Classy Cannabis Events & The Women Leading Legalization

Jane West

Jane West is the co-founder of Women Grow, an organization with chapters around the country that is designed to allow the women leaders of the cannabis industry to connect with one another, but also help women trying to get into the industry.  Learn more at: http://www.womengrow.com

Jane is also the co-founder of Edible Events. Edible Events is Colorado’s premiere cannabis event production company. Imagine having a swanky party for your next event where the delicious food is designed to enhance your cannabis experience. Learn more at: http://www.edibleeventsco.com

Also don’t miss this interview ABC’s Nightline did with Jane recently, she handled herself beautifully.

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Matthew: Hi, I'm Matthew Kind. Each week I'll take you behind the scenes and interview the insiders that are shaping the rapidly evolving legal marijuana industry. Learn more at CannaInsider.com. That's C-A-N-N-A Insider.com.

What are the five disruptive trends that will shape the cannabis industry in the next five years? Find out with your free report at CannaInsider.com/trends. That's C-A-N-N-A insider.com/trends.

Now here's your program.

Jane West has rocketed to the forefront of the cannabis scene catering to the more sophisticated cannabis user. Jane and her two businesses, Edible Events and Women Grow, have been profiled on many news outlets including the Denver Post and ABC's Nightline. I'm pleased to have Jane on the show with us today. Welcome, Jane.

Jane: Hi. Thank you so much for having me.

Matthew: Jane, can you tell us a little bit about your background and how you got started in the cannabis industry?

Jane: Certainly. I have worked in events my entire life for the past 20 years. I started in New York City working for non-governmental organizations like UNICEF and UNBP doing fund raisers at Lincoln Center and branding and messaging events for UNICEF nationally. Then I moved to Denver, Colorado, and love it here, and got my masters degree in social work from Denver University. And then continued to do events and outreach messaging for organ donations and different - various organ procurement organizations nationwide. So I've always been kind of involved in community building and outreach and messaging.

I've always been a cannabis consumer, but was not part of - was not an advocate, was not part of the movement, was not part of amendment 64. But once it started to become apparent that legalization was really going to become a reality, I wanted to utilize my event funding skills to create events that I would like to attend. I went to a few different advertised cannabis events at the end of 2013, and it really wasn't an environment that I felt comfortable in.

I'm more of a mild user. I prefer to smoke flower. It was the first time I'd even been introduced to dabbing by a few of those events. And so, I just kind of wanted to create a welcoming environment for women within my demographic who may be kind of cannabis curious and want to find out more about utilizing the substance as an alternative to alcohol.

Matthew: Now I want to get into Edible Events and Women Grow, but before we do I just want to talk a little bit about the ABC Nightline interview with you. My wife and I, we watched this, and we laughed and we cheered for you. I mean this is really a case study for anybody that wants to take like a public relations course or something like this. It's a must watch, and I'm going to include a link to it in the show notes.

Jane: Thank you.

Matthew: But what amazed us is how the interview kept on framing questions to you in a way that subtly, and at times not so subtly, framed cannabis in a negative light. And instead of responding to those questions, you reframed and re-contextualized it in such a way, it turned in a total 180. Can you tell us a little bit about how you did that, and what that interview was like. It was so interesting to watch. Jane: Well, it is about the power of the pivot and knowing that when you're going to put yourself in front of a major news organization or any interview you do that it's really important to send your message and understand that you're in control of the interview.

I think that her - I don't want Nightline or Judy Chang to be - her questions were appropriate because they are the questions that non-cannabis users and people who just have these old, out-dated, uneducated information about marijuana, the messaging from years of the drug war, and failed scare tactics and all those other endeavors, they still have that in the forefront of their minds. We're definitely in a bubble here Denver, and we need to always remember that. And so, I actually think her questions were excellent because if they would have been a little bit more softball, it would have seemed as if she was on my side or would have already been converted to understanding what a great substance cannabis can be as an alternative to alcohol.

However, because she kind of utilized that mindset of Americans that haven't quite understood what cannabis is and how the end of prohibition is inevitable nationwide. I thought it was great because they got their questions asked, and I got my answers in. So in my mind, it was a win-win.

Matthew: Yes. Good point. Now before we move on, there is one edit in that interview that I just want to draw people's attention to, and that is when your friend is talking in the interview and they kind of turned the camera from your friend talking down to her tattoo. I thought that was kind of odd like why are they focusing on this tattoo. And to me that was like kind of like on the fringe. Look at the wild tattoos.

Jane: I hear you. People have really commented a lot on Brittany Driver's tattooed hand. You know, I think at the end of the day what's important to me also is that within the female demographic there's diversity. So to me, I hope cannabis users with or without that view thought it was great that there was a diverse group of women and not just a group of 38-year-old moms. Well, Brittany's mom also.

But I think it's good that we're showing a diverse group of women are all cannabis users and - but you're right, I think that's the purpose of the media is to kind cater to everyone's different view points, and I don't know what else to say to that. I don't have a very good answer for that. So other than the fact by doing that and having that shot close in on her hand, it did create more conversation around the topic, and more conversation about the media's influence over messaging, which I think overall is good.

Matthew: Now switching gears back to edible Events, you have this idea in your head about creating these events that are more upscale for people that are curious or maybe have tried cannabis once or twice before and they're looking to get back in. How did it translate from the idea in your head into actually doing it for the first time? Were you surprised by anything? How did it feel?

Jane: Well, when I first put the series together, I planned for success. I booked out the entire year to begin with knowing that some people would only be able to make certain dates, or maybe a certain culinary feature from one event would appeal to some one more. And so, I really kind off just jumped in with just one a month. And the very first event, the best part about it, and the best part actually about all the events we've held, the orchestra event, and some other private events we've done is this element of like mindedness that just makes it such a positive social experience.

Our very first event based on like only three or four news article on it before it occurred, and there was a group that drove in from Kansas after reading about it. And there was a group of people - a few people flew in for it. And the exciting part about that this is a group of people that read a newspaper article about something that had never even occurred yet. And actually, it was something that was hard to even understand what it is. Like, is this a culinary event, is there weed in the food? What's going on here?

And so, they were all a group of 100 people that were like I want to do that. That is what I want to do on my Friday night. And what that leads to is just this really excellent mix of like-minded individuals coming together for an evening event where you get to consume cannabis like you would a glass of wine.

Matthew: Sure. Just for people that are wondering the cannabis is - you bring your own cannabis.

Jane: You bring your own cannabis. I hash tagged #BYOC for the first time a year ago. I looked at the time. This is good. It was all like bBYOchairs or BYOcoffee. But we went with BYOcannabis mainly because we did a few focus groups, and my original concept was that everyone would come into the event at the same time, and all consume the same edible. And for each event, we would feature a different edibles company and everyone would kind of be on the same journey.

But everyone - edibles affect everyone differently. I don't want to pigeon hole people into a certain cupcake. Everyone kind off has their own preferences, their own strains they like. And so, also there's issues legally with the distribution off any form of cannabis. So in order to stay as - to follow as many of the rules as we can and stay as legitimate as possible with our events, they are all BYOC. You bring your own cannabis, and everyone just enjoyed the evening together.

Matthew: So everybody is consuming the same food together, and the food is designed to complement and extenuate the cannabis experience. What comments have you heard more than once or twice where the people are saying, gosh, this food really jumps out or this aspect of the event of the event jumps out?

Jane: Well, one of the things about munchies and traditional munchy foods is that they tend to be like with a very singular flavor like an entire bag of Doritos or something that's more like dry. And cotton-mouth is a proven side effect of consuming cannabis. So we really designed a menu with succulent, decadent, small bites. Something that you really favor and enjoy, and that the flavor really evolve on your palate like bacon wrapped fig with blue cheese on the inside that you kind of like savor and all the different flavors come across.

We also have a lot of non-alcoholic beverages featured at all of our events. So they're not sweet. I don't like sweet beverages. So more like infused waters. We've had an Italian soda bar station. Some people like coffees and so we also try to feature - it's just so normal to have a drink in your hand at any social event. If you are standing, especially at a networking event or social event, you stand there without a drink in your hand, it's funny. I tested it out in January or February by not drinking at all. I didn't want to hold my water. People kept asking me if I needed a drink. I'm sorry, do you need a drink? It's just such a natural in our society. So we have a lot of non-alcohol beverages, so people can really focus on their cannabis experience, but also stay like hydrated and have something to enjoy.

Matthew: You mentioned briefly the Denver symphony orchestra, and I read about that event, and I have to say I was like how did she pull this off. Can you just talk a little bit about what went on there?

Jane: It was a lot of luck and timing. And also, I had proven myself with high-end events. The development director at the time of the (indiscernible) attended my March event, which was (audio distortion) being called (audio distortion) hungry, and he loved it. And he was like I think this is - I think this is pure fund raising. And I think there's a lot of people that feel that way. I've spoken to the Colorado non-profits association, and I was on a panel for them. I've also spoken to the International Society of Event Planners.

This is definitely going to be a new arena that event centers utilize for experiential events. I mean, there's a reason why at a fund raiser they don't do the auction until an hour and a half in. They wait for everyone to have a few drinks. And I personally feel like - if you've really done fund raisers that you know it's not about raising funds. It can actually be quite expensive, but it's about raising awareness and messaging. And I feel like when you have your attendees consuming cannabis as an alternative to alcohol, your message may get by more impactful and be more memorable than having alcohol being the substance consumed at your event.

I think that's what the Colorado Symphony Orchestra thought too. They had just launched a Beethoven in Drews series that was doing exactly what they wanted to do. It was brining in a new demographic of users to the Colorado Symphony. And when we first launched the event, without asking permission from the city, over 90 percent of the first hundred people that bought tickets had never registered for the Colorado Symphony Orchestra before and had never been to see a classic music event at the symphony. And so, they were doing - we did accomplish exactly what they wanted.

Now once the city started to crack down and try to define public versus private for us, that led to more issues where we had to actually refund all of those tickets and turn it into a private event as defined by the city. Meaning that everyone at the event had to be personally invited by me. Basically, in nine days I have to go through everyone I ever knew in the industry and get them on board with these events. Luckily, these incredible business owners in the cannabis industry here in Colorado, they want to support the local fine arts. They're parents, they're citizens, they're part of this community, and they were glad to be able to really show case their companies by supporting the cause of the orchestra that is desperately in need of funds.

Matthew: Now this was outdoors at Red Rocks, correct?

Jane: We had three private smaller events for up to 300 people at an art gallery leading up to the Red Rock finale. It was so amazing. The weather was incredible. The entire Colorado symphony orchestra got to perform at Red Rock Saturday night, and that has never occurred before. Pieces of the symphony perform at Red Rock very often with different bands. Like Sarah McLaughlin and the Colorado Symphony Orchestra. But that's usually just a small set of artists that they send for those type of events. And this really got to feature the symphony orchestra as a whole. It was just such a wonderful event all around. I couldn't be happier with the way it turned out.

Matthew: Well, kudos to you for putting that together. That sounds like an incredible accomplishment. I hope to be able to attend one of those in the future, if it can be done again.

Jane: Yes. I hope so too. We have a lot of ideas for next year, and hopefully we'll partner with the symphony again for another series.

Matthew: So moving on to Women Grow, can you give us some background summary of what that is? How many members and chapters there are now?

Jane: So as I entered into the cannabis market, it was clear to me that it was more of a male-dominated field. From my community building and social work background, I really wanted to kind of identify a group of women and female entrepreneurs in the field as I kind of entered into the market.

So there was a group of women in Denver, Colorado that had started this Women's Cannabis Business Network, which is part of the National Cannabis Association here. But it was a volunteer-based group, and all of these women, they have their own businesses to run. They would get together. They had breakfast. They were able to do a few excellent events. One was called Mother's High Tea. But over all no one's sole goal was to promote women in the industry.

And so, as I started to get to know more and more about the industry, I identified a need for a professional women's networking organization. There are women's groups focused on marijuana and advocacy in that realm, but I really wanted to advocate for women in the field. As a lot of women reached out to me how do I get more involved? How do I get in the industry? I don't have the capacity to onboard them, but I can connect them.

And the more and more women I learned about in the industry and the more fascinating their stories were and more experience they had, more I identified the need to connect them all and pull them out of the woodwork. I mean each one of them is burrowed in a hole working on their companies and projects and have so little time to invest in other endeavors especially because their businesses are doing very right now. But those are exactly the women that we need to have mentoring this next generation of cannabis industry professionals.

There's' also the possibility for reverse mentoring because these 20-some things that are going out into the field, they know a lot more about social media and how to be more efficient and productive online than I do for sure. I'm a digital snail compared to them. And so, there's a lot of possibility there. And so, the women in the women cannabis network got together and decided that we wanted it to happen. And so each one of them funded and kicked in seed money for Women Grow, which without, we could never have existed.

The co-founding members all got together. We had about$30,000 for a start up operating budget for 2014, and so our very first networking event was in Denver, Colorado in August. They occur on the first Thursday of the month nationwide. And we got a lot of press around it. We try to push that out to kind of expand. We connected with other women business leaders in other states that our contacts knew. We doubled our size every month. We're in 16 states. We have a chapter in Guam, where it's just legalized, in Alaska. And so, it's been really, really exciting. We have more chapters coming on. Our Boston chapter is going to kill it in the beginning of 2015.

And right now our goal is to end by January 1, have our first (audio distortion) campaign funded. So we are looking for 50 cannabis businesses that want to declare themselves female-forward and fund Women's Grows 2015 operating budget with $5,000. If we can get 50 businesses to give $5,000, I will have the quarter million dollar operating budget that I need for Women Grow for 2015 in order to hold a leadership summit in the spring, a national conference in the fall, hire a seasoned executive director to really build a solid foundation for this organization as well as do some other outreach and mentoring beta tests to see how we can expand that.

Matthew: That is incredible. You made an excellent point there about the reverse mentoring there. There is a kind of symbiosis where the younger people have a much better skill set in the social media and other technological things. So it's not just a one-way street. Do you have any examples of where maybe someone who is more of a veteran in the industry kind off takes someone that's younger under their wing and helps them?

Jane: Absolutely. A young woman named Amanda (indiscernible) emailed me like three months ago. She was in Baltimore, was very interested in entering the cannabis industry, and her apartment flooded. And the apartment company said, well, you can either have $1,200 and move somewhere else. Or we'll move you to this other apartment and clean up your apartment and move you back in. She took the $1,200 and drove to Colorado and emailed me and said I've love to do anything. I'm willing to do anything. I just want to learn about the industry. And that particular day, I was feeling particularly overwhelmed. Women Grow didn't have offices or a headquarters yet. So I told her to come to my house. I gave her a list of some things that she could do for our next upcoming event. She accomplished all of them, and proved herself to be a go getter. Julie Dually of Julie's Baked Goods is one of the co-founders of Women Grow, and was looking for someone to do her social media and help with administrative tasks there. She has a full-time job now. She is assisting Julie in her social media platform and developing that out, and is loving her job with a high-end company in the cannabis industry.

Matthew: That's a great story. That is a really good story.

Jane: Yeah. I was really good. And there's more and more of those coming up. I want to be clear. We are not a job search website. That is a great analogy and a story, but what our motivation for Women Grow is to connect women. But it is up to each individual entrepreneur to be tenacious and proactive and make those connections themselves. We just want to create an environment where they can do that with a constructive group of female entrepreneurs.

Matthew: And a great example there is that this young woman provided value first, and then something good came out of it.

Jane: Yes, exactly. And that's such a good point. I'm glad you brought that up. That's kind of actually kind of the model we're following here at Women Grow. I've worked on Women Grow for six months straight trying to get it off the ground, and then Jasmine Hut came along. She is an incredible power house with a skill set just like unparalleled. She created the Women Grow website. She's doing all of the newsletters. She's so savvy. It's almost like a language I'm learning when it comes to social medial that you just speak in an entirely different way.

And so, she's worked for Women Grow non-stop for three months and only recently have we been able to start compensating her for her time. But in proving herself, she's got a bevy of opportunities available to her. And right now, I'm standing here in the headquarters and next door is a young woman who has skill sets in CRM and building databases. She's working on building our founders database because that's her skill set. She wants to apply for Women Grow. And after a few months of utilizing her skills here and proving herself, I guarantee you she will find a position somewhere. In fact I'm just trying to keep her long enough to finish this project.

And that's really what it is. A lot of these women are not going to own groves or dispensaries, but their skill sets are desperately needed in this industry. And by showcasing what they can do with women grow, we benefit and they also benefit building their portfolios in getting the positions they came looking for.

Matthew: Now for some women that are out there listening and they're kind of on the fence where they're saying, well, I'm interested in getting into the cannabis world, but I'm a little bit worried about what my family will think or this or that. They have some reservations and they might be outside of Colorado, what words of encouragement could you offer them to maybe get them off of the fence?

Jane: Well, I think the best thing I can do is keep showcasing the incredible entrepreneurs within Women Grow and have them be models for the industry. I definitely hear what you're saying. There's a young women that created a whole new website for the dispensary she was working for, and was heading home for Thanksgiving. And I said I bet you're so excited to show everyone - show your family what you've done. And she was like, oh, they don't know I work in the cannabis industry. I don't know how I would tell them.

So actually we're kind of working on some talking points and help people talk to their families about either working in the cannabis industry or their own cannabis use and kind of coming out of the cannabis closet. And then on the other side, we really just are saying I want to make sure that we're showcasing all of these professionals. But I really just want women to understand that the end of prohibition is inevitable nationwide. Now - right now, is the time to enter this industry and utilize whatever - I mean, re-brand yourself, re-brand your company, utilize whatever skill set you have.

These companies, whether it's a future construction technology, a grow, a dispensary, edibles company, I mean, they are just like every other American business. And I'm concerned that stereotypes about cannabis use and cannabis consumers are going to prevent women from entering the market at exactly the time that they should. So we're just going to try to keep modeling success stories and the type of professionals that are in this industry to kind of keep changing the space as fast as we can.

Matthew: Well that's a great parting thought for us.

Jane: I also have to plug. I have to plug. Okay. There's 16 chapters nationwide. They can go to womengrow.com and see if there's a chapter in their area. If they feel motivated and there's not chapter in their area, and they are motivated to become that central hub and networker in their area, they follow the process, and they can start their own chapter.

When you start your own chapter, as soon as you have more than 10 members coming to your networking event, you get half the profits for every event you plan. I think it's very important that we're valuing women's time and aren't basing or requests on everyone working in a volunteer setting. That happens way to often with women's organizations. And so, when you're that networking hub, if you get more than 50 people at an event you get half the profits every month. You have to agree to do six networking events for six months dedicated as that chapter chair, and at that point you can decide to transfer. Maybe you've found a position in the industry. Maybe you want to move on to something bigger. That's what we're asking everyone to pledge, and that's what the 16 chapter chairs and why we have (audio distortion) chapters nationwide, that's how that comes to be. And I want to be clear. If you live in Alabama or Texas or a state where it seems like marijuana legalization is years and years away, that's okay because it all started somewhere. And with our connections and the incredible group of women that are part of this group from Letty ≈lborg from Students for Sensible Drug Policy, to Taylor West with the national Cannabis Industry Association, we can help you start a ballot initiative. We can help you start. Because all of these women were part of the cannabis industry as it started and have that knowledge base of how to get to the point to where Colorado is now.

Matthew: Excellent point. There's no more opportunity than being on the bow wave as it changes.

Jane: Absolutely.

Matthew: Now, Jane, as we close you mentioned the website for Women Grow, can you also tell us about how we can learn more about Edible Events?

Jane: Yes. The website of Women Grow is where you go to sign up there. Edible Events is edibleeventsco.com. Currently, we are working with legal issues with the city to make sure that everything that we're doing is completely legal. And we're trying to really get the state of Colorado to define public versus private events.

Currently, I can only do truly private events. So if someone is interested in coming out, whether it's for a long tourist weekend, we can connect you with an executive chef to craft edibles for you, and we have (audio distortion) packages. Or is you want to do a private party in Colorado, we can plan those for you. I'm doing some Christmas parties. I'm doing a huge New Years Eve event. But right now in order to remain completely legal with the state all events must be private. And it's really unfortunate because the original idea was to educate the public about cannabis consumption and almost have like slates so that you can try different forms of cannabis and see which one is best for you.

And that public eduction element, which wineries and whiskey companies get to do all the time, is something that we're being restricted from because we're not allowed to open our events up and our ticketing up for the general public. But we're working very hard with the legislature on getting to that point, and possibly having an actual cannabis special events permit just like there's an alcohol special events permit so that responsible, adult, cannabis-friendly events can be something that's very normal and happens every weekend here in Colorado.

Matthew: Great point. There's all these micro brew events every weekend it seems. It would be great to be able to do something like that in the cannabis industry. Jane, thanks so much for being on the show today. We really appreciate your time.

Jane: Thank you. Thank you so much for having me. I really appreciate you're sharing our story.

Matthew: If you enjoyed the show today, please consider leaving us a review on iTunes. Every five star review helps us to bring the best guests to you. Learn more at CannaInsider.com/iTunes. What are the five disruptive trends that will shape the cannabis industry in the next five years? Find out with your free report at CannaInsider.com/trends. That's C-A-N-N-A INSIDER.COM/trends.

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