Jane West Went to the Future and Is Still Waiting for It to Catch Up
Even a Nevada cloudburst cannot rain on the Women Grow parade.
“I don't think the speech is going to happen,” says Jane West. “I just don’t feel nervous enough.”
West is the “Marijuana Mogul.” The “female entrepreneur sparking a movement and building an empire.” She’s one of the “Cannabis Queens of Colorado,” and also, one of the “most potent women in the pot industry.”
This is no accidental reputation.
In 2014, West founded Women Grow, a self-described “for-profit entity that serves as a catalyst for women to influence and succeed in the cannabis industry as the end of marijuana prohibition occurs on a national scale.” An events planner in a past life, West remains the organization’s national events director. She is also the name, face, and creative force of Jane West Enterprises, a high-end brand offering lines of cannabis-infused (and inspired) products.
West is routinely featured on television. Her signature is on the label of the lighter in my right pocket.
But right now: It’s the last Saturday afternoon in April. We’re at Further Future (FF), a music, arts, and futurism festival held in the desert outside of Las Vegas, Nevada.
And Jane West is mostly just relaxed.
“I’m taking a nap,” she says. “Wake me up if we hear anything new.”
The FF festival is said to have spawned from an upper-echelon Burning Man splinter cell that sought to celebrate the notion of "luxury empowering creativity." The festival is a draw for startups seeking funding, tech bros in need of a break; a less mainstream crowd than Coachella. It's been called a getaway for the alleged “Burning Man Elite.”
West and I are sitting––wet, weary, and waiting––in the back of a rental RV. Unexpected monsoon-like rains are turning the sand beneath the vehicle into sludge. We’re joined by two of West's co-conspirators–-Paige Cecchi, a graduate from the startup world now running biz dev for Women Grow and Jane West; and Jesse Meighan, CMO and Cofounder of Jane West Enterprises, and the muscle behind its e-commerce arm, ShopJaneWest.
Full Disclosure: Jesse Meighan is also part of The KIND family, and who invited me along to Nevada.
Only minutes before, the main festival grounds were evacuated for fear of electric shock. Still, an unrelenting pulse of electronic music seems to come in waves from each tent and RV in the campsites that surround us on every side. This will be the case through Monday morning.
West is slated to take the stage in less than an hour, scheduled to join a panel of entrepreneurs and creatives brought together to share how they see the next few decades of commerce and culture shaping up. West is speaking on the future of cannabis, and how women will become, and already are, a major force driving the next wave of the presumed soon-to-be-legal industry. The other speakers, which include entrepreneurs Amanda Kahlow, Bob Pittman, and even Alphabet Inc.'s (Google) Eric Schmidt––speak of esoteric futures yet to materialize. West is here to discuss a tangible tomorrow, that should have gone down last week.
If the unpredicted rain ever lets up, that is.
Through networking events, weekend retreats, and educational speaking engagements, Women Grow has built a membership of more than 30,000 people in 45 cities. Its circles of influence have even reached and include people who previously saw the herb only as a harmful drug. Women Grow receives nearly daily press, but West says that educating women consumers about the benefits of cannabis isn’t always an easy role.
“I use marijuana every day,” West tells The KIND. She lives in Denver, Colorado, where cannabis for adult use has been legal since 2012.
“But it’s not like I use it at the same time every day, or excessively,” says West. “I might take a few hits before yoga, or in the evening while I’m walking the dog, or when I’m brainstorming a column.
“The image most people have of a daily cannabis user, is something along the lines of a coughing, unhealthy habit. I want women to know that cannabis can do more than that.”
The weather temporarily clears, and Jane West looks over her speech backstage one last time.
She’s much more nervous now, it seems. But West has been traveling from spotlight to spotlight lately; a seasoned road warrior. Before we met in Nevada, West was on the East Coast in New York City. By the time this is published, she’ll be in Mexico.
One of the festival organizers, a tech-world go-getter draped head-to-toe in what appears to be the fur and most everything else of an actual fox, is the de facto emcee. The audience sprawls out on mattresses or stands packed-together on different levels of platforms. Some people are dressed as if they arrived via magic carpet; some of the speakers will arrive via personal helicopter. As West is announced, the audience erupts in what turns out to be uncharacteristic applause and enthusiasm.
“Oh, f*ck yeah!” A young woman cries.
West’s words appear to be thoughtfully consumed by the costumed mass of people. Her Women Grow message is amplified across the flat expanse. She talks about a wild, crazy, and completely tangible future. Many faces nod in agreement or squint in curiosity. The rain begins again. The audience moves closer together in search of shelter. Some spectators step up on stage, nearly surrounding West.
West's vision and vibe does not fully synch in our current surroundings: If the future is free, and a place of open discussion, and also legal cannabis––why are K-9 police units circling the festival grounds, and driving in between parked cars in the lot beyond the campsite? Why is no one who is consuming weed on site doing so openly and proudly?
“Major events and festivals so readily incorporate alcohol into them because it is a huge driver of revenue,” says West. “While [festivals such as Further Future] might be cannabis friendly," notes West, "until they see some kind of monetary incentive, they’re not going to fully incorporate cannabis into them.”
On the other end of the spectrum, some weed-world events can become gross displays of excessive use.
“That’s not necessarily helpful either,” says West. “That’s not really my style.”
A few days later, our trip to the future is already in the past. Jane West is back in Denver. I've returned to Los Angeles. And over the phone, West brings us back to reality.
“The reason we’ve gotten through so many hurdles of legalization so far is because the individuals pushing for it had some sort of monetary incentives driving them forward,” she says.
“We were recently dropped by a payment processor that was fully aware of the nature of our business, but was left with no choice when they were audited by AmEx,” West says. “And if a [cannabis] company has to sell something as a ‘tobacco product’ or 'herbal supplement,’ what does that do for consumer education? It shouldn’t be so hard.”