Wisdom From The Women Leading The Cannabis Industry, With Brooke Morgan Westlake of Women in Cannabis Expo
An Interview With Candice Georgiadis
Education: Educate yourself on the cannabis industry, the entire market, your state, city and county. What are the dos and don’ts, what are the important laws you need to know and who is in the industry in your state, city or county? Can you connect with them? What is it you want to do in the industry? Is it being done? If it is, what do you like that is currently being done? Where do you see you can provide changes? Lastly, more education is needed for the cannabis industry. School education, college education, consumption education is needed for the public. Doctor, nurse and physician assistant education is needed for all patients that wish to consume.
As a part of my series about strong women leaders in the cannabis industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Brooke Morgan Westlake.
Brooke Westlake: Owner, Founder, Business Engineer. The Women in Cannabis Expo, Ganja Garden Goddesses, Neon Nite Apparel & ADA Lake Labs were all developed in 2020 & 2021. Brooke took a direct career change from healthcare after 20 years into the cannabis industry. Through the building of her four companies, she realized that it wasn’t just about having successful business, but it was also about being a big voice within an industry that was illegal for far too long. She is proud of her entrepreneur spirit that shines through her businesses. The importance of cannabis and health presented itself as a critical life measure after she had life-saving emergency surgery in August of 2020. With the help of cannabis she is fighting off nausea, malnourishment and pain.
Education being a special interest & first time generation college graduate, Brooke holds three degrees, including a Bachelor’s degree & Master’s degree in Criminal Justice from the University of Nevada, Reno. She has served on state commission boards, serving two full terms for Nevada Commission for Women, and currently sits on the Board of Examiners for Long-Term Care Facility Administrator & The Northern Nevada Disciplinary Bar Board. Being appointed by former Nevada Governor Sandoval, and current Nevada Governor Sisolak.
Brooke is also a single mother of two sons, loves to spend time at Lake Tahoe and enjoys creating art through photography, painting and jewelry. She also loves to give back to the Alzheimer’s community.
The Women in Cannabis Expo for 2022: March 31-New Jersey, June 30-Denver, September 30-Las Vegas, December 2-San Francisco. WomenInCannabisexpo.com/
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to the cannabis industry?
I haven’t decided if what brought me to the cannabis industry is funny, unusual or both. Honestly, what is helping keep me in the cannabis industry is that cannabis is now literally helping save my own life (I will share more on that later). In 2018, after working for a private medical manufacturing company for 10 years, we closed our doors. I decided it was time to further my education and gain my master’s degree. I graduated my 2-year master’s program in Criminal Justice from the University of Nevada, Reno, in a year and half and gave birth to my second son.
As the master’s program ended, I reached out to my mentor. I was considering investing and opening a fingerprint/drug franchise business. But what my mentor said to me blew my mind. “You should open a cannabis testing lab.” I said, “I don’t know anything about cannabis.” His suggestion: “Do some research and get back to me.” The research told me this was a viable business opportunity for me, so it was up to me to educate myself on the rules and regulations of the industry as well as get a solid business plan together. I quickly learned that I could not get a bank account or additional bank/lending funding. However, this was not a detouring factor for me.
While I continued to put my business plan, I attended three cannabis expos to meet my potential vendors for the lab while gaining continued knowledge for the industry. One of the expo’s happened to have a lady’s night on the schedule. I thought that would be a wonderful way to network with women in the cannabis industry. See what is working or isn’t working. Understand why they went into the industry.
We were placed in a large room with tables, chairs, and drinks. There was no keynote speaker, which I thought was odd, as I had traveled and participated in trade shows for over a decade in the last 10 years of my medical career. Soon after this expo my family and I went on a vacation. I began searching the internet for expos within the cannabis industry that was geared towards women. I couldn’t find anything. The light bulb went on and the Women in Cannabis Expo was created.
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?
I think the fact that I launched the Women in Cannabis Expo January of 2020, but could not host our first event; and really worked hard on putting it together for over a year and nine months during COVID was really the first interesting thing that took place.
The second most interesting thing that kept coming up over and over, when I spoke with potential vendors, exhibitors, sponsors, and speakers on a daily basis was that they all kept saying the same thing. “This needed to happen,” “Thank you for doing this,” and “This is going to be amazing!”
The life lesson for me was right in front of my eyes. I was creating a company on my terms, and it was new, exciting and scary all at once. But what I was creating as an entrepreneur, business woman is bigger than who I am. That in itself, understanding that it is bigger than me is the biggest life lesson of all.
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?
I don’t believe there are mistakes, but there are first moments that are funny ones, and I have a funny story and life lesson I can share. At the Women in Cannabis Expo in 2021 we had a networking mixer that included food, drinks, awards, scholarships and raffle prizes. During the awards ceremony, one of the awards we decided to give out, we named the Brooke & Jelena Business award. This award was created to highlight a group of women who were working together in the cannabis industry, and it was decided that this award should go to Sam & Lisa, co-founders of Tokeativity. After announcing this award and the winners, Lisa came to the stage to accept because Sam had to travel back home to Oregon earlier that day. As Lisa was walking up to the stage, Jelena mentioned to the audience that the award itself, with our names on it, had the initials “BJ.” This did give the audience a good laugh. But, what was even funnier was that Lisa then asked if she could say something on stage. I handed her the mic, and she said, “What is even funnier is that I am totally a Lesbian.” The crowd laughed harder. But don’t worry, it gets even funnier. Once the awards were done being handed out, we were then able to move onto raffle tickets and prizes. As I drew a raffle winner for the vagina suppositories, I looked at the raffle ticket to see it had a name written on the back of it. I let out a little chuckle, because the name I had drawn, I knew this business associate. I said “David! Get up here, you’re the proud winner of vaginal suppositories”. Again, the crowd roared with laughter. The life lesson was this, earlier that day the keynote speaker had canceled (last minute). I was concerned because I am a person of my word but felt really bummed like I was going to disappoint everyone by letting them know the keynote speaker was not going to make it. But the honest funny pure moments that happened were organic and were meant to happen. That included lots of laughs. I just can’t make this stuff up. It is life, and the lesson here is sometimes you just have to go with the flow. Everything works out the way it should or better!
Do you have a funny story about how someone you knew reacted when they first heard you were getting into the cannabis industry?
It was very shocking for most of my family and friends. Because I grew up in the era of being a D.A.R.E. kid and I took my oath and pledge seriously to the “Just Say No” to drugs. If you are not sure what D.A.R.E. is — google it. It will be a shocking, bizarre read of what we were teaching our children at the time. In my teen years, I was a straight A student, varsity cheerleader, church going, choir singing, girl that didn’t party. I was headed to medical school after high school. I had tried cannabis one time as a senior in high school and had a massive panic attack. After working in healthcare for twenty years to shift over to opening businesses within the cannabis industry was a big shock to all my friends and family. But they were all supportive. No one really thought it was funny or more ironic than I did myself.
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?
I have a male mentor/dad figure that came into my life when I was 29 years old. He really guided me in the world of business, real estate, friendship, truly taking me under his wing. Showing me how to make hard decisions, teaching me how to be the businessperson he knew I was capable of being. He was also the one person that told me to open a cannabis testing lab. He was also the first person I called to discuss the idea of the Women in Cannabis Expo, and that I couldn’t find anything in the current cannabis expo industry, his response was “You have to do it!” He continues to be one of my biggest fans, supporters and advocates. He gave me away when I got married and his wife and he hosted my wedding ceremony at their house. The moments we have shared together with him as my teacher and mentor I hold close to my mind and heart and draw from his voice daily. I will think to myself “How would he handle this situation? What would he do? What would he say?” I have so many awesome stories about the life lessons that I have learned from him, I joke that I need to write a book about it. I can say that without him and his wife, I wouldn’t be where I am today, and I am forever grateful to them both.
Are you working on any new or exciting projects now? How do you think that will help people?
I am working on three different new and exciting projects that tie right into my current companies. This includes creating the Women in Cannabis Expo chapters, the cannabis business connection community, and creation and launching of an e-Commerce website for the cannabis industry and consumer for men and women that include apparel, jewelry, art and CBD products. Each of them will help people in their own way.
1. WICE Chapters Coming Soon: I kept getting asked by multiple women daily regarding them having their own Women in Cannabis Expo chapter. I knew this was something I couldn’t put aside anymore. Right now, I am building out the business plan and hoping to have a minimum of 10 Women in Cannabis Expo Chapters throughout the US, Canada or Europe by the end of 2022. I think this will help continue to bring women together by allowing them to connect locally and nationally. Having our expos all over the country is great, but also women need to connect with other local women too. I believe that this furthers our community reach and goals as a company. This will help by bringing women together in communities all around the world. Women can then have a close network to call on day-to-day.
2. The Cannabis Business Community Connections through WICE Website: We have added a landing page to our Women in Cannabis Expo website, called the Cannabis Business Connection Community whereby companies can partner with WICE to be listed on our Cannabis Business Connection page as a resource for those (mostly women) seeking out cannabis business connections. I get sent emails daily asking about accountants, lawyers, education, medical doctors, hiring agencies, etc. This felt like this was a great fit. We offer discounts to those companies that list with us that can verify they are women owned. This will help people because I get asked all the time for recommendations or referrals for cannabis companies, especially woman owned ones. Many people want to support women-owned cannabis companies.
3. E-Commerce here we come: I am in the process of launching an e-Commerce website for apparel, jewelry and a CBD line. The apparel and jewelry are all one-of-a-kind designs that I have created. The CBD that we are using in the products is USDA certified organic. This is important because the consumer isn’t entirely educated yet on USDA certified organic CBD. The CBD in our products can be trace recalled and verified for testing. Right now, on the internet and in stores, CBD products are being sold that do not contain what they say they do on the label and there lacks a transparency of standards for the CBD market that hasn’t been developed yet by laws state-to-state, city-to-city. Eventually laws will be created so that this isn’t as big of an issue as it is now. However, in the meantime, anyone who purchases a CBD product online or through a retailer, needs to do their research. Can they verify what the label is telling them? Was the product lab tested? Because right now the CBD market is really a “Buyer beware” market. The other reason why this is an issue is because I am also aware that there are dispensaries out in the current marketplace that are currently purchasing cheap CBD products just for the sake of having a bigger markup for generating revenue. I believe what is in the CBD product is very important and having it being trace recalled and USDA organic sets the bar of standards high. This puts our consumers on notice that when they purchase from us, they will be getting top-of-the-line CBD. To me quality is better than quantity. This will help people because we are bringing to the market true, pure, certified USDA organic CBD.
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?
I am so happy to be asked this question.
The lack of women in the cannabis industry to me is a critical topic that should be at the top of the list as a priority to bring change into the current cannabis industry. I have read reports and find it alarming at the low rates of women who are in this industry. But along with the lack of women within the cannabis industry is also the lack of minorities and those with disabilities. I have read lots of different reports that many states have implemented or are implementing ways for women, minorities, and those with disabilities to have access to funding so that they can go into the cannabis industry. But I have yet to read about these individuals getting access to these funds. I have heard of more red tape issues for these folks. States and cities could and should publish reports by showcasing if in fact these funds were dispersed to who they said they were dispersed too. Transparency is desperately needed just on this social equity funding…
Let’s talk about the three points you have on this issue which are, individuals, companies, and society.
- Individuals- People must speak up. We must be loud voices and cannot stop speaking up if one door is closed. We must address this on a state-to-state, city-to-city level. We need strong women, minorities and those with disabilities to stand up to help see through the changes that desperately need to happen and that this pattern goes away.
- Companies-Need to look at who they are hiring. Are they getting a diverse candidate pool? Are they seeking to hire women, minorities, and those with disabilities? They should have that as part of their goals, objectives, and implementations. The other issue that companies are currently facing in this regard has to do with COVID and lack of current workforce. Part of this is due to laws being generated regarding COVID vaccines that are mandating that individuals be vaccinated. This does and is affecting the hiring pool for companies. Also companies may need to or should adapt to bringing in new candidates on board that are trainable. They can do this by looking outside of the box. Companies need to reach further then just to the same candidate pool. There are many people willing to or are looking at going into the cannabis industry. Look at the candidate’s professional background and experience, while it might not be within the cannabis industry yet, these new potential candidates from other industries could bring fresh eyes and approaches to a cannabis company. Companies are going to have to seek out a balance act on this.
- Society to support great gender parity moving forward- Society also has the job of speaking up when it comes to supporting the initiatives of women, minorities, and those with disabilities to be hired for jobs within the cannabis industry. Society can set the standards and right now the standard is businessmen. Society could adopt that more businessmen step back and look at investing into women, minorities and those with disabilities with companies in the cannabis industry. Instead of taking over the cannabis industry. Society can and should be a loud voice for changing this in the cannabis industry.
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.
The song, “If I Knew Then What I Know Now” by Kenny Rogers comes to mind when I read this questions. Now, as a “Cannabis Insider” there is a lot to share when providing advice to anyone who wants to be successful in the cannabis industry.
- Red Tape: There is a lot of red tape in the cannabis industry, and it can get really frustrating very fast. If you believe you have a product or service that fits well within the cannabis industry, don’t get frustrated or give up! Don’t get discouraged, don’t let someone talk you out of it because they don’t see your vision. Take a break. Seek out business advice or help. Do online research. Connect with others, bounce ideas off business leaders that you’re close with. Red tape is that, its red and its tape. Tape can be cut and removed. Don’t let it limit you.
- Banking: Be prepared to have lots of issues finding banking. Sadly, this is really part of the norm in this industry so far. This is because cannabis is still federally illegal in the United States. It doesn’t even matter that one of my companies isn’t even handling cannabis, at all. Period. Because the word “cannabis” was in the title of the company name (The Women in Cannabis Expo), I was rejected multiple times by large and small banks! Just remember when one door closes another one opens. But be prepared for a lot of “No’s!” before you get to the “Yes!” on this.
- Education: Educate yourself on the cannabis industry, the entire market, your state, city and county. What are the dos and don’ts, what are the important laws you need to know and who is in the industry in your state, city or county? Can you connect with them? What is it you want to do in the industry? Is it being done? If it is, what do you like that is currently being done? Where do you see you can provide changes? Lastly, more education is needed for the cannabis industry. School education, college education, consumption education is needed for the public. Doctor, nurse and physician assistant education is needed for all patients that wish to consume.
- Lending: Lending is close to almost impossible. There is no bank funding at this time for the cannabis industry in the United States. I know of more companies within the cannabis industry that are family funded, self-funded, or investor funded to get them started. Don’t give up on lending and funding, but understand that it comes with red tape, higher loan rates and other significant challenges. Also align yourself with lenders that you feel comfortable working with every day. These same rules apply for investors.
- Laws/Standards: Cannabis is still federally illegal in the United States. The medical and recreational legalization has come from individual states and its voters. Those states have then created laws and quality standards. These will continue to adapt with what is and isn’t working state-to-state, and city-to-city. Stay up to date on laws and standards where you live or where you want to open your cannabis business.
Can you share 3 things that most excite you about the cannabis industry?
The three things that excite me about the cannabis industry are infancy, market space and women in business. Let me explain.
- Infancy: The cannabis industry is in its infancy stage which means there is ample opportunity for all. And I do mean ALL. What is needed and what is yet to come are new creative innovative ideas, products and services. For the person that has an entrepreneur spirit, this could be an industry that is fitting for them. In my view the sky’s the limit for the cannabis industry.
- Market Space: The market rules and regulations are new and changing. Meaning, a lot of things are and are not set in stone. There is a lot of trial and error happening each day. There is room for growth and change in the market space. The market space will continue to adapt overtime, so keep an eye out on this.
- Women/woman: Being that cannabis is a female plant, I guess you could say I am biased that I really believe the future of cannabis is female. There is a lot of room for many women to be in this industry. I say come one and come all. My hope is that if this is an industry you were interested in being a part of, that you come join us! Don’t forget to do some research with your business or business ideas to see where you could fit in or do better.
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?
I can provide a much longer list than three things that do in fact concern me deeply about the cannabis industry, but I will keep it to the top three things that I think about daily.
- Women/woman: It concerns me that we have seen and continue to see a decline in the number of women that are in the cannabis industry. This won’t change unless we crack down on this and make sure that we implement mandates that women should be in this industry. I mentioned transparency previously in this interview. How this could help is that if states are provided funding to be set aside for women, minorities and those with disabilities, then the states should have no problem following up with reports on just who in fact those funds went to. The other item here is that women need to be supportive of women in this industry. It doesn’t matter if someone has been in cannabis for 20 years or if they are new to cannabis. We need to all welcome each other to the table and help encourage and support one another with each of our initiatives. The bottom line is, everyone is welcome in this space. We just need to figure out how to get more women into this industry.
- Red Tape: The amount of red tape in this industry is exhausting. Seriously, I am not entirely surprised to see that a lot of women have left the cannabis industry because part of it has to do with red tape. There needs to be some balance here. But the balance will be hard to implement until cannabis is federally legal. Once cannabis is federally legal, it will come with other challenges, but my hope is that it will mitigate the huge amounts of red tape. Also maybe it will inspire more women to go into the industry once it is federally legal, because there still is a deep stigma surrounding cannabis.
- Federal Legalization/Prison Reform: I am not sure why this still hasn’t happened within the United States. I know that this is going to happen in the future, but when? Because cannabis has been federally illegal for so long, it also concerns me the amount of time, money, and resources that were wasted on placing individuals in prison for consuming or selling cannabis. Along with federal legalization we must look at prison reform and release those who have been locked up for cannabis charges. It concerns me that there are roughly 40,000 individuals still locked up for cannabis charges (Forbes, 2020) With 40,000 Americans Incarcerated For Marijuana Offenses, The Cannabis Industry Needs To Step Up, Activists Said This Week (forbes.com) 45.9% of individuals in prison is due to drug offenses as well as the results of mandatory sentencing laws. Treatment versus punishment is needed to treat those that have addictions, and this goes for all substances. Prisons should be reserved for those who have committed violent offenses. The United States maintains the highest prison population in the world of roughly 2.1 million people as of July 2021. PragerU: Why Are So Many Americans in Prison? | Manhattan Institute (manhattan-institute.org)
There are only 18 states out of the 50 US states that have full legalization of cannabis use. We have to get more states on board and lastly…As of December 15, 2021, the Federal Reserves announced that interest rates for 2022 will be raised and this will make it harder for cannabis companies to raise capital for future growth.
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?
This is a fantastic question. I live in Nevada and my two senators are Catherine Cortez Masto and Jacky Rosen. Thankfully both of my state senators supported the SAFE Banking Act. Rosen led the bipartisan effort on this bill. However my conversation with them would follow the following key points.
- Support an effort for Federal legalization and why it is important
- Provide the data on money spent locking up people in Nevada on cannabis related charges
- Provide the data on cannabis tax revenue brought into the state of Nevada since inception recreational legalization of cannabis that was approved by votes November 2016, but adopted into law and effect July of 2017.
- Provide information on the continued struggles on the lack of women, minorities and those with disabilities in the cannabis industry.
- Provide data on how cannabis is projected to be
- Provide educational programs that can be accessed and provided throughout the United States on Cannabis use, safety and consumption.
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 have mixed opinions on this question. The medical side of me, reminds me that smoking is never good for the human lungs, and no doctor, nurse or healthcare worker is going to tell you to light up and smoke… While cannabis can be smoked, it can also be ingested and enjoyed in other ways that include tinctures, topicals, tablets, gummies, edibles, & drinks. Mentally I push cannabis into a different category away from cigarettes. But at the end of the day, people are going to do what they want to do and smoking of cigarettes or cannabis will never go away entirely.
The term social marginalized really means a group of people that are less able to gain access to a basic service or opportunity, but are today’s cigarette smokers really part of this term? Not really. What has happened is that people who chose to smoke tobacco have a harder time finding places to smoke. Most employers have adopted a no smoking on campus policy and that has almost been adopted as a norm for hotels, casinos, restaurants, malls, planes, trains, rental cars, sports venues, etc. People still have access to cigarettes; even higher taxes have not deterred those who wish to smoke and let’s not forget that vaping is the new form of smoking.
I do feel like this term of social marginalized strongly applies to cannabis since cannabis is not federally legalized yet. There are only 18 states out of the 50 US states that have cannabis legally both medical and recreationally. Making access to all not access to all yet. Individuals that could be using cannabis for the medical benefits are socially marginalized. Should cannabis be heavily regulated and highly taxed. No. But unfortunately, I am a realist and I know that it will be, unfortunately I do not see a work around to that. However, cannabis should be in an entirely different category than cigarettes. This category for cannabis should have an entire section dedicated to education, health and wellness as there are so many good things that cannabis can bring to people. Individuals do not have to solely smoke or vape cannabis. They are able to cook with THC infused oils, eat edibles, drink THC infused drinks, enjoy tinctures and gummies.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I see different quotes every day that inspire me and tell me daily about life and each lesson. But if I had to nail it down to one life lesson quote. There is one that I have lived by since a young age and it pertains to being a business entrepreneur/engineer. “What is the worst thing anyone can tell you?” The answer is “No.” Why is this significant? Because most people don’t make it past step one, which is, “ask”. Ask the question, ask the investor, ask your family and friends. Simply, ask. Oftentimes people don’t ask because of the fear of hearing “No.” Psychology what they are fearing is verbal rejection. What someone should hear, if they ask and they are told “no” is that “rejection is really redirection.” What is the life lesson? Ask the question. Get the answer and move forward. If you continue to live in fear because you’re afraid of being told “no,” then you may never do the things you want to do, build the company you have a vision for.
This is relevant to my life, because had I not ask the question I would not be in business today. I have been told and have conquered the “no’s” and I choose to focus on the “yes’” In any case, I have never feared the “no” It just allowed me to refine a business plan, redo my business speech, realize that my vision and company didn’t align with that particular investor, etc. If I had the fear of the word “no” I would not be where I am today. I am forever grateful for this life lesson quote that I live by, and I hope it sticks with you after you read my interview.
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. :-)
I love those words — influence and movement. I believe those two words go hand-in-hand in the cannabis industry. These words I can relate to for my companies within the cannabis industry. I believe that the Women in Cannabis Expo will continue to bring women together from all over the world. Our company is an event company, but our goals include bringing women together. Our expos provide education, friendship, community, business ideas and more.
On the Women in Cannabis Expo website, there are three words that are at the forefront. They are: connect, inspire and learn. Because that is part of who we are as a company. I continue to connect women behind the scenes daily. I hope that what I do with my companies inspires all, and I believe that we can all learn together and learn independently.
I am honored to be deemed influential. It’s magical to feel the creation of the movement that has been created for women with the cannabis space. This so far is the most powerful thing I have done in my life. But for the greatest amount of good to be brought to the people, that would not come from just being influential or a movement, that will come together once cannabis is federally legalized whereby everyone has access to cannabis. I can only hope that my influence, movement and good will generate ideas that turn into actions and companies that help benefit individuals around the world within the cannabis industry.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!