Activist and entrepreneur Jess Jackson is destigmatizing cannabis and building a community where everyone is welcome at her Copper House Bud and Breakfast.
ess Jackson wants the world to know her as a “community architect.” “That means I build, develop, sustain, and enhance communities,” says the 33-year-old entrepreneur. “It’s not a known career, but the name conveys that there’s a science behind building meaningful community. It takes intention and ties to the core of who I am.” Take Jackson’s ownership of Copper House Detroit, a “bud and breakfast” that caters to cannabis fans who love a good brunch in the morning. But Jackson does so much more to make Detroit a more inclusive place. Read on to see how she juggles advocacy work, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) training, education around fat bias in cannabis-focused marketing all while following her purpose and dreams.
Tell us about your background.
I grew up on Detroit’s southwest side, commonly known as Mexican Town. It was mostly Latinx and full of multilingual families that valued each other and community. I also experienced poverty around me and all the things that go along with it. I grew up in a single-parent household; my father battled addiction for most of his life. I did my undergrad at University of Michigan and eventually finished my MBA at the University of Delaware. My wife and I came back just before the Michigan Regulation and Taxation of Marihuana Act (MRTMA) was passed, legalizing adult-use marijuana. I’ve co-founded two businesses since then—Copper House Detroit and LOUD. Social, a content market- ing agency specializing in community engagement, social media strategy, and visual design.
How long have you used cannabis?
First time I tried it, I was 18. But ironically, the first time I bought a joint, I was 16 and I didn’t even smoke it. I hadn’t come out yet and was looking for a way to connect with a friend who was bisexual. I ended up giving the joint away and never had the desire to try again until I was in college. Then a combination of a taxing campus climate and privileged normalization made me think it could be a viable way for me to treat my anxiety.
You’ve called cannabis an equity issue. Why?
On the legal side, it’s because of injustices that communities have faced due to criminalization. The other problem is that cannabis is a plant that’s been used by communities of color for thousands of years, yet these same communities are disproportionately affected by criminalization and prohibition. I am a proponent of automatic expungement—the erasure of crime records. Let’s clear these Black and brown communities who’ve been disproportionately targeted and criminalized, and have lost access to jobs, education, housing—a full life. Then, as we think about the industry, there’s so much regulation that businesses have to follow in order to be viable and legal. Just to apply for a micro-business license in Michigan costs $6,000. Then there are so many other expenses to get up and running. My aim is to navigate this process in a way that’s equitable. First, I’m going to go through the process of starting a small business and then I’m going to create a pathway for others to do it. It’s about honoring communities that are often overlooked.
Tell us a little more about Copper House.
It’s an intimate and cozy community-activated space. We host over-night bookings, lifestyle photography shoots, intimate dinners, and parties with the cannabis community at heart.
How successful is it and how long did it take to get going?
We’ve been listed on Bud and Breakfast since December of 2018, and we had our first guests on January 11, 2019.
How did it go?
At first, we were only doing a few things here and there but weren’t putting a lot of energy behind it. But in October, we started hosting CuriosiTea parties with Anqunette Sarfoh. She helped us build our market, and we were booked and sold out for months. I’d call us successful, because so far, we’ve been able to meet all our revenue goals, build community, and are currently working on a basement studio expansion. But this is just a prototype. One day, I want a larger bud and breakfast, in a historic building that represents Detroit culture. COVID-19 hit us like everyone else, but we’ve learned [things]—like how to run a hospitality business in a pandemic. We stopped business completely from March to June, but while we were empty, we built up our backyard, upscaling it into a garden oasis. Our goal has been to break even and reinvest all profit into the house. We’re not super lucrative yet, but I’ve been able to meet the people I need to meet in my dining room, and that is powerful.
Have you had significant pushback from anyone?
The most significant moment for me was when I faced professional loss because of my involvement with cannabis. I come from an educational background, and I’ve done a lot of work with nonprofits. I’ve also been affected by addiction, so I understand the concern with making a product that you’ve learned to be a drug more accessible. There’s some hurt to restore, and I feel educated enough to challenge people’s beliefs. There’s so much good cannabis can do. For someone addicted to opioids, it can help them heal. Our communities have been using it to heal for centuries. So, I think resistance can be alleviated by having very real conversations and developing collaborative solutions.
You do a million different things—how do you juggle them all and does it involve cannabis?
I started this journey as a means of community care—I said, ‘Our community needs a space that’s safe and welcoming, so let’s open our home.’ But what I’m learning is that I also need my own self-care and time. It’s a balancing act. I make sure I incur something for me every day, because when I don’t, I notice my reactions are very high. I pay attention to my moods, and then I do what I need to do to balance myself. I love sleep; it’s the best gift for me. So, it might mean that on a Saturday, I sleep all day. And I don’t shame myself for being unproductive. I also like a smaller amount of self- care practice daily. I try to do moments of breath work. I like to dance in front of my mirror. I’m a dreamer, so ideating is a form of self-care for me. And I journal. My @ jesshuman [Instagram] platform is a lot of my own venting—I publish publicly because I’m community-centered, and I want to model that we are all human—our emotions exist. I’m vulnerable publicly to help others not feel alone.
How can we all tap into the meaningful thing that fuels us?
The best way is to know yourself. I think that a lot of times people take external influences on who they are and don’t really know who they are. I use a lot of astrology, but I’m also in talent development. I understand how I work, what my assets are, and what I’m not great at. I also know my values and where I will draw the line. So, know yourself, be honest about what you value, and then look for opportunities to feed those values in your work. When you lead from your core values, you’ll feel purpose in everything you do.