Etain is one of the five organizations registered to provide medical marijuana in the state of New York, but the only family-run, women-owned business committed to manufacturing clean, safe, and consistent medical marijuana products for patients. Not only is it a women-owned business but their COO Hillary Peckham is just 23 years old. We had to chat with Hillary about what inspired her to get into the medical marijuana field, all things entrepreneurship, and how women are supporting women in this booming new industry.
I love that the mission of Etain was born out of a need to care for others, can you explain a little bit more about what inspired your commitment to medical marijuana after caring for Frances?
Definitely. I’d say between watching my grandmother struggle with an illness as debilitating as ALS and my own experience losing use of my legs for years after a botched hip surgery, I know all too well what torture it is being in so much pain and having the feeling like there’s nothing you can do about it. I remember being faced with the decision, either I take these prescription drugs the doctors are prescribing me and be so messed up I can barely function, or be in so much pain I can’t get to class and thinking, there has got to be something better than this.
As my mom, sister and I began researching medical marijuana as a way to provide compassionate care to patients suffering from conditions like ALS and chronic pain, we discovered what a genuine need there was in New York State. Receiving one of the five registrations validated years of hard work researching, engaging in public outreach, and more, and reaffirmed our commitment to providing the highest quality treatments available to improve quality of life for patients.
Our mission as a provider of medical marijuana truly stems from a deep and personal connection, something I don’t think all companies are able to say. We were able to summon the resilience to transform suffering into something positive, and I think that’s what has helped us become industry leaders here in New York.
Running a family business is a pretty complicated affair, what’s it like to be part of a medical marijuana family owned business?
It is. I think it helps that my mom and my sister and I are really close, but it certainly has its challenges, which I think is part of the reason why we’re the only family-owned, women-run medical marijuana company in the state of New York.
Each of us brings a unique perspective to the business, with my mom having a long background in corporate administration and management, my sister having agricultural expertise as a Horticultural Therapist, and my own experience with alternative therapies after suffering from chronic pain and muscular atrophy. However, that doesn’t mean this process has been all easy. As the only company in New York State that is completely women-run, we have seen firsthand some of the challenges associated with being female in a male-dominated industry. In the beginning as we were bidding for a license, we faced a lot of skepticism from male industry leaders who questioned whether we had what it took to develop the facilities. Instead of letting this bother us, their doubt served as a source of motivation for us to overcome these obstacles and blaze a trail for other women in the industry to follow.
I love that Etain is a member of Women Grow and is providing work for women by hiring 60% women + 80% of executive positions with women- are people surprised to hear about how female dominated your business is?
Being a member of Women Grow has been such an awesome resource throughout this entire process. It is an incredible organization helping women succeed in the cannabis industry by facilitating connections, educating, inspiring, and empowering the next generation of cannabis leaders. As the only minority group in New York, it is part of our mission to give back to the community as much as possible. When we discovered early on in the program how male-dominated this industry can be, we really made it our goal to change the ratio by hiring more women. Our idea was that if we broke down the gender norms early on, then hopefully other women in cannabis can avoid the glass ceilings that women in other industries tend to experience. In addition to our hiring of predominantly women, we’ve also implemented a “trimming club” that gives part-time jobs to local women seeking to re-enter the workforce.
Because my family’s reasons for getting involved in producing medical marijuana for patients suffering from debilitating illnesses are so personal, it’s driven us to take us leadership role in the industry. As women business leaders, we see it as our responsibility to connect with other female entrepreneurs and build a bigger network of female executives.
Being a COO of a startup is already such an intense hurdle, but I can’t imagine the logistics and regulations of doing a brick and mortar in NYC- did you face any unusual or logistical challenges by bringing the dispensary to the city?
I think starting any new business is tough, but starting a new business in a completely unchartered industry is especially challenging because everything is unprecedented and we’re setting the example ourselves. Regulations in the state are constantly changing. In fact, just last month the Department of Health announced several new rules to the program that we’ll have to adapt to. It’s a lot to keep up with.
We knew we wanted to expand to New York City because there is such a large undeserved patient population there. (There is only one other facility in Manhattan and it’s downtown.) Nonetheless, the road to actually opening the doors of the dispensary was a long one. Once we were able to find a location that was an appropriate enough distance from all schools and child-related facilities, we had to go through an entire process with City officials and local law enforcement to ensure compliance with local codes and ordinances. We aren’t allowed to market the product due to advertising restrictions, nor can we let anyone into the facility who isn’t a registered cardholder or designated caregiver. Due to the amount of regulation and strict guidelines we have to follow in New York, it is very costly to produce this medication, and that gets translated to the cost of the medication which is unfortunately unaffordable to many. We’re fortunate to have a convenient location right off of Grand Central in Midtown Manhattan, so we’re hoping that helps offset some of these initial hurdles and allows us to serve patients across the five boroughs.
Do you have any advice for women who might be interested in exploring or getting into the medical marijuana field?
Do it! Right now is such an exciting time to be in medical marijuana, and it is a super rewarding profession. Whether on the manufacturing and distributing side, or as a physician licensed to issue prescriptions to patients, this line of work ensures you are making a positive difference in people’s lives. Women bring many much-needed qualities to this industry, and their participation is necessary in order for it to thrive.
How can our community support you?
Due to the restrictiveness of the New York program, there are thousands of people here in New York City alone that are qualified to receive prescription-grade cannabis but either aren’t aware, or don’t know how to navigate the system. If you or someone you know suffers from cancer, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, chronic pain, or another debilitating illness, tell them to give us a call. Medical marijuana can be an excellent way to alleviate pain and provide comfort for effective treatment of debilitating symptoms and diseases.
It is also so important that women continue to support one another in these and other endeavors. As women in cannabis continue to mainstream the industry, they are reshaping the popular image of marijuana users and producers from burnouts and criminals to mothers and entrepreneurs. There is still much progress to be made, but I’m optimistic that pioneering women can successfully seize upon this opportunity before male-dominated culture has chance to take root like in, say, tech or finance.