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2020: The Top Movers And Shakers In Cannabis

Industry leaders deserve recognition for continuing to move the industry forward, develop new and innovative products, and are on the rise as people to pay attention to in 2021.

By Leland Radovanovic.

If 2020 has had any silver lining, the cannabis industry is one of the few local industries thriving after receiving “essential business” status in many states. It shows no signs of slowing down.

Marijuana Business Daily reported that retail sales were up 40% compared to 2019. Legalization also pressed forward, and this year alone, Arizona and Montana voted to legalize recreational cannabis. South Dakota became the first state to legalize medicinal and recreational cannabis during the same election.

In early December, The Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act (MORE Act) passed the U.S. House of Representatives. Marijuana Business Daily reported that U.S. cannabis retail sales were up 40 percent compared to 2019

As a look back on the year, industry leaders deserve recognition for continuing to move the industry forward, develop new and innovative products, and are on the rise as people to pay attention to in 2021.

Advocating and Lobbying for Human Rights

The reality is that the U.S. has to reckon with its past on cannabis prohibition and create in-roads to new economic opportunities for Black and Brown communities who were the targets for cannabis prohibition enforcement. Roz McCarthy, founder and CEO of the 501c3 nonprofit Minorities for Medical Marijuana (M4MM), continues to ensure the conversation of social, economic, and racial justice are not an afterthought but at the forefront as states legalize cannabis. The organization has created national programs for record expungement, cannabis job training, education, and internships through historically black colleges and universities (HCBU).

Founded in 2016, M4MM currently operates across 27 U.S. states and has expanded its diversity advisory board with cannabis giants like Trulieve, SIVA Enterprises, and ex-pro footballer turned cannabis entrepreneur Marvin Washington. Many leading companies have tapped Roz to consult on diversity and inclusion programming and sit on several advisory boards such as CWCBE and Marijuana Business Daily.

While the battleground of cannabis legalization continues to be within the states, the industry has had a severe lack of experienced lobbyists on the federal level. Saphira Galoob is the Principal and CEO of The Liaison Group (TLG), which was the first, and remains the only Washington, DC-based lobbying firm focused exclusively on the cannabis industry. She was the driving force behind the creation of the National Cannabis Roundtable (NCR), which counts some of the nation’s leading operators among its membership, including Cresco Labs and Trulieve. Other clients include the Oregon Cannabis Association and the California Cannabis Industry Association, the most influential state-based cannabis trade association, representing more than 500 businesses and 670 brands in the world’s largest cannabis economy.

A keen strategist who prioritizes transparency and collaboration, Saphira works closely with both the House and Senate Cannabis Caucus and working groups. POLITICO recently selected her as Who to Know on K Street for cannabis lobbyists and was named the 2020 Influencer of the Year by the Industry Power Women Awards.

Attorney on the Move

It is nearly a trope to say you have a lawyer on speed-dial. Success in cannabis relies on your understanding and execution within the laws and regulations, and to do that, you need someone in your corner. Cristina Buccola, founder and CEO of CB Counsel, is a transactional attorney with a twist: she represents cannabis and hemp clients on M&A, securities, capital raises, and general corporate matters while also advocating for a regulated, inclusive cannabis industry centered on racial and economic justice. She has been a partner in a state-legal cultivator, an organizer of expungement and relief events, and was the General Counsel of High Times.

Additionally, Cristina is an adjunct law professor of cannabis law and policy, where she lectures on a variety of cannabis topics in continuing professional courses and community-focused seminars. She also serves as an advisor to National Expungement Week on creating programming and events that bring legal relief (expungement, record sealing) and wraparound services (housing, healthcare, food) to communities most disproportionately harmed by the War on Drugs.

Publicly-Trading in the U.S.

Jessica Billingsley has had a colorful history in the cannabis industry and serves as an influential figure of what success can look like in the cannabis industry. She serves as Akerna’s KERN 2.08% CEO. In June 2019, she became the first CEO of a cannabis ancillary company to be listed on Nasdaq and through a SPAC, no less.

This year, MJ Freeway, an Akerna company, announced an integration with Metrc API enabling a single entry of the information necessary to initiate facility license transfers through Trellis. Jessica co-founded MJ Freeway in 2010, where she served as President until April 2018, and later as the CEO until MTech acquired MJ Freeway to form Akerna. In 2015, Fortune named her one of Fortune’s Most Promising Female Entrepreneurs. In 2018, Inc. Magazine named her one of 100 Female Founders, and in 2019, Entrepreneur’s named her one of 100 Powerful Women.

Before MJ Freeway, Jessica served as CEO and founder of Zoco, a technology services firm with clients across the United States.

Private Operators Putting Healthcare First

Not everyone in this industry is looking for a cash grab. These next two leaders put patients and health and wellness front and center, and their success is a testament to the need to place your customers and patients first. Dr. Chanda Macias, MBA, is the CEO of Ilera Holistic Healthcare, the medical marijuana cultivator and processor for the State of Louisiana University and CEO of Women Grow. In Louisiana, Dr. Macias focuses on delivering affordable medical marijuana healthcare options and patient education on aligning a medical marijuana strain with a specific condition or ailment.

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In addition to cultivating and processing medical marijuana, Dr. Macias dispenses medical marijuana through National Holistic™ Healing Center (NHHC), which has a majority market share in Washington, D.C., significant patient retention, and has increased patient enrollment through her educational platform.

If that was not enough, Dr. Macias is the Vice-Chair of the National Cannabis Roundtable (NCR) Board. NCR is dedicated to promoting common-sense federal legislation, tax equity, and financial services reform and is a proud member of Americans for Safe Access, promoting safe and legal access to medical marijuana for research purposes.

Dr. Oludare Odumosu, PhD, is the CEO (USA) of Zelira Therapeutics ((ASX: ZLD, OTCQB:ZLDAF), the leading global therapeutic medical cannabis company with access to the world’s largest and fastest-growing cannabis markets. He created Zelira’s proprietary CBD formulas that formed the foundation of its just-launched foray into the oral care industry with a partnership with SprinJene®, a leading natural oral care brand, for a hemp-derived CBD toothpaste.

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In addition to the formulas developed for Sprinjene, Dr. Odumosu also created Zelira’s Zenivol™ formulation for insomnia, which just completed the world’s first clinical trial for a cannabis-derived insomnia medication and launched earlier this year in Australia, and co-created, with autism advocate Erica Daniels, Zelira’s successful HOPE™ line of cannabis-based treatments for the symptoms of autism.

Public Relations and Building Women in Cannabis

It is not enough to be good at what you do in cannabis. Developing your story and expressing it to the audiences that matter most to you to increase your public profile is essential. With marketing channels limited, public relations is one avenue to accelerate your growth. Gia Morón is the founder and CEO of GVM Communications, a public relations, brand strategy, and business development firm which she launched on April 20, 2012. With almost 30 years of public relations experience, she works with small to mid-sized businesses, non-profits entrepreneurs, authors, and more. Gia expanded her company’s coverage into cannabis and hemp in 2015 and was named a top cannabis PR firm.

She also serves as the President for Women Grow, overseeing the company’s day-to-day operations. Not to be slowed down, she sits on the board of Minorities for Medical Marijuana, an advisory board for Cannabis World Congress Business Expo, and is a coalition member of Start-SMART, a New York organization among others.

This article originally appeared on Benzinga and has been reposted with permission.

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