Kebra Smith-Bolden melded her expertise as a professional nurse with the Cannabis Industry through her medical cannabis certification organization, CannaHealth. Now she is helping to shape the landscape for east coast cannabis medical professionals with the debut of The North East Cannabis Nursing Conference.
CannaHealth Bridges the Gap Between Healthcare Professionals and The Cannabis Industry
As medical and adult-use Cannabis laws change, many industries are adjusting to the publics’ increased interest in the possibilities of the plant. Studies are demystifying the benefits of the plant as a medicine, and healthcare professionals are paying attention. Kebra Smith-Bolden launched her organization to bring access to cannabis medicine to her community in Connecticut, where the stigma left by cannabis prohibition is still felt. CannaHealth utilizes an innovative community-based business model that provides services to communities disproportionately impacted by the War on Drugs. She and her team approach mental healthcare with various therapy-based treatments combined with a focus on medical cannabis to treat disorders like PTSD and help patients overcome opioid addiction. Kebra's background as a psychiatric home care nurse informs her method of using cannabis in conjunction with therapy for complex trauma to help patients through CannaHealth.
CannaHealth Founder Kebra Smith-Bolden
Regarding cannabis experts in Connecticut, there's no doubt that Kebra-Smith Bolden is one of the standout industry pioneers. As a medical professional and entrepreneur, she tackles many firsts for the developing east coast market. The Morgan State University alumna was inspired by her personal experiences with cannabis as a medical intervention to bring that access to her community. As the founder of CannaHealth, Smith-Bolden is the sole Black owner of a major cannabis business in Connecticut. In the future, she hopes to expand her ventures as a cultivator. Earlier this year, she launched her cultivation company, NoirEnVerte, with the help of a $3M investment from the leading cannabis investment company, Acreage Holdings.
Beyond her entrepreneurial pursuits, she also lends her advocacy skills to several organizations. She is the Connecticut Market Leader for Women Grow and the New England Regional Director for Minorities for Medical Marijuana. She was also president of CT United for Reform and Advocacy, which played a significant role in convincing Connecticut to pass its adult-use cannabis legislation last year. Some of her other professional alliances include The Connecticut Coalition to Regulate Marijuana, Connecticut NORML, and Minority Cannabis Business Association. She is also a lifelong Connecticut resident, mother, and grandmother.
The Northeast Cannabis Nursing Conference Made its Debut in New Haven, CT
The overall success of the inaugural conference bodes well for the future of cannabis in the healthcare industry,
Kebra Smith-Bolden Chats With Honeysuckle about Cannabis Nursing, Mental Health, and The Future of Cannabis in Connecticut
What is your background, and how did you journey into the cannabis industry?
I was born and raised here in New Haven, Connecticut. I grew up in the nineties. I went through all the stages of nursing. I was a CNA and LPN and then became a Registered Nurse. I've worked in home care, primarily behavioral and hospice, and always have worked in some of the most difficult neighborhoods in our community. I'm also a mom and grandmother. I have four children, a set of triplets that will be 21 soon, a 28-year-old daughter, and two grandchildren! I'd been raising a family and trying to support them.
Then, I got into the cannabis industry because my grandmother had suffered an aneurysm when she was 88 years old, which was devastating to everything about her. She was like a very young 88. She drove, still did many social things, and had a boyfriend. She was very active, but when she had the aneurysm, she was not walking. She wasn't eating. She wasn't talking. It was a total difference in her overall health status, and she wasn't getting better. I ended up just trying to pray and meditate on how I could help her, and it came to me very clearly. Maybe a decade before, my grandmother had told me that she couldn't take traditional medications because she had arthritis throughout her body, and the only thing that worked was cannabis. She said she had to roll a joint and take a bath, which was how she could be pain-free. I'm from New Haven in the inner city, so I knew about weed, but I never looked at cannabis as medicine. I found this school in Massachusetts after medicating my grandmother and seeing a turnaround in like four weeks. She started walking with a walker, eating, and engaging with the family. Her mood was elevated, she seemed less withdrawn, and it was a pretty significant change.
I started studying cannabis and learning about the endocannabinoid system. All this information interested me as a science geek and a nurse. I learned about how cannabis works in the body and the science behind the plant. I was putting it all together with what I learned about cannabis prohibition and the War on Drugs and how that led to all the trauma that was the nineties for me. Losing friends and family to either prison or gun violence was a traumatic part of living in the inner city. Not having access to adequate healthcare and education made it even more difficult to navigate that.
I was deeply committed to bringing that information back to my hometown and educating my community about cannabis as medicine. I also wanted to show them the business opportunities that were being presented, as we were looking at legalization in the state of Connecticut at the time. I wanted to make sure that people who looked like me were at least knowledgeable and aware of the opportunities that could exist in a legal market. I look at entrepreneurs as part of the reconciliation of the past and what has been done to our communities,
What inspires your work with CannaHealth?
I always felt like CannaHealth was about access to medical cannabis, but it's also about social justice. Those two things really drove the creation of CannaHealth, which is a medical cannabis certifying center. We can give patients access to medical cannabis and a level of protection and security. If someone has a medical cannabis card, they can't be arrested or have their probation or parole violated for consuming medical cannabis in the state. They have housing, job protection, and educational protection because of their medical cannabis certification. We found that we were able to not only give them access to cannabis medicine but we were also able to help them avoid the criminal justice system. It was really important that we just didn't just medicate people. We also educated people about how cannabis works and the industry's social equity and business opportunities. We can show that our communities deserve the opportunity to rebuild with the influx of funds from the cannabis industry. We wanted to be able to encourage municipalities on the state level to understand that. That has been our mission, and CannaHealth has helped us achieve that.
You recently debuted a conference for cannabis nurses in Connecticut! How was that experience?
The Northeast Cannabis Nurse Conference resulted from me leveraging my nursing expertise to enter the cannabis industry. While doing that, I've also been an active advocate working towards legalization in Connecticut. This conference allowed me to bring industry leaders and experts from around the country into Connecticut, as we are looking at licensing announcements soon. Tomorrow*, we learn about the licenses set aside for social equity applicants from disproportionately impacted areas. We also find out who is being awarded a grant for the accelerator program with the Social Equity Council. With this conference, we wanted to help people understand the opportunities that exist from a healthcare perspective. We also wanted to encourage practitioners to keep patients at the forefront of their minds. While I personally believe all cannabis is medicine, we want to make sure that medical patients are still able to access their medicine consistently and easily. They should have certain additional rights that keep them from paying more money or being taxed more heavily for their medicine.
Cannabis nursing is a specialty, and nurses are one of the most trusted professions in the world. And so, as we're looking at legalization, I imagine that patients will now be more open about their use of cannabis. We as healthcare professionals must prepare to have those conversations to at least help guide patients through this process. Nurses can help integrate cannabis use into their lives and health regimens. We can educate them on how cannabis interacts with other medicines or substances and potential issues to look out for. We really can't use the excuse that it's illegal to avoid discussing these things. It's legal now, and we must be prepared to discuss it. So I wanted to provide a forum where we did all of that, and I think we accomplished that.
The conference really was amazing. We had keynote speakers such as the New York Cannabis Commissioner Tremaine Wright, Executive Director of the Connecticut Social Equity Council Ginne-Rae Clay, and one of the potential licensees for Social Equity and City Councilwoman Tina Hercules. We also followed different tracks, namely the healthcare and business/social equity tracks. We also had a wellness room with group yoga, massages, and CBD facials.
We had multiple speakers rotating throughout the day in the main room where we held the luncheon. We had Dr. Corey Burchman, the Chief Medical Officer from Acreage Holdings, who dispelled long-term myths about cannabis. We had Dr. Marion Mcnabb from the Center for Cannabis Excellence in Massachusetts, who spoke about her research on consumption and how cannabis is moving the medical industry forward.
So it just really was a great conference with lots of educational opportunities. People came in with great energy. The information was not only useful, but it also was fun, collaborative, and conversational. Their only complaint was that there were so many things to choose from that they could not attend them all.
*On Tuesday, July 12th, Connecticut's Social Equity Council recommended 16 equity cultivation applicants out of 41 to receive licenses. This interview preceded that announcement.
Can you tell us about your involvement in how the cannabis industry in Connecticut is developing?
I was the president of Connecticut United for Reform and Equity, and we were one of the leading advocacy groups that worked with legislators, government officials, and the community to ensure that social equity was a part of any legislation that went forward. I sat on the Governor's Social Equity committee and attempted to be a voice. The unfortunate thing is that people think that we had more power than we actually did. And it's not the case because this legislation that we ended up with is not perfect. It definitely does have aspects of social equity, such as creating a Social Equity Council. But, most of the opportunities created through this legislation are not for social equity applicants. For instance, tomorrow, they are announcing the Disproportionally Impacted Area cultivator license, which is one of the social equity licenses. To be considered social equity, you could not have made more than $236,000 for the past five years, and you had to have lived in a disproportionally impacted community for the first nine out of seventeen years of your life or the last five out of ten years. If you qualify, you could apply for the Social Equity Cultivator license; however, the license costs $3 million. The only way to do that is to partner with someone. More than likely, the people who want a partner because they realize this is a worthy capital investment are existing MSOs.
As an advocate, I understand that that's not true social equity. True social equity would mean whether I had an MSO with me or not; if I were qualified and could come up with a business plan, I would be able to engage in this industry because of my knowledge, my wherewithal, and my abilities. There would be a way that they equal the playing field for me to engage with this industry. That's not really what happened here. What happened here is they are allowing people to qualify to have a gateway into this industry through partnership. That created some discomfort because people know that this isn't true equity. There were other social equity licenses, such as the lottery for retail licenses. However, since people were allowed to submit multiple applications, we ended up with thousands of applications.
While the legislation isn't perfect, there are a few positives. Part of the legislation includes language for expunging criminal records and reinvesting in the municipalities most impacted by drug prohibition. Also, I feel we can use this legislation and these partnerships to make these MSOs and venture capitalists accountable. As their Conneticut partner, I'm committed to doing this work in my community, and we should be dedicated to lifting up the communities that we serve. Not just in Conneticut but across the country.
Can you talk about the process of launching your own cultivation company, NoirEnVerte?
As I mentioned, the DIA Cultivator license costs $3 million dollars. I didn't have that, so I knew I'd have to find a partner. Before looking for a partner, I established my cultivating company, NoirEnVerte, which means 'black in green' in French. It is a Black woman-owned cultivation company that has partnered with Acreage Holding to kickstart Connecticut-based cultivation that will hopefully create jobs and opportunities to give back to the community I come from and others who are heavily impacted by the War on Drugs. We will be operating as a hybrid cultivator. We want to create great medical products for patients here in the state and some really dank cannabis for our adult-use customers. I want us to be proud that we can grow great products here in Conneticut. We're hoping we will receive that license tomorrow! I hope to bring in cultivators from other parts of the country. I love First Lady of the West Coast and her Black Girl Magic strain. I would love to have her come out and cultivate her black girl OG strain. We just want to bring in people to help us diversify the market and create good products that consumers haven't seen.
Do you have any advice for prospective cannabis entrepreneurs and medical professionals?
I always tell people number one, find your people. Find your tribe because being connected to a network is really important here in this industry. If you want to be a business owner in this industry, you need to advocate for the industry that you want to be a part of. Find the cause that you're going to advocate for and help to move the industry forward. Also, you should do a little bit of what you're already doing, especially if it's something you love. Just find a way to translate that into cannabis.
I'm a nurse. I was born to be a nurse. It's in my heart and soul, but I love cannabis and this industry. So, I found a way to use what I love and have been doing for the past 20 years to be a relevant part of this industry. I get to do good work while creating jobs and building wealth for myself and my community.
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