Wanda James and the political voice of the cannabis industry
2020 CEO of the Year Finalist: James morphed a political consulting career into a venture in the cannabis industry
Wanda James | CEO
Simply Pure Dispensary, Denver
A military kid, James moved all over the country and Europe before graduating high school in Colorado Springs and attending CU.
Her subsequent career as a naval intelligence officer segued into work in the private and nonprofit sectors in Los Angeles in the 1990s. Then she went into politics. “Ran for Congress and lost,” she says. “Then I worked numerous campaigns as a communications person for a number of candidates and elected officials.”
After returning to Colorado in 2004, James worked on Gov. Jared Polis’ Congressional campaign and President Barack Obama’s finance committee in 2008.
But it was her brother’s 10-year prison sentence that led her to align her entrepreneurial and political inclinations. “My brother was one of those young Black men that was targeted for simple possession and given felony sentences so they could work in America’s privatized prison system as slaves,” James says. “For four years, he picked 100 pounds of cotton a day to purchase his freedom.”
“It hurt my soul like nothing else before,” she says. “When I found out my brother’s story, as disgusting as it was, was common, that made us want to do something about it.”
When she opened her first cannabis dispensary in 2009, “We wanted to make it a political place where we could discuss mass incarceration, privatized prison system, and the American slavery system,” James says. “All of that intersects with cannabis.”
James morphed her political consulting career into another venture, the Cannabis Global Initiative, then moved into cannabis edibles and opened her second dispensary, Simply Pure, in 2015. “I like to consider Simply Pure and what we do the political voice of the cannabis industry,” she says. “We’re not afraid of politics — we talk about it, we want to engage in it.”
James, 57, says there’s still a lot of work to be done. “The world has progressed, but when you look at numbers, more African-Americans are in jail, less African-Americans own homes, less African-Americans own businesses than in the 1960s,” she says. “Are we progressing? I don’t know. By what measure?”
She adds, “I think America is in a bad place right now, but maybe a bad place is a good place to get us moving forward.”
This article is part of ColoradoBiz Magazine’s annual CEO of the Year feature. Read more about this year’s winner Kurt Culbertson and the other finalists: