Whether it was taking care of herself alongside her older brother, James, when their mother worked nights, rising the ranks of a fast-food restaurant to general manager by the time she graduated high school, or running a boxing gym for eight years—Kema Ogden has honed and exercised her leadership skills in myriad situations.
In 2014, Ogden became the first Black female dispensary owner in Nevada. She owns vertically integrated Global Harmony LLC and Top Notch The Health Center (THC), the Las Vegas parent company and the Stephanie Street dispensary, respectively. She founded both companies in 2014 with partners John Heishman and Carole Long, and they all continue to own and operate.
A passion for educating people and providing them with tools to improve their health and wellness underscores much of Ogden’s work in and outside of the industry. Working in cannabis, supporting people’s career advancement, encouraging them to provide feedback on ideas, and advocating for people from underserved communities to be able to participate in the market are all key to Ogden’s drive and success.
Ogden says she views all cannabis consumption as medical among medical patients and adult-use consumers. Top Notch THC has put this approach into practice by, for example, pairing adult-use consumers who enter the dispensary with personal budtenders who can answer questions and educate them about various products.
“I think the approach should always be for us to never forget that, so that we know this movement really is about how this helps people, why it’s important,” Ogden says.
In addition to directing operations with her co-owners at Global Harmony, Ogden also works on other projects.
“Not everyone is a fighter, but they want change. So, support the fighers. Support the people who are out there really doing the work.” Kema Ogden, Co-Founder and Co-Owner, Top Notch The Health Center
She serves as executive director of the Community Outreach Medical Center (COMC), as board secretary of Doctors for Cannabis Regulation (DFCR) and chair of its development committee, and is also on Nevada’s Cannabis Compliance Board’s (CCB) Cannabis Advisory Commission and as a member of CCB’s Subcommittee on Social Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion.
In 2008, she founded non-profit The Ogden Family Foundation with support from her husband, NFL Hall-of-Famer Jonathan Ogden, and she served as president until 2020. The foundation supports underserved populations in Southern Nevada—through a commitment “to improving the physical and mental wellness of at-risk youth, underserved families, and the community through education, prevention, treatment, and empowerment,” per the foundation’s website—a cause that rings close to home for her.
Ogden, whose maiden name is Kema Hunt, grew up in Las Vegas. “I’m a proud Las Vegan, Nevadan, … Sin City-ian?” she says, laughing.
“Growing up here in Nevada, it was important to me to help the community I lived in and I grew up in,” Ogden says. “I was one of those families that at times needed support. So, I knew the importance of what that can do for a family. And focusing on health, wellness and education was very important to me. It was something I was very passionate about. I always had the mantra that healthy body, healthy mind. It’s a full circle of care.”
It’s also what led Ogden to cannabis. She says she achieved stress relief and improved her sleep by consuming medical cannabis, but adds that she was also influenced by family members who consumed cannabis when battling cancer and severe pain.
“I was inspired on how that helped people; it inspired me to educate myself more on this product, on the medical benefits and how this could help people …,” Ogden says. “And when I got into a deep dive, I knew that it was very much a natural fit for me to transition into this industry.”
At Global Harmony, Ogden has motivated and inspired team members, like General Manager Lashawn Griego. A former kindergarten teacher and occupational health professional, Griego says she met Ogden a few years before she decided to move from Denver to Las Vegas and was part of the small team at Global Harmony when it first opened the dispensary.
“She holds her heart in her sleeve,” Griego says. “She’s very passionate about what she does. She strives for greatness, and it doesn’t matter if it’s within herself or her family or her friends or her employees. She wants to see everybody doing a great job and just strive for greatness as well.
“She’s one of the types of people that, if you need help, she doesn’t mind helping. She’ll provide the tools for you to help yourself—she won’t do it for you, but she definitely will provide the tools that you will need so that you can be successful. She makes you laugh. She’s funny. She’s just a gem.”
Life and Work Outside of Cannabis
Ogden recognized her aptitude for leadership at an early age.
“My mom often worked nights and would leave my brother and myself alone at night to take care of ourselves, and we were fairly young,” she says. “So, I think that’s one of the reasons I grew up to be so independent and more of a take-charge type of person. We had to be helpful—we couldn’t just be dependents when [we were in] a single-parent household like that. You have to contribute in other ways.”
In high school, Ogden had a ceramics teacher, Mr. Camp, who encouraged her and other students.
“He used to give us small gifts for good grades in other classes,” Ogden says. “We used to go visit him and sit in his class whenever we had a bad day, and he would lift our spirits. I never forgot him.”
Ogden began working at a fast-food chain when she was 15 years old and quickly started demonstrating her leadership skills by providing different forms of guidance to co-workers.
“I was promoted to shift manager at that age and began managing people old enough to be my parents,” says Ogden, a graduate of Chaparral High School in Las Vegas. “So, it was always very surprising to me when someone who was in their 40s or whatnot would come to me for answers on what to do, and not just in a process, but just in a common-sense leadership way.
“[When] I graduated high school, they made me the general manager …. I knew then that I was a natural leader, and I was good at business management, and that was one of the reasons I pursued my business degree.”
After receiving that degree, with a concentration in marketing, from the University of Nevada Las Vegas, Ogden simultaneously ran The Ogden Family Foundation and owned and operated LA Boxing in Henderson, Nev., which in 2014 rebranded as the UFC Gym.
The Ogden Family Foundation used to run a free program called Fitness-Involved Therapy (F.I.T.) out of the gym for underserved youth.
“The kids would come into the gym, they would do a workshop to improve mental health,” Ogden says. “We would touch on topics like bullying, confidence, anger management, different things like that. Then, they would work out with a professional fighter or a professional trainer. It would be a lot of fun for them.”
Ogden sold the gym in 2016 to focus on other work, such as continuing to oversee The Ogden Family Foundation as president.
One of the foundation’s efforts that has picked up during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is its partnership with COMC, where Ogden is executive director, to provide families with health care services and other forms of support. “It’s a non-profit medical clinic, which provides physical and behavioral health services to everyone, regardless of their ability to pay,” Ogden says. “Community Outreach Medical Center has been doing great work in this community for the underserved population since 2005, and I am proud to be leading such a great organization.”
Additionally, for nearly the past decade, The Ogden Family Foundation has held its annual Adopt-A-Family event. The foundation’s board of directors and members of its Kids Care Club select families that are in need of goods and services during the holiday season and provide them with food, furniture, toys and various gift cards. (The Kids Care Club is a leadership group for children and teens who elect their own board of directors and create initiatives to give back to the community.)
“We’ve been able to help more than 800 people over the past 10 years by providing thousands of dollars’ worth of items to them,” Ogden says of the Adopt-A-Family program. “A lot of people can’t even fit everything they get in their car—they have to come back. So, we’ve been very proud of that program and incorporating our Kids Care leaders in that program, and the community as a whole comes together for that. We do a big toy drive to support it and [a fundraising] event to support that as well.”
Through the foundation’s work, Ogden has helped instill in her children her passion of helping underserved youth and families in Southern Nevada. Jayden, 17, and Mya, 10, volunteer in the foundation, exemplified by Jayden having served tenures as president of its Kids Care Club—a position he was voted into by other club board members—and Mya sorting toys and making signs for the Adopt-A-Family event.
Jayden, who is entering his senior year of high school, plans to further develop his leadership skills by working in business and entrepreneurship, Ogden says, adding that these are talents he learned in his years volunteering with foundation’s programs.
“I was always involved very much in all the programs, putting them together, overseeing them and being involved with the kids—mentoring them as well,” Ogden says. “I think by him seeing me do that, it gave him the confidence to do that himself and know the importance of helping lead others to a common goal.”
Leading in the Cannabis Sector
For Ogden, medically consuming cannabis led her to the realization that all cannabis consumption is, in a way, medical.
But being raised in the era of prohibition, that wasn’t always the case. Ogden’s father, James Hunt, is a former drug and alcohol abuse counselor. She recalls that he used to say that cannabis is a gateway drug.
“Having that fear instilled in you at a young age pretty much kept me away from partaking in cannabis or anything else, so it definitely was very impactful for him being in that industry,” she says. “It also was what caused me to do a lot of research before getting in and seeing how this helped people and things like that, and really overcoming those myths and things that were instilled—that bad education that you were given—really reprogramming myself with the facts. So, I had to dig in, and I’m glad I did.”
Ogden’s father has also come around on the subject and now fully supports her career in cannabis.
About eight years in, she says her favorite part of working in the cannabis industry is seeing how the product helps people deal with their medical conditions.
“Customers would come into the dispensary and talk to our staff about how they were once on prescription drugs, and they were able to stop using those and are now managing or improving their conditions from cannabis,” Ogden says. “Those testimonials, when you hear it come from people directly, it really impacts the effort that you put in to support that, to continue the work.
“It really is truly amazing when you see someone coming in that was once on anxiety medication and now they manage it through cannabis. And you hear those stories. It’s great. That’s just one example. But we get those a lot. [There’s] pain management and helping with seizures and when someone has a high-risk disease, like HIV or something, and they tell you, like, ‘This helps me eat. This helps me sleep,’ that’s my favorite part.”
Global Harmony’s facility in Las Vegas is about 12,500 square feet, with what Ogden calls a “boutique-style cultivation” of 6,500 square feet and a retail area of about 3,500 square feet. The company has about 70 employees as of press time.
John Heishman, who founded and owns Global Harmony with Ogden, serves as its CEO. He had cultivated cannabis in Humboldt County, Calif., in a collective under the state’s Proposition 215 medical program, and also has experience running a coffee shop called Brewed Awakening, managing clients in the music industry and performing and touring in a band called Moksha.
Heishman says he and Co-Founder and Co-Owner Carole Long met Ogden in 2013 during the license application process in Clark County, Nev., in the search for partners. “We met a lot of cutthroat businesspeople trying to get in the space, and [it] just didn’t really feel right to get involved with that,” Heishman says. “We were real advocates for the medical space, and a lot of people … just kind of wanted to get in for the commodity of it.” But they saw Ogden’s genuine interest and passion in helping the local community.
When it comes to Ogden’s leadership at Global Harmony, Heishman says she holds employees to a high standard and expects them to perform their best.
“She always has good ideas and pushes things in the proper direction,” he says. “She has input nearly every time we sit down to discuss something—she has a good idea for us. I think she also leads by example, and she’s a very hard worker. She’s always busy. She could definitely rest on her laurels, but she’s always out there trying to push it further. I think that resonates with people.”
The owners and leaders in the business have regular discussions where they talk about best- and worst-case scenarios for given situations, determine their approach to move forward and execute the plan, Heishman says.
“If one person’s not feeling good about something, then we won’t push that issue until everyone’s on board with it or we all see eye to eye. ... We never try to rush anything, so I think that’s helped us be successful and not getting in over our head or moving too quickly in a certain direction,” he says.
Ogden describes her leadership style as a team approach, adding: “I like to have meetings with my staff, present what’s happening, or the goal, and get as much feedback and input and opinions from the team as possible.”
Griego says Ogden remains engaged with employees by providing positive feedback along with constructive criticism. And, she says, if the team needs help, Ogden will help at the register, at the front desk, on the phones and so on.
“It’s great to have owners that want to be involved and don’t mind doing the legwork to help out as well,” Griego says. “The things that they do, you wouldn’t expect other owners to do. Sometimes [at other companies] you don’t even see owners, but they make their face known around here, and … they don’t mind helping out.”
Griego points out that Ogden educates the broader public about the dispensary, and says it was Ogden who set up a 2019 visit from then-Democratic presidential primary candidate Pete Buttigieg, who is now U.S. Secretary of Transportation.
“Her knowing people on the outside and really putting us on the map has really opened up a lot of areas in our company,” Griego says. “She’s like the face of our store.”
Supporting the Broader Industry
Ogden’s leadership in cannabis extends beyond Global Harmony and to providing support to other current and prospective cannabis patients and consumers, as well as other professionals who work in or are looking to join the cannabis industry.
For example, she says she encouraged and convinced her stepfather, Basil Blake, and her mother, Geneva Blake, to provide security services to the cannabis industry, which they have done for the past several years through their business Blake Security. Basil, a U.S. Marine Corps and U.S. Army veteran, has more than 20 years of experience working in security.
“They were one of the first security companies to provide that service for the cannabis industry, and they’re still doing it to this day,” Ogden says. “So, that’s something that—I can see it, touch it, feel it, and I know I had a hand in encouraging that and how important it is to not only just be in the industry, but have businesses that support the industry.”
In 2018, Ogden joined the board of Doctors for Cannabis Regulation (DCFR), a national non-profit organization of physicians and other medical professionals who advocate for medical cannabis use and the legalization and regulation of not only medical, but adult-use, cannabis. Ogden serves as the organization’s board secretary and on its development committee.
“I’m able to help them in this amazing organization that’s been established by mostly medical professionals, by providing and lending my non-profit business experience,” Ogden says. “I’m one of the very few non-medical providers on that board.”
In 2021, Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak appointed Ogden to the state’s Cannabis Compliance Board’s (CCB) Cannabis Advisory Commission, on which she serves as a member of CCB’s Subcommittee on Social Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion.
Strong leadership is required to create social equity programs help communities that have been disproportionately affected by cannabis prohibition, Ogden says.
“I think the approach should always be for us never to forget that ... this movement really is about how this helps people ....” Kema Ogden, Co-Founder and Co-Owner, Top Notch The Health Center
“The community needs to continue to speak out about these issues and demand an inclusion process and support programs,” Ogden says. “Our votes are not for free. There’s money that’s being made in this industry that needs to be dispersed to improve the community and support the community.
“So, making sure that the community is out there expressing how important this is to them, holding those officials accountable, being a voice, and then also supporting leaders—people who are advocating out there, organizations [where] this is their purpose. Not everyone is a fighter, but they want change. So, support the fighters. Support the people who are out there really doing the work.”
The CCB’s Subcommittee on Social Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion focuses on ways to improve minority ownership and representation in various segments of the industry, such as the cannabis consumption lounges that will be coming online in Nevada.
“We are hoping to do a lounge ourselves once that process opens up and expand our business not just in the dispensary or cultivation side, but other areas as well,” Ogden says.
Highlighting how she has succeeded, Ogden says there is power behind leaders being empathetic and understanding.
“When we lead with compassion, the community will support our efforts,” she says. “I think if people in this industry take that approach, that they’ll be more successful in their own business.”