Career Path: Pot pioneer Jane West continues to disrupt marijuana industry | Crain's

Career Path: Pot pioneer Jane West continues to disrupt marijuana industry

Jane West spent 20 years planning events for nonprofits before a confluence of factors sparked a move into the cannabis industry.

When Colorado legalized recreational marijuana in 2012, West had an “incredibly flexible and well-paying position” with a company that produces experiential education programs. She also was just getting ready to send her two kids off to school full-time, freeing up a good chunk of time.

West saw an opportunity to bring her event-planning expertise to the cannabis space on a part-time basis. In January 2014, she launched Denver-based Edible Events Co., a monthly event series featuring artists and chefs.

“The twists was that you could smoke weed,” she said.

The local media loved it, according to West. The national media also ate it up, with CNBC featuring West in a segment about the “Colorado Pot Rush” on Feb. 26, 2014. All that press helped West exceed expectations for her first few events, but it drew a different kind of attention as well.

According to West, her employer saw footage of her smoking pot on national TV and promptly fired her for violating the company drugs policy. Then, the city of Denver cracked down on her 4/20 event, a “wake and bake” brunch.

West found herself smack dab in the middle of a nascent industry, but with no clear way to capitalize on her freshly boosted name recognition. So West partnered with Jazmin Hupp to found Women Grow, a for-profit dedicated to advancing women in the cannabis space. 

“I was receiving inquiries from all over the world from women who wanted to do this job,” West said of her marijuana events company. “They wanted to bring these marijuana events to Maryland, Madrid or whatever.”

Instead of licensing Edible Events – West said regulations on marijuana are so local that the model would be difficult to translate – the plan was to host monthly networking events for women in the cannabis industry and to set up a 10-city network across the state over the course of a year.

Women Grow now boasts more than 1,500 members across 35 cities, but West is looking to take a step back.

“I never intended to run it or be the CEO,” said West, who stepped down from her role as Women Grow's national events director in 2016. “I just woke up feeling so passionately that it should exist.”

Instead, she’s been focused on a different project. This summer, West is launching a new line of marijuana accessories and home goods through her own eponymous company, Jane West.

Q: Why did you want to try out the cannabis industry in the first place?

I love marijuana, for one.

On top of that, I truly believe that it is a healthier alternative to alcohol. Every year I get older, and I believe that more and more strongly. No hangovers. No calories. I don’t miss them.

There’s so many outdated, uneducated stereotypes about this substance, and all it takes is education. I believe that a lot of women will turn to cannabis as an alternative to alcohol and, in some cases, prescription medications.

In terms of the business side, my perspective has changed. When I originally joined the industry, everyone was just trying to figure it out. My motivation and passion was because it was so pioneering. You found a different type of business owner in the space. People care so much about their companies and their products, but at the same time, they are renegades. You couldn’t be risk-averse in the cannabis space. It was an infectious combination.

Q: How did it feel to be fired for using cannabis on TV?

In a word, awful. I had never been fired from anything in my life. It was always accolades, raises and promotions. To be fired from any position, let alone a position I loved, took the wind out of me.

It was also the first time I’d even thought about looking for a job. Everything up until then had been kind of organic. It was so daunting that I just started my own businesses instead.

The anger I felt about being fired was a notable portion of the passion I put into my businesses in 2014. I remember thinking, “I’m going to prove to everyone that I can make these events work and to make Women Grow a force to be reckoned with.” I definitely channeled the anger, and it worked.

Q: Do you feel vindicated by the passage of Initiative 300, the social-use referendum that will allow adults to use marijuana in certain public spaces?

Yes, it was a long time coming. This is the latest in a string of innovative things Colorado has done with cannabis.

A lot of people didn’t understand why others would want to get together to smoke pot, and it was easier to say “no” than to figure it out. Now, we’ve shown everyone in the country with this written initiative, that others can copy if they want, what it can look like.

It’s going to be huge for people hosting the type of events I did with Edible Events. I hope things go smoothly with the rollout later this year.

Q: Why is it important for women to get involved in pot?

We know how challenging it is to change the ratio of men to women in tech, and that industry has only been around for 20 years or so. Our goal with Women Grow is to change the ratio before it gets that bad.

There’s just not enough female leadership in other industries. If we can have more gender diverse work environments in the cannabis space, we can really be different.

We have an opportunity to do something different here.

Q: What does the future hold for Jane West, the woman and the brand? Can you tell us anything about your new line of products?

Even when I was starting Women Grow, I had my eyes set on what was next for me. Now that many states have legalized some form of marijuana use and there’s lots of high-quality brands coming into the space, I think it’s just the right time for me to go all-in with my particular brand.

Building out the Jane West brand and the product line was my dream. Over all the years I’ve been in pot, I created dozens of Pinterest boards, documented everything, and made notes about what I wanted to do.

I really do smoke pot and I use all types of products, so I have opinions about them. No. 1, most products aren’t aesthetically pleasing to me. The types of glass and quality of glass being used is just not what I want on display in my home. There’s other issues around that too. Since most glass on the market right now is hand-blown, it’s basically irreplaceable. That’s an issue I want to address.

Bringing these products into the world is what I’m doing now. I can be the first self-made, brand-name millionaire in this space.

Marijuana is still not normalized. It’s still happening in the back alleys or kept up on the top shelf in the garage, despite what most people say they want. I believe that creating really sophisticated products — items that make people say “ooh, what’s that?” — is a way to change that. 

Jane West is on Twitter at @TheJaneWest.

May 3, 2017 - 2:31pm