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(S)toking the talent flames: Can partaking help HR take a blunt stance on weed at work?



‘Happy Hour’ is an HR Dive column from Reporter Ginger Christ. Follow along as she dives into some of the offbeat news in the HR space.

The fountains at the Bellagio weren’t the only thing getting high on Las Vegas Boulevard during the UNLEASH America 2023 human resources tech conference in April. 

Amid the backdrop of the water show, a few dozen HR and talent professionals gathered to (legally) pass a joint and munch on some edibles. The informal event, dubbed Talent Toke by organizer Evan White, was meant to offer attendees something a little different, something a little edgier than the “cookie cutter” gatherings typically offered at conferences, White said.

“I like to spur conversations and create events that have some sort of FOMO,” said White, who is a marketing and public relations professional. “Something not focused on alcohol is a differentiator. There are bars everywhere.”

He hoped, too, that Talent Toke would open up discussions on marijuana in the workplace. 

When she first heard about the event, Julie Calli, president of, an online resource on marketing in recruitment, worried attending would be “career suicide.” 

“My instincts said career suicide. In truth, it’s legal in Vegas,” Calli said. 

She said it was appropriate to challenge HR professionals on issues surrounding marijuana in the workplace because they’re going to have to be making decisions on those same issues to do their jobs. 

“There are so many things HR is already facing,” Calli said. 

As she reflected on the event, she decided she wanted “front row seats.”

She realized, she said, “This is the turning of the page, and I want to be present. Not only do I want to attend, but I want to help turn the page.” 

“The event itself was just people gathered, having a good time and talking about something that is very controversial at the moment but transformational, as we’re going from criminalization to legalization overnight,” Calli said. “That transformation has to happen in the workplace.”

Chad Sowash, co-host of the boundary-pushing Chad & Cheese Podcast, characterized the event as a happy hour with people smoking pot instead of having drinks. 

“I think this type of event just broke the ice,” Sowash said. 

Attendees chatted about whether marijuana was legal in their state and what their preferred form of weed was: edibles or joints, according to Amanda Burris, director of sales at Disability Solutions, a disability inclusive recruiting consultancy.

“We were doing something that, 10 years ago, was forbidden,” Burris said. “We’re far away from people being 100% on board,” she said, but predicted events like Talent Toke will become annual occurrences.

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