After Jane West got fired from her prestigious corporate gig for vaping on national TV, she went ‘all in’ on Denver’s thriving cannabis industry. Her latest coup was raising over $130,000 for the cash-strapped Colorado Symphony entirely with cannabis entities. How she “plans for success” and is helping other women do the same.
Amy Dannemiller’s métier is mass pleasure. As a New York-based event planner she masterminded large-scale soirees (think headcounts of 10,000 and up) for Unicef fundraisers and Obama’s inauguration. In November of 2012, when Colorado passed amendment 64, Dannemiller was happily ensconced in an affluent suburb of Denver with two small children, heading the Western division of corporate event planning for her East Coast employer. She was also enjoying recreational cannabis; it relieved some of her big-job, young-mother stress and provided a few ‘heightened’ experiences without a hangover.
Longing to get back into boutique event planning and add some newly-legit pot to the mix, she created her cannabis alter-ego ‘Jane West,’ and launched Edible Events Co., a company that specializes in upscale, exquisitely catered BYOC parties.
It was a lark – but one she took seriously. “I booked a gallery space out for an entire year,” she says. “I believe in planning for success.”
And it paid off. There were sold-out, art-decked dinner parties with uniformed chefs proffering small, savory bites, (brie quesadillas anyone?) a Valentine’s Day fete with DJs, a private Party Bus where one could smoke, vape, or down a cocktail. Free shoulder massages. Body painting. An apple-ginger brew for high-and-dry-mouths. An ice bong sculpted by a local artist as a witty riposte to the traditional liquor luge. It was elegant, it was innovative; Cannabis consumption for the grown-up palette.
West was soon getting press. In February of this year CNBC came a-calling and filmed her vaping with a few gal-pals. The morning after the segment aired, she was fired from her day job. West took it as a fate-sealing moment, and decided to throw all her heart and hustle into cannabis. After noting the dearth of female leadership in the market, she founded Women Grow, an organization that helps women connect, hone their elevator pitch, and repurpose their expertise for the cannabis industry.
Here, Jane tells us why Canna-Biz needs “a mother’s eye.” (Oh – and there’s that bit about the SWAT team.)
How are the laws shaping around cannabis-friendly events in Colorado?
The city has started cracking down. And with good reason; people are throwing events off the grid, and it’s unregulated. There are minors, and people selling concentrates. I’ve been to events where there was no water, no music, or information about what you’re consuming, or medical help. People were just walking in circles doing dabs.
I believe we need a permitting system for parties so that they’re safe; I always have security and people checking IDs. To be compliant we have everyone smoke in a private shuttle.
I wanted to do a special event for 4/20 this year – which also happened to land on Easter Sunday – something that would change peoples’ tastes and perceptions. So I hosted a brunch, ‘Wake-N-Bacon,’ with fresh pastries, and savory bites with bacon. It was a tea party – not what you’d expect for a 4/20 event! We also had a Bloody Mary and Mimosa Bar. It was very exclusive. Only people who went online and got tickets were emailed the address the night before.
I thought we were entirely legal. But towards the end of the brunch, nine police officers in full gear, all SWAT-ed out, descend on the brunch. They check everything out. But nobody wants to ticket me for cannabis because it will essentially force the city to make a law. But they did give me a ticket for serving alcohol. And I’m still fighting this; we’ve been to court 5 times.
Tell me about your work with the Colorado Symphony Orchestra and the ‘Classically Cannabis’ series.
They are having major financial issues. So I pitched the CEO. I said, ‘Let’s turn these concerts into fundraisers and make them more exclusive and invite-only.’ And he was all for it. We got a Red Rocks concert with the entire symphony performing on a Saturday night.
We raised thousands of dollars for the summer concert series. All the money was going straight to the orchestra. But the city said no. In the end we had to refund all the tickets and then I had to go back and personally invite all of the connections I have in the cannabis industry. They had to then RSVP to the symphony, the symphony would confirm, and then take a donation as a reservation for the event. It was insane. I’m glad we pulled it off, but it’s also a shame – because in that first round of tickets, 90% of the people who signed up were new to the Symphony. And that’s who we need; that’s who we’re trying to reach.
You’ve encountered some serious challenges. A lot of people would be scared off. What keeps you going?
Honestly, it goes back to my colleagues in the industry. They’ve had just as many challenges – times 10 – to make cannabis legal. These are the most honest, professional, candid and passionate people I’ve ever met.
I also believe that cannabis – as a substance, and as an industry – can be good for women in particular. I know so many women in their late 20s and 30s who were put on anti-depressants and sleeping aids. And they had no idea of the chemical dependency they were signing up for. They were not clinically depressed or anxious, but now they can’t get off them.
I think this is especially for true for driven women who are managing their parents, kids, trying to have it all, go to school, everything. And cannabis is an excellent relaxation substance.
This is a brand new industry and could be the first where women completely dominate. But I’m concerned that we’re creating another industry that is like every other major industry – where women are being paid less and not filling as many positions of power.
You founded Women Grow, this year, which is meant to support women as entrepreneurs in the cannabis industry. Why did you take this on?
Women Grow is really about connecting and educating women coming into the industry. It grew from a few experiences I had where women were looking for a change of career or were trying to enter the workplace after being stay-at-home moms for several years.
I encouraged them to try the cannabis industry. But they would end up working for guys who didn’t know how to manage people and weren’t compensating them properly.
I realized, women should be working for themselves. They shouldn’t be taking jobs – but making their own positions.
What do you think women have to bring to this industry? What is unique in their approach?
I have to say – I think it’s that mother’s eye. As more women and mothers come to the industry – the more responsible and safe it will be. For example, they have created an edible product, a candy laced with THC, and it looks exactly like a Pixie Stix, and could easily be confused for one by a kid.
I believe we are better at consensus building and creating flexible systems that work with a family. It no longer makes sense to be at the corporate beck and call, old school, 9-5. I keep up a work standard, but that’s flexible for the people I work with. As long as they deliver the goods.
Look, ‘Jane West’ was born last November! My kids were starting kindergarten the year I came into the industry. I’m raising the first generation of kids who are growing up in a culture where pot is legal – and we have to be conscious and responsible with this.
What guidance would you give women who want to enter the cannabis industry? What are the best first steps?
First, identify what you’re good at. What skill you have that you enjoy applying – let that be what you do. You have to be passionate about what you’re doing.
And make sure you network. This is really undervalued in corporate America. The ability to connect, match people, make your pitch and be on your toes.
Second – write your own job description. There are so many shiny objects out there. Be super-independent. Don’t get distracted. Stay on your track. Define your skill set. Define your value.
And then deliver. Do what you say you’re going to do for the people who appreciate your work. And get paid. Women have a hard time addressing what they’re worth – and women will give a lot and won’t ask for money from each other. We need to pay each other for their services.
There’s a lot of talk. When I jumped into the industry I met with everyone – and they said, ‘what is this? I don’t get it.’ So I just had to do it – create the events without sponsorship. The main thing is: Don’t sit and be told what to do.
Jane West and Edible Events will be featured on Nightline the week of September 22nd as part of a series on women in the cannabis industry.