Women of Influence: A Cannabis Conversation

For TBBW’s most recent “Women of Influence” event, we pulled together women working and leading the charge on cannabis businesses in the Tampa Bay area. The event was held at The Current Hotel in Tampa. Here’s a recap of the live discussion. 

The discussion was moderated by Josephine Krehl, founder of MMJ Knowledge. (Photos below)


• Suzanne Duret

CEO, AfGin Corp. and Strategies That Matter

• Colette Florido

President and founder, CR World

• Dawn Hackney

CEO and president,

GreenTree Natural Wellness Center

• Susan Scherer

CEO and founder, Heavenly Hash Creamery

What steps have you taken to normalize the “cannabis conversation” in your communities?

Scherer: Unfortunately, “normalize” is something that doesn’t fit here as it is such a gray area and there is so much ambiguity. What I have done is to try to utilize my nursing background to assess a person’s cannabis education level than present facts and evidence-based scientific data that they can understand. This usually includes an endocannabinoid 101 discussion.

 Hackney: It is no longer a topic that we giggle when we talk about it. It is nature’s medicine and mother knows best. I often get asked, “Does CBD work?” “Does it get me high?” “Am I going to fail a drug test?” All of these questions are very good questions to ask, but it also demonstrates that people are curious. We are experiencing modern-day Prohibition. We at GreenTree Natural Wellness Center approach this topic daily with our customers. As a manufacturer, and only one of two currently operating and permitted by the Florida Department of Agriculture, we offer training to our retailers at no charge. Consistent and correct messaging is key.

 Florido: I am sharing the story of how, as the caregiver to my father with frontotemporal dementia, not only did it help calm his aggression and agitation, making it easier on our whole caregiving team, it helped him to sleep better, ultimately allowing 24-hour shifts instead of 12 hours—a savings of over $1,300 a month. And most important, as a family, we were able to give my dad a better quality of life where he was able to age at home, comfortably through his last days. In his case, we used hemp-derived CBD and it was the game-changer.

The biggest challenge is flipping the script on how we see and talk about cannabis. For many, it’s medicine—not an addictive or harmful substance or pharmaceutical. For others, it’s an adult-use choice for relaxation and calming of stress and anxiety. Although “Mommy needs wine” is a tongue-in-cheek acknowledgment that sometimes we have to find a way to relax in an overly stressful environment, “Mommy needs cannabis” may become the more healthful and natural approach, without the nasty hangover or bad choices that may come with being served one too many.

Today, we are educating every part of our community, all walks of life, educating both consumers and the medical community.

 There are a plethora of issues cannabis entrepreneurs face, often stemming from gray areas in the law and inconsistencies in regulations, such as banking challenges and prohibitive policies. What particular sticking points or “surprises” have you encountered along the way?

Hackney: Every point of business is a challenge, from credit card processing to paying employees. Employees are not able to obtain car loans or mortgages if they work for a cannabis company due to federal regulation and the banking industry. We have had to be creative in our legal company structure approach.

Credit card processing is difficult. If a cannabis or CBD company can obtain a merchant account for credit card processing, then the fees are astronomical, and depending on the revenue volume an escrow is required.

The big box stores have accepted the name “hemp” on shelving products. However, packaging containing the name “CBD” or “cannabidiol” is not allowed. Hemp and CBD are the same.

We are unable to obtain capital funding from the Small Business Administration, or grants, because of federal regulations. Our companies can only turn to private funding. GreenTree Natural Wellness Center will be looking to raise capital in the coming months to assist in our growth.

Scherer: I understood that we were going to face challenges such as banking, small business loan assistance and marketing. What I didn’t expect was that larger tech companies were apprehensive and, or denied us the ability to use their software programs to manage our company. Getting into this industry is not for the faint of heart.

Today’s traditional marketing methods (radio, advertising, social media/Facebook, Eventbrite, etc.) present entrepreneurs in this space with unique challenges. Can you speak to what some of these are, and what strategies you’ve incorporated to overcome them?

 Florido: Traditional marketing is just not an option for the cannabis industry. Even as hemp-derived CBD has been removed as a controlled substance when it has less than 0.3% THC, social media outlets have not revised their policies. This means that while most businesses boost posts to gain viewership, cannabis companies cannot. A dispensary that has been awarded a legal license through the state also cannot market their products, or events, if cannabis might be sold. For example, last year we hosted the Battle of the Beverages, a CBD-infused beverage contest that raised more than $5,000 for cannabis research. But when Eventbrite saw there was money being collected for the ticket, it was shut down. The money was held for a period of time and Facebook didn’t have a way to swap out the payment link without having to create a new event page.

And it’s not just social media. Many have heard of the Super Bowl ad advocating for the legalization of cannabis because broadcast standards won’t allow for cannabis-related ads. Yet, with no medical benefit, Anheuser-Busch spent an estimated $41 million on ads. So, back to the grassroots and word of mouth marketing that works well with consumers. The key is education and normalization.

Hackney: CBD companies, and cannabis companies, are forced to go back to grassroots marketing. We are unable to advertise on social media such as Facebook and Instagram, as it is prohibited. Amazon has a ton of hemp products but most of these products are hemp seed, versus whole-plant hemp (CBD) extract. Amazon prohibits companies from selling CBD products. We must be creative in our approach to marketing and advertising, which is very limited. 

There seems to be a trend toward this being a male-dominated industry, which seems incompatible with women’s roles as nurturing caregivers and the feminine nature of the cannabis plant’s healing properties. Can you speak to what “compassionate capitalism” can look like and the importance of Influential women playing a predominant role in this budding industry?

Scherer: I feel that my role as a woman, wife, nurse and mother influenced my “why?” as it was important to enhance the quality of life in others with products that I knew were needed, due to my background. I get charged working around men, as they make me a better CEO without losing my compassion and my “why.”

Hackney: Eighty percent of women are making the decisions for health care in our family units. Women should be directing this movement.

Florido: It’s not completely ironic that only the female cannabis plant produces the beautiful buds rich in THC that so many seek for relief and healing. The cannabis industry has a unique opportunity, where it has started at a time when the glass ceiling for women has never been so high (pardon the coincidental pun). The plant, in its many forms, is an obvious choice for many caregivers especially as we try to move away from manufactured and processed foods and health products. According to data from World Population Prospects: the 2019 Revision, currently 1 in 11 people in the world are over 65 and by 2050 one in four persons living in Europe and North America will be aged 65 or older. Since approximately 75 percent of all caregivers are female, there is a correlation to the way cannabis will affect how we age and care for our elders. As more investors jump into the industry women must lead the way, focusing on compassionate capitalism, where competitive pricing for clean and natural products, rather than price gauging and manufacturing it with artificial and sugary flavors, colors and additives are the overwhelming choices.

 Call to Action—what final thoughts and/or words of encouragement would you like to leave our attendees with tonight?

Florido: Start the conversation. Get educated. Share what you have heard. Help to remove the stigma by normalizing the cannabis conversation. Cannabis and hemp are hope for many seeking answers for their health or that of a loved one. 

It is going to change how we age and how we approach healthfulness.

Hackney: Continue to be curious. Read the labels. There is a place for pharmaceuticals, however, be conscious of your diet, keep your body moving and try nature before pharma. ♦



TBBW’s “Women of Influence” series is an exclusive, invitation-only, monthly event that brings together some of the Tampa Bay area’s top business leaders to meet and mingle.

The series was sponsored by Shumaker and Cogent Bank. DCE Productions is TBBW’s event partner and The Current was the host sponsor. 

The event begins with a cocktail reception for about 120 guests, followed by a live interview of Bay area C-level executives who provide insight into their personal lives, careers and views on issues affecting the business community.

Partnering with TBBW on this event provides an opportunity to network with the area’s business elite, generate new business opportunities, and increase brand awareness.

For more information contact Jason Baker at Jbaker@TBBWmag.com

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