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Canndigenous Founder Fosters Growth in the Indigenous Cannabis Industry

From Shepherd Express by Shelia Julson Augst 2 2023

When Canndigenous founder Rob Pero sought networking opportunities with other Indigenous entrepreneurs in the cannabis field, he realized there was a void. This inspired him to form the Indigenous Cannabis Industry Association (ICIA), a nonprofit dedicated to providing opportunities and equity to Indigenous cannabis entrepreneurs. Pero also uses National CBD Day to further educate people about the medicinal values of the cannabis plant.

Pero, a member of the Bad River Band of the Lake Superior Tribe of Chippewa Indians, founded Canndigenous in 2021 with a goal of honoring and supporting his Indigenous heritage through sustainable hemp farming and production of cannabidiol (CBD) products. The Canndigenous product line is available at Ripley Green (226 W. Main St., Cambridge, Wis.), an apothecary also owned by Pero. 

With a mission to give back, Pero intended to provide scholarships to Indigenous people pursuing agricultural ventures. But that mission “took on a life of its own,” he says, beginning with a serendipitous meeting and eventual partnership with writer Mary Jane Oatman, a cannabis reform advocate and member of Idaho’s Nez Perce Tribe.

Rob Pero with Wisconsin governor Tony Evers


Rob Pero with Wisconsin governor Tony Evers

Pero created ICIA as a playbook to help grow an equitable and sustainable Indigenous cannabis industry. “It’s a lobbying arm to be a conduit and a buffer for the tribes to amplify their voices around cannabis so we’re not left in the dust,” he says.

The ICIA hosted the first-ever Indigenous policy summit in Washington, D.C. Pero says the event drew tribal leadership from throughout the country. Many gathered for the first time to talk hemp industry issues including proprietary markets, finance and cross-pollination of cannabis with casino tourism. This year’s ICIA Cannabis Industry and Policy Summit takes place Nov. 1-3 in Washington, D.C. For more information and to register, visit

Pero says ICIA has provided a safe space for aspiring cannabis entrepreneurs to ask questions about the industry and take their business models to the next level. “We help them find vetted vendors,” Pero says. “There has been a lot of predatory consultants and actions against Indian Country historically.”

Pero says he has heard horror stories involving cannabis business deals where the tribes only received a small percentage of profits while the partnering corporations flourished, and the tribe’s cannabis operation eventually went bankrupt. “It’s been interesting and eye-opening,” Pero says.

National CBD Day Aims to Educate About Medicinal Properties of Cannabis

Ripley Green will host a celebration on National CBD Day, Aug. 8, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. While the event will feature in-store and online discounts, CBD classes and all day rolling classes (how to roll CBD for smoking), Pero says the day is about promoting cannabis for wellness and medicine.

“It’s a way for people to keep themselves well. We lose CBD in the shuffle as everyone talks about black markets opening up and all the marijuana and THC possibilities. But the non-psychoactive benefits of CBD work so well with the endocannabinoid system in the body. We want to celebrate CBD on a day devoted more to education and awareness about this beautiful plant medicine.”

Pero is diligently watching events on Capitol Hill and hopes the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) takes a more active role in CBD research, guidelines and regulations. With the upcoming Federal Farm Bill renewal, he notes that more uniform federal regulations nationwide, rather than a patchwork of laws that vary state by state, will uplift all the players in the CBD industry who are striving to run their businesses in a good way.

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