advocate for people who smoke and drive, but I am definitely an advocate for people who smoke and hang out with friends."
As a bud tender, she said one of her responsibilities is to be continually researching about marijuana in all of its forms. She said she dedicates each day to advancing her knowledge, inside the shop and at home.
"We always have some type of documentary playing in the shop. On the television screens, we'll have hydroponic expos being streamed or playing "Munchies" by VICE," she said.
While all uses of marijuana are still illegal on the federal level, Nola said the internet allows for individuals to share personal testimonies and experiments by the masses.
When it comes to dispensaries as a patient and formal advocate, Nola said she's literally "seen it all." She said she's encountered colosseums aspiring to be the pentagon of marijuana and holes in the wall capable of reminding anyone of the basement of "That 70's Show."
"I've stumbled into some dispensaries that are full of dirty couches and dogs running around. There'll be people passing around blunts and actually smoking in the dispensary," Nola said. "They'll have Tupperware for their edibles and all of the weed is being sold in ziplock bags."
She said she wanted to serve a space of passion for not simply cannabis, but people.
"We have people who pop into Consano and they're simply just curious about what we look like (and) what kind of staff we have. For lack of a better description, it seems like a lot of them were expecting to see drug rugs and hippie patterns," she said. "Instead, they're seeing people who look professional and who look excited to talk to you. We're activists in our jobs."
But while there is still a hold on distributing recreational licenses in Michigan, these goods are limited to patients. Even purchasing through someone who has their medical marijuana card is still considered a "black market" consumption, Nola said.
"It's a very unfortunate thing, because there is a more real and scarier, legitimate black market where products are not being properly tested, cared for or grown by people who are passionate about making sure its safe and no one has anything to be afraid of," she said.
Nola has seen marijuana being distributed with mold, mildew and spider and russet mites on it.
"One of my friends actually got her marijuana tested and found methamphetamine all over it. She was consuming meth without even realizing it and had gone on a literal two-day trip without any way out," she said. "It's not tested if it's on the black market. I don't want to scare people, but you've got to watch out. You never know if everything is perfect, so just be careful."
Nola said she hopes she can continue working toward a nurtured world where marijuana is a "the people's plant."