Hillary Peckham is just 26 years old, but she is already the Chief Operations Officer for Etain, LLC, the only woman-owned, family-run medical marijuana registered organization in New York.
Etain was awarded one of just five coveted licenses to produce medical cannabis in New York. The license includes a 22,000-square-foot cultivation and processing facility and four dispensary locations across the state, in Kingston, Syracuse, Manhattan, and Yonkers.
Since opening doors in January 2016, Etain watched the medical cannabis program in New York grow from just 51 patients to more than 31,000. With the addition of chronic pain as a qualifying condition, the program will only continue to expand and has inspired at least one new product from the dispensary.
Leafly got a chance to chat with Ms. Peckham to hear more about the state of the company, what its plans are for the future, and how the regulations in New York compare to the rest of the country.
Leafly: What inspired you to join the cannabis industry?
“I still remain very grateful for this opportunity to make an impact on people’s lives, as a woman in business, and to show the world that we can be successful.”
Hillary Peckham: Well, the motivation behind it was really from my mom. [She] was a caretaker for my grandma, who was diagnosed with ALS, and my mother was her caretaker through to the end of her life. We saw how end-of-life care can be mismanaged. [My grandmother] was put on a lot of medications that had a lot of different side effects, and at one point her doctor recommended that she get medical marijuana somewhere. [It wasn’t] legal in New York, and we had no idea how to find it for her and it wasn’t something she was interested in, but that kind of sparked my mother doing a lot of research about the industry and the benefits of having her patients. It was all her idea, so I latched onto it. I was very passionate about it.
My sister is a horticultural therapist, and I wanted to do music therapy, so healing and wellness is something that we’ve been interested in. My mother and I started to build a team and apply in New York because right around that time was when the [medical marijuana legalization] bill was passed. It’s been very exciting and a lot of fun.
How did you feel when you found out that Etain had been chosen as a registered organization?
I was really grateful. We have worked really hard and I felt really confident in our team. I still remain very grateful for this opportunity to make an impact on people’s lives, as a woman in business, and to show the world that we can be successful.
What’s it like working so closely with your family?
It’s, uh, [laughs] it’s mostly fun. It is a lot of time with my family. Almost all of them are, in some capacity, working with Etain, so we spend a lot of time together. We make it a lot of fun and try to delegate tasks and make sure that everybody feels like they’re doing something that they can succeed with. I don’t think I could have done this without them, and I really feel like it’s given us an advantage in a lot of ways. We’re all committed to the same goals, and we don’t mind working extra hours and putting in the extra time because we’re just doing it with our whole family. We really get to stay true to our vision and what we want to accomplish with Etain, and we don’t have to worry about outside investments or other ownership.
The biggest challenge we faced when we were getting up and running was we were given about five months to build a facility, grow our plants, fill out our dispensaries, get everything tested, get our products tested and open our doors, and I genuinely don’t think I could have done it with anybody else. So, like, Christmas Day, we were hand-filling capsules, doing everything in the lab together to try to make sure that patients had products for our opening day. I think it’s a really great team that we have within our family.
As a women-owned company, have you experienced more positive or negative reactions, particularly from within the cannabis community?
Well, within the cannabis community, the first experience we had was with Women Grow and Jazmin Hupp–I love them! We went to their first Women Grow meeting as part of the New York team. Originally, when we went to go apply, my mom was like “We’ve got to find a women’s group in cannabis,” and I was like, “Mom, it’s a new age, everything is legal, we’re not going to need that.” But then we found Women Grow and it’s been hugely helpful, and they are some of the most supportive people I’ve ever met in my life. They always were very positive and optimistic and a source of inspiration for us. Through them, I’ve always felt supported, like they’re my cheerleaders, and I’m always grateful for that.
Have you struggled to adhere to the guidelines in New York?
One of the reasons that we actually applied in New York was that we felt what was lacking in a lot of other states is regulation and making sure that you have a standardized product and consumer protection. That’s something we really got behind, with the Compassionate Care Act and the regulations that were in place. It is difficult at times–there’s a lot that changes, and you always have to be on your feet.
That’s just kind of the world of marijuana. It’s something where the end product that is getting to the patient is some of the highest quality in the nation, and the consumer protection that it brings and the consistency, I think, is unparalleled. I support the mission of New York and we’ve always made sure that compliance is a top priority for us, so we haven’t found it to be a huge hurdle.
Do you think New York will ever legalize cannabis for adult use?
I don’t know! I’m always looking at the news. I know they’re definitely trying to make advancements along to help the medical program, so we’ll see where that goes. I would definitely be open to it, but I don’t see it happening in the immediate future.
Does Etain have any plans to expand to any other markets?
Yeah, so, actually, this is very exciting: we should be open by Q1 in 2018 in California. We’re just doing oil production; we won’t have a cultivation facility or a dispensary, we’ll just be making concentrates. It’s a completely different model than New York, where we do everything because it is vertically-integrated, but we’re very excited about it, to be able to expand.
What is Etain’s most popular cannabis product?
One of the things that Etain likes to focus on is making sure that it offers very health-conscious products. Something that separates us from everybody else in the New York market is that our vaporizers don’t have any additives in them, so it’s just pure cannabis oil. And we’re the only ones in New York that actually has vaporizers that are just pure cannabis oil. Most of them are diluted with other additives like PEG oil or propylene glycol, and we feel that if you’re going to use a vaporizer, it should just have cannabis in it so you don’t have to deal with any of the side effects.
Our most popular product is probably our high-THC vaporizer called Forte. Most patients like the flavor that it has and are really supportive of the health-conscious idea where you’re only inhaling what you need to–just the medicine.
Dolce is our high-CBD vaporizer. I’m a music major so we used music terms–”dolce” is soft and sweet, “forte” is strong and bold. We actually just released our fourth product this week; it’s called Mezzo, and that one is a 2:1 CBD to THC ratio.