Wana CEO Nancy Whiteman on Being a Woman in the Cannabis Industry

March 4, 2021

You may have seen Nancy Whiteman’s name before. It’s been appearing in headlines calling her “the queen of legal weed” and “the Martha Stewart of cannabis”. The CEO and co-founder of cannabis edible company Wana, she’s taken it all the way from the mountains of Colorado to the beaches of SoCal. We wanted to sit down with her and see how she did it.

Meet Wana CEO and Leader in the Cannabis Industry, Nancy Whiteman

Wana CEO Nancy Whiteman on Being a Woman in the Cannabis Industry | People's CaliforniaPeople’s: In your own words, what is Wana?

Nancy Whiteman: At its core, Wana is dedicated to helping people enhance their lives physically, creatively and emotionally through the power of the cannabis plant, in all its forms. We carry that ethos through to every Wana customer touchpoint as well, from our focus on R&D and innovation to our use of all-natural, vegan-friendly ingredients to how we manage our workforce and invest in local nonprofits and social equity initiatives.

What makes Wana different from other cannabis edible companies?

From the beginning, we focused on being an industry leader in product quality and consistency. When we developed our gluten-free vegan gummies, we tested over 30 different types of fruit pectin to find the one that offered the best consistency, texture and flavor.

We continue looking for opportunities to refine and perfect our products to this very day. Most recently, we eliminated high-fructose corn syrup in response to customer requests, replacing it with a proprietary organic sugar and tapioca syrup blend that meets our high standards for product consistency and flavor.

What do you think the biggest challenges have been for Wana so far?

Our biggest challenge has been federal prohibition, which impacts cannabis businesses in multiple areas, including banking and taxes as well as the ability to operate across state lines. The IRS 280E tax code makes the cost of doing business very expensive, putting us at a disadvantage when compared to other industries that are allowed to fully deduct expenses.

There are many stories in the press about how cannabis is booming, yet not many outlets share the other side of the story about the sky-high business costs we confront as long as cannabis remains federally illegal. And, of course, the need to operate on a state-by-state basis is enormously challenging; you essentially need to recreate your business every time you go into a new market.

Where do you see Wana in 5 years?Wana CEO Nancy Whiteman on Being a Woman in the Cannabis Industry | People's California

I see Wana fully established as the top international edibles brand in a marketplace transformed by meaningful federal reform, which I wholeheartedly believe is coming soon. These reforms will allow us to operate in line with other industries like craft beer or wine that have reasonable regulations that are more consistent across states.

Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

They say that a year in cannabis is like dog years—each one feels like seven years! So, I’m not sure where I’ll be in 35 years, but I hope I will be continuing to move the industry forward, making cannabis safe, accessible, and effective for our customers.

Which new Wana products are coming to California next?

Our Wana Quick Fast-Acting Gummies will be coming to California in the next few months. They will be available in happy hour flavors such as Peach Bellini (Sativa-inspired), Pina Colada (Indica-inspired) and Strawberry Margarita 1:1 CBD/THC. We launched this new line of products in 2020 in Colorado with great success and we are ready to bring them to the larger California market.

What are the challenges of being a woman in cannabis?

That is a great question. The recent research report “Building New Foundations in the Cannabis Industry” from the National Cannabis Industry Association and The Arcview Group, which I contributed to, provides a clear picture of the barriers faced by women in cannabis. Currently, women hold only 37% of executive positions and a dismal 8% of top CEO spots. Women also struggle to raise capital compared to their male counterparts. The good news is that the industry is still young, and the investments we make now will resonate far into the future. One of many takeaways from the NCIA/Arcview report is that gender equality is good for business, boosting innovation, productivity and revenues.

What do you think are the unique advantages of being a woman in this industry?

Women already account for over 30% of all cannabis revenue and their spending is growing more rapidly than male cannabis consumers. However, there are important differences in consumption preference and patterns between male and female consumers, especially when you break down the market further by age and other variables. So it’s essential to understand and design for female cannabis consumers if a brand is to be successful in reaching this demographic.

I think women-led management and product development teams have an advantage in creating products that are authentic and resonate well with women. So much of our industry is about building relationships and trust, and that process can be bolstered when women consumers see other women standing behind the products on the shelves. In addition to reaching female consumers effectively, I think women bring a collaborative and cooperative spirit to an industry that is too often driven by ego and competition.

Wana CEO Nancy Whiteman on Being a Woman in the Cannabis Industry | People's CaliforniaWhat inspired you to enter the cannabis industry?

I was in the right place at the right time, living in Colorado when medical marijuana had become regulated and adult-use cannabis was on the cusp of legalization. At the time, I led a marketing and sales consulting firm, but I was interested in starting a business that didn’t depend on my billable hours. A neighbor had recently launched an infused soda business, complete with a commercial kitchen and license to work with legal cannabis. I was intrigued, and along with my then-partner [John Whiteman], began researching and learning about cannabis edibles. As they say, the rest is history.

Who are the women that inspire you every day?

Mary Bailey and Sarah Gersen at the Last Prisoner Project (LPP) are a tremendous inspiration. Their work is integral to addressing the wrongs from the racist War on Drugs, and I am proud to say that Wana is a “Partner for Freedom” with LPP. I am also inspired by the work that Kristi Price, founder of Black CannaBusiness Magazine, is doing to support and elevate Black cannabis entrepreneurs by sharing knowledge and building industry connections. I recently joined Kristi in a special Inclusion Conversation held as part of the first annual BlackCanna Conference, where I learned a lot about ways that we as an industry can support inclusivity. I’ve also been fortunate to make many wonderful female friends in our industry which is chock-full of talented and inspiring women. They inspire me every day.

How are you celebrating Women’s History Month this March?

Good question. I think I’ll try to honor it by helping at least five women in the industry with some resources or input that will help them make history themselves.

Entrepreneur Magazine called you “The Martha Stewart of Cannabis”. What do you think about that? Is it spot-on or not so much?

I am not sure that I can compete against Martha Stewart for that title, since she is now adjacent to the cannabis business since she launched her line of CBD gummies! Truthfully, though, I was flattered to be compared to a woman like Martha Stewart— a leader who develops and executes on big ideas, takes calculated risks and perseveres despite bumps in the road.

About [he first product you launched, your famous spiced nuts—are those ever coming back on the shelves? If not, would you ever consider releasing the recipe?

Someday, I would love to crack the code for manufacturing those candied, spice-dusted infused almonds at scale, in a way that was affordable and offered the same consistent dosing and quality that consumers expect from other Wana products. Alas, the recipe will remain a family secret for now.

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Where to Buy Wana Edibles in Orange County

Nancy Whiteman is one of the many women making history in the cannabis industry, and we can’t wait to see what she does next. While you’re waiting for her next move, give Wana’s cannabis gummies a try. Wana edibles come in every CBD and THC ratio—and every flavor, too. Stop by our Orange County dispensary or order your free weed delivery online to get your favorite products fast from our friendly Guides.

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