Jushi Holdings Inc. is on the fast track to success. Though they only got their start in 2018, the aspiring industry juggernaut is raising eyebrows with a series of high-profile maneuvers, like the December 2nd acquisition of the vertically integrated Nevada operator NuLeaf Inc. They have their mind on money and investors on their mind; as co-founder and CEO Jim Cacciopo says in one of their website’s prominently displayed investor videos, “Always what we think about first is shareholders.”
But while financial savvy might be at the forefront of the company’s values, Renaissance man and chief creative officer Andreas Neumann sees money as more of a fringe benefit than a motivator. As in all facets of his creative life, his focus is on discovery and honing his craft.
“It’s a fascinating world I’ve entered,” he says with the wide-eyed wonder of a recent convert. Though his cannabis consumption—and involvement in the industry—only goes back about three years, he considers his encounter with the plant transformational, a pivotal moment in an already storied career. “In all of my businesses—Jushi, rock n’ roll photography, movies, [developing] weed brands for bands— everything just comes together at the right place and the right time now, and I think the plant is responsible for it.”
Born in Munich, Germany in the late ’60s, Neumann grew up in a world that practically considered cannabis a hard drug. “It was usually a drug-dealer-esque situation. Sometimes they had weed at parties, but I’m from Munich, so of course I was drinking beer,” he says with a la’ugh. “But I didn’t understand anything about the plant, because everyone, in Germany in particular, was really demonizing it.” After trying weed once and feeling nothing but sleepy, he didn’t give it another thought for decades.
The aha moment came when he spotted a sleek black box in his friend’s art studio and was immediately seduced by the product’s mysterious appeal. “I asked what this was, and my friend said it’s a cannabis brand.” Though Neumann was by then a well-established California resident, he was still surprised to know that cannabis branding was possible, and the stylish packaging gave him a vision of limitless potential.
“I was attracted to the world of it. I felt there was something there which I’d never experienced.”
Considering his background, it’s no surprise that Neumann first fell in love with cannabis for its looks. Though he has always considered himself an artist through and through, he began his career in high-end advertising, where he learned the power of strong visuals to forge an emotional connection with consumers. But in his mind, the jobs always served the art. “I’m half business and half creative,” Neumann explains. “If there’s no money it’s hard to have the artistic freedom to do what you want.” It wasn’t long before the money and artistic freedom aligned and Neumann earned an international reputation for his skillful portraits of A-list celebrities.
His rock photography flowered into multimedia collaborations with bands like Queens of the Stone Age, who fondly refer to him as their “camera player,” referring to his penchant for jumping on stage to create images that come from the heart of the action. As pioneers of “stoner rock,” it was Queens of the Stone Age who first inspired Neumann to link rock bands with weed brands; the band likes to joke that they are “like the Snoop Dog of rock.” As always, Neumann knew a good creative opportunity when he saw one. It was in pursuit of the right partner for the brand (currently in development) that he first encountered Jushi.
When a mutual friend who knew Neumann was searching for a brand partner put him in contact with Jim Cacciopo, the two immediately clicked. The design experience Neumann brought to the Jushi team was a welcome addition to a company leadership coming from a more traditional business approach, or as Neumann puts it, “We have a leadership that was very business-y, very Wall Street backgrounds—but still cannabis fans.” The combined talents of the team paid off quickly. “When I joined Jushi we were 50 people, and two years later we are 1500” Neumann says.
Their rapid growth is remarkable. Jushi now operates cannabis facilities in six different states, with 39 retail locations and a dozen cultivation and manufacturing facilities. The six Jushi brands each have their own chic and contemporary style, evidence of Neumann’s discerning eye. The Bank’s elite strains of premium flower are labeled in regal tones of black and gold, deep purple, and slate. Though their bohemian brand Seche comes in more delicate pastels, it is just as deliberate in its color palette and clarity of line.
In many ways, the striking aesthetic is a product of Neumann’s collaboration with the plant itself. When Neumann committed to Jushi and the cannabis industry, he began consuming cannabis every night as a kind of discipline. He is three years into the experiment, and when I jokingly ask him if he gets weekends or vacations off, he replies seriously that he hasn’t missed a single day. This level of intensity about a project is characteristic of Neumann’s creative process. At the beginning of each new chapter, he likes to completely immerse himself, no matter the subject.
“When I make a movie about skydivers, I do skydiving myself, when I do a movie about jet fighters, I fly jet fighters myself. If I do rock and roll, I have to dress like it, become it. I’m like a method actor.
But though he is always eager to take the plunge into a project, this immersion has been unlike any other. “I began to realize this plant is very special. It’s opened something up in me,” he says. “It takes the desperation out of things, its levels and energy makes you receive better, not in a state of desperation.” Surprised at the word choice, I ask him what kind of desperation he is referring to. “Desperate like, ‘I have to do something, to get my business going’, and then doubting yourself. When I consume I get into a zone where I am receiving, everything falls into place. Timing has always been my key, but this has doubled my timing success—including winning a Grammy [with Queens of the Stone Age for Best Recording Package] in the middle of a pandemic.”
By now, Neumann has come to see cannabis as a new type of art form. “I compare it with music and art. The plant is the music: it’s this invisible experience, everyone feels it differently, and the effects depend on what mental state you’re in, or whether or not you’re with friends. It has this tremendous power.”
But there’s no doubt it also connects with the business side of him. Neumann characterizes the Jushi leadership as people gathering around a complex puzzle whose pieces are constantly moving and changing. For all the headaches that legislative problems and red tape cause most people in the industry, Neumann relishes the challenge intrinsic to what he calls the cannabis bubble. “Outside the bubble, in the real world, everybody’s fighting over leftovers, everything is milked to the ultimate end,” he says. “The bubble is a beautiful place—I don’t really want to leave it. It’s a pioneer time. I’ll always stay until, well, it becomes like everything else,” he says. “But that probably won’t be for a long time.”