2 Minutes With ... JM Balbuena: Author, Filmmaker, Advocate & Entrepreneur
Navy veteran JM Balbuena is an author, filmmaker, advocate and entrepreneur focused on empowering aspiring leaders in the legal cannabis space. JM's debut book, The Successful Canna-preneur, does exactly this, while winning the exec honors as Educator of the Year at the 2021 Las Vegas Cannabis Awards and 100 Latinas Shaping the World by The New Latina.
JM received a Navy & Marine Corps achievement medal for her dedicated service as an aviation electronics tech from 2010-14. JM runs Boycott Shitty Weed, promoting advocacy through fashion, multimedia and various platforms. She also leads Synergy Studios, providing content and production services to cannabis brands.
JM also serves as CMO at Prime Harvest, a full-service cannabis operation diversified across licensing acquisition, compliance management and direct-to-consumer operations. Prime runs Jaxx, a San Diego-based retailer. Additionally, JM is cofounder of Palenque Provisions, a family owned Latinx food manufacturer headquartered in New Jersey.
We spent two minutes with JM to learn more about her background, her creative inspirations and recent work she's admired.
JM, tell us...
Where you grew up, and where you live now.
I had the good fortune to be born in one of the many beautiful islands in the Caribbean: Dominican Republic. I moved to America at the age of 13. I lived in South Florida for a year, which didn’t seem that much different than DR. But shortly after, I moved to New Jersey and experienced a cold front that seemed unnatural to my Caribbean blood. I now live in San Diego, where the weather is perfect all year.
How you first got interested in cannabis.
I moved to California while serving in the U.S. Navy. While on active duty, I suffered a TBI. When I left the service, the repercussions of the TBI became more apparent and I found healing in the cannabis plant. My journey as a medical patient organically led me to become an advocate of safe access to cannabis for veterans. I am a member of Veterans Walk and Talk, a Southern California based non-profit with a mission to empower veterans to take control of their health journey by using tools such as exercise, cannabis, psychedelics, and community.
One of your favorite projects you've ever worked on, and why.
In Q4 2022, my team at Prime Harvest Inc. and I had the opportunity to pursue a license for cannabis retail operations in one of the most overlooked communities in San Diego: the Mount Hope neighborhood. This project is dear to our hearts as the Mount Hope neighborhood, a predominantly Black and Latinx community, has experienced decades of over-policing and corporations who come into Mount Hope and take from the neighborhood but don't hire or give back to the economy. For that reason, my team developed the Mount Hope Community Alliance Program, a comprehensive plan with specific initiatives to be implemented with the objective to specifically address integrating with and elevating Mount Hope. Prime Harvest plans to leverage resources to shore up the community and participate in initiatives already in play such as park beautification and more robust business security.
A recent project you're proud of, and why.
BSW Nation is a digital wonderland created in Spatial.io's metaverse representing each one of the collection drops by the advocacy lifestyle brand Boycott Shitty Weed. The project is a creation in collaboration with The High Consultants Group, an organization focused on taking brands from physical to digital using Web3 technologies. I am proud of this project because it embodies one-of-a-kind experiences where the user can learn and interact with all things cannabis and celebrate with the BSW tribe in "out of this world" virtual spaces.
The biggest challenge cannabis marketers face today, and how to approach it.
It's not easy selling weed. Despite legalization and the increasing demand for cannabis, there are a plethora of challenges operators encounter when targeting customers. After dealing with the challenges from acquiring the required licenses and building a compliant framework, the next level includes operational adversities; and marketing is at the top of that list. In my experience as CMO of Prime Harvest, a direct to consumer operations and technology-focused full-service cannabis corporation, I’ve determined that creative vision can go a long way within such a red-taped industry. This means coming up with new ways and reinventing new paths to gain new customers and keep them coming back. Three ways to approach marketing with creative vision include:
Gather and use data in your decision making: Use analytics to determine what works (do more of that), what doesn’t (do less of this) and why (identify factors affecting the outcome, then adjust accordingly).
Focus on the customer experience: Make them feel something. A customer that feels appreciated will come back.
Give the customer the opportunity to become an investor: Here is where creative vision kicks in. Capital raise rules have evolved so much in the last few years allowing for paths for both accredited and non-accredited investors to participate in equity rounds. Simply put, a customer who owns shares in your company, will never shop anywhere else.
One thing about how the cannabis industry is evolving that you're excited about.
I am no scientist. However, I am extremely passionate about the cannabis plant and industry. As an owner/operator of retail operations and as an avid consumer, I am aware that one of the most talked about topics in weed is consistency in products or lack thereof. I am very excited because in the past few years plant scientists have been working on solving this challenge by integrating the Plant Tissue Culture process within cannabis horticulture. Tissue culture technology is used to rapidly mass produce healthy and identical plantlets. Ultimately, this is good news for the consumer as it promotes consistent strains, but even more of an advantage for cultivators as the process helps them to reduce operational risks and costs, while increasing revenues, yields, and delivering a dependable product.
Someone else's work, in cannabis or beyond, that you admired lately.
I am very proud of the work Dasheeda Dawson has been doing in cannabis from coast to coast. She is founder of The WeedHead & Co. and author of the bestselling workbook, How to Succeed in the Cannabis Industry. Most recently she was appointed as the founding director of Cannabis NYC, an initiative meant to spearhead the agency’s support of the growing cannabis industry. Dawson’s expertise is expected to support New York’s emerging cannabis industry through widespread public education, direct services to cannabis entrepreneurs and professionals, legislative advocacy, and policy development at all levels of government.
A book, movie, TV show or podcast you recently found inspiring.
If you haven’t done so already, I recommend watching American Playboy. The docudrama dives into the story of Playboy founder, Hugh Hefner, who created one of the world's most recognizable brands. There are many aspects that intrigued me about this story: how Hefner started Playboy magazine from his home kitchen, how the magazine revolutionized the idea of sex and other controversial topics surrounding it (abortions, contraception, etc.), but most importantly, I learned that Hefner contributed to the civil rights movement by providing a space for Black artists to perform not only at events but on live television in a time where this was not the norm. The cinematography and acting do not disappoint.
A visual artist or band/musician you admire.
Toni Jones is my favorite artist right now. Her affirmation music fills me with joy and as a busy entrepreneur it helps me to organically integrate simple healing and wellness practices into my lifestyle. Toni has a beautiful voice, the beats are fire, but most importantly, the messages range from affirming and manifesting your best life, being open to giving and receiving love, claiming your space and protecting your peace.
Your favorite fictional character.
My favorite fictional character is the phoenix, the ancient mythical bird whose symbolism represents the way I see life and the pursuit of purpose. It is said that the phoenix symbolizes the eternal flame, which to me means that no matter the circumstances in your life there is always a little bit of fire or energy or hope to keep pushing forward and upward. Setbacks are a part of life, but the phoenix reminds me that when I feel as though there is no light externally, I have within me the fire and wherewithal to heal, start over, or make a new way to build or just be.
Someone worth following in social media.
The High Consultants Group (@thcgrouppr) is a creative company that focuses on onboarding brands from Web2 to Web3 and bridging the gap between digital and physical worlds with 3D technologies. Their content on social media is innovative and very creative. Beyond 3D tech and Web3, THC Group also places emphasis on the importance of sustainability and cannabis advocacy.
Your main strength as a marketer/creative.
My main strength as a creative is my ability to use media (photography, graphics, video, 3D renderings, or conceptualizing experiences) and bring the community together to tell a story. The cannabis industry is such a diverse and rich community. I started Synergy Studios to create an entity to tell these stories without sensationalizing weed, but focusing on the people that make the space what it is: a foundation for wellness, creative vision, science, community and sustainability.
Your biggest weakness.
As an entrepreneur with no children (only fur babies) my biggest weakness is prioritizing my business endeavors over everything but family most of the time. This year I am working on making the necessary adjustments to live a more balanced life and dedicate more time for personal affairs and whatever that entails.
Something people would find surprising about you.
My first language is Spanish. Even though I moved to America at the age of 13, I came here already speaking English, which made it easier for me to acclimate as a young immigrant. The Dominican Republic has schools with robust bilingual programs plus I spent every summer with my grandparents in New York prior to moving to the U.S. full-time, which allowed me to practice my English with cousins who either were born in America or had moved before I did. My parents always used to say that a bilingual brain counts for two. I think they were correct about that. Que crees?
One thing that always makes you happy.
Listening to high vibrational music from artists such as Toni Jones, Iniko, Aiza, Mello Will, Shariya Wise and others always manages to empower me and make me vibrate at a higher frequency.
One thing that always makes you sad.
The fact that it's 2023 and there are people still serving life sentences in federal prisons for nonviolent cannabis crimes.
What you'd be doing if you weren't in the cannabis industry.
Working remotely for my family’s business Palenque Provisions, a Latin American owned food producer and distributor while being a beach bum in Hawaii.