WOMEN IN CANNABIS | A pledge for equality grows at Bloom Farms

Sandy Cohen
Mar 6, 2019

Editor’s note: In honor of International Women’s Day on March 8, Eaze is focusing on women working in the cannabis industry. This is the fourth in a series.

Different paths to the plant.

Sallyann Nichols and Kelsey Riley came into the cannabis business from opposite directions. Nichols was an investment executive. Riley was a budtender.

Both are realizing professional success in California’s fastest growing industry.

[SEE ALSO: Women in CBD | Guess who’s leading the charge in cannabis wellness]

Nichols is president, and Riley is now head of operations at Bloom Farms CBD, a new division of the beloved organic cannabis company. Together, the two women are leading the way as the brand’s new full-spectrum CBD tinctures hit the marketplace.

“This is truly a wellness product,” Nichols says. “So it’s a little bit of a shift for the company. I’m enjoying bringing our product to new locations and talking to a slightly different audience … It’s been very well received.”

And Bloom Farms just happens to be one of the 75% of Eaze Wellness brands led or founded by women.

A golden era of opportunity.

[Photo courtesy of Sally Nichols]

Nichols came to cannabis as an investor. With a background working with start-ups, she saw recreational legalization as a promising business opportunity. She began with small investments in Colorado businesses and now backs six California companies as a supporter or advisor.

At Bloom Farms, “I started as a businessperson,” she says, “just as any other investor.”

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But before long, the company invited her to join its leadership team. Since then, Nichols has built Bloom Farms’ sales and distribution infrastructure, which she’s duplicating for the CBD division.

Nichols says her background working with tech start-ups applies perfectly to cannabis, with one caveat: that teeny little complication of federal prohibition. “It’s just something else to be mindful of,” she says.

Still, working in the infancy of the cannabis industry feels “like a golden era,” she says. “Even though it’s really hard, it’s a golden era of opportunity and positivity.”

No cannabis corporate ladder.

Riley says she didn’t have much choice when she decided to work in cannabis.

“There was no other industry” in Vallejo, California, where she lived, she says.

Without a corporate ladder to climb, Riley relied on her drive and work ethic to forge her path. She went from budtender to floor manager at her local dispensary, then moved to a larger location where she became not only the general manager, but an outspoken cannabis activist.

At the time, Vallejo dispensaries were fighting for legitimacy from state and local government. Her solution was to unionize her workers and become a vocal presence at city council meetings.

“I was instrumental in us being able to obtain our permit through the union and also through all of the lobbying that I did at city council,” Riley says.

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That experience fueled her leap to Bloom Farms, where she worked in market expansion before joining Nichols’ team.

“It’s been a wild ride,” she says.

Community-driven roots.

Despite their disparate beginnings, both Nichols and Riley are finding professional fulfillment in cannabis in ways they never expected — particularly because Bloom Farms is such a progressive, community-driven company.

“Our core values really are about giving back at the community level,” Nichols says.

That’s evident in the company’s 1-for-1 mission, which donates a healthy meal to someone hungry for every one of its products sold. A sense of community responsibility also inspired Bloom Farms’ new Diversity Initiative, a pledge that by 2020, half its suppliers will be enterprises owned or run by women.

Closing the opportunity gap.

CEO Michael Ray says cannabis companies are in a unique position to build an inclusive industry that “doesn’t carry forward the long-established prejudices” of other businesses.

“Just as we are working to close the food gap for those in need in our communities, Bloom Farms wants to ensure an opportunity gap isn’t created for talented and diverse business owners who have been essential to the California cannabis community for many years,” Ray says.

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Women have had an extensive history in cannabis, Riley says, since long before legalization, so it makes sense for companies to seize on their expertise.

“I chose to work for Bloom Farms, in part, because they’ve made a commitment to promoting women,” she says. “I feel like the company is really paving the way for women in this industry to fulfill and maintain powerful positions.”

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