August 14, 2018

Cultivate Your Cannabis Knowledge: Interview with Shellene Suemori

It's not uncommon these days to see former chemists and molecular biologists move from the pharmaceutical industry into cannabis. It's just a logical next step into a growing sector. But to see a former NASA funded scientist, like for Shellene Suemori, move into cannabis, is an interesting move.



Even Suemori admits it was a bit of a stretch. However, it didn’t take much convincing from Dixie Elixirs, as she immediately saw the opportunity to implement good scientific practice and research into the industry. It was an untapped area at the time, and an opportunity for discovery.

Suemori is a formidable force within the growing medical marijuana industry, but she’s managed to fly under the radar. Unlike other industry vets, now nearing celebrity status, Suemori has kept out of the limelight. Yet still, she has had significant influence over the industry, whether it was working for Dixie Elixirs in Colorado, with Bloomfield Industries in New York, or with Sunday Goods in Arizona. She has quietly spread her dedication to product quality and adherence to the scientific process across the U.S.

As Suemori explains, when she initially moved to the industry from more traditional molecular biology roles, she was completely new to the concept of marijuana. As continues to be the case today, everything was happening at lightning speed in the sector. It was and continues to be an exciting and dynamic industry. This was the case at Dixie Elixirs, where she quickly learned how the cannabis industry worked, from seed through cultivation and into processing. from plant genetics, through processing, formulation, and final product launch into the market.

As she joined the writing team for the Bloomfield application and moved on to Bloomfield industries in New York, a pattern of hard work and innovation started emerging in her career. Bloomfield was one of only five companies to receive a license as the regional medical marijuana markets opened in the state. Suemori even admits it was a logistical nightmare to move as quickly as they did, under the strict regulatory requirements. But in the end, they succeeded, and it is one of the greatest joys of her career.

Just as quickly as she had helped to launch Bloomfield in New York, Suemori moved on to sunnier skies in Arizona. She now is the Chief Science Officer for the farm Pharm, and Sunday Goods. Sunday Goods  The Pharm is a fully licensed seven-acre indoor farm in Arizona. Currently cultivating, manufacturing, managing an e-commerce platform, and retail dispensaries; they have a lot on the go.

As with any startup, Suemori is once again moving at lightning speed, responsible for product development, safety inspection, and any other projects that require all hands on deck. Suemori has an unmatched conviction and determination; she is ready to push herself and her team to do whatever it takes to meet their goals.

Part of what drives her is the dedication to process improvement and bringing pharmaceutical standards of practice into the cannabis industry. In her opinion, the grassroots operations in medical marijuana are under a growing threat from big pharmaceutical companies. If the current cannabis market doesn’t get it right, governments could simply hand the industry over to the GW Pharmaceuticals and Bayer’s of the world.

Which is where her influence on the industry comes into play. She is working towards ensuring even in unregulated markets like Arizona, products pass a stringent testing process. Through each level of testing, the flower, the extraction, and the final product, Suemori works to ensure that only the highest quality products reach the consumers. If she wouldn’t let her grandmother near it, it shouldn't leave the facility.

Operations funding their own product testing can be a financially prohibitive process. Testing eats away too much of the profit margin to make financial sense. Which is why Suemori feels strongly that by legalizing recreational marijuana, a taxable product, the state itself will finally have the financial resources to implement a full regulatory system. In her opinion, its highly questionable to call something medicine, without any state managed regulation and testing.

Helpful Career Advice

For science grads just getting into the business, Suemori has some helpful advice. First, know that the cannabis industry is just getting off the ground. It is dynamic and continually evolving. Working for new companies, without a long history requires dedication and long hours. Chemists, molecular biologists, and the like may even have to put down the microscope while they work on other tasks. Startup environments, especially in marijuana, require team effort and grit. It's a much different experience than that found in the conventional pharmaceutical industry.

Secondly, when she looks for new team members, she looks for those with a good reason to work in the industry. Suemori claims to know within five minutes of working with someone if they will last. She frequently asks, “Why do you want to work in the industry?” and “Where do you see yourself and your career trajectory?” It’s essential for her to under the why behind peoples eagerness about working in cannabis.

Although her name might not make it into the sensational headlines, Suemori continues to push for product and operational excellence across the industry quietly. She seeks to further destigmatize cannabis as medicine, and for complete society-wide normalization.