As an executive at a rapidly growing, multi-state cannabis operator, my days can be pretty eventful, to say the least. I work in an industry that is evolving at an unprecedented rate; with U.S. legal cannabis sales projected to reach $24 billion in 2021, a 37% increase over 2020, cannabis is one of the country’s fastest growing industries. According to Leafly’s 2021 Jobs Report, the cannabis industry experienced 32% year-over-year job growth in 2020, doubling the previous year’s job growth in the country. This year is projected to be the industry's biggest year yet for job generation. I love my work – and as you can imagine, the days are long.
The nights are also long. After work, I go home and pull mom duty; I have three smart, strong, compassionate, and busy daughters. Chloe is 16, Harper is 6 and Blake is 4. They are my world, but raising humans is no easy task.
You may find yourself asking, “Nichole, how do you unwind after these long days and nights?”
I smoke weed.
Cannabis has played a key role in supporting my mental and physical wellbeing. It has helped me to center myself so that I can perform my best at work and at home as an attentive mother to three girls. I am blessed to live in a state where I have legal access to safe, quality cannabis and I take advantage of this. Through my cannabis use I am able to better manage my stress, compartmentalize, and respond thoughtfully to my daughters. As an added bonus, I can finally sleep throughout the night. My mind no longer races in a million directions thinking about the coming day.
I don’t feel judged for using cannabis in almost every facet of my life – as a family member, a friend, or as a colleague. While there are still a lot of misconceptions surrounding the industry and the plant in general, most people I meet are receptive to evolving their viewpoints, if they have not already. That being said, I do feel the stares at school drop-off and pick-up when I have my Jushi company shirt on, which is almost every day. I’m willing to bet that if I wore a “Rosé All Day” shirt to fulfill some of my mom duties, I would actually get some high fives. But the judgemental parents are just misinformed, as I once was.
I’ve had a bit of a complicated relationship with the plant. While I’m very pro-cannabis and pro-legalization now, this wasn’t always the case. My dad consumed cannabis for as long as I can remember, and from a very young age he was direct with my brother and I that we were not to tell our teachers at school. He didn’t attempt to hide it, or even avoid smoking in the house – it was as normal as it could be to me as a kid, but clearly something “taboo” to be kept hidden from others. Then D.A.R.E. came along, and as an avid rule follower and overachiever, I was singing the songs and making the pledges (they really did hammer the ‘War On Drugs’ agenda into our heads at a very young age). In turn, I became ashamed of my dad’s cannabis use. He didn’t drink, he didn’t smoke cigarettes, but I was embarrassed and paranoid when friends came over and realized my dad “did drugs.” Cannabis became synonymous with deviant behavior.
I held onto my dislike of cannabis through college. The propaganda instilled in me through school had led me to believe it was preferable to drink concoctions of 10 liquors and juices than to consume a plant that grows from the ground.
When cannabis legalization started happening and the opioid crisis was taking shape, it slowly dawned on me that I might have had it all wrong. I spent copious time researching the forces behind cannabis prohibition, the over-policing of certain communities and the tragedies of opioid addiction, and through my research, my beliefs evolved. I ended up telling my dad that I’m grateful he chose cannabis as his method of decompressing after a grueling 14-hour work day so that he could then come home and be a present dad.
But I had more than just a change of thinking or merely an acceptance of cannabis use. I became impassioned, realizing that the propaganda and backwards thinking of our regulations have prevented millions of people from utilizing a much safer alternative to the other things we commonly turn to for relief. In January of 2019, I decided I wanted to work in cannabis, and six months later, I joined Jushi Holdings as their Executive Vice President of Human Resources.
My relationship with cannabis continues to evolve.
I see the benefits play out at my job in real time. Cannabis helps untangle my mind at the end of a long day so I can see and articulate the bigger picture, and break down silos.I love how dynamic my work is, but as the industry is so new, I’m often navigating uncharted territory. Because I actually use cannabis, I’m more acutely aware of our value proposition and can put myself in consumers’ shoes. Leading HR at any company, you realize that every employee owns the customer experience. Using cannabis has broadened my perspective, aided me in questioning conventions, and has led me to adopt more inclusive policies and champion diversity throughout our organization. Despite all the complex regulations and the rapidly evolving landscape, I try to make it explicitly clear to employees and promising job applicants the value we all provide, and how each person fits into the organization. I’m very proud of the culture I have helped to foster at Jushi.
At home, using cannabis helps me relax and reset. It also agrees with my lifestyle more than alcohol does. If I manage to find the time for a Peloton ride, the last thing I want to do is go pour a drink and undo my work. Cannabis is a safer solution for me, one that fits within my wellness goals, helps me blow off steam, and stay level headed so I can be more present for my husband and daughters. I’m entirely devoted to being there for my girls and being the best mom possible. To be clear, I don’t consume cannabis in front of my daughters. My oldest is aware that I partake, however just like parents who drink alcohol, I still set boundaries for her with respect to witnessing my cannabis consumption, and we have meaningful conversations around the plant. I instill safety awareness surrounding cannabis use, and I encourage her to wait until she’s 21 and legally of age, if she would like to one day partake. She knows she can be open with me and her step-father and ask questions, and in discussing cannabis, we’ve been able to educate her on the key social justice issues propagated by the war on drugs, such as mass incarceration – particularly of marginalized communities. It is of utmost importance to me as the wife of a Black man and a mother to two bi-racial daughters that there is awareness of the social injustice, past and present, related to cannabis use. She has a good understanding of the privileges that we are afforded and a keen awareness that those privileges are not afforded to all.
I feel there’s no way using cannabis is incongruous with being a great mom.
I’m lucky to have an amazing and present father as a role model for cannabis use, and I strive to be a role model to my children in the same way.
To shed the stigma around cannabis, discussion and openness are key. We aren’t going to change perceptions by hiding our vape pens and keeping quiet. A movement starts with a small group of brave people willing to step out for a cause without fearing the ostracization and consequences. That group multiples as it creates a safe space for others to do the same. Then, before you know it, all the moms are wearing shirts that say “It’s 4:20 Somewhere!”
WRITTEN BYNichole Upshaw