Few leaders in the cannabis industry are as highly respected and influential as Jamie Pearson. Period.
After spending more than three decades in global real estate investment, Pearson took a new direction, embarking on a career in cannabis—an industry she admits to not embracing when she was younger. Pearson spent seven years with Bhang Inc., one of the world’s most recognized edible brands and known for its gourmet chocolate bars. For three of those years, she led the company’s diverse executive team, managed the “expansion through licensing” plan, ran the capital markets division and became the face of the brand that was catapulted globally before she departed in 2022.
Utilizing her extensive experience, Pearson recently founded the New Holland Group, a global consulting firm serving international cannabis clients with expertise in operations, brand licensing, strategic planning, effective capital raising, executive coaching, celebrity partnerships, M&A deal structuring and financial turnarounds. Most of her clients deal with international expansion or licensing.
Pearson is widely known as a popular and engaging speaker at industry events. She implores industry leaders to share access, reject the plant’s stigma and promote cannabis and hemp as gateways to wellness for not only physical health, but also communities and the planet.
Despite her late entry into cannabis, Pearson’s exposure to the plant began at an early age. Her father has been growing cannabis for well more than half a century in her home state of Montana. It took music producer DJ Muggs, founder of the legendary hip-hop group Cypress Hill—and her first cousin—to change Pearson’s trajectory. About a decade ago, Muggs, who had been investing in real estate with Pearson, asked her to help the band find a weed deal.
“He was comfortable doing business with me, and it led to me finding Bhang, and Cypress Hill then did a deal with Bhang,” she says. “One thing led to another, and the company asked me if I’d stay on.”
After Bhang went public in July 2019, the board asked Pearson to come in as the interim CEO where she ended up serving from October 2019 to August 2022. “The unique part of my story was that I was a high school and college athlete and played basketball and was more interested in sports and education and bought into the whole War on Drugs and wasn’t a fan of my dad growing and using cannabis,” Pearson says. “When I started working for Bhang, I realized how many desperate people there were in pain and who couldn’t sleep. They were using our products, and it was making them feel better. It was a big wake-up call for me that the stigma was just garbage.”
Pearson says she started examining her belief system even though she grew up around cannabis and knew it made her dad feel better after Vietnam. “I witnessed that, and it was part of my life, but the stigma was so powerful,” she says. “My dad was a root, and I was a suit. I worked as a middle school English teacher and taught German at the University of Oregon and had all kinds of professional jobs before I became a real estate investor. I then used my real estate investing tools to become successful in cannabis.”
Before entering the industry, Pearson hadn’t tried cannabis. What she says is that alcohol is poison and that much of the younger generation is rejecting it in favor of plant medicine. “I became evangelistic about it, working two to three years in the industry,” Pearson says. “Originally when I bought into it, it was about curiosity and out of a desire to do something with Muggs. Now, I can’t imagine doing anything else.”
Pearson worked for Bhang for seven years and thinks no one should read anything into her departure last year. She says she never contemplated being the CEO of a public company, and once she took on the role, there was no path for her to leave until she forged one. Pearson dispels any notion her exit was abrupt and says she gave the board notice long before it came out publicly and there was a plan for succession.
“Being a CEO of a public company for three years was enough,” Pearson says. “I didn’t leave Bhang to start the New Holland Group. That wasn’t the plan. I wanted to take a break and travel with my kids, and I had people coming out of the woodwork asking me what I was doing now.”
Pearson refers to her time with Bhang as a wonderful experience, emphasizing how lucky she was to reinvent herself and learn a new skill in her 50s—what she calls an MBA by fire. As she puts it, “it’s about being thrown in the deep end of the pool and either sinking or swimming.”
Despite her best efforts to “take a break,” Pearson says people kept asking her to work on their projects, and she gained consulting clients because she was available. She now sees how successfully taking Bhang across seven state lines, nine European countries and into Canada has positioned herself as one of the industry’s most sought-after speakers and advisors. “I became a popular speaker because I was in the trenches at the deepest level,” Pearson says. “I wasn’t just running a public company, but a cannabis company and brand that was doing well everywhere we existed because the products were good.”
Pearson says women aren’t committing unforced errors in the cannabis industry any more than men do and admits women are held to a double standard.
“I don’t think women are out there making a lot of mistakes,” she says. “I think women are responsible for 85 percent of all of the purchasing decisions in the household. The fact that there aren’t enough women at the table is a mistake all companies are making. There should be more women in leadership and the C-suites. That also holds true for people of color. When you look at the statistics of who uses cannabis, there’s absolutely no difference between white people and people of color.”
According to Pearson, during her tenure, Bhang’s board and management team were diverse across race, gender and sexual orientations. She sought out conversations with people who didn’t look like her or think like her because, according to Pearson, getting better meant welcoming many different viewpoints.
“What’s wrong with America today is that social media and algorithms are putting more of what you know, like and are comfortable with in front of your face and it’s this confirmation bias,” Pearson says. “We need less of that.”
Pearson says she has a far greater inclination to fund female-owned businesses because by looking at the statistics, women-founded businesses operate at a higher rate of profitability and are run more efficiently.
“Women need to know they have the skills to be out there and do big things. They just need to have confidence in themselves and trust they can go and actually do it because we don’t have a lot of role models,” Pearson says. “That was certainly true for me when I was running this company. I had run a much larger real estate company. I had more employees and managed much more money in dollar value in assets in my real estate business. I started from the ground up, and everything I wanted to do I was allowed to do. In cannabis, you can’t bank and go get lines of credit and buy ad words. There are so many things you can’t do that you have to learn guerilla marketing and find workarounds. The cannabis industry required a tremendous ability to problem solve and stay within the guardrails of what was compliant and allowed.”
While Pearson clearly has a strong, highly valuable skillset, she says her love and acceptance of all people is what makes her truly stand out. Holding a belief that the world is abundant, Pearson proudly calls herself “approachable.”
“Maybe it’s because I’m from Montana, and we don’t have six degrees of separation,” she says.
When it comes to her legacy in the male-dominated cannabis industry, Pearson wants to be known for making the journey easier for every person she encounters.
“When I meet somebody new, I always ask them, ‘What can I do for you?’” Pearson says. “If they answer with something I can do, I do it; and I think that’s another part of my legacy. If I tell you I’m going to do something, you can take that to the bank. I’ll always do it.”
Pearson says she’s fortunate to have the support and friendship of a strong group of women in the cannabis industry who have made her own journey easier because she felt heard and didn’t have to do it alone. “I’m giving them a shoutout and letting them know they’ve really made a difference in my life,” a deadly serious Pearson says. “For women reading my words right now, in the actual moments you want to isolate yourself because you’re genuinely struggling, those are the precise moments you really need
to reach out and get the support you need.”
This story was originally published in issue 48 of the print edition of Cannabis Now. Read it now on the Cannabis Now iTunes app.
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