In this Talent in Cannabis Profile, we spoke with Jai Kensey who’s the Director of Social Impact at Green Thumb Industries (GTI). Throughout her career, she’s worked on both the corporate side and nonprofit sides of social impact initiatives. Jai’s story came full circle when she found her role at GTI.
She shares her journey to the cannabis industry, how she manifested this role, and how the work she’s doing at GTI is helping to rectify the damage done by the War on Drugs. She shares advice for companies looking to make a stronger social impact, and advice for nonprofits looking to partner with cannabis companies.
“It’s like building a plane and flying it at the same time. It’s a great time to be in this industry.
In cannabis, you have to be comfortable with change and think outside the box.“
– Jai Kensey
Creating social impact in cannabis
What were you doing before working in cannabis?
My family has been in the legacy market for many years. I’m originally from Southern California. So my career has really come together full circle since I entered the regulated cannabis space in my career path.
Before entering the legal cannabis industry, I was working in the same field, but just not in cannabis. I worked in community relations and communications, helping corporate companies give back to the community. For example, I worked at the American Red Cross where I led Development Communications working with big brands to support their corporate social responsibility efforts as it related to the American Red Cross. A couple of projects I worked on were with:
- The Walmart Foundation to support women who wanted to get back into the workforce.
- Anheuser Busch and its program for distributing emergency drinking water to disaster sites.
Following the call
When I was at the American Red Cross, the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor happened. It was like something just clicked inside of me. I didn’t want to wear a mask anymore. And Black folks understand what I mean when I say “the mask.” In corporate spaces, Black people tend to show up as another version of themselves. I wanted to be my authentic self. I wanted to do something that specifically supported Black and brown communities. I was just at this level of sadness and rage – and I just wanted to do something about it.
And so I started looking for a new role. I wasn’t sure what it was yet, but I knew how I wanted to feel in the role. I wrote down in my journal everything that I wanted. I knew I wanted it to be on the corporate side of social responsibility, I knew I wanted to support Black and brown communities, and I knew that I wanted to show up as my authentic self.
I did not write down the industry or the company – I did not set out to be in cannabis. But I knew I would know when I discovered the right opportunity. I passed on a few other good opportunities because they didn’t feel right nor did they check every box. But when I stumbled upon the role at Green Thumb Industries, I knew that it was for me.
Tell us about your current role as the Director of Social Impact at Green Thumb Industries
I am the Director of Social Impact at Green Thumb Industries. When I came across the role, not only did it check all of the boxes on my list, it was exactly what I was looking for from a career standpoint. And it is personally fulfilling because I am helping people that are in the same position that my family has been in.
Green Thumb Industries is a national cannabis consumer packaged goods company and retailer. We have 18 manufacturing facilities, 77 open and operating retail locations and operations across 15 markets. Across our markets, I lead social impact to help Black and brown communities.
The four pillars of social impact at Green Thumb industries are
- Restorative justice
- Community engagement
- Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I)
- Environmental stewardship
Social impact at Green Thumb Industries
Because of the harmful history of cannabis, restorative justice is a core belief at Green Thumb Industries. Our goal is to support Black and brown communities that have been impacted by the War on Drugs. We support communities by providing resources to nonprofit organizations across the United States.
This month, we launched our first social impact report. From 2021-2022, we’ve donated more than 3.5 million dollars to support non-profit organizations nationwide. Green Thumb Industries also actively lobbies for automatic expungement, safe banking, and:
Cannabis voter registration. Through a partnership with the Cannabis Voter Project, we activated voter registration activities at 67 of our retail locations. Over 12,000 people checked their registration status and over 5,000 people registered to vote.
Cannabis education. Green Thumb donated $200,000 to Olive Harvey College to support its cannabis education program. We also donated over $11,000 to The Cleveland School of Cannabis, Olive Harvey College, and the Illinois Cannabis Training Center (ICTC) to fund more than 30 student scholarships.
Diverse entrepreneurship. Green Thumb donated $10,000 to the Black CannaBusiness Magazine’s CEO cohort designed to help accelerate growth for diverse-owned businesses. We also donated $35,000 to Our Academy, a mentorship program for social equity applicants and BIPOC cannabis entrepreneurs.
Students for sensible drug policy. Green Thumb donated $25,000 to Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP) and The Student Marijuana Alliance for Research and Transparency (SMART) to support their Free The Plant Free The People HBCU Industry Accelerator program. The program supports students and alumni interested in the cannabis industry.
GTI’s social equity brand, Good Green
Good Green is a brand that was created in 2021 for the purpose of giving back to communities of color. Good Green offers unrestricted funding to nonprofits creating opportunity and change in three key areas: education, employment, and expungement. Green Thumb has provided over $1.5 million in donations through Good Green, including 12 grants to organizations aligned with the brand’s mission. Visit www.good.green to learn more about Good Green grant recipients.
What was it like transitioning into the cannabis industry?
In cannabis, we’re creating everything from scratch, which makes it exciting. When I worked at companies that were already well-established, and industries that have been around for decades, I jumped into existing systems. In the cannabis industry, specifically at GTI, we’re creating the systems and initiatives while also activating them and taking action. It’s like building a plane and flying it at the same time. It’s a great time to be in this industry.
In cannabis, you have to be comfortable with change and think outside the box.
Do you have advice for other people who are starting their journey in the cannabis industry?
Network, get to know people, and be comfortable with change and working in the unknown.
Do you have advice for nonprofits wanting to partner with cannabis companies?
Nonprofits should start connecting with social impact teams towards the end of the year to prepare for the following year. This is a great time to discuss what the priorities are on both sides and assess if there is alignment between both the nonprofit and the company. This will allow social impact teams to build that outreach into their plans and budget. Also, sometimes, the states identify focus areas in terms of social impact outreach, so it’s good to know what those priorities are.
Do you have advice for companies that want to make a stronger social impact?
Listen to the community and let them help to inform your initiatives. Assess what the actual needs of the community are and then let those needs drive your goals. Provide unrestricted funding to nonprofits so that they can use it however they need to in order to reach their goals.
Where do you see your career going?
I would love to see my career grow within the social impact space, within the cannabis industry, and at Green Thumb Industries. At this moment, I’m happy. This is a dream role and I hope to continue to grow within this space.
What are one or two things you’d like to see change in the cannabis industry?
Access to capital for small businesses and more diversity across the industry. It makes me proud to see so many Black entrepreneurs who are killing it in cannabis, building a lane for themselves. We need more of that. Also, I haven’t met one entrepreneur of color in this space who isn’t giving back to their community, which is important, because our people have to see it to believe that it’s possible.
There’s a space in the cannabis industry for everyone, and Black and brown people deserve a seat at the table – and should have the right to build their own.