Girl Power: Two Women Challenge the Status Quo in CannabisFriends, neighbors, and moms, these two women on the East coast, are making waves across the industry.
There is no question; the cannabis industry is a complex business venture which requires professionalism, experience, and strong business acumen to survive. So, imagine the possibilities when a thriving physician and a successful engineer/entrepreneur combine forces to build the best medical cannabis dispensary possible. Imagine them in their power suits, in a room full of investors, sliding through their pitch decks, and making a commanding presentation for how their dispensary will resonate with the growing cannabis market and even build on the ever-increasing senior demographic.
Now, imagine they’re female.
Overcoming banking challenges, industry obstacles, and blatant “man-splaining,” Dr. Leslie Apgar and her friend and neighbor, Gina Dubbé, are breaking down industry barriers, shattering stoner-culture stigmas, and bringing the cannabis conversation to the mainstream. Cannabis Tech had the opportunity to speak with these two ladies in honor of International Women’s Day.
An Unlikely, but Dynamic, Cannabis Duo
A successful venture capitalist, after selling a therapeutic ice pack company, TheraPearl, to Performance Health, the makers of BioFreeze, Gina retired to live happily ever after. Having never used marijuana a day in her life, landing in the cannabis industry was the furthest thing from her mind. But, when her long-time friend and neighbor, Dr. Leslie Apgar, called to suggest an investment opportunity with one of her patients in a medical cannabis dispensary, Gina kept an open mind.
On the initial phone call with the gentleman, Gina asked, “How will this make money? What’s the return?” Standard investing questions any smart business-person would ask.
To which the man replied, “Oh, it’s too complicated, you’d never understand the math.”
By the end of the meeting, frustrated and offended, Gina recalled, “I was confident in my ability to understand the math; clearly, we weren’t being taken seriously.”
So, like the Laverne & Shirley of cannabis, these women set out to do it their way, and they submitted a bid for themselves.
Recognizing the Shift
With more than 17 years of experience in patient care, Leslie recognized the need for a specialization in women’s health and wellness, launching Pura Vida, a medical spa and laser center. Similarly, these women recognized the need for something new in cannabis. So, when their application was accepted, they put their plan in motion to set themselves apart.
“We knew what we wanted – something our parents would be comfortable going into,” Leslie said. “The industry has been recreational, only masquerading as medical.”
Using a residency model, their dispensary, Greenhouse Wellness, has a medical director (Dr. Apgar) who trains the staff. Avoiding traditional roles, budtenders are replaced with “Wellness Consultants” who learn directly from the medical director how to professionally and accurately discuss medical conditions, appropriate terminology, pharmacological interactions, and how to really talk to a patient.
“We professionalize the experience right out of the gate and force it to be medical,” Leslie concluded.
But You Can’t Do It That Way!
Immediately, Gina and Leslie knew they were fighting an uphill battle. Everywhere they turned, they were met with opposition and struggle. “I can’t count the number of times we’ve been told we’re wrong, it will never work, you can’t do it that way!” Gina admitted.
Leslie chimed in and said, “When something feels right, and it’s attractive to us, then we are certain that it will be attractive to others, and that was the way we did it.”
Facing Down the Challenges
Starting a new business always comes with obstacles but starting a new business in the cannabis industry takes the challenges to a whole new level.
“First of all, no one would rent to us. Companies with a presence in other states might own buildings, or there are banking issues, or they simply didn’t want to ‘rent to a drug dealer,’” Gina huffed.
Then Leslie added, “And the ‘boys’ club is everywhere, cannabis is no different.”
Explaining a situation early in their venture, Leslie said, “We had trouble getting the same deals others were getting. Gina is a phenomenal business person, and we run our company as a business should be run. We are a good risk. Yet, just down the street, other businesses were getting deals at half the price we were getting.”
Additionally, the banks even tried to cancel Gina’s personal accounts, which she had for years, due to her association with the industry. “Regulation conflicts are hindering the industry and impeding good people from doing things right,” she said.
“If you don’t want money laundering, make it legal to work with banks. If you don’t want us making unfounded medical claims, get [cannabis] off Schedule 1, so we can get the research to support the claims,” she demanded.
Advocating for Change
In addition to breathing fresh ideas and new approaches into the industry, Leslie and Gina are making strides to change the way everyone sees cannabis. Besides merely keeping their staff educated and up to date on all things cannabis, they also teach courses at a local campus. The women believe education is the key to lifting the veil once and for all.
“We have to get everyone on the same page, or we can’t move the needle,” Leslie declared.
Recently, the women had the opportunity to take their story to a national platform and talk about modern cannabis on the Today Show with Maria Shriver and Sheinelle Jones. In this empowering interview, these women shine as they paint a much different image of today’s cannabis consumer and cannabis business.
On High Heals
Whether you’re for or against cannabis, their book, “High Heals,” is a fascinating glimpse behind the scenes of what it takes, the struggles endured, the accomplishments made, and the learning that took place while Gina and Leslie jumped feet-first into unchartered water.
Leslie added, “We’ve been brought to our knees by what we have seen. I have never in my medical career seen healing that happens the way cannabis healing happens. We get to witness the grace, humility, and strength that patients and their caregivers exhibit, during some of the worst moments in life… and it’s very cool how everyone at Greenhouse Wellness benefits from that kind of experience.”