Breaking the Grass Ceiling: The Path to Canna-Preneurial Success with JM Balbuena

Episode Description

In this eye-opening and thought-provoking episode of Kaya Cast Podcast, we sit down with the incredibly inspiring JM Balbuena. As a woman of color, an immigrant, and a military veteran, JM shares her unique perspective on the cannabis industry and how it serves as a unifying force for various communities. Together, they discuss the healing power of cannabis and the urgent need for more inclusive and sustainable practices within the industry.

From her journey navigating the dynamic cannabis space as an entrepreneur to the importance of being educated about the plant, JM provides valuable insights on the challenges faced daily and the tremendous potential of the industry. As both an advocate and educator, she stresses the significance of striking a balance between advocacy, profit, and education to effectively bring positive change.

Moreover, JM talks about her latest book, which gives readers a realistic portrayal of the cannabis world while providing them with essential educational resources. As a special treat for our listeners, we're giving away a free copy of JM Balbuena's book! Tune in to learn how to get your hands on this must-read gem.

Navy veteran JM Balbuena is an author, filmmaker, advocate, and entrepreneur focused on empowering aspiring leaders in the rapidly growing legal cannabis space. JM’s debut book, The Successful Canna-preneur, does exactly this, while awarding JM with “Cannabis Educator of the Year” by the 2021 Las Vegas Cannabis Awards and “100 Latinas Shaping The World” by The New Latina. JM received a Navy & Marine Corps Achievement Medal for her dedicated service as Aviation Electronics Tech in the United States Navy between 2010 to 2014.

With a focus on business development, strategic planning, and execution, JM successfully runs BSW (Boycott Shitty Weed), promoting advocacy through fashion and muti-media including Web3 and blockchain integration. She also leads Synergy Studios, providing filmmaking, content creation, and executive production to leading brands in the cannabis industry. JM currently serves as CMO for Prime Harvest Inc., a technology-focused full-service cannabis corporation horizontally diversified across various segments of the cannabis value chain including licensing acquisition and compliance management, direct-to-consumer operations, and parent company of Jaxx Cannabis, a San Diego based retailer.

Additionally, JM is cofounder of Palenque Provisions, a family owned Latinx food manufacturer headquartered in New Jersey. JM holds a Bachelor of Science Marketing from University of Scranton; Bachelor of Arts Media Production from Platt College; Masters Business Administration Marketing from University of Phoenix; and a Masters in Information Systems Management from National University. JM’s Successful Canna-preneur is accessible online via podcast, documentary (TBA 2023), audiobook, and is pending its first print in Spanish. JM is quickly becoming a prominent thought leader in cannabis, Latinx affairs, women empowerment, social equity, military veteran advocacy, Web3 multi-media, and wealth generation.

Find out more about Synergy Studios  at:

Receive new episodes in your inbox.

Episode Transcript

JM Balbuena: I'm a very diverse individual. I've seen life from so many different perspectives. I'm a woman, I'm black, I'm Latino, I'm an immigrant. I served in the military. So just all those different perspectives and, and seeing the struggles of those different communities and then how they tie in together. Cannabis is the great unifier.

So to me, you know, for all those different communities that I'm a part of cannabis has been a source of healing.

Tom Mulhern: Today on the podcast, I have a conversation with JM Balbuena, who is a business owner and author. She is an advocate, she's in marketing and design and all of this. you know, She has so many great insights into the cannabis industry coming from the US Navy to, you know, starting her own media company and dispensary Jaxx Cannabis down in San Diego.

And we were so thankful for the opportunity to talk with JM that we wanna give away a signed copy of her book. All you have to do to get a signed copy of her book is leave a review on Spotify or Apple Podcasts, and you have until the end of the month, the end of June to leave a review. And if you leave a review, we will send you out her book.

Reviews, help to share what you love about the podcast and maybe in your review, leave one insight that you've had from the podcast and how it's kind of informed your business and how , it's helped you to grow and scale your business.

As we jump into the show though, I just want to thank JM for her amazing insights into her story, her diverse background, and I know that you are gonna love this interview because she has so many great things to say and so many important things for the cannabis industry that from marketing to licensing to you know, what it takes to be a successful Canna-Prennuner.

So enjoy this conversation with JM Balbuena.

Tom Mulhern: Navy veteran JM Balbuena is an author, filmmaker, advocate, and entrepreneur focused on empowering aspiring leaders in the rapidly growing legal cannabis space. With a focus on business development, strategic planning and execution, JM successfully runs Boycott Shitty Weed promoting advocacy through fashion and multimedia, including Web 3 and blockchain integration.

She also leads Synergy Studios providing filmmaking, content creation and executive production to leading brands in the cannabis industry. JM currently serves as CMO for Prime Harvest Incorporated, a technology focused full service cannabis corporation, horizontally diversified across various segments of the cannabis value chain, including licensing, acquisition and compliance management, direct to consumer operations and Parent company of Jaxx Cannabis, a San Diego based retailer.

JM holds multiple Bachelors and master's degrees, including an MBA in marketing from the University of Phoenix. The Successful Canna-Preneur book is available online via podcast, a documentary that's gonna be coming out soon, an audiobook, print, and is available in Spanish. It just came out. JM is quickly becoming a prominent thought leader in cannabis, latinx affairs, women empowerment, social equity, military veteran advocacy, Web 3, multimedia and wealth generation.

JM welcome to the podcast.

JM Balbuena: Thank you. It just says I'm a little bit older, but no, I'm just driven by, you know, if I think of something and especially something that can contribute to myself and to my community, I go for it. That's just the type of person that I am.

Tom Mulhern: We'll get into the book later, but I read the book and there's so many like fantastic insights, especially for someone that's thinking about starting a cannabis business or a person just getting into the industry, and so we'll get into that. But before we get there, I just need to know what's your background and how did you end up in cannabis?

JM Balbuena: So I ended up in cannabis because of the military. So my background before that I went to college, I graduated, started working in corporate America, started working in insurance. I was a project manager for one of the major insurance companies here. And before that I had an internship while I was in college.

So they offered me a job. I was there for like, a little bit over a year and I just, I was looking at the future, like the people that had been in that company for 20 years, and I just did not see myself doing that or being that 20 years. So I just started looking for ways out and that way out to me was the military,

So I had a great time in the Navy. Me met amazing people, had a great career. But I had an accident from which I had

a traumatic brain injury. And from that accident a lot of things were messed up. You know, my mental health, there was some issues that I still deal with that actually cannabis helps me with my sleeping patterns through the night. So when I left another veteran introduced me to cannabis, and that pretty much was the beginning of it all.

Tom Mulhern: So you got into the business, you opened a dispensary, correct?

So I started working for my business partner. He was pursuing a cultivation license here in San Diego. So what we ended up doing was, Was helping a Native American tribe cuz San Diego County had banned cannabis. He's trying to figure out how can he do it legally. So he was like, oh, let me talk to these Native Americans.

They have their, their own land and their own rules. here in San Diego, we helped one of the tribes come up with their own like ordinance and, and we helped them develop that. And then we were the first cultivation that they granted a license under, so that's where I came in, like helping put that together and then managing the compliance of that.

And from there actually bought into the dispensary that we have now, Jaxx. And, and we've been running that ever since. And that was in 2017. So the cultivation was 2015, 2016, and then we opened

Jaxx cannabis.

Tom Mulhern: What did you find, running Jaxx were some of the biggest challenges as a dispensary owner that you kept running into?

JM Balbuena: So the county of San Diego was one of the strictest, most conservative cannabis ordinances that there could be. Number one. Our regulatory body was the sheriff's department, the police, so they came every single quarter to do audits, to check on our inventory, to check on our finances, and that's one part.

The other part was that once California, in 2018 when recreational, the county decided that they were not joining a recreational program. So we were medical only by force. We were not allowed to sell edibles, only smokable. And then we went into Covid and now we have a respiratory disease that's taken over the world and we can only sell things to smoke.

The way that we circumvented all, all of that was educating patients about ways to consume that were healthier, also educating them about the benefits of being a medical patient.

In California, if you're a medical patient, less taxes on top of that, you can buy more. For instance, with a recreational, you can buy one ounce per day at a location. But if you have a medical car, you could buy eight ounces.

So the, you know, the little things like that we had to get our creative vision goggles on and, and figure it out. And we just saw that as the cost of acquisition for our customer.

Tom Mulhern: Let's look at your book a little bit. Give our listeners a brief overview view of The Successful Canna-Preneur cuz like I said, I read the book and we're going to do a special giveaway and I'll, I'll have details at the end about how you can win a copy of JM's book, but give our listeners a brief overview of the book and what kind of inspired you to write this book.

JM Balbuena: What I wanted to do with the book is attract people that are good for the industry. You know, this industry is new as far as like the regulated side of things. And we need more good people that have good intentions to build a sustainable cannabis space from consumer all the way to investors, to entrepreneurs, to operators in, in the entire situation.

So, my purpose was to paint a, a, a picture of the industry that's realistic, that paints, the risks of being a part of it the benefits, and then provide that educational side of things with resources for the people that are looking to be a part of it. And then basic understanding of the different concepts for the people that want to invest in it or that want to just are canna curious, like they say. But ultimately for the entrepreneur, I have that chapter 13 where I talk about the mentality and the mindset that you have to have to be a part of an industry that number one, is stigmatized in, in the consumption of the product that you're trying to promote and sell or advocate for.

And then you have the stigma in business. And then the newness of everything, not just from the regulatory side. Those people have never regulated cannabis, so everything's gonna be new for them. And then you have us operating in this new regulatory landscape that we haven't done before. The book is for that to, to paint a picture of that's very realistic.

And contingent upon who you are and what you are trying to either participate in or have an understanding. Then you have this kind of guide that, that you can reference to whether you're trying to advocate, whether you're trying to be in the business side or just understand the plans and the people that are working in it.

Tom Mulhern: When you talk to these different Canna-Preneurs, what do you see as some of those most important traits that someone should have when they're entering into this industry?

JM Balbuena: The number one, you have to be a sponge. And, and that's pretty much how I approached it. Once I realized that cannabis was a viable industry, there's , a lot of demand for it. It can help people, so you have to know the plant. And you have to know the benefits you have to believe in the potential of the industry. And because of that, you have to have that grit to withstand the dynamic environment. Things change every single day. You know, one day you see a brand and the next day you didn't, you don't see it.

And it's because of compliance, it's because of lack of access to capital. Maybe the, the entrepreneur behind that gave up because it's tough, you know? And, and those are some of the things that wanted to paint a realistic picture of what is happening because a lot of the media just glorifies and glamorizes, you know, oh, multimillion dollar industry and this and this and that, but the people behind it, You know, we need to highlight the work that's being done.

And most of the people are not multimillion dollar VCs, you know.the backbone of the industry are the people that are making it happen and they're not the ones being funded

There's also an imbalance in the industry, for people of color, for the Latino community. I, I'm talking to the founder of POSIBL and some of these brands in California that are working to overcome that.

I'm telling you, as a Latino and a black person coming into the industry it was really tough. We literally, as an organization had vertically integrated situation. We had a cultivation license operational in Humboldt County.

We had a manufacturing facility license in Santa Rosa here in California. In San Diego we had the retailer Jaxx Cannabis. And we were pitching, we pitched like 2000 times. We even went to Canada to pitch. And guess what? They were not with it. And the only thing that we can think of is because it was two, two black people pitching we did not get funded, but we kept going and you know, we are still here.

The majority of the companies that were being funded back then, are barely even here, and we're still here, still expanding. And, and that's because we didn't give up. That's because, you know, despite the nos, despite the lack of access to things and despite, the racism, we believed in the plan.

We believed in our capabilities and our mission and what we were trying to do. And yeah, here we are still doing our thing and expanding on our own dime, which feels even better. You know, it feels way better.

Tom Mulhern: Can you talk about the balance of the responsibilities of that Canna-Preneur? You have advocacy, education, and profit, like how do you balance all of that? As a cannabis business owner?

JM Balbuena: Being very mindful of every single one of those aspects. The advocacy, just being in the industry, even a consumer, you're an advocate. So it behooves you to, to understand like the benefits and the fact that number one, there's people still in jail for consumption, that you're doing it freely now. So in that sense, we're all advocates.

Then you have the educational part. That is paramount because , that stigma we're battling from every single angle. And it's been over a hundred years of that indoctrination of people thinking that it's a bad thing that your cells are gonna melt, that you're promoting drugs, and it's the gateway to insanity and you know, and doing all these other drugs.

And then that careful balance of you have to, you know, make a living. And so I think a lot of people sometimes in the advocacy side get lost in, you know, I don't care about the money. You should care because if you find yourself homeless, you're not gonna be able to advocate. You know, if you find yourself struggling financially like that.

I take that concept from the military. So in the military They pretty much take help you to take care of anything that's gonna distract you from doing your job. So, like for instance, if you need a dental appointment, you don't think about that. They tell you, Hey, you got a dentist appointment today.

Hey, you have a medical appointment tomorrow. Hey, you know your haircut, you gotta go do that. You know, those kinds of things. And that's for you to focus in your job in what you need to do, because when you're so concerned about all these other things, You can't focus and sometimes somebody's life depends on your job.

And so I apply that concept and that's why I said profit is important. You can disregard it. Why? Because that's the fuel for you to do everything else, and do it efficiently. Cuz if you're so worried about where you're gonna find your next meal. How are you gonna focus on advocating? Gonna be a really tough situation and, and that's where the balance comes in.

Tom Mulhern: Now, three years later, your book came out in 2020. Is there any advice or info that you would change about your book now that if you did like a revised version?

JM Balbuena: As far as the concept behind that entrepreneurship and the industry itself is, is still very relevant, extremely relevant.

The mindset, you still have to have grit. You still have to understand the balance between advocacy and profit and education and, and, everything else that involves the industry. This industry's still dynamic, there's still globally only about four countries that have legalized it. There's still people in jail for cannabis.

Social equity is still an issue. The disenfranchised communities are still struggling to bring their businesses online. So the relevancy is still there.

Tom Mulhern: One of the things you talk about is having a how and why vision. So I wanna look at Synergy Studios, your company, and tell me a bit about the vision of Synergy Studios. And what kind of makes you guys that market leader in the cannabis marketing industry.

JM Balbuena: The vision big picture Revolutionized. Advocacy. So right now, advocacy to me is one of the things, the industry changes a lot has experienced so many different ups and downs and, and updates and, and downgrades. But advocacy has remained like very flat, I would say. You know, we still talk about the patient.

We still say the same things. And I think that by taking things and bringing them to the 21st century with using some of the things like Web 3 those things call people's attention and you can do things in a different way.  for instance with Boycott Shitty Weed we created a 3D museum of, of the different heroes versus villains, the people that have to do with carrying prohibition out, and then the people that contributed to cannabis legalization here in California. So seeing that from like a different angle now in 3d, I feel like it creates a, a more remarkable memory for people.

Like, oh, so Dennis Parone, and then, you know, you see this statue and then you see his picture and you can read about him and hear about him. Using all the different senses, I feel like we can educate people more effectively. So doing that and then with the video side of things like the documentary highlightingsuccessful entrepreneurs in highlighting what they're doing and, how they're pioneering the space in putting them in a light, you know, that's not just glamorizing multimillion dollar industry and bringing community together in, in a different way that, makes them just see the, the cannabis advocacy in a different lightand hold onto information faster and, and, and actually retain it.

So that, that's, that's where I see things.

Tom Mulhern: it's inspiring to see companies that are willing to try something different to, you know, achieve that goal of what we're all aiming at, of normalizing cannabis and helping people who really, they need it.

Like it's, it's such an important plant and it can change people's lives. And you and I have both seen that so.

JM Balbuena: I'm a very diverse individual. I've seen life from so many different perspectives. I'm a woman, I'm black, I'm Latino, I'm an immigrant. I served in the military. So just all those different perspectives and, and seeing the struggles of those different communities and then how they tie in together. Cannabis is the great unifier.

So to me, you know, for all those different communities that I'm a part of cannabis has been a source of healing.

Taking my business mindset and, and my passion for creativity and bringing that all together and in creativity and also like technology and, and just being forward thinking.

Tom Mulhern: Just, I just bring all of that together and, and I just go for things. To wrap it up a little bit, cuz you know, I could keep on talking for another hour, but I'd love to get your advice for two different people. So what is your advice for someone that's just starting out in the cannabis industry?

Somebody that's, you know, brand new in it, and what advice would you give them? And then after that, what advice would you give to a dispensary owner or one of the canna-preneurs, like one, one little tip for, for both of them.

JM Balbuena: So for somebody that's just starting, I would say this, be patient, you know, in this industry, one month, two months, next thing you know is an entire year. And now you can help that person that's starting out. Like one year in cannabis is about four or five years somewhere else.

One of the things that I used to do, when I first started with my business partner and assistant, I've had no clue about cannabis at all, except that at that point indica/sativa hybrid in that it would help me sleep, right? Once I would be listening to him and all that he was doing, I would take notes without him knowing or anything.

I'm like, I don't know what that is, but put it down here, my little notepad, and then I would go home and I'll do research about it. So like that the next time he brings it up, I can have a conversation about it and you know, and it's just not just him talking to me about these concepts like random things in cultivation that I didn't deal with plants.

So I have no clue. So it behooved me to educate myself so I can contribute beyond just being a body that is taking orders. Do this, do that.

And then for somebody that's still in it, like, I feel you, I'm here with you.

Also don't give up. I think things are getting better. And they will continue to get better as we navigate through all these newness and all these different things. Definitely contribute to advocacy as much as you can, cuz a lot of the times we can get so cut up in the fact that we have so many bills.

Taxes that we need to be paying all these compliance things. But for instance, here in California, something that we can actually do as a business is implement SB 34. SB 34 is a program that allows you to donate cannabis to, to patients. And so the veterans community, we can benefit from that and you benefit from that as a company as well.

And, but also you can target other patient communities that may need cannabis as well. So just look at all your options. Sometimes, you know, doing things like that where you're giving it just motivates you and, and, and centers you back as to why you're doing this. And so that's my advice.

Tom Mulhern: That's such good advice, and what are some ways that people can connect with you? Like I said, we'll have your links, links to your book and everything, but what are, what the best ways for people to connect with what you're doing and to learn more?

JM Balbuena: So number one, go check out Weed for the If you're interested in investing in cannabis to check out our advocacy merch and, and our story Synergy Studios. Documentary coming soon. Hopefully by the end, the of the summer, we'll have a, a showcasing of the documentary. And then the Successful Canna-Prenuer book, you can get it.

Hit me up personally on Instagram underscore jm_balbuena to get your signed copy or you can get your copy on Amazon. It's available and wherever there is audiobooks it's available in, in about a hundred places, so check it out there., if you wanna check it out directly from the website.

But thank you so much for having me. This was so much awesome. Great conversation.

Tom Mulhern: Well, JM, thank you so much for being on the podcast and I really appreciate you taking this time and sharing your insights as a business owner, as an author, as you know, an advocate, a create content creator. You do it all. And you know, I think. I really appreciate you coming and, and chatting with

JM Balbuena: you. This was amazing. It was a great conversation. I appreciate you.

Tom Mulhern: JM has such an amazing and diverse background, and I'm so thankful for the opportunity for her to share her story with me. And if you wanna find out more about her story, like I said at the top, we are giving away a signed copy of her book.

All you have to do to get a free signed copy of JM Balbuena's book, The Successful Canna-Preneur is leave a review on either Apple Podcasts or Spotify before the end of June. That's June, 2023. If you leave a review, we will reach out to you and get your contact information and send you a signed copy of her book.

It's an amazing book. It's great for anyone on your team and really gives them insights into the cannabis industry similar to what she shared, but it goes way more in depth. So leave a review and we will send you a book. It's that simple. We would love to connect with our listeners we're so grateful for everyone who has given us shoutouts on the podcast and has told us how the content in the podcast really has made them a more effective business owner and how it's helped them to launch and grow their business. So make sure that you subscribe to the podcast so you can get more content like this every single week on the Kaya Cast Podcast.

Latest episodes

Browse Episodes

Subscribe Now

Listen on Apple Podcast logo
Listen on Spotify logo
Listen on Google Podcast logo
Listen on Amazon Music logo
Watch it on Youtube logo
Listen on Stitcher logo
Listen on Castbox logo
Listen on Anchor logo