Best of the Industry — Greenway Magazine

 

Since the last MoCannBizCon in March 2020, the world – and Missouri’s medical marijuana industry – have changed drastically. A new market with new regulators in a new economic climate made for a delayed frenzy to get to market. 

In March 2021, Greenway asked readers for the second year in a row to submit nominations for who they deemed to be the Best of the Industry. The top 4 nominees for each of twenty-two categories were voted on by readers. 

Over 5,000 ballots were cast in April 2021 for the top 4 most nominated. Brand of the Year, Telehealth Clinic, and Business Executive of the Year among the most hotly contested races.

Awards oversight was provided by a committee of industry and advocacy professionals who contributed in a variety of ways ranging from category creation to awards planning.

When nominations and votes were accepted, MoCannBizCon+Expo was scheduled for May 2021 – but the pandemic was still raging and less than 10 percent of Missouri had vaccinations. As of publishing, Missouri is just over 40 percent with one vaccine, and just shy of 50 percent of fully vaccinated – and state and local leadership are getting the hang of pandemic education. In July, the Department of Health and Senior Services – the same department that oversees the Section for Medical Marijuana – introduced a partnership with the Missouri Lottery to give away cash prizes to eligible vaccinated Missourians. 

Yet, just since April, Missouri’s operational cultivation, manufacturing, and dispensary facilities have each doubled and more medical marijuana facilities stand en queue awaiting approval to operate. As of printing, just shy of half of the licensed cultivators, just shy of a third of licensed manufacturers, and well over half of the licensed facilities. Though the pandemic caused harsh delays, even for regulators, Missouri’s budding industry is beginning to bloom. 

This year, winners have again been recognized at the MoCannBizCon+Expo night one after-party in the Grand Hall of the beautiful St. Louis Union Station – complete with a cannabis light show on the ceiling.

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Patient’s Choice: Best New Product | Wana Gummies

Nominees: Bubba Fett, Keef Cola, Cowboy Gummies, Gorilla Pie flower, Wana Gummies

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CBD Product | aliceCBD salve

Nominees: Hari Om Hemp bath bombs, Blue Key CBD oil, Missouri Hemp Co. topical salve, aliceCBD salve

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CBD Brand | aliceCBD

Nominees: Hari Om Hemp, Missouri’s First, Sky Trace Farms, aliceCBD

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CBD Retailer | Hemporium (Springfield) 

Nominees: AliceCBD (Webb City), Rustic Oils (Lee’s Summit), CBD Superstore (Warrenton), Hemporium (Springfield)

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Legislative Ally | Rep. Shamed Dogan

Nominees: State Rep. Peter Merideth (D-St. Louis), Congresswoman Cori Bush (D-St. Louis), State Senator Barbara Washington (D-Kansas City), Rep. Shamed Dogan (R-Ballwin)

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Telehealth Clinic | nuggMD

Nominees: The Higher Care Clinic, Elevate Holistics, Presto Doctor, nuggMD

David Amaya, nuggMD, Account Executive & Territory Manager, said:

Like many, our perspective was reinforced (not changed) with the ‘essential business’ distinction that cannabis received during the COVID-19 pandemic. As a telemedicine company, we were honored to help patients and businesses continue to operate during all of last year.

Our hope is that current national trends continue. That cannabis continues to be destigmatized, legitimized, and embraced in more parts of the US and the world, and that domestic policies evolve to accelerate that adoption. Even if we don’t see federal legalization, it’s imperative that we decriminalize cannabis at the federal level, end the failed drug war, and release the nearly 40,000 people still incarcerated for cannabis. It’s also critical that we reschedule or remove cannabis from the federal list of scheduled substances so that robust research can be conducted, and that some version of the SAFE Banking Act passes so that cannabis businesses can operate along existing financial rails instead of being forced to operate in cash. 

Perhaps that we’re not a facility at all, but an online portal for doctors and patients to connect, is what makes us unique. We’ve been able to provide access to medical cannabis to over 800,000 patients across 11 states and throughout the entire duration of the pandemic. We think it’s obvious that telemedicine will be a major component of all future medical care, and we’re pioneering the technologies and customer experiences to help ease and accelerate that transition.

More than anything else, we hope that the online experience we provide customers (both via our platform and our excellent real-time customer service) communicates that we are customer-centric. That before profits, we prioritize helping patients access cannabis safely, affordably, and with expert guidance and education. 

Our defining moment of 2020 was launching NuggMD in 5 states during the pandemic. We banded together as a team and really focused on releasing the service to as many people as possible, even in states where telemedicine laws were only approved on a temporary basis. 

By the end of 2020, half of the entire US population had access to NuggMD.

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Security/Transportation Company | KC Cann Transport

Nominees: CST Solutions, Peacemaker Defense, Ozark Protection Services, KC Cann Transport

Kevin Schnell , president of KC Cann Tran, said:

I would say my perspective of marijuana itself has not changed but my respect for the hard-working operators in the industry changed immensely. Society sometimes attaches a stigma to marijuana and consumers of marijuana that does not match the hard work, dedication, creativity and care for patients that I have seen coming out of Missouri’s facilities.

I hope that the MMJ industry (in Missouri) sees the importance of making quality security for their facilities and for the transportation of their products a priority.  Although there have not been any “significant” problems reported yet, it is a matter of time before facilities and transportation get targeted. Once the criminal element observes facilities and transportation operating unprotected, we will see a rise in property crimes and violent crime. There must be a visible deterrent to minimize, if not mitigate, criminal behavior.

What makes us unique to our “competitors” is we operate very efficiently logistically AND safely & securely.  Not only are our military and law enforcement veterans professional and empathetic to the needs of the patients and our clients, their tactical and logistical capabilities keep them safe at facilities and during deliveries.  If that is not appealing enough, we make customer service a priority and go above and beyond to help EVERY client of ours and their customers succeed. We believe the more efficient facilities are and the safer they operate, the more pleasant day-to-day operations will be for everyone.

KCCT strives for performance excellence. We are self-motivated. Meaning, if we are doing our job to the highest standard, we know our clients will spread the word and business will increase.  Safe facilities and deliveries mean safe environments for the patients. Our hope is the industry as a whole will see KCCT’s standard operating procedure as a model worth adopting.

Our defining moment came to fruition when our clients and their customers consistently gave positive feedback and recognition of our dedication to duty. Being labeled as “the best” or the “most efficient” or even “most dependable” is always great to hear. Being recognized as “the best in the industry” is a wonderful feeling!  However, we don’t need an award to know we are doing our part to keep this industry safe, secure, and running smoothly. The continuous positive interactions with the patients and licensed facilities across the state make it more than worth the effort.

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Compliance Consultant/Firm | Amendment 2 Consultants

Nominees: iComply, Kintsugi Solutions, Point 7 Group, Amendment 2 Consultants

Jonathan Brace, Chief Compliance Officer at A2C, said:

After Missouri awarded the facility licenses, we expected every winner would be in a rush to open. The pandemic caused major setbacks with many groups due to the fact that local governments were working at a limited capacity. These setbacks showed how crucial it is to have a comprehensive compliance plan and team to adjust for potential issues and avoid wasting time, labor, and financial resources to correct avoidable mistakes. Even with these setbacks the stigma towards cannabis has rapidly dissolved in recent years, including being categorized as an “essential business” during the pandemic, giving individuals a new perspective of the plant in both Missouri and nationwide.

As the industry develops, we hope that patients across the state are better served with a continuation of current trends, including decreasing prices and expanded access to a wide variety of medical marijuana products that suit their myriad medical needs. We hope to see a continuous commitment to compliance from licensed facilities to meet Department expectations and also the quality of products patients deserve. As the program matures, we believe it can be used as a demonstration of the opportunity in developing sensible, science-based drug policies beyond cannabis to other medical alternatives to current FDA-sanctioned pharmaceuticals.

Our company is unique due to our wide array of expertise. The company is composed of individuals from varying backgrounds including education, compliance, food and beverage manufacturing, politics, project management, and law. This diverse knowledge provides a unique skillset to meet any facility’s compliance needs.

We are committed to help serve the patient community by providing needed services to licensed facilities throughout Missouri. Our intent is to grow and improve as the program grows, ensuring that facilities stay compliant with the rules and regulations at all times, allowing them to better serve Missouri patients.   

The defining moment of 2020 was finally seeing names and facility details on applications transform into brick-and-mortar facilities serving excited patients. We helped with writing the license applications, created standard operating procedures (SOPs), completed facility audits, trained employees, assembled necessary local documents, and guided numerous facilities through the entire commencement process. After opening we organized numerous facilities to create the Missouri Independent Medical Cannabis Association, a cooperative that helps facilities have greater buying power to offer lower cost products to patients. It is continually rewarding to watch elated patients emerge from dispensaries with a safe, natural, and legal alternative to traditional pharmaceuticals. 

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Facility Design: Dispensary | Old Route 66 Wellness

Nominees: 3rd Street Dispensary (Lee’s Summit), Swade Dispensary (St. Peters), From the Earth (Brookside/KC), Old Route 66 Wellness (Springfield)

How did your perspective of marijuana change in 2020?

Owner John Lopez: We find ourselves in one of the most exciting times in the history of the state of Missouri with the continued evolution of our industry. Our perspective hasn’t changed as much as it has solidified at the amazing benefits of this great flower. We believe the benefits of marijuana have only just begun to be realized. As this flower becomes approved in more states the federal government should make it legal and at that time there will be significant strides made in research and development for numerous new uses of the plant.

What is your hope for the industry as it develops?

Lopez: Our hope is for a reliable supply of high quality medical marijuana products that are affordable for the patients in Missouri.

What makes your facility unique? 

Lopez: Our dispensaries were designed so our patients feel welcome and at home while getting their medicine. Since we have two dispensaries in different locations, we tried to keep the same design esthetic for both while utilizing the unique features of each facility. For example, when patients see our atrium of hand-painted marijuana plants in our Springfield location they smile when viewing it for the first time. Since cannabis has high levels of terpenes our Ozark location has hand-painted terpenes on our walls that illustrate the plants that contain them as well as their chemical structure. We also want to inform our patients while in our dispensaries, so we have videos with important cannabis facts always playing.  

What do you hope your facility/product will tell patients about your company?

Lopez: Our message is our dispensaries are a safe and fun place to get affordable quality medicine. Our Springfield location has a drive through that enables patients to never leave their car. Also, both of our dispensaries are beginning contactless home deliveries this month which is a safe and convenient way to get medicine from the privacy of your home. Patients will still be able to talk to our budtenders to get recommendations when taking advantage of our home deliveries or they can also use our social media to get their questions answered.

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Facility Design: Manufacturing | CLOVR

Nominees: Proper, Heartland Labs, Phytos, CLOVR

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Facility Design: Cultivation | Illicit 

PHOTO/Illicit

Nominees: C4, Proper, Flora Farms, Illicit

PHOTO OF ILLICIT GROW ROOM/PROVIDED

What makes your facility unique? 

David Craig, Marketing Director at Illicit/OXG: Our facility features multiple sustainability features, for instance, we reclaim over 2,000 gallons of water a day from our dehumidification and air conditioning units. This water is treated with multiple steps of purification and then reintroduced. 

What do you hope your facility/product will tell patients about your company? 

Craig: We are local Missourians who care about our community and the patients who use our products. We work with Last Prisoner Project and Canna Convict Project in fighting for the release of cannabis POWs, and that when patients purchase our products they’re helping support this larger cause.

How did your perspective of marijuana change in 2020? 

Craig: We’ve come to realize the sheer number of people still incarcerated for outdated cannabis laws. In the US there are over 40,000 people behind bars for cannabis-related crimes, many of which are no longer considered crimes in their respective states. 

What is your hope for the industry as it develops? 

Craig: We’re hoping we can get as many as possible of those incarcerated for cannabis-related offenses out of prison in the near future, and that they will receive clemency and assistance re-integrating into society.  

What was the defining moment of your industry involvement in 2020? 

Craig: We were given the opportunity to work with Donte Westmoreland, a man who fought for and received clemency from the Governor for a cannabis-related offense in October of 2020. Donte joined our team to assist with our criminal justice reform efforts, and has given our team a first-hand perspective on the importance of the work being done, and how many lives have been affected by the outdated war on drugs.

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Design: Product | Wana Gummies 

Nominees: Keef Cola, Bath-B-Able by AliceCBD, Clovr x Christopher Elbow Bon Bons, Wana Gummies 

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Design: Brand | COCO 

Nominees: Proper Cannabis, Sinse Cannabis, Easy Mountain, COCO

Brooke Foster, President of COCO, said:

COCO, A Cannabis Only Company, is so excited to be chosen as the favorite for cannabis Best Brand Design.  We chose our designs with simple ideals in mind. COCO will always provide the core values of customer service and care, hospitality, honesty, integrity, community outreach and above all else, the highest standards of quality in our products.

   

The products produced by our manufacturing facility contain natural ingredients only, no additives, no fillers. COCO Labs is a cGMP-certified facility and focuses on producing high-quality cannabis-concentrated medication.  

Our dispensaries also follow this same protocol.  When you walk into a COCO Dispensary, expect something different, yet something truly familiar.  We realize cannabis as a natural medicine could be an entirely new way of thinking for many people, so our goal will always be to guide the patients with product expertise in a clean, safe, comfortable environment.  We want our patients to feel completely at ease when choosing their products.

We feel our logo and brands exemplify our goals, values and quality and we are genuinely humbled and grateful that the Missouri cannabis community agrees.

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Designer/Creative Consultant | atomicdust 

Nominees: Paradowski, Supper Co./Fried Design, Mycelial Media, atomicdust

Blaise Hart-Schmidt, Senior Marketing Manager, at atomicdust said: 

As the industry evolves, we’re excited to use branding and design to help cannabis companies grow. Design is powerful for business. It can influence people to choose one brand over another, make customers willing to pay more for the same product, turn casual buyers into brand loyalists and even shift people’s perception of a product. In Missouri and around the country, we’re looking forward to helping companies and patients improve their cannabis experience through strong design.

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Brand of the Year | Easy Mountain 

Photo/Easy Mountain

Nominees: AliceCBD, CLOVR, Illicit, Easy Mountain

Alex Paulson, owner at Easy Mountain, said:

Easy Mountain is unique because of our unified focus. Every individual on our team has resonated with, and fully embodied, our mission from day one.  This collective passion and consistency has shown through to our patients in a big way. 

Our facility was custom built to stand as a bastion of hospitality with the natural ambition to be accommodating as a dispensary.  We have fixated on our brand image in all regards, and so, we spared no expense to ensure our aesthetic matched our brand energy completely. We also consistently stock one of the most broad selections of the highest quality Cannabis in the southwest market. We also pride ourselves on professionally and personally working with suppliers to get our cost down, so we can provide fairly priced medicine to our patients. And while these material components are necessary for our goals and standards to be met, these are not the ingredients that make The Easy Mountain recipe special.  What sets Easy Mountain apart is our incredible and committed staff.  These fantastic individuals stand together every day as a team moving in the same direction, with the same goals in mind; finding relief for our friends and neighbors right here in the heart of The Ozarks.  Our team is absolutely dedicated to the patient and leaves no question unanswered.  We say, “We’re never in a hurry at Easy Mountain.”  And it is absolutely true.  We have seen patients walk in to our doors for the first time with anxiety and doubt, only to be greeted with kindness, patience, and knowledge.  We have had guests stay in our showroom for an hour, asking question after question, and never once been shown an ounce of frustration.  And that is because every one of our staff absolutely LOVES our patients. They show up everyday with their hearts in the right spot, excited and driven to serve our community, and find relief for those in need. 

Easy Mountain exists to serve, educate and support our communities through the healing power of cannabis. 

Without our community, there would be no need for Easy Mountain to exist. We are so thankful to able to provide this amazing medicine to our local community, and we look forward to all the work ahead of us to continue to de-stigmatize the use of Cannabis. 

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Law Firm: General | Carnahan, Evans, Cantwell, and Brown (CECB)

Nominees: Armstrong Teasdale; Harshman Law; Joseph, Hollander, and Craft, Carnahan, Evans, Cantwell, and Brown 

PHOTO – CECB: Kirk A. Kaczmarek; Jay Preston; John E. Price; Joseph D. “Chip” Sheppard, III; David K. Olive/PROVIDED

Chip Sheppard, partner at CECB, said:

In 2020, with our licensed clients working hard to pass commencement, and other clients pursuing appeals, our perspective changed from dealing mostly with clients, consultants, landlords and investors, as part of the application process, to dealing mostly with DHSS on regulatory matters and the Administrative Hearing Commission on appeals. Maintaining a professional working relationship with DHSS benefited our clients in 2020, and we hope it will continue to be beneficial as the industry continues to develop.  

That the industry, patient groups, and DHSS work together as partners to find the best regulatory solution to emerging issues. This is important because it is largely the individual patients that suffer when an industry is over regulated.  Due to federal prohibition, it is already difficult for patients and licensees to understand their legal rights which is exacerbated by overregulation, which also results in expensive medicine and a thriving black market.    

The combination of our foundational involvement in Missouri’s push for medical marijuana and our full business law related services. Our involvement began in 2013 when we sued the City of Springfield for interfering with a marijuana decriminalization initiative. The proceeds of that settlement were used for statewide polling that showed strong support for medical marijuana. After that, we were deeply involved in the drafting of the amendment, the 2016 and 2018 campaigns, the application process, and now appeals and post-licensure work.  Historically, we have been a firm which serves business entities and owners statewide, not just in Southwest Missouri.  In many respects this is just another industry so our transactional, M&A, tax, litigation, employment, real estate, regulatory practice areas were already developed and ready to serve the industry.  We were able to ramp up quickly since we already had the talent in all those areas. As the industry ages we fully expect our estate planning group to provide services as well.   No one attorney can provide high level services in all those practice areas.  It takes a team, and we have it. 

With 2020 being what it was with little to no in-person contact it is tough to pick one moment, but probably mid-summer when we took stock of our clients (license winners, supporting businesses, and those appealing license denials). As attorneys, we mainly assist those who work directly with patients, and it was nice to see how big of an impact we and our clients had on the industry as a whole. Also, when you consider the long hours and financial contributions made in connection with the drafting of the amendment, the 2016 campaign, the 2018 campaign, and the painstaking application process, it was very rewarding to finally see tangible results from all that effort.  

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Doctor of the Year

Dr. Lisa Roark 53.1

Nominees: Dr. John Judd, Dr. Mimi Vo, Dr. Jason Sims, Dr. Lisa Roark

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Lawyer: Industry | Eric Walter

Nominees: Denise McCracken, Christopher Miller, Dan Welsh, Eric Walter

Eric Walter, partner at Armstrong Teasdale, leading their cannabis law practice and outside counsel for the Missouri Medical Cannabis Association, has won Best Industry Lawyer for the second year. Walter said in 2020, his industry perspective changed from watching his clients build out their facilities to further highlighted the degree to which the production side of the industry is incredibly sophisticated and scientific. Going forward, Walter’s unique front row seat to the industry leaves him hoping that patients and society, in general, increasingly recognize that marijuana is a legitimate medical product capable of alleviating a variety of medical conditions.

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Lawyer: Advocacy | Joani Harshman

Nominees: Dan Viets, Ron Durbin, Chip Sheppard, Joani Harshman

In Her Own Words: The defining moment of my industry involvement in 2020 was obtaining a Nolle Prosequi, a Latin phrase meaning “will no longer prosecute,” which amounted to a dismissal of charges by the prosecution in the Jamie Wilson criminal case. Jamie was likely the first Missouri MMJ Patient charged with Felony Possession (initially with Intent to Distribute); Felony Child Endangerment; and several related Misdemeanors. The case received significant media attention and was foretelling of how other criminal cases against MMJ Patients would develop. I have successfully argued multiple cannabis criminal cases in the last year and a half, obtaining dismissals in 6 Felony Possession/Distribution cases, and 4 Municipal Court cases including one in Kansas.

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Executive of the Year | Josh Mitchem

Nominees: Kevin Schnell (KC Cann Transportation), John Pennington (Proper Cannabis), John Payne (Amendment 2 Consultants), Josh Mitchem (CLOVR)

In His Own Words:

Having been involved with the cannabis industry in other states coupled with the ravenous excitement of the legal market in Missouri, my expectations were very high.  The licensees and the patients did not disappoint.  I’m every state you go to with legalized cannabis you’ll find a community of licensees and patients working together, communicating, and innovating new products to continue to advance the love of the stinky flower.   My perspective hasn’t changed from when we got engaged 2 years ago. Competition is stiff as I believe Missouri has some of the best minds in cannabis brought in from all over the country, but these competitors are friends with a single minded goal of providing the best product and service possible to patients across the state.  

My hope is that competing licensees can continue to work together in a collaborative effort.  It’s very easy in the infancy of an industry to work closely with your competitors as we are all standing up our businesses, over time this becomes more challenging as shelf space tightens and bottom lines have to be met.  At the end of the day we all have to remember that we got in this space to help Missourians suffering with a wide range of ailments. Open communication and shared innovation is the best way to fulfill that mission.  

Other than the sheer size, at 48,000 sqft it’s one of the largest cannabis manufacturing facilities in the country, we are doing something that very few have attempted.  We’re producing 7 different brands under one roof, with a few of them having competing products.  Lots of folks have franchised a single brand in a given state, we franchised with 5. We’re very proud to be working with the cream of the crop in cannabis edibles and topical companies.  

I hope that when patients try our product they know they’re getting the highest quality product in the market. We have already had 2 self imposed recalls due to the product on the shelves not hitting our high standards.  We don’t cut corners, and will be damned if we give patients anything but the best.  As with any start-up we’ve experienced kinks, but we constantly strive to be better today than we were yesterday.  

Hands down, winning a license in the most competitive application process the country has seen was our crowning moment.  Winning a license in Missouri means that you’re part of an elite group, and after seeing the products of groups like Proper, CoCo, Sinse, Heartland Labs, Vivid, and Greenlight, the point has been proven. I’m excited to see what further competitors will bring to the table.  I have no doubt that the licensees in the state will continue to prove that the elite licenses we won are well deserved. 

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Patient Advocacy Group | Ayden’s Alliance

Nominees: Canna Convict Project, Canna Matriarchs, Missouri Cannabis Network, Ayden’s Alliance

PHOTO/Meg White Photography for Greenway Magazine. Back: Debra DiPietrantonio Davis, Vice President; Ashley Davis Markum, President/Founder; Paige Davis-Topliff, Director of Marketing; Heidi Rayl, Board Member; Shara Phillips, Treasurer. Front: Ayden Markum, Raylan Callaway, Zayden Rayl, Amelia Phillips

By Brandon Dunn

Ayden’s Alliance was voted as the Patient Advocacy Group of the year for 2020 by Greenway readers. Greenway recently spoke to Ashley Markum, founder and president of Ayden’s Alliance. Markum discussed the successes and struggles of advocacy in a growing industry and how a pandemic impacted the most vulnerable as well as how Ayden’s Alliance has grown and transformed.

One of the strengths of Ayden’s Alliance is the leadership behind the organization. “Our board consists of six exceptional women! All either special needs parents, grandparents, or pediatric medical professionals,” Markum explained. 

“Having a women-led group was very important to me,” she said, “While most of us do have supportive partners, it was my goal to recognize these ladies for all they are and do.”

“Much like a lot of businesses, not being able to hold in-person events really stunted our funds,” Markum explained. “Not only financially, but when we are not able to see people face to face and exchange stories of the difference we are making, it makes it difficult to fundraise.” 

As an organization, Ayden’s Alliance often generates a substantial portion of it’s annual donations through events and networking opportunities, but the organization was dedicated to finding solutions. “2020 was hard because of the uncertainty that a lot of organizations faced. Our main goal was to somehow have the Superhero Fundraiser on at least a small or virtual scale and we were able to achieve that thanks to our amazing fundraising committee and virtual hosts, Hoosier Sophisticate.

Despite the struggles and difficulties of 2020, Ayden’s Alliance has continued to grow and transform. “When we originally started Ayden’s Alliance, our focus was solely pediatric patients and Special Needs Adults.  While that is still our primary love, we have seen the need to help patients from all across the board,” Markum explained, “There were so many people needing help, we had to broaden our reach.” 

Since its inception, Ayden’s Alliance has helped over 2000 patients get their medical cards. Additionally, Markum says that Ayden’s Alliance has also worked to connect patients in need to caregivers and provide education.

“Roark Family Health (Dr. Lisa Roark) and The Higher Care Clinic have been a huge part of our success. Especially with limited fundraising opportunities in 2020, they kept us going by providing physician visits as their sponsorships,” Markum said.

“Our terminal patient and caregiver program was something we chose to focus on this year and we are proud to say we have helped a lot of people through that. Old Route 66 Wellness, The Dispensary LLC, The Farmer’s Wife, Taste Buds, and Hari Om Hemp have all donated or provided sponsorships specifically for that,” Markum explained. Other businesses like Captiva and 3Fifteen Primo Cannabis have raised funds or made donations as well.

Going forward, Ayden’s Alliance looks to expand their reach and create more opportunities for patients in Missouri, “(Individuals) can help by following us on social media, sharing our events or projects, and making financial donations,” Markum said.

“(From businesses) we need affordable medicine for all patients. We need sponsors to help us financially. And we need a presence wherever there is a platform discussing cannabis in Missouri.”

“We hope to do our Annual Superhero Event again in the fall, so everyone can join us in person to celebrate!” Markum said. 

You can find Ayden’s Alliance online at https://www.aydensalliance.org/

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Woman of the Year | Ashley Markum

Nominees: Mitch Meyers (BeLeaf), Bethanie White (CLOVR), Alice Mangan (AliceCBD), Ashley Markum (Ayden’s Alliance)

Ashley Markum is often praised for being a wife and mother, and while her family in many ways is responsible for her role in the cannabis industry and community, Markum has made waves as a leader and advocate over the years.

Markum has dedicated her life to cannabis and the cannabis industry for the past several years. That dedication and history has led her to hold multiple roles in the industry while becoming a respected and loved fixture in business and advocacy. Markum is the former Director of Springfield NORML, she currently serves as the President of the non-profit Ayden’s Alliance, an owner of Old Route 66 Wellness, and co-founder of Sparks N Spirits with her sister and partner, Paige. 

“(These roles) really go hand in hand with each other,” Markum explained, “Though the daily tasks of running Ayden’s Alliance can be overwhelming, I am so thankful that every day we are able to help people. Being able to have a hands-on role with the dispensaries has been amazing. I get to help patients, learn so many new things, and be a part of a truly patients first team,” Markum said. 

This year Markum was recognized by her peers and advocates in the Missouri cannabis industry as Greenway Magazine’s Woman of the Year. 

Greenway spoke to Markum about what it means to be a woman in the cannabis industry.

“While the business world is definitely catching up to what we women have to offer, there are still many times I have been talked down to or taken advantage of because of my gender or because I am seen as ‘just’ a Mom,” Markum explained. “It was really an honor just to be considered for Woman of the Year.  There are a lot of powerhouse ladies in the Missouri  cannabis industry and I am blown away to have so much support from everyone. I just hope to continue to make a positive impact around me.”

In moments of frustration, how did you motivate yourself to keep going? 

“Every time I have wanted to give up, I will get a call from a parent that is desperate for information on cannabis for their child or a message from a patient that we have already helped and they just want to express their gratitude that we could be an instrumental part of their journey. Those are the things that keep me going.”

What advice or encouragement would you give other aspiring women? 

“It’s all about balance. I know that sounds cliche, but it’s essential to have time for yourself and your family. And honestly, sometimes one of those categories will likely be stretched thin, just don’t let it stay that way for too long. I have always ascribed to the belief that you can have it all, just not maybe all at the same time. Lastly, stay true to yourself. At the end of the day, the success from your business won’t mean anything if you’ve given up yourself in the process.”

In 2020, while the industry faced delays, struggled to meet deadlines, and searched for answers, Markum worked tirelessly in her roles to find creative solutions to meet challenges.

“On top of the normal business start-up costs that a lot of cannabis-related companies had, the pandemic added extra financial burdens, leaving fewer resources for donations,” Markum explained. Markum says that amid the pandemic, it was important to create different avenues and ways that businesses could contribute. “Several companies sent Ayden’s Alliance free merch for our Green Gear donation boxes and they were a hit!” Markum said. 

Additionally, Markum’s new company, Sparks and Spirits, created an adult-themed calendar featuring familiar faces of the Missouri cannabis community while donating profits. “The funds from the calendar every year going forward will go to a different non-profit. We are starting with a couple of cannabis-related non-profits, but have plans to expand that reach, Markum explained.

Markum says that the key to balancing those roles is her support system. 

“My amazing family and a couple of close friends are truly the only reason I can do what I do,” she said. “My husband always goes along with whatever new project idea I have and when my mom saw how overwhelmed I was getting with constant assistance applications, she stepped in and took it over. She now handles that department herself,” Markum explained. 

“The encouragement, support and, sometimes, tough love that I get from them helps keep me level.”

Markum says that her goals are being achieved and evolving.

“The major milestone was getting medical passed here in Missouri so that our family didn’t have to uproot and move to access medicine for Ayden. The next hurdle was actually getting everyone, not just Ayden, medicine. With home cultivation education and dispensaries finally getting a variety of options, I think we’ve almost achieved that.”