“Fuck it. Let’s go to California.”
And with those six words, Leah Redden’s career in the Cannabis industry began.
A conversation between her then-boyfriend Josh and Leah resulted in the pair packing their belongings into her grey Kia Forte, departing Tampa Bay, Florida, and embarking on a 2,500-mile journey to Anza, Calif.
“We had no money, my lease was coming up and I had no ideas what I wanted to do with my life,” said Redden, who graduated from the University of Tampa in May of 2017.
The couple had met the previous December via an online dating site. Josh’s free-spirited nature was a welcoming presence to Leah, whose mental health had spiraled out of control in her previous relationship, to the point she tried to take her own life during her junior year of school.
“I had no support system [in Tampa] and I was in a very abusive relationship – mentally and emotionally – that pushed me over the edge,” the Carroll County native said.
Leah spent three days in the hospital following a failed suicide attempt in March 2016 – a painful and reflective time she refers to as “rock bottom.”
“I didn’t really want to die,” the 26-year-old said. “I just think I had so much emotional anguish. I wanted the pain to stop.”
Her relationship ended. Soon after, rumors of Leah’s struggles made their way around campus, leaving her feeling too embarrassed to go to class. A friend suggested Cannabis as a way to lessen her anxiety and boost her mood. With nothing to lose, she lit up a J.
“I went to class and I was so engaged,” she said. “I took better notes than I had taken in years and I was much more relaxed.”
Choosing to devote more time to working on herself, Leah began researching her newfound interest: Cannabis. In August 2016, she secured a part-time job at The Good Life Smoke Shop in Tampa, selling CBD to cancer patients. Two months into her relationship with Josh, they adopted a loving pitbull named Eli, registering him as her emotional support dog. Leah’s grades also improved, crossing the graduation stage with a GPA of 3.4 over her final semester.
With a renewed sense of confidence and a ‘fuck it’ attitude, Leah, Josh and Eli headed westbound with $500 in savings and the promise from a family friend’s friend to start trimming Cannabis upon arrival. In New Mexico, a hailstorm punished their vehicle heavily but the trio pushed on, rolling into California with half-shattered and half-taped windows. They stayed in an RV on a farm, living with no running water and no electricity. In three months’ time, they saved enough money to move to San Diego County, and Leah began working as a budtender at a dispensary called San Diego Natural.
“I got there right when it was turning over from medical to rec; I was such a newbie,” she said. “It was embarrassing. I realized I knew nothing about Cannabis. There was this whole history behind it and this community to it. There was so much more than I had imagined. It was such a great change of pace to what I had previously experienced on the East Coast.”
Leah lived the dream for 18 months. In October 2018, she got a call. A close family member was sick and she was asked to come home and help out, leaving her new life behind.
“I was really, really sad; I still am a little to this day,” she said, recalling the beauty of the mountains and ocean. “There’s something so peaceful about California to me. It’s nice to be somewhere 72 degrees and sunny every day.”
Before leaving the West Coast, Josh asked her to marry him and she happily obliged. Within a week of returning home, fortune continued to smile upon Leah. She secured a job at a new dispensary in White Marsh called Health for Life.
“Right away, it was really special to me,” she said. “I got to be part of the opening day staff. We used to stand in the windows waiting for patients to show up. Now we’re so busy that we can barely catch our breath. To be here and watch it all grow has been great.”
Leah has mimicked the success of Health for Life, receiving a series of promotions from product specialist to sales floor lead to assistant manager. In May of this year, she was made general manager.
“I am so blessed to work with a fantastic team that is unbelievably supportive of me despite being a new and young manager,” she said, adding that a leadership role has brought her out of her shell.
As far as she has come, anxiety and depression still lurk around each corner. It’s a fact of life she has come to accept. Cannabis has helped her cope with difficult days, weeks and months.
“I still deal with depression and anxiety every day,” she said. “Cannabis isn’t a cure-all; it’s not magic. But it does give me the tools to take a step back and work on whatever I am going through.”
Leah medicates daily, preferring to smoke during the day, and turning to edibles for a good night’s sleep.
“I really enjoy Garlic Cookies,” she said of the hybrid. “Also, Fruity Pebbles OG live resin from MPX is good, too.”
When all else fails, she tries to find a way to laugh.
“I think people should try to not take themselves too seriously,” Leah said. “Some days we just need to take a step back and laugh at ourselves … laugh at the things out of our control. When I smoke a joint, I am able to step back and it puts things in perspective for me.”