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As women, we can have more confidence in what we bring to the table” With Jessi Rae

As women, we can have more confidence in what we bring to the table. I’m saddened by how often I reach out to a female who is experienced in her craft and she turns my correspondence over to her male counterpart, or simply doesn’t respond at all. On average, my response from males regarding education […]

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As women, we can have more confidence in what we bring to the table. I’m saddened by how often I reach out to a female who is experienced in her craft and she turns my correspondence over to her male counterpart, or simply doesn’t respond at all. On average, my response from males regarding education and participation in the events is much higher. I need my ladies to trust in what they offer and know the cannabis community wants to hear from them.


As a part of my series about strong women leaders in the cannabis industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jessi Rae, COO of CannaConnections, producers of CannaGrow, DispensaryNext and Science of Cannabis Summit.

Jessi Rae works to provide quality education and networking opportunities for the cannabis community. She believes continued education and research are keys to strengthening the cannabis industry. Jessi currently resides in Eugene, OR, and holds a Bachelors of Arts in History and English from Newman University in Wichita, KS.

CannaGrow is a bi-annual, two-day educational expo dedicated to the art and science of growing cannabis. With cultivation-focused educational sessions led by world-class growers, ample opportunity for networking with cultivators from around the globe, and an expo hall packed with the latest tools and technology for working with cannabis, CannaGrow is the ideal event for adults interested in cultivating remarkable cannabis.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to the cannabis industry?

My path to cannabis began as a family affair. My sister, parents, and I decided we wanted to experience a cannabis conference to learn more about the culture and the plant. We chose to attend the 2015 Denver Cannabis Cup since we lived in the neighboring state of Kansas. While Kansas shares a border with Colorado, they do not share similar cannabis laws, so as we requested vacation time and discussed the trip with family and friends, we reiterated, “We’re simply taking a family vacation to Colorado.”

Like traditional travelers, we took to the internet to discover what to expect at a Cannabis Cup. Our research unearthed little information on cannabis events along with jarring discrepancies in information surrounding the plant. This was the catalyst for our cannabis education blog, Cannabisdaze. We used this avenue to document our experiences at cannabis events and what we were learning about the plant.

With my passion for education, networking, and events, it felt natural to join the CannaConnections team in May of 2015 to help produce educational events like CannaGrow Expo.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

In late 2016, we held our 4th CannaGrow Expo in Denver, CO at the Crowne Plaza Denver Airport Hotel & Convention Center. This hotel worked well for hosting our out-of-state and international attendees because it was close to the airport, but it also welcomed many airline employees on their overnights in Denver. As our attendees and exhibitors checked-in to Crowne Plaza, the FAA proceeded to check-out all of their pilots and flight attendants. Why? Fear of “contact high.” It was reported that some of the pilots and flight attendants were even woken in the middle of the night to be moved to a different hotel. We were pretty surprised an educational cannabis conference would cause such fuss and shocked the FAA believed the “contact high” myth. This reminded us that even though some states had legalized cannabis, it was going to be a long road towards federal legalization and greater social understanding of the plant.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I help review CannaConnections marketing materials, and in my first year I allowed a social creative to go out with the word “cannabis” spelled incorrectly! While this mistake was embarrassing, I learned it’s critical for me to read aloud when reviewing marketing content, and it’s important to never skim language, even if they’re words you and your team use frequently. A third and fourth set of eyes on your creative work never hurts either.

Do you have a funny story about how someone you knew reacted when they first heard you were getting into the cannabis industry?

When my family first found out I was working in cannabis and consuming it for medicinal purposes, they had a lot of questions. My grandmother sweetly asked if I could overdose on cannabis. I remember I couldn’t help but laugh a little and respond, “No Grandma, but it’s fun to try.”

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

I would not be where I am today without the help of Adam Jacques. Adam is a world-renowned cannabis breeder and grower, as well as an educator at our events. When I met Adam, I expressed my desire to work closer with the plant to better understand it, and he invited me to experience his cannabis farm and dispensary in Eugene, OR. In the first years of developing CannaConnections events and educational programs, I simultaneously worked hands-on with the plant at Adam’s farm and dispensary. These experiences were invaluable. Learning how to cultivate, extract, market, distribute, and sell cannabis was essential to helping me understand what our attendees want and need from our education sessions.

Are you working on any new or exciting projects now? How do you think that will help people?

Our new project that I’m most excited about is Cultivation Week 2020. This weeklong event hosted November 9-13 in Palm Springs, CA, features multiple educational events focused on cannabis and hemp production, including HempConference West, The 11th CannaGrow Expo, and Extraction Summit. There’s also exciting networking opportunities in between, like The CannaGrow Expo Invitational, where you can play a round of golf with fellow growers and extractors to compete for over $11,500 in prizes. With 50+ educational sessions, 155+ exhibitors, and 2100+ attendees, Cultivation Week 2020 will bring together producers from around the world for the ultimate week dedicated to the art & science of cannabis production. Cultivation Week 2020 offers a well-rounded, in-depth look at cultivation, extraction, and distribution of cannabis and hemp. We feel it’s critical to explore all aspects of growing and manufacturing to elevate the conversation around cannabis and ensure producers are creating quality products for all markets.

Ok. Thank you for all that. Let’s now jump to the main core of our interview. Despite great progress that has been made we still have a lot more work to do to achieve gender parity in this industry. According to this report in Entrepreneur, less than 25 percent of cannabis businesses are run by women. In your opinion or experience, what 3 things can be done by a)individuals b)companies and/or c) society to support greater gender parity moving forward?

As a female in cannabis, I am constantly seeking other female leaders to participate as educators in our events. I strive to make our session agendas balanced with voices from all genders and backgrounds. Achieving gender parity in the cannabis industry is difficult, but confidence is key to helping individuals, companies, and society promote a female presence in cannabis.

As women, we can have more confidence in what we bring to the table. I’m saddened by how often I reach out to a female who is experienced in her craft and she turns my correspondence over to her male counterpart, or simply doesn’t respond at all. On average, my response from males regarding education and participation in the events is much higher. I need my ladies to trust in what they offer and know the cannabis community wants to hear from them.

In the same breath, companies need to do their part in bolstering women’s confidence. If your female scientist is offered a role at an event, encourage her to participate! Don’t let her pass that opportunity off to a male colleague.

As a society, we need to have confidence in our women. You simply cannot judge the quality of an educational session or a company based on the gender of the person it’s led by. Have faith in the person’s education, experience, and background.

You are a “Cannabis Insider”. If you had to advise someone about 5 non intuitive things one should know to succeed in the cannabis industry, what would you say? Can you please give a story or an example for each.

Connect with people who don’t share your views. In a world where we’re trying to determine the best way to normalize cannabis, it’s imperative we connect with others who don’t share the same beliefs as us. Whether you’re a consumer viewing cannabis as medicine versus a narcotic drug, a grower promoting organic cultivation above all else, or a manufacturer arguing CRC extraction doesn’t fully represent the plant, it’s important to share your views and digest the other side’s beliefs as well. Seeing cannabis from other people’s perspectives helps us find the best path for cannabis legalization.

Trust your moral compass. If it doesn’t seem like there’s something real beneath what a company or person is offering, listen to your instincts. Let those feelings be the catalyst for further research to make sure you’re linking up with someone who shares your same goals.

Fire the right (wrong) clients. You heard me right. Fire your clients. Not all of them, of course, but the ones who don’t support your mission or a fruitful future for the cannabis industry. From personal experience planning events, sometimes I want to make a sale work or an educator fit in the agenda just because we’ve put effort into the relationship. But if the company or speaker doesn’t support our attendee base and passion for education, it’s essential to cut ties.

Work hands-on with the plant. Whether you’re a marketing-guru, lighting expert, or financial advisor in the cannabis industry, you cannot fully understand the gravity of cannabis and what it can do for this world without working with it on a regular basis. If you’re not cultivating, manufacturing, or retailing the plant personally, work with a producer or retailer that will let you experience cannabis hands-on.

Love the journey. From license visits to marketing hurdles to bank accounts being closed, love the cannabis journey that you are on. It’s a tough but unique experience to help cannabis legalization come to fruition. Document what you’re experiencing and appreciate the path you’re on so you can share the ups and downs with others.

Can you share 3 things that most excite you about the cannabis industry? There’s so much to be excited about in the cannabis industry, but I’m most looking forward to the end goals of federal legalization, consistent research of cannabis for medicinal and recreational purposes, and normalization of cannabis use. I believe all of these things are possible with continued education.

Can you share 3 things that most concern you about the industry? If you had the ability to implement 3 ways to reform or improve the industry, what would you suggest?

As a producer of events, one of my concerns is the number of conferences that falsely promote cannabis education and attendee numbers. Many are “pay to play” and only allow people to speak if they buy a booth or sponsorship. As a result, their panels consist of 4-6 individuals trying to simultaneously pitch their services or products to attendees. These events don’t necessarily offer a focus either and are often geared towards anything cannabis-related. Essentially an event for the sake of having an event, trying to be an “everything for everyone” show. Conferences with non-focused content are time wasters for almost everyone involved, and can make our industry seem disorganized to those outside of it. Sure, you can get some networking done, but we need to represent the core cannabis practitioners that have developed tribal-knowledge and help share that with the world. We find events are most successful when they serve a distinct purpose for those attending and exhibiting. Many cannabis conferences also falsify their attendee numbers to show a greater turnout than what was truly experienced, which sours all involved. Event producers can improve the industry by providing true continued-education courses led by one or two individuals, not allowing sales pitches during presentations, focusing the overall show content, and being honest about attendee numbers.

Another one of my greatest concerns is the release of those incarcerated for cannabis-related minor offenses along with expungement of minor offenders’ records. If we’re going to push forward towards legalization, we must care for those who have been negatively affected by prohibition. The worst case scenario in all of this is cannabis becoming legalized, yet there are still people sitting in jail or unable to work because of their past with the plant.

I also have concerns about product quality as new states legalize and operations expand. I feel it’s important that the original breeders and growers are at the forefront of legalization to ensure quality products are going out to the masses. We can still taste and feel their passion behind the plant, and we must continue to do so for cannabis to find its way into everyday life.

What are your thoughts about federal legalization of cannabis? If you could speak to your Senator, what would be your most persuasive argument regarding why they should or should not pursue federal legalization?

Federal legalization of cannabis is a beast to tackle, but it’s necessary. Every day we go without federal legalization of cannabis, a cancer patient loses another day on this earth, an epileptic child seizes again, or an MS patient feels unbearable pain for one day longer. We shouldn’t allow a single person to live less of a life just because cannabis isn’t legal. Hopefully, for Senators and other humans alike, they’ll realize there’s no reason to continue people’s suffering over federal legalization of cannabis.

Today, cigarettes are legal, but they are heavily regulated, highly taxed, and they are somewhat socially marginalized. Would you like cannabis to have a similar status to cigarettes or different? Can you explain?

Cannabis is unlike any substance we’ve encountered as a society. It can be used medicinally and recreationally in a variety of strengths and methods, and you can’t overdose on cannabis. We like to compare cannabis to alcohol or tobacco because it’s a prohibited substance working its way mainstream, but there’s a deadly amount of alcohol you can intake, and cigarettes or chew don’t have benefits beyond curbing an addict’s nicotine cravings. Taking a shot of whiskey hasn’t stopped a seizure, nor has smoking a cigarette. Cannabis does need to be researched and regulated, but with a new set of standards separate from tobacco or alcohol that allow this plant to reach its full potential.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.” – Henry David Thoreau

I have always believed in education, especially for the sake of bringing light to areas of life that have not yet been illuminated for all. With that belief, comes the need to conceptualize goals that do not have a predetermined way of being successfully executed. In the beginning, we built many of our events as castles in the air hoping to design educational and exhibitor offerings that would draw the right people to support the foundations of the cannabis industry. We’re still evolving the events to build these foundations as strong as possible. I feel Thoreau’s quote also applies to the industry as a whole. We want national acceptance of cannabis — now let’s all take steps to build foundations under that lofty goal.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂 It’s not my original idea, but if I could inspire any movement toward the greater good, it would be one of Servant Leadership. No matter what industry you’re involved in, try leading by being a servant first. This means anticipating your employee, client, and community needs before your own. If your people are at the heart of every decision you make, you’re able to best serve the industry and achieve success.

Thank you so much for the time you spent with this. We wish you only continued success!

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