(This story appears in the November-December issue of MJBizMagazine.)
By the time Greta Brandt entered the regulated cannabis industry, she already had an established career in law and politics.
The skills she brought from those sectors – synthesizing complex regulations, negotiating deals and understanding contracts – proved priceless in the regulated marijuana space, where rapidly changing rules are more the norm than the exception.
Today, Brandt leads 300 employees as president of The Flower Shop and True North Organics, vertically integrated cannabis companies with operations in Arizona’s recreational marijuana market, Utah’s medical market and plans to expand into New Jersey.
Brandt is speaking at MJBizCon on Nov. 28 during the Women in Leadership Forum. To view the agenda and get tickets, visit mjbizconference.com.
MJBizMagazine spoke with Brandt about her company’s expansion plans, elevating women leaders and how regulators could ease the burden on social equity license holders.
What interested you about the Utah and New Jersey cannabis markets?
Utah was a very simple decision for us to make.
It was a limited market and very close to our existing operations here in Arizona as well as our board in Idaho.
It was kind of sandwiched in between, so it felt like a very natural progression to move into another limited state that was purely medical.
New Jersey was an opportunity to expand our brand to the East Coast and kind of sandwich the country together, all the while formulating and further establishing our brand identity and brand offerings in the West.
New Jersey is such an interesting market.
It is quasi-limited license, because it’s more the municipality that establishes the limited licenses that are available.
You are known for getting to market quickly. Why is that so important in cannabis?
The rapid speed at which this market is developing, consolidating, expanding and introducing new products to the industry – all while trying to attract new customers – makes it really imperative for operators to be quick, which goes against a lot of training that other individuals have.
I always say, “If we’re not developing, we’re dying.”
With how much competition there is in this space, it requires you to be absolutely on top of your game, creative with new product offerings and really understanding who you’re trying to attract.
We have an entire R&D department that does product development and goes through an extensive process.
But at the same time, I’m pushing them to accelerate that process.
Because again, first to market is where you can establish brand dominance and customer loyalty.
Being third or fourth to market with a very similar product is quite difficult.
What do you look for when expanding? Do you think you’ll enter more states?
First and foremost, we want to build a larger presence in our existing states – acquire more licenses in Arizona, Utah and New Jersey.
Really cementing ourselves in the states as a low-cost provider of cannabis.
We have applied for a license in Florida, and so we are among 75 applicants awaiting notice from the state.
So, Florida is absolutely a high priority for me.
I’ve got properties already owned and am waiting for the opportunity to execute on those licenses.
That was a requirement of the application – that you had to actually own the property.
If I’m looking at other states, other limited-license markets are definitely on my radar.
Then, it’s how much logistical support can we provide to those states?
How close is it to my other locations so that I can provide tactical and strategic support?
You are speaking at the Women in Leadership Forum. Is the industry doing enough to elevate women leaders?
There is always opportunity for additional change.
I think that we have scratched the surface, to be honest, on women executives.
We still hold a very, very low percentage that is not reflective of our consumer base. That’s where it’s baffling to me.
It is going to be a longer time period before we see more of that 50-50 (breakdown in the C-suite).
I’m a huge proponent of supporting women in this industry.
We still have a long way to go, and I really look forward to seeing that change.
Some Arizona social equity license holders struggled to open by deadline. How can we improve social equity?
These timelines are set so that people don’t just sit on the license.
And obviously, we want to make the best use of those and provide access to patients and customers, as expected.
I think we’re straddling two different visions: The regulatory body is setting boundaries and asking people to meet those demands, yet you’ve got social equity applicants that don’t necessarily have access to the capital markets or the cash needed to build out.
The pressure for them to meet those demands is extremely high.
If the state was truly interested in allowing social equity applicants to get off the ground and operate their businesses, it should be allowing for reasonable extensions and working with applicants to stand up their operations.
Because otherwise, we’ve just given a lottery ticket to 26 people and really are not backing the social costs of what was intended.
Where states can be a little bit more helpful is working hand in hand to get those businesses off the ground and supported.
Existing operators have been working the system for years and understand the ins and outs, but a social equity applicant is coming in cold turkey.
If there were better resources from the regulatory side to advise and support the social equity applicants, I think that would be extremely helpful.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.