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Weekend Interview: Cannabis Brokerage Founder Kristin Jordan On Balancing Activism, Professionalism And 'Stinky Weed'

New York

This series goes deep with some of the most compelling figures in commercial real estate: the deal-makers, the game-changers, the city-shapers and the larger-than-life personalities who keep CRE interesting.

After getting laid off as the head of real estate for a medical cannabis operator, Kristin Jordan realized she had a unique set of insights. Her background as a lawyer, her time working in the niche industry and her experience in real estate led her to found her own cannabis-focused commercial brokerage, Park Jordan, where she is CEO today.

Jordan and her sisters were adopted by Clarence Jordan, who was the director of a homelessness outreach organization in central New York. They spent their weekends volunteering there from an early age, with those experiences leading Jordan to garner aspirations of becoming a public defender as an adult. In New York’s cannabis industry, which baked social justice into the laws around who can grow and sell marijuana, she saw a chance to continue helping people.

Jordan recently sat down with Bisnow to talk about the headwinds the industry is facing due to its current legal challenges, the industry’s path forward in New York, and blurring the lines between personal and professional identity.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Kristin Jordan, CEO and founder of cannabis brokerage Park Jordan, spoke to Bisnow about her start in real estate and how she found her niche.

Bisnow: You haven’t always been in cannabis real estate. How did you start your career?

Jordan: One of my first jobs out of law school was with a landlord-tenant litigation firm with a solo practitioner who represented tenants. It got me in the courtroom and in front of judges immediately, whereas my friends were stuck behind desks doing research. The training has been invaluable — negotiating with landlords and tenants in the middle of a hallway at 111 Centre St. really sharpens your ability to communicate with people. But landlord-tenant litigation was really hard for me. Most of these cases are prolonged and take place over years, so you get to know these people and you get to know about their lives.

Bisnow: What prompted you to move on from representing tenants?

Jordan: For me, it makes it much easier to keep my activism separate from my work environment. I doubled down on volunteering and doing other things that made me feel like I was being impactful in the world. But then I came to cannabis, where these things are not mutually exclusive — and they can't be. As small-business owners, we become advocates and activists because we want to see an industry that is inclusive and is diverse.

Bisnow: How do you balance your activism with your work now?

Jordan: We smoke a lot of weed! It’s funny, but it’s the truth. Cannabis is not only a mission, it’s a medicine and a wellness solution for a lot of us.

Even now, as we’re looking at some federal bills pending like the SAFER Banking Act and the MORE Act and a lot of these other bills that have a combination of industry-specific measures coupled with social justice initiatives, you really have a gamut of where people fall on this.

I think it takes somebody with very progressive ideas to push the needle, and it’s important to have an industry that has differing opinions so that we can challenge one another. But it’s hard to navigate the space as someone who cares about these issues because you’re never going to please everybody. I think on some level, you have to have blinders on and really be guided by what you think is right.

Bisnow: How did you first get into cannabis?

Jordan: For years as an attorney, cannabis wasn't something that you shared. It certainly wasn’t something that you would engage in socially. It was something that you hide in your house. I would see my friends starting to raise families, and I'd be in their garages with the husbands smoking weed. So it always felt very much like a shameful secret that was maybe a sign that I was not mature or serious. Now that I have some education behind me, I am aware that consuming in different manners treats my issues differently. I never felt like it was a crutch, but it’s nice to put my job away, come home, put on different pants and sit on the couch.

I turned 50 this year, and I've done a lot of reflecting about what that means. To me, it's a very pivotal year. This year has been a reflection year, to think about all of the things that I've gone through in my life and where I can celebrate the wins and lean into some of the losses and frustrations. Cannabis, and the industry and the community, is helpful in that process. It is meaningful in a way that I've never thought it would be.

Bisnow: What’s your favorite strain?

Jordan: I need a stinky weed. I need something that's going to make me feel uplifted. Tangie has been it for me in the last couple of weeks.

Bisnow: Cannabis real estate is a pretty niche area. How did you decide to start working in it? 

Jordan: When we passed medical cannabis, the Compassionate Care Act in 2014, I saw it as a very challenging environment because we didn't have legal full adult-use legalization in New York. I am not a corporate attorney, I'm not an M&A attorney, and in the very early days, that's what the work was. My specialty had been real estate, be it leasing transactional or acquisition. 

When [recreational legalization] was impending, it occurred to me that the brokerage community and corporate real estate doesn't do cannabis. Most of these companies are publicly traded, so they have prohibitions against doing cannabis. When I was working with brokers for each of my requirements, I appreciated that they didn't understand this industry and that there wasn't enough money in this industry for them to care about the regulations.

That's still the case. There isn't enough money in this industry for corporate real estate to care. And it affects every part of the supply chain, any business. Even if you're renting an office space, if your source of income is the weed business, your bank might have an issue with you, and then your landlord might, too, because you’re essentially paying with weed money.

Kristin Jordan in one of her favorite neighborhood spots, an Upper West Side community garden.

Bisnow: What were some of the biggest learning curves you had with starting your own firm?

Jordan: I’m good at a lot of things, but I’m not a great accountant, I’m not a great bookkeeper. I’m not a great marketer, so forget social media. Fortunately, my business is such that other attorneys and consultants are my best referrals, so I don't spend a lot of time on marketing. I think there are very few of us who actually understand the real estate component plus the regulatory process, so I'm fortunate to get speaking engagements and visibility because there aren't a lot of us.

Bisnow: You’re one of the only women and one of the only women of color operating in the cannabis real estate space in the region. Can you tell me a bit about what that’s like?

Jordan: I am a full person and I come with all of my insecurities, impostor syndrome and all of the things that come with being laid off and let go from jobs. I think cannabis is a space where we are allowed to show up as full humans. But that also leaves you a little bit vulnerable. So I live in this challenging space where I want to emulate what I want to see and allow for people to show up with bad days and good days.

Bisnow: New York’s legalized cannabis business is at an interesting juncture right now. What do you think the industry’s biggest obstacles are right now, and could any of them have been avoided?

Jordan: Everybody will tell you the same thing: The two biggest obstacles are fundraising and real estate, and you need both of them to be successful in this industry. I think what we're doing in New York is different from everywhere else. There is no road map for anybody in this, and I think we're trying our best to navigate this with the tools and resources that we have in hand. 

It's easy to be critical of what we can see. But I think, like an iceberg, there's so much that we can't see. And what I'm not aware of is what's happening on the political side of this, and so much of this is reliant on the Office of Cannabis Management’s ability to navigate this with senior leadership in Gov. [Kathy] Hochul’s office. Gov. Hochul has a gubernatorial race in a couple of years, and two very large counties — Nassau County and Suffolk County — don't want to play in our industry.

It's been challenging to be able to provide enough information and guidance to our clients to assist them to make smart decisions. That's what's been challenging, as they look to us as experienced leaders in this industry, and it's been hard to connect the dots.

Bisnow: What about the injunction that was delivered in August? What does that mean for the industry?

Jordan: It's crushing for people who put their jobs on the line or left their jobs in anticipation of opening up dispensaries. There were several dispensaries that thought that they were opening in a couple of weeks. There were several that hosted job fairs and hired people. They've expended money, time, energy, bandwidth, headspace to live out a dream that we promised them — only to be put on hold indefinitely.

We see this across all of the conditional licensees. It's devastating for all of them. We see it at the OCM meetings where, during the public comment period, people pour out their hearts. Grown men are crying at these meetings. It's becoming a situation where mental health is really suffering in all of these groups, and there's a concerted effort now to make sure that mental health is something that we're providing resources for, which is unlike any other industry I’ve ever experienced. 

Kristin Jordan, founder and CEO of Park Jordan, with her vape.

Bisnow: In past conversations, you’ve told me that unlicensed cannabis stores are the hardest part of the puzzle to solve when it comes to getting New York’s cannabis industry up and running as policymakers intended. Can you tell me more about why that is?

Jordan: The hope is that folks who have been impacted by the war on drugs will be able to participate in some way, be it as part of the workforce, as an owner, as an ancillary business, even as patients. I am not judge and jury as to who's entitled to be part of this industry. It becomes a bit of a pain contest, and that never feels great. 

[But] unregulated stores are looking more and more like regulated stores, so it's confusing to the consumer who does not differentiate. There's a finite number of buildings, especially in New York City, that are actually eligible and want cannabis businesses. That gets complicated because when the OCM issued cease-and-desist letters, the notice actually said that if cannabis has continued to be sold in this premises, potentially this site may not be eligible for a license. So what does that mean? Can somebody else apply for that license on that site if the landlord evicts the existing tenant? Ultimately, what it does signal to me is that that is not a space that folks who would be eligible to apply for a license can actually feel confident that they will get approved for that site, even if they've never sold unregulated cannabis.

Bisnow: What’s one thing you wish people knew about when it comes to cannabis real estate that should be common knowledge but isn’t?

Jordan: There are several folks that I've spoken to in the last couple of days that have a CBD or hemp store, and they think that their spot is eligible under the existing lease. That is not the case. They need an explicit statement in their “use clause” that a marijuana dispensary is permissible. In addition, most of those leases that permit a CBD or hemp store still have your prohibitions against doing anything that's federally illegal.

Most folks understand and appreciate that there are mortgage restrictions because that's out there in the ether. Your first question when you're talking to a property owner is: Is there a loan? Is there a mortgage on the property? And if there is, does your lender allow for a cannabis tenant? If your broker is answering you immediately, I would ask for something in writing. Clients who've worked with other brokers have negotiated leases, and they're about to sign the lease only to find out the lender won't accept them. So all that work, all that effort, all of those legal fees are down the drain, and you have to start over.

Bisnow: Give me a bold prediction for the next 12 months.

Jordan: What do I want to see or what do I think we’re going to see?

Bisnow: You can give both.

Jordan: I want to see this roll out in a way that makes sense. I want to see more women in this space. I want to see New York brands on shelves. New York will be a leader [in the cannabis industry] just based on our population. I am excited to see what cannabis can bring to these empty storefronts, to these unhoused people who potentially could benefit from the medicine or into entry-level workforce opportunities. I really think that this is an industry where people have so many entry points and can benefit in so many ways.

Unfortunately, I think we're going to see some more lawsuits. This is a real litigious state. It feels as though the last six to nine months, the way to get the attention of the regulators is to bring a lawsuit. I'm hoping we can figure out a better way to navigate this.

Bisnow: What are your go-to weekend activities?

Jordan: My husband and I and my dog, Kimchi, walk the Upper West Side and volunteer at a community fridge. If we're not walking the dog and exploring the neighborhood, then we're sitting in the park, at the restaurant called Ellington In The Park, or we're exploring a sports bar in the area. For a city of 8.5 million people, I am so grateful for this tiny little community we’ve become a part of.