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An Interview with Jayne Fiscus Lab Director at Curaleaf, a Select Company

Cannabis Culture

Where are you located right now? And where are you from originally? 

I am currently in Sacramento, California, I was born and raised in Dallas, Texas. I went to college at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, a very small town with a conservative culture. When I graduated, I was a little bit burnt out. I tend to do things with a lot of passion, a lot of drive, and a lot of commitment. When I go at something, I tend to go very hard.

By the time I had graduated, I needed a break so I packed myself and my dog into my car and started driving across the continental US and Canada. I spent a lot of time in transit, just literally driving across the US and Canada, and got into cannabis and realized that I could combine my scientific background with my passion for cannabis. I ended up in Portland, Oregon, which is how I actually first started with Select Oil back in 2018 then we were acquired by Curaleaf Holdings in February 2020. The merger began in late 2019, which also coincided with when I moved from Oregon to Sacramento and was given the opportunity to oversee the manufacturing and the lab in California. Pretty much the week that I got down here, it was announced that we were part of an acquisition.

It was a really fun journey coming down here and inheriting a team, absorbing the whole facility, now having to go through this very large business acquisition. I’ve been very fortunate to be where I’m at, I have a great team. I’m very thankful and I really am happy in Sacramento.

Has your whole career been in the cannabis sector? 

What I claim to be my career, yes. I originally always wanted to go to vet school, I wanted to be a veterinarian. Through high school and college, I did a lot of medical animal medical science, and really kind of fell in love with chemistry during that period of time.

I’ve always just been a happy little stoner at heart. I took an incredible class my senior year of college (with a professor that I’m very fortunate to still be in connection with) on recreational pharmacology, which is the science of recreational drugs. It was a very interesting class and it was the first time that anyone who I respected had said that, “cannabis is neither bad nor good – we don’t know what it is, but there’s so much research out there to do”. It’s a really unique plant and we haven’t been able to study it. It has more active ingredients, active molecules than any other plant out there than any other drug that we normally consume, and this fascinated me.

I kind of went from there to my first professional job, starting as a little trimmer to where I am now, it’s been cannabis from the start.

Has being a woman, not just in science, but in cannabis science had an impact on your trajectory and your overall experience?

Yes, I go back to the quote a lot of times that the flower is female, and it’s very important to honor the nature of this plant that we love so much. I’ve been very fortunate to be a woman not only in science but in cannabis science.

When I first started with Select in Oregon, I was the second woman hired into the lab and there were fourteen men. It was kind of a sink or swim environment that was heavily masculine dominated. You have to speak very confidently, you have to know what you’re saying and be able to stand behind it because oftentimes men are able to soundboard with each other on a high scientific level. Whereas as a woman, if you try to soundboard, it can be perceived as a lack of intelligence. I learned very early to speak confidently and value my own voice because I do love this plant and I do know a lot about it. I’m here to share that knowledge with anybody who will listen. I like to make sure that that voice is heard and it’s given me a unique perspective on the plant and also with my team.

I inherited my team in California; my lab team of all men and one woman. Over the years, people don’t really leave here; I have a very low turnover. We bring in as we need, but it’s been great to get to build my team out and add to it. We have a lot of women in the lab itself and in our facility. We do production as well as filling and distribution to HERBL out of our warehouse. The majority is women – it’s not a 50/50 split, it’s about a 55/45 split.

The good part about cannabis in any portion of the industry is that there is no one’s back to stand on. You have to do it yourself. We don’t have 30 years of industry to substantiate and support what we do as a business or as a science or an art, so we have to do it ourselves. I think most of the time we’re naturally go-getters in that sense; I think we’re used to kind of doing a little bit of everything and it’s been a really great learning opportunity for me to use all my different skill sets with people management, with science, with development, with product development, with logistics, to learn all of this and to run with it – it’s great. I look around and I’ve done so many trainings and I look over and the Sales Director for California is a woman, her boss is a woman, our Compliance Director is a woman. A woman runs the production line. I’m surrounded by strong women. It just continues to prove to me that the flower is female and the females should be inspired, encouraged, and uplifted in this.

There’s often media published around how cannabis presents an opportunity to have equitable representation between men and women in terms of ownership and leadership, what do you think about that perspective? Has that been your experience? 

Yes. I’m a state operator, I’m on the ground level for a national company that’s in 23 different states. It’s really amazing to see the amount of very strong women that are leading their teams on a state or regional level. I do think that all the way, sometimes at the top of all of our companies, we have not yet crossed the line and full female representation that most of the C-suites, the investment boards, the board of directors for a lot of these big companies are male-dominated and the people underneath them running their teams are led by strong women. It’s encouraging to see that the equity is starting to balance and it’s bleeding from the bottom, up. I think we have a little bit further to go for full balanced representation, especially on the business and the very large multi-state operator level for full female representation, equitable partnerships, and balance. But I do think that on a state and regional level, yes, I know many women who run their own companies or are leading their sales team or leading their labs. It’s been really neat to get to know the amount of female processors, growers, and operations managers that are out there just working their butts off. I’m really proud to be one of them. We have ways to go, but we’re getting there. We are making steady progress. 

What women do you look up to both within the industry and in general?

You know, it’s a good question. I look up to my mom a lot – She is a lot of the reason why I am so confident, feel so supported and empowered by what I do. My mom passed away when I was 11 of air pollution-induced lung cancer in Texas, where we did not have access to cannabis products or anything that might’ve helped ease her pain throughout the end of that. My mom was a boss. My mom was the fundraising director for United way and raised millions and millions of dollars for charity and to help the world around her. She had a big voice, a big heart, and a big smile. She drives me to do what I do to continue to make a clean, safe product so that nobody is smoking anything that may cause an issue later on. She’s the voice behind my shoulder telling me to keep moving, to say what you mean and mean what you say because people will listen if you say it loud enough and with reason. My mom is the biggest kind of driving force for me as a powerful and strong woman. In this industry, there are a whole lot of amazing female processes. I really looked to my own team a lot. I have some incredible women in the lab who come from both standard academia and non-standard backgrounds. They’re leading their overnight teams, taking on mechanics, and leading their team of men. They are what continues to push me forward to be the female leader for them so that they know that female leadership is what they’re meant for.

How did you end up on the Select team and how is working on the Select team different from other teams you’ve worked with?

I ended up with the Select Team through my network and my connections. When I was traveling across the country, I met my partner in Las Vegas, outside of a nightclub at 4:00 AM, he was living off of his motorcycle and I was dabbling in my car with my dog. We ended up living in Portland together and that’s where he was from. He had a good friend who was a sales rep for Select at the time. We went out to dinner and he was talking about this company saying, “They’re doing really great work and they’re making all their own products and oil, I hear they need some lab help. Isn’t that what your background is? Maybe you could go do that.”

So he called someone who called me; I showed up to my interview in a skirt and a nice shirt and my interviewer, who then later became my mentor, and is now still one of my very close friends, had a beanie on and a t-shirt. I thought to myself “oh boy, this is going to be different”. I had an interview and I was originally brought on to be in addition to the Portland lab team, but then potentially go open the Detroit or Phoenix labs. Then the merger began happening and then my plans pivoted again. My boss then asked if I wanted to become the lab manager down in Sacramento and oversee the California operations on that arm. I was like, “yes! I like it!”. 

I put a lot of it up to timing, right place, right time, people, good community.  Hanging out with people who smoke weed tend to get you places where you want to go is what I learned out of that. Working for Select and for Curaleaf has been special. It’s unique. I’m very privileged and I’m very honored to get to do what I do. It’s shown me that I get the opportunity to work at other facilities, to work with other people, to do different projects. One of the things I really love about the Select and the Curaleaf team is that everybody likes each other, which sounds so cliche to say, but this is my family. These are my people that do 24 hour pushes when we need to and it’s across the nation. It’s not just on a ground level. People talk to each other and people lean on each other with Select, and people stick around for a really long time. I think that’s the special part about us; we have a very low turnover rate for the people on the ground. We like each other and we like what we do, and we feel fulfilled by what we get to do.

What’s your favorite thing about the gig?

I love cannabis. I love looking at it. I love talking about it. I love working with it and I love science. My favorite thing is that I get to do both in a really large scale way. Which has presented some really incredible learning opportunities that are very rare. My team and I have made over 4 million grams of oil. We’ve created a lot of product we’ve pushed through thousands of pounds of biomass on a monthly basis. What we get to do is special and unique.  We get to continue to refine it and create something that is honestly, quite ahead of its time. What’s unique about cannabis science is that we still can’t study this on a federal level. It’s very difficult to, there’s a lot of red tape, the scope is very limited. One of the downsides of traditional academic research is that it’s very specific and it’s scope. You’re looking at pretty much one thing only and it’s repeat, repeat, repeat experiments to prove, disprove or that you theory think that something is going to happen, but what makes cannabis so difficult to study anyways, it has a heart of uncertainty. 

There are so many active molecules working in this plant. You have over 11 different cannabinoids that are showing up on a routine basis. You have so many different terpenes, you have flavonoids, you have phenols. The equation is so big of cannabis that doing a traditional research model is going to take us a really long time to figure out how to figure out that heart of uncertainty. 

I feel very privileged with this job to get to work with this plant on a processing level at a really high level to get to understand it more than you could in a standard research way, because you’re only doing one piece of it. We get to work on the entire picture of a processing plant and get to learn these tips and tricks and understand, and we get to work backwards. We’re like “we noticed this thing is happening, why?, and then we can kind of figure out why, instead of figuring out how do we get this thing to happen. So I feel my favorite part about this is that I get almost like the secret special knowledge that shouldn’t be secret and it shouldn’t be special, but I get to see it. My team gets to see it and we get to collaborate together and it’s really fun. Traditional academia – There’s one path for it. There’s one pathway into it, there’s many barriers to entry. 

What’s so special about cannabis and the industry as a whole is there is no barrier for entry if you want to work in the industry. There’s a barrier to entry to own a shop and there’s a barrier to entry to different pieces of this, but saying you want to go work in cannabis – anybody can walk into a retail shop and say, “Do you have a bud tender spot open? I’d like to apply.” That’s what’s unique about our processing labs in our cultivation sites is that we have a very fun and special balance of traditionally educated people and people who taught themselves. You get a really unique perspective because some set of people are going to be overly cautious and overly analytical. The other side is going to know that you push a button and something happens. Then we get to work together to figure out why and that would never happen in traditional academic research. We get a combination of really unique people together to do a series of really unique processes. Then we get to figure out what the heck is going on. We are writing this history book as we go, and this is what is so stressful, amazing and terrifying about our industry is that we’re writing our rule books every day.

Do you have a favorite way to consume cannabis or do you kind of not discriminate?

I don’t discriminate. Edibles? Are you a gummy person? Do you like your edibles to be a marshmallow? Do you like them to be a tincture? Do you want to smoke? Do you want a joint? Do you want a blunt? Do you want a dab? So many ways to do it; They’re all good. Find what works best for you and don’t forget to explore a little bit along the way. 

I am a pretty consistent user, and it kind of depends on my mood and my day and what I’m hoping to achieve or the activity in front of me. What I love about where we’re at on a product level with this industry right now is that we’re all getting into our really strong niches and what we do and what we do well, and the product marketplace is diversifying very heavily so that there is something of everything. I look at it like I don’t like to eat the same foods every single day. I have a varied diet. I have a varied consumption habits too, because sometimes you want a tincture. Sometimes you want a BIG blunt. You know, one’s a Tuesday, one’s a Friday event; They’re different. I tend to use a lot of concentrates simply because that is part of my job is that we do a lot of flavor testing and ensuring that something is good before we put it out into the world.

This is our product, our voice, what we do in love every day. Greatness isn’t great if you do it once. Greatness is great when it’s consistent and repeated. That’s where we have to be. Can you repeat that greatness over and over and over? Can we honor each and every strain that we produce from the flower that it came from, to make this concentrate taste, smell, and feel exactly like the flower that it came from? There’s a lot of art and science and dancing into it and we have a spectacular team in there. Our head of formulations has been with the company for over five years at this point and has mixed almost every batch of oil, kind of every single one we’ve ever produced and so this team makes a really good product, and I like to consume it.

I think Select has released more product lines than any other brand we work with, are you running out of ideas or are you just getting started?

I had a boss a long time ago, which has actually only two years ago, but it seems like a long time in cannabis years. Come up to me and say, “Jayne, I realized, I don’t exactly know what you can do. I want you to make a buffet of products for me.” I was like, “Be careful what you wish for, my guy”. One of the things that’s great about Curaleaf too, is that there’s a powerhouse R&D team and a powerhouse product development team that is based out on the east coast. So we get the best of east and west. Mind’s and worlds come together, so when I run out of ideas, they go over and they work their magic. So we pass the stick around – it’s a really collaborative team effort.

As you know, the ability to study cannabis in this country has been extremely limited to date, as those limits recede, what weed science are you excited to see flourish?

This is a great question and this is a very nerdy answer. I’m very excited to study the effects of the CB1 and CB2 receptors once we are able to study cannabis on a bigger level, because my pure background is biochemistry, which is the chemistry of the body and how things uniquely affect each and every bio person along the way we accept that perfumes smell different on different people, to different people. Why would something as diverse as cannabis, not be different to every person and affect everyone differently? We do know that cannabis affects your CB1 and CB2 receptors in your brain, but sometimes we’re not sure what those receptors are fully doing. How they actually affect the rest of our body and our life, but there’s been some really interesting teaser research done on deficiencies of CB1 and CB2 activations that could be leading to Alzheimer’s or dementia. We’ve learned that for traumatic brain injuries, if someone has a head contusion your body activates naturally the CB1 receptor to decrease the swelling of the brain. But can we use cannabis to activate those receptors more specifically for more targeted drug treatment later on for bigger diseases like Alzheimer’s or Huntington’s or Parkinson’s?

My specific area of excitement for the research of cannabis is more on how it specifically affects the body and how we can use those amazing properties of cannabis that activate these receptors in your brain. How can we learn from that? How can we use this plant and bigger treatments later on? It’s really exciting to see. We were kind of unlocking this world of what cannabis can do. There’s two sides of it, of what the plant itself does, which is also quite magical and it’s nature’s way of showing that you can’t always figure everything out, but sometimes you don’t have to, to appreciate it. The plant is a really amazing structure. It is one of the most diverse plants in the world. There’s over a hundred different types of corn and there’s over a thousand different types of logged cannabis and all of these minute differences amongst them. On the cultivation side, it’ll be really interesting for the agronomists and the horticulturists to get together and figure out how best to grow these plants on both a small-scale and on a large-scale scale level. What’s the best way to use all the features of them? Then on the scientific side, I’m really excited to learn more about how the effects of cannabis on the body can be used for bigger, greater good.

Select

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