Higher Profile: Ian Hackett, CMO, Napa Valley Fume

California cannabis patient Ian Hackett crossed over from a 20-year career in mainstream, corporate marketing into the cannabis industry.
Higher Profile: Ian Hackett, CMO, Napa Valley Fume

The true meaning of life is to plant trees under whose shade you do not expect to sit.

  • Paraphrased by Nelson Henderson, Canadian Farmer; via Rabindranath Tagore, Indian Poet

California cannabis patient Ian Hackett crossed over from a 20-year career in mainstream, corporate marketing into the cannabis industry as chief marketing officer and head of compliance for Napa Valley Fume, parent company to Lake Grade, a sun-grown, craft cannabis company specializing in fine flower and pre-roll packs.

Hackett grew up and came of age in San Francisco. Raised by immigrant parents, with his mother of British descent, coming over to America from Liverpool, England, and his father hailing from China.

His first experience with cannabis was in adolescence, partly under peer pressure. His second was in high school, with friends partaking near where he lived in a park near the Presidio neighborhood of the city, where military officers are housed in mansions overlooking San Francisco Bay and the Golden Gate Bridge.

“I was a latch-key kid, and was off on my own after school,” he explained. “A friend had gotten some weed from an older brother, and we smoked in the park—hiding from MPs as they patrolled. I remember coughing a lot, with euphoria coming mostly from the fact that we were hiding out from the military police and being cool.”

Other sessions were awkward, with Hackett realizing that everyone else seemed more engaged than he was with the process.

“I pulled away and didn’t have a great time,” he added. “Later, when I was coming out as a gay, young man, I realized part of my anxiety was due to that stress.”

Members of the LGBTQ community deal with a PTSD that comes on early in life, with having to hide who they are from the very people tasked to protect them and show them the way, their parents. Fitting in with siblings and extended family members is difficult enough—let alone fitting into the community at large as they grow older. It’s a post-trauma linked to a person’s identity, often from a very young age, that few could relate to. 

“The first job I ever had, I remember holding the door handle for a moment before going in, thinking to myself, ‘Are you going to be you? Who are you going to be?’ I often presented who I thought people needed me to be. It’s exhausting pretending to be something you are not.”

Therapy, he said, has helped him deal with who he is, but using cannabis purposefully with therapy was definitely a contributing factor, helping him see through the frustration, pain and daily anxiety of becoming himself.

“After one particularly difficult panic attack, I began trying CBD with great results,” he shared. “ I tried a tincture in a 1:1 ratio first, then increased the dose to an 8-1 CBD to THC, and it really works for me. I use tincture because it’s discreet and portable. There’s also something textural about it when I put it on my tongue. The practice of absorption has become a meditative practice for me.”

Weed in the City

Coming of age in San Francisco in the 1980s, Hackett was able to witness conflict in both the queer community and the cannabis community, as they were one in the same during the AIDS epidemic in the 1970s and ’80s.

“When Brownie Mary was arrested for delivering brownies to AIDS patients, I remember my mom saying, in proper English, ‘Pastries! How could anyone get arrested for delivering pastries!’”

The cannabis industry has the LGBTQ community in San Francisco to thank for propelling the plant into the medicinal spotlight, with not only the late Mary Jane Rathbun and her highly medicinal brownies, but the late Dennis Peron—as a gay man, establishing the first cannabis collective in the city, helping quell symptoms of the then-mysterious “gay flu” that would become the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

Marketing Diversity

After working for 20 years in mainstream marketing in-house with corporate entities like Este Lauder, Hackett crossed over into the cannabis space after meeting Napa Valley Fume’s co-founder and CEO, Eric Sklar.

“Eric is truly a good human to his core. He has two daughters and wants to follow the golden rule of leaving the earth better than you found it,” Hackett shared.

Hackett was able to develop an outreach program for the company called the Give Back Program.

“We were able to team up with One Tree Planted, a global, non-profit organization focused on reforesting the planet,” he added. “We plant one tree for every product we sell, focusing our work on replanting the regions where California fires devastated the local communities, including our farm.”

In 2017, the Tubbs fire took their farm in its first year of operation, with the nearby Kincade fire of 2019 causing additional damage to the surrounding region and communities. 

“As a leader of the company, Eric trusts me to try new things—and I thrive in that kind of environment,” he continued. “Because of this trust, I can dive deep into product research and choose serious cultivars. I have the place to say if something isn’t good enough or that we can do better.”

One of Hackett’s first research expeditions prior to the Lake Grade brand launch, was attending the trade show, Hall of Flowers, in neighboring Santa Rosa. 

“After seeing the beautiful flowers and work done at that event and then going back into the Lake Grade operation, I was nervous,” he admitted. “I was the new kid on the block at that point. But, when I walked in the General Manager turned to me and said ‘get to work,’ she didn’t care who I was, just that I had two hands and was able bodied.”

Hackett said he learned every aspect of the operation that he would soon promote from the ground up—literally. He went beyond his marketer’s skill set, learning everything he could about the medicinal aspects of cannabis as a superfood, including work with terpenes, cannabinoids and more.

“From my research, I was actually able to help my mother,” he added. “She was aging and going through depression—especially this past year during the COVID lockdown. She now takes a 1:1 ratio of CBD to THC with great results.”

The conversation between Hackett and his mother on unpacking who he really is, is ongoing, but where cannabis is concerned, she’s fully onboard. As far as the masses accepting his gayness, he’s hopeful for the future.

“Opening doors and walking into rooms, I can still pause before going in because of who I am,” he said. “I’ve trained myself to listen to the message and not words. I also wear my Pride bracelet all year long. If they’re familiar with the bracelet and what it stands for, it’s my way of putting them on warning—to mind their Ps and Qs. It’s important for me to be wholly who I am wherever I go. I’m representing—not taking it all on. We make our own difference.”

Recently, he was met with harassment in public, and was happily defended by two women nearby.

“I’m six-foot-four, but I still get bullied from time to time,” he said. 

Lake County, like Mendocino, Trinity and Humboldt—making up the Emerald Triangle—was once the home of the conservative logging, fishing and ranching industries, until the cannabis industry took over. Thus, it’s conservative base creates a paradox of clashing cultures on the rural North Coast.

As far as hiring from a more diverse employee pool, Hackett said it’s up to Human Resources to hire outside the box. When your circle is small, Hackett said, it reflects your immediate social network in terms of hiring, overlooking diversity, even if unintentional.

“We don’t need to reinvent the wheel; we just need to build it stronger and better, starting with inclusion and acceptance,” he surmised. “There will naturally be a more diverse employee base emerging as we go forward, pulling in more people from mainstream industries. When you have diversity at your table we already know you’ll have higher sales, with a more productive and happier base.”

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