Please do not leave this page until complete. This can take a few moments.
Being in the cannabis industry has never been easy, especially now with the Maine Legislature still debating how to implement rules around recently legalized recreational marijuana, says Patricia Rosi, CEO of Wellness Connection of Maine, a Portland company that runs four medical marijuana dispensaries, an edibles outlet and a growing facility.
She plans to get into the recreational, or adult use, marijuana business, as she prefers to call it. Maine voters approved adult use marijuana legalization in the 2016 election, allowing Mainers over 21 to possess 2.5 ounces of the substance, which would be taxed at 10% and have a statewide cultivation cap of 800,000 square feet. The Legislature delayed commercial sales of marijuana until 2018 so it can write rules for its growth and sale.
Meantime, growers are sprouting up all over the state, leasing commercial real estate to the point that there is only a 0.5% vacancy rate for industrial properties in Westbrook and 4.8% in South Portland, Justin Lamontagne, partner and broker at NAI The Dunham Group, told the annual Maine Real Estate and Development Association conference in January.
Rosi's company, which is profitable and expects revenue of $15 million this year, about the same as last year, says she's under increasing competition from what she estimates are hundreds of smaller growers opening stores everywhere. Caregivers in Maine can open stores if they have five patients, and they themselves can be a patient. They can grow up to six medical plants per patient per year, which adds up quickly as competition.
“We are planning to be players in the recreational market so we can be a one-stop shop,” she says. “There's room for all of us.” Medical marijuana is being used for post-traumatic stress disorder, pain, stress and other problems.
Between the competition and the uncertain Legislative landscape, Rosi says she feels like she's constantly on shifting sands.
“I don't have a five-year plan. I wish I had a six-month plan. I make decisions daily,” she says. “I feel like I'm on a tightrope between two skyscrapers every day. There's constant tension between the 'now' and the 'next.' I have to strategize rather than be paralyzed by uncertainty.” She lets out some of her stress by running and working toward a black belt in karate, which she hopes to have in two years, when she turns 50 years old.
Her go-to attitude to take on such difficult tasks with a measured response characterizes her leadership style, says Mike Kelley, executive vice president of Pierce Promotions & Event Management, a Portland marketing agency where he worked with Rosi for 10 years, before she left to head Wellness Connection.
“Her enthusiasm is very genuine. She is a passionate leader who makes it easy to follow [her],” he says, adding that Rosi reminds him of a passage in a Rudyard Kipling poem, “If,” that reads:
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings — nor lose the common touch
“That's what she's like. Part of the common touch is that you have to be able to laugh at yourself. She is very light and very funny. And she is patient and doesn't make a decision before it needs to be made,” he says.
Anne Heros, executive director of the Center for Grieving Children in Portland, who nominated Rosi for the Women to Watch award, describes her as a visionary who has leadership and community engagement skills. Rosi is on the board of the organization.
“At our 25th anniversary we were looking at having an auction and celebration. Her ideas for the format and rollout of the evening and the marketing fueled excitement into an event that had begun to get tired,” Heros says.
She adds, “The Wellness Connection is leading the community in an area that has healing benefits. It takes a certain type of person to lead that type of initiative. We as a state are on the cutting edge with this.”
Rosi joined the board of the Center for Grieving Children after leaving Pierce Promotions.
“After a family trip to Banako in Mali, Africa, it was time for a reinvention with the purpose of not only selling goods, but doing good at the same time,” she says. “My husband, principal at Opus Consulting, advised that I should join the board of directors for Wellness Connection of Maine, operating four state-licensed medical cannabis dispensaries, and the rest is history.”
Rosi was born and raised in Paris, France. Early on she wanted to be an archaeologist, but graduated from high school with a desire to be an immunologist. She went to college for accounting, and earned an MBA with a focus in marketing.
After a successful advertising career in Europe, she and her husband arrived in Portland in 1999.
“At that point, I was under the impression that there was only one Portland, featuring world-class advertising agencies,” she says. “Little did I know, it was on the other coast.”
She says Clint Pierce, founder of Pierce Promotions & Event Management, said he hired her on a whim for two reasons: 1) her expertise and experience with accounts the agency had just won, and 2) her red-flowered velvet pea coat, which convinced him that she could lead a creative department for his agency.
A problem-solver by nature, Rosi says she wanted to go beyond helping ad clients sell goods, though she never expected to work in the cannabis industry.
“I fell into it and started from the ground up. And I found my spot,” she says. “I help people day in and day out. I'm advocating to make a difference for society.”
She says entrepreneurial energy and passion fuel the company, but she makes a point that the process and systems of growing and processing healthy medical marijuana products don't get in the way of being nimble and flexible.
A large part of her mission now is to educate and explain medical marijuana and its market. And she hopes that within a year the government will offer some clarity in all the regulations surrounding medical and adult use marijuana.
Other issues emerge further down the line, for example, how to handle those who use medical marijuana in the workplace.
“Workforce is a key topic being addressed by the Legislature, the Department of Labor and trade associations,” she says.
If companies test for drugs, employees can get a positive test a month after they've smoked a joint at the lake, she says.
“People on cannabis aren't necessarily impaired,” she says, pointing to how allergy medications can make an employee tired. “Businesses need a clear, company-wide protocol to diagnose impairment and have steps in place for it.”
She says more medical marijuana patients are leaning toward vaping or concentrates rather than smoking, as it's more discrete because the cannabis cannot be smelled as easily on the person taking it.
“I hope in a year to have clarity on all regulations and still produce the best product possible. I hope to look back and say we made it and are a positive change to Maine communities,” she says. “This has the possibility to be a big economic stimulus.”