This Executive Gave Up Coke for Cannabis

Meet Jeannette Ward, former seven-year Coca Cola career climber who recently took the smart leap into the cannabis industry.

Ward serves as executive director (data and marketing) at MJ Freeway, the market leader in ‘seed to sell’ cannabis compliance software & professional consulting services. caught up with Ward to find out why she gave up Coke for cannabis, and what she plans to get in return. How did you get involved in the cannabis industry?

Ward: I was working with Coca Cola in communications, marketing, and data management. I had a role where I had a little more time than usual so I had an interest in doing some consulting and sharpening my own skills around marketing and pushing the envelope with new technologies and new ways of approaching marketing that people weren’t quite ready for.

I took on consulting clients—one of those clients was MJ freeway.  I did that for a few months then they made me an offer to come on full-time. I decided it was a once in a lifetime opportunity.

I was probably not going to see another industry that was going to have the explosive growth that cannabis is going to have. I wanted the opportunity to shape a new industry.

Did you have interest in the industry prior to your career involvement?

Yes and no. I started consuming when I was young and then I stopped consuming because I definitely had the perception in my head that it was drugs, that I was getting high and that it wasn’t the best use of my time and resources.

I went about 18 years without consuming and I wasn’t at all involved in cannabis or the cannabis culture. When I took the job, my mindset was, ‘let adults do what adults want to do.’ Then, I got educated on the plant, and on the medicine, and on the best of what cannabis culture is—- activism and giving back, and building a better industry. I became a convert. This medicine will change the world.

Have you had any backlash given your career choice?

I have. I got asked to be off a board that I was on. I have some friends who no longer respond to me on Instagram or via email. People definitely have their beliefs, and they don’t have the education.

We have the wrong language around it. When you talk about it as getting high or stoners, people have this idea in their mind. Us activists have to do a better job with the language and the education.

Why do you believe there is a lack of color in cannabis?

I’m going to take off my MJ Freeway hat for a second and I’m going to put on my vice chair of the Minority Cannabis Business Association hat. Our point of view is that it’s 3 things:

  1. It’s cost of entry. Let’s take Philadelphia, that’s just passed its law but is now developing its regulations. The law says if you’re going to apply for a license in Philadelphia, you have write a $200k check to apply, and you have to show $500k in liquid capital, and I believe its $2mill in assets. That kind of capital isn’t typically available to communities of color, especially communities impacted by the war on drugs.
  2. There are laws that say if you have a prior cannabis conviction, you can’t own a business. Sometimes, they go so far as to say if you have a prior cannabis conviction you can’t even work in the industry–you can’t get a job as a budtender or cultivator.
  3. Stigma. In the African American community there is a hard reaction to drugs to get as far away from them as you can to change the perception of who we are as a community.  There are stigmas and we have to educate people saying, ‘It’s okay to do this and here’s how you do it very carefully to protect yourself.’

Now that you’ve entered this new industry, what is your ultimate goal in this space?

I want to do good.

What advice would you have for a young African American entrepreneur looking to enter the cannabis field?

  1.  Do your research. The industry is so young and was really born after the internet, so you can find most all information online.
  2. Whatever you’re good at doing now, you can do it in cannabis, so consider that.
  3. Find the competition. Figure out how you’re going to be different and how you’re going to be better.