Despite nationwide advances in the legalization movement, cannabis is still not fully accepted among many demographics. One group that has often shown an understandable resistance to the advance of marijuana in society is the one composed of mothers: What if my kid gets their hands on pot? What if I get too high and can’t respond in case of an emergency? What if…?
However, many mothers have cozied up to the idea that cannabis is no devil’s lettuce, no gateway drug, and that consuming it, or even making a living off it, will not make them worse mothers.
Some of these mothers have gone far in this endeavor, and today run some of the largest, most important, most influential companies in the cannabis industry, dismantling archaic conceptions and improving the lives of millions across the country.
It’s A Celebration
To celebrate these canna-moms on Mother’s Day this year, I asked five industry professionals killing the game right now to share their personal experiences in the field — no pun intended.
These fem-warriors discuss the personal sacrifices they’ve made to take care of their employees and family, offer guidance to other mothers in cannabis, and explore how their careers are inspiring their children to pursue unconventional fields.
Answers have been edited for length and clarity.
Jessica Billingsly, Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer, Akerna
Even though my first pick for this list may be somewhat predictable, I feel there’s no other way to start a list of mothers dominating the cannabis space than with the first woman CEO to take her cannabis company public on a major U.S. exchange — in this case, the Nasdaq.
Jessica first went into balancing motherhood and cannabis industry leadership.
I think the idea of balance is a dangerous and unproductive misnomer. I subscribe to the Pendulum Theory. I swing between my time as the CEO of a publicly-traded company and my time as a mother to a 13-year-old. When I’m working, I am focused and enjoy professional stimulation. When I’m with my daughter, I enjoy being a mom and focusing on family. You can’t do both at the same time.
And shared some advice for other moms or moms-to-be seeking to build a successful career in the cannabis space.
Building a successful career in the cannabis industry takes tenacity. Cannabis requires you to be able to roll with the punches, adapt, and change. Nobody knows how to do that better than mothers.
And, despite all of the challenges, she would do it all over again.
Sitting where I am now, it is easy for me to say, “Yes, I would do it all over again.” I have accomplished something incredible. I am the CEO of the first publicly-traded technology company serving the cannabis industry.
The truth is it’s hard. I have an 11-year-old business and a 13-year-old daughter. I hope, when my daughter looks at me and my work, she sees what can happen if you follow your passion and commit yourself to a goal. I got into this industry because of her. My daughter is what gives my work purpose.
Rosie Mattio, Founder and Principal, MATTIO Communications
Next up, Rosie Mattio, a New Yorker who built a cannabis PR powerhouse from the ground up with her very own two hands. And all while raising four, yes four, girls.
Prior to cannabis, Rosie worked at one of the largest PR firms in New York City: Rubenstein. In 2004, she launched her own PR firm, but it wasn’t until 2014 when she was approached by a company to run PR for a cannabis cookbook. “After this project that was supposed to be a one-off deal, I realized how underserved this entire industry was and knew I could use my background to bring legal cannabis into the mainstream,” she explained.
Going back to the topic of balancing one’s work and personal lives, Rosie said:
Like every working parent in any industry, I’m only able to balance work and family by having an incredible support system. My husband, Daniel, left his finance job a few years ago to take care of our four young daughters when I officially launched MATTIO Communications.
Daniel’s sacrifice allowed me to focus on growing my company and catapult legal cannabis into national headlines. Being an entrepreneur in an emerging industry also means that I have to sacrifice quality time with my husband and children, which can be incredibly tough during long work days. However, being a role model to my daughters and providing for my family is rewarding in its own right, and I am now even more appreciative of everything my husband and daughters have given me.
But she warned other moms and moms-to-be that the cannabis industry will come with no shortage of difficulties to overcome.
Cannabis is such a new industry that there are no set expectations of what an entrepreneur or executive should look like yet. Take advantage of this opportunity and establish your name, accomplishments and values early on in your career. A lot of business within cannabis depends on a personality fit between clients, and you will naturally attract the clients and work you are looking for by being your authentic and ambitious self.
Additionally, the majority of businesses are young startups, so there is definitely more flexibility to work from home. Given the diverse professional backgrounds of cannabis executives, I’ve found that most companies are more understanding of employees taking time off to take care of family demands.
Still, Rosie, like Jessica, would do it all over again.
While I am immensely proud of what my agency has accomplished so far, I love showing my daughters that hard work pays off and that they can aspire to run their own businesses one day. I am transparent about all of the challenges and opportunities that come with being an entrepreneur, and I hope that my career plants a seed in their minds to pursue their ambitions fearlessly.
Dr. Chanda Macias, Chief Executive Officer, Ilera Holistic Healthcare; Chairwoman of the Board of Managers and Chief Executive Officer, Women Grow
Dr. Chanda, or should I say Queen Zulu (yes, this is true), is the epitome of a successful woman of color. A PhD, a mom, an executive, an industry leader, Chanda does it all.
Before finding her way to the cannabis industry, Chanda earned a PhD in cellular biology from Howard University, where she studied breast and bone cancer, and developed a model to understand how prostate cancer metastasizes to bone. After graduating, Chanda became a research scientist at Colgate-Palmolive and played an instrumental role in launching two billion-dollar brands.
Shortly after, Chanda took over as the Director of STEM Education at Howard University, where she was awarded millions of dollars in federally funded grants and trained aspiring scientists and doctors in biomedical research.
“My background in studying chronic diseases and treatments has led me to take on a scientific approach in understanding all of cannabis’ medical applications,” she said.
But the journey was worth the effort.
I certainly did not expect my PhD in cellular biology to lead me to a high-profile position in the cannabis industry when I first graduated, but I do believe that all of my extensive training in the collective health and well-being of individuals uniquely prepared me to thrive in this role.
I would take this path again because my team, and the medical industry as a whole, is making significant strides in helping millions of people across the country manage their chronic illnesses and conditions. I also love sharing my line of work with my children to show them the importance of taking unconventional approaches to solve pertinent issues. I hope that my passion for my job encourages them to stay curious and pursue positions that challenge and excite them in the future.
Erica Daniels, Founder, Hope Grows for Autism
Erica’s story is as interesting as it is heartwarming. Her quest for something that would help her son suffering from autism led her to cannabis, a community that would receive her with open arms and ultimately change the course of her entire live.
“I started advocating for medical cannabis because of my son, who has autism, so these two worlds go hand in hand,” she said. “At home, I openly discuss cannabis medicine with my children. I teach my children to stand up for what they believe in, and how important it is to help others, showing them by my example. Whether that be cannabis or something else, the lesson is the same.”
For other mothers like her looking to build a successful career in cannabis she recommended:
Follow your passion. You will never work a day in your life if you love what you do and feel strongly about it! You can expect some side-eyes from some other moms, but mostly they have been surprisingly supportive.
The conferences and constant travel can be difficult on mothers, so I suggest finding as many ways as possible to disseminate your information online. This is especially important as your business grows and obviously during the COVID-19 era.
But, just like all of the above, Erica would not change a thing about her life choices when it comes to her line of work and her family life.
I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I never imagined in a million years that I would be successfully supporting my family and helping so many others by working in the cannabis industry. And yet, I couldn’t imagine my life any other way. My work is so integrated with my responsibilities and values as a mother, so it doesn’t add that much additional stress to my life.
Whitney Conroy, Senior Director of Special Projects, Curaleaf
To round up this list, I went on a virtual treasure hunt. I wanted to include a person I was not totally familiar with, and Whitney Conroy kept coming up in conversations.
Prior to joining the cannabis industry, Whitney held strategy roles at consumer-facing companies, like Fashion Nova and 20th Century Fox, as well as Investment Analysis roles at a venture capital firm and hedge fund.
She now holds a senior position in Curaleaf, one of the largest cannabis companies in the world.
For her, balance stems from organization and communication.
Every weekday morning my family wakes up and has breakfast together, and every night we play games, read books, and do bedtime. During this time, I try to stay present and not get distracted by my phone or work.
I openly communicate my schedule to my team and co-workers. Unless there is something urgent, everyone is respectful of my schedule. Once my son is in bed, I can finish any outstanding work or return emails. Also, my husband is great at running toddler defense when something comes up! Having his support is so crucial.
And lastly, one more piece of advice for moms on their special day:
Moms are predisposed for successful careers in cannabis! I joke that the best class I’ve taken to prepare me for the cannabis industry (and really any industry) is a Mommy and Me class. It taught me how to handle meltdowns, stay cool under pressure, and exercise empathy. The industry is in its infancy, constantly changing, and you never know what to expect next. Moms are primed to thrive in this environment.
Maybe not the kind of flowers you expected, but certainly some food for thought here. Tell us how you, as a mother, have managed to remain responsible, engaged with your family, and at the same time, professionally successful.
Lead photo: Jessica Billingsley and her daughter, Zoe.