A PotNetwork Exclusive
Conversely, to call something, or someone, in this case, a paragon, a model of excellence, is to out the weight of the world on their shoulders. In founding her company Paragon, Jessica VerSteeg hit many stumbling blocks, both personal and professional, learning along the way that being a model of excellence isn’t as important as striving for excellence. It’s the reason why Paragon found the next best thing to perfect —transparency.
Today’s cannabis industry is under a microscope like no other industry before it, and all of its failures are magnified. Paragon, founded on blockchain technology seeks to show the world that the cannabis industry can succeed on its own merits and shed its black market image of the past. VerSteeg herself has a story that mirrors that of the industry, a woman under the microscope showing the world that she can succeed on a new path.
In part two of PotNetwork’s exclusive interview with Paragon founder and CEO Jessica VerSteeg, we hear in her own words, how she hopes to see government embrace the cannabis industry, what it’s like to be a woman in the cannabis industry, and what cannabis means to the opioid crisis.
“My goal is to open the eyes of the government and help work with them.”
Looking to the future, VerSteeg hopes to see Paragon enter the startup space, in a way, fulfilling a role for the cannabis industry that’s sorely lacking due to federal prohibition. Just recently, the Small Business Administration under the Trump White House put out a declaration stating that the agency would not fund the cannabis industry —including any ancillary services adjacent to the sector. Ever the optimist, however, VerSteeg notes that Paragon’s role is not to sidestep the federal government but to help it embrace marijuana in all its forms.
And she may just have a point. As public perception shifts to where a plurality of Americans is now in favor of cannabis legalization, most experts see the tide shifting sooner rather than later. In setting up Paragon as a place where cannabis companies can find funding and grow, VerSteeg hopes to use it as a model to change the minds of politicians and legislators. As is everything with VerSteeg, this idea is deeply personal, a way to not only help an emerging industry stand on its feet, but a way to help others avoid the suffering and heartbreak that she has experienced.
The funding part is something that obviously is going to take more time. It’s not something that we’re jumping on first because of legal reasons. We are focused on tech companies in the cannabis space, so it’s a little bit different. But these are companies that are going to help get government onboard, that makes them want to legalize it, that makes it easier for the next farm to pop up or the next brownie company to pop up.
So, we’re focusing on these beginning points. Our goal is 100 percent not to sidestep the government but to bring them onboard, and to let them see that this is an emerging industry. America has such a bad opiate epidemic right now that the government needs to start to see, this is something that can help them.
There’s a program called Weed the Homeless because there’s so many homeless people that are addicted to these needles and pills, and they’re spending money on it, but if you give them something free that’s going to help with their pain or depression, they’ll get off of this addiction. So, if the government can see these types of things and progress, I think it will help move this process along a lot faster. My goal is to open the eyes of the government and help work with them.
Paragon creates transparency. That’s what government needs, that’s what people need in order to vote. I mean, even if the government decides that they want this, ultimately, it’s people who need to want it. And there’s so many communities that don’t even understand cannabis.
Remember how I once was? So, it’s all about transparency, for legalization and for getting people to be onboard with this, whether it’s recreationally or medicinally. My honest thoughts – I wouldn’t create this company if I didn’t believe in that, because my ultimate goal is to help legalize this, so no one else suffers the way that I did or the way that [my partner] did.
“Whatever it is, there aren’t a lot of women.”
VerSteeg holds a unique place as a woman and an executive in the cannabis industry. While in the past marijuana has been touted for its high percentages of female CEOs as compared to other industries, recent surveys show those numbers have been in decline. Though not weighed down with a history of stereotypes like other industries, due mostly to being such a relatively young sector, cannabis companies, like most still have a long way to go in terms of progress when it comes to equality.
But VerSteeg doesn’t allow this to hold her back, despite the old boy’s club nature that exists. Moreover, in an age where smartphones and other technologies can empower young women to take the reigns of their own entrepreneurial dreams, and where movements such as “Lean In” and #metoo have brought their voices to the forefront, VerSteeg sees the old barriers crumbling down. She speaks candidly about what it takes to be a woman executive in a see of men in the cannabis industry, and, like everything else in her life, she finds strength in her own personal power.
It’s definitely an old boys club. There’s so many of these companies that you would think are led by women, but they’re not, they’re either funded by men, or they’re run by men that are just trying to make money on it, or maybe they have a wife, and they cared about her, and they just decided to create the company.
Whatever it is, there aren’t a lot of women. So that means when you have these cannabis conventions, even crypto, and blockchain conventions, tech, it’s all men. And then, you’ve got these after parties that are purely men-driven. And if you’re a girl in the space, it’s like you’re on the playground. You know when you’re different from the other people and not that many people want to interact with you unless you’ve got a lollipop or some candy that they all want, then they’re going to talk to you.
This new generation of people growing up, kind of my generation but this younger one for sure, they’ve all grown up with iPhones and iPads. No one’s putting these apps on their phone. If a boy wants to download a pink Barbie app and a girl wants to download a blue GI Joe app, they can, and no one’s going to tell them no. They’ve both grown up, like me, with both of their parents in the military. Both of my parents were in IT. So, they see their parents as equals.
Look how many famous chefs there are that are men and women now. They grow up seeing this, and this new generation, they’re trying to be equal, men and women. So, this new generation is what’s going to change that and, unfortunately, it’s just time. I don’t think it’s me who’s going to have a voice, or a politician who’s going to have a voice or anything, it’s just time, and people like these kids growing up seeing equals and their parents, that’s what changes it. Because back in the old days, it was your mom who was cooking every day, at home in a dress, probably a pink one, and it was your dad every day who was out chopping wood and bringing home the bacon. And it’s just different now.
“For me, it’s a real passion. It’s not the money.”
Having been so close to the opioid epidemic in her personal life, VerSteeg is in a unique position to discuss the benefits of cannabis truthfully as an alternative to prescription painkillers. Unfortunately, as more players set their sights on reaping the financial benefits of marijuana, it’s become all too common for industry-types to insist that cannabis can replace opiates, or even cure substance use disorder, even as researchers continue to look for a solid answer to that question.
VerSteeg, however, isn’t looking for easy answers, and as she notes, money is not her primary goal. And though it may be impossible to insist on pure altruism in any capitalistic society, Paragon offers the next best thing —transparency. It’s the reason, again, why community voices are such an integral part of the Paragon ecosystem. So, it was a refreshing change to hear VerSteeg admit that while cannabis will definitely play a major role in reshaping the opioid epidemic, it is, in her opinion, a part of a greater whole.
I can definitely say I’ve seen a lot of people in the space that just want money, and that sucks. But it’s not fair, because you see so many people that are dying, and then you see these people that are like, “Great, I’ll capitalize on that and just make money.” Like Paragon, look, it’s free, you should just use it, it’s just about transparency. I charged for AuBox because I didn’t have a blockchain and I just charged whatever it was that the buyers would give me. That’s how much my box was, whatever I paid for. So, I broke even, and I didn’t pay myself one penny from AuBox.
For me, it’s a real passion. It’s not the money. Now, do I think cannabis is the end all of opiate addiction? I wish I could say yes, but the answer is honestly no. I think that cannabis is going to be [a part of helping] opiate addiction. If I didn’t see that I wouldn’t be in this space. I was a model; I could have kept modeling, I could have done anything. I didn’t have to do this. This is a lot of work, and I’m pretty sure I’m aging much faster than I should by starting this, but it’s a passion.
The reason I don’t think that it’s 100 percent the end all is because there are still so many doctors that are getting paid to push these products, and there’s so many poor neighborhoods that are just dealing out pills. There’s so many children, even me; I don’t want to go under the knife and have some crazy internal organ surgery and just smoke weed. You’re going to need some pills to get under, and you’re going to need some IV to help you get under.
After that, sure, you can definitely smoke weed. I just had a little minor surgery on my foot, and I had the option of these pills, which I got just in case, and then I had weed. I took one pill right after my surgery so that I could bear getting to the car and going through that. The rest of the time, I just smoked weed, and it definitely helped my pain.
So I think that it’s going to have to come down to education and people understanding there are a time and place for these pills, but they shouldn’t be abused. Doctors should just give you one, two, maybe three because that third one isn’t going to get you addicted. It’s when they give you, or even your puppy who gets a little surgery, 20 pills and you don’t need them, and you just take them because it’s fun, well, that’s where it starts.
“...which is why I created this blockchain…”
In the end, Paragon is all about transparency. VerSteeg, herself an advocate of organic living, worries that too many people these days don’t know what is in the cannabis they are smoking. In an era of slick advertising and social media marketing, everyone thinks that all marijuana is good marijuana, and as VerSteeg notes, that’s just not true. It’s why Paragon’s blockchain is so vital to her and so crucial to the industry.
Moreover, transparency is, in many ways, a metaphor for the story of Paragon and the story of Jessica VerSteeg’s journey into the cannabis industry. Following the death of her partner, it would have been easy enough for VerSteeg to pack it all in, to hide away from everything, and no one would have blamed her. But, instead, she opened up about her story, and opened to the world with Paragon, hoping, in her own way, that she could turn her pain into something productive, something better for the next person who has to face such tragedy. Her’s is, in many ways, a story of redemption, which is what makes her such a paragon of cannabis.
Something that a lot of people in general don’t know is that not all weed is just this organic plant that someone picked. That’s a pretty big thing for me. I believe in eating organic as much as I can —I indulge in desserts, and that’s the one thing that’s never always organic for me. But, everything from my shampoo to my food, I try my best to have organic products, and I really like locally farmed products as well.
I think that’s something a lot of consumers don’t realize, is that they could just be smoking weed filled with pesticides. They’re lighting it up, and it’s carcinogenic. They don’t realize that a lot of these vape pens and the oils in them aren’t really safe. Some of these CBD pens, they’re really just cancer sticks if you look at it, it’s not heating up properly, the pen, sometimes, there’s not glass around it, it’s just mere plastic. There’s all kinds of wrong things; the oil isn’t organic, it’s extracted wrong, I’m pretty sure that they’ve gotten away with – everyone has stopped using butane, but maybe there’s still some, I don’t know.
I think that’s something a lot of people don’t know. They get into this thinking that they’re going to have this organic plant that’s going to help them, and it’s important to know the history of this product which is why I created this blockchain that anyone can scan, within our Paragon app, you can scan a QR code on the product and see what it is that you’re putting in your body.