Combining her two loves, food and cannabis, Jessica Catalano is a professional chef, food blogger, and author of The Ganja Kitchen Revolution: The Bible of Cannabis Cuisines. Cooking with cannabis since 1997 for medicinal purposes, Jessica is a pioneer of strain-specific cannabis cuisines. Infusing terpenes into cooking and baking via strain specific recipes, Jessica harnesses unique flavor profiles for incredible cannabis dishes. She has cooked for celebrities like Snoop Dogg and has even served as a judge for the Denver HIGH TIMES Cannabis Cup in 2012, 2013, 2015, and 2016. Jessica has appeared on TLC, Munchies VICE, and Al Jazeera. She has also been mentioned in publications such as Vogue, Buzzfeed, The Cannabist and many others! When she isn’t writing about tasty cannabis cuisines as a food columnist at SKUNK Magazine, she is also contributing recipes to Cannabis Now and working as a contributing editor at Ladybud Magazine. Mother of newborn daughter Mary Jane, Jessica is passionate about helping other women explore the benefits of cannabis for a healthier, happier and more fulfilling lifestyle.
In the beginning, what motivated you to first get involved with cannabis?
For me, it was a friend that introduced me to cannabis in middle school. Previous to that, it was like, cannabis is scary, because of the drug programs at the time. I was in seventh grade though when I first tried cannabis. My girlfriends and I actually smoked out of a pop can because we couldn’t find a pipe – that was quite the experience ha! But you know, I’ve been having chronic migraines since I was 10. And so, when I tried cannabis for the first time, I actually realized it took my pain away. And for me, that was really exciting.
That encouraged my journey with it. Over the years, I found that while I enjoyed smoking, I really loved making edibles and learning how to make edibles. I’ve always loved food. So that passion with cannabis really evolved over time. When I first was going to college, I wanted to do culinary arts. But my parents are like, you’re not going to make any money. So I went into clinical psychology instead. I did that for some time and worked in the healthcare industry realm. I then had the opportunity to go to Colorado.
Since I was little, I’ve always had this strange pull to go west. And so, I took this opportunity as well, I’ve always had this feeling, so I’m going to go for it – I’m going to Colorado. And you know, at the time I was buying black market. But I decided after I graduated as an EMT that I wanted to switch directions. So I started to pursue culinary arts and follow my dream. I began working in bakeries and things like that. But for my EMT certification, I was also working in a detox program in Colorado Springs. (I’ve always loved helping people.) In doing that, I realized that the psychologists were pushing so many pharmaceutical drugs. I also realized how the doctors were really kind of ‘”in-bed” with these pharmaceutical companies. I would watch the companies come and do these extravagant breakfasts where they would pretty much try to sell their drugs. It was all so crazy!
The whole time I’m thinking – cannabis works really well and it’s a lot safer than all these other things – how does this make any sense?! That was eye opening. But, you know, my whole love affair with cannabis and cooking has really grown over time. While part of me wishes I would have just started off and gone to school for culinary arts, I wouldn’t have had the EMT experience. And I think the path that I chose was the way it was supposed to work out. It’s a journey.
What do you enjoy most about what you do?
Helping people, that is my biggest joy. Then, helping people with something that comes out of the earth, something that is natural. Using God’s gift essentially. It’s an ancient medicine. The fact that people can get relief from cannabis in some form, whether it’s psychoactive, non-psychoactive, whatever it is. The fact that they can get relief from it and can bring themselves to a daily functioning level that is good for them, a place where they are not suffering – that makes me happy. To see people present, happy, in the moment, and pain-free.
What does a day in the life of Jessica consist of today?
Right now, it’s full of the baby, little Mary Jane. So many changes in my life right now, it is beautiful. Motherhood is a journey and it’s amazing. Your life changes along with your whole outlook and perception once you have a child. So right now it is primarily revolving around the baby. But it is also writing recipes for the magazines I write for like SKUNK Magazine, Cannabis Now, and Ladybud Magazine. It’s also doing interviews and talking to the public. It’s just living in the moment, taking care of Mary Jane and spreading the love of cannabis.
What do you consider to be your greatest achievement?
There have been a few things. Being mentioned in Vogue was a big one for me. Being mentioned in The Guardian, a publication in the U.K. was also a big one for me. Being recently named as one of the Top 5 Cannabis Chefs in America was mind-blowing! I don’t know, I feel like there have really been a lot of awesome moments throughout my career. Realizing that this is what God wants me to do. Understanding that I’m on this earth to teach people about this medicine and how they can use it to heal themselves. Food is such a great vessel to talk to talk to people about cannabis because it is something everyone can relate to.
Looking back, what is one thing you wish you understood about cannabis or the cannabis industry?
When I first started off, everyone was “lovey-dovey”, very tight-knit. But as medical marijuana paved the way for legalization, I noticed in observation that cannabis started to become like the music industry in the sense that it started becoming very competitive. People would walk all over you just to get ahead. And for me, while it shouldn’t be shocking as that can be found everywhere, it is shocking. Because in my experience with the people in cannabis, everyone is laid back and supportive of each other.
So seeing some of these people that are newer to the industry or more out to make money rather than helping people, just the way they go about things is shocking to me. I never hoped that would happen but I guess you have to come to terms with the fact that once something gets more popular, you are going to have that to some degree. It was the biggest turn off to me. I was out here in 2007 watching it go from caregivers to dispensaries. It was a different time, a different energy. Some dispensaries were literally people’s houses, they would live in the back of the house or the upstairs. The front of the dispensary would be their living room they had remodeled. I remember during that time you could smoke there, you could eat edibles there. People had rooms to just hang out and chill. It was a very loving atmosphere. A lot has changed.
I remember one of my friends was a grower. He could go around with a backpack full of weed and sell people his weed. (that was allowed back then) Honestly, it was a lot of fun! It was like a farmer’s market coming to your dispensary. Edibles were not regulated as much either so there was a little more leeway there. Now, unfortunately, you have to watch your back a little bit more because it is becoming more about money versus about the patients.
Are there any habits or mindsets that have helped make you successful?
Never giving up and doing what I love. If it is something that you love and you’re passionate about, it will take you far. Passion is really what propels you forward in any endeavor that you take.
What do you think is one of the biggest misconceptions people have when it comes to women and cannabis?
Assuming women don’t know very much about cannabis. I worked in a dispensary for almost 4 years. Talking to some of the old male growers, a lot of them were not necessarily misogynistic but held beliefs like “men know what they are doing as far as cannabis is concerned.” I really had to prove myself with the knowledge I had. And unfortunately, I think part of that stigma still exists today. The belief that women don’t know enough, or that they don’t really know what they are talking about when it comes to cannabis. Women really have to prove themselves in this industry.
What has been your biggest struggle working in the cannabis industry?
The biggest hurdle I have had to overcome is people who are still stuck in the reefer madness kind of mindset. Trying to educate them or at least get them to listen so that it isn’t in one ear and out the other is hard. There are some people who just right off the bat don’t want to even talk about it. They think cannabis does this or that to you with no basis in fact. And it’s like no, you really need to listen before you form an opinion based off of propaganda that has been passed down through the years.
That is very challenging but it is amazing when perceptions do change. Like my husband’s father for example who believed that using cannabis altered your DNA. Obviously, when we first started dating, what I did was a huge concern to him. But the more that I got to talk to him, the more he listened. Now, he won’t use it himself at this point in his life but he supports cannabis and is proud of me. He is so happy now when people use cannabis medically to help heal themselves, and that was an accomplishment in itself!
Do you have any advice for women looking to break into the industry or get involved?
Whether it’s edibles, growing cannabis, having a dispensary, writing, whatever it is that interests you – follow your heart. Work as hard as you can at your craft. Understand that while yes you may have to prove your knowledge and prove yourself, keep doing what you're doing, eventually, everything will just fall into place. Respect will come to you.
What are the top 3 skills Every Cannabis entrepreneur needs?
A passion for cannabis and for healing people. Also, compassion. Some people may be dealing with things that are hard to understand but they still deserve our compassion. Finally, dedication to your craft and the movement.