“The immediate future will be continuing to wait in the wings for regulating social consumption licenses in Massachusetts.”
Every now and then, we notice certain entities suddenly making lots of noise in various corners of the Mass cannabis landscape—from legislation to recreation.
For Jordan Mackenzie Whittaker of the Weedaker Group, ubiquity did not come overnight. Along with her partner and co-founder Mike Whittaker, she was fighting for the right for adult-use dispensaries to exist long before she started helping shops open and build out their menus.
As state regulators rewrite rules and craft entirely new policies for the social consumption of cannabis, do-it-all companies like the Weedaker Group which work across the sector will play an increasingly important role in helping licensees enter the great unknown. From parsing regulations to sitting through municipal meetings, they’re like Ray Donovan without the lawbreaking and violence.
While the wait for actual consumption licensing continues, Mike and Jordan have been pulling their ideas, resources, and partners together for events that explore the potential of now. We asked the latter about their upcoming That ?arty on Oct. 7, a series of art and cannabis events they’re curating starting this week, and everything that has prepared them for this thrilling but uncertain time in the Mass industry.
CF: I know that TWG does a whole bunch of things from business development to event production, but when you meet someone at a party—a non-cannabis party, that is, maybe even a family party—how do you explain to them what you do?
JMW: We are a business development group. The Weedaker Group focuses on six strategic pillars of development: licensing, compliance, human resources, training and impact, branding and marketing, and events and experiences, so that means something different depending on what side of the business we are working on for that given time. I often explain that we help teams wherever they are—whether that be the initial application process for licensing, or getting the wheels moving once they are in the thick of licensing, we assist in strategizing operational plans, everything from the day-to-day behind the scenes, building and training teams, building menus, launching and marketings brands, compliance at every step—yadda, yadda.
Even though the legal industry is still in its beginning stages there is a big market to navigate and figure out, and TWG provides a team of subject matter experts that help navigate through it all. TWG acts as an extension of a business’s core team—it always looks different, it depends on the unique needs of those we are working with. And then I typically follow up with, Yes, I smoke … Yes, everyday. Yes, I smoked on the way here … Yes, I am high right now … Did you notice?
You’ve been in the cannabis world for a while though, long before this current endeavor. What are some highlights from your past, from business to advocacy?
I think the biggest clump of highlights are seeing how the industry has evolved, thanks to those that have been consistent in working towards building the industry up and advocating for the people, the plant, and the businesses. We were in front of the State House passing joints and sharing ideas of how this could all be a reality. It was all a dream just 10 years ago, and so many people were fighting long before that.
We have learned from the very folks that wrote the law into existence in 2016 and have been committed to building an equitable industry ever since. I can recall the first time I recognized someone I met at a hiring event that was then working full-time at a dispensary, seeing their joy in finding their place. We have seen friends start with a business idea and years later celebrate major milestones. It’s a special place to be. So the biggest recap highlight is being a part of it, every conversation that has sparked inspiration or revealed information that has the power to heal or impact someone’s life for the better.
What spurred you to leave the regular job market and jump into cannabis full time? What did you do to make that happen?
I have never really subscribed to the old traditional regular job market. I’ve been a multi-hyphenated “worker” and in hustle season since forever—always with multiple jobs and wearing different stylish hats. For me personally, the switch to full-time cannabis was somewhat unexpected and unplanned. We founded TWG while I was working full-time, managing events on the side, and teaching and while my partner was working in the medical industry in Rhode Island.
The Weedaker Group grew out of a need for skills and talent that the industry called for that we had, so we found our roles in the cannabis market by transferring our skills and applying our passion of helping and working with others. I was used to working on a number of different projects at once and I never really had a plan to split from that track in my life but a clear moment clicked at the start of 2022 in a post-pandemic world. With the constant reminder of how precious time is, I was determined to be spending more time on the things that I cared about, and defining success in impact. Not to say I didn’t care so much about everything else I was doing at that point, but the opportunity presented itself to go all in and take a chance on myself, my partner, and the dream and team we built up. There was all that and I was truly inspired by those we met along the cannabis journey to commit to it.
I believe in the power of the plant and the great potential industry—what we can contribute to it all, and the natural desire to be surrounded by great people and great cannabis is real. Once that clear realization came it was time to take a leap of faith. Risk/reward is a daily practice out here—we are going and growing, and always counting blessings and lessons.
What’s a client project or experience that really stands out as a highlight that you’re proud of up to this point?
I am always proud of the progress made when working with a team of people that believe in a goal and believe in one another. I know that reads somewhat generic, but together TWG has witnessed some real cool movements—history-in-the-making type stuff. Years ago, we learned from thoughtful leaders and found so much inspiration and empowerment from the grassroots activists that were leading the efforts in every which way and joined in advocating for patient rights at the State House while the law was being put into practice in Massachusetts, and then again in 2016 when adult use was passed and from there we found ourselves supporting the cause all throughout New England.
A highlight in our own city was supporting the first Economic Empowerment license to open in Boston. Pure Oasis was the first in the city to open its doors for adult use, lots of firsts and core memories there. Top standout moments of pride have been building experiences and events—TWG worked behind the scenes with theFarmacist in producing the Cultivators Cup in Mass in 2021 and 2022. Seeing an original idea take shape with so much talent involved, all of the beautiful products and hard work contributed to the judge kit, and of course the wild creation of the two day celebration is just magic—with kickass performances from icons, so many folks involved in making the magic happen, so much talent, and so much fun. And we got to experience judging the best grass in Mass.
A lot of companies are having growing pains right now, with many even failing. Are there any general problems you see across the industry? How are you helping clients navigate these times?
The industry is still just a little baby that is struggling through the crawling stages, sometimes drooling on itself. It can be pretty unpredictable but there are trends and common challenges that everyone is facing. Perhaps the biggest woe is employee retention and the lack of alignment and care of employees and building a healthy company culture from the top down.
It’s no coincidence that the standout brands in the market are those with the standout teams, those that have a healthy work environment, that invest in the health and wealth of the people that are making all the moving pieces happen. TWG helps navigate by practicing what we preach, recognizing the value of everyone’s efforts. We operate with a train the trainer
approach, applying an action plan that starts on assessing and adjusting, and a sturdy recruiting and hiring/training process, building a diverse and robust team that is empowered to represent and ride the waves.
On a more fun note, parties! First, what are your thoughts on the immediate future of public consumption, as Massachusetts regulators work on language to make licensing official?
The future is here—and the immediate future will be continuing to wait in the wings for regulating social consumption licenses in Massachusetts. First and foremost, social consumption needs to be defined; as of now it’s all up in the air, all up to interpretation of our own understanding, social versus public versus any opportunity to over-regulate.
There’s a whole lotta cannabis and cannabis products sold in this state, and the people desire a place to consume it in private, consume in style and in comfort. There is no cookie-cutter way in which we all consume—it’s all unique to preference, and so should be the ways in which we are free to consume, both publicly and privately.
The recent pivot in Massachusetts, scrapping the pilot program, is a positive move to open up the conversation about creating access to the license with variety. With that being said, unless the sale of products is happening on site I am not certain the [Cannabis Control Commission] in its current state would need oversight of on-site consumption. I would imagine that would require different oversight depending on all other factors—so we could be waiting a bit on how to define public consumption as it is related to public health and who is responsible for that oversight. I hope we move in a direction that would include one day event licenses and outdoor consumption is clearly permitted, with a variety of spaces and places adjusted to include options of consumption. We can dream it, we can do it. It’s happening!
What’s the vision for That ?arty on Oct. 7, and to what extent does it represent the kind of social consumption event you would like to see more of in the future?
That ?arty collides the worlds of immersive art, live experience, entertainment, creative cuisines, scrumptious spirits, and your favorite cannabis brands. The whole vision of ?arty is to build an experience that’s engaging and memorable, a way to connect at an unforgettable event while normalizing and demystifying consumption as part of a community building ritual. That ?arty is
built for all 21+ people to enjoy, those who are interested in cannabis and those that are not, those that seek getting connected to all the creatives that participate, for everyone that enjoys a fun party and, oh, and we encourage everyone on the guest list to support their local dispensary before arriving to ?arty.
Also, you are working with the Broccoli Gallery in Sharon on the cannabis-friendly Chop It Up events starting Sept. 9. What will those look like? I assume more along the lines of marrying the worlds of art and cannabis …
That’s right! The team behind The Broccoli Gallery is building a beautiful space that will feature artists from all over, a variety of mediums, and shared space for events and experiences. We have talked a lot about the art form of all things cannabis, everything from growing, rolling, preparing, and consumption with its specific artist qualities. The Broccoli Gallery; inhale the art—it’s a double entendre, a metaphor, if you will.