Picture this: you’re invited to a backyard dinner party on Detroit’s west side. When you arrive, there’s a beautifully decorated table, a DJ playing music, and a mobile bar. There’s also an eclectic mix of people ranging in professions, race, gender identity, and style, who are all there for the same reason — cannabis.
Jess Jackson and her wife Cara Jackson own the Copper House, a “bud and breakfast” located in Detroit’s Bagley neighborhood. The couple drew inspiration for the Copper House after backpacking through Europe, a trip that eventually resulted in their engagement. Throughout their travels, they stayed in a variety of short-term rentals ranging from bed and breakfasts to hostels, and brought the concept back to Detroit.
“What we loved about the hostel experience is that it was very communal, and that there was kind of like a community ambassador around,” Jess says. “But the concern was we’re queer, and we’re gay, and we don’t know if we can be affectionate around these people.”
That concern is a part of what led Jess to decide that the Bagley neighborhood was the right area for the Jacksons to begin laying permanent roots. The area is relatively close to Ferndale, the Michigan city most known for being LGBTQ+ friendly, and Bagley itself is known for being accepting as well.
“This neighborhood historically has a lot of intersections, that’s why Hotter than July, the Black (LGBTQ+) pride festival, happens in Bagley at our park, because there’s a lot of Black queer history in this neighborhood,” says Jess. “I specifically was interested in Bagley because of the adjacency to Ferndale, because of the queer community, because it is a Black community, and because I love the architecture.”
When it comes to the Copper House, calling it a “bud and breakfast” perhaps oversimplifies all work and community-building that the Jacksons actually offer. Jess describes herself as a community architect and community activist. While finishing her Master of Business Administration degree at the University of Delaware, her sorority sister launched a CBD apothecary line that centered on using cannabis for medicinal properties as it related to anxiety and depression. At the same time, her sorority sister also centered conversations around social equity and cannabis justice, a topic that caused Jess to research more about the cannabis industry.
“What I loved about the industry was that it’s a ground-floor opportunity to kind of grow with the industry over time,” says Jess. “I also really like that it weaved together my interests of equity and justice. Social equity is jargon within the industry — folks kind of know that there are some corporate social responsibilities to repair the harm from the past.”
It also helped that Cara has a green thumb in more ways than one. She holds a degree in wildlife ecology and conservation.
“She was already looking into green industries, and is very passionate about sustainability within green industries and agriculture,” says Jess. “We get to see both sides. She’s growing, and I’m in the executive team driving equity strategy, both internally and externally.”
While the Copper House is often rented as a cannabis-friendly event space, the Jacksons offer their own programming that educates people on a variety of cannabis-related industry topics. The Copper House launched its “Homegrown” series just before the pandemic began in February 2020, and resumed after restrictions were lifted. The purpose is to help teach people what sort of things they can do with cannabis in the comfort of their own homes, including teaching people how to grow their own plants.
“We partnered with a caregiver, and we were able to get soil sponsored, nutrition sponsored, and supplies to start your outdoor grow,” says Jess. “We taught a class on what’s legal in order to grow in your yard, knowing that you have to do it within a privacy fence, and we were able to give out 25 grow kits to start.”
As for the future of the Copper House, Jess plans to expand on the foundation that she’s already built. They recently finished the 1,000-square-foot basement studio, complete with a private kitchenette, bathroom, and entry, which sleeps up to 10 people. Jess says she wants to create a creative residency program complete with brand ambassadors that can continue to promote and grow the Copper House. Long-term, Jess also wants to open a holistic healing resort in Idlewild, a Jim Crow-era resort town for African Americans also known as the “Black Eden of Michigan,” where she could host holistic healing retreats. There are also goals of expanding Copper House to other cities.
“I want a portfolio of Copper Houses across the nation,” says Jess. “We selected northwest Detroit to kind of honor Black queer history here in this neighborhood. There might be other places that honor different types of history, and I want to partner with local communities to kind of build that model and that space.”
More information is available at copperhousedet.com.