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Profile of Pride: Ian Hackett, CMO of Napa Valley Fumé

June 2, 2021

Pride Month is upon us and it’s the time of year we celebrate our beloved friends, family members, and coworkers on the LGBTQIA+ spectrum! Napa Valley Fumé is a company deeply committed to equality and recognizes the unique kinship that exists between cannabis and the queer community. Both LGBTQIA+ and cannabis have been underground and struggled as marginalized communities?communities that have been demonized, othered, misunderstood and who have fought for legitimacy for decades. In both cases, we are witnessing a threshold, coming out moment with a lot of pride and major efforts to shift the narrative and erase the stigma.

Without the LGBTQIA+ community, the legalization of cannabis likely wouldn’t be where it is today. The origin story of the legal cannabis movement is intricately linked to the gay rights movement. The push for legalization came from the LGBTQIA+ community in response to the devastation of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the 80s and the critical role of cannabis in the lives of terminally ill patients and those living with the ravages of the disease.?It is thanks to people like Mary Jane Rathbun aka Brownie Mary, who fought to legalize medical cannabis for HIV/AIDS patients and?helped pass San Francisco Proposition P in 1991 and California Proposition 215 in 1996.

According to recent studies, members of the queer community are twice as likely to use marijuana as their straight counterparts, finding our favorite medicinal plant helpful not just in managing various ailments but like a lot of us, cannabis is also popular in the queer community for recreational use.

While OGs in the LGBTQIA+ movements fight to legalize medical cannabis, such as Brownie Mary and Dennis Peron, a self-described gay hippie and activist who co-wrote both Prop P and Prop 215 and opened the first medical cannabis dispensary in San Francisco, less celebrated are members of the community who continue to work to legitimize cannabis from inside this newly legalized industry. This crop of new leaders includes LAKE GRADE’s own Ian Hackett, CMO and Head of Compliance for Napa Valley Fumé.

Ian was initially drawn to the cannabis industry because of the significant potential the plant has in helping people both mentally and physically. Ian is passionate about fighting for the underdog and helping to unlock hidden potential in companies, products, and individuals. He brings together his love of creating and building, with his desire to be of service to others. For Ian, there is something fulfilling about helping others–from training a new team member to designing informative products. He thrives in the build and grow phases of companies and sees a brilliant future for the cannabis industry and Napa Valley Fumé. Before making the leap to cannabis, Ian had established himself as an eCommerce rock star with a magic ability to unlock hidden potential in underperforming brands and a track record for successfully bringing new brands to market. His idea to move from more traditional Marketing and eCommerce work into cannabis, started back in 2016 when Prop 64 went on the ballot in California. Ian began researching the opportunity and made the official move in 2019, which came as a bit of a shock to those closest to him.

His 80-something-year-old English mother is pretty evolved and open-minded ? she moved to San Francisco in the 60s just in time for the Summer of Love. But, when Ian told her about his newest career move, she said ‘Okay, so you’re going to sell marijuana to people. If that’s what you want to do, I support you but, let’s not tell your aunt.? As he puts it, ‘she looked like I had just told her I was going to sell baby goats to a satanic cult.’

Aware of its stigma coming out of prohibition and drawn to it perhaps in part because he has first-hand experience with stigma as a member of the LGBTQIA+ community, cannabis is a product Ian believes in. He’s deeply proud to be working in this burgeoning industry–one he believes has the potential to heal and change lives as a plant medicine that offers both mental and physical benefits. He also finds it refreshing to be working to realize the potential of a product that actually helps people after spending decades working to bring technology innovations to market that were less essential and less beneficial to the consumer. A panic attack on the 280 highway while driving home from one of his tech jobs in Silicon Valley was a pivotal moment, one that ultimately led to his decision to join the cannabis industry.

With a lot of opportunities in the cannabis industry – from cultivation to distribution to retail – Ian followed his gut and chose to join a heart-led, seed-to-sale company, Napa Valley Fumé, with deep roots in sustainable cultivation and corporate social responsibility. Unlike a lot of his peers looking to cash in on the Green Gold Rush, Ian’s motivation is to unlock potential, erase the stigma, and build a sustainable business that will have a positive social impact while leaving a legacy for future generations.

‘I am so very proud of the work we do at Napa Valley Fumé. The team’s commitment to responsible and sustainable farming practices, the forward-thinking government affairs work our CEO, Eric Sklar, does for the California Cannabis Community, and our heart-led, give-back programs make each day extremely rewarding for me both professionally and personally.’

One thing he’s been passionate about throughout his career is relationship marketing rooted in customer education. In his current role, he’s helping to reframe and broaden the high-THC dominant narrative to showcase the value of terpenes and the company’s terroir approach that reflects a commitment to sustainable farming practices, including sun-grown cannabis. His ‘Let?s talk terpenes’ and #FreeTheTerpenes initiatives are designed to highlight the health benefits of terpenes, the lesser-known organic compounds that give your favorite strains of cannabis their signature scents and unique medicinal properties. He believes that going beyond THC to understand the role of terpenes and cannabinoids will help loyal consumers better appreciate the full value of their favorite strains, as well as draw new consumers to the product who are attracted to the health benefits of this amazing plant. He takes a long-term view of his work with Napa Valley Fumé and is building brands that will leave a legacy and change the narrative and dynamics of the marketplace.

Ian is also extremely passionate about product quality and truth in advertising. He established a Sensory Evaluation Panel in order to assess the characteristics and quality of the cannabis they grow on their farm in Lake County, CA. in a more formalized way. The 10-person, blind panel evaluates all the strains the company grows to produce an informed, unbiased assessment of the consumption experience of each strain based on a variety of palates and personal preferences. The thought behind this is to honor and appeal to conscious consumers who are not just focused on what they are consuming, but also who care deeply about the provenance and energy that their favorite products were created from. He?s also passionate about cause marketing and developed the company’s give-back programs, partnering with two impactful organizations–Last Prisoner Project and One Tree Planted–two causes that reflect the values and social mission of Napa Valley Fum?.

Last Prisoner Project provides resources to those incarcerated for non-violent cannabis-related crimes and One Tree Planted is an environmental charity that plants trees around the globe. Ian worked with One Tree Planted to focus the company’s donation dollars in the NorCal region that was hit by the Tubbs Fire of 2017 which took out their farm and displaced many of their team members. Community is important to Ian and the cannabis community is in need of all of our support.

He also hopes that speaking up as an out and proud member of the LGBTQIA+ community and a leader in the cannabis space will help draw more diversity into the industry. Showing folks in the Queer community that there are opportunities for them in cannabis. As he sees it: ‘The LGBTQ+ community is underrepresented in the cannabis industry at the moment. As the industry is having its own kind of coming out – out of prohibition – companies are still trying to figure out what and who they are. The industry has rapidly expanded beyond cultivation as companies go vertical. With this shift, there are more ‘traditional’ job functions being created which is where the opportunity for diversity sits. I have seen some representation in companies that have expanded beyond cultivation, but diversity as a whole is lacking across the industry.’

Ian believes that companies need to make diversity a priority. Hiring managers should actively seek out a diverse candidate pool for every role they hire. As with all emerging industries, there is a small degree of separation when hiring, as many hiring managers hire people they know, which usually limits diversity. As society becomes more accepting of cannabis as a legitimate industry, the talent pool will open up and if companies open up their recruiting channels, they will have access to a more diverse pool. ‘I think the sooner this happens the sooner the industry will be able to really gain traction on acceptance and find a sense of normalcy among consumers. The LGBTQIA+ community is influential and contributes to the economy in massive ways both as business owners and consumers?contributing more than $1.7 trillion to the US economy as business owners and spending over $917 billion as consumers.?The sooner the LGBTQ+ community finds their seat at the cannabis table, the better.’

Ian is an amazing human. A proud member of the LGBTQIA+ community, an innovative, forward-thinking, conscious brand builder, experienced marketer, and an equally proud leader in the cannabis space who is helping to shape the future of this fast-growing industry.

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