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Women of Cannabis: Wanda James of Denver

Wanda James with President Obama

By Susan Squibb

Wanda James with President Obama

Wanda James with President Obama.

Wanda James is a well-established figure in the Denver marijuana scene, known for her politics, restaurants and business ventures. James’ first cannabis business, Apothecary of Colorado, opened its dispensary doors in downtown Denver in the fall of 2009. After the release of the Ogden Memo by the Department of Justice, James says her entry into marijuana business was a political statement as much as it was a business opportunity.

“It’s unconscionable the number of people arrested and attacked who look like me. You can’t ignore the impact on black and brown people,” she says.

James has experienced the racist reality of marijuana prohibition. Her brother, 17 years old at the time, was sentenced to 10 years in prison for possession of less than five ounces of marijuana in Texas.

She eventually sold the dispensary to focus on her edible company, Simply Pure, with her husband and chef, Scott Durrah. At first, Simply Pure grew their own cannabis and created infused confections with high-quality ingredients made by chefs for the Colorado medical marijuana market. Ultimately, the lack of banking services and access to capital have been the biggest challenges James has faced as a cannabis entrepreneur. Frustrations with banking access and the undeveloped distribution network for marijuana products were the primary reasons she closed Simply Pure.

Before her career in cannabis, James specialized as political strategist, message developer, campaign manager and media planner. In 2013, she expanded her political work with the Cannabis Global Initiative and consults for municipalities, policymakers, and communities in local, national and global markets.

This year, James reopened Simply Pure as a medical and recreational dispensary. Her next business move is opening an infused cooking school, where cooks and professional chefs will learn how to prepare and cook with cannabis infusions.

“For people of color, I say, get involved,” James offers. “This will be the greatest industry with so many different opportunities. Don’t let it pass you by. If you are interested, get involved! For politicians and people in power, I say, Wake up and get a clue. Stop acting in fear. For law enforcement, those days are numbered.”

Susan Squibb is a Denver-based freelance writer and Operations Director at Mary’s Nutritionals. Check out her articles at The Cannabist and follow her @CannabisMaven on Twitter.