Meet Jae Graham, CEO & Co-Founder of MARYJAE

June 28th marked the 52nd anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, also referred to as the Stonewall Uprising.

In 1969, the police raided the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in NYC and landmark for the LGBTQIA+ community. Although raids were common, this night was different, as people, Black and brown trans folks specifically, fought back. This led to the street erupting into six days of protests and violent clashes with law enforcement.

The uprising inspired resistance and solidarity, and sparked the modern-day LGBTQIA+ civil rights movement. On the one-year anniversary of the riots, thousands of individuals marched in what was then called “Christopher Street Liberation Day,” America’s first gay pride parade.

Ardent recognizes PRIDE, and loudly celebrates each individual in our community this month, next month, and all year long!

We spoke with Jae Graham, Ardent Community Member and CEO & Co-Founder of MARYJAE, Texas's Most Inclusive Cannabis Dispensary. LGBTQ+, BIPOC, and women-owned, MARYJAE is a safe and inclusive space for all people who enjoy cannabis responsibly, with an unapologetic and heart-centered approach to cannabis.

Set the mood with our PRIDE playlist on Spotify and keep reading Jae’s interview below!

Need an Ardent device to join in on the fun? Between 6/23 - 6/30, a portion of proceeds on Ardent Nova and FX sales will be donated to the Marsha P. Johnson Institute, which protects and defends the human rights of Black transgender people.

1. Jae, tell us about yourself. What’s your story?

  • My name is Jae Graham of MARYJAE here in Austin, Texas. We are Texas's only inclusive cannabis dispensary -- and you heard that right, cannabis dispensary in Austin, Texas. We were probably one of the first as we started in 2017. But I started way before that. I've been in the industry for almost 15 years now. I started behind the scenes as a buyer, and I kind of fell into that position by accident, but it started my career and my dreams.
  • During that process, my father who I was the caretaker of, was diagnosed with cancer and cirrhosis of the liver. Towards the middle of his cancer stage, he started to get worse, and I offered to share cannabis with him. He was like, “I'm dying anyways, might as well.” I remember rolling him his first joint, and my brother and I sat down with him and we smoked a joint for the first time with him. I remember him saying, “Honey, I don't feel good. I need to lay down.” I thought, “Great. Here we go. I made my father sick.” We laid him down, went back and checked on him about 20 minutes later, and woke him up. I asked him how he was feeling and he said, “Can we please get some chili cheese dogs and some slushes?” Just to hear him say he was hungry was a start to something so beautiful and the start to MARYJAE really. He really inspired me to want to help others on their cannabis journey.
  • So that's kind of who I am and my story. I’m like Austin's cannabis journey guide. I'm here for my community and I love what I do. To be able to share it the way we do in a safe, open space that is inclusive for people like me. It's amazing.
  • I also started my job in retail. So to be able to bring my love and passion for cannabis, and then my life experience with my father and then being in retail, it just seemed to be fitting to open a shop and a retail place for my community to have somewhere safe to explore cannabis.

2. Who or what inspired you to get into the cannabis industry?

  • I accidentally kind of fell into the cannabis industry and space. I actually started as a buyer for an adult shop, and they were wanting to purchase products in the cannabis space to “up” that section of their shop and asked if I could go to a tradeshow and bring items back. And I mean, that was history. As soon as I hit the floor at my first trade show, I felt alive. I felt like I belonged. I felt like I had been missing out all these years. Like I didn't know there were other people like me, that were proud cannabis users and advocates, and just people that were lovers of the plant. To be able to start as a buyer, go to that trade show, and be able to bring amazing products back was a dream. So that one case that I was able to go shop for, turned into several cases, turned into like 16 cases, and then they asked if I could help purchase for other shops. I knew I had found my calling.
  • After several years of behind the scenes and being a buyer, and networking and learning everything I needed to learn, not knowing that I was learning all these things that would take me onto my journey. During that time, like I said my father was sick and towards the last couple days, you know, weeks really months even. He asked me to share cannabis with people like him, elder people, sick people, people that probably don't have family, you know, to talk about cannabis was something that we definitely didn't talk about. It was something that my brother and I always got in trouble for. It was something that we grew up knowing was “bad”. “Don't do drugs” and that it was a drug. So for him to tell me to share cannabis with everyone and everything, I was like “sure, Dad, I will share pot with the world, you know, in Texas”, but not knowing that he would inspire MARYJAE. So my father, Larry Graham, is the inspiration behind MARYJAE. Everything that we do and the reason that started this passion and fire inside of me. If I start to lose my way, all I do is think about him. And remember why I started this journey.
  • So, by him asking me to share cannabis with the world, I didn't know how I’d be doing that. Unfortunately, he ended up passing, and he left me a house. The American Dream. Something that he and my mother worked their lives for to leave a house for me and a house for my brother.
  • My partner, Francisco, said, “You know what? I think you should sell your house that your father left you, and continue helping people like him.” I looked at her like “hell no, what are you thinking? It's the American Dream. My father said never ever get rid of the house. It's something that people work their lives for. And they work their lives for, so I could have something.” And so I sat with that and I just knew I couldn't sell my house. But I kept thinking about my father, knowing that there are people out there like him. People that are curious about cannabis, people that are kind of connoisseurs of cannabis, people that just want to talk about cannabis to connect, people that want to learn about cannabis. I knew that I could be that person. And I could create a really safe space, and I can't stress that enough, safe. Safe because the old culture that I grew up in, you walk into a shop and say, “Mom, I've seen people literally get picked up and thrown out of shops,” and it scared me. It was intimidating. I was afraid to ask questions, I didn't want to say the wrong thing. I knew that the times were changing, and I knew that I never fit, or “belonged” in those shops, even though we were all there for one common thing. I still never felt like I fit. I knew all of our hard work, all of our passion, all of our love, that we could create the space for our community here in Texas because I was unheard of.
  • So, I decided to sell my house and everything in it, and it's not as simple as that, it even gets trickier. I can’t believe that I'm saying this and this actually happened on the day we literally were selling the house, and like moments to the buyer signing the house to purchase, a car ran through the house, straight through the yard through the fence, destroyed the trees, and into the kitchen. Mind you, I didn't even tell you that getting that house up to par and where it needed to be to be sold, and updating things took everything financially from us. So there was no other alternative. Everything we had literally was in that house and everything that was in that house we sold. This was the last step of starting MARYJAE and starting our new life and onto our journey, adventure, and what we were supposed to be doing. To have the car run through the house, made me think, “Was this as my father telling me, please don't?”
  • I was looking for the reason because I thought my life was over. We had no more money and I didn’t know what was going to happen. But life was not over, insurance kicked in, and we sold the house.
  • And then MARYJAE was born! Francis and I traveled for about a year. I really wanted to get down, network and learn about the people that I wanted to bring in and be very strategic. Like I said, we're not for the normal, we’re not for everyone. We're very, very unique, but I knew there were people out there like us. So they would come, they would find us and they would know that they have a home.
  • And that's exactly what we did. MARYJAE was created, and we traveled, like I said for about a year, we quit our jobs. And then we just hustled, tore that place a part, got the right designers in, the right fabricators in, the people that could see our vision, and just made it come to life. We truly, I believe, changed the game and if you want to call it the smoke shop world. We wanted to cross a dispensary and a smoke shop, you know, some kind of lifestyle. And that's what MARYJAE is. She is everything cannabis.
  • And again, my father was the one that inspired MARYJAE and continues to inspire everything that we do.

3. What are you the most proud of?

  • I am the most proud of the community that we have built, and the people that have just come and identify with what we're doing, who are just amazing. We've been in business almost four years in October, we beat COVID, we lost all of our staff. So Francis and I started all over again. We had to close our shop, we did curbside, I traveled all over Austin to do deliveries to get people their medicine, we never took a day off.
  • We continue to move every day just to stay alive, and we fucking made it, and that is special thanks to our community. Most of the clientele were new and I asked, “How did you hear about us?” “A friend told me.” I mean, that's huge. I saw a lot of old faces but I saw tons of new, and that's how it goes. That's why I say community. The love is real.
  • I love being in the shop every day and hearing people come in and say, “Oh my gosh, what is this? Oh my gosh it's so cute. What did I walk into?” And just tell us how beautiful the shop is and the amazing products that they didn't even know existed and say, “just thank you for being so nice.” I'm just so proud of all of that. I'm so proud that our community has come together and they are accepting of who we are, and they are seen when they walk into our shop. And that's the one thing I love hearing from people. They feel something, and they feel seen, and they feel special and that's, I mean, they are special. Everyone is special and I love knowing that people truly feel that when they walk in our shop. I am most proud of my people and my community.

4. How is MARYJAE helping to build a truly inclusive cannabis industry?

  • I mean, I truly believe that we are helping build an inclusive cannabis industry in space because we are just that… we are inclusive. Like I said, in the beginning, we're not for everybody. We are different. And that's beautiful because there's so many of us out there. We're finding each other and I think that's how we're helping. We're staying true to who we are and ourselves and that shows. People find us and they tell their friends about us and all walks of life. We welcome everyone. But who I am here for and what my demographic in the space I created for was for women, for people of color, for the queer community.
  • That's everything that I am and I never felt like I belonged. I wanted somewhere that was so fucking rad that everyone wanted to be a part of it, but you know that you're part of it, because when you walk in, you’re loved and you're seen. We live that every day from who we are, to my staff, to the products I bring in. A lot of research goes into that. There's a lot of factors into picking the products that I choose. They have to do several things.
  • One of those things being is inclusive about bringing in my people, small businesses, people of color, queer. Everything that I am. You have to be at least one of those to get into my shop, and that's just where it starts. I think that's how we were really helping truly build an inclusive space in the industry. We are what we say and I bring in and truly uplift and believe in everything that we are and all the people that are around us.

5. What does an “unapologetic and heart-centered approach to cannabis” mean and look like to you?

  • An unapologetic and heart-centered approach to cannabis means exactly that I am unapologetic in every move that I make, I stay true to myself and my heart, like truly what is in my heart. I don't follow trends. I don't follow people. I do what I want. And I love telling the staff that we make the rules. There is nothing to follow. We do what's in our heart and I've always done that. That's what I mean by being unapologetic.
  • I am me. Everything that you see, I am an open book, and when you come in, I’m here. I truly see you, I truly care about you. I've had people say, “You actually care.” I do and when you come back in, I will follow up on the conversation we had, or I might reach out on Instagram because I truly care and I do things differently. I'm heart-centered, I’m empathic, I just love and care about people so much.
  • And you can truly tell that in our approach of what we do, everything is heart-centered and unapologetic. That's how it should be. I think that's what sets us apart and what keeps us going. We're just different and different is beautiful.

6. Any advice on how companies can take strong, concrete actions to make “diversity” and “inclusion” more than buzzwords?

  • Definitely. We are who we are and it starts from like who we are, who our staff is, the products we bring in, those people behind it. I feel like companies can really take action by starting there, start staffing people and hiring people that are diverse, that are inclusive, start bringing in products that those people are the creators. Start there. Don't talk about it, be about it. Show it every day. All day.
  • Advice for companies that are large and have a huge skill, mind you, we've only been in business four years and we are a very small business. It is Francis and I, and our brothers, and we just hired an amazing person, Madison. People assume we're this huge corporation but we're not. We’re super small and just stay true to ourselves, and we just continue to use our platform to uplift people of all walks of life.
  • Our people -- people of color, queer people, women and plus size women, you name it. If you have the platform, you can use it the right way. Uplift the right people, the people that we need to be supporting. Those people are us.

7. How have you/are you celebrating PRIDE month?

  • I feel like we're always celebrating pride at MARYJAE, but definitely for Pride Month! We have turned the store upside down into rainbows. All the displays, everything is rainbow. We are highlighting our amazing queer community products that we carry all through our special cases in the middle of the showcase and highlight them. It's gorgeous and we have broken up the rainbow through the store so there's a red section, orange section, yellow section.
  • It's beautiful. We've been seeing so many people from out of town come in and just celebrate. They're loving the rainbows. We're definitely celebrating pride every day, but we actually celebrate Pride in August here in Texas. We will be having a little event and all that good stuff. Like I said, we celebrate pride all the time.
  • On June 27th, we donated a percentage of our sales to Out Youth in Austin, Texas. We partnered with them before when we first started and we love them. They are for Austin's youth, and that's huge and near and dear to our hearts. Francis has a beautiful story for that. We released an awesome T-shirt with them.

8. Any organizations/non-profits you’d like to highlight?

  • Definitely want to highlight Out Youth. We got to take a tour of the facility, it is just an amazing space for the youth. They have a kitchen, they have an art room, they have computers, they have instruments, they have a place and a space just to be them and just to create. So we identify with that completely -- shout out to Out Youth!

9. What does the plant mean to you?

  • The plant means everything to me. Literally everything. It means life. It means family. It means love. It means no more pain. It just means so many things. Cannabis, I literally owe my life to it. I owe everything that she's done for me, my father, my family. The plant is just the most beautiful creation on this planet.
  • I suffer from nerve damage and depression, and depression from my father's passing. Cannabis has truly helped me get through some of the toughest days and the toughest nights. She's always been there, and she was there for me to bond with my father during his lasting days, she was there for me through my nerve damage and my pain, and she's there for my depression to pick me up and keep me going. You know she's just a part of our family. I owe my life to cannabis, everything that she has done for my family and people I love. That's why I created MARYJAE, not just for my father but, I mean just for what it did for him, what it does for us, my family. Surely the family that smokes together stays together.
  • They say something tragic comes from something beautiful, and that's what happened with my father's passing, and it's tragic. And I went through a depression. But what came out of it was something beautiful, something I could have never even imagined. We have built such a beautiful, amazing cannabis community. And it's just amazing, really, to be able to find my people. Finally.
  • So much connection, family, healing, and love. I just think of so many positive things when I think of a plant. The plant means everything to me.

10. What is your favorite infused dish or product to make using the FX?

  • I have so many favorite dishes and because it's so amazing. It's so easy to make stuff but I want to say probably my go to is my avocado chocolate chip cookies. They come out into a nice little loaf when you bake it in the FX and you can just slice off from the loaf. It's like a little slice of heaven, and put some extra butter on it. Yes, yes, yes, yes. Definitely would say my chocolate avocado chip cookies.
  • Also want to add that the Ardent FX is my favorite infusion device to use and makes every kind of oil in it. I have pretty much tried everything in the Ardent and I feel like I use it pretty much every other weekend, if not every weekend, I know that I truly get excited when a customer comes in and purchases one. I have to go home that night and like, open it all up and infuse because I'm so excited for them.

11. Why do you love Ardent?

  • There's so many reasons why I love and carry Ardent. Like where do I start? I have, like I said, been in the cannabis space for quite some time, and I have probably seen and tried all the butter makers out there. From the very first generations to the most bougiest, and I thought they’ve all been done. I've seen them all. They still are messy, there are some nicer ones, there's some okay ones that are faster but I'm not sure how they're actually working.
  • Then along comes Ardent and I find out that the creator is female and of color, and is just everything that I love and I believe in. I had to explore the product more and I had to see what it was about.
  • I remember reaching out, asking about wholesale and I got directly to where I needed to go to. I remember asking if they do a special for retails so they can try it because, honestly, every product I bring in, I personally try it. So this was kind of something different for me. I didn't get to try it before but I believed in everything I read, everything that I saw, like I researched the shit out of it. I watched all the videos that I could find. Everything that I could find, I loved. I took a leap of faith, went ahead and made the whole order, and decided to bring it into the shop. I took one home and I did some videos. I tried it the first night and I was blown away. Blown away.
  • I don't know about you guys but I have been using cannabis for quite a long time, I am older. So I fall into an older generation where making infusing cannabis is definitely a task and for me, it was an all day process. Something that I really had to schedule and plan for if people were coming over. It was a long process and I tried many methods and explored, and in every method, cleanup was a bitch. It was a task and just frustrating but something I desperately needed because that is my medicine. It's something that can get expensive so I needed to make my own, and I have a higher tolerance so I make the perfect batch for me. Infusing cannabis is definitely a big part of my life so to be able to have a machine like Ardent, that just takes all of that stress and hassle out of it -- I was mind blown.
  • I remember bringing it home and unwrapping it. Number one, presentation is everything for me. I'm a merchandiser as well and if anybody's been to MARYJAE, you can tell. You've probably never seen the products like the way we display them. Everything is special and that's how I felt with Ardent when I was opening up my FX. from the outer packaging to the description, popping the top off of it, opening up to like a beautiful purple holder, and zipping it. Feeling the quality of it, and then taking her out and placing her on the counter. Plugging her in and just, I didn't know what I was up for.
  • I was just blown away that you literally can decarb, infuse and bake all in one system so I wanted to put it to the challenge because that's what I do. I usually try everything before bringing it into the shop and I literally tried to be that person that tries to break it because that customer is out there and then I want to see what the process is. What does customer service look like, what does my customer have to go through -- I go through that. Because my customer deserves that and I want to be their guide, all the way through, so I can help them.
  • I took it home and I stuffed it full of everything I could and I did the decarb, and then I infused. This is when I usually have to cheese cloth it, and it gets everywhere. It's usually really messy. I remember taking the top off and it was smell-proof. Cannot stress that enough. Anybody in a small place, anybody with kids, anybody who has to be discreet, this is the machine for you. My partner was asleep and I do it all while she's sleeping so usually she wakes up but she didn't. She walks past the kitchen, and doesn't say a thing. I asked if she smelled anything and she said no. I opened it up and she was mind blown because usually she smells the hell out of it so that was super impressive.
  • I opened up the lid, and just looked at the material itself, the coloring, and it was gorgeous. I strained it and the quality of what the product came out as, I've never seen anything so clean and so beautiful. Just mind blowing. So then putting it to the test and baking with it, the potency every time is on point. I have had batches of butter and oil that I’ve burnt and messed up and have just gone to shit. It's kind of a guessing game but with Ardent, there's no guessing.
  • She is the guide to your baking journey. There's no other machine, and I know I probably shouldn't say this but I have had some other machines in my shop and literally gave them away or got rid of them, because there's nothing else better than this machine. My customers and my community only deserve the best. It's the most amazing machine ever! I just get so excited every time I sell one and every time someone comes in and asks for it, or every time someone comes in and points to it like, “What is that?”, and I get to let them know it's the most amazing thing that you need -- it’s not a want, it’s a need.
  • This machine, the brand’s values, who is behind them is everything that MARYJAE is and believes in. Our values align, our demographics align. We are both the same woman. I am so proud to be carrying the Ardent FX, all the accessories and everything in between, and I will always support you. Ardent will always be a staple at MARYJAE. I love you guys.
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