what's the buzz?
Julia turner creates cannabis accessories while embracing her identities
Julia Loni Turner, also known as JT, arrived at Cloche Coffee on a single speed bike and somehow made her helmet look fashionable. She sips a dirty chai latte while recovering from her recent business trip to New York, which evolved into a romantic getaway in Vermont.
Turner, a recent graduate from Duke University, explains that she and her mom are volunteering at the polls this election, as she looks on to two young men registering people to vote. She oozes a confidence that some might find intimidating. “I am who I am,” says Turner, “and so many people aren’t that.”
Turner came out on her 21st birthday. “I came out just ‘cause it made sense with who I was,” Turner said, “My personality, the way I carry myself, the way I dress.”
“I think once people leave campus and begin their adult life, they no longer want to hide it and finally feel comfortable exploring sexuality and identifying themselves,” Turner explains, “We don’t even allow that at Duke. And that’s pretty crazy. That’s sad.”
I catch a glimpse of a palm-sized navy blue sleek object as she places her phone into her black fanny pack. I only recognize it from what I’ve seen on Instagram, but otherwise I would have thought it was a sophisticated Epipen or pencil case. It’s the Buzzboxx.
The top pops off to reveal a container space able to carry joints, edibles, and cartridges. The magnetic bottom can spin to hold loose leaf or as their website says “whatever you see fit.” It has a smooth to touch matte finish. It’s odor proof, water proof, and discrete. This is the product Turner imagined and brought to the marketplace, after confronting a constant cannabis use dilemma.
In her sophomore year of college, Turner’s roommate arrived on campus from Aspen with a stash of weed. Halfway through sweaty mosh pit parties at the infamous off campus “barn,” she would give a knowing nod to her roommate. She’d pull out clear, scientific looking test tubes, called doob tubes, from her bra. The tubes looked like those used in a high school science lab, except they were labeled with “For my bitch” and “Is it 420 yet?!”
While joint rolling was considered an art form, the extraction of the blunts was chaos. They found themselves banging the tubes against the ground, blunts flying, then a mad dash with phone flashlights to collect the now crushed and crooked joints. This scene was repeated each Saturday and clarified to JT that there was an obvious hole in the cannabis marketplace.
Buzzboxx is the first product in her cannabis accessory business Nekktar. Turner always knew that she’d be a CEO. She was always observant. A problem solver. “She is one of the most self aware people I know,” says her current roommate Tim Skapek. Her family once returned from vacation to water spewing throughout their home. A pipe had burst. Turner sprung into action to fix the matter at hand, while her younger sisters looked on in disbelief. “She does not shy away from any kind of challenge or situation.” Michele M. Turner, Turner’s mom and marketing specialist says. So, she wasn’t going to shy away from her doob tube issue until she fixed it herself.
The summer before her junior year abroad, Turner questioned her best friend’s dad about his consumption of cannabis. Doob tubes had been planted throughout his garden because he found them too embarrassing to have in the house. Turner was dumbfounded. “You are a 50 some year old successful commercial real estate dude,” she said “and I’m a 19 year old woman and we both have the same problem.”
In the legal state of Washington, 80 million joints are lit each year, yet doob tubes were the only cannabis transportation accessory being manufactured. Why had it taken so long for someone to solve such an obvious problem? Turner approached her family with a business proposition. “Family has been involved since the beginning” says Michele.
The first prototype was made out of a travel sized shampoo bottle combined with tubing harvested from a red metal walker found in the back alleyway behind her house. That mobility device usually associated with the elderly provided inspiration for her young business. “I mean it was the shittiest prototype possible,” Turner admits.
The walker parts didn’t provide odor proofing, but the prototype was good enough to take on in person trials to her semester abroad in Australia. When Turner returned to Duke in the Spring, she contacted her engineering friends to 3D print a better version of the Buzzboxx on Duke’s printers. She then took those Buzzboxx prototypes to parties to receive live consumer feedback. The summer before senior year Turner spent her days interning at Green Thumb Industries, a cannabis company in Chicago, and her nights on the phone with a Chinese manufacturer.
In the second semester of her senior year, Turner said to herself: “I need something to happen where the world just shuts down.” Two weeks later, we entered quarantine. “They were like stay the fuck inside and everyone starts smoking weed.” Turner thinks the pandemic created an opportunity to effectively launch her business, but she doesn’t believe in luck. “I think really good opportunities, maybe hidden, maybe not, are put in people’s way and it’s about how you react to them.”
Turner wanted to incorporate all her identities as a part of the company from the start, but never wanted it to be forced. In the wake of the murder of George Floyd, an actionable item to support black Americans became buying from black-owned businesses. Turner felt it was important for her biracial identity to be part of Nekktar’s profile.
In June, Nekktar announced that they were “Black, Queer, Women owned and Proud” in an instagram post. Turner told me, “You don’t say one of my identities without saying the other two.” Tara Pal, social media and graphic designer at Nekktar said, “Julia knew what she wanted but the job of me and other people on the team was to make it reflect that vision.” The proclamation was about “Bringing it back to Julia.”
“That took it to heights that I didn’t imagine,” Turner stated. People started reaching out and interviews began. She is currently applying for 10 different grants. Unfortunately, the reception was not all positive. “My dad is a white cis straight man and essentially said I was running the company into the ground because I was making this stance on Black Lives Matter. He called my identities my beliefs. I was like, do you believe you’re a white man or are you a white man?”
Turner is biracial, but the connection and memories of her black family ends with her mother. “I wish I had grandparents, I wish my mom had siblings, and I wish I had cousins...I’m totally black, but I lack the experience.” Turner has more to learn about her black identity. She feels as though she has more control over her connection to the LGBTQ+ community than the black community; she has control over using the words gay, lesbian, or queer, but doesn’t have this freedom with her blackness. “One’s related to the pigment of your skin,” she explains “and one you don’t carry on you as much.”
Less than 5% of cannabis businesses are black owned, but even as Turner breaks barriers in the industry, she struggles with her inclusion initiatives. Out of her 11 investors, only 1 is black. She is conscious of this as she enters another round of funding. “What we all hope and work towards is that the cannabis industry is built much more equitably than every other industry has been,” Turner says, “And it’s the one that really should be considering it’s still penalizing people of color and benefits so many white people who don’t consume or have no tie to the plant. They just took some of their extra cash and invested in shit.” The future of the cannabis industry should lie in the hands of those who love and understand the plant.
Turner’s lease is up in May and any move for herself is a move for Nekktar. “I think a lot of people would be freaked out by that flexibility but that’s what I love. I don’t want anyone else to dictate my life but myself.”