Nationally recognized cannabis reporter Jackie Bryant hosts a bi-monthly podcast all about the green. We’re talking marijuana, pot, ganja, grass, and don’t forget edibles.
“The Plant Lady” is recorded in San Diego, California in the heart of the cannabis industry. Jackie explores how this subculture turned into a way of life where legalization is continuing to sweep the nation.
Making the Green Greener in the Cannabis Industry
When you think of Wall Street, you picture gray suits and leather briefcases strutting down a New York block at full speed with phones glued to their ears trying to close a deal in a hurry. When you think about cannabis, a laid-back attitude paired with a content smile shines through the clouds and tells you it’s all going to be alright.
But what if you mix the two? Combine one business with another?
When medical cannabis was legalized in Canada, very few were given the heads up about this investment opportunity. After all, it was slowly seeing progression on both the social and political fields across different nations.
One New York pharmaceutical hedge fund manager, Jason Wild, got a call from a banker in Ontario in 2014 with news that investing in medical cannabis could change the trajectory of his place in the game. With the newly legal product making its way into the nation’s market, Jason knew this was an opportunity he had to jump on. And, with that, he hit the jackpot.
Jason started his first fund in 1998 with $100,000 after getting his license to practice as a pharmacist the year prior. His knowledge in medicine helped him pivot from big pharma to “a more entrepreneurial” business model, he says, which was investing in smaller pharmacy companies like Arbor Pharmaceuticals LLC.
In this episode of The Plant Lady, the chief investment officer of JW Asset Management uses his background in the medical community to plant a seed in the cannabis industry that helped grow his total net assets to over $600 million in 20 years.
When he decided to sell Arbor, he began investing in another pharmaceutical: cannabis. Like the plant, his opportunities to grow in the market began to flourish instantly and widely when he partnered with companies that eventually went public after Canada went recreational. He felt the competition was scarce and it was his time to shine. With more demand than supply, profits were booming.
After joining the leading North American cannabis operator, TerrAscend, as their executive chairman in 2017, Jason saw the results of this prosperous market. Acquiring State Flower Cannabis, an apothecary dispensary chain in San Francisco, and turning toward the U.S. market through East Coast access helped get the stocks up. In fact, 2020 was their most profitable year-to-date.
But when the pandemic subsided, the cannabis industry went economically flat in 2021 and TerrAscend stopped doing expansions during that time. Two years later, Jason is now positive about the future. This past June, the company was listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange, becoming the first cannabis company to successfully trade on a major exchange as a U.S. multi-state operator.
It’s about staying afloat in choppy waters, Jason explains. “We’re getting punched in the face every day, but we’re getting to the point where it’s hurting the weaker players a lot more than it’s hurting the stronger players and that they should start seeing that we’re getting to the other side,” he says.
“Especially now, there’s so much distress everywhere that now there’s opportunities that we’re seeing in all of these states where we aren’t yet and we can really sort of wait for the best opportunity,” he continues. “These companies that are in 20 other different places—a lot of the very profitable states have license caps… so they wouldn’t be able to go over the cap.”
While legislation to overturn federal regulation of cannabis is not likely at this point in time, people in the industry are exploring paths to go to the Supreme Court in order to make it a state-wide issue instead of a national one. With a court that is highly supportive of states rights, this isn’t an impossible venture. After the overturning of Roe v. Wade, Jason believes this could be a signal that the judges would be willing to listen to this commu
Changing the Conversation Around Cannabis Use
After making moves on the court for close to two decades, retired NBA power forward Al Harrington is now making moves in the cannabis industry. Harrington is the CEO and co-founder of Viola, the largest premium Black-owned, multi-national cannabis company which recently opened its first brick-and-mortar space in St. Louis.
But growing up in a family where some members struggled with drug and alcohol abuse, Harrington didn’t become interested in marijuana until he was playing professionally in the NBA.
On this episode of The Plant Lady, Harrington discusses his early encounters with the drug in pro sports, how it aided his grandmother, and how he’s using his platform to advocate for a more equitable cannabis industry.
Named after his late grandmother who used cannabis to treat her glaucoma, Viola pays homage to the drug that allowed his grandma to read her Bible for the first time in years. “For her to be open-minded enough to try cannabis, it made me realize that what we’re doing is God’s work,” Harrington says “God put this plant here for a reason.”
Harrington firmly believes marijuana has the power to bring people and communities together, even if many people still have issues with the plant. “I think the main thing that [my grandmother’s story] does to me is it humanizes the plant,” Harrington says. “[That] allows people to let their guard down and have a real conversation.”
In his quest for a more-informed cannabis industry, Harrington has spoken with politicians across the US where the drug is legal either medically or recreationally—including Senator Chuck Schumer.
Harrington also discusses his desire for others to know the hurdles that Black businessmen and women face in the cannabis industry. We still have a long way to go in order to achieve social equity, he argues, while sharing the importance of understanding predatory investors preying on minority business owners.
With so much work that still needs to be done, Harrington continues to use his platform to advocate for positive changes in the world of marijuana. “Hopefully brands like mine and others that I know of as well, we can continue to make the investment back into the communities like we said we would,” Harrington says.
Humboldt Family Farms: A View From the Emerald Triangle
Baking in the sun is one of our favorite pastimes here in San Diego. Find your favorite sol spot and watch your stress melt away while you enjoy a natural and organic vitamin D mood booster. Bright and warm like the city, Humboldt Family Farms maintains the same energy up North in the Emerald Triangle with a cannabis cultivation process that leads with sun-grown production and legacy farming.
Scott Vasterling, co-owner of Humboldt Family Farms, chats with host Jackie Bryant on this week’s episode of The Plant Lady about how the farm went from a major supplier for outside brands to establishing itself as a hub for local growers through community cultivation. Joining the podcast this week is San Diego Magazine’s very own Troy Johnson, CCO and co-host of the Happy Half Hour, who just happens to be Scott’s fraternity brother when the two were at Chico State.
Reminiscing on uni days and first times, the trio also dive into Humboldt Family Farms’ beginnings following a meet-cute at the Beachcomber Cafe where Scott met his wife, a second generation cannabis farmer and owner of the restaurant. After introducing him to the sun-grown weed industry flourishing in Humboldt County, their fate was sealed. Much like the agriculture business, Scott explained that this was an easy transition for him and was most likely going to be a part of his life as he grew up on his grandfather’s farm.
“I just naturally moved into it,” Scott says on this week’s episode. “From the wilderness and the outdoors and farming was a really smooth transition for me, especially with the sun-grown.”
So the duo jumped right in and grew with an intent to sell to distributors. However, 80 percent of the product was leaving the county unbranded, he continues. People didn’t know where it was coming from or the care taken by local farms all around Humboldt to ensure this organic, naturally derived plant. For them, it was time to enrich their own community and connect growers directly to consumers.
“Let’s just have this collaboration on behalf of the community,” he says. “Let's use Humboldt Family Farms as a mechanism for all of us to come together.”
With love, a new side of Humboldt Family Farms was born.
The brand creates recognition for award-winning legacy growers in the local region and brings together small-batch farmers such as Amaranth Farms, Full Moon Farms, and Neukon Family Farms. With a richer cannabinoid profile and terpene, Humboldt Family Farms has perfected sun-grown cannabis while also syndicating the market around them. Although navigating regulation has become costly because of California legalization in 2016, the company hopes to continue nourishing its tight-knit community in the heart and soul of Humboldt County.
“Let’s just have this collaboration on behalf of the community,” Scott says. “Let’s use Humboldt Family Farms as a mechanism for all of us to come together.”
To learn more about Scott Vasterling and the farms, listen to this week’s full episode of The Plant Lady.
Moving Forward with Cannabis Policy in a Post-Legislation Era
Cannabis legislation has come a long way since its initial breakthrough in 1996 when California became the first state to legalize medical marijuana through the Compassionate Use Act. Within two decades, 38 states followed suit where some have legalized it recreationally. While it is a state issue now, a pressing issue of how cannabis should be regulated and by who continues to trend and spark activism for federal legislation.
From a quaint Airbnb in Bulgaria, Boston University law professor and author Jay Wexler joins this week’s episode of The Plant Lady to discuss national policy making, local authority over cannabis access, and his latest book, Weed Rules: Toward a Just, Joyous, and Sensible Marijuana Policy in a Post-Legalization Nation, which dives into the basics around these topics.
His perspective on the next steps: tackling local restrictions and expanding interstate commerce.
Although cannabis is recreationally legal in the state of California, lawmakers have enshrined local control to cities and town ordinances that allow them to create their own rules about how to manage access to the weed industry—giving authorities the power to prohibit cannabis sales, zone and prohibit cannabis businesses within their jurisdiction, and restrict distribution.
As Jay puts it during the episode, this political move only feeds into the fear and stigma of cannabis as a second or third class activity. In reality, the plant “provides millions of Americans with treatment for a wide range of ailments as well as happiness, joy, and euphoria,” he says.
Legislators presenting and instituting cannabis laws are often ill-informed and uneducated on the industry, as well as the growing national market. Thus, federal legalization is not politically viable at this time, according to Jay. However, local control is widely supported among voters because it serves as a step forward in terms of progressing as a society and accepting that cannabis is a tool for most to improve their lives.
“People can vote for cannabis legalization without worrying that it’s going to affect them,” he says during the episode. “There’s a significant number of people who vote in these initiatives or support legalization of cannabis that believe that cannabis should not be illegal and that people should not be going to prison. But, at the same time, don’t want a cannabis store next door.”
Currently on sabbatical, Jay visited law schools in south Asia and Europe in an expedition to explore their teachings and dabble in research for cannabis legislation among these countries—many of which have not legalized weed in any sort of capacity. The industry was almost untouched in Bhutan, one of the regions most memorable for Jay as he visited the Jigme Singye Wangchuck School of Law, and found that cannabis grew casually on the side of the road. The country’s grass is more valuable than the average blade, but, even though its philosophy is “Gross National Happiness,” he recalls hemp’s only use is to feed farm pigs.
It makes us wonder: should there be a greater push for federal legalization here in the States, or are we lucky to have made it this far? Host Jackie and Jay tackle this debate and more on his newly released book, Weed Rules: Toward a Just, Joyous, and Sensible Marijuana Policy in a Post-Legalization Nation in this week’s episode of The Plant Lady.
The Black- & Woman-Owned Dispensary Championing Social Equity
Although California originated as the sunny cannabis hub—dense with growers in the north and saturated consumption in the south—San Diego doesn’t quite fit into the narrative. After Prop. 215, the law that legalized medical cannabis in the state passed, the cities of the west coast were able to open up shop and a new, more by the book, operating system fell into place.
Up until 2016, the timeline in which weed went recreational, local governments restricted the number of licenses and dispensaries able to post up in their regions. One of the most conservative and regulated being San Diego.
On this week’s episode of The Plant Lady, Jackie sits down with jack of all trades, female empowerer, and owner of a San Diego local cannabis retailer JM Balbuena who got her start in the industry not long after Prop. 64 passed. In a newer fashion, JM opened her wellness brand and dispensary, Jaxx Cannabis, as a medical operation and breaks down what it’s like to acquire a legal license in a county that wants to scrub cannabis culture from its image.
But by waiting her turn and playing by the county’s rules, Jaxx Cannabis was able to start running and stay within its communities—unlike some of their competitors. JM recalls during the show that a lot of her success keeping her business running is attributed to patience and working for the system instead of against it.
The host and guest reminisce about the low-key dispensaries scattered around every neighborhood and the elaborate rouses needed as a front to keep them open like under-stocked coffee shops or deserted medical clinics. It’s not that these shops were selling illegal drugs, but that there weren’t enough licenses allowing businesses to sell weed in the cities. When supply meets demand and opportunity strikes, hundreds of dispensaries found ways to continue operation.
As one of few female cannabis entrepreneurs in pursuit of a thriving local business competing with multi-state operated companies, JM knew the type of game she needed to play in order to reach her goals. Owning a small business like Jaxx and advocating for social equity amongst the cannabis industry—as well as in the San Diego communities where her brand stood—connected her with the residents of Ramona, Mount Hope, and La Mesa who chose her over a larger company, Curaleaf, who competed for the same license.
It took JM’s commitment to authenticity, advocacy, and a mission to contribute to their economic ecosystem to finally receive an invitation into the community. Jaxx Cannabis and JM are currently working with the Mount Hope Community Alliance Program to restore a park in the area to signify it as a landmark of San Diego. The local cannabis brand, like others, helps fund social projects that will, in turn, uplift the collective population.
“The culture is compassion and community. Those two things are the pillars of cannabis,” she says during the episode. “You can have the money but if people aren’t supporting you because they don’t feel that sense of culture, that sense of community, that sense of — you know — this is something good for the world and it’s just capitalism, then it’s not going to last long.”
JM also leads Synergy Studios, providing filmmaking, content creation, and executive production to leading brands in the cannabis industry. She currently serves as CMO for Prime Harvest Inc., a technology-focused full-service cannabis corporation horizontally diversified across various segments of the cannabis value chain including licensing acquisition and compliance management and direct-to-consumer operations.
Read JM Balbuena’s debut book The Successful Canna-preneur for aspiring leaders in the rapidly-growing industry of cannabis. To stay up-to-date on the expansion of Jaxx Cannabis, follow @jaxx.sandiego and @_jmbalbuena on Instagram.
Cultivating New York’s 'Kulture' With Happy Munkey
California has had its cannabis market up and running since the ‘70s. Being illegal, it wasn’t as polished as it is today, with fancy dispensaries and government oversight. However, it’s still the largest trade in the country. This week, for episode five of The Plant Lady, we are transported across the country to the East Coast—where legalization has taken a much different path.
On this week’s episode of The Plant Lady, Jackie talks to CEO and co-founder of Happy Munkey Vladimir Bautista. This internationally known New York City lifestyle company is one that’s synonymous with cannabis culture. Alongside company partner and high school friend Ramon Reyes, the duo created Happy Munkey in 2017 to host spaces where people can hang and share their love for weed. Uniquely, these events were often set ablaze in swanky cocktail bars; uptown, immersive art playgrounds; and VIP rooftops, all to empower and elevate the cannabis community during a time when consumers were still made to feel like criminals.
The brand works to dismantle the stigma still prevalent on the East Coast, where distribution (colloquially known as dealing) dominates the culture over generational farming, which is the bedrock of culture more common in California. Happy Munkey connects politicians, chefs, doctors, influencers, athletes, and creative artists through its high-profile events, but it also shows this culture has a solid place in NYC now and is more normalized on a social level.
Vlad and Ramon seek out more than placing cannabis as a ubiquitous note in New York’s resurfacing nightlife; their mission to extend activism for a more positive outlook on weed comes from Vlad’s humble beginnings in the industry from a neighborhood in Harlem. Cannabis plays a large part in his success—not only as a businessman, but as a human being.
“One day when I was 16-years-old, I told myself, ‘You know what? I’m going to buy an ounce and if it doesn’t sell, I’ll smoke it. I have nothing to lose and everything to gain,” Vlad says. “If it wasn’t for that, I don’t think I would be here with you, Jackie.”
Growing up in Hamilton Heights, a neighborhood ravaged by the War on Drugs while he was a kid, Vlad notes that his opportunities to flourish financially were limited, and he was often surrounded by people going down skewed paths in order to survive. This included using or selling harder drugs on the streets. But cannabis was an afterthought in his community, so the CEO took a chance and found his economic stability and life purpose by selling weed before he caught a few charges decades ago.
“If I grew up with 100 people, I’m probably like one of the 10 left because, you know, it was a rough era,” he says. “So I would say cannabis saved my life because if it wasn’t for cannabis, I probably would’ve ended up with the rest of the statistics because there weren’t that many options of income.”
Today, he and his high school friend are jumping into New York’s fledgling legal industry with Happy Munkey. With Vlad’s industry resources and Ramon’s creative ideas to create a legacy market and pop-up consumption lounges, Happy Munkey was born. However, building the brand is half of the battle.
The company developed itself on lively events hosted and organized across New York City, as well as with merchandise, a podcast, and an e-magazine. The other half comes with its activism to further legalization. Eventually, Happy Munkey hopes to be granted a dispensary license, particularly considering its qualifications as a social equity applicant, owing to the fact that they are owners who were impacted by the justice system and the War on Drugs, which is a criteria for gaining early licensure in New York.
“For the first time in history, the smaller players like me are going first and the [multi-state operators] have to wait,” Vlad says.
Best cannabis podcast
I’ve been listening to The Plant Lady and I freakin love it! I feel validated by the sun-grown love too 😅. Oh and Jackie’s (the host) voice sounds like Evan Kleiman from Good Food…So soothing 😌. Btw this is my first review ever, that’s how much I enjoy this podcast that I needed to write a review.