Made famous by her high-end cannabis-friendly events, Jane West was fired from her corporate job for consuming on TV. Now at the helm of her own cannabis empire, she is determined to change the industry narrative.
Jane West’s ideal Friday night is putting on a cocktail dress, going to a fancy restaurant or event and “getting high”.
“I’m an avid cannabis consumer,” she tells me from her home in Colorado, where cannabis has been legal for recreational use since 2012.
“I see it as part of a wellness routine.
“If I’m going to get a babysitter and go out on a Friday night and spend $100 at an event, I want to get dressed up and be fancy and also be high.”
In 2014, alongside her corporate job, West launched her own cannabis-friendly events, where adults could get together to consume socially.
The events took place in private art galleries, with live music and even hosted a fundraiser for the Colorado Symphony Orchestra held at the famed Red Rocks amphitheatre with 5,000 guests.
They also attracted international media coverage. A reporter from the UK Telegraph attended the first one, with the Daily Mail later describing them as ‘sophisticated cannabis soirees’ with ‘foodies for munchies’.
At her second event, a clip of West unashamedly telling the camera; ‘I’m a mum and I use marijuana, and that’s okay’ was so newsworthy it made the five o’clock evening news.
West was fired from her job when her bosses saw the clip.
“I’ve never been fired from everything in my life and I have had a job since I turned 15, so to have a career where you have a salary end like that was dramatic,” she recalls.
“I definitely did not intend that to happen, at the time was that people thought I was trying to get fired.
“The fact that the woman hosting the weed events got fired from her job became a whole new story.”
Even though cannabis is legal and easily accessible for many in Colorado, residents are not permitted to consume it publicly.
As West puts it: “Even though everyone has access to it, there’s very few places where you can go to consume it.”
Eventually one of West’s events was raided by police and she received criminal charges.
“They had me on probation and made it clear that if I did anything else they would put me straight in jail, so I had to figure out what I was going to do,” she says.
“My event company wasn’t going to work until we passed social legalisation.”
Even now, six years on there is little sign of this, with several bills which would permit social consumption businesses failing to get through in recent years.
West is hopeful though, that the need to restart the economy and hospitality sectors following the coronavirus pandemic may spur things on.
“Social use is going to be the last domino,” she says.
“I hope that this might come from the pandemic, in the next year or two as these, as we start to get back to normalcy and we have all these empty storefronts and restaurants and hotels.”
West adds: “One of the biggest issues, is that we don’t see people consuming cannabis like you see people drinking alcohol.
“A significant element of cannabis culture is those scenes of a dude sitting on a couch with a bong at his crotch, but that doesn’t reflect my cannabis experience. I want images of a woman, dressed up with a joint in a high-end setting, then people will start to think differently.
“With social use, that’s when people will actually be able to see people using cannabis and realise that it’s for everyone.”
Edible Events was over – at least for the time being – but West’s cannabis career was just starting to take seed.
“Women from all over the world were reaching out to me and asking how to get into the cannabis industry,” she says.
“I was like, ‘I don’t have a job anymore, I don’t grow weed and the events that I planned are completely illegal, I am not the person you should be asking’ – but no one else was paying attention to women.
“All of the legalisation groups and companies launching were led by men – mainly generationally wealthy white men, who had the money to get started.”
Under her new alias – Jane West – she founded the networking organisation Women Grow, to connect women with others in the industry and with the premise to create more female-owned cannabis companies.
“I realised that women need to change the way they think about cannabis, or uneducated stereotypes about it would to prevent them from entering the industry at exactly the time they should,” she says.
Over a quarter million people have attended Women Grow’s networking events and national conferences in Colorado since its inception, with members launching their own branches in 40 cities across the US.
By 2016, West was ready to dabble in cannabis entrepreneurialism herself, and having recruited the next generation of Women Grow leaders, she divested the vast majority of her interest in the company and it is now majority black female-owned, she tells me.
After testing the water with a limited edition range of glassware and smoking paraphernalia, West went on to raise $1.3 million in seed funding from 22 accredited investors, 80 percent of which is held by women and people of colour.
She spent the money developing her signature travel collection – a range of sleek, stylish and discreet vaporisers and pipes and now partners with minority and family-owned businesses across the US to supply Jane West-branded CBD products and whole-plant cannabis, which comes in two simple formulations; day and night.
“Cannabis is confusing and intimidating, which is unfortunate because it is a safer alternative to prescription medications and alcohol, which are the primary substances that people are consuming. We want to take that confusion away.” West explains.
“Our customers know that I vet and find great growers, so it makes them more confident and it simplifies the buying process.”
In 2020, the number of cannabis retailers carrying the Jane West brand tripled from the previous year and it has now secured licensed cannabis partners in 13 US states, and Canada.
West doubled her revenues last year and recently closed another round of seed funding, with thousands of investors from 42 countries.
But despite its success on paper, she insists the company is still in “start-up mode” – and that she really “didn’t know what she was doing”.
“I did my best to leverage the fact that my name was out there, but I definitely wasn’t trying to front anything,” she says.
“I was like ‘I think we should have this networking group, and I don’t know what I’m doing but I think we should make bongs.’
“The more candid you are about what you don’t know, the more transparent conversations end up being and the further you get. I think that’s important in cannabis now more than ever, we need more transparency.”
This might not have been the plan, but having built her own cannabis empire – and a space which empowers women to do the same – I can’t imagine West would change anything now?
“I don’t have any regrets… I helped women make the critical connections they needed to manage an extremely hostile unwelcoming business environment, but I wish I could point to more female-owned businesses and say that’s because of Women Grow,” she admits.
“In Illinois only 21 licenses to grow have been issued, in Colorado there’s 2,500. In most of the states in the US, women and minorities were not granted licences – why that occurred is up for question.”
West adds: “I wish I’d spoken up earlier about the inequality.
“The most important reason to keep talking about being a woman or a minority is to keep pointing out that you’re the only person in the room. This [industry] just started, it shouldn’t be so inequitable already.