As Heather Cabot researched her 2017 book, Geek Girl Rising: Inside the Sisterhood Shaking Up Tech, she noticed something she found odd: Angel investors and venture capitalists she spoke to for the book were beginning to invest in cannabis startups.
"I was really surprised, and frankly, I was kind of floored, because these were people I regarded as rather straitlaced, and many of them had Wall Street credentials, and I didn’t understand why they would be investing in something federally illegal," she says.
Cabot, a former ABC News correspondent and anchor who spent much of her childhood living in Phoenix, is back with her second book, The New Chardonnay: The Unlikely Story of How Marijuana Went Mainstream, which was published last month. It's a lively account of the way cannabis — and the people who grow, sell, and use it — is leaving the shadows, and includes vignettes from Las Vegas marijuana business conventions; New Jersey mansions; the Mumbai, India, hotel room of Snoop Dogg's manager; and even the Yavapai County courthouse in Prescott.
Cabot spoke with Phoenix New Times in advance of a virtual event hosted by Changing Hands Bookstore, in which she'll discuss the book with PBS NewsHour reporter Stephanie Sy at 7 p.m. tonight, Thursday, September 10. The interview has been edited for space and clarity.
Phoenix New Times: The Arizona medical marijuana industry is featured quite a bit in the book. What's your impression of what we've got going on here?
Heather Cabot: My sense is that Arizona for many people, from an investment point of view, has kind of flown under the radar, and that it has turned into a very robust market, even though it was very contentious and took many years to finally get up and running. I think there are a lot of folks who are looking at Arizona and this potential vote as a windfall. I think if Arizona converts and expands its medical program into full adult use, I think there are a lot of people that are looking to get in on that because the program has matured so rapidly. And not without its bumps, by the way. But as I talk to folks, and the people I’m talking to are not people in Arizona, they’re people in New York and New Jersey and Connecticut, other parts of the U.S. who are looking at this potential opportunity.
The title of the book is The New Chardonnay. Do you see a day coming when cannabis culture is as prevalent as wine culture? Are "Mommy Needs Pot" T-shirts in our future?
Will it happen tomorrow? I think we’re not quite there yet. But I think in certain markets, that’s already happening. But I think what is actually going to hasten that even more is the fact that there’s this explosive growth of non-intoxicating products, CBD products, which are addressing a host of wellness issues that so many of us, particularly now during COVID, are dealing with, whether it’s sleeplessness or anxiety or stress. People are looking for natural remedies.
It’ll be interesting to see what happens in Arizona, honestly, because you have such a robust medical market, and whether or not those types of products will begin to appeal to the canna-curious and less initiated. I think a lot of it has to do with the way it’s marketed and the way it’s packaged. I think all of the consumer insights have shown that people are looking for more discreet methods of consuming.
And they’re interested in those sort of low-dose, non-intoxicating or more of a mellow, controllable, predictable experience that feels safe, that doesn’t make them feel out of control, or they worry about couch-locked — all of the negative things we associate with cannabis. So I think as more of those products become available and become predictable and feel comfortable to people, that’s probably an area where these companies may be successful in reaching those folks.
What can people expect from the Changing Hands event?
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I think that they will be able to enjoy a really lively and hopefully newsy and interesting discussion. Stephanie Sy and I are former ABC News colleagues. We were both correspondents. We overlapped way back when and she’s now a correspondent and the anchor of the West Coast edition of the PBS News Hour. So I’m looking forward to a great, in-depth conversation with her. And I look forward to talking about the reporting and the storytelling and just giving people a window into what it’s like to put together a narrative of this sort.
Have you started working on anything new?
I want to get through the election, because there are a number of ballot initiatives and of course, this is a topic that is being discussed on the campaign trail, certainly on the Democratic side.
I always have story ideas in my back pocket. I’m always thinking about what my next project is going to be. And now that I’ve been bitten by the longform bug, the narrative nonfiction bug, I would love to get another project going. So I’m starting my reporting on a couple of different things right now. I’m always wearing a couple different hats. I’m also excited about thinking about whatever the next adventure is going to be. It’ll definitely be something around entrepreneurship again. I love writing about people who are building things and learning about industries I don’t know anything about. It’s a privilege.