POWER FROM THE PEOPLE
Industry icon and female Cannabis executive powerhouse, Canna Provisions Group CEO Meg Sanders has the magic recipe for success. Hint: It’s not money.
It was early spring 2010 in Colorado. Cold, snowy and typical of mountain desert conditions just after the Winter Solstice, Meg Sanders had just begun working with the attorney that represented a grow and dispensary group forming a new entity and Cannabis business. It would go on to become MindFUL, where Sanders would rise in time to become CEO.
But at the time of that spring day, Sanders hadn’t even stepped foot into a dispensary or grow yet.
“I remember at some point the attorney and I had a meeting in the grow. There were a lot of implications working in Cannabis at that time, even medical Cannabis, but it didn’t truly hit me how risky what we were doing was until we walked into our grow – and I use air quotes for ‘grow,’” she says with a laugh. “We walked into a very dimly lit, rundown warehouse. I remember this horrible carpet and old couches with a coffee table littered with dirty bongs on it, and thinking how very different this world was compared to me just working as a married mom with young kids, living in Boulder, Colorado. Very different.”
And thus a career was born. Sanders, now CEO of Canna Provisions with stores throughout the Pioneer Valley and the Berkshires in Western Massachusetts, couldn’t match her mental picture of what a licensed corporate Cannabis cultivation was, and what she was looking at. She says she realized she was about to get a full tilt education on the culture, the industry, and where her future may reside.
“That wasn’t what I was imagining in a corporate cultivation that was legal. I don’t even think that was really ‘corporate’ at that time, just basement growers doing what they’ve been doing with closet/basement or legacy market grows. It was a different culture that I was never exposed to. That’s really where I realized a greater scope of the opportunity with legal Cannabis back then. Back then, the braver you were, the luckier you got. And that’s what we did.”
If you’re sensing a touch of pride that only comes to those who have the scars to match the effort, it’s not just you. It’s what happens when you have worked with, consulted for, started or raised capital for well over 30 dispensaries and in five different states as Sanders has. And after launching and partnering with hundreds of different brands – from her initial work on the ground for legal Cannabis in Colorado, to her continued businesses and work in Illinois, or right in her current home of Massachusetts – hundreds of brands have equally benefited from the Meg Sanders touch.
Observe the dossier: From Willie’s Reserve (they were the first group in Colorado to partner and sell them) to Cheeba Chews (they’ve been carrying them at their stores since they came into existence), to other notable brands still around today like Mindy’s Gummies, Incredibles and 1906, solid partners in previous markets have become the same for Sanders and her Canna Provisions crew in Massachusetts.
“That’s the benefit of experience and what time in the industry provides – lasting relationships that we’ve formed over the years,” says Sanders. “Ultimately Cannabis is a very small world. Tiny. In Massachusetts alone we’ve worked with multiple different dispensary groups, and we’re still friends and partners – constantly talking together and working to solve problems together.”
A Cannabis company working with a spirit of community and unison, versus greed and detached empathy? Some may call that simple thinking. Others say it’s too difficult once you’re in the game.
Meg calls it “the magic.”
“Companies have become the new family,” she says. “As Americans are all over the place, especially in a pandemic, you spend time with your workmates more than your own family. So ultimately, don’t we want to make that as holistic and nurturing of an environment as possible, so the outcome is a better human? Top line revenue is important of course, and my role as CEO is to make money to build and manage a good business. Being profitable is a byproduct of that, and there shouldn’t be shame attached to that. Weed is weed, but humans are special. And that’s the magic.”
In her previous life, Sanders was a Director of Compliance at a small family office in Boulder. Hers was a financial office trading money for more money. That’s all they did, and that was the goal.
“Working in a purely money-focused office environment was just gross. We didn’t do anything to help people, it was just to make more money and the top received the lion’s share of the benefits,” she says with an acrid tone. “I realized it wasn’t for me. If your only goal is to make money, and you leave out the taking care of people part, that is a dark and shallow goal to strive for in life.”
Working with her first partner in Colorado, Sanders says, reinforced how important it was to take care of people, but also to be as thoughtful as possible while being a responsible shepherd of that business. And ultimately, be what Meg calls “a shepherd of human beings, helping them to be better and rise to the occasion of what you’re trying to build.”
Which isn’t to say the road ahead becomes straight and easy to follow. Sometimes it involves pivots and twists and turns, and often it can even involve reassessing where one is at in a particular stage of a company’s lifespan.
“I expect a time where Canna Provisions will outgrow me, which is fine – that’s the strategy,” she says. “If Canna Provisions turns into some giant MSO, I don’t want to be the leader of that shop and am not the one to do it.”
“I’m an operator, not a finance person,” Sanders says matter-of-factly. “Ultimately, what has inspired me this whole time – how do we do this thoughtfully, ensuring we provide good opportunities for upward mobility for employees. I’m of the opinion that one should hire people smarter and more talented than themselves. My partner, Erik, always says, ‘Be hiring your replacement.’ I think that’s a strong strategy for building a business. The byproduct is financial success, with a goal of building a good and thoughtful company underneath it. So that’s really where we started with Canna Provisions, and where we are … really looking at this with a holistic eye and treating the business as a living, breathing entity. That is the approach Erik and I support. If we were bottom-line bosses, we would make very different decisions.”
Sanders says Canna Provisions is aiming to set a standard of letting customers and clients know they are engaging with a company with a commitment to the legacy of Cannabis culture and righting the wrongs of the drug war, while also fighting overregulation of this industry. It is a noble undertaking – it’s also one that ultimately requires spending money to do, but is also the right thing to do.
“Maybe we’ll be the beacon that lights a way for other companies to follow suit,” she says, noting that human beings in America today have different ideas of work. “They want a fulfilling life, and whether they are in their 20s or in their 70s (both age groups are employed at Canna Provisions), people want to work at a company that means something when they put on their badge and walk through the door.”
“That’s what we’re creating, and it’s a journey,” she says. “My calling is to inspire people to be better people, and by leading a company that focuses on people first, I’m hopefully inspiring other leaders to do the same. The magic is the humans, and while our high standards for customer service and accountability are not for everyone, our people are the asset and the investment.”
That’s a huge shift in business philosophy, and it’s one that’s happened only relatively recently. Sanders acknowledges that point, but also mentions that is the point. Sanders recalls looking across the room some years back at one of the first large MJBiz conferences in Las Vegas, and knowing if she called any of them at 2:00 a.m., they’d answer. These weren’t small players, but major executives and founders in legal Cannabis. It hit her like a ton of bricks, she says, realizing it is about the people. Cannabis, as an industry, is just the moving sidewalk carrying people along – but it’s the people, and a corporate climate of people-focused business leadership, that continues to keep Sanders and her crew at the top of the Mass Grass heap.
“I see payroll as an asset,” she says defiantly. “When investors or other business owners hear me say that and ask, ‘Really?’ It’s like, of course it is! Do you know the caliber of people we hire here? Fucking A!”
Address: 220 Housatonic St. Lee, MA 01238
Address: 380 Dwight St. Holyoke, MA 01040
Phone: (413) 650-2500 | @cannaprovisionsholyoke