Colorado is no longer the only player in recreational cannabis, and early potreprenuers are branching out as legalization efforts claim victories around the country.
Meg Sanders served as CEO of Mindful during the Colorado and Illinois dispensary chain's quick expansion post-2014; after leaving her day-to-day role with the company, she set her sights on Massachusetts. Still an owner of Mindful, Sanders has been on the East Coast lately, preparing to open three cannabis storefronts under her new Canna Provisions brand.
We recently caught up with her to learn more about her journey through legal pot and what she has planned for the future.
Westword: How'd you get your start in legal cannabis?
Meg Sanders: I had hit the proverbial glass ceiling in my previous career as a compliance manager with a small investment firm and was looking for something else that would stretch my talents instead of stifling them. I have a strong entrepreneurial bent — I had previously started a clothing company — and there was nothing more entrepreneurial than jumping into the cannabis industry at its very beginning. Also, I had a very strong personal experience with cannabis and came to see its value when a family member used it medicinally to make their exit from this world less painful and with more dignity.
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So all those things created a perfect storm, and I reached out to an old college friend who had made an investment in a cannabis business and needed help getting a handle on compliance and financial issues. My focused compliance role turned into a baptism by fire into the entirety of the business, and I ended up taking on a larger operational role and then quickly becoming CEO of the company that would eventually become Mindful.
You became well known for starting Mindful dispensaries, but there was a report of you leaving the company in 2018. But I also see you're still listed as owner of Mindful online. What's your current relationship with the company?
Yes, I did leave Mindful as a day-to-day operator in 2016 but am still an owner, as is my partner, Erik Williams. As you know, ownership laws in Colorado made expansion and investment very difficult for a long time, and there was a strong demand for experienced, successful operators and consultants throughout the country in really exciting new markets. Erik had already been consulting around the country, so I had a great insight into the deluge of great opportunities, and I found it incredibly intriguing. In the 2016 elections, there was only one clear winner in America, and that was cannabis — and given the huge dearth of experienced professionals that were needed, Erik and I formed Will & Way Consulting.
I hear you opened a new dispensary on the East Coast. How was that process?
We did recently open a new dispensary in Lee, Massachusetts, called Canna Provisions; this is the first of three dispensaries we intend to open in quick succession here. We are incredibly excited about this company and these dispensaries, as it is the culmination and strict adherence to all of the best practices, values and ideals that we hold. This is the best of the best of anything we have ever done.
The process here in Massachusetts has been at least as good, if not better, than any other state that rolled out adult-use cannabis — and we have seen all of them firsthand. They’re making sure operators do what they say they will do, and really hold their feet to the fire. This weeds out the good and compliant operators from the mere slick talkers. I would also add that Massachusetts’s social equity provisions should be a model for the country, though there are still some kinks to work out, and more existing businesses need to commit to forwarding the program.
Why open a dispensary with a different name?
As for the name, we have often referred to our “cannabis journey” and recognized that everyone has their own unique version of that. And we know that bettering your cannabis journey means preparing with the right and best cannabis provisions — Canna Provisions. What we have created is something that fits perfectly in this place, the Berkshires, which is so beautiful. You should come visit!
Where do you see Colorado's cannabis industry going now that publicly traded companies are allowed here and more states have legalized?
Colorado is a mature market, so I don’t see a lot of changes taking place except for changes in ownership. The profitable companies will quickly be scooped up by public companies, or they will go the long and perilous road of trying to go public, which is not necessarily a good thing. I have seen firsthand many, many people in this industry who are doing all they can to turn this plant into a mere commodity, care only about the bottom line, and are derisive of their patients and customers, referring to them as “users” while proudly proclaiming that they have never tried cannabis themselves. Unfortunately, in my experience, public companies bring a lot more of those passionless folks into the space — some, not all.
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The cannabis industry received positive coverage early on about its share of female executives, but more recent reports have shown a decline in those numbers. What have you noticed on the ground floor?
What I have seen on the ground is not nearly enough female executives. That is a strategic mistake, given the demographics of existing and projected cannabis consumers and the household controls of spending falling primarily on women. I think the decline in numbers is also related to the public-company question you asked previously; unfortunately, the executive teams are tending to look more and more like the Wall Street and investment-banking firms that are investing in them. This is a capital-intensive business, and my own experience is that, typically, I have been the only woman around a table with all men, with very few exceptions.
As a growing and new industry across most of the country, does legal cannabis still have a chance to have more diversity in executive/ownership roles?
Yes, but only if these three necessary players truly commit to making that a priority: the diverse populations; the governing bodies; and the existing businesses. Where those groups look across the table and see competition or the enemy, it will not happen. Where those groups look across the table and see partners for a better cannabis industry, we see the potential for success.