“You’ve completely lost it now,” was the reaction of Beth Stavola’s husband when she decided to get into the medical marijuana business. But this dynamic business woman illustrates the opportunities and challenges small business owners face when getting into the booming business of marijuana and cannabis-related products.
Stavola is about as unlikely a pot entrepreneur as you could imagine. Dressed to kill in designer clothes and stiletto heels, hair and makeup straight out of the latest fashion magazine, Stavola looks like the upscale New Jersey mother of six that she is. But she’s also whip smart, ambitious, with a true entrepreneurial spirit. She’s learning how to both navigate the various state medical marijuana dispensary laws and building a budding business – CBD For Life – based on a non-psychoactive cannabis by-product.
Stavola had been looking for a business to buy when an investment adviser presented her with the opportunity to purchase a legal medical marijuana dispensary in Arizona. She had no experience with marijuana and had never thought about getting involved in the industry.
“I got on a plane and went to Arizona,” said Stavola, now President of CGX Life Sciences/Health for Life and CEO of CBD for Life, who had previously been a Senior Vice President at a Wall Street investment banking firm. “I didn’t know what to expect. I was nervous. Do I need body guards? Machine guns? But once I saw the opportunity, I got more excited.” Over the next few years, Stavola built highly-profitable legal medical marijuana dispensaries in Arizona.
Recognizing the opportunity not only of marijuana but other cannabis-related products, Stavola launched “CBD For Life,” a line of skin care, body rubs, foot creams and other pain relief products made with cannabidiol (CBD.) Unlike THC – the psychoactive drug in marijuana – CBD is considered a non-psychoactive by-product of the hemp plant. Used by itself or with other ingredients, proponents of CBD tout its many curative benefits.
“We were getting all this CBD stuff in the dispensaries,” said Stavola. “And customers said it was helping them. But it all looked like it was formulated in someone’s basement.”
Stavola hired a team of chemists who had done work for big cosmetic companies to come up with CBD formulas that she felt were effective. “I really wanted to make these for my own stores. I wanted them to be pure, clean, and beautiful.” She has since made the CBD For Life products available to other retailers and online.
Personally, I’m a skeptic about these types of products, but CBD For Life sent me a box with a variety products. I passed the Pure CBD For Life Lemongrass Rub on to my sister – an avid skier with knee problems – and she swears it gave her significant pain relief.
Stavola brought that same esthetic sensibility to her medical marijuana dispensaries as well.
“Our stores in Arizona are high end. I want people to feel really comfortable – not like doing a drug deal on the corner. Our shops have marble countertops and hardwood floors. Our consultants are called consultants, and are trained to be consultants not just salespeople. We keep an anonymous database to learn more about how different products helped our customers so we can learn more about their effectiveness.”
“The best day of my professional career was being able to give a significant amount of stock options to my 120 employees,” said Stavola.
“My experience has led me to my quest to be a national player,” said Stavola, who acquired grow and processing facilities and dispensaries in Nevada and was awarded pre-approval for a dispensary license in Maryland to open by December 2017.
Marijuana should be an industry wide open for small businesses. “Because marijuana is still illegal on the federal level, big corporations won’t touch it,” said Stavola.
Legalization of pot is almost inevitable. Polls show 57-60 percent of people believe marijuana should be legalized. But how each state legalizes the sale, cultivation, and production of derivatives varies greatly state-by-state. When states strictly limit licenses to just a handful of players, it means small businesses will inevitably be shut out in favor of wealthy, politically-connected insiders.
As marijuana is legalized, let’s make sure that small business owners and entrepreneurs like Beth Stavola have the chance to fully participate in this industry.
Copyright, Rhonda Abrams, 2017
This article originally ran in USA Today on April 19, 2017