Jul 18, 2022
"Change is going to come. Most successful companies/leaders will be ready to pivot at a moment’s notice."
Asa part of my series about strong women leaders in the cannabis industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Tanya Griffin, CEO of oOYes!
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to the cannabis industry?
In 2011 I was living in Chicago and building healthcare companies under my company, Water + Trees. Sitting in a surgical center in Pilsen, IL, I read about medical cannabis coming to Illinois and could not look away. Of all the things I had built and sold in my life none of it was as compelling and made as much sense as this magical cannabis plant!
At the time, Colorado was the most regulated and mature adult use market. While I was new to the cannabis space it did not take long to leverage my experience building restaurants, retail stores and health care practices. I booked a flight to Denver, met with the top players at the time and ended up partnering with The Green Solution, now Columbia Care.
Once drinking the cannabis kool-aide there was no turning back. Early days when the playing field was very different than it is now I wrote and won dispensary, cultivation and manufacturing applications and won a vertical license in Florida before building the first vertically integrated national cannabis franchise for The Green Solution. We went on to win medical dispensaries near my home town in Illinois. Those dispensaries multiplied and flip to Adult Use and I eventually exited to a multi-state operator (MSO) which allowed me to build my ecstatic sex lifestyle brand, oOYes!
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
2015, sitting in Kingston, Jamaica with the Mayor of Kingston and the leader of the Ganja Coalition as they asked my advice, this suburban soccer mom from Chicago on how to grow and scale cannabis operations. Surreal. Later that week as we all bunked up together in some condos we reserved on the beach in Negril I would spend the afternoon hiking up the mountain to patches of majuana, shielded from authorities, water trucked in, pulling females from the ground as a remarkable individual with dreadlocks that touched his knees told magical stories about the journey of bringing cannabis to the world and the challenges he faced.
I learned that the world is small and we are all in this together.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Sharing edibles with virgins who you think are regular users!
So many funny stories but one that comes immediately to mind is sharing edibles with a man who touted his experience as a “regular” cannabis user”. Being in the business I used to be generous with showing up with cannabis treats. No more. This night would end that tradition when a new acquaintance, an older, 6’3” gentleman would turn pale, try to stand, faint. Watching as things went south I jumped to attention and found myself on the ground with this man nestled in my lap at a fine dining, Italian Restaurant.
Lesson learned… Marjiuana brownies do not pair well with short skirts and fettuccine alfredo!
Do you have a funny story about how someone you knew reacted when they first heard you were getting into the cannabis industry?
Early days, when I was first getting into the cannabis industry in Chicago I quickly got a reputation for being the “weed lady”! Of course, my four kids were still in grade school thru high school and I was suddenly deep in the cannabis industry, on news interviews, articles with a quickly growing reputation in NIMBY town. I went from being a regular “soccer mom” to being the “weed lady” among teachers, coaches, and my kid’s friends.
My kids were not so happy with their mom’s new reputation and would make up stories about what I was up to. As those stories made their way back the telephone game was nothing less than hilarious.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
Every step, every advantage I have had when breaking into a new industry has been the result of a kind, generous soul willing to teach me the ropes and connect me to the industry.
If I there is one person I am most grateful for it is my dad who taught me to be fearless, walk through every new door and be an entrepreneur whether that meant building a small business from nothing, or jumping into the film, sex and cannabis industries.
The luxury of knowing that nothing was as good as something and you could always start again was an invaluable lesson that allowed me to follow my dreams and always do what I love.
Are you working on any new or exciting projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Yes, I am building an ecstatic sex lifestyle brand, oOYes. It will help people have more and better SEX.
Ok. Thank you for all that. Let’s now jump to the main core of our interview. Despite great progress that has been made we still have a lot more work to do to achieve gender parity in this industry. According to this report in Entrepreneur, less than 25 percent of cannabis businesses are run by women. In your opinion or experience, what 3 things can be done by a)individuals b)companies and/or c) society to support greater gender parity moving forward?
3 things that support gender parity moving forward…
a)individuals: 1) Lead by example 2) Always be sharing! That means being consistently loving, kind and generous to others 3) There is always enough to go around, teaching others to do what you do will come back 10 fold
b)companies: 1) Share the profits 2) Be kind to others 3) Allow others to grow and fill your shoes
c) society: 1) Be tolerant and kind even when you cannot agree 2) Be mindful and considerate when things are falling down around you 3) Give to others who are less fortunate
You are a “Cannabis Insider”. If you had to advise someone about 5 non intuitive things one should know to succeed in the cannabis industry, what would you say? Can you please give a story or an example for each.
5 non-intuitive things to succeed in the cannabis industry:
Don’t romanticize! — Treat your cannabis business like you are running a small business [Story: Pipe dream relating the difference between operating Kangaroo Kids and The Green Solution]
Build it and they will come! Cannabis businesses are more challenging to build, consumers don’t always agree with your brand focus and an exit is not always the solution. [Story: Journey thru the cannabis industry and the hurdles inherent in building a company while navigating regulatory compliance / 280E and why shooting for exit only is increasingly unrealistic]
Rely on others, they will surprise you. Who you consider your competition can be your best ally. [Story: Helping one another… oOYes + Jon @ Foria]
Don’t overreach. Say “no” to that next idea until you get through the one in front of you. [Story: Taking on role as CEO in front of $100M fund and biting off more than one should and the inherent downfalls].
Change is going to come. Most successful companies / leaders will be ready to pivot at a moment’s notice. [Story: Challenges in building oOYes and need to stay agile and pivot on a dime when building a CPG cannabis brand].
Can you share 3 things that most excite you about the cannabis industry?
Constant change and solving new problems everyday
Destigmatization and widespread use
Consumers increased choice of cannabis and psychedelics over substances like alcohol and lethal drugs including sugar.
Can you share 3 things that most concern you about the industry? If you had the ability to implement 3 ways to reform or improve the industry, what would you suggest?
MSO running rough shot over mom + pops / craft brands and neglect of true social equity players
No unified voice or cohesive movement to help properly navigate legislation and regulations.
Disorganized approach to navigating regulated, grey and black markets
Start by rescheduling or de-scheduling cannabis and addressing 280E and SAFE banking. Attach the industry to leaders that can drive legislation and create a cohesive playing field across states as well as black, grey and regulated markets.
What are your thoughts about federal legalization of cannabis? If you could speak to your Senator, what would be your most persuasive argument regarding why they should or should not pursue federal legalization?
While I understand that Federal legalization or rescheduling/de-scheduling cannabis has the potential to send shock waves through the industry that will first benefit the larger multi-state operators (MSO’s) we are living in times where self interest dominates and logic and common sense are not always politically favorable with those in power.
If I could influence my Senator, I would lobby first for SAFE banking, thereby removing the threat of cash in the industry. Then rescheduling cannabis with provisions that clearly remove 280E from tax codes. Understanding that State will continue to protect their interest/cannabis revenues, I would suggest letting cannabis be regulated and governed along the lines of alcohol and tobacco but without the progressive tax applied to substances with such egregious health consequences. I would continue to remove the stigma and gross penalties levied on predominantly minority and poor people and continue to build programs (SBA, grants, etc.) that encourage larger entities to invest in social equity individuals while also creating space for smaller vertical operators and brands to thrive via tax, loan and grant incentives.
Finally, to protect consumers and offer affordable regulated products that can compete with the black/grey markets I suggest significantly reducing the progressive sales tax. This could be done in part by setting Federal standards while exposing the tax differences and advantages between cannabis-friendly states.
Today, cigarettes are legal, but they are heavily regulated, highly taxed, and they are somewhat socially marginalized. Would you like cannabis to have a similar status to cigarettes or different? Can you explain?
I do not agree that cannabis should be stigmatized and marginalized like more dangerous substances like cigarettes and alcohol. Instead, we need to invest in education and research while supporting/promoting moderation and regulated, safe use. Tax incentives can be levied to reward companies that play by the rules, promote moderation and invest in research and development.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Do what you love and the rest will follow!
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
Love one another and have more and better sex.
Thank you so much for the time you spent with this. We wish you only continued success!