As told to Adrian Farquharson
Photography by C. Roese Ramp
So Jane, tell us about yourself. Take us on a trip down memory lane. When did you first come in contact with, or encounter cannabis? What were you doing, where were you, etc?
My first cannabis experience started with a warm summer day on a Wisconsin lake and ended with a crisp dewy night in a moonlit horse field with an intimate circle of friends. Inevitably, I fell in love. The setting in which we experience cannabis is so pivotal to that indelible first encounter. As a result of my positive introductory encounter, I was never afraid of pot—it was approachable, elevating, and brought out a side of me that felt true. And it made me laugh. We all need more of that, right?
Describe the path to starting your companies, “Edible Events” and “Women Grow.”
I am a natural hostess; I always want people to feel at home in my space. Both personally and professionally, I focus on creating welcoming, comforting environments that encourage people to gather and connect. My career as an event planner has spanned over 20 years.
At the same time, I am also an individual who appreciates the therapeutic impact of altering consciousness. So when the voters of Colorado chose to grant adults the freedom to use cannabis legally as a substance of choice, it opened the door of opportunity to create the events of my dreams. Attending a well-planned experiential event is like traveling to another place. I want guests to feel like they exit a bit transformed.
Since cannabis heightens your senses, incorporating it into events enables me to make an even greater impact, especially in a sophisticated setting. Once new and returning consumers encounter responsible cannabis use in settings that feel true to their lives, adults can more easily understand it as a social, life-enhancing substance. Scientifically, we know that cannabis increases your clarity of perception. It makes your sense of smell and taste is more acute. Visually, colors are more pronounced, patterns more evident. Physically, skin receptors are more sensitive and alert. By truly appreciating the entourage effect of cannabis on the human body and intentionally catering to guests’ elevated senses, the artistic design elements of my events make an even greater impact.
My first endeavor was the Edible Event Series; monthly cannabis-friendly gallery events with local artists and chefs that showcased the best Colorado has to offer in the culinary, arts and music scenes. It was fantastic…until a SWAT team attended my Wake-N-Bacon brunch on Easter Sunday 2014. It was unbelievable to me that the government would use force–and devote taxpayer money–to police legal, responsible adult behavior. My ongoing work with advocates to develop limited adult social use initiatives in the city of Denver started that day.
In 2014, the media began to focus intensely on cannabis. The Edible Events Series, my Symphony Fundraiser, and the launch of Women Grow garnered national and international coverage: I suddenly had a platform. With the public listening and watching, my actions and words mattered. I learned to make the most of that opportunity to be heard. I use my voice strategically, to support legalization, normalization, and consumer and industry responsibility. Moving the dialogue forward benefits everyone invested in this movement.
I know that women are primed to lead the cannabis industry as leaders and as consumers. Women will shift the cannabis paradigm, but first we have to create communities and products that align with their values and needs. In 2014, I founded Women Grow to create a safe, supportive space where women could share insights, make connections, and flourish professionally in the cannabis space. Two years later, Women Grow is the industry’s largest professional networking organization, with thousands of women and men sharing opportunities and experiences online and in person each month in 40 chapter cities in the U.S. and Canada.
The first generation of women leaders built the foundation of a fair, diverse new American industry, and Women Grow has its sights set on the coming generations of female entrepreneurs and executives. Coming out of the cannabis closet remains a challenge for women professionals and consumers, and Women Grow has emerged as a vital resource for those who are exploring cannabis or are openly embracing it for the first time.
While I was focused on women in the cannabis industry, I also saw that there was little being done to serve women as cannabis consumers. Women are one of the fastest-growing groups of new cannabis consumers, and we have incredible purchasing power. And yet quality cannabis products for women are few and far between, and the voices shaping cannabis culture online rarely speak our language.
I saw a gap that desperately needed to be filled for women like me. In 2015, I decided to use my visibility as Jane West to share my experience as a female cannabis consumer living the new legal lifestyle without shame or judgement. I began building Jane West as a cannabis lifestyle brand that invites everyday women to enhance their lives with cannabis.
This June (2016), I stepped down from my role as Women Grow’s national events director to focus full-time on my role as CEO of JaneWest.com I’m working with an incredible team of women to create thoughtfully designed accessories and home goods that make it easy for women like us to seamlessly integrate cannabis into their lives. The debut line of Jane West cannabis accessories will launch this winter (2017), and we are partnering with companies that share our values to further expand our offerings. I’ll continue to use my public platform to educate women about the benefits of cannabis and provide users with all the information they need to take part in the new legal lifestyle.
Tell us about your home. How does cannabis relate to your space?
My home is where I work, it’s where my husband and I raise our kids, and it’s where we entertain friends and family. Cannabis is an important part of my life, and it is present in my home. I might fuel a mid-afternoon brainstorming session with a clear-headed sativa. After I put the kids to bed at the end of a long day, I unwind with a heavy indica instead of drinking wine or taking a pill. I’m passionate about entertaining, and cannabis is an important social substance for me. If we’re having friends over for dinner, I’ll have beautiful glass and strain selections lined up next to the barware. Cannabis sparks community, and for me, that experience begins with openly integrating consumption into my life and rituals at home.
What cultural message do you aim to convey via the Jane West brand?
The Jane West brand is a platform for mainstream women to take part in, and shape, cannabis culture. We are one of the two fastest-growing groups of new cannabis consumers, but the existing dialogue doesn’t address our interests and our day-to-day realities. I hope that by showcasing my own experience as a mother and professional who openly consumes cannabis, I can help more women see how this incredible plant will benefit them. By creating products and conversations that reach women in the context of their everyday lives, I believe that the Jane West brand can empower women to come out of the cannabis closet. When the world realizes that cannabis consumers look and act like us, we will change people’s minds, we will end social stigma, and we will ultimately pave the way for federal legalization and the freedom for all American adults to choose cannabis.
What inspired you dive into a “potrepreneurial path” during the height of cannabis legalization?
I didn’t know a single person in the cannabis industry before 2014, so to make my inaugural Edible Event Series a success, I worked hard and fast to build a network in this nascent business environment. Within two months, I realized that I wasn’t just starting a company—I was joining a revolution.
As soon as I truly understood the landscape in which I was operating, I focused all of my energy on launching successful businesses on the right side of history. At least one moment of every workday is thrilling when building the foundation of a trillion dollar sector that will alter the consciousness of the planet. Needless to say, my other job quickly appeared mediocre.
Which, to date, has been your best or most memorable cannabis event with Edible Events?
The Colorado Symphony Orchestra “On a High Note” event in September 2014 at the historic Red Rocks Amphitheater was the highlight of the year. That night marked a historic point on the road to normalization of which I am proud to have been part. It took a lot of time, efforts, and cooperation to make the event happen, but it made me feel like I had made a difference for the movement, especially in our efforts to allow for adult social use. Whenever I begin to feel overwhelmed by the work we have yet to do, I watch the Nightline story on the Red Rocks event and it reminds me that we are affecting real change.
The media describes you as “mom by day, potrepreneurial by night” – do you think this accurately describes you?
I don’t feel like that phrase describes me, or any of the women with whom I work. It is funny that the media portrays our work in the marijuana industry as happening “by night,” as if we are all operating under a cover of darkness in a smoky back alley. I am a mom, a wife, a daughter, a sister, and I own three businesses. My goal is always to succeed to the best of my ability in all of those roles, and that means working day and night.
Then why use the alias Jane West for your cannabis brand, versus going by your legal name?
Creating Jane was a personal reinvention. I took into account what I had accomplished in my 38 years on the planet and applied my proven skill sets to bring ideas I am passionate about to life. I was seeking a professional Renaissance.
Reinventing my professional self as Jane was primarily about incorporating real change into my life; it is a daily reminder that I am in control of my future. It was about creating the work life of my dreams and adopting new habits that supported my success. The limitations I had accepted for myself professionally in the past didn’t apply to the new me. Giving myself the gift of a clean slate allowed me to start fresh and build a wiser foundation for my life.
My approach to choosing a new name was very deliberate. I wanted something classic, solid and strong with single syllables and equal length in letters–something memorable that rolls off the tongue. I also wanted a name that hinted at the great state of Colorado and the type of women starting a calamity out here. I initially landed on Mary Jane West–the name West was important from the outset. It channels the pioneer spirit within the cannabis industry. The world is looking west as the cannabis industry emerges as a force in our society, and my name puts me on the map.
Adopting a new identity also required a physical makeover; I wanted to adopt a more sophisticated professional look. I started building Pinterest boards with looks that resonated with me, and I found myself coming back to the power and grace of Hollywood’s early leading women. Not just the pencil skirt, but also the androgynous glamour of Lauren Bacall and Marlene Dietrich. Pinning away, I found a perfect shot of Mae West with a quote that spoke to me: “Sex is emotion in motion.” I clicked through to her Wikipedia entry to learn about her life and discovered that her given name was Mary Jane West–talk about a sign! But introducing myself as “Mary” didn’t feel genuine. It had a Catholic feel that wasn’t right for me. But the first time I said, “I’m Jane West” out loud, I knew that was me, I ordered business cards and a burner phone the next day.
Are your family and friends supportive of your use of cannabis and your businesses?
My success is the direct result of having an incredibly supportive husband and family on all sides. They have been so generous with their time and have helped me raise my four and seven year old. They have given me the wonderful gift of time to focus on my own projects. I’m lucky to live in a legalized state where everyone in my current personal and professional network supports what I do.. I encourage new entrepreneurs entering the legalized market to be bold and honest about their use of and affiliation with cannabis. Trust me, you will find your tribe here. Create what you want to be a part of.
How do you talk to your children about what you do?
Ha! Well, when asked at school what his mother does for a living, my son said, “my mom works at marijuana, and when she travels to big cities, she operates under the alias Jane West”. He thinks that Marijuana is the name of my company.
To my boys I’m basically the Lois Lane of cannabis. They are used to me just being their mom, picking them up from school in the minivan wearing yoga clothes. Suddenly, I was showing up on TV programs around the world with an alias, wearing my glasses and heels. My boys bought me a Wonder Woman book and tee shirt for my birthday; that’s why I always wear the wonder woman cuff style matching bracelets.
Edible Events aims to break the stereotype of the cannabis consumer. What does that consumer look like to you?
Cannabis is for everyone. A cannabis consumer looks exactly like a coffee consumer, a wine consumer, or a chocolate consumer. Products derived from the cannabis plant will be a household staple in the future. Right now, though, I am working to reach women consumers who make proactive, thoughtful choices for their and their families’ health and well-being. These women will lead the mainstream adoption of cannabis, and they deserve products and experiences that work for them.
When CNBC aired its pot-doc “Marijuana in America: Denver Pot Rush” and your employment was negatively affected, did you feel like the purpose of Edible Events was defeated, or did it help you propel your mission further?
Getting fired was a shock. Being charged in criminal court was a shock. But without those two experiences, I wouldn’t understand the hypocrisy of the war on drugs as deeply as I do.
Back to MARY! What type of cannabis do you prefer – Indica, Hybrid or Sativa?
I love smoking marijuana flower. I haven’t found many strains I don’t like. I love the diversity of experiences that cannabis offers; variety truly is the spice of life. Right now, I am enjoying vaporized high CBD cannabis as a replacement for my afternoon coffee. It’s a perfect light lift that helps me tackle my afternoon refreshed and re-energized I am currently testing indica hashes to improve my sleep .
What are your favorite strains and why?
For me, it’s not about the strain as much as the quality. My favorite cannabis is grown locally, under the sun, without pesticides. When a plant is grown with that much care and love, it’s going to offer the best experience, regardless of the strain.
What does a typical day look like for you?
There is no such thing as a typical day for me. That’s one of the things I love about what I do. But there are a few constants: collaboration with an incredible, diverse group of cannabis industry professionals, quality time with my family, and at least a few minutes devoted to my physical or mental well being.
In what other ways do you incorporate cannabis into your life?
I use hemp-based proteins and hemp oil in my kitchen. I also use infused salves for inflammation and on my shoulders before yoga class. I love a nice, mellow edible on a relaxing Sunday afternoon.
Do you feel that cannabis is beneficial to users? Non-users? Both? Why or why not?
I believe that our happiness inspires happiness in others. If consuming cannabis brings happiness to one person, that positive energy is bound to have an effect on the people around her.
The key is to give people the freedom to choose cannabis for themselves. Everyone should be free to make personal, private decisions about the substances they choose to consume. This country was founded on Americans’ inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. In my own life, I see that marijuana inspires laughter and encourages relaxation. Cannabis is an integral part of my personal pursuit of happiness. As long the choices I make to improve my well being have no impact on others’ quality of life, those decisions should be mine alone. I should have the right to alter my consciousness however I see fit in the privacy of my own home.
What are your personal thoughts on legalization in America and how do you foresee it affecting Edible Events and Women Grow, cannabis culture and your state (Colorado)?
The legalization of marijuana in the United States is inevitable. What we are establishing now is how it will become legal. We need to ensure that licensing structures that support small homegrown businesses are put into place. Colorado’s unlimited licensing system under Amendment 64 is the gold standard. Mom and pop dispensaries serving locally grown craft cannabis are thriving in Colorado’s small mountain towns. In large counties, there are chains that cater to a metropolitan clientele. All dispensaries carry a wide selection of high quality, locally sourced edible and concentrate lines. Cannabis is for everyone, and access to business opportunities in the industry should reflect that. Unlimited licensing fosters the diversity that will allow the cannabis industry to reach its full potential.
How does your perception of cannabis contrast with your local community’s views on cannabis?
Living and working in Denver’s cannabis industry, I‘m in a bubble within a bubble within a bubble. I appreciate how supportive the voting public continues to be here in Colorado. Now, as we see the powerful economic impact of this emerging sector in Colorado, it is undeniable that we are on the right side of history.
Do you plan on paying it forward and continuing to educate folks on the benefits of cannabis?
If this industry is going to reach its full potential, we have to ensure that the next generations of entrepreneurs and business owners succeed, and that women feel empowered and recognized as consumers. Women Grow was created because a group of pioneering cannabis industry women wanted to share knowledge and opportunities with the industry’s next generation of female leaders. We know that women will be the leading consumers and purchasers of cannabis products in the near future, and Women Grow is built on the belief that businesses led by women will create the products that women want. With the Jane West brand, I now have the opportunity to offer women like me products that work for us. In order to make the most of this incredible plant and help people understand how it can enhance their lives, we have to create a dialogue that promotes legitimate cannabis science and offers practical advice about products and accessories. We need to show people what cannabis consumers really look like to challenge stereotypes and misconceptions. The Jane West brand celebrates the legal lifestyle without shame or fear, and I am committed to showing women consumers that cannabis can be part of a vibrant, healthy, successful life.
Favorite moments when cannabis is in your system?
I love going on late night walks with my dog to clear my mind before bed. I hit shuffle on my tunes, reflect on my day, and set my intention for tomorrow.
Least favorite moments when cannabis is in your system.
Occasionally cannabis makes me too alert to sleep. But honestly, truly, I love smoking pot, there isn’t really a “least” favorite time for me.
What music are you listening to right now?
For the first half of my day, I am starting to dip my toes into the EDM scene looking for steady beats to get me started. In the afternoon and evening I switch to something more mellow, this afternoon it was Giant Panda Guerilla Dub Squad. Reggae is my go to mellow my busy mind.
Your favorite movies and television shows?
The only time I sit still for two hours to watch a movie is with my kiddos on a cozy Friday night. Right now we are watching the Star Wars series, next we will tackle Indiana Jones.
Do you have any favorite book? Currently reading any?
In the cannabis industry, you have to keep up with the changes that are happening every day to stay competitive. I devote most of my reading time to newspapers and magazines that keep me informed and listening to podcasts with industry veterans like Marijuana Today. Learning from the individuals who have been part of the drug reform movement for decades provides important perspective on how marijuana laws and markets have evolved overtime. Understanding the past is key to anticipating the future of cannabis.
Your favorite foods?
I never met charcuterie board I didn’t want to devour. Cured meat will always have a special place in my heart. But I really derive most of my pleasure from food from the communal experience it inspires. I like to serve food slowly in ways that encourage sharing, and I love encouraging guests to build their own bites.
We love your Martha Stewart/Walter White quote! Give us your best quote
Don’t just climb the ladder, build one.
What do you want your legacy to be?
We are witnessing the inception of an industry that will touch more areas of our lives than anything since the Internet. It changes how we medicate, how we recreate, how we feed and fuel the world. My legacy is my name and my brand. The Jane West brand will be a springboard for women to improve their lives with cannabis. I believe that this plant has the potential to enrich the lives and wellbeing of women everywhere, and I want my products to be part of their transformation. My dream is for a Jane West product to be in a woman’s hands at the exact moment her opinions about cannabis change – and her life changes – because she finally felt comfortable trying it for herself.