Jesce Horton is a unique force in the cannabis industry.
His balance of entrepreneurism, advocacy and general enthusiasm for cannabis has cemented his legacy as one of Oregon's most prolific BIPOC industry participants. His newest endeavor, LOWD brand cannabis, is his first time thus far navigating Oregon's marijuana industry. The result is top shelf, both literally and figuratively.
"I just don't think there's any way that you could be responsible or be smart about how you get into this industry," he says, "without also making sure that those who have been disproportionately impacted by prohibition can get in as well."
Horton sat down with WW to talk about ditching the corporate world for a basement grow, the personal way the war on drugs affected his professional development, and why building a bridge between advocacy and ownership is essential to his success.
WW: What compelled your pivot from the corporate world to the cannabis world?
Jesce Horton: I came to Oregon with Siemens. I was in Munich, Germany, for about a year and a half, working at the headquarters there. When it was time for me to come back to the U.S., I was offered a position in New York, which was a lot more corporate, or I had a choice to go to Portland, which was a sales position. So I moved here and within a year I realized how much I hated sales. But I also started growing in my basement. I really was just loving cannabis cultivation and just kind of got lost in that whole world. So on the one-year anniversary, in 2012, I turned in my resignation and decided to go all the way in with cannabis.
You know, it was pretty gradual, I would say the biggest thing, though, is that because I spent so much time in my basement and so much time on forums learning about cannabis, I had become really horrible at my job. At that time, you could take excess flowers directly to the medical dispensary. So I really developed an understanding of the potential of this being a real economy and not just a moneymaking opportunity.
What led you to develop the Minority Cannabis Business Association and the NuLeaf Project?
I started MCBA for two reasons. I was trying to find my way into the cannabis market, and there was a real need for services and education that I knew would benefit others. It's twofold in figuring out how can I make sure that my involvement in this market is not just for my own gain or is not just financially focused, but also because of that legitimate need for services and education.
My wife, Jeanette, and I decided to start the NuLeaf Project, which is focused on education, grants, loans, resources and connections, for these same communities. Everything we do in that organization is in the service of benefiting others. I've already gotten a really big boost in the industry and I've been able to develop resources that put me in a position to help others.
I've been arrested a few times for cannabis possession, I lost my scholarship because of a possession arrest, my dad spent seven years in prison for an ounce of cannabis. There are too many conversations happening at the city, state and national level about what to do. It's just one of the biggest problems with this market and with this industry evolving, the history of cannabis arrests. I have such a connection with the prohibition enforcement piece, I saw that there was a big opportunity there to help people, but also to figure out how to help myself and my family to get into this market.
How has your work with those nonprofits informed the development of LOWD?
A lot of the things that we've done here at LOWD, of course, is building a diverse team.
Not just diverse from a racial perspective. We've got people who identify with the medical aspects of cannabis and people who only identify or connect with the recreational aspect of cannabis. And that's because we know that the cannabis industry is one of the most diverse industries as far as the consumers. There's not a lot of products out there that are used by so many people, every single demographic, so many different ages, races, backgrounds. We built our company with that in mind.
Another part of my advocacy is not just equity, but also energy efficiency, environmental efficiency, and sustainability. I've joined the Resource Innovation Institute, the leading organization in the country for energy-efficient cannabis cultivation operations. That's also a very strong piece of my advocacy and something that has been built into our organization
LOWD's slogan is "Smoke Like a Grower." What does it mean to smoke like a grower and why have I not already been doing so?
Well, maybe you have! What stops most people from smoking like a grower is the process that the bud goes through from the harvest to when it gets to you at the shop. I'm a cannabis consumer before I'm an advocate, that's where my heart is. Ultimately, what it means to me is, the best part about being a grower is after you've watched cannabis grow from seed to harvest you really understand the best buds, the best plants, the truest expression of the genetics. If you can imagine cannabis being so delicate, you can drop a bud and trichomes will fall off, you can touch a bud and you will see trichomes on your fingers, on your gloves afterward, then you can imagine the degradation of that flower before it actually gets to you, the smoker.
What we do is cut branches. We don't touch the bud. Our best trimmers will grab the stick and then they will trim that bud and clip that bud directly into the Smoke Like a Grower jar. The ultimate goal is when you go to that dispensary, you're the first one to touch that bud. It has not been dumped out yet, it has not been handled multiple times. The most unadulterated weed is from the growers who get a chance to select the best of the best and process it in a way that preserves that flower. It's a better smoking experience.