Jane West, Founder of Women Grow and Founder, CEO of the Jane West Cannabis Lifestyle Brand
Jane West is the founder and CEO of Jane West, a chic cannabis product and lifestyle brand. She also founded Women Grow, a professional association dedicated to connecting, educating, empowering, and inspiring female leaders in the cannabis industry.
She serves as a Board Member of Students for Sensible Drug Policy, an organization dedicated to ending the war on drugs.
She’s been recognized for her industry influence in InStyle Magazine and Marie Claire, among other publications, and holds an MSW from the University of Denver.
Jane West graciously agreed to an interview in April 2023, which has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
[OnlineEducation.com] Jane, you are one of the most famous business leaders in the cannabis industry, from your experience planning events, founding the professional association Women Grow, and launching your chic product and lifestyle brand, Jane West. As adult-use laws have changed and the landscape has rapidly evolved, these days, what is the most important issue for you within the cannabis industry?
[Jane West] Although this is not directly related to my brand, one of the most pressing issues is the decimation of the medical market, which no one’s talking about. The very patients, constituents, and advocates who fought for this new industry sector and economy are already left behind.
Once rec hits, products are simplified to the mass market in a manner that does not suit patient needs, and in many cases, medical is immediately left to the wayside.
There’s a huge opportunity out there for businesses that want to make a specific product like for women in menopause, or people going through certain pain, for people with Crohn’s disease—and it’s not available because of the limited licensing that’s been put in place.
Yet, all of the licensing producers are making the same 10-milligram sugary gummy; these patients may have to buy five packages a day to get the medicine they fought to access at an affordable rate. And again, this is a plant that any of us should be able to grow. I’ve seen hundreds of patients who can grow it at their properties and render their oils and products. It’s that accessible in states that allow patients to control their own medicine and plants.
There are so many conditions that we know this helps, but it has to be fine-tuned when it comes to product uptake and dosage. That leads to a whole other volume that could be spoken to about the federal restrictions. The bigger issue is that we’re not allowed to provide medical advice. I’m not fighting for everyday budtenders and cannabis companies to be able to provide medical advice, but at the same time, we need to be able to offer the opportunity for these specialized companies—providing basically nutritional supplement-level products, not pharma—to sprout and grow their products for particular patient populations.
No one’s talking about that, so in my mind, there’s a whole licensing thing only for making products for specialized patients. But you have the ability to expand and grow, and that’s how we’ll get more demographics exactly what they need, dialed into products and not just literally like all these multi-state operators—that are actually Canadian companies, not American companies—fighting for the same market share to become the Coca Cola of cannabis. Whether it’s citrus yuzu or sour lime, it’s all the same product out there.
So much opportunity lies outside of what we’ve created in the past decades since I started. It’s disheartening and concerning that people don’t see that. We really need a second wave of advocacy, fighting for and demanding access to businesses, licenses, and to be able to grow your own.
[OnlineEducation.com] Has it gotten worse as the market has matured?
[Jane West] Yeah, because the acceptance of this status quo is mind-numbing. This didn’t exist five years ago in this state, so don’t tell me what would and wouldn’t work! It’s barely even started, so the acceptance of the status quo is what makes it particularly limiting. People don’t even realize what they’re missing out on.
[OnlineEducation.com] Putting yourself out there with your activism and eponymous brand took a lot of courage—especially in the earlier days of the industry. You famously lost a corporate event planning job due to your visibility in the media. And then one of your events was raided by a SWAT team! But as you pointed out in other interviews, putting a face and a name to a cannabis brand is an important part of normalization. In your opinion, what else needs to be done on a cultural level to destigmatize cannabis and other plant medicines?
[Jane West] In those early days, a lot of key decisions had to be made about the makeup of our events, and every time my guiding light was to increase social use and the visibility of the consumption of this product. Still, to this day, I’m in an alley. Last weekend, I’m in an alley in Denver. In Denver—in the same city where all these things occurred—a decade later, I’m in an alley smoking a joint! And that is unacceptable.
There’s nothing more critical than embracing, welcoming, and creating accessible spaces for people to consume. I could get up on the whole soapbox about the comparison to alcohol, but we come together to drink alcohol, socially. People want to be able to come together to consume cannabis.
Right now, because of the limitations and the lack of social use, the only way you can even really come together to talk about it is through business conferences, run by people from publicly traded corporations that are controlling the conversation. And in many cases, those groups don’t need to fight for social consumption, which could be risky to their businesses.
When I had the SWAT team and all the legal issues and was fired from my job, there were explicit memos from the Department of Cannabis in Colorado saying, “Do not have your brand or company near cannabis here because it will threaten your license if we find out you’re involved in a social use event.”
Something about the core of that still remains true today—that limitation of seeing people consume and having it be normal. I think there are more people hosting events and launching real cannabis companies at this time in America, and yet, so many of them are not consumption-friendly. There’s signage up, and I had to do that same thing when I produced all the big events for Women Grow at the Opera House; I had to put up signage everywhere saying, “Don’t smoke while in the Opera House.” We should have the opportunity to book the top patio deck and consume.
So yes, I think one thing holding back acceptance is simply the ability, the right [to consume]. Think of how many billions of dollars of cannabis have been sold in the United States in the last ten years—and the fact that in most major American cities, you have zero places to go to consume that. It doesn’t make sense.
[OnlineEducation.com] Do you think there’s a double standard for men versus women regarding cannabis use?
[Jane West] Absolutely. And there always will be. We know there will be. It’s ingrained in our culture. If you name off all the stoner movies, if you name off all the stoner people…it’s been very male-based from the start.
A lot of women are afraid of coming out of the closet. I know so many women in the cannabis space, who have great jobs, whose parents or grandparents or some side of the family doesn’t know they work in cannabis. They think they work in marketing. There’s something going on there. There will always be more of a stigma for mothers and women. We simply don’t have enough cultural icons to look to.
I don’t want to be like all the drinkers on “The Real Housewives.” There’s so much drinking. It’s so prevalent, and it’s literally everywhere. We just simply don’t have that. There are not even many pictures of people doing this out there. I have a picture of Carrie Fisher smoking a joint, and I love it.
[OnlineEducation.com] Think of Joe Rogan, Elon Musk, and Obama—it’s all men who were even praised for it! So early in your cannabis career, you started the professional association Women Grow. You recognized the need to support and collaborate with other women in the industry. What do you think the unique challenges are that female leaders face in cannabis?
[Jane West] At this point, there are so many other significant, established industries being launched to interact with cannabis businesses, including banks, financial services, advertising, print, and media. And the foundation of all those sectors that we need to tap into is male-led—it’s also very hard to find women.
As an example, there’s a list of groups that I need to work with to operate my business in 2023. There are many where I actively pursue any diversely owned and operated company, and I can find zero. We’re talking about fulfillment services, glassware, manufacturing, packaging companies, and logistics. It’s challenging when I’m actively trying to make it as diverse as possible…
My competition has the ability to not care about the diversity of the ownership and choose the fastest, cheapest partner with the economy of scale necessary to offer you this great pricing. We are beyond a one-and-done phenomenon in cannabis; there are about 20 high-ranking women who are just not building ladders. If you’re going sit on panel after panel for a decade talking about the importance of something, and somehow it’s always your butt in that seat, something’s not right.
The women that continually get a lot of these speaking engagements and set the conversation are also the ones that aren’t really complaining about what’s going on—they aren’t going to cause a ruckus when someone else on the panel makes some claims that really aren’t true. People cause a ruckus on the panel when they point out the performative nature related to women in the space. Just because they’re all here having breakfast right now does not mean anything changed. They prefer people who talk about how great the company is that’s sponsoring than what it’s like to be a woman in America.
Ladders need to be built, and it’s better for all of us. There simply needs to be a stronger network at its core. I’ve been doing this for ten years and can only do so much. I wish I had more capital to invest in women, but I didn’t enter the space capitalized.
[OnlineEducation.com] A lot of people coming in have major advantages in terms of capital.
[Jane West] Exactly. And on top of that, for the few female businesses that did exit or have been able to convert in a manner that could truly be supportive of the next-gen…My understanding is a lot of them have non-competes, a different part of the exit that doesn’t even allow them to actually support the next generation of women. “We bought this woman-owned brand”—and you can’t just go and start another brand! That seems crazy.
[OnlineEducation.com] And that keeps down the diversity of products in the market and contributes to the original problem that you mentioned about the medical industry not having its needs met. Have you ever faced gender discrimination in the cannabis industry, especially being such a visible leader?
[Jane West] I would say definitely, but I think the more high-ranking and prominent you are, the more people are on their best behavior. I am most likely not to have it be as explicit, degrading, or obvious as many women I work with, who are “the new girl” in marketing and experiencing that entry into cannabis. I know it’s happening behind the door when I leave! That’s one thing.
They always have something incredible and shitty to say. Do they do that to all the other dudes? That’s not what I’ve observed. I’ve observed men in the space, white men, being able to enter a group fairly quickly and be welcomed and normalized, having their thoughts and input, and be part of the team. I feel like I’ve observed that more.
I know my experience is unique, but when I dip my toe into other markets, then I’m nobody again. Then I can totally see it; it’s so much more obvious. People don’t know that I’m the woman that started this huge women’s networking group, and I’m back to feeling what it’s like for those newbies and beginners in the space when they’re just trying to do a good job and find their way, and nothing is welcoming.
[OnlineEducation.com] That’s disheartening. I can see why you’re jaded. Diverse leadership would create better products across the board. You’ve actually enjoyed rather unique success in raising capital, especially among other women in the cannabis industry, who in surveys, have cited financing as one of their top barriers. But not only that, 80 percent of your cap table—the folks who own parts of your company—are women or people of color, which is extraordinary! What’s your advice for women and other underrepresented groups interested in equity crowdfunding for their cannabis companies?
[Jane West] Even though the staff writers—not journalists—staff writers at MJBizDaily and Green Entrepreneur keep writing about my successful rounds on Republic and that it’s an opportunity for cannabis companies to do this…It actually was also taken away from me last year!
I basically gave myself an MBA trying to learn how to have my cap table diversely held. So from 2016 to 2018, I did seek out actual accredited investors, but that was a very different time and place. Cannabis became what AI is becoming—it was something I could not do again in this environment. But I found 23 investors, and my largest angel investor is a Black man, but it was hard to do. But that was where I also learned that you have to ask for what you want.
So my advice would be to remember, if you’re going the route of accredited investors or finding investors, you’re interviewing them. You know your own business better than anyone else, and if it doesn’t feel right, it’s probably not right.
After I raised that money, the list of women and diverse individuals was so short, and so the equity crowdfunding was appealing. It also required me to get basically an MBA because of all the different recording you have to do for the SEC. But I wanted that for the company and for myself, and it forced me to do it. We had three crowdfunding rounds in 2018, 2020, and 2021. And over that time, over the three rounds, I raised almost a million dollars from 3,500 investors in 42 countries.
But as of last year, in the spring of 2022, I was told that things aren’t going well in cannabis, and then additionally, the meltdown of a lot of the platforms, the big platforms that host crowdfunding, which allow you access to their audience. I tried doing it once without an audience, and it does not work.
There are four: StartEngine, WeFunder, Republic, and Mainvest. With StartEngine, I’d have to be a C-corp, but I don’t want to be. With the others, you can be an LLC.
There’s one cannabis company that got on Republic this year because they’re in tech, but I would love to be in a round now that we are expanding. We’re at a critical moment, where I have my own line of branded products ready to go.
Also, your money is getting more expensive right now, so I’m more inclined just to do the safe agreements. It is a lie that cannabis companies in this moment can raise using regular crowdfunding. Unfortunately, people aren’t covering that story because that could help more people get funded or fight for it.
[OnlineEducation.com] Who is your biggest inspiration or mentor in the cannabis industry?
[Jane West] The original inspiration for the company is Mae West. When I created the brand and the company, I first thought it would be “Mary West.” But then I was networking and introducing myself as Mary, which was really awkward. It had religious overtones, and I was like, “I’m not Mary.” I liked Jane West better. Jane West is more subtle than Mary West.
So I Googled, “Who was Mary Jane West?”…Mae West’s born name was Mary Jane West, and her life was very fascinating. She was always so minimized, like some B-grade Marilyn Monroe, throughout her whole life. But she was a playwright; she made these movies, and the FCC literally cut them, so in the theater, all these sections are missing, which is what’s happening to me! They shut my Instagram down!
And she invested in a bunch of other women. And then, when her Black boyfriend wasn’t allowed in her apartment building, she bought the apartment building. She’s a badass, and she didn’t start really doing anything until she was 38—and I was 38 at the time. So she’s my original inspiration.