Juliana Whitney of The J. Whitney Group a Cannabis Business Consulting Firm
“I envision an industry that is more responsible than the alcohol industry, more caring than the pharmaceutical industry and more transparently informative than the food industry. Better at labeling, better at being child proof, better at consumer education and protection, and better at quality control.”
CEO of The J. Whitney Group, a Cannabis Business Consulting Firm
Primary Location: Las Vegas, Nevada
There are countless people running towards a new emerging industry; one sparked by high regulation, newly established legalization laws and an uncertainty across state boundaries. And while the cannabis industry is exploding, Juliana Whitney was prepared for it.
So much so that she established the J. Whitney Group, a cannabis consulting company that not only cares about its clients operations functioning at the most efficient level, but in the most legal as well.
The J. Whitney Group is helping that become a reality by setting up each of our clients to operate at an exemplary level. For us that means having a strong and smoothly functioning infrastructure, going above and beyond expectations of the law, providing pleasurable customer experiences, and serving the community at large in a responsible way.”
Juliana’s commitment to the details is spot on, “integrating compliance into operations, thoroughly educating staff, and heavily designing operations around the client experience.”
I first learned of Juliana following part of her journey with her non-profit, That Adopted Girl, but quickly came to realize how savvy she truly is. Hence, I approached her regarding the opening of the J. Whitney Group almost immediately.
Juliana and I caught up about her consulting firm, but we also touched on cannabis policy, navigating the hectic waters of this industry, highly efficient dispensaries, where she sees the Internet and social media playing a part with cannabis, the best events to attend and her predictions for the next 3 to 5 years. Here’s what she had to say:
Juliana Whitney | Founder of The J. Whitney Group
Hi Juliana!! I’m glad we get to do this. As you know, Cannabis Magazine has been a long time coming. I know we had been connected through social for quite some time and that’s ultimately where I came across your company, The J. Whitney Group, so that’s why we’re here.
Before we get into it, can we start by diving in a little bit more about where you’re originally from and where you’re living now?
Juliana: I grew up in a teeny tiny old mining town outside of Las Vegas, NV called Blue Diamond (population 350). Having donkeys hanging out in our front lawn was par for the course. (laughter)
I am an only child, so our household only consisted of myself, my parents, and a few cats. My parents are both university professors so they spent a lot of time at the home office, grading papers and writing books. Since I didn’t have any siblings to hang out with there had to be a way to fill up all my time and at one point I was in acting class and hip hop dance classes 35 hours a week.
Having professors as parents means that education has always been a huge deal in my life. There was a lot of emphasis on reading, learning, social activism, questioning everything, and developing logical arguments. I see that focus on intellectualism as a genuine blessing, It had a big impact on who I am today. Another big blessing was that since my parents traveled a lot for conferences I was able to tag along and visit places like Italy, England, and Scotland at a young age. That was fun (smile)
So your parents exposed you to a lot!
Juliana: Yeah, they definitely did. Then growing up there was also the influence of my birth parents. My mom and dad adopted me at birth and I have an open adoption. My relationship with my birth dad is really close, he has played an integral role in my life. His whole side of the family is filled with independent leaders and creators.
I also know my birth mom but we don’t speak often. She has a family with 3 sons who have met me but don’t know that I am their ‘sister’. My open adoption has taught me an immense amount about human connection, types of love, strength, and overcoming adversity.
Very true! With your parents keen on education, tell me a little bit about the road to your business background?
Juliana:I went to 2 middle schools in Las Vegas. First a public school and when I had a hard time in that school during my seventh grade year, my parents decided to move me to private school for eighth grade.
I attended two high schools. The first was Las Vegas Academy, a magnet school for performing arts, where I was a theater major for 2 years. My Sophomore year I realized I didn’t want to be an actress and asked my parents if I could go to boarding school. For my junior and senior year I went to boarding school in Southern California which I absolutely loved.
I went to Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, NY for my freshman year of college. Full disclosure, I got super depressed there so I took a year off from school, and returned to Vegas. The plan was to return to Vassar after the year, but that didn’t happen. I was searching for what I really wanted to do. I thought I wanted to own a spa so during my year off from school so I became a licensed esthetician, and learned that I absolutely did not want to own a spa!
After my year off I returned to university at University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV) where it took me 4 more years of schooling to complete two bachelor’s degrees – one in Communications and one in Sociology. Directly after undergrad, I started my Master’s in Business Administration program, also at UNLV.
How do you like Las Vegas?
Juliana: I love it for all of the opportunities it has provided me with, but I definitely plan on moving once the business is at a point where my business partners and I don’t have to be in the same city all the time
The J.Whitney Group is doing some pretty interesting things in an industry that’s really infant.
However, before we get into that, can you tell me a little bit more about your backstory and what you were doing before you put your boutique cannabis consultancy group together?
Juliana: Before getting into the Cannabis industry I was focused on running my non-profit organization, That Adopted Girl, and was co-owner of a personal development brand called J+L Inspire.
Most of my time was spent fundraising, planning fun events for kids in the foster care system and filming videos about inspirational topics, mostly related to entrepreneurship.
Would you say that you always had a connection to entrepreneurship and consulting?
Juliana: I’ve had an entrepreneurial spirit since I was a child! It’s just who I am. I think most entrepreneurs can relate to that. It was just a matter of developing the right venture, one I really connect to.
Looking back, every step of my journey worked to lead me to this point. For instance, because we did consulting in J+L Inspire, when I entered the cannabis industry consulting was a natural fit. I am in love with consulting for this industry and with the high level systems we have developed for our clients.
“Everything I do is driven by development, whether it be of people, businesses or society. I believe that The J. Whitney Group is accomplishing all 3.”
Now, I know that the Cannabis Industry is still really developing its identity. How did you decide to get involved in this industry? Was it a chance opportunity or something you saw that you could really add value to, etc?
Juliana: I am pretty sure that my being in the cannabis industry is fate. A lot of people put a lot of work into entering this industry, even just on the ground floor. For me it was a beautiful alignment of timing and opportunity.
I was taking a break from my MBA program and needed a job. I wasn’t looking for a longterm career type of job, because I have no desire to work for someone else for the rest of my life. It just so happened that my friends were opening one of the first dispensaries in Las Vegas. They gave me a job. That job turned out to be an opportunity that I didn’t see coming. From there, I became immersed in the cannabis industry and that is ultimately how I wound up founding The J.Whitney Group.
So no coincidences. (laughter) So, that brings us to the J. Whitney Group. Can you please tell us a little bit about the company, how it started and its core mission/purpose?
Juliana: In 2015 I had a business development company and we had just started consulting with a magazine publishing house. I was simultaneously working in dispensary operations, learning a lot, analyzing everything around me, and seeing a lot of things that I believed could be done better, more efficiently and effectively.
The cannabis industry was brand new in Vegas so there was a lot of excitement and talk about various types of businesses that could be created in the cannabis space. I wouldn’t engage. I was so resistant! (laughter)
At the time I thought the Cannabis industry was a short term thing for me. Then an industry friend of mine said,
“Juliana, there is so much opportunity here, you can combine this industry with anything you want and make it into a business.”
Suddenly it clicked for me how awesome the Cannabis industry really is, how much opportunity it provides, how much it positively impacts society, and how much value there still is to add to the industry.
My business partner in J+L Inspire was not comfortable with associating herself with Cannabis so we parted ways and I founded The J. Whitney Group, with a partner that was already in the cannabis industry.
Boom! Well, I can imagine that there’s tons of value still left to be added. It’s a brand new industry with tons of operational tasks that still need to come together, no?
Juliana: Yes. It’s a whole startup industry…I love that about it. It’s full of uncertainty, constant change, a whole lot of hope, and a general sense of excitement. My business partner and I designed The J. Whitney Group to better set up operations and to better guide our clients in navigating the hectic waters of a brand new cannabis organization.
Our team does that by focusing on the details, integrating compliance into operations, thoroughly educating staff, and heavily designing operations around client experience
“We believe the cannabis industry can be a leader amongst all industries.”
The J.Whitney Group is helping that become a reality by setting up each of our clients to operate at an exemplary level.
For us that means having a strong and smoothly functioning infrastructure, going above and beyond expectations of the law, providing pleasurable customer experiences, and serving the community at large in a responsible way.
Well said! And what are some of the main canna business services your group offers?
Juliana:The J. Whitney Group provides specialty consulting to dispensaries, cultivations, and production facilities in the Cannabis industry throughout the United States. We operate in a holistic manner from acquiring licensing through designing and refining operations.
Beyond the intensive licensing process, cannabis businesses often struggle with seamlessly integrating compliance into operations, building brand loyalty, and remaining profitable and popular in an industry with various unique and unstable regulations.
“Rather than focusing on an isolated goal such as “winning” a license or setting up basic functions, we take a “soup-to-nuts” approach.”
Our experience allows us to review how the steps you take on day one will impact your opportunities on the road far ahead, and we will guide you to keep as many options open as possible on your road to industry leadership.
Sort of like having strategic partners in the industry?
Juliana: Exactly. While officially a consulting relationship, our clients think of us as partners in their journey, from the licensing process to thoroughly developed, optimized, and effective operations.
Having The J. Whitney Group on board, in short, means that you can sleep at night; you can let go of the worry that you’ve missed something; you can let go of the concern that someone failed to file that last piece of paper; you can instead feel confident that when you get to the office in the morning everything will be running like clockwork, like a professional was up all night so you could sleep.
I can tell you first hand that having a business systematized is key!
Juliana: Well, our team operates from a perspective of psychological and emotional principles combined with data, technological knowhow, and detailed compliance standards which we seamlessly integrate with the fabric of your operation to create a thriving organization.
We’ve got the quantitative value, but like many consulting engagements, there is a whole lot of qualitative value that will not come to fruition or be measurable for some time. Nonetheless, we know that we bring tremendous value and our confidence in our ability to bring value to your enterprise is matched by our willingness to take upside compensation.
While our standard engagement is time and materials based, we are open to any alternative discussions that will minimize the current expenses of your operation while further correlating our positions, including stock options or profit- based compensation.
“You have your eye set on becoming a Cannabis industry leader, The J. Whitney Group is the consulting firm that will do what it takes to get you there.”
I was watching one of the videos on your company and I liked that you said,
“All of the members of your team work together because you have a vision for the Cannabis Industry as a whole. This industry has the ability to not only be the leading industry but a respectful, responsible and innovative, creative one that is also an example of how businesses can run.”
Can you expand on where you see this industry going?
Juliana: Because of unstable regulations, progressing product research and development, and the changing tide of political leadership, I don’t know exactly where this industry will go but I do know what I would like to see.
What would you like to see?
Juliana: I envision an industry that is more responsible than the alcohol industry, more caring than the pharmaceutical industry and more transparently informative than the food industry.
Better at labeling, better at being child proof, better at consumer education and protection, and better at quality control.
“As it has stood for decades, cannabis culture is deeply rooted in social connection.”
In order to retain people in the industry who truly care about and know the product, businesses will have to operate in such a way that maintains the connectedness of the cannabis culture. It’s a special quality that not many industries have.
I see the cannabis industry becoming a leader in employee engagement, workplace camaraderie, and client experience.
That actually makes perfect sense and would be ideal!
So, as a leading consultant, what obstacles have you found your clients facing the most when operating their venture or bringing it to market?
Juliana: Compliance with state law is a huge obstacle. This is an obstacle faced in the licensing process and then every day in operations. Just because things on a regulatory level change so much. This is why we integrate compliance into operations in a way that makes compliance part of the company culture, rather than something extra and annoying.
Regulations change frequently so keeping up with that can be hectic, but we are there for our clients in those situations as well to help them adjust smoothly.
Managing employees who are intimately familiar with the product is an industry unique obstacle. This is where intentionally designed and highly refined processes come into play to reduce the increased risk of human error.
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Posted by The J.Whitney Group on Wednesday, September 28, 2016
Cannabis Indoor Grow
Now, I know you’ve worked with some pretty interesting projects. What have been some of your favorite projects or brands that you’ve had the pleasure of working with?
Juliana: I adore all of our projects. One which I did not see coming but which I am especially proud of is a lab we worked with to redesign their Certificates of Analysis.
See, the labs are usually pretty detached from the operations side of cultivations, productions, and especially dispensaries. However, cultivations, productions, and dispensaries all rely on the lab’s certificates of analysis for some core responsibilities. We redesigned the certificates in such a way that made dispensary operations easier in purchase ordering from production and cultivation facilities. The lab being on point helps every entity operate a little better.
Improving the relationships between labs, producers and retailers is really important to us and I believe that doing something as simple as improving the design of the certificates of analysis added a lot of value to the business-to-business relationships.
Improving relationships in all business industries is a huge plus! So, from a regulatory standpoint, do you foresee all 50 states in the U.S. finding a way to adapt to this industry one way or another?
Juliana: I do see all 50 states adapting to the cannabis industry. I will not claim to know when this will happen, I simply believe that it will happen.
“It is in the best interest of the states to adapt to the cannabis industry for the tax revenue, for the decreased arbitrary imprisonments, for the care of ill citizens and for inter-state regulation cohesion.”
Where do you see the Cannabis Industry playing on a global scale?
Juliana: The cannabis industry will impact tourism. I have a bias towards Vegas, but I definitely believe that Vegas has the potential to be the Amsterdam of the United States. I hope it doesn’t harm Amsterdam’s cannabis tourism too much. Hopefully not, they have so much historical relevance. I love that place.
That seems about right. (laugher)
Juliana: Geographical regions will develop their own cannabis cultures. Tourists will be driven to one place or another by regional cultures.
I am excited to see hemp become more widely used on a global scale. It’s a substantially valuabe resource. There are the benefits of CBD products which can be extracted from hemp.
Beyond that, hemp fibers can make so many things such as clothing and paper which could potentially decrease the amount of deforestation long term.
I noticed that you offer a HIPAA Basics Training Document on your website. Does your organization’s clients deal with HIPAA Regulations often?
Juliana:Yeah, that’s a little “JWG 101” taste of what we do. Our team started in the Nevada market, and in Nevada, HIPAA compliance is a requirement. As a company, we seriously value the two main principles of HIPAA compliance, security and privacy, because it makes medical cannabis consumers feel safe and it gives retailers integrity.
When setting up operations, we educate all of our clients and their staff on HIPAA and we do our best to make the guidelines simple and easily understood.
The J. Whitney Group HIPAA Basics Training Guide
Speaking of understood, I think anyone interested in participating in this industry should also attend some of the events. Name the top 2 or 3 events put on each year that you highly recommend people attend.
Juliana: There are so many events, it is difficult to keep up. New conferences are announced on the daily!
At some point, I predict there will be events that rise to the top as legitimately beneficial events and a bunch of the others will fade out.
For now, I would say 3 useful events to attend are:
#1: Marijuana Business Conference & Expo
Held by Marijuana Business Daily – I went this year and it was a really positive experience.
It was a great networking opportunity, especially at some of the after parties where I connected with a lot of other industry leaders. I would say it would also be good for new ventures and those looking to get into the business on an ownership or leadership level.
#2: Cannabis Business Summit & Expo
held by the National Cannabis Industry Association – NCIA is a solid organization and has a solid enough standing in the industry to bring together some really great people.
#3: International Cannabis Business Conference
It is important to avoid ethnocentrism by observing and learning about the industry on a global scale. Plus, traveling is fun and spending time with leaders in foreign cannabis industry markets doesn’t sound too bad either.
Not a bad list at all! How important do you think the Internet and Social Media will play in the shaping of this industry as it moves forward?
“The internet and social media will play an integral role in developing and shaping the industry.”
The medical patients are generally older, but recreational patients will include many more individuals in the 21-35 range. Millennials rely mainly on internet information sources and they connect with brands online.
An additional reason the industry will be driven much by social media is because of the restrictions that many markets have on traditional advertising for cannabis companies.
What are some of the boundaries now when it comes to using Social Media to promote products, services, or the industry as a whole?
Juliana:Instagram and Facebook are actively shutting down cannabis related accounts. Shutdowns happen most when the use of cannabis is explicitly encouraged, the product is presented in an idolized or fetishized manner, or there are indications of sales.
I think these restrictions require innovation and creativity from cannabis companies in the way they promote their product on social media.
There is a common lack of creativity right now when you look at the social media accounts of 20 different cultivators exclusively posting pictures of the plant – eventually they all start looking the same and no brand is memorable. I hope that the social media restrictions push brands to create differentiating content.
Absolutely! I completely agree and that’s the special part about branding. Differentiating your company’s journey from all others.
I was also reading your Introductory Budtender Training. First of all, great job explaining the vast sea of vocabulary associated with the industry! (laughter)
Second, I knew there were amazing medical effects with Cannabis, but I feel like they keep discovering more. What are some of the most profound effects you’ve seen thus far?
Juliana: You really looked into our site! Thank you for that. Ya, that’s another “JWG 101” resource.
I am really impressed by the benefit that cannabis use has for Veterans with PTSD. As well as for people with Depression, Anxiety and Bipolar Disorder.
I have been most impressed by the effects of the combination of Cannabidiol (CBD) and THC on these conditions. The individuals who live with any of those conditions have minds that put them through distress all day long, every single day. Some of them describe it as a “personal hell.” Cannabinoids such as CBD+THC, and different terpene profiles, help these people get through their daily lives a little more at peace. I want people to love their lives as much as possible, so I think providing that sense of peace is a beautiful thing.
So from an Industry perspective, what do you think are the highest priorities state and federal governments need to figure out to help expand this industry?
This is kind of a no brainer, but well written regulations are super important. The state governments have to develop solid regulations. You know, a lot of people dread regulation, but I think that to a certain extent, regulations guide the whole industry to uphold some basic standards.
The J.Whitney Group team believes that regulations encourage cannabis companies to become exemplary businesses, and that well written, and reasonable regulations protect the consumers. Laws aren’t necessarily based on reason, but they should be. In this case, the most reasonable regulations would come from a think tank of cannabis industry brains and involved politicians. Politicians have to listen to the brains in this industry. I know some activists are so passionate that they can be hard to relate to, but there are so many activists who are more calm when discussing the topic and could probably be utilized more optimally in a political context.
At least there are states to reference for which regulations work, which ones don’t, which ones need to be elaborated, and which are a bit excessive.
This is why regulations need to be solid. When regulations constantly change and aren’t really clearly defined, it is difficult for the businesses to keep up which means it is difficult for the consumers to keep up as well. Inconsistency creates a sense of general anxiety which is not good on any level. It will be really great for the industry when the government entities can manage to create some form of stability in cannabis regulation.
There is so much to this one… I will say that there are some requirements, which I think should be enforced when Cannabis becomes Federally legal . Our team believes that required lab testing is imperative. Lab testing has to happen for all cannabis products. And there needs to be some guidelines that make the lab testing processes congruent across markets. Creating guidelines so results don’t vary so much from one lab to another is imperative. Lab testing protects the consumer, acts as quality control, and demands some level of integrity from producers.
All very true. Switching it up a bit, are there any brands within the industry that you admire?
Juliana: I admire any brand that is consistently innovative, strives to be environmentally friendly, is socially responsible, takes pride in creating clean products, treats their staff well, creates a clearly defined company culture, and is making an intentional effort to move the industry toward respectability.
These are the standards we work to integrate in our clients’ operations. So, I admire brands that operate at a certain level, but specifying any single brand would be half hearted.
“There are so many existing brands and there are new ones emerging everyday. It is exciting to watch them all and see which ones are beginning to emerge as leaders.”
Right now our team is all about observing the marketplace as a whole. We keep an eye out for brands that are up and coming, exceptional in quality, and uniquely attractive.
When looking at the industry over the next three years, what industry segments do you see growing the most?
Apps, software and anything that automates processes or actively influences consumer decision making.
Low dose products:
Low dose products that are appealing to new consumers. Expanding the industry will require potential consumers opening up to trying cannabis products. When they do try products, we don’t want them to have bad experiences.
Low dosed products are the way to go when appealing to mainstream consumers. Mainstream appeal becomes increasingly important as more adult use cannabis markets pop up.
Also, there is a beauty to low dosed products. Who wants to be told to only eat part of a brownie or a cookie? Like, in what world do you only want a couple of bites of a baked good? Low dose a brownie and you have someone with a pleasant experience with cannabis and a satisfied chocolate craving.
Magazines and podcasts are definitely on the rise. I am confident that mainstream media will start warming up to our industry. Especially now that so many states have cannabis programs. I well come it. I mean, I would not object to taking part if Bravo or OWN decided to do a show about cannabis businesses. (laughter)
I completely agree with you on all three. It’s nearly impossible not to see tech’s influence on any industry, especially this one. Low dose products are a great way to expand markets without hindering them. And media, well, you already know how I feel about that.
On a business note, are you seeing a rise in Cannabis Venture Funds?
Juliana: There are people pouring money into this industry. In my world, I have seen a lot of interest in investing in tech-based companies – like POS, grow technology, apps, social media platforms, and the like. Maybe that stuff feels safer, more predictable and similar to VC’s current ventures.
I’m guessing there are similarities to running a cannabis venture fund as there are to your traditional tech startup venture funds?
Juliana: The way I see it, the cannabis industry has revitalized the American dream. At least in some states, the everyday person can start a business and have a fighting chance at success.
I am a bit concerned that the venture capitalists will ruin this. I am a fan of massively lucrative businesses, but I am also a fan of the mom and pop shop. I love the stories of the independently owned shop becoming a massively lucrative business through their admirable hustle.
Well, it’s the staple of the U.S. Something like 70% of all businesses, being small businesses, so I see your point. Juliana, this was awesome of you to share your time and industry input with us! Thank you for being a part of this!
Juliana: It was my pleasure. Thank you so much for reaching out. My team and I appreciate every moment we get to contribute to the furtherance of this industry. It’s what JWG is all about! It seems like Cannabis Magazine is on the same wavelength in terms of furthering the industry. I look forward to seeing you around the industry.