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It takes a lot of courage to found your first company — especially if you are leaving behind a comfortable and respected corporate IT position — but that didn’t stop Jen Jackson, Founder and CEO of Be Jubie.
In a recent podcast interview, Jen joined our host TG Branfalt to talk about why she founded Be Jubie, what it means to her to be an entrepreneur, and why she chose the tenets of wellness, restoration, and social justice to guide her company. This conversation also covers why Jen chose the CBD space for her first startup venture, how she navigates the stigma against the cannabis plant as a parent, the need for social equity programs in legal cannabis markets, Maryland’s current medical cannabis landscape, and more!
You can listen to the latest Ganjaprenuer.com podcast episode through the media player below or via your favorite podcast app. Scroll down to read along with a full transcript.
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TG Branfalt: Hey there. I’m your host TG Branfalt, and thank you for listening to the Ganjapreneur.com Podcast where we try to bring you actionable information and normalize cannabis through the stories of ganjapreneurs, activists, and industry stakeholders.
Today my guest is Jen Jackson. She’s the founder and CEO of Be Jubie, a Baltimore-based CBD company emphasizing restoration, general wellness, and social justice. How are you doing this afternoon, Jen?
Jen Jackson: I’m well, TG. How are you?
TG Branfalt: I’m good. I’m good. We have a lot to talk about. You’re only the second guest that I’ve had on from Maryland, and it’s a very sort of interesting state in many regards with the cannabis industry and the last couple of years there’s been a lot going on in that state. But before we get into any of that, tell me about yourself. What’s your background, and how’d you end up in the cannabis space?
Jen Jackson: Sure. So my relationship with cannabis started early on as a child. So I’m an ’80s baby. I’m an old head, and I grew up in the DARE era. So if anyone’s familiar with that, literally policeman would come to my elementary and middle school and basically scare us and tell us not to use drugs and talk about drug abuse. And I think for me that actually stuck with me. Definitely growing up felt like if I’m anywhere near coke, I’ll die immediately. So I don’t think the program really worked, but in some ways it was effective for me.
But luckily, I grew up with parents that consumed cannabis. So although I never saw them, they were very open about it, and they thought that it was a safe plant. And my father would always say, “Listen, Jen, if it was legal, it’d be sitting right here at the dinner table before this beer.” So I grew up without the stigma or being like scared of the plant. So the first time that I consumed, I was about 15 or 16. Didn’t know what I was doing. Didn’t get high. And then I went to college. And so at 18 was when I really started to consume on a more regular basis. I would consider myself more of a social smoker. But it’s been a part of me basically throughout my whole life. So here we are.
TG Branfalt: I just want to talk briefly about I’m also an ’80s baby. Grew up with DARE. I mean, I was always, how do we call it, counterculture to begin with.
Jen Jackson: Yeah.
TG Branfalt: So what they were telling me, I was like, “You’re full of shit.” But a lot of people our age, I mean, I grew up very open… My mother was very open about her cannabis use. I smoked with her for the first time when I was 14, 15 years old.
Jen Jackson: Oh wow. Okay.
TG Branfalt: And so what about the people around you growing up at that time, were they too living in these sort of cannabis-friendly households? Or was it very unique to you?
Jen Jackson: That was unique for me. So yeah, my girlfriends or my male friends, whoever, that wasn’t something that we necessarily shared. I feel like my parents are just two hippies. Those were the cards that I got dealt. Luckily I’m grateful for that. Like you said, kind of just counterculture, and that wasn’t necessarily the norm. I mean, a lot of my friends, they were raised in the church, and in the church, cannabis is not something you do or talk about or really even engage in. It’s a drug. It’s a bad thing. And that’s common in Black culture. So this whole space is very interesting because of the dynamics and the history and the war on drugs and what it’s done to our community and all of that. But then also how that’s affected us and how we feel comfortable with consumption and what that means with the church and all that. So it’s very complicated.
TG Branfalt: So what did you do prior to launching your company?
Jen Jackson: So I had a very corporate job. I wanted to be an educator. I wanted to be a teacher. And so I ended up moving to Baltimore because you couldn’t… The school programs here are pretty bad. So they were paying people to get their education. And in return, you would have to teach for three years. So I ended up landing a job at this higher ed corporation and just kind of moving my way up. So I ended up not graduating from college. But I moved my way up, got to a six figure position in IT, and I managed a software development team for a lot of years. And so when I decided to leave corporate, it may seem random, but if you knew me, you knew that all of it made sense. Like when you see the headline “Corporate to Cannabis,” it doesn’t really make sense. But when you know me personally, and even coworkers that knew me, you always have that counterculture at work too where it’s like, “We’re all going to go smoke together.”
TG Branfalt: So, I mean, there had to be a lot of education. Going back to deprogramming from DARE and the education perhaps from your parents, it seems to me that you had to sort of self-educate yourself. Self-educate yourself …. what role did that play in not just starting the business but dealing with customers who may not be as knowledgeable as yourself?
Jen Jackson: So I’ve always valued that. I think that that’s an opportunity to educate and that helps with I think normalizing cannabis. So for me, I’m typically a risk adverse person. This is the first business I’ve ever tried to create or run.
TG Branfalt: Congratulations.
Jen Jackson: Thank you. I’ve always admired entrepreneurs and their hustle and their grind. But I’m like, “I’m okay with my stable job and my 401K.” That scares me. But for me, my experience is that I was coming to a place in my career where I was starting to… I’ve always just been very humble and just happy to be where I am. I don’t have my degree. I can’t believe I’m a senior manager in IT. I can’t believe I’m making six figures. It’s just humble, humble, humble. But I finally got to a point where I’m like, “I’m realizing my worth, and my title and my compensations aren’t really aligning.” So I kind of got to a point where this is a part in my career where I need to either step away and move on and find a role at another corporation, or now that I’ve become wise to CBD, my mother put me onto CBD by the way.
TG Branfalt: Wow.
Jen Jackson: I’m like, “This is an opportunity.” I started to just research, research and fell in love. All these years I’ve been smoking, I had no idea what the science was. I didn’t know really, at a high level, but I really didn’t know the history behind the plant. So just doing all of that just fueled so much passion, and I’m like, “This is what the hell I want to do.” So I didn’t answer your question.
The self-education part. Sorry. The self-education part is huge. There are so many roadblocks that you have to deal with in the CBD industry. I dealt with payment processor issues. I had to learn which technology platform is going to actually accept that I’m selling CBD and not shut me down. So there are different things that you have to learn as a CBD brand on top of someone like me not having ever run a business. How do you run a business? What are profit margins, marketing, pricing models, and all that stuff? So all of that was self-taught, and I’m still learning. I’m still learning how to manage all that and what all that means.
TG Branfalt: So what were some of these initial challenges? I mean, you leave a six-figure career to establish a cannabis business. Talk to me about that sort of transition and those challenges, aside from maybe the learning curve.
Jen Jackson: Yeah. I mean, ultimately it’s a big deal to leave a six figure job and just be like, “I’m going to start from scratch,” at 38 years old. I’m 39 now. I’ll be 40 in February. I’m a middle-aged Black woman like, “I’m just going to start over.” And the first thing that I had to consider personally was my husband and my two children. What did that mean? I could have certainly continued and we’d be living a very decent life with both of our incomes and been okay with that. But I think that for me, I just became so passionate because cannabis had just been a part of my life. I knew that this is what I wanted to do. I just didn’t know when it made sense to move and transition away from corporate. So the thought process about that just was about my family and having conversations with myself and having conversations with my husband. And I decided that I am lucky to have maybe another 40 to 50 years here on Earth. I’m starting the second half of my life. And I just want to not live in fear and not live in regret. And if I try this and it fails, I just get another nine to five. If it doesn’t, then I have an example for my children of just trying to start something.
I wasn’t raised as an entrepreneur. You go to school. You get a nice job, and you live your life. And I just feel like why not try it and see what happens and be an example for my boys.
TG Branfalt: Forgive me if this is a bit personal, and you don’t have to answer this question. But one of the things that’s always interested me because of my relationship with my mother who’s very open about cannabis, do you foster that same sort of relationship with your children?
Jen Jackson: I do. So that’s an interesting conversation. How do I answer this? So I’m open about it. They are clear that mommy’s in the cannabis industry. Because they’re eight and five, they don’t necessarily know the hang ups and what that means. They don’t view it as a drug because that’s not how I talk about it. So I’m open about what I do. And I don’t actually smoke in front of them. But as they get older, I definitely plan to explain to them what it is and how it works and just educate them. But I think when you’re raising two Black boys, you have to be very mindful about cannabis and their consumption and what you should and should not be doing, where you should and should not be consuming and how if you get caught by the police, all of that. So it gets a little complicated. And so I’m mindful of that. So I’m not all loud, “Hey!” Just me and my husband are passing a J like that’s how we get down. But we definitely do want to be open and honest about what mommy’s job is.
TG Branfalt: Thank you for answering that question again. I want to go back to the business. What’s been the most rewarding part about starting your own business, specifically in this industry?
Jen Jackson: So the most rewarding part for sure has been connecting with people. People really have a lot of shit. Excuse me, I probably shouldn’t have swore. But they have a lot of-
TG Branfalt: It’s fucking fine.
Jen Jackson: Awesome. They have a lot of their plate, and they’re dealing with a lot. And they oftentimes feel comfortable being open with me. Not that I’m a psychologist or psychiatrist or either, but I like that people feel comfortable digging into those things with me and that I’m providing them with something that’s actually improving their quality of life. So that is extremely rewarding.
The other part that’s been rewarding for me so far is that this has been probably the most empowered I’ve ever felt. Just taking the step and doing it, doing this podcast is totally outside of my… I was terrified. But just pushing through those personal fears and conquering them. I feel extremely empowered, and that is a big part of why I decided to do this. I don’t think that I would be challenged this way quite honestly in another corporate job.
TG Branfalt: So one of the things that really drew me to want to interview you was your mission, which I said at the top that you emphasize restoration, general wellness, and social justice. In a space that talks a lot about doing that but in my estimation has fallen short in many regards. So tell me about that mission and this sort of journey to putting that into a neat little box if you will and how you work actively to meet those goals.
Jen Jackson: Right. So the reason why I’m here is also to improve the wellness of my community. I think that like we talked about earlier, there is definitely a big part of my community that is anti-cannabis. And so trying to navigate that and helping educate them, different people about what cannabis is and how it works with your body, and getting them to kind of come to the other side is huge.
So the three core tenants of Be Jubie is just improving the wellness of our community, and I do that through the sale of my products and also through giveaways.
Normalizing cannabis, so I do that through education, our blog posts, conversations that I just have with people. I also have a campaign right now on Instagram Normalize Cannabis Through Me where I think it’s really important for people to see functional human beings, like you and me. They’re doctors, lawyers, entrepreneurs, professionals, creatives, parents. I mean, all of these people are consuming and they’re highly functional and just trying to do away with the narrative of the “stoner” mentality. That’s important for people to see people like us and say, “Oh, okay. It’s okay to come out,” or, “It’s okay to consume.” And these aren’t bad people. We’re not monsters. The whatever people think about people that smoke. Just trying to normalize it is really a big deal. So that’s a core tenant.
And then social justice. I feel like it’s my moral duty to try and absolve all of the wrong. Obviously the war on drugs is pretty much the war on Black people in our communities and our families. Then we have this legal industry where predominantly white men are making billions of dollars on our backs. Then we have people who are in jail still to this day for this safe plant while the government just recently considered cannabis as essential, essential medicine. These people need to be released. I mean, it’s crazy. So it’s like all these things definitely are things that I want to try and help right the wrong. I hope that makes sense.
And what we’re doing right now so far is we are donating monthly to two advocacy groups. I realized coming into this, TG, that I was all about that. I want to get people out of jail. I want to make sure that the money that’s coming in is going back to the communities. And I felt honestly very overwhelmed because at the same time I’m raising these kids, I’m trying to figure out how to run a business and be successful there, but my heart is really in this third tenant. And I find myself at a CannaGather session in Baltimore. And I don’t know if you know who Leo Bridgewater is.
TG Branfalt: I am not familiar, no.
Jen Jackson: Okay. Well, he was speaking, and I had just a quick interaction with him. And I told him, I said, “I just don’t know where to start. I’m not an activist. I don’t go to Annapolis and deal with legislative things. I don’t even know where to start.” And he just said to me, “You make your business successful. Leave that up to us and other advocacy groups, and then at some point we’ll converge.” And I took that to mean focus on your business. Get that up and running. Be successful there and then you can send us, support us. Support people that are already doing the work. And so for me that’s where I’m starting.
So I’d like to become more involved, but I just at this point, that’s what I’m doing. So we’re where I’m contributing monthly to two different advocacy groups.
TG Branfalt: I’ve never spent any time in Baltimore. I only know of the city what I read of the city. And something that sort of sticks in my memory is Freddie Gray from a few years ago. I don’t want to speak towards race relations in Baltimore. That’s not my place. I don’t know that much about it. But you, a Black woman, opens up a cannabis business in Baltimore. Did you face any sort of blowback or was there anyone knocking down your door, just trying to prevent this from happening? Did you face any sort of backlash in that regard?
Jen Jackson: Honestly, not really. There were some odd conversations at work because it’s like you’re transitioning away. You give your two weeks notice, and people are like, “Oh, Jen, where are you going? What are you doing?” I’m like, “I’m starting a cannabis business.” And there was an awkward silence and then congratulations. So outside of that weirdness, not really. I mean, when I first started, I was very purposeful about aligning myself with different businesses here in the city. So not really worrying and focusing too much about my online presence. I was trying to establish a presence here in the city and doing like pop-ups and vending at different events. And I was purposeful about the different people that I actually wanted to work with and establishments. So they were always very cool and open-armed and supported. I haven’t gotten a lot of backlash to be honest with you and especially with just with my own family and friends. It’s like they kind of roll with me and they’re supporting me. It’s one of those, “Oh my gosh, I can’t believe you’re doing it, but congratulations. This makes the most sense. I know you’re going to be great.” Everyone’s been very supportive I have to say so far.
TG Branfalt: So when Maryland’s medical cannabis industry launched, it came under immediate fire for not having a social equity portion attached to it immediately. The push for that was led by Cheryl Glenn, former delegate, who was ultimately convicted earlier this month for taking bribes associated with not just the cannabis industry, also alcohol industry and opioid industry. So I want to ask you two questions here. Does the conviction of Glenn in your opinion taint her advocacy for the social equity part of the program, and what’s your take on social equity programs in general? I’ve interviewed several people, people of color who most of them overwhelmingly are supportive, and then you have a couple who say, “We want to win these licenses on our own merits.” So if you can address both of those.
Jen Jackson: Yeah, sure. So I think when it comes to Cheryl Glenn it’s a very unfortunate situation. I can’t speak to what was in her heart and what she really believed or what she didn’t believe and what she was fighting for. But I believe that what she was fighting for is a necessity. It’s necessary. We need it. We need more people to continue to fight for it, and we need this. I believe that we need social equity programs. I think that in general, the social equity programs are an acknowledgement that things aren’t fair. And I think each state is just trying to figure it out. And there’s still a lot of work left to do. I think each state is sort of looking at the other states trying to capture lessons learned from that and maybe make theirs better in some way, but we know all states are kind of doing their own things. And we know that there are gaps and things that aren’t quite working with all of them.
So my opinion is that with Cheryl Glenn, I think that’s a really unfortunate situation because it may have tainted the mission that she had, but the mission itself is very much still needed. And I think with social equity programs in general, I think we need them. If nothing gets put in place and the entire country is legalized tomorrow, we’re just simply going to have a monopoly of quite honestly white men that are going to take over and make billions of dollars. And there’s going to be no opportunity for people of color to get, and that’s just the reality. And so I think if we don’t have measures put in place that allow us to get our step in, our… What am I saying? That allow us to get our foot in the door, we’re not going to get our foot in the door. I mean, that’s just the reality. That’s been our reality forever.
So we have to have measures put in place for sure in order for us to have some sort of leg up in this industry.
TG Branfalt: I mean, to your point, I think it was a month or two ago a report came out about Maryland’s cannabis industry that found that less than 1% of cannabis businesses owned in Maryland are owned by Black women. Is that apparent to you as a Black female business owner?
Jen Jackson: I mean, I hadn’t heard of that report, but I’m also not surprised by those numbers. I think there are a couple of things going on. I think that this industry in general is starting to persist throughout communities and realizing that there’s money to be made here. People’s reasons for getting involved are very different it could be because I want to make money. It could be because I want to make money and I feel like… I mean, I kind of had a chip on my shoulder. I came into this like, “I belong here. This is where I should be.” And I want to encourage other Black men and women to get involved as well.
I’m not surprised at that number for a lot of reasons because we don’t have the resources to get it started. So that makes sense. But then also it’s just realizing that this is a legitimate industry where money can be made, and now that that’s sort of solidified, I’m hopeful. And I feel like through my efforts, I’m actually partnering with two other great women that are in the industry to create an agency that the goal is to create a one-stop shop to help people get all set up in this industry. We’re starting with the CBD side, but hopefully that’ll grow into other markets in the industry. But we need to be involved. We need to be here. We deserve to be here. And we need to help. We don’t have the money. We don’t have the generational wealth and that’s just the reality.
TG Branfalt: So what …
Jen Jackson: … followed if we don’t have measures put in place.
TG Branfalt: What are some steps that brands and companies can take to ensure a more equitable industry where they might not have strong legal mandates in place?
Jen Jackson: I feel like I’m being a Debbie Downer, but I don’t know that I have the confidence in these companies to actually do the things that they should be doing …
TG Branfalt: You’re not a Debbie Downer, you’re being an honest human being right now.
Jen Jackson: Yeah. I mean, I kind of am of the mindset right now that I’m just not really expecting a lot from these companies, and that I just am focusing on getting Be Jubie where it needs to be and encouraging and guiding other people in the industry or people who are interested in getting in the industry and doing whatever I can to help them get there. So it’s like let’s build our own space in this industry. That’s where I’m focused on. I can’t focus on these existing companies that could really honestly care less.
TG Branfalt: Do you think that part of the reason that… I mean, you said the generational wealth, and that’s definitely a large part of it. Do you think maybe there is a part of it that there’s a fear of, “I’m a Black person opening up a cannabis business. The cops are coming for me.”
Jen Jackson: Yeah. I don’t know who I had this conversation with the other day. But I have this Normalize Cannabis Through Me campaign on social media, and like I said, the idea is to just show the faces of people that are just like you and I but also they consume, whether it’s cannabis or CBD. And then I thought about how that might… It’s not reckless because part of it is like, “We’re here for cannabis, and it’s okay. The plant is safe.” But also we know that as Black men and women, we’re still getting locked up, even in decrim states. We’re getting locked up if we have cannabis on us that is approved. We have the medical card. It’s like Sean Worsley and how he got caught up. It’s like our lives are still being thrown away.
So there is a part of me that has to acknowledge that as much as I want to just go so hard for this industry and get all these Black people involved in this industry, we definitely have to navigate it in a different way. And we have to consider things that non-Black people have to consider. And that is being nervous about people coming for you or attacking you or locking you up.
TG Branfalt: I mean, and expungement is also something that absolutely needs to occur.
Jen Jackson: Absolutely. Mm-hmm (affirmative).
TG Branfalt: Because as I see it, if you have a criminal record and you go to try to get a job, they’re going to see that criminal record.
Jen Jackson: Yup.
TG Branfalt: What advice would you have for people that were in your position who had a steady job, making a lot of money, who decided to take the plunge? What’s the one piece of advice that was shared with you that was helpful to you, or what piece of advice do you tell others who you want to inspire?
Jen Jackson: My position on this, again, is I’m a middle-aged woman, and I’ve lived a lot of my life not having the best confidence or kind of letting fear get in the way of things and stopping me from taking certain steps. And I’ve just gotten to a point where I’m like, “I’m not living my life like that anymore.” And I’m saying all that to say it doesn’t mean you just stop what you’re doing and jump out there and just start a new business. Everyone’s not going to be an entrepreneur and that’s okay. But I do want to, if nothing else, inspire people to just live their best life. Whatever it is, if it’s starting a diet and just sticking with it. I don’t know. Whatever is going to make you happy, especially once you get up in age, it’s like you got to start being a little bit selfish in figuring out what a meaningful and purposeful life means for you because it goes by so fast. It sounds corny, but that’s really what drove me to really make the step.
And I would say that in my case I probably transitioned away from corporate a little bit prematurely. I didn’t even have a website up. I had already gone to Colorado. I had met with the manufacturer. I had already gotten my logo, my brand identity together, but I wasn’t selling anything yet. I didn’t even have a website. So I would say you have to look at your personal situation. But don’t give up, keep pushing for it, and just try your best to walk in your purpose. And I can tell you from my own experience that I feel like that’s exactly what I’m doing, and I haven’t been happier. I may not be rich, but I’m happy. I’m genuinely happy. Doors are just opening up out of nowhere. I can’t even explain how all these things are coming together just organically.
So if you’re wanting to do it, figure it out and do it. You have one life to live. Get it done. So that’s my-
TG Branfalt: I really, really have enjoyed this conversation with you. I mean, you’re so open, you’re so honest, and you’re so positive.
Jen Jackson: Oh, thank you.
TG Branfalt: Which is a delight to have. Where can people find out more about you, more about Be Jubie?
Jen Jackson: Sure. So you guys can follow us on Instagram, Be Jubie, that’s our handle. B-E-J-U-B-I-E. You can purchase from us at bejubie.com. And also, I’ve done a Q&A feature with Ganjapreneur. So if you go to Ganjapreneur and just search for Be Jubie, we’ll come right up, and you can learn more about us there too.
TG Branfalt: Jen Jackson, she’s a founder and CEO of Be Jubie, a Baltimore, Maryland based CBD company emphasizing restoration, general wellness, and social justice. Thank you so, so much for taking the time to be on the show, and I really look forward to seeing how your company grows and hopefully we can have another conversation in the future.
Jen Jackson: Thank you so much for having me. This is a great opportunity. I had a lot of fun. Thank you.
TG Branfalt: You can find more episodes of the Ganjapreneur.com Podcast in the podcast section of Ganjapreneur.com on Spotify and in the Apple iTunes store. On the Ganjapreneur.com website, you’ll find the latest cannabis news and cannabis jobs updated daily along with transcripts of this podcast. You can also download the Ganjapreneur.com app in iTunes and Google Play. This episode was engineered by Trim Media House. I’ve been your host TG Branfalt.