Jackie Subeck on cannabis normalization
One of the biggest challenges of working within the current cannabis industry is that it’s constantly in flux. We’re seeing more countries and states introducing legalization, or proposing to introduce it, to a curious public. We’re identifying the gaps – big ones! – in educating people about consumption. We’re working against a decades-old stigma stemming from fear, lack of understanding, and let’s face it, very racist undertones.
So when I saw Jackie Subeck speak at a cannabis conference this fall, her enthusiasm, passion for and considerate approach to consulting, advocacy and policy creation for the cannabis sector really moved me. Here was someone you wanted in your corner, with seemingly boundless energy – not to mention a personal attachment to the plant. As rec legalization moves closer to reality in California, Jackie’s home state, I knew I wanted to shine a spotlight on her work.
Jackie has dedicated her time in recent years to being a cannabis consultant and advocate with Hey Jackpot!, the cannabis lifestyle brand she founded. Upon returning to the States after working in China for 13 years, she did “some soul-searching” about what to do next; Jackie was drawn to cannabis because she’s a life-long smoker, and understood the culture. She also loves working in emerging markets. What started as “dipping her toe” into the industry eventually led to her becoming the Vice Chair of Women Grow Los Angeles, as well as to her current work with different organizations and levels of government on the cannabis legalization roll-out.
“I’m on my way to city hall right now. I’ve got to battle out some L.A. city social equity stuff,” Jackie said as she spoke with me by phone last month. January 1st is approaching, and her role in ensuring her ideal scenario – a fair, equitable and inclusive policy around recreational cannabis legalization in every city and county – is still in full swing. Though Jackie worked in the entertainment industry for most of her life, I couldn’t imagine her being more juiced up than she is when talking about the potential for the cannabis industry post-legalization, despite the challenges of the past. “We’re building the boat as we’re already on the water,” she says. And it’s hard to think of a better crew member to have in this circumstance.
I spoke to Jackie about wellness, how she talks to people about legalization, and why seniors are so interested in cannabis.
A lot of people try to create a parallel between alcohol and cannabis consumption, myself included, as a way of trying to frame the legalization argument. But unlike alcohol, cannabis is considered a medicine. How do you negotiate that in the conversations you’ve been having?
Over the last three years, I’ve really found my niche in ways to communicate with people about this. One of the biggest lessons that I was able to get in speaking on this topic was working on the state campaign; Prop 64, that was our legalization campaign. And that proposition was a 62-page measure that covered a lot of ground. So it didn’t just legalize cannabis, it added in social justice reforms and criminal justice reforms. And those two things are actually different in people’s minds. So a lot of people would ask me, “Why are you in favour of legalization?” And my number one answer was, “I don’t believe in prohibition.” We’re talking about adults – adults should be responsible enough to be able to make their own judgement calls, and our government should not tell us what we can and cannot do, especially when we’re talking about a plant that grows in the ground on the earth. It was there before we were.
We had this proposition, and it was full of all kinds of things, and when I talked to potential voters at that time, and I heard their worries and concerns and fears – some of them would be absolutely and completely against legalization. What I would do is find the chord that resonates with them. So it might have been family – well, we have a whole part about family, and protecting children and a whole part about making sure Child Protective Services doesn’t come and take kids away from parents who are medical patients, because that’s what they’re doing – especially if they’re black or brown.
What I would do is find the one thing or two things inside the whole cannabis world that resonated with that person. And I was changing votes left, right and center because of it. What I realized is that you and I know that the cannabis industry and lifestyle culture is gigantic; it’s so deep, it’s so big, it’s way harder for anybody to wrap their head around – it’s hard enough for us to wrap our head around it, and we do it twenty-four seven. It’s too much information. What I try to do is break it down into the smallest and simplest ways to communicate with people, especially as I’m doing education.
It’s interesting that for someone like myself and many others, we’ve been consuming cannabis for a reason that we never thought of as wellness but as recreational. But now, wellness has been identified as the primary reason why – women especially – are using it.
Wellness to me is a word that crosses both categories. Like, me personally, I’ve been smoking weed since I was young. But, you know, do I like to get high? Yes. Do I have any problem with saying that out loud? No. But is that necessarily why I smoke cannabis on a regular basis? Sometimes I absolutely want to get high. Other times though, which is more of my day-to-day use, it really is more of a wellness situation; it is more of a balance and a homeostasis in my world. It’s my yoga, it’s my glass of wine, it’s my hike. It’s all of those things that help me as an individual stay balanced. As an adult, I want to be able to have access to the medicine – or, if you don’t want to call it medicine, just to cannabis if you want to lump it all together – no matter how I feel.
If I want to slow down and relax and curl up onto the couch, I can do that. If I’m having an anxiety attack, I can do that too. I’m a migraine sufferer, so when I get migraines, I used to take opioids. That’s what solved my problem. Now, I rub CBD topicals on my neck at the base of my head and I vape CBD for a little while. I’ve been hammering my migraines with CBD and I haven’t taken a Vicodin in like, two years.
I personally cross this whole spectrum, so I have no problem talking to anybody about the drug – although I don’t really like that word. I can always use my personal experience as background.
We’re now educating people on what we’ve been doing for years, just naturally and instinctively. Like you say, I never said “I smoke weed for wellness.” That was never anything I said; that’s a new thing that I identified in myself and was able to go back and say, oh, that’s what I was doing for all these years.
Are there age groups that you talk to who get it more than others?
Absolutely. Kids don’t really get it but they’re also not scared of it. It’s part of their vernacular and it’s not that big a deal to them. It’s also their parents’ and their grandparents’ drug, so they’re not really thinking about it per se. I’m less worried about kids than anybody.
Seniors, as sort of the biggest market in cannabis as far as being able to convert them over from pill bottles to cannabinoids – from opioids to cannabinoids, that’s a really big deal and seniors are an interesting group. They lived through the war on drugs, some of them that are in their nineties that I’ve spoken to, and they actually remember “reefer madness” and all of that from when they were young.
What I really realized, especially when I started talking to City Council, is that the education process is so deep and what we really have to do is listen to what they say, unwind it – say no, everything you’re saying is wrong and we’ve proven it otherwise since then – and hit reset and re-educate them. And that’s a difficult process to do, especially when you’re talking to a government person who doesn’t want to change. So a senior, for example, they would love nothing more than to stop having so many prescriptions. They hate having twenty pill bottles on their table. And my goal is to say look, if we could take a third of these away and replace them cannabinoids, how great would that be? And they all say, that’s awesome. They’re bouncing off the walls like little kids. Seniors are the most amenable to trying it now, where for so many years they were completely against it.
Now that you’re getting close to January 1st, what do you find you’re spending the most time on?
These days, it’s been a double-whammy. First thing I spend a lot of time on is, I’ve been working very diligently on the cannabis ordinance in the city of West Hollywood. That’s taken up a lot of my time, to make sure we have a really solid and progressive cannabis policy there. The other side of things has been my consulting business, which has been more about licensing, understanding the regulations, helping people strategize that want to get into the cannabis industry, giving them overall guidance and connecting them with the people they need. That’s what I spend most of my time on – between advocacy and consulting
If you had to choose your top two priorities moving into going live and then throughout 2018, what would they be?
Continuing to ensure that the cities and the counties don’t mess this up! Because it would be very easy for them to drop in a word and drop in another word into their regulations that messes everything up. We’re literally scouring every word – I feel more like a lawyer these days than anything because we’re picking words apart. If you can’t do that, you risk having a really terrible policy. That’s the number one most important thing – making sure our policies are fair, equitable and inclusive. And that they’re not taking advantage of people, especially those people who’ve been disproportionately affected by the war on drugs. I want there to be fairness for everybody.
Interview by Odessa Paloma Parker