Vulnerability Guru, Content Marketer, Business Owner & Advocate Talks Shame, Accessibility and More
Updated: Jan 7, 2021
Jess is a Cannabis Content Marketer, Owner of the Copper House (Detroits 1st Bud and Breakfast), Co-Owner of LOUD.social, and founder of #CurvyCannabis. We are thrilled that we were able to talk with her about the work she is doing, towards legalization, normalization, and representation.
Jess was introduced to cannabis at 16 through a friend who consumed. Cannabis was a pathway to connecting deeper with a queer friend when Jess was in a more "closeted" state. Jess never actually smoked the joint she purchased(which she carried around for 2-4 months), because of the stigmas she had embedded in her growing up. "I was so scared to try weed because I was scared of addiction, I was scared of drug abuse, I was scared of losing my 4.3GPA and not going to the college I wanted to."
Jess attributes these stigmas to programs/curriculum she was taught (such as DARE), personal experiences with dealing with addiction, and cultural indoctrination. "I am from Detroit, so it was indoctrinated to avoid drugs, we were in the midst of abuse a pandemic. My father actually battled addiction for his entire life, and I never wanted to be like that. I was fearful of an addiction, I was fearful of changing my life. Both of those stories were in my mind, I knew what my dad was going through, and I was also indoctrinated with certain types of propaganda about how weed was a gateway drug and how it would make you do with bad things."
Jess had her first consumption experience in college once she made it to the University of Michigan. "Everyone was smoking weed and I was so scared to smoke because I thought that it would make me spiral down this path." During this period Jess was also facing a lot of stressors in her life as someone coming from Detroit, and also in the midst of Prop 2, which made affirmative action illegal. It was a tumultuous time where Jess was facing identity work she had to go through, and when she indulged in a bowl of cannabis she realized that she was feeling better, less anxious, and less tense.
Jess wasn't a regular smoker but she did begin to notice a lot of people smoking regularly around her, specifically white people. "I was like how come you all are doing this, and I have this stigma around it." As time went on Jess found herself thinking more about cannabis as a career, "One of the assignments (in her MBA program) we had was to not only explore what companies you wanted to work for, but also what industries would present opportunities to you." Jess had a sorority sister who just launched a product line and she started her marketing with her story of cannabis consumption." This assignment led Jess to start thinking about her own consumption as medicinal and therapeutic in nature, and also the first time she started thinking about cannabis as an industry.
As Jess did research she started to become more passionate about access. "How are we creating access? A lot of it is around educational access to opportunity. When I look at the cannabis industry I see a point of access to wealth generation, entrepreneurship, justice. Our communities have been disproportionately impacted by criminalization and probation."Through research, Jess was able to access awareness by seeing someone she respected and admired telling their story of cannabis use, and realize that cannabis was a ground-floor opportunity where equity can be created for the community.
The biggest stigmas Jess has faced are her own, "I was a teacher, so what does it mean to be a high school teacher who is now a spokesperson and advocate for cannabis?" Jess had to determine what that meant for her internally, and once she unpacked and released the shame she had attached to her consumption she was able to start working towards creating a pathway of empowerment and normalization for her students. "Once I got over that stigma opportunities started pouring in."
As the opportunities started to present themselves, Jess decided that it was time to go public with her consumption and lost a job. "That setback really made me realize how much stigma socially I would be facing." For Jess that meant finding herself a closer community within cannabis that she could relate with. "Sure that is a missed opportunity for my pocketbook, but also the amount of opportunities that have opened up in the industry have been tenfold." Since losing the job, Jess has prioritized being honest and upfront when it comes to her consumption. As a content marketer, this is incredibly important for a social media-based canna-biz. "I just need people to be receptive to that, and not think that I am incapable, incompetent, or lack leadership skills because of a plant. I am actually more in tune and more aligned with my well-being, my wellness, and my body. That is what cannabis has presented to me...it is a pathway to wellness."
Jess gets both physical and mental benefits from her consumption. She finds relief for her IBS, digestive health, and depression through cannabis. "I didn't realize that I was self-medicating both chronic pain in my belly and also mental health." Now that Jess has awareness around her treatment and symptoms, she has been able to do more in-depth research about what cannabinoids and which mixes will help her best. Jess also uses cannabis as part of her self-care routine. "Sometimes eating an edible that is going to force me to take a break allows me to rest, take a bubble bath, and separate myself from work."
Jess is involved in her neighborhood association, where she is Vice President of her community council and homeowners association. She continues to be vocal within this space when it comes to cannabis legislation and continues to bring state senators and representatives into discussions about cannabis policy reform. Jess understands that listening goes both ways and also makes sure to listen to feedback from people who might be naysayers. "They're concerned about unemployment due to consumption, which is a real policy issue. What I do is just reframe everything in the conversation to remind them you're right people should not be terminated from their jobs for using a medicine if they have a card. That's a policy issue though not an issue with cannabis." Jess knows that a big part of changing stigma is education, and as an educator, we know she is up for the job.
When it comes to misconceptions about canna-consumers Jess feels that lack of productivity is definitely incorrect. "I think that they think that we're lazy...Somedays because I'm so anxious I can be doing things, but doing nothing, because my anxiety is so out of control." When she needs help focusing, getting things done, and being productive there are strains that help her do just that. "Weed helps me be productive sometimes, weed helps me focus, feel better, and manage my pain."Consumption does not equate to lowered productivity for Jess, it just allows her to manage what her body needs in order for her to be her most productive. "I'm also running two business on top of a full-time job, there is no way that I could be unproductive."
Jess's decision to start a cannabis business is directly tied to the Adult Use Passage in Michigan. After moving with her wife to the East Coast, so that they could get married legally in 2015, Jess found a job and went to graduate school. The two decided to move back home right around the time that the ballot passed in their home state. "I was like this is the chance to really lean in and start. That January once it was legal, we started opening our home to guests." Jess also started leading kickbacks, education sessions, and forming community through her home. "Through that kind of grassroots community development, I met some really amazing people and my business partner." Since starting Jess has expanded the events she hosts in her home. "We did a garden party which was all about urban farming, sustainability, and wellness" They have also done campouts, national expungement projects, justice reform projects, design work for cannabis leadership conferences, and beyond.
We are so inspired by all of the work Jess is doing, and the conversations she is starting, One of the upcoming events we are thrilled about is the #CurvyCannabis summit. "#CurvyCannabis started as a marketing campaign to drive conversation around the representation of curvy and fat bodies in cannabis marketing." Plus size women make up 60% of the population but are only included in 2% of marketing currently. This movement was meant to call attention to that disparity in representation, and bring visibility to this group of "invisible consumers". These events include delicious food, music, art, and cannabis and facilitate bonding, growth, and acceptance. "The goal was to be like, see this beautiful footage, see these beautiful women. Include us! Start to include us in your marketing." From a marketing initiative what #CurvyCannabis has turned into is a full-on community that wants to be a part of the conversation. This year, because, of Covid, they are doing a virtual event with a panel. This year's summit aims to take healing practices at the intersection of body image and cannabis and have conversations with key thought leaders. They will also be inviting people to create their own content, this year, use the hashtag, and really start to start the conversation.
Outside of starting amazing initiatives for body positivity and representation, Jess also is crushing the business ownership game! Jess is the Co-owner of LOUD.social, a content marketing agency that works closely with justice-focused cannabis wellness and sustainability brands to create content in social media." If we had to bottle what LOUD.social specializes in it would be community outreach and engagement through media.
Her other business is Copper House, which was Detroit's first Bud & Breakfast. "I live here with my wife, our two dogs, and cat (so it is pet-friendly stay). What we create is a cozy and intimate environment for the cannabis community." The location offers a variety of packages and is 100% smoke friendly. They also host a lot of lifestyle content production events, intimate parties, catered events, and beyond. "They have a fire pit area outside, garden area (with a picnic table and heater), a meditative sunroom, dining area, fully stocked kitchen, video game lounge, and more (we would definitely never leave). "It really is activated by the community and what they can invision and create."
When it comes to balancing a busy schedule with personal consumption Jess provided some insights. Her higher tolerance combined with her knowledge of products and personal boundaries allows her to set parameters that work for her schedule." Even though I love edibles, I have to microdose the edibles when I am on business."
Jess is inspired by vulnerability," I like to say that I am a vulnerability guru. I think that I am very transparent about the things that I struggle with. I am honest with who I am because that's the only way that I can release shame right. I don't want to feel shame about what I'm doing and because I'm so transparent and vulnerable. So many folks connect with me meaningfully. So I feel like my relationships are so reciprocal. I think I'm able to allow folks to see themselves sometimes. #CurvyCannabis stems from being fat and not seeing myself, let's talk about that! Then fat people are like 'you know what that's my experience, thank you for bringing it up, let's talk about that.'Or, the Takeoff centered on black women and entrepreneurship. Right, so how are we talking about being an entrepreneur and kind of recognizing that capitalism and exploitation of black labor have harmed us. At the same time being motivated and inspired by wanting to accumulate wealth. How do we have that conversation, and who do we have it with? So being able to create spaces where people can just show up as their authentic selves, and being willing to be my own self in that space is probably what inspires me to keep going the most because there's just so many people who just need that. They just need to feel free to be themselves and really tap into their own sense of magic. Cause, that's what I feel like when I say serendipitous I mean I really feel like I am divinely guided in this work and that this is what I'm supposed to be doing. I lost my job and the next day was featured on the cover of the Free Press. I think that there are just magic things happening for me as I come into myself.
Jess has faced stigma as a canna-preneur & business owner. "I think the stigma is that you're not productive or that you're kind of a social deviant, but who I am...I'm on my neighborhood association and just got my neighborhood a $70,000 grant to do a community garden. I am at my day job developing a curriculum for racial equity in the workplace. Everything that I'm doing has an aligned purpose and mission, so I think that I've been able to just combat stigma just by being myself and being authentic to what I think needs to be happening in the space." Jess chooses not to focus her energy on haters and instead chooses to be transparent in the good things that she is able to accomplish. "One of my events I was able to get sponsored by a corporate cannabis company and was able to pay eight black queer freelancers and companies," Jess stated that you could stigmatize her all you want but she has receipts of the things she is doing for good. As long as she stays aligned with what she thinks this world needs and feels connected with good people she can combat the stigmas.
Even in her neighborhood which has a median age of 55, Jess is starting conversations with her community. "Yeah, they hate weed. They don't want it in their community. But I say, let's bring in the policy workers and let's talk about pain relief and opioids versus cannabis. Let's talk about, I hear that you don't trust because you see all these dispensaries popping up and none of us own them. So let's talk about pathways to ownership. Let's talk about what you can be holding these companies accountable to do, because at the same time if you're making a hundred and thirty million dollars off my community, what are you putting into it? So, all of those things are opportunities for us to be better, and so I think that when I'm able to communicate all of those things and hear them out because I think a lot of times when you are faced with resistance folks tend to shut them down or try to dismiss them. I hear the resistance, it's real. We have been criminalized, we have lost jobs, we do have people exploiting us...this is all real. We have faced a lot of public house concerns surrounding addiction. Those are very real things that have plagued our community. I understand your concern but let's talk about how this is an opportunity to restore that harm."
Jess also shared her opinion on current canna-representation with us. "It's skinny white girls, and like oversexualized. I think that that's harmful for everyone. Also, the folks that are leading the businesses are white men." She does think some brands are doing it right when it comes to showcasing the complexity of our relationship with this plant. "When it comes to marketing and content that folks are producing I think that we see the same type of woman. That we see the same type of bodies. I think that we see a lot of hypersexualization. I think that we need to be more critical and conscious of the type of messaging that we're putting around this. I really do view this as an opportunity to heal and restore, and I would like to see better imagery depicting that."
When asked if she had any advice on how the canna-community could work towards better representation Jess has this to say, "This is Detroit specific, but I think that because Detroit faced a lack of access to things. We've seen people come into our communities and buy things up and then price us out. We've seen all of these things happening. It has created a kind of a crab in a bucket mentality. Where we are all kind of fighting for the same resources. I would say we need to be more collaborative, we need to let go of scarcity and ask the other question. How are we creating abundance together? I think that would be the thing that I would want to see change is that we think about how we can better collaborate for better outcomes."
Jess is most excited about opportunity, when it comes to the future of cannabis. "If you think about anything that happens now, that we do, I think there is room for cannabis in it. If you think about coffee shops if you think about cars, fuel, building houses...anything...I am excited to see it be a very well established industry and create possibilities and options for folks." She is also excited to be a part of that industry and is planning to continue learning and growing to help her innovate. "I'm excited to break the box and think through some of those things." She also thinks cannabis will become more normalized and widely accepted. While she has not faced much overt discrimination because of her sexual orientation she finds strength and inspiration from her elders as she thinks about how they were forced to be in the closet, who lost opportunities because they were gay. "I think about cannabis in the same way, there are some trailblazers. Think about the HIV/AIDS epidemic and how the queer community rallied in order to have medicinal access to cannabis to cope with that epidemic." Jess thinks about those people, and how much pride she would hope they see in where we are now. She also stresses there is still so much work to do, but she can see the progress and she hopes that her elders and ancestors are proud.
Jess draws inspiration from black people in cannabis. "They have been working so hard and so long, and I just see them thriving and reaching their goals. That inspires me, and they don't do it alone they do it for their people, they do it for their community, they do it WITH their community. They're uplifting other people and that is inspiring to me."
When it comes to personal consumption Jess loves edibles. "I smoke because you know that's the OG way. But, I think that edibles offer me the sustained level that I'm looking for... I also feel like in the midst of Covid I'm looking for ways to protect my lungs."
As far as what's next Jess is working on making some major business moves. "Detroit just released their Adult Use Ordinance, and there are a lot of incentives for legacy Detroiters to own licensed cannabis businesses. I always wanted a consumption lounge because of the work I am doing at Copper House and the events that I am curating." Jess has also always wanted a micro-business because you can do growth, processing, and sales with one license.
After the passing of the ordinance, she has opened her eyes to larger prospects. "I have a model for building pathways for access, so when I think about social equity I'm not just thinking about discounts. I'm thinking about how are we building the training and performance of staff? How are we leveraging ESOPs' that allow employees to have ownership in their market? I am working on a business plan to start pitching to some investors."
We ended our call asking what Jess felt the world could learn from the canna-community. "I say this all the time. My best friends have been made over a blunt. Because, before it was legal there was a sense of vulnerability, of doing this thing together and taking a risk. We were doing something illegal, whether it be purchasing it, consuming it." Jess feels that that ability to connect with each other through this vulnerability and authenticness is enhanced with cannabis. "I think it removes some of the guards we put up. It also allows us to be more in touch with who we are."
We are so grateful that we had the opportunity to chat with Jess, and are incredibly inspired by her vision, work, and tenacity. We are looking forward to seeing what is next for her, and have no doubt she will continue to make positive reform change for the community. To learn more about Jess follow her on Instagram @iamjesshuman, follow @copperhousedet, @LOUD.social, and #CurvyCannabis.