…you do not know what you think you know. There’s a saying that if you’ve been in this industry for a couple of years you’re a dinosaur. The reality is that cannabis goes back tens of thousands of years, and in our communities here on the West Coast, is a multi generational discipline.
As part of my series about “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started Leading a Cannabis Business” I had the pleasure of interviewing James Whitehead. James is the Strategic Director at Pasha Brands and CEO of CBD Therapeutics. James is a trailblazing entrepreneur gifted with an uncanny ability to identify emerging market opportunities matched with business savvy to drive success. He confidently pushes boundaries and ideates innovative approaches in new market fields, generating multi million dollar revenues. With extensive knowledge of national, provincial and municipal legislation as well as policies and procedures, he regularly sought out for opinions on marijuana utilization and sales. He is adept at working with municipal councils to present business and rezoning proposals as well as community minded with compassion for the less fortunate, regularly fundraises for charities and develops a truly diverse staff. After planned acquisition of his start up enterprises in 2018, James joined Pasha Brands as Director of Strategy, responsible for developing forward looking path to market, and relationship strategy for the company. Equipped with a sweeping 20 year background in the cannabis sector, spanning cultivation, retail, extraction, product development, direct to consumer sales, CBD supply chain vertical integration, media spokesmanship, activism and outreach; James actively supports the executive committee in its planning, and execution of corporate objectives.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you share with us the story about what brought you to this specific career path?
In 2001 I was in a rollover motor vehicle accident in which I broke my back and sustained multiple other serious injuries. Over a course of four years I had to relearn how to walk and ultimately repair to the point where I could consider joining the workforce. Since this time I have been in five other major motor vehicle accidents, none of which have been my fault. In my process of recovery, spanning close to two decades, I discovered that cannabis worked for me much better than any other intervention.
Four and a half years ago I started the dispensary with the insurance proceeds from my most recent accident. I started very humbly sleeping in the back and bagging all of the cannabis myself. I slowly grew the business to have 3 locations and over 100 employees. During the course of helping people over several years I learned that CBD was the most effective cannabinoid at managing many conditions. I then started to reach out to hemp farmers, ultimately vertically integrating Canadian hemp, and created Canada’s largest direct to consumer CBD company based around education and high-quality Canadian CBD. We went on to serve tens of thousands of Canadians and help many people improve the quality of their lives naturally and safely.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
When I started CBD Therapeutics, I had a mission to improve the quality of CBD in Canada. Since that time I have had hundreds of people literally in tears telling me the difference that the product has made in their life — everything ranging from small children with epilepsy who are now without seizures to veterans who have been using a walker for 20 years able to not use the walker at all. It would be too difficult to land on one story. The overarching theme is that at this point in my life helping others has been the single best decision I ever made.
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?
There’s a story about a hemp farmer in Saskatchewan who sold me over $100,000 worth of CBD biomass material that ended up being worthless. Turns out, he was a local high school football star and trying to get paid back resulted in most of a small town telling me to go kick rocks.
Are you working on any exciting projects now?
We are currently working on some of the first direct to consumer and adult use cannabis products for Mexico under the CBD therapeutics banner.
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 am particularly grateful to my younger brother. My younger brother suffered a serious head injury when he was young and I have been his primary caregiver for most of my adult life. He has taught me the patience and perspective necessary to be kind to others despite my naturally lazy attitude. The challenge of supporting him has ultimately made me a better person and has giving me most of the skills that have made me successful in the space.
This industry is young dynamic and creative. Do you use any clever and innovative marketing strategies that you think large legacy companies should consider adopting?
Our platform is based on a direct to consumer educator model, which is unlike anything else in the marketplace. We’ll be bringing back this educator marketplace soon within Mexico, Europe and hopefully the United States.
Can you share 3 things that most excite you about the Cannabis industry? Can you share 3 things that most concern you?
Three things that most excite me about the cannabis industry are:
- the fact that it’s brand new;
- the total lack of supply, which means that there is tons of growth to occur;
- the short list of companies that are actually producing, which suggest that they’ll be many, many, more to rise to the top.
Three things that concern me most are:
- the greed and lack of connection to the plant that I see represented within the industry. especially within certain companies;
- that the black market, which is really the repository of talent in this space, will remain on the sidelines for too long the nature of the cannabis marketplace will change fundamentally forever;
- there’s an under representation of minorities and women in the space and I would like to see that improved.
Can you share your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started Leading a Cannabis Business”? Please share a story or example for each.
Five things that I wish someone had told me before starting the cannabis business are :
Number one, you will get ripped off. The countless number of purchases I’ve made which were of low-quality or not what I asked for are too numerous to count. Developing a network of trusted providers is the most important thing for someone getting started.
Second, people will not understand what you do. Routinely I am met with people who think that essentially I’m a drug dealer however I am committed to improving the well-being of the lives of many people around me.
Third, you do not know what you think you know. There’s a saying that if you’ve been in this industry for a couple of years you’re a dinosaur. The reality is that cannabis goes back tens of thousands of years, and in our communities here on the West Coast, is a multi generational discipline.
Fourth, it would take you literally a lifetime to learn what one or two of the best growers in your town know. Don’t discount the skill that goes into cannabis.
Finally, the industry is not diverse. Cannabis right now is largely a male dominated space. If you are looking to enter an industry that is inclusive, this is an area that you will need to put money and effort into. However, this is one of the greatest opportunities.
What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive?
My best advice for a CEO is to select the very best person that you can and start that assessment by looking at that person as an individual. Once you know that you have a person with the right heart and the right attitude, assess if their skills will help you in the area that you require. If you believe that this person is the right fit, make sure to get out of their way and let them excel.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I would choose to inspire people to clean up plastic from all of the world’s natural environments. I go once a week to the beach, usually smoke a really nice joint and pick up garbage for a couple of hours. It’s amazing that me, as one person, can clean a large section of beach. When I go back there’s always plastic laying out as the sea continually brings more to land. If everybody could just take an hour or two out of their life every week and go and pick up garbage we would mitigate so much of the habitat destruction and social environmental issues associated with our overconsumption of plastic goods.
What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?
The best way for readers to follow me on social media is via my Facebook.
“In this industry, you do not know what you think you know” With James Whitehead was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.