Don’t be afraid to discuss struggles. While it is wonderful to hear about others (or your own) successes, you will learn and teach more when you share what hardships you have overcome and how.
As a part of my series about strong women leaders in the cannabis industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jodie Cheng, Founder of JWC Legal.
Jodie Cheng is Principal and Founder of JWC Legal, which provides legal counsel for corporate and intellectual property issues. Jodie’s practice focuses on complex corporate and intellectual property (IP) counseling, including issues related to patents and trade secrets. Specializing in emerging technologies and industries, Jodie assists her clients in a range of legal matters, from strategic IP portfolio advice, risk assessment, and due diligence, to pre-litigation counseling through trial and appellate issues. Jodie has a deep understanding of the interplay of legal issues with global business strategy, having worked on some of the most high-profile corporate disputes in recent history.
Jodie is a member of many professional associations including American Intellectual Property Law Association (AIPLA), Chiefs of Intellectual Property (ChIPs), California Cannabis Bar Association, and the National Cannabis Industry Association.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to the cannabis industry?
I began my legal career as an attorney at a major, international law firm. But as I progressed over the years, I realized that the traditional large law firm model doesn’t work for many clients. So a few years ago, I founded JWC Legal to provide top-quality legal counsel to a wider variety of clients, particularly those involved in emerging technologies and industries.
While in the exhausting process of starting my firm, I received a serious medical diagnosis. That diagnosis led me to explore more about cannabis, particularly medicinal applications. And as I learned more about the plant, I became increasingly involved and passionate about the cannabis industry overall. As I met more people in the industry, and they learned I’m an attorney, I began helping with a few legal issues for cannabis clients. I had not deliberately set out to be a “cannabis lawyer.” But those few early cannabis clients referred other clients, and so on; and I have truly enjoyed helping all of them navigate the complex legal challenges facing the industry. In my opinion, referrals are the highest honor and greatest compliment any business can receive. I am honored to be able to continue serving the cannabis industry in my legal practice.
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?
I learned countless lessons when starting JWC Legal, and I continue to do so nearly everyday. Starting a new business always comes with a few challenges!
I am extremely fortunate to have had some fantastic cases and clients at the onset — which came from other attorneys recommending me. Having been an attorney at a large law firm, as well as having worked with (and against!) other big firms, I had developed a network of incredible lawyers.
Some of these attorneys were interested in joining JWC Legal and I was excited to get them on board. We spent a lot of time thinking about our strategy, marketing, developing internal structure, etc. But when it came down to it, many of these people weren’t actuallywilling or able to take the risk of starting a new business. It’s understandable — it can be very difficult to leave a stable job or take risks when starting a family.
The truth is, starting a new business absolutely requires making a huge bet on yourself and your ideas. I didn’t have 30 years of experience on my resume when I founded my company…I was 30 years old. There’s a lot to consider when you start out: timing, the stage in your life, resources at hand, ability to adapt and persevere, confidence in yourself. It all matters. Fortunately, I now have a wonderful team who values JWC Legal’s vision and quickly learned that the risk is worth it.
To me, the importance of quickly adapting and thinking “on your feet” really reflects the rapidly changing cannabis industry. It’s a lesson I learned early on and it continues to make an impact on my work everyday.
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 laugh at myself a lot for this. At the start, I thought that I needed to know everything about the cannabis industry. From cultivation to processing to manufacturing to retail sales, I thought I needed to know everything about every aspect, which was foolish.
Instead, the important thing is to know what you don’t know. Especially in an industry that is constantly expanding and changing, you have to realize that no one person will know everything. For me, my expertise is in legal issues, particularly intellectual property. When I concentrate on what I know best, and work with others who know about other subjects or bring different perspectives, we deliver the best results. After becoming more involved in the cannabis community, I learned how important this is. We all come from a variety of backgrounds and that is what makes the industry unique and, ultimately, powerful.
Do you have a funny story about how someone you knew reacted when they first heard you were getting into the cannabis industry?
One of my mentors, an extremely brilliant and highly regarded attorney who has been practicing law for several decades, put his own effort into researching cannabis when I told him I was getting professionally involved in the industry. Over the next few weeks, I received all sorts of vintage “cautionary” anti-marijuana propaganda — including YouTube links to Reefer Madness and ads featuring phrases like “The Devil’s Weed” and “The Weed With Roots In Hell.” A particularly ridiculous one said, “Marijuana: What Will Your Mother Say When She Finds Your Corpse?” It was all in good fun and jest!
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?
Everybody. My clients, the cannabis community, my network, my team.
One of my clients is a hemp farmer who is developing a line of CBD products. I worked with her to obtain patents for the formulas and processes for her products, from initially developing the intellectual property strategy to filing with the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office. The experience helped me see the value of my contribution to the industry.
Are you working on any new or exciting projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Some of my recent projects involve conducting due diligence investigation of cannabis companies for investors looking to potentially invest. You can think of due diligence as a background check of a company. This is a critical part of any potential investment. The investor needs to make sure that the company that is potentially receiving the investment is a good bet and will meet the investor’s overall business objective.
One purpose of intellectual property due diligence is to determine the value of the company’s intangible IP assets. For example, does the company have trademark protection? The right employee agreements? What is the future potential of the IP? These are significant questions many companies have not considered, particularly if they’re just starting out. But considering the importance of funding and investors for many new businesses, regardless of industry, it is critical for both businesses and investors to consider IP strategy carefully. The impact of a due diligence investigation can be tremendous. If the investigation uncovers fraud, infringement, unclear ownership, or other major issues, then the deal may be called off altogether. Even if the investor decides to proceed, problems discovered in the investigation can result in changes to the deal, such as price adjustments and requiring special insurance (e.g., patent infringement insurance).
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?
- Even though this shouldn’t have to be said…hire women and trust women.
- Seek out and support women run businesses.
- If you are a woman, step up and take charge. We have the ability to be incredible leaders and we need to overcome any bias, lack of confidence, or disapproval we receive from anyone living in the past.
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.
- Don’t be afraid to discuss struggles. While it is wonderful to hear about others (or your own) successes, you will learn and teach more when you share what hardships you have overcome and how.
- Network your ass off. The cannabis community is the epitome of strength in numbers. Get to know your professional peers and you will not only do your job better, you will meet so many amazing, passionate individuals that may become collaborators.
- Learn to adapt. The industry is changing everyday and you have to be able to adapt quickly, even if it doesn’t fall in line with your original plan.
- Recognize your expertise. Don’t be afraid to capitalize on your expertise from other industries or professional backgrounds that may not have anything to do with cannabis. This is what the future of our industry will be built on.
- Keep the name of a trusted lawyer on hand. This is true generally for all businesses, and especially true for the cannabis industry, which faces a complicated and rapidly developing legal landscape.
Can you share 3 things that most excite you about the cannabis industry?
- There are so many new innovative companies and products to learn about and try. It is such an innovative and creative space.
- The fact that it is becoming a real part of the wellness industry. Cannabis is being introduced to new demographics — many of whom may have thought of cannabis as a black market industry. The tables have turned in the best way possible.
- The complex legal landscape. The cannabis industry is facing legal issues and regulations that have never been seen before. Helping navigate these uncharted waters is incredibly rewarding and fulfilling.
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?
- Counterfeit goods. This is a concern for many consumers, yet there is such a considerable information gap when it comes to educating the consumer. We need to bridge this gap by making safe products more accessible, educating through the community, and making sure consumers are fully informed on identifying and avoiding a counterfeit dangerous. For example, establishing consistent quality criteria and parameters across states.
- Be “choosy” about your business partners. There are many talented and trustworthy people in the industry; and, as in all industries, there are some individuals who are not. Sometimes when you are fresh in an industry, you will hand what you have to offer over to the first person who appears eager to help. But be patient and wait for the right collaboration. This helps reduce bad experiences in the industry; the more we can assure that there are circles of trust, the stronger our industry will be.
- We need more resources dedicated to researching the science and medical applications relating to cannabis.
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?
Just do it. The timeline is hard to predict but cannabis is here to stay.
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?
Cigarettes and cannabis are so drastically different, in my opinion. One kills more than 8 million people every year; and the other is medicine. If the known killer is federally legal, it is baffling why the medicine is not.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Courage is the most important of all the virtues because without courage, you can’t practice any other virtue consistently.” (Maya Angelou)
Courage takes you further in an endeavor you choose to pursue. Whether it’s professional or personal, whatever the challenge, tackle it confidently and with force.
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. 🙂
The movement of…transparency. Complete transparency and respectful honesty can move us much further than avoiding disagreement altogether. Thoughtful candor facilitates better decision-making, more self-awareness, and, ultimately, continuing improvement and progress. This leads to a much larger truth!
Thank you so much for the time you spent with this. We wish you only continued success!