The legalization of cannabis in Rhode Island last December provided numerous opportunities and issues for everyone involved. It signaled a green light for those wishing to grow, consume, and sell cannabis on small levels. However, its passage also meant state and local authorities had to tread carefully to ensure all parties became compliant and knew what boundaries must be followed. The details are in place, yet changes are inevitable as new questions arise.
With the cannabis industry opening in the Ocean State, four businesswomen recently aligned as a collective resource for anyone interested in the cannabis industry or with questions about the licensing process, legal limits to grow, or other expanding issues.
Atty. Megan Sheehan of Green Path Legal / Sheehan and Associates, Eve Santana of High Beautiful, Emily Cotter of Lovewell Farms, LLC., and Andrea Biszko of Aura of Rhode Island, aim to teach people about the safe sale, distribution and consumption of cannabis.
The women each met one another at various local cannabis-related events.
Sheehan, who practices in Rhode Island and Massachusetts and has offices in Barrington, RI and Lexington, MA, said being able to discuss the matter with clients is the first step in what can be a long process.
“People are beginning to get excited about the possibilities regarding the uses of cannabis,” she said. “There is so much potential surrounding cannabis in Rhode Island. It isn’t the evil, destructive drug some purport it to be. The expansion of the cannabis industry in Rhode Island is a huge step forward and [an] opportunity for Rhode Island. It’s also exciting to see some of the social equity components that were included in the legislation.”
The attorney pointed out three areas her firm specializes in: licensing, corporate/business, and litigation. She said there are potential landmines with each of these areas. Her firm works to mitigate them for her clients.
“There are so many potential stumbling blocks for cannabis businesses that can be time-consuming and expensive if not properly handled,” Atty. Sheehan said. “For example, relying on handshake agreements can mean major problems down the road. Finding a location for your business is incredibly important, and there are many potential hiccups in that process. Lastly, if you want a retail license that is based on a lottery system, then it can be very challenging. It’s important to get to the lottery stage, but you also have to be ready if your number is picked. These are a few of the many reasons to consult me.”
Sheehan noted there were very few women in the cannabis field when she began several years ago. Sheehan’s boutique law firm, Green Path Legal, is currently all women-owned and run.
“The cannabis industry has been a male-dominated industry to date, as well as largely white. A large factor contributing to this previous lack of diversity has been access to capital — starting and growing cannabis businesses is extremely expensive. This favors businesses that already have access to money,” Sheehan said. “Cannabis businesses also have not historically had access to traditional lenders, such as banks, and still do not have access to any federally backed funding programs. The lack of diversity in the industry has started to dramatically change as women and people of color are thriving in positions of ownership and leadership, and as more states and towns are recognizing the importance of social equity and diversity in the cannabis industry.”
More and more women are breaking into the cannabis industry. Not just in the legal arena, they are becoming store owners and businesswomen looking to create their industry niches.
Such is the case with Eve Santana, who owns High Beautiful, a lifestyle brand offering marketing services. High Beautiful focuses on delivering positive experiences and perspectives about cannabis. Santana has been involved with the industry for nearly a decade, working with leading East Coast companies and organizations including Ardent, Billow, the Farmacist, Equitable Opportunities Now (EON), and NECANN – the longest running and largest canna-convention on the east coast.
It was at EON, a 501c3 organization, where Santana found her calling. EON focuses on programming and advocacy of legislative policies that empower people impacted by the failed drug war, not corporations in the fast-evolving cannabis industries.
“Historically, Black and Latinx folks mostly know about this plant through tribulations, rejection, and discrimination. For work, I am guided by the mission of empowering Women, Black and Latinx communities in the industry, through access to the plant for consumption, information about ownership opportunities, and mentorship with some amazing people in the cannabis industry who give a damn about helping other people come up too,” she said.
Santana began High Beautiful in 2016 in hopes of aiding people suffering from depression, sleep apnea, anxiety, and other health issues. She said cannabis in some form can provide relief from these and other ailments. She stresses that it is not a cure, but it does possess some positive benefits.
Cotter is the director of operations of Lovewell Farms in Hope Valley. They produce high-quality, handcrafted hemp flower, and large varieties of CBD products using responsible and sustainable practices throughout the process. Although Cotter is passionate about the cannabis industry, she feels there is much more work to be done at the state and local levels.
“My passions for social justice, environmental sustainability, and love of plants all come together in the cannabis space. I am driven to help create an industry that reflects the goals of the movement behind it,” she said. “I believe in the power of community, and that the lines between food, drugs, and medicine are not as distinct as one might think. In our industry, I believe that business and advocacy work can and should coexist in a way that affects positive change for all, especially those on whose backs this newly legal industry has been built.”
Lovewell Farms will celebrate its fifth year in 2023. Although these past few years have not been easy, they are grateful to be part of a robust Rhode Island cannabis industry going into this year. In an industry as challenging as the cannabis industry can be, Cotter believes it is essential to work together to create an industry they want to participate in. They are excited to be partnering with more local cultivators, dispensaries, and other small businesses to make high-quality CBD more accessible to all Rhode Islanders.
Biszko, the human resources director whose business is based in Central Falls, said there was little doubt that she wanted to begin a business in this industry. It became her mission to ensure a safe environment for cannabis use.
“One thing I have found is there is a real camaraderie between cannabis businesses, and we really come together to achieve shared goals, unlike other industries, because of the unique circumstances and challenges we face in this industry,” she said.
Aura offers a variety of quality products at competitive prices for both medical patients and adult recreational customers alike. They also offer private consultations for both medical patients and adult-use customers that require one-on-one time to learn more about a particular product or products.
Last December, Biszko said there was built up anticipation statewide for the beginning of recreational sales. She believes the newer dispensaries that recently entered the marketplace expected a higher volume of recreational users than the actual numbers they’re seeing so far. Restrictive advertising makes it difficult to let consumers know such places exist and prevents the opportunity to educate the public on the benefits of cannabis. However, she has high hopes for the future and will continue to grow their brand. [Note, since this writing, the RI legislature has lifted many of the restrictions on cannabis advertising.]
The women are looking forward to helping others in this arena. They encourage anyone interested in learning more about the cannabis industry to contact them.
Megan E.Atty. Sheehan, Esq., firstname.lastname@example.org email@example.com or 401-396-9113.or (781) 281-8071.
Eve Santana, (401) 594-1224 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Emily Cotter, (401) 218-5008 and email@example.com.
Andrea Biszko, (508) 493-3437 and firstname.lastname@example.org.