In the U.S., cannabis culture is practically synonymous with the West Coast. Although the plant is consumed throughout the country, most people still associate it with surfing, sunshine, and chilling out.
Well, the East Coast is finally ready to put in their two cents – specifically New York City, where adult-use cannabis was just legalized in 2021.
New York is the city that never sleeps, and cannabis has been a rich part of that energetic history. The West Coast’s laidback approach just won’t work for the other side of the map, which makes for a fascinating distinction as the NYC cannabis community steps out of the shadows and into the light.
Rage & Release, an NYC-based cannabis lifestyle brand focused on fitness, the plant, and New York living, is one such business aiming to set the standard for New York’s cannabis industry – one that reflects the inimitable energy of NYC living.
Breaking The Taboos Around Cannabis And Athleticism
Cannabis and fitness have long gone hand in hand, but you wouldn’t know it from today’s industry.
While things like ganja yoga exist, the concept of blending cannabis and fitness is relatively unexplored on the surface – but in New York, it’s another part of the underground holistic culture that has dwelled in the City’s shadows for years.
“Smoking and sweating – that’s something we’re used to in our community,” said Thai Richards, Founder and Creative Director at Rage & Release.
“Cannabis is a big part of New York culture. People here smoke and do shit. No one is ever saying, ‘Let’s smoke and sit around and do nothing,’ and that part of East Coast cannabis culture really needs to be known. New York is nonstop, and people here need to have a cannabis lifestyle that caters to that energy.”
Richards founded Rage & Release with this concept in mind, but he also saw a few flaws with the underground industry that he was hoping to provide some solutions for.
“Growing up and having to buy weed from random sources – more often than not you’d go to buy weed from some guy and quickly realize he doesn’t love the product as much as you do. He doesn’t know anything about it. It’s just a dollar for him,” Richards said.
“When I realized that, that scared the shit out of me. Then with synthetic cannabis products coming out, I really started to worry about the safety of my own body and others. I wanted to create a community that centers on fitness and consumption overall: focusing on all of our sources of cannabis, food, and energy.”
Richards knew he had to be unafraid to ask the hard questions: Are we as a cannabis community wholly satisfied with how things are being done? If not, how do we change certain things around consumption, and how does that affect how we feel?
“I wanted to create a lifestyle brand built off vulnerability and inclusivity. Running and cannabis are two things that, it doesn’t matter where you’re from or what color you are. You want to run? Cool, no questions asked,” Richards said.
“And it’s the same thing with cannabis: relationships between unlikely people are built by default because someone’s got weed. So that was the whole idea – allowing people to come into a non-judgmental space in order to learn and grow organically in their bodies and minds.”
We Need a More Holistic Approach to Cannabis, Fitness, and Life
As simple and straightforward as that sounds, a come-as-you-are attitude is practically unheard of in the fitness industry as a whole, and the reason many people end up avoiding gyms or strenuous exercise is because they don’t want to feel judged or shamed for not being perfect from the get-go.
But in Richards’s world, there is no mission or message constantly being driven home to the Rage & Release family. “I bring people into the space and allow them to exist. My only message is feel better, do better,” Richards said.
It’s Richards’s drive for holistic wellness that encouraged him to pursue fitness in this authentic way. When he first began using cannabis, his relationship with the plant quickly became spiritual, and directly related to his body and how it exists.
Although conversations around cannabis are becoming more open and positive every day, Richards realized the importance of putting himself on the right side of the industry ten years ago – when the plant was still incredibly taboo.
“With the way cancer and other serious illnesses have been thriving in recent years, I knew there was no way cannabis wouldn’t eventually be used as a medicinal property on a massive scale,” Richards said. “So I decided to put myself in the right conversations and spaces to see that progress.”
Flash forward to today, when most of Richards’s predictions are starting to become realized. Richards plans to utilize Rage & Release to help establish how legal cannabis will look like in fast-paced New York City.
“The West Coast culture of smoking is so visual that for most people, that’s what they picture when they think of weed,” Richards said.
“So, we have a lot of work when it comes to visuals, content, and how we approach things on this side of town. But I think so many of us are already doing beautiful, proactive things to make sure the community is represented in a positive light so we can keep moving forward.”
At Rage & Release, that looks like creating a wellness space that encompasses cannabis and holistic self-care, promoting healthy cooking and eating habits, and collaborating on more wellness-focused events, like their recent 4.20-mile run with Higher Standards.
“The biggest thing was just bringing people into one space that drives the lifestyle. Higher Standards definitely prioritizes quality cannabis, and that’s very important for safe consumption,” Richards said.
“The messaging that day was all about taking care of yourself, and by extension, the things in your environment. Whether that’s how you prepare your morning, what you focus on throughout the day, or how you use cannabis to enhance your performance.”
That is Richards’s overall goal for his clients and collaborators: streamlining everything people need to lead a healthy, happy, well-rounded lifestyle that leaves no one behind.
“I want the market to be more inclusive. That’s my biggest goal. Ten years ago, when the fitness industry really became a thing with SoulCycle or boxing gyms, I'd be the only black guy in class. There’s a problem with that,” Richards said.
“Fitness also needs to focus more on functionality rather than simply visual success. You don’t need an amazing six-pack to be in shape – bodies come in all shapes and sizes. We’re in a pivotal time in society where we need positivity, and to change our perceptions on age-old stereotypes.”
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