CEO and founder of Simply Pure Dispensaries Wanda James may be a jill of all trades, but she is not a master of none.
In fact, James’ resume spans years of collaborating with noteworthy politicians, making strides in corporate America, and finding her passion as an entrepreneur.
Lisa Tsou, the moderator who interviewed James for the Women in the CannaBiz Power Hour panel at our Fall Emerge 2021 Virtual Cannabis Conference & Expo, noted that James’ biography was so extensive that they could have talked for hours.
It would almost be easier to discuss what James hasn’t done.
In an exclusive interview with Tsou, James shared an inspiring story about what brought her into the world of cannabis and how planning for the future is often impossible.
Linda Tsou: I am thrilled to be here with Wanda James of Simply Pure.
Wanda is the founder and CEO of Simply Pure and the first African American woman to own a dispensary in Colorado.
She’s a Navy veteran, a former political manager, a former member of President Obama’s National Finance Committee, a restaurant owner – we could just keep going on.
The question that’s been on my mind, reading through your bio, there are so many things that you’ve done in your life, why did you end up focusing on cannabis?
Wanda James: How did I get here, right?
A bunch of years ago, I was giving a speech to the University of Colorado, my alma mater, to a bunch of students.
It was a Poli Sci class that was getting ready to graduate, and they were asking me what it was like to work with Obama and the different things that happened there.
So many times when we’re giving these speeches to people, we talk about our lives as if we had this grand plan.
‘When I was 10-years-old, I knew what I wanted to do and I fought my way to the top and it all kind of worked out and that’s how I ended up in cannabis.’
I don’t want to bust any bubbles, but life is a journey not a destination, and my journey has taken me in-and-out through so many different angles and different places and a lot of those forks in the road or places that you end up, you ended up there quite by accident.
Mine was not a grand plan.
Throughout my life, I wanted to do different things and the thing I wanted to do for the longest, was I wanted to be an astronaut.
That’s what took me into the Navy.
From the Navy and getting out of the military, and learning all the things that the military teaches you, which is a lot of confidence and taking no out of your vocabulary, not accepting no as an answer, then corporate America came about.
I thought I was going to be the CEO of a major corporation.
I wore little pearls and wore my dresses below my knees. I said all the right things on my resume.
What I found was, I didn’t like that life. It just didn’t grab me.
So, I met my husband and became an entrepreneur and then found politics, and really found my voice in politics.
Politics is a powerful place to be, because that’s where the rubber meets the road on how people live their lives: who you can marry, when you can have a baby or not have a baby, how you choose to end your life.
All of these things, these are all political decisions that are based in people’s lives.
So, when I had the opportunity of meeting my brother, cannabis has been a part of my life since I was 16, but when I met my brother, and I found and discovered the grave injustice that was done to him, 10 years with a prison sentence, four years picking cotton to buy his freedom for having possessed less than four ounces of weed.
That, to me, was an American failure on a grand scale when I found out it wasn’t just my brother, but 800,000 people a year.
And when you find out those kinds of statistics and it hits your family, then that political policy becomes very personal to you.
So, it’s funny that the universe brings you to a place where everything that you have done in your life has prepared you for this one moment.
I’m tough as nails, so whatever you’ve got, throw at me. Thank you, military.
I understand business.
Thank you, Fortune 50 companies for giving me outstanding business training.
Politics, thank you for giving me the passion to be able to fight for policies that change people’s lives.
Hopefully, no other 17-year-old Black boy ever has to pick a hundred pounds of cotton a day to purchase his freedom in America.
Everything in my life has prepared me for this very moment.
Interested in reading more about Wanda James? Check out our Fall 2018 issue of Cannabis & Tech Today, where she discussed politics, prohibition, and social justice as our memorable cover star.