Sophia L. Chong

As the industry grows, it makes room for those who are a part of it to grow personally and professionally. It’s an inspiring cycle. -Sophia


Location: San Francisco, California, USA

Primary sector / current role: Compliance Communications Specialist @ Treez.io

Years in the legal industry: 3.5 years

Links: LinkedIn


How have you been lately? Really?

Ah, we’ve all been asking and being asked this question a lot since the pandemic hit. Honestly, even after a year, I haven’t been able to find the right answer! I’ve been trying my best to process and balance. I’ve had to remind myself that it’s okay to feel the weight of the sheer amount of pain we’ve all felt and are still grappling with, and it’s also okay to find joy even while experiencing and respecting the times. Being gentle to myself and trying to find that balance has been a vital part of surviving right now, at least for me. 

What made you say ‘yes’ to being showcased in The Garden?

When I started venturing into working with cannabis, I was fortunate enough to be able to connect with a female family friend who has co-founded a number of incredible cannabusinesses. My welcome coming from a woman who’d found success in the industry made me feel a sense of support and inclusion when wading into new waters. I see The Garden as an opportunity to share my experience, increase the visibility of women contributing to the industry, and encourage other minorities like myself to jump in with confidence. 

How did your relationship with weed begin?

When I was 15, I was diagnosed with a chronic autoimmune disease. I slept more than half of every day, and my hair fell out in clumps. In a minute, I’d go from sweating buckets with a racing heartbeat to shivering with blue lips. I forgot entire blocks of time, and I was constantly in pain all over my body. Doctors wrote me pages of prescriptions and actually scared me off cannabis when I asked, citing the lack of research into how it could affect someone with my condition and warning me about potential negative outcomes which I now know were unfounded. 

As I grew older, I was able to overcome the fear that’d been implanted in my mind, do my own research, and started consuming recreationally. Eventually, I connected with a doctor who was well-educated about the endocannabinoid system and was willing to discuss how medical cannabis could help me. My condition won’t ever go away completely and I still require traditional medication, but cannabis has reduced the severity and allowed me to manage my symptoms in a much healthier way.

Generally describe your day-to-day in the legal cannabis industry.

I currently work at Treez, which is a cannabis retail platform. As a part of Treez’ lean and mean Compliance team, I work cross-functionally with our Customer Success, Product, and Engineering teams to keep our Treezcosystem equipped with the knowledge needed to keep our customers and software compliant. 

For the most part, my work is split between two facets of compliance: cannabis regulations and reporting. We want to protect our users from potential violations as much as possible by building our platform to conform to each state’s unique rules and structure. To achieve this goal, the regulatory compliance aspect of my job entails researching and analyzing the rules governing cannabis in our current and prospective markets, as well as working with our Product team to implement the right coverage in the right places. The reporting compliance element focuses on ensuring that our clients and platform are compliantly reporting business activity to state-mandated seed-to-sale tracking systems, like Metrc. Working with these systems can be challenging for operators (even when they’re using an automated API integration), so we do our best to help clients navigate through these requirements by providing ongoing support and education, and designing features that make state tracking easy. 

Essentially, my day-to-day comes down to education. Compliance can be overwhelming, but it’s essential for operating in the legal industry, so I’m always trying to find ways to make the information digestible and accessible to our team, clients, and the public.    

What would you say your greatest strengths are?

I’m naturally inclined towards organization and planning in all aspects of my life. I’m always trying to find structure and routines, or establish them where they’re missing. Cannabis is chaotic, so I bring order with me where I can. Also, I make a delicious tonkatsu. 

What has your experience been like in the legal industry? Really?

My experience in the legal industry feels best described as one of growth, both personally and in the industry. In my eyes, there’s a special fulfillment that comes from being a part of something that’s still developing and from growing together. The industry’s progress has not only constantly necessitated my picking up new skills and knowledge, but also made the space for me to step into new roles that put what I’ve learned into practice. The new understandings I’ve gained in each role were often spurred by new developments in the industry: the wild transition of implementing adult-use sales in California and our subsequent migration onto Metrc, legalization in other states, etc. And with these developments came new career paths for many folks with the experience the industry had given. As the industry grows, it makes room for those who are a part of it to grow personally and professionally. It’s an inspiring cycle.

What is a defining moment that made you stronger, that you don’t mind sharing?

I have a habit of taking on a lot, both professionally and personally. There was a point where I was taking on everything I could get my hands on and doing everything I can to do it all well, and it gave me a satisfying feeling of accomplishment. But eventually the reality of what happens when you neglect your wellness eventually caught up with me. I got burned out, and it wasn’t just the standard burnout. Nobody likes being stressed, but when you have an autoimmune disease, the physiological effects are intensified. The heightened and prolonged stress I was putting myself under caused my disease to go off the rails and it wasn’t pretty. 

This experience sticks with me because it forced me to recognize the real necessity of balance: between work and living, between giving to others and caring for myself, between juggling obligations and staying healthy. We all have limits, and I learned that living within those limits isn’t weakness and that there’s strength in enforcing self-imposed boundaries. There will always be more to do, but approaching it sustainably is key.  

How would you assess the opportunity landscape in the cannabis industry, right now, from your perspective?

As the industry becomes legitimized, there’s a real need for tools and services that will move businesses into the next stage of growth. Throughout the transitions from the black and gray market, to allowing for medical use, and then towards full legalization, cannabusinesses are constantly limited by ongoing stigma, strict regulations, and limited access to the mechanisms for development that traditional retail businesses have. 

Traditional point-of-sales don’t address state reporting requirements, traditional payment options don’t address the banking restrictions operators are under, traditional cultivation platforms don’t address the complexity of cannabis products, traditional inventory management systems don’t address the nuances of the supply chain. 

Cannabusinesses can’t reach their full potential trying to fit a square peg in a round hole. To me, our industry’s unique history and challenges have created a space in the landscape for business solutions that are needed for operations to flourish — and are designed intentionally and specifically for the cannabis industry. To maximize what’s possible for a business, they need supports that fit their needs. 

What impact do you think the decriminalization of weed, on a global or national scale, would have on the industry? (DE&I, fiscally, environmentally, socially–any matter, really.)

This might be my optimist side showing, but in my eyes, decriminalization brings with it endless opportunities: to learn from the past and repair the harm inflicted on so many individuals and communities by the war on drugs, to develop an industry that’s intentionally crafted to be more inclusive than the status quo, to conduct the long overdue research that could lead to improving the lives of so many, to heal and expand the idea of physical and emotional wellness, to reimagine almost every existing industry.

But decriminalization is only the first step towards realizing these opportunities. We need concrete commitments like record expungement for cannabis-related crimes, robust equity programs, funding for scientific research, the right to home growing, tax rates that aren’t prohibitively high, and more.

In relatively established markets like California, it’s easy to forget that the greater industry is really still in its infancy. Like human infants, the industry is impressionable and malleable right now — the work that we do early on will have amplified effects as it matures, which underscores the significance of cultivating certain values now. Building these elements into what decriminalization means is critical for the future, so these possibilities aren’t lost in chasing solely financial goals.

Who/what are some of your biggest influences in becoming the amazing queen you are?

My family and culture, my work team, and anyone who has taught me something new.  

If you could give your younger self who is just starting out in this space one piece of advice what would it be?

Be confident! We’re all learning together. 

What’s your favorite way to do self care?

I’m someone who feels best when staying occupied and I have difficulty unplugging, so my self-care practices reflect that. Generally, I feel refreshed after activities that keep my mind and hands away from work, news, social media, etc.

Knitting keeps my hands off of screens and offers a comforting feeling of productivity. Plus, I get the added benefit of something useful when you’re finished! Many of my family and friends received knit items from me this year, and I also send items to a charity that distributes handmade items to those in need around the country. 

Exercise is also a really significant part of my routine. I’m a certified Bar Method instructor, and though I haven’t been teaching since the pandemic started, I still put a class together for myself on most days. Taking that hour to strengthen my body, while quieting my mind, is a surefire way to make myself feel cared for. I can say with certainty that I’ve never regretted a workout!

Any shoutouts, links, etc. for your brand, employer, or to readers of The Garden?

At Treez, we work every day to provide solutions that help cannabusinesses thrive by tackling a wide variety of industry needs. The best part of my day is being able to look at the work our team is doing and thinking to myself, “I wish we had this back when I was in the dispensary.” Though I work primarily with our point-of-sale software (Sell Treez), we also offer integrated debit and online payments (Treez Pay), a real-time market analytics and reordering platform (Ask Treez), a universal brand-generated product catalog (Brand Treez), and comprehensive APIs that enable 100+ integrations and can be built on for custom solutions. 

But whether you want to chat more about Treez, the industry, my experience, etc. I’d love to connect with anyone who wants to learn more! Thank you to The Garden for creating this beautiful community and inviting me to be a part of it. 

Published by Adriana J.M.

Adriana tries to bring her appreciation for the natural world and human existence to everything she creates. She enjoys music, aesthetics, outdoor activities, and puns. www.adrianajmachado.com

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