Women To

The Troubadour: Alicia Katy

* This story was originally published in the October 2017 issue of Marijuana Venture, on sale now online or at a store near you.

Verse

It’s a long way from Nashville to California, but sometimes life takes turns like that.

Like the country music songs she used to write and sing, Alicia Katy had success, heartbreak, life-changing troubles and finally triumph and happiness as she makes her way in a whole new industry on a whole new coast.

“Music has always been one of my biggest passions in life,” Katy says.

But today, Katy works as a business development executive for Canndescent, a fast-growing Southern California company with a focus on “effects-based” instead of “strain-specific” products, with stylish, simple and modern packaging. While she admits there is little crossover between strumming a six-string and pushing pot products, her experience touring and building relationships in the music industry helped prepare for her new job in cannabis.

“My job is to create relationships,” she says. “I’m a road warrior.”

Chorus

Katy’s journey to cannabis has the familiarity of one of her songs: Unique, but at the same time relatable and easy to sing along to.

Blonde-haired, brown-eyed and blessed with a beautiful voice and the talent to back it up, Katy seemed destined for country music stardom. Music is in her blood — her father is a former musician — and Katy signed a record deal right out of high school and moved from her home in Chesapeake, Virginia to the heart of the country music in Tennessee. In the videos still available on YouTube, Katy belts out earnest, heartfelt tunes with conviction, usually accompanied by acoustic guitars.

But at the end of 2013, she was diagnosed with late-stage Lyme disease, putting her music career on hold and forcing her to focus on her health.

She traveled to California to get treatment and reconnected with a high school friend who co-founded Fruit Slabs, a THC- and CBD-infused fruit leather product for medical marijuana patients. Her friend suggested cannabis oil as a treatment and after she “prayed and meditated” on the possibility of using cannabis, and in the end decided to try medical marijuana as a more holistic approach to treating her Lyme disease.

“Long story short,” she says, “10 months later I got retested and I was Lyme-free.”

Bridge

Soon after, Katy decided to walk away from her burgeoning music career and moved to California permanently, where she “dove head-first into the cannabis industry,” helping her friend at Fruit Slabs and getting her feet wet in the business. From there, she met the CEO of Calyx, a cannabis distribution company and was hired as the Southern California sales rep, educating budtenders and dispensary owners about the more than 30 brands the company represented.

“I started learning and really expanding my horizons in the cannabis world,” she says.

After little more than a year, she was contacted by the folks at Canndescent and today works as the company’s Southern California territory as a sales rep. Canndescent currently has a 22,000-square-foot medical grow operation in Desert Hot Springs and is at work building 33,000 square feet of new greenhouse space, set to open this fall, as the Golden State moves toward opening its adult-use market. The company has made a name for itself by not focusing its branding on the strains being grown, but on the intended effect of the product: Calm, Cruise, Create, Connect or Charge.

“We’re taking the guessing game away from patients,” Katy says, adding that some dispensaries pushed back at first, but the response from patients has been the company’s biggest selling point.

Coda

Like country music, the demographics of the cannabis industry tend to lean male, but Katy says unlike in Nashville, there are more women in leadership roles, creating and navigating new companies through the difficult waters of an emerging economy, one that is “on the forefront” for women in business.

“If anything, I’m so proud to be a part of the cannabis industry because there are so many CEOs who are women,” she says. “I’m proud of all the women in the industry.”

Katy says the community she found in cannabis is strong and supportive and she is “honored” to be a part of it, representing an up-and-coming company in an up-and-coming sector. And while it may not be from a stage or through a radio dial, Katy is excited to still be touching lives, even if it means leaving her shot at stardom.

“It’s really exciting to be part of an industry growing so rapidly,” she says. “It’s a really, really cool community to be a part of.”

Source: Marijuana Venture

Women To

The Marketing Executive: Wendy Bronfein

* This story was originally published in the October 2017 issue of Marijuana Venture, on sale now online or at a store near you.

Following one delay after another, Maryland’s first wave of state-legal marijuana growers have finally been licensed.

The state’s much-maligned process to launch its medical cannabis industry began with the governor’s signature in 2013, but roadblocks at every turn forced prospective licensees into a years-long game of wait-and-see. In the interim, there was only so much Wendy Bronfein could do in her capacity as marketing director for Curio Wellness, one of the first eight applicants to be approved for a cultivation license on Aug. 14.

“I tell people that last year I got my job,” she says, “and this year I can actually do my job.”

Bronfein brings a wealth of television production and marketing experience to the cannabis industry. She handled on-air marketing for some of the most well-known entertainment brands in the world, including BBC America, Comedy Central, MTV, NBCUniversal and Warner Bros., winning awards for her work for John Oliver and “Live with Kelly & Michael.”

Bronfein’s goal had been to eventually run the network, prompting her to go back to school to get her MBA from New York University’s Stern School of Business. But shortly after her graduation in 2014, during a family getaway in Colorado, the concept of starting a cannabis business began to materialize.

She pitched the idea to her father, Michael Bronfein, a highly successful entrepreneur in the health care space, and now Curio’s CEO. Without any way of knowing how much Maryland’s application process would be delayed, they began researching opportunities in the space, looking for a reason to either back off or go full-speed ahead.

“There was nothing that was saying no,” Wendy Bronfein says. “Everything just kept spurring it along.”

Now, more than three years later, Curio Wellness is on track to launch its first product line in November.

The company has the exclusive rights to manufacture and distribute Dixie Brands products in Maryland. Along with flower, these will be the company’s first products on the market, with vape pens and tinctures coming at a later date. Curio’s high-end production facility features nine hygienic cultivation chambers, high-tech water filtration units and a chiller system with independent air handlers in every room.

In addition to the marketing efforts, Bronfein is also responsible for product development, working directly with the company’s Scientific Advisory Board.

“I’m an aspirational consumer by nature, so I think I definitely lean toward creating an aspirational brand,” she says. “I think it’s well-matched here, because you want to feel like you’ve got a good product and you’re choosing something that’s making your life better.”

While she’s not likely to produce a television commercial for Curio Wellness in the near future, many of the skills she honed in television will cross over perfectly to cannabis — albeit with a much higher level of regulation.

“It’s frustrating to be constrained,” she says, “but I think it’s a nice challenge.”

At the same time, being limited to the Maryland market mitigates the burden of launching a national brand. It’s easier to work directly with the dispensaries, to meet people face to face and spread the Curio brand through word of mouth, Bronfein says.

And in marketing, whether it’s an entertainment brand or a consumable product, one of the most important elements is being able to engage the audience.

Bronfein has spent years laying the groundwork, researching the market and overseeing the brand development.

Now all she has to do is deliver.

Source: Marijuana Venture

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The Secret Agent: Rachel Hazlett

This story was originally published in the October 2017 issue of Marijuana Venture, on sale now online at a store near you.

The increasing legalization of cannabis is bringing an element of fun back to the product.

Step by step, the soulless packaging styles of the original medical markets are coming to life in the hands of innovative, forward-thinking creatives and branding professionals. Repurposed pill jars and generic white envelopes are being replaced with stylish glass jars and die-cut boxes, designed specifically to attract attention, rather than to promote obscurity.

When the Lucky 420 co-founders began conceptualizing their brand, they wanted to create “something affordable that didn’t skimp on style and sex appeal,” CEO Rachel Hazlett says.

The result was a rapidly growing brand with a decidedly retro vibe, inspired by films of the 1970s.

“It harkens back to the time when cannabis started to become more widely used in the states, which really started in the 1960s and people have an association with marijuana and flower power and the hippies,” Hazlett says. “I just love that time period, but the ‘70s is when that lifestyle made its way into film and there was a little bit more grit. There was an edge, almost a cynicism that had set in by the time Hollywood caught up to the ethos of the ‘60s.”

She says that era feels reflective of the current time period.

“Cannabis is becoming normalized in a new way, a legal way,” she says. “But the fight isn’t over. We’re not there yet. It does take some grit and the people who are doing this work have definitely sustained some bumps and bruises along the way.”

The company markets Lucky 420 with a fictional back story of the 1970s secret agent lifestyle, a mishmash of Charlie’s Angels, Cleopatra Jones and James Bond. Its foil-stamped black packaging with red and orange racing stripes looks right at home in the ash tray of a classic Trans-Am. Throughout the intense research and development process, the company continued to develop the brand and the marketing strategy.

“It was the most fun thing I’ve ever worked on,” says Hazlett, who originally studied journalism and got into documentary filmmaking, which led her into the marketing business. She worked as the marketing director for a day spa, before starting her first company, Dinner & Pie, which cooked and delivered healthy meals — including pie, of course — to people in North Carolina.

“In doing that, I knew that I wanted to challenge myself and expand into something bigger,” she says. “It was just a matter of waiting for the right opportunity to come along.”

That opportunity turned out to be a cross-country move to California to work in the marijuana industry.

She and her fellow Lucky 420 co-founders saw many brands in California’s market targeting high-end consumers and aiming to be the most expensive products on the shelf.

After running the numbers and exploring several different models, Lucky 420 settled on a line of cigarette-style pre-rolls, with seven joints in a pack going for a suggested retail price of about $34 and fulfilling what Hazlett calls a need for “nice manufactured products at a good price point.”

Rather than the cone-shaped pre-rolls that have become wildly popular in the older recreational markets, or the ubiquitous vape pens that have flooded the industry, Lucky 420’s strikes an increasingly rare chord.

Smoking, after all, is part of the experience for some people. The cannabis cigarette itself also fits with the 1970s theme, a time when smoking was still glamorous and the stars of film and television dangled an Embassy Filter from their bottom lip.

“We knew we enjoyed the combustion of marijuana,” Hazlett says.

The pre-rolls are manufactured at the company’s cigarette factory in Northern California, with a combination of work done by both machine and by hand. The crew faced some production challenges early in the process, namely the difficulty of working with a product that is sticky and resinous, as well as figuring out the best method to maintain freshness.

The company does not do any of its own cultivation, instead buying wholesale cannabis from selected Northern California growers who use cultivation practices approved by the Lucky 420 leadership team.

“We love our farmers,” Hazlett says.

Lucky 420 officially launched its product line in February, and the response has been overwhelming, Hazlett says. Over the course of the first six months, more than 60 retail outlets have started carrying the pre-roll packs, including both brick-and-mortar dispensaries and delivery services.

“It’s been a fast ride and we’ve had fun,” Hazlett says. “We’ve got a great team and we’re just giving it all we’ve got.”

The company’s growth has been fast — and will likely only continue to accelerate as California’s market transitions toward the adult-use launch — but Hazlett says Lucky 420 is fully prepared to handle the additional work load.

“We’ve been very organized and diligent in laying the groundwork of our operation,” she says. “We have really clear insights into where our operation is at today and what it can grow into. We know that we have all the pieces we need to grow it to the places we want to reach.”

Source: Marijuana Venture

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The Advocate: Jamie Lewis

This story was originally published in the October 2017 issue of Marijuana Venture, on sale now online or at a store near you.

Drawing on her vast industry experience in Colorado, Jaime Lewis is preparing to make a splash in one of the country’s newest marijuana markets with the launch of her Massachusetts-based chain of dispensaries, Mayflower Medicinals.

Lewis has been a staunch cannabis advocate for more than 15 years, including the past nine years building Mountain Medicine into one of the more prominent edibles manufacturers in Colorado. She’s using this experience to build out the first two Mayflower Medicinals retail locations, as well as its cultivation facility, extraction lab and commercial kitchen.

“Experience is the key to all of this,” Lewis says. “It’s like being a chef: You’re always, constantly, trying to perfect a recipe, but it will never really be quite perfect.”

Massachusetts represents one of the most exciting markets in the U.S. — a nascent industry ready to awaken as soon as regulations allow. While other states have allowed the market to develop through years of medical regulations, Massachusetts expects a flashflood of marijuana businesses overnight.

“I think that in the next year, this is going to be an exciting place to watch, in terms of all the growth that is going to take place and as licensees open up,” Lewis says. “From that, I think there is going to be a lot of interesting changes in the culture and awareness in terms of cannabis being a community.”

Massachusetts currently has just 12 medical dispensaries open, according the state Department of Public Health’s website. But more than 80 businesses are ready to open in early 2018, now that progress is finally being made to finalize the implementation of its adult-use program.

Lewis says Mayflower Medicinals will plant its first seeds in mid-October. The medical dispensary is slated for a grand opening in the spring of 2018 before transitioning to include recreational sales in the summer. Plans are also in place for a third retail location.

While Lewis spent the majority of 2017 working on her Mayflower store in Boston, she technically still lives in Colorado.

Mountain Medicine was one of the first marijuana-infused producers to go recreational in Colorado. The company launched in 2009 to critical acclaim and was one of the few kitchens to remain independent as the market evolved. The company has expanded slowly and focuses on keeping overhead to a minimum. But part of its success stems from Lewis’ past life in California, where she worked as a chef before joining a co-op dispensary in 2006. It was her first experience in the cannabis industry.

She says the stark contrast between the two coasts is palpable.

“California is as far away from Boston as it could get on many levels,” Lewis says. “I joke around with my colleagues that I’m a bit lonely. I am lacking that cannabis-community piece that is so much of what we have all grown to love.”

Unlike other recreational states, only a handful of Massachusetts’ cannabis entrepreneurs have been actively involved in grassroots advocacy groups and as early medical operators.

It’s been an interesting transition for Lewis, who was born and raised in California, the first state to legalize medical marijuana. That culture of likeminded individuals who could be relied upon in difficult times — “all the women I got to work with from different companies, just huge powerhouse ladies in our support group,” she says — is an element that’s largely absent in New England right now.

But she looks forward to developing that community and the inevitable merger between the venture capitalists and the grassroots advocates to create “an industry from both sides.”

Lewis has been a force in helping unite the cannabis industry throughout the United States. In addition to an appointment on Massachusetts’ recreational rulemaking committee, she’s also one of the founders of the Cannabis Business Alliance and has been elected for a third term as the chairwoman of the National Cannabis Industry Association.

“I think the reason why I get elected into these roles is that I don’t view it as one business owner’s needs and necessities,” she says. “I really try to dive deep and think about what it means to standardize the industry as a whole.”

Source: Marijuana Venture

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The Scientist: Michelle Ross

This story was originally published in the October 2017 issue of Marijuana Venture, on sale now online at a store near you.

There’s a common misconception that cannabis research is nearly impossible in the United States due to the federal government’s erroneous and deceitful stance that marijuana is a dangerous, highly addictive drug with no medical benefits.

Neuroscientist Michele Ross is living proof of the government’s lies and she also contradicts the perception of marijuana research.

“If you have private funding, you can do almost any research you want in the United States,” says Ross, executive director of IMPACT Network, a 501(c)3 nonprofit that recently launched the largest study ever into the medical efficacy of cannabis for women.

As an independent research institute, we’re able to do research that sometimes you can’t do at a college campus or a university,” she says, “because they have restrictions on using cannabis that doesn’t come from the federal government.”

Not only are certain illnesses underserved in traditional medicine, but with some diseases, there is no published research on any cannabinoid therapy.

“It’s not even about analyzing the research,” Ross says. “The research simply doesn’t exist.”

This creates fertile ground for scientific studies. Even a relatively small amount of information might provide some direction and a tremendous amount of help for those suffering from an illness.

Ross and her husband started IMPACT in 2013 with the goal of bridging knowledge from traditional medicine to applications in cannabinoid therapy for women with illnesses such as breast cancer, endometriosis, pelvic pain and autoimmune disorders, among others. To accomplish its mission, IMPACT partnered with Strainprint Technologies in August to launch the WMEDS Study (Women’s Health and Marijuana Efficacy Data Set Study). The ongoing project aims to fill in the gaps in cannabis research with critical data. The data could be published in scientific journals, used to apply for grants or even spur legislative change. Eventually it could lead to much-needed clinical trials.

“Our thinking is that it doesn’t make sense that there are thousands of women using these products and yet, when someone goes to their doctor and says they should try cannabis for this, the doctor laughs at them because there’s nothing published anywhere,” says Ross, who credits her own health to medical marijuana.

“Without cannabis, I’m very, very ill,” she says.

Based on the extensive list of ailments she’s had — endometriosis, blood clots, a heart attack, collapsed lungs, brain damage and nerve damage, among others — most people expect her to be taking a battalion of pharmaceuticals. Miraculously, she’s not on any.

“I was written off by the medical community,” she says. “They told me I would be disabled: ‘Get used to not being a scientist. Your life will never be the same.’”

Since Ross has been able to dial in her cannabis regimen, she’s gone from being confined to a wheelchair to regaining a sense of normalcy.

“I’m never going to run marathons again,” she says. “That’s not in my future, but I’m able to not only function, but do more than I ever did in my career, thanks to cannabis.”

Despite her research background, Ross faced the same challenge as many patients when it comes to using cannabis for medicinal purposes: there’s little information available about finding the right products, dosing, possible drug interactions, etc.

“It was very frustrating because I’m a scientist,” she says. “If I can’t experiment on myself, how hard is it for everyone else?”

The process was particularly tough for Ross, because her body cannot effectively process high doses of THC. It took a great deal of experimenting to find the “magic formula.”

“It’s important to realize every person is so different,” she says. “And there is a reason for it; it’s just that science hasn’t caught up to those reasons.”

Ross grew up in New Jersey and became interested in drug addiction treatment at a young age.

“Instead of becoming a doctor, I decided to become a scientist,” she says.

She earned her Ph.D. from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School in Dallas.

“I wasn’t always a cannabis consumer, so if you’d told me 15 years ago that I’d be leading a cannabis nonprofit for women, I would have laughed in your face.”

Even now, with cannabis gaining mainstream recognition across the U.S., there’s a stigma that follows her career choice. Colleagues often view her as a drug dealer.

Even though her business is “100% by the book,” she says “perceptions are shaped by laws.”

But as laws evolve, it’s vital that people have a resource for getting good, reliable information. Too many patients rely on budtenders, complete strangers or online forums to access medical information. When it comes to so-called cannabis consultants, people “are not sure if they’re talking to a real expert or a charlatan,” Ross says. Plus, medical doctors may not understand medical cannabis — some, even in Colorado, don’t know the difference between THC and CBD — and they’re also restricted in what they can say by medical boards.

“The reality is that if you walk into a dispensary anywhere in the country and ask for something that helps you go to sleep, you may get five different products,” Ross says. “They’re not giving bad information because they’re rude; it’s just that they don’t know any better. It’s like asking your Target cashier to be your pharmacist.”

Source: Marijuana Venture

Women To

The Industry Veterans: Amy Poinsett and Jessica Billingsley

This story was originally published in the October 2017 issue of Marijuana Venture, on sale now online or at a store near you.

Amy Poinsett (left) and Jessica Billingsley (right)

Amy Poinsett and Jessica Billingsley have never put much stock in stereotypes that said women should not be in the corporate world or that they should stay away from the tech fields or any other garbage used to define gender roles.

But then, both had excellent role models. Poinsett’s mother was a high-level executive in the defense industry and Billingsley’s mother was the majority owner in her family’s construction business, running everything but the actual construction team.

It showed the two women who would go on to found MJ Freeway, the most prominent seed-to-sale tracker in the cannabis industry, that not only could they do anything, they should.

“I’m very fortunate that I have had some truly exceptional women as role models in my life, starting with my mom,” Poinsett says, adding that through her childhood she learned, “That’s what a woman’s job looks like in the corporate world.”

With that in mind, Poinsett and Billingsley both rose through the ranks of the male-dominated tech industry and started “two of the only women-owned tech companies in western Colorado,” as Poinsett puts it, before teaming up to form MJ Freeway, a company that is run a bit differently and owes at least some of its success to its female-led C-suite.

Moving forward

The women of MJ Freeway are not resting on their accomplishments, however.

2017 was a tumultuous year for the company. It began with a hacking attack in January that brought down the entire system, resulting in dozens of retailers being offline and having to close their doors for several days. In response, the company changed some practices, including a new hosting environment and more intense “penetration testing” on the database. Information from the attack was turned over to Colorado authorities and the investigation is still active.

But 2017 also brought two new state contracts for its Leaf Data Systems product: Pennsylvania and Washington.

The latter is causing some consternation among Evergreen State growers who, despite many complaints in the program’s early days, are familiar with the current system and worried about the transition. They’ve gone so far as to label the transition “Y502K,” a combination of the voter initiative number that legalized recreational use — I-502 — with “Y2K,” the common nomenclature for what was expected to be computer and programming difficulties when the calendar rolled over from 1999 to 2000.

“I have heard that!” Poinsett says when asked about the phrase. “Both we and our counterparts at the state are committed to making this transition as smooth as it can possibly be.”

The company is taking on additional support staff during the transition and has plans for extensive outreach and training efforts throughout Washington.

“We know people are feeling anxious so we’ll be doing a little tour around Washington for a meet-and-greet session,” Poinsett says.

Along with its seed-to-sale tracking software, MJ Freeway also offers data products that give users insights on how their business is performing, based on the company’s extensive data set compiled over the past seven years.

“We’ve been in the regulated cannabis business longer than most,” Poinsett says, “starting back before there was a regulated cannabis business.”

Flexibility

But the women of MJ Freeway are innovating more than just the product. When Poinsett, the CEO, and Billingsley, the COO, founded MJ Freeway in 2010, they installed a flexible, 30-hour work week aimed at women with families who needed more flexibility in their schedules.

It was something Poinsett started at her previous company after watching too many women drop out of the workforce due to a tech industry culture that routinely requires more than traditional 40-hour work weeks. That may be less of a problem for young men, the demographic that makes up the majority of the industry, but it can create tension for women who want to start a family, but do not want to abandon their careers.

Billingsley says at many tech companies, “the deck is stacked against you” in terms of sheer numbers, which creates a culture that is “very male” and not always welcoming to women.

“When you’re in a field that’s nine-to-one, male-to-female and you’re going to take maternity leave or pick up a kid from school … the culture around that is not there in most tech companies,” Billingsley says.

The flexible hours allowed MJ Freeway to hire the lead developer from Poinsett’s prior company, a woman who had family issues that prevented her from staying at the office for long hours, but whose skill was undeniable. Today, with her children older, the woman still works at MJ Freeway and her hours are back up to full time.

Not all of the company’s positions are suited for the 30-hour week and employees who choose that option may not use the time to take a second job, but it allows the company more leeway when seeking new employees in a highly competitive field.

“It’s a nice way to level the playing field,” Poinsett says, adding that the 30-hour week is also available to male employees. “We have always hired the best person for the job.”

Though Poinsett and Billingsley say their development team still skews a bit male, the rest of the company is split 50/50 between men and women, a fact they say gives them a leg up since research shows more diverse teams tend to approach problem-solving from multiple angles.

“We understand the value of different perspectives,” Billingsley says.

Risk-taking

MJ Freeway’s origin stems from Billingsley’s investment in a medical marijuana company in Colorado in 2009. The business in which she invested was having trouble finding cannabis-specific software and approached her about the possibility of creating something.

Soon after, Billingsley and Poinsett were discussing the lack of software for marijuana businesses and saw the looming adult-use market as an opportunity.

“We really thought technology could help,” Poinsett says, adding with a laugh, “I rather famously said ‘How hard can it be?’”

Billingsley says being risk-averse is one of the stereotypes about women; there is a “cultural construct” that teaches girls, but not boys, to stay away from taking risks. However, if she and Poinsett bought into that, they would never have risen to run their own companies, let alone start an industry-leading cannabis company that made the Inc. 5000 list of the country’s fastest-growing private companies. MJ Freeway was No. 1,506 on the 2017 list released in August (other cannabis companies that made the ranking were Marijuana Business Daily, Your Green Contractor and Apeks Supercritical).

It’s something Billingsley emphasizes to young women and is trying to instill in her 10-year-old daughter: You have to take risks to get rewards.

“I can’t say that enough,” she says.

And it seems to be working. According to Inc. Magazine, Denver-based MJ Freeway generated $5.5 million in revenue in 2016 with a three-year growth rate of 270%. As of this publication, the company had 78 employees.

But even with that growth rate, there’s a high level of risk, both in the tech sector and the marijuana business. Being successful is about managing that risk, staying focused and believing in yourself and your business, even if at first you might be the only one, the MJ Freeway executives say. It’s a lesson the two successful corporate executives try to make sure young women know: Stereotypes and glass ceilings are meant to be broken, and risk — even in an industry that seems to be slanted against you — can lead to great reward.

“When we first started, there were very, very few women who were working in this industry,” Billingsley says, adding that it was MJ Freeway’s early jump into the cannabis space that helped set the company up for its current success. “It’s always the early movers that are going to have a head start.”

Source: Marijuana Venture

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The Negotiator: Cassandra Dittus

This story was originally published in the October 2017 issue of Marijuana Venture, on sale now online at a store near you.

After undergoing what would be her final bone marrow transplant, Cassandra Dittus found herself in remission, but without the skills needed for a career.

“I had been sick through most of the time when people would normally go to college, so I was in little bit of a strange spot for my age,” the cancer survivor explains.

So when she met a local business owner who was opening a medical dispensary, she called him every day until he hired her. That was nine years ago.

Since then, Dittus has built a wealth of knowledge and now uses that experience to help Native American tribes receive equal access to the cannabis industry.

“I was fortunate enough to be given an opportunity in this industry,” she says. “So, this is something that the tribes deserve to have too. It’s something that I believe in.”

Dittus was involved in the passage of Nevada Senate Bill 375, which establishes the relationship between Native American tribes, the state government and recreational cannabis. Through state compacts, the law allows tribes to work inside a similar regulatory framework as Nevada’s licensed cannabis businesses.

The compacts give tribes the ability to license producers, retailers and processors to work in both the medical and recreational cannabis markets, and allow them to collect taxes from the businesses that fund their government and its services.

“They receive money from the federal government, but it’s nothing compared to what they can actually subsidize their communities with,” Dittus says. “This is something that can support a lot of people, but they just have to be able to do it right.”

The Ely Shoshone and Yerington Paiute are the first tribes Dittus helped to achieve reciprocity in Nevada. Now that the compacts have been signed, her company can assist with the more traditional aspects of consulting, such as training, staffing, building standard operating procedures and designing facilities, as well as helping to make connections between Nevada licensees and tribal businesses.

“It was a wonderful thing for the tribes to get up and rolling with those,” Dittus says of the recent compacts in Nevada. “The tribes need to be able to access the industry, especially when they are encompassed by a state with full-fledged medical or recreational marijuana.”

Source: Marijuana Venture

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The Social Architect: Ariel Clark

This story was originally published in the October 2017 issue of Marijuana Venture, on sale now online at a store near you.

There’s no doubt that legalization in California changes the landscape of the entire cannabis industry. And regulations in Los Angeles, the nation’s second-largest city, have the potential to impact businesses and municipalities throughout the state.

When the city published its draft regulations in June, other municipalities followed suit in considering a “limited immunity” structure for their jurisdictions — the repercussions of which are “absolutely horrifying,” according to Ariel Clark, one of the leading attorneys and activists working toward an amicable solution in the City of Angels.

“This does not stave off federal enforcement whatsoever,” says Clark, the founder and chairwoman of the Los Angeles Cannabis Task Force. “When you don’t have clear rules and regulations, that actually invites enforcement.”

The task force was assembled to advocate fair and equitable regulations in Los Angeles. By some accounts, the City of Angels has the densest population of marijuana businesses on the planet, but it’s been a quagmire of regulatory red tape and contradictory rules for years.

“The people in LA are not served by more hazy regulations,” Clark says. “A new wave of conscientious businesses, that’s what we can do if we are building this industry.”

While Clark is quick to deflect credit to other members of the task force, her leadership could reverberate beyond the city’s borders.

“The city of LA is not singular,” she says. “It’s as big as the state.”

Clark estimates about 90% of the state’s 500-plus municipalities still don’t have local permitting or zoning rules in place, making it challenging to stay on top of regulatory concerns throughout California.

“The number of moving parts is incredible,” Clark says. “But, you know, I like that stuff.”

The task force is just one important project keeping her busy. Clark and business partner Nicole Neubert also have a seat on the state’s Cannabis Banking Work Group alongside representatives from law enforcement, state regulators, banks, taxing authorities, local government and select members of the industry to help outline a resolution for the cash-only industry.

“The banking issue is one that is huge,” Clark says. “Now that we’re on the precipice of for-profit businesses and investment monies are coming in, we are able to project forward into a future where people are owning their businesses, licenses and permits as traditional assets.”

Clark’s firm, Clark Neubert LLP, also helps clients in Arizona, Colorado, Illinois, Michigan, Nevada, Oregon and Washington.

“I am seeing the bridge from the unregulated, self-regulated and quasi-legal into the very regulated, legal market,” she says. “It’s kind of a moving target for people, but our role is to step with them as they move into this regulated market.”

In some ways, Clark’s current practice is an extension of the work she did early in her career with California Indian Legal Services. She has spent years working on behalf of marginalized groups and individuals.

“My life is about service and I am so grateful to be of service in all these different ways,” she says. “Who knew that working in Indian law and being around this industry my entire life would come to the place where I am now. It’s pretty amazing.”

Source: Marijuana Venture

Women To

This story was originally published in the October 2017 issue of Marijuana Venture, on sale now online at a store near you.

Sue Taylor has an infectious charisma that is hard to nail down. Perhaps it’s the homespun inflection that hangs off the end of her sentences or the earnest way she talks to each person — friends and strangers alike — as if she’d been waiting to hear from them all day.

Or maybe it’s just her genuine enthusiasm for life.

“It chose me,” Taylor says of the cannabis industry. “I didn’t choose it. The universe used my son to tell me.”

The mother of three is an ordained minister, a member of the Alameda County Advisory Commission on Aging, a former Catholic school principal and co-author of a book on parenting called, “Who’s Running the Show?” She has degrees in social science, education and divinity and has been certified by the state to provide medical marijuana education to health-care providers and administrators. She also moonlights as an aerobics instructor.

And she’s a leading entrepreneur in California’s blossoming cannabis industry with plans to open her own dispensary, iCann Health in Oakland, about six blocks from her prior life as school principal for the Oakland Catholic Diocese.

Her son was the first person to try and convince her of cannabis being a viable medicine, but at that time, more than a decade ago, she had a completely different perspective on the plant.

“My immediate thought was ‘Lord, where did I go wrong?” Taylor says. “I sent him to college, put him in a good Catholic school and now he tells me he wants to sell weed.”

Taylor was originally devastated, but she researched some information on the medical uses of cannabis provided by her son.

“I read what he sent me and I packed up all my stuff within two weeks and I haven’t gone back,” Taylor says. “I have a home in Buckhead, Georgia that I haven’t been to since.”

Her conversion to cannabis advocate didn’t happen overnight — it actually took years — but seeing the medical benefits firsthand made her a true believer.

“I could not turn my back on the healing I witnessed,” Taylor says.

After being converted, Taylor’s passion took over. She spent five years as the senior outreach representative for Harborside Health Center in Berkeley, traveling to senior care facilities to give presentations on the benefits and detriments of medical cannabis, while also learning the concerns seniors have about cannabis products. After learning the finer points of the cannabis industry and its relationship with seniors, Taylor set out to open her own dispensary.

Construction of the dispensary is being completed and, despite the city’s slow permitting process, iCann Health is slated to open Oct. 2. Taylor says if the city continues to drag its feet she may “go over there and expedite the process” herself. Given her penchant for discourse and attention to detail, nobody would be surprised if that kicked city officials into high gear. But in the event the opening gets pushed back a little, Taylor admits that it might be for the best.

“The way I see things, that dispensary is going to open when it’s supposed to,” Taylor says. “Because everything I do is perfectly in the right order and this is no different.”

While iCann will serve both recreational customers and medical patients, the retail outlet will primarily focus on seniors as its core demographic. Taylor’s background in education helps ensure all employees are properly trained to handle issues seniors face that cannabis can alleviate.

“We want to have a place where seniors can come and feel comfortable,” Taylor says. “We’ll train staff on how to talk to elders, because, you see, in the United States, there is an overall lack of respect for elders in our country and I aim to bring that back.”

Taylor says the first time she went to a dispensary, patience was a missing virtue. When a senior visits a dispensary and asks the same question several times, it’s not because they don’t understand the answer, Taylor says; it’s because the employee doesn’t understand the question.

Taylor, like many Americans, is also concerned about the increasing dependence on pharmaceutical solutions for ailments.

“Most seniors have a bag of pills when I meet them,” Taylor says.

But she is careful to point out that cannabis isn’t a miracle cure for all ailments. She wants to make sure patients take a broader approach their wellbeing.

“I’ll promote total health for the body, mind and spirit,” Taylor says. “You want to be the best you, while you walk this Earth. It all works together; cannabis is just one part of it. It’s a spiritual approach to cannabis for me.”

Source: Marijuana Venture

Women To

This story was originally published in the October 2017 issue of Marijuana Venture, on sale now online or at a store near you.

The digital revolution is changing every sector of retail in the U.S.

Across the country, brick-and-mortar stores of all varieties are struggling to maintain foot traffic as web-based alternatives offer a level of convenience that can’t be matched elsewhere. It seems like only a matter of time before consumers demand that level of efficiency from cannabis retail as well.

Several states, including Oregon, California and Nevada, have already approved marijuana delivery services, and dozens of tech companies and cannabis entrepreneurs are rushing to fill that need — somewhat similar to food delivery apps like Grubhub.

One trendsetter looking to bridge the gap between traditional retail and modern convenience is Koushi Sunder, the founder and CEO of Stemless, an ordering platform that allows customers to buy marijuana online for in-store pickup or delivery.

Customers can browse and purchase cannabis directly through the Stemless website (www.stemless.co) or through a plug-in hosted on the retail store’s website, eliminating the need for cash on hand. After making their purchase, customers can either pick up the product directly from the retail outlet or have it delivered to their home, if the store offers that service.

Retail shops pay a monthly fee to access the platform, and Stemless offers automated inventory uploads.

Sunder, who has an MBA from Dartmouth and a background in financial services, began developing the concept for Stemless shortly after her first time visiting a recreational cannabis shop.

“At that time I was living in New York and it seemed so far out there to go to a dispensary and just buy cannabis by showing somebody my ID,” she says. “It was super exciting. We were tourists. It was going to be great — and the experience was anything but.”

The lines were long, most customers needed a lot of personal attention, every purchase required cash and the budtender scoffed arrogantly at a simple mispronunciation of a strain name.

Recognizing the need for a more efficient process, Sunder launched Stemless in April 2016. There are currently 25 marijuana retail stores in Oregon using the platform, including Maritime Café, Farma, Bridge City Collective, The Grass Shack and Serra. Stemless is available in every state with legal cannabis.

In addition to managing the day-to-day operations of the company, Sunder spends a lot of time keeping an eye out for new talent. She says it’s important to have people in mind for new positions before it’s critical for the company to hire — and prospective employees have to “bring more to the table than your love of weed.”

“For us, we nerd out on things that other people don’t necessarily get excited about,” she says. “For me, if someone has a passion for logistics, that’s very exciting.”

Having worked for more traditional financial service companies in the past, entrepreneurship is a new challenge for Sunder, but it’s one that fits her personality.

“It’s a different beast and I love doing this,” she says. “At the end of the day, a lot of the skill sets you pick up throughout the course of your career are applicable to starting a company. Even though it’s stressful, the highs are way higher — no pun intended — than when I was working for someone else.”

Now that she is her own boss, Sunder’s best piece of advice for people looking to get into the cannabis business is to do it only if it matters to them. Don’t do it just because of news articles that say cannabis is the fastest growing industry in North America.

“If you are an entrepreneur, there are going to be a lot of late nights and a lot of early mornings and for a long time nobody’s going to care what you’re doing, nobody is going to be interested,” she says. “You’re going to be the only one who cares, so you have to care. During those dark days of starting out, just keep going, keep doing the right things, don’t cut corners, don’t take shortcuts.”

Source: Marijuana Venture