CEO Cannabis Connoisseur Wanda James Reveals How She Planted The First Seeds Of Success
In The Smoking Gun, we talk to CEO cannabis connoisseurs about how they planted the very first seeds of success in their careers, how they balance their day-to-day life, and how they are using their work to make the marijuana market more inclusive to people of color.
Society tells us there are two types of people in this world: polished professionals who are CEOs of wildly successful businesses and people who like to get high AF. But Simply Pure CEO Wanda James is living proof that you, too, can be a woman who does both, sis.
Courtesy of Wanda James.
As a veteran, former member of President Obama's Finance Committee, previous campaign manager for congressman-turned-Colorado Governor, Jared Polis, and full-time business owner, there's no doubt that Colorado dispensary owner Wanda James has a lot on her plate. But this trailblazer is on a mission to ensure that every single person in our community has the opportunity to eat. After her brother was indicted and incarcerated for a minor weed offense at only 18 years old, Wanda discovered a discrepancy in the system that was obviously disproportionate to people of color and decided to become the agent of change that she wanted to see in the cannabis industry.
In 2009, Wanda and her husband, restaurateur Scott Durrah, became the first Black dispensary owners in Colorado, and since have used their platform to advocate for the abolition of mass incarceration and create opportunities for people of color in the cannabis industry. Wanda told xoNecole exclusively, "Along the way, we found out that cannabis is indeed, truly medicinal. That we can save people; we could help vets with PTSD...we found out that we can help babies with epilepsy and grownups with MS. So all of a sudden we've gone from a recreational plant that the side effects make you giggle and eat cheesecake, and we found that this amazing plant also heals your body."
I had a chance to sit down, roll up, and blaze one with this trailblazer, who spilled all the tea on how she got started, her love of the plant, and what she's doing to change the landscape for people of color in the cannabis industry. Here's what I learned:
What is your first memory of being introduced to cannabis?
I was 16, and I was hanging out with a really good friend of mine. He was giving me a ride home and he pulled out a joint and he's like, "You ready to try this yet?" And I was like, "You know what? Alright, I'll try it."
At first, I was scared because I was expecting to be stoned, [like] walls were gonna move and I was going to see pink elephants and my mind was going to be blown, and I was going to be stoned. And what I found was I was delightfully elevated. My thoughts became more focused because there were so many different things that I was thinking and feeling and I enjoyed it.
What does your day to day look like?
I want to be fair. I want people to know that I work my ass off and I need young people and I need women to know that, y'all, what everybody thinks they see, it's like the iceberg, right? That's 20% of what I do. The 80% of what I do is that underside of the iceberg. I am up every single day at 4:30 AM, Saturday and Sunday included. I don't sleep in; I can't sleep in. The minute I get up, I turn on my computer. I answer all of my emails from the last 10 hours or so. During that time, it's quiet. I can think and I can get my thoughts out. So I return all my emails. I then do all of my accounting. I take a shower and I'm in the office by 9:30, 10:00 every day.
I usually leave the office at about 5:30 or 6:00 every night, or maybe a little earlier and maybe Kali, my assistant, and I will go and end the day and smoke a joint and she'll go off and do her things. I'll get home here at about 6:30 or so. Scott and I will have dinner together. Maybe catch a few movies or whatever else. And then I'm usually in bed at about 11:00, 11:30 every day.
Has working in the cannabis industry always been a goal for you?
No, and it's funny because you're the second young person that's asked me, has this always been a goal? You have to remember, up until 2009 [when] I was 44 years old, the goal of selling weed would have made me a drug dealer, not an entrepreneur. See the difference?
Photo by Joe Mahoney
"Up until 2009 [when] I was 44 years old, the goal of selling weed would have made me a drug dealer, not an entrepreneur. See the difference?"
Yes! There is definitely a difference!
And this is what's really inspiring, you may not even know what your career is yet because your career may not have even been invented yet. I did not know until 2009 that the possibility of this being a business would even be a thing. I wasn't really sure what it was going to be, but I didn't think it was going to be that.
What inspired you to join the market in the first place?
Because of my 25 years with three senators on speed dial, with a governor on speed dial, with Congress on speed dial, we felt relatively confident that we were going to be able to enter this industry without the fear of going to jail, which was the point of entering the industry. Because up until then, Black people had been going to jail. When we started in 2009, the goal was social justice. $260 worth of the street value of bad cannabis cost my brother 10 years of his life. He never saw an attorney, which, when he told me that I didn't understand until I saw When They See Us.
He [later] tested positive on his piss test and they immediately put an 18-year-old in a privatized prison, where for the next four and a half years, my brother picked cotton every day. He had to pick a hundred pounds of cotton a day in Texas to purchase his freedom. My brother became a slave. A whole bunch of people's brothers became a slave because that became an American-Corporate balance. My brother picked a hundred pounds of cotton every day for four years. How much does the cotton industry owe my family?
For almost seven years, we were the only ones in Colorado and that's a shame. And this is the racism that we've got to be able to fight. I've often said that my father's generation fought to be able to ride the bus, right? To get on the bus and sit where they wanted to on the bus. Our challenge is how do we own the bus? How do we own the bus line, right? So, it's one thing to decriminalize, which is great. We should not be going to jail for this. But now let's take it a step further.
What has your extensive professional career working with Presidents and Fortune 500 Companies taught you about the work you’re doing now?
Ironically, everything that I have done in my life up until this point has prepared me for this point. When you're going through your life and like, "Why am I here? Why am I doing this?" When I look back on it, everything that I have done has trained me for this.
After 25 years in politics, I know how to talk to US senators. I know how to talk to governors. Hell, I know how to talk to presidents, right? So everything that I have done in my life has prepared me for this one moment in time. Even my love of the plant, you know? I'm not just the business owner, I'm a client.
Courtesy of Wanda James
"After 25 years in politics, I know how to talk to US senators. I know how to talk to governors. Hell, I know how to talk to presidents, right? So everything that I have done in my life has prepared me for this one moment in time. Even my love of the plant, you know? I'm not just the business owner, I'm a client."
I love that! And I saw in a previous interview you said that at your house, there’s weed in the wine, food, and beer and I’ve never aligned with someone so closely in my life. In your own words, what are your views on medical and recreational cannabis usage?
The only time that I didn't smoke was the five years that I was in the military because the penalty was too high for a military officer in the late 80s, early 90s. If you were caught with illegal drugs, you went directly to jail, period. No conversation, no nothing. You just went to jail. So I wasn't going to chance that.
If you go to The Officer's Club, you could get top-shelf alcohol for 75 cents a drink. If you could drink all night and get up in the morning and put on your uniform, you were doing it right. And during that time of my life, I mean that was probably the time that I felt the least like myself. I was in my twenties, so hangovers don't last long and you're able to deal with your day, but [you're] nowhere near as sharp as you could be, nowhere near as engaged as you could be and it was because of alcohol. So it's been interesting to me when I look at alcohol versus cannabis. Alcohol loses all the time in my book.
What is the biggest misconception you think people have about marijuana products?
I think that the biggest misconception about cannabis is that people want to put it in the drug column. For me, when I think of drugs, I think of something that your body doesn't necessarily want or doesn't want, may need but doesn't want. I think that cannabis is something that works with our bodies. It works in total alignment with our bodies.
I just don't see this as a negative at all. I run three businesses, I'm up at 4:30 every morning, my husband and I are in great shape; we run, we do all kinds of athletic things. Neither one of us have any "ailments" to speak of; we don't have high blood pressure, we don't have diabetes and I'm not saying that's because of cannabis, but I'm also not saying it's not because of cannabis.
What advice do you have for women like me who want to enter the cannabis industry but may be intimidated by the barriers to entry?
Don't be intimidated, first and foremost. Take the word "intimidated" out of your vocabulary. And let me say, we all feel nervous sometimes. We all feel anxiety sometimes. Every time I go into a meeting, I feel nervous. I get that weird feeling in my stomach. I'm like, "Oh, here we go." But you know what though? That's life. That's not a negative feeling. That's a positive feeling. That's your adrenaline getting going. Adrenaline is getting released in your body so that your brain gets sharp.
We need to learn to love that feeling because that's the feeling of excitement and things happening. Yes, it's scary. Absolutely. It's scary because you know what? It might not work, but so what? So what? Because it might work.
"Every time I go into a meeting, I feel nervous. I get that weird feeling in my stomach. I'm like, "Oh, here we go." But you know what though? That's life. That's not a negative feeling. That's a positive feeling. That's your adrenaline getting going. Adrenaline is getting released in your body so that your brain gets sharp."
What footprint do you plan to leave on the cannabis industry when you retire?
I want this industry to be the catalyst for ending slave labor in America. Because when we talk about mass incarceration, we are talking about [in cannabis-related arrests alone], 800,000 people a year arrested for simple possession before legalization started. A year. Not 800,000 people total; a year. So I want this industry to be equitable. I want it to shine a light on what racism has done to destroy the black and brown community.
And then I want to see cannabis be the means of fixing that issue. Okay. In other words, I want to see our families and our communities benefit long-term from cannabis in the exact same way that Kennedys benefited from Irish whiskey when it was illegal. I want to see America pay its debt. And it is a debt and they do owe us, and I think that cannabis, that this industry can be the vehicle in order to make that happen.
Make sure to stop by Simply Pure the next time you're in Colorado and keep up with Wanda's adventures on Instagram @WandaLJames!
*Some responses have been edited and condensed for clarity.
Featured image courtesy of Wanda James.
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Taylor "Pretty" Honore is a spiritually centered and equally provocative rapper from Baton Rouge, Louisiana with a love for people and storytelling. You can probably find me planting herbs in your local community garden, blasting "Back That Thang Up" from my mini speaker. Let's get to know each other: @prettyhonore.
Exclusive: Gabrielle Union On Radical Transparency, Being Diagnosed With Perimenopause And Embracing What’s Next
Whenever Gabrielle Union graces the movie screen, she immediately commands attention. From her unforgettable scenes in films like Bring It On and Two Can Play That Game to her most recent film, in which she stars and produces Netflix’s The Perfect Find, there’s no denying that she is that girl.
Off-screen, she uses that power for good by sharing her trials and tribulations with other women in hopes of helping those who may be going through the same things or preventing them from experiencing them altogether. Recently, the Flawless by Gabrielle Union founder partnered with Clearblue to speak at the launch of their Menopause Stage Indicator, where she also shared her experience with being perimenopausal.
In a xoNecoleexclusive, the iconic actress opens up about embracing this season of her life, new projects, and overall being a “bad motherfucker.” Gabrielle reveals that she was 37 years old when she was diagnosed with perimenopause and is still going through it at 51 years old. Mayo Clinic says perimenopause “refers to the time during which your body makes the natural transition to menopause, marking the end of the reproductive years.”
“I haven't crossed over the next phase just yet, but I think part of it is when you hear any form of menopause, you automatically think of your mother or grandmother. It feels like an old-person thing, but for me, I was 37 and like not understanding what that really meant for me. And I don't think we focus so much on the word menopause without understanding that perimenopause is just the time before menopause,” she tells us.
Photo by Brian Thomas
"But you can experience a lot of the same things during that period that people talk about, that they experienced during menopause. So you could get a hot flash, you could get the weight gain, the hair loss, depression, anxiety, like all of it, mental health challenges, all of that can come, you know, at any stage of the menopausal journey and like for me, I've been in perimenopause like 13, 14 years. When you know, most doctors are like, ‘Oh, but it's usually about ten years, and I'm like, ‘Uhh, I’m still going (laughs).’”
Conversations about perimenopause, fibroids, and all the things that are associated with women’s bodies have often been considered taboo and thus not discussed publicly. However, times are changing, and thanks to the Gabrielle’s and the Tia Mowry’s, more women are having an authentic discourse about women’s health. These open discussions lead to the creation of more safe spaces and support for one another.
“I want to be in community with folks. I don't ever want to feel like I'm on an island about anything. So, if I can help create community where we are lacking, I want to be a part of that,” she says. “So, it's like there's no harm in talking about it. You know what I mean? Like, I was a bad motherfucker before perimenopause. I’m a bad motherfucker now, and I'll be a bad motherfucker after menopause. Know what I’m saying? None of that has to change. How I’m a bad motherfucker, I welcome that part of the change. I'm just getting better and stronger and more intelligent, more wise, more patient, more compassionate, more empathetic. All of that is very, very welcomed, and none of it should be scary.”
The Being Mary Jane star hasn’t been shy about her stance on therapy. If you don’t know, here’s a hint: she’s all for it, and she encourages others to try it as well. She likens therapy to dating by suggesting that you keep looking for the right therapist to match your needs. Two other essential keys to her growth are radical transparency and radical acceptance (though she admits she is still working on the latter).
"I was a bad motherfucker before perimenopause. I’m a bad motherfucker now, and I'll be a bad motherfucker after menopause. Know what I’m saying? None of that has to change. How I’m a bad motherfucker, I welcome that part of the change."
Gabrielle Union and Kaavia Union-Wade
Photo by Monica Schipper/Getty Images
“I hope that a.) you recognize that you're not alone. Seek out help and know that it's okay to be honest about what the hell is happening in your life. That's the only way that you know you can get help, and that's also the only other way that people know that you are in need if there's something going on,” she says, “because we have all these big, very wild, high expectations of people, but if they don't know what they're actually dealing with, they're always going to be failing, and you will always be disappointed. So how about just tell the truth, be transparent, and let people know where you are. So they can be of service, they can be compassionate.”
Gabrielle’s transparency is what makes her so relatable, and has so many people root for her. Whether through her TV and film projects, her memoirs, or her social media, the actress has a knack for making you feel like she’s your homegirl. Scrolling through her Instagram, you see the special moments with her family, exciting new business ventures, and jaw-dropping fashion moments. Throughout her life and career, we’ve seen her evolve in a multitude of ways. From producing films to starting a haircare line to marriage and motherhood, her journey is a story of courage and triumph. And right now, in this season, she’s asking, “What’s next?”
“This is a season of discovery and change. In a billion ways,” says the NAACP Image Award winner. “The notion of like, ‘Oh, so and so changed. They got brand new.’ I want you to be brand new. I want me to be brand new. I want us to be always constantly growing, evolving. Having more clarity, moving with different purpose, like, and all of that is for me very, very welcomed."
"I want you to be brand new. I want me to be brand new. I want us to be always constantly growing, evolving. Having more clarity, moving with different purpose, like, and all of that is for me very, very welcomed."
She continues, “So I'm just trying to figure out what's next. You know what I mean? I'm jumping into what's next. I'm excited going into what's next and new. I'm just sort of embracing all of what life has to offer.”
Look out for Gabrielle in the upcoming indie film Riff Raff, which is a crime comedy starring her and Jennifer Coolidge, and she will also produce The Idea of You, which stars Anne Hathaway.
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Feature image by Mike Lawrie/Getty Images
There are actually a few reasons why I thought it was important to pen this piece. One reason is that, reportedly, 55 percent of Americans feel especially lonely during this time of the year. Another reason is that some folks aren’t particularly close to their blood relatives yet they do have, what I call, “love family” — and oftentimes, it’s their friends. And then there’s the fact that, when it comes to keeping any type of close emotional dynamic healthy and thriving, it’s essential that gratitude is shown.
And so, whether you’re someone who’s already wanting to hurry up and get the holidays over and done with, you are going to be doing Friendsgiving instead of Thanksgiving this year, or a Hallmark (holiday) movie has put you in the mood to show some love and heartfelt appreciation for a couple of your own homies, here are 12 ways that you can do just that.
After all, as late author Lois Wyse once said, "A good friend is a connection to life — a tie to the past, a road to the future, the key to sanity in a totally insane world." And if that ain’t something to intentionally celebrate this season…what is, sis?
1. Handwrite a “Love” Letter
My dad had impeccable handwriting. My mom’s handwriting? Eh, not so much. I’m somewhere in between yet, because I spend more time hammering away on this keyboard of mine, I don’t realize how out of practice I am on the handwriting tip until I’m filling out a form or addressing an envelope or package. What in the world? It’s for that reason alone that I will try and write at least a couple of letters a year and, whenever I do, the person on the receiving end is always hella surprised and super appreciative — not just because of the words but the effort that was put behind them.
So yeah, if you’ve got a few friends who really held you down this year, get some really nice stationary, write them your own version of a friend-themed love letter, and mail it. Everyone likes something other than bills in their mailbox. No debates there, right?
2. Make a Gift That Speaks Their Love Language
Words of affirmation. Quality time. Physical touch. Acts of service. Gifts. At this point, who doesn’t know what the five love languages are? And even though we mostly discuss them in the context of romantic relationships, they can — and should — be applied across the board (check out “This Is How To Apply Love Languages To Your Friendships”).
When it comes to your friends, something else that you can do is make them a present; something that represents their primary love language. If it’s words of affirmation, frame a poster that has adjectives that describe them. If it’s quality time, make them some coupons with “friend dates” that are already planned out. If it’s physical touch, make them a pampering basket that they can use on themselves or with their partner. If it’s acts of service, make them their favorite meal. A gift? Something in their favorite color would be cool.
No one said that the gift has to look like it came straight out of the mall; the mere fact that you took out the time to create it yourself? That already sends the message that you are truly grateful to have them in your life.
3. Pre-Plan a One-on-One Date
My friends and I go out on dates with one another, fairly frequently. And because all of our lives are so hectic, it automatically requires some pre-planning. Since the “arrangement” is usually that I will pick up the tab, then they will, and so on (back and forth, I mean), whoever pays lets the other person pick (yes, it’s literally a date). It’s fun this way because sometimes we find ourselves introducing the other to a new restaurant, venue, or experience. That said, when was the last time that you pre-planned a super thoughtful date for a friend of yours? Especially if it’s someone who is single during this time of the year, it can take some of the “Where’s my boo (or cuffing partner)? I hate it here!” edge off.
4. Send Them a Customized Care Package
Once upon a time, Today.com published an article entitled, “Long-distance friendships take work: Here’s how I’ve had success.” It was basically one woman’s take on the blessings and challenges that came with trying to maintain a close connection with her bestie who lives far away from her. Honestly, my life is so full (along with the lives of my friends) that I oftentimes have to put just about as much effort into seeing the ones who live in the same city as I do as the ones who don’t.
When it comes to my long-distance friends, though, I will sometimes put a care package together and shoot it their way. Think about things that are your friend’s favorites and send them. It doesn’t have to be super deep. This time of year, their favorite cookies, some slippers, and a customized coffee mug are beyond sweet.
5. Plan a Sleepover
Speaking of the folks who live close by, ain’t nothin’ wrong with hosting a sleepover. For instance, if some of you aren’t planning on being with family this Thanksgiving and you’re gonna go the Friendsgiving route instead, who said that everyone has to call it a day (or night) after dinner? Pull out some throwback movies (chances are, they’re on Tubi, chile) along with a playlist from when everyone was in college, put some holiday cocktails together, and hang out all night long.
Sleeping in and having breakfast together sure beats the hell outta all of that traffic on Black Friday. Or, if you are going to be with your DNA, push it ‘til the weekend. After all, sleepovers don’t have an age cap. Why should children have all of the fun?
6. Have Flowers or Lunch Delivered to Their Job
One time, while I was having the worst day ever (no exaggeration), a friend of mine, without even letting me know that she was going to do it, had lunch and dinner delivered to me (and she was out of state). That was a few years ago now and it’s still a favorite memory of mine when it comes to my friends and their thoughtful gestures. That said, consider having some flowers or lunch delivered to one of your friends soon. Add a note that says something along the lines of, “No reason. You’re just awesome.” It’ll go a really, REALLY long way. Trust me.
7. Frame a Photo of a Favorite Memory of the Two of You
Last year, someone posted a tweet (chile, it’s always gonna be Twitter to me) that simply said “true best friends have no pictures together.” It received 99K likes and 30K retweets. When I stopped to think about it, only one person in my innermost circle did I have a picture of us together in it. WILD. One day, I’ll have to unpack the subconscious psychology behind it all. For now, I’ll just say that time is precious and memories are invaluable. Not only that but it’s not like you’ve got to schedule an appointment with a professional photographer to take a shot; you’ve got your smartphone.
So, the next time you’re out with your friends, take a quick picture. Then blow it up, make some copies, frame them, and give them to your friend (or friends). I’m preaching to the choir when I say that it really would be a shame to go throughout your entire life with no evidence of your connections with other people other than the thoughts that are in your head.
8. Create a “Thank You” Jar
You’d be amazed how many studies exist out here. For instance, did you know that most Americans ONLY SAY “thank you,” somewhere around 15 percent of the time that a request is granted to them (that’s pretty pitiful) or that articles like “People rarely say thank you when others help them out, scientists say” exist? Maybe it’s just me but I think it’s kinda wild that the very thing that we will tell our children is rude not to do (to say “please” and “thank you”), we pretty much suck at ourselves (one could call that “hypocritical,” right?). And when people feel taken for granted, that is a surefire way for them to start tapping out of their relationship with you — friends included.
Just in case you are someone whose heart is in the right place yet you’re not exactly big on words, something that you can do is create a thank you jar. Buy some big mason jars and some colored construction paper. Cut the paper into strips and write down different things about your friend(s) that you are thankful for. That way, you’ve put your gratitude on paper (literally) and they can refer to how you feel about them, whenever they feel like it.
9. Dedicate a Blog (or Vlog) Post to Them
When it comes to this particular suggestion, I’ve gotta admit that sometimes, when I see people do this, it seems more like “performative affection” than anything. What I mean by that is, if you’re out here talking more about yourself more than the person you claim to be affirming or celebrating, that looks a lot like humble pride (eye roll). For everyone else, though, in a world that is filled with so much gossip, negativity, and cynicism, it can be truly refreshing for folks to dedicate a blog or vlog to nothing but praising another person for their character, their commitment, and their friendship. You know what they say — the internet is written in pen not pencil (some folks could stand to remember that), so it’s a simple gesture that could go a really long way and will definitely last a really long time.
10. Do Something for Them That They “Hate”
Does one of your friends hate doing laundry? Why not do it for them? Have you hopped into their car lately and it looks like a pocketbook (some of y’all will catch that later)? Get it detailed out of the blue. Is their favorite health food store closer to you than it is to them? Why not pick some stuff up for them and bring it to their house? I’m gonna tell you, out the gate, doing things for others that they need but don’t like to do? It’s more on the practical side of showing gratitude yet oftentimes, that’s what warms hearts up the most.
11. Treat Them to Their Favorite Spot
Who said that spontaneity only had to be reserved for romance? Hell, if you really stop to think about it, some of your friends have outlasted a lot of your romantic, umm, situations (LOL), so why not show them how freakin’ grateful you are that they did? Out of the blue, hit them up and tell them that you wanna take them somewhere…then actually do it. I recently did it for a friend of mine and they were floored — one, that I remembered them casually mentioning the place before, and two, that I was willing to pay the expense in order to do it. Again, it shouldn’t only be folks in a couple’s dynamic who should feel adored and cherished. Everyone who is loved, in some way, should.
12. Jot Down 10-20 Reasons Why Their Friendship Means So Much to You
It’s one thing to be grateful for a person; it’s another thing to be able to clearly articulate why you are so thankful for the kind of friendship that you have with them. So, to close this out, purchase them a journal for the new year and, in the front of it, write down 10-20 reasons why their friendship is so invaluable to you. It doesn’t have to be lengthy; it can literally be bullet points or phrases. It’s a wonderful gift, a very thoughtful gesture, and a beautiful way to express gratitude for any kind of friend that you have. Give thanks, y’all. GIVE THANKS.
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Featured image by Maskot/Getty Images