Green Thumb Industries
Jai Kensey – Director of Social Impact at Green Thumb Industries (OTC: GTBIF)
When did you formally enter the cannabis space?
I entered the legal cannabis space in 2021 as the Director of Social Impact at Green Thumb Industries, but I’ve been connected to the legacy market most of my life and even grew up in a cannabis-friendly household. Before joining Green Thumb, I managed community relations and corporate communications for non-profit and private companies in the U.S. and Australia. I currently serve as Green Thumb’s representative on the Board of the National Hispanic Cannabis Council, a non-profit focused on increasing Hispanic representation within the regulated cannabis industry.
What made you decide to work in the cannabis industry?
Cannabis has always been part of my life, but it was Green Thumb’s “Growing for Good” program –which supports Black and Brown communities disproportionately impacted by the War on Drugs –that persuaded me to pivot to cannabis.
After the murder of George Floyd and the civil unrest that followed, I knew that I wanted to work in a space that was more aligned with my desire to support communities of color in a meaningful way. I was also ready to move into a space that not only provided new professional and personal growth opportunities but also valued what I brought to the table as a Black woman. So far, leading Green Thumb’s social impact initiatives has certainly surpassed my expectations.
I have the privilege of working with colleagues and advocates who are so passionate about supporting local communities as well as Black and Brown cannabis entrepreneurs who are trailblazers in this industry. More importantly, I am encouraged to be my authentic self at Green Thumb, which I believe is my superpower in this industry.
Do you feel there is more opportunity for Black Americans in the cannabis industry versus a more traditional industry? Yes or no and why?
Yes, there are so many opportunities outside of cultivation and retail. The cannabis industry needs more ancillary businesses of color. There is an enormous demand for services like packaging and labeling materials, marketing, security, delivery, software development, construction and real estate throughout the supply chain – the opportunities in the ancillary space are abundant! And if you have an existing business, see if you can pivot your business model to include serving the cannabis industry.
There is so much media attention around state-issued licenses to grow and sell cannabis, but I don’t want my community to miss out on equally essential opportunities that are probably more accessible. Right now, many large multi-state operators are eager to work with BIPOC-owned ancillary businesses to diversify their vendors and suppliers. On the retail side, operators like Green Thumb are also designating more shelf space to Black and other diverse brands to bring these products to new audiences.
There are also countless opportunities for professionals like me who transferred their existing skills to the cannabis industry. Companies around the country are trying to build truly diverse and inclusive teams, and I encourage Black professionals from mainstream sectors interested in cannabis to attend as many educational and networking events as possible.
What is the most successful social equity effort in your opinion? Can be a charity or company program.
I come from the non-profit world, so I like to highlight the work of Green Thumb’s non-profit partners who are in the trenches doing the hard work. I can’t focus on just one because this type of work, what I call “heart” work, is a community effort. When the community wins, we all win, and Green Thumb has the privilege of supporting these local and national organizations through donations, sponsorships and partnerships.
I will say, what’s personal for me is the work some of our non-profit partners lead in expunging criminal records associated with cannabis and other offenses.
I often tell people about my family’s story. My nephew, who is now 21, was charged with two cannabis-related felonies at 18. This was his first run-in with the law, and the injustice system tried to throw the book at him. Even worse, the white cannabis distributor involved in the case received immunity to testify against my nephew, who is now on probation for five years and unable to live a normal life. These punitive rulings have a tremendous negative impact on individuals and their families – mentally, emotionally and financially. People with cannabis offenses deserve to have their records expunged to access jobs, housing and voting privileges. I’m thankful my role as the Social Impact Director allows me to help organizations focused on expunging records nationwide.
What is your personal goal for 2022?
This year, I will continue listening to the needs of the communities we serve, as well as our social equity partners, to develop more effective initiatives with Green Thumb’s Social Impact team. I want to help create a seat at our table for Black entrepreneurs, vendors, suppliers and cannabis advocates. I’m like my grandmother, “I don’t meet a stranger,” so I want our partners to feel that when working with Green Thumb and our Social Impact team. I want them to know that we are sincere in our efforts, and we are working hard to help create a more inclusive cannabis industry.