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How Q. Nicole Is Breaking The 'Grass' Ceiling In The World Of Cannabis

"I always want to build a business that helps people create more than they already have, learn more than they already know, and believe they can have more than they already have."

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Gummies, tinctures, edibles. Indica, Sativa, or hybrid. No matter how you consume this multifarious plant, cannabis's ability to shape-shift emphasizes the many ways it can be enjoyed as well as the plethora of business opportunities that can stem from it. For decades, stigmas surrounding cannabis and marijuana have prevented Black women from experiencing the joys of computation along with the health benefits that the plant provides. From decreasing stress and easing anxiety, to relieving joint pain, migraines, and menstrual cramps, this plant has a lot more to offer than the cultural taboos that ellipse it.

Today, the cannabis industry continues to climb as one of the largest growing markets in the country, projected to reach $30 Billion by 2025, through the Farm Bill of 2018 and the reclassification of cannabis in 2020. Although this comes with its restrictions, this shift in the regulation has opened the door for opportunities surrounding hemp-derived products to be explored by those who have been disproportionately left out of the industry. As a result, one woman is on the mission to not only destigmatize the language around cannabis while equipping Black folks with the tools (and kits) needed to launch their own CBD empire.

Like most ambition-driven women, Q. Nicole started her corporate career with a plan. "I'm Generation X, and we were taught college + good job = financial security." Upon graduating from college, Q. would soon become a six-figure earner with a rampant 12-year career trajectory that laid the foundation to eventually, "walk on water" and live out what she calls "a cushiony life." But even the most diligent readiness could not prepare her for the abrupt passing of her father in 2013.

At the time, she found herself drowning in the grief of the recent loss while attempting to balance the demand of her transition from corporate life into full-time entrepreneurship. The hectic nature of her work-life balance triggered a deep emotional response that was so unfamiliar, she knew it was time to seek professional help. Shortly after, her therapist diagnosed her with delayed PTSD, a response to her father's death. Her loss triggered an inability to cope.

Courtesy of Q. Nicole

During the heaviest points of Q.'s healing process, she was recommended by a psychiatrist to explore opioids to balance her mood. Yet, something about the drug didn't sit right with her, so she sought alternative options. Since medicinal marijuana was legal in her state, she was able to get approved for a license to explore plant-based options to deal with the anxiety and depression that were a result of her PTSD. "That was my introduction to the space as someone who genuinely was a patient." She continues, "I was broken, emotionally. I was in a very fragile place and cannabis saved my life."

This turning point allowed Q. to regain control of her life and reestablish her emotional and professional momentum. Now, Q. Nicole leads WH Farms, a five-acre, three-greenhouse farm located in Eastern North Carolina. She aims to equip Black folks with everything needed to build their own consumable products through the CBD Business Launch Kits and puff, puff, pass the baton into the booming hemp industry that awaits them.

xoNecole: Tell us more about the work you do with WH Farms.

Q. Nicole: Our farmers are African-American legacy farmers which is huge to our story. We're growing with farmers who have had this land for 100s of years, from their sharecropper ancestors who were first-generation slaves. So that's a part of the heritage that we're proud of when purchasing products. I'm a country girl and I've always felt like mobilization is a part of my purpose. WH Farms currently has 200 acres of land that we can pull from. The farmers wanted to protect themselves from large corporations that sought to extract from their land and not pay them their worth. So we wanted to partner with them and whatever our overflow was, we could source it from legacy farmers.

Were there any stigmas that you had to detach yourself from before exploring cannabis? 

I had my preconceived notions. I came from corporate real estate development, so everything I did was about my career advancement. Playing with what was considered a drug was very "anti" my professional development path. But I was open to understanding the medicinal benefits because I saw so many high-profile professionals using it. I would be in conversations with physicians and surgeons and they would talk about how they would grow the plant at home. It made me realize that society had established a stigma that was "urban", but in reality, the plant wasn't just for "urban" use. I became a little bit more open-minded, but at that time of transitioning into full-time entrepreneurship, I did what I needed to do to not compromise my professional standing.

You have a background in real estate and corporate development. What was the transition like for you pivoting from the corporate world into entrepreneurship?

Being in real estate and understanding a number of things about the economy and marketing, I understood that the cannabis industry was exploding and I wanted to be a part of the solution. I wanted to be a part of bringing it to the market for the other corporate, straight-laced individuals, especially African-American women like myself who would otherwise suffer in Corporate America because of the stress that comes along with being an achiever. They place more on you, they expect more from you.

You have the responsibility on the shoulders as the woman and now she's in this corporate environment struggling. But here's this plant that she can drop in her coffee in the morning and have a completely different experience. It was so important for me as a corporate girl to come to the table and say, "Listen, [cannabis] is nothing to be afraid of. Stress is a silent killer and if we're not able to identify ways to relieve our stress in a very tangible way, on a daily basis, then we're going to find ourselves as a community losing to some of these silent killers."

"It was so important for me as a corporate girl to come to the table and say, 'Listen, [cannabis] is nothing to be afraid of. Stress is a silent killer and if we're not able to identify ways to relieve our stress in a very tangible way, on a daily basis, then we're going to find ourselves as a community losing to some of these silent killers.'"

Courtesy of Q.Nicole

How do you see the match between Black creativity and the hemp-derived product industry complementing one another?

I see nothing but Black wealth, Black advancement, and Black opportunity. This is why I'm so passionate about the Launch Kits and what our farm does. We know this plant, maybe not the technical-scientific data, but we know the way it makes people feel, we know the weight, we know how much it's worth. When you take that transferable skill and talk about the Black men who are a part of STEM programs looking for ways to add cannabis to technology, that skill is helpful.

Cannabis goes well in so many different forms, it has chemical qualities that help with hair growth and fight acne. There are ways that the industry needs to be supported by science, manufacturing, technology, and chemistry. So when you talk about a group of people who have certain soft skills and are already exposed to the plant, we're not starting from scratch, we're starting from a basic understanding of it.

How were you able to adapt to the shift in your purpose? 

I don't think that I ever shifted purpose. I understood very early in my purpose walk that my purpose would always expand. Jullien Gordon [real estate entrepreneur] and I were professional buddies, and he shared that, 'if it's truly your purpose, it'll always just expand into a new version of itself.' WH Farms is just a continuation and expansion of the same purpose: I educate and empower. There's a lot of people who don't know about cannabis.

Since I grow it, I can educate them and empower them to have their own CBD product line and be positioned to take advantage of what this industry has to offer. As a business owner and CEO, I always want to build a business that helps people create more than they already have, learn more than they already know, and believe they can have more than they already have.

You’ve tapped into two industries (real estate and cannabis) that are known for their high return and opportunity for growth. How has navigating these growing markets shaped your views on generational wealth?

It's taught me that generational wealth is a goal and it should be an expectation, but it should never be confused with something that's easy. I think it is a necessary collective reset because it's a great buzzword, but what does it really take? To be a woman in the entrepreneur space, I've had to fight to not be backdoored on deals not only to get respect but to receive the compensation I deserve. Same for the cannabis industry.

It's still the Wild Wild West, it's still a developing industry and because of that, it takes courage, bravery, and the ability to manage risk. The guts that it takes to play in these spaces for generational wealth reminds me that it's something that isn't free, it comes with a price and it comes with perseverance. It's not always easy but it's always purpose, it's always valuable, and my ancestors also fought for it.

"The guts that it takes to play in these spaces for generational wealth reminds me that it's something that isn't free, it comes with a price and it comes with perseverance. It's not always easy but it's always purpose, it's always valuable, and my ancestors also fought for it."

Courtesy of Q.Nicole

I think sometimes there’s a push to encourage women to go after entrepreneurship, but we’re rarely told how to balance the weight of it. As a serial entrepreneur yourself, what are some tools that help you find balance in all that you put your hands to?

I find that there's never balance, it's only harmony and that's the first permission that I gave myself. I seek harmony and that gives me a different metric to measure by. Everyone knows I have my phone on 'Do Not Disturb' from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., Monday through Friday. That's because I have to hear myself. All calls are scheduled and I don't do a lot of distractions. I have to make sure that I am able to bring forth what I feel I'm supposed to be putting into this business and stay ahead of it.

I work in chunks, I'm big on grounding, I make sure I do meditation in the morning, and I love my CBD tinctures and smokable herbs in the morning -- it helps with mental focus and gathering my thoughts. I leave work at work and keep home at home; I am a person who attempts to separate the two. I think that the way to be present in these various relationships, especially my relationship as a wife and my role as a wife because that is certainly a priority for me before business. I don't let things bleed, I'm very compartmentalized.

"I think we have to give ourselves grace in the human experience and the permission to turn the poison of our mistakes, of the doubt, setbacks, and the hate into the medicine that fuels us and turn it into lessons and inspiration."

Courtesy of Q. Nicole

What advice would you share for those starting in entrepreneurship? 

Learn how to comfortably turn poison into medicine. You're going to fail, you're going to fall, things aren't going to go right, it's going to be stressful. You may look at yourself and say, am I actually doing it right? All of these aspects of the journey are pretty uniform to everyone's journey because this is the journey. And I think we have to give ourselves grace in the human experience and the permission to turn the poison of our mistakes, of the doubt, setbacks, and the hate into the medicine that fuels us and turn it into lessons and inspiration.

To learn more about how you can get your own CBD Business Launch Kit, click here. To stay connected to Q.Nicole's mission, follow her here.

Courtesy of Q. Nicole

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You may not know her by Elisabeth Ovesen – writer and host of the love, sex and relationships advice podcast Asking for a Friend. But you definitely know her other alter ego, Karrine Steffans, the New York Times best-selling author who lit up the literary and entertainment world when she released what she called a “tell some” memoir, Confessions of a Video Vixen.

Her 2005 barn-burning book gave an inside look at the seemingly glamorous world of being a video vixen in the ‘90s and early 2000s, and exposed the industry’s culture of abuse, intimidation, and misogyny years before the Me Too Movement hit the mainstream. Her follow-up books, The Vixen Diaries (2007) and The Vixen Manual: How To Find, Seduce And Keep The Man You Want (2009) all topped the New York Times best-seller list. After a long social media break, she's back. xoNecole caught up with Ovesen about the impact of her groundbreaking book, what life is like for her now, and why she was never “before her time”– everyone else was just late to the revolution.

xoNecole: Tell me about your new podcast Asking for a Friend with Elisabeth Ovesen and how that came about.

Elisabeth Ovesen: I have a friend who is over [at Blavity] and he just asked me if I wanted to do something with him. And that's just kinda how it happened. It wasn't like some big master plan. Somebody over there was like, “Hey, we need content. We want to do this podcast. Can you do it?” And I was like, “Sure.” And that's that. That was around the holidays and so we started working on it.

xoNecole: Your life and work seem incredibly different from when you first broke out on the scene. Can you talk a bit about the change in your career and how your life is now?

EO: Not that different. I mean my life is very different, of course, but my work isn't really that different. My life is different, of course, because I'm 43. My career started when I was in my 20s, so we're looking at almost 20 years since the beginning of my career. So, naturally life has changed a lot since then.

I don’t think my career has changed a whole lot – not as far as my writing is concerned, and my stream of consciousness with my writing, and my concerns and the subject matter hasn’t changed much. I've always written about interpersonal relationships, sexual shame, male ego fragility, respectability politics – things like that. I always put myself in the center of that to make those points, which I think were greatly missed when I first started writing. I think that society has changed quite a bit. People are more aware. People tell me a lot that I have always been “before my time.” I was writing about things before other people were talking about that; I was concerned about things before my generation seemed to be concerned about things. I wasn't “before my time.” I think it just seems that way to people who are late to the revolution, you know what I mean?

I retired from publishing in 2015, which was always the plan to do 10 years and retire. I was retired from my pen name and just from the business in general in 2015, I could focus on my business, my education and other things, my family. I came back to writing in 2020 over at Medium. The same friend that got me into the podcast, actually as the vice president of content over at Medium and was like, “Hey, we need some content.” I guess I’m his go-to content creator.

xoNecole: Can you expound on why you went back to your birth name versus your stage name?

EO: No, it was nothing to expound upon. I mean, writers have pen names. That’s like asking Diddy, why did he go by Sean? I didn't go back. I've always used that. Nobody was paying attention. I've never not been myself. Karrine Steffans wrote a certain kind of book for a certain kind of audience. She was invented for the urban audience, particularly. She was never meant to live more than 10 years. I have other pen names as well. I write under several names. So, the other ones are just nobody's business right now. Different pen names write different things. And Elisabeth isn’t my real name either. So you'll never know who I really am and you’ll never know what my real name is, because part of being a writer is, for me at least, keeping some sort of anonymity. Anything I do in entertainment is going to amass quite a bit because who I am as a person in my private life isn't the same a lot of times as who I am publicly.

xoNecole: I want to go back to when you published Confessions of a Video Vixen. We are now in this time where people are reevaluating how the media mistreated women in the spotlight in the 2000s, namely women like Britney Spears. So I’d be interested to hear how you feel about that period of your life and how you were treated by the media?

EO: What I said earlier. I think that much of society has evolved quite a bit. When you look back at that time, it was actually shocking how old-fashioned the thinking still was. How women were still treated and how they're still treated now. I mean, it hasn't changed completely. I think that especially for the audience, I think it was shocking for them to see a woman – a woman of color – not be sexually ashamed.

I hate being like other people. I don't want to do what anyone else is doing. I can't conform. I will not conform. I think in 2005 when Confessions was published, that attitude, especially about sex, was very upsetting. Number one, it was upsetting to the men, especially within urban and hip-hop culture, which is built on misogyny and thrives off of it to this day. And the women who protect these men, I think, you know, addressing a demographic that is rooted in trauma that is rooted in sexual shame, trauma, slavery of all kinds, including slavery of the mind – I think it triggered a lot of people to see a Black woman be free in this way.

I think it said a lot about the people who were upset by it. And then there were some in “crossover media,” a lot of white folks were upset too, not gonna lie. But to see it from Black women – Tyra Banks was really upset [when she interviewed me about Confessions in 2005]. Oprah wasn't mad [when she interviewed me]. As long as Oprah wasn’t mad, I was good. I didn't care what anybody else had to say. Oprah was amazing. So, watching Black women defend men, and Black women who had a platform, defend the sexual blackmailing of men: “If you don't do this with me, you won't get this job”; “If you don't do this in my trailer, you're going to have to leave the set”– these are things that I dealt with.

I just happened to be the kind of woman who, because I was a single mother raising my child all by myself and never got any help at all – which I still don't. Like, I'm 24 in college – not a cheap college either – one of the best colleges in the country, and I'm still taking care of him all by myself as a 21-year-old, 20-year-old, young, single mother with no family and no support – I wasn’t about to say no to something that could help me feed my son for a month or two or three.

xoNecole: We are in this post-Me Too climate where women in Hollywood have come forward to talk about the powerful men who have abused them. In the music industry in particular, it seems nearly impossible for any substantive change or movement to take place within music. It's only now after three decades of allegations that R. Kelly has finally been convicted and other men like Russell Simmons continue to roam free despite the multiple allegations against him. Why do you think it's hard for the music industry to face its reckoning?

EO: That's not the music industry, that's urban music. That’s just Black folks who make music and nobody cares about that. That's the thing; nobody cares...Nobody cares. It's not the music industry. It's just an "urban" thing. And when I say "urban," I say that in quotations. Literally, it’s a Black thing, where nobody gives a shit what Black people do to Black people. And Russell didn't go on unchecked, he just had enough money to keep it quiet. But you know, anytime you're dealing with Black women being disrespected, especially by Black men, nobody gives a shit.

And Black people don't police themselves so it doesn't matter. Why should anybody care? And Black women don't care. They'll buy an R. Kelly album right now. They’ll stream that shit right now. They don’t care. So, nobody cares. Nobody cares. And if you're not going to police yourself, then nobody's ever going to care.

xoNecole: Do you have any regrets about anything you wrote or perhaps something you may have omitted?

EO: Absolutely not. No. There's nothing that I wish I would've gone back and said to myself, no. I don’t think at 20-something years old, I'm supposed to understand every little thing. I don't think the 20-something-year-old woman is supposed to understand the world and know exactly what she's doing. I think that one of my biggest regrets, which isn't my regret, but a regret, is that I didn't have better parents. Because a 20-something only knows what she knows based on what she’s seen and what she’s been taught and what she’s told. I had shitty parents and a horrible family. Just terrible. These people had no business having children. None of them. And a lot of our families are like that. And we may pass down those familial curses.

*This interview has been edited and condensed

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Feature image courtesy of Elisabeth Ovesen

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