Subscribe to Entrepreneur for $5

This Cancer Researcher Is Devoted to Her Medical Dispensary Patients

While Chanda Macias researched new treatments for cancer she became fascinated with cannabis as a medicine.

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Chanda L. Macias earned her MBA in supply chain management and a PhD on cancer research. While researching her thesis she found many references to the medicinal value of cannabis, but was frustrated the plant was off limits for legitimate research. Now, as founder and CEO of National Holistic Healing Center in Washington, DC, and CEO of Women Grow, she applies all of her education and experience to aiding patients with medical marijuana.

Women Grow

Macias, who has mentored more than 1,500 students at Howard University on careers in STEM, discusses the many obstacles she has overcome on her path to success.

What brought you into the cannabis industry?

My dissertation focused on cancer research. During my investigations, the cannabis plant was a recurring theme for an alternative form of treatment. I investigated the medicinal benefits of the plant, but since it was and still is a Schedule 1 illegal substance, research options were highly limited. Moreover, I was a minority, and there is a disproportion of minorities who are incarcerated for cannabis possession. I did not want to contribute to that statistic being a mother, and primary provider for my family. I continued to study the effects of the plant on different diseases and disease states, mostly through international research findings. After I earned my MBA in Supply Chain Management at Rutgers University, I felt prepared through my scientific experience and business education to work on a business plan. State by state, medical cannabis programs started to emerge, and I was prepared to apply -- despite the consequences. My decision to apply was purely on the fact that I understood how the plant could medicinally help patients, and I could improve the quality of life of patients who were suffering from debilitating health conditions.

Related: Move Aside, CBD: New Data Finds THC Is the Real Medicine in Medical Marijuana

What obstacles and challenges have you experienced in operating within this industry? How have you overcome these obstacles?

There has been so many challenges that I have experienced in operating within the industry.

Parenting -- As a mother of four beautiful children ranging in age from 30 to 8 years old, it has been challenging to educate my children on my industry in an age-appropriate way. When I began dispensing medical cannabis, it was still illegal in most states. My older children understood the implications of being in the industry, and were fearful of the possible repercussions. Fortunately, my youngest son did not understand the legal ramifications of my new career choice. Therefore, I created an environment that did not put him at risk. I banned certain words from his vocabulary, including cannabis, marijuana, pre-roll and dispensary. Instead, I had to teach him that mommy is a "doctor," which I am, that I give patients "medicine" that makes them feel better.

Supply chain issues.

A vertical operation in the marijuana industry is a business enterprise that cultivates, processes and dispenses medical marijuana. Integrating a market with vertical and non- vertical enterprises, such as independent dispensaries (without a cultivation facility), can severely restrict your supply chain of medical marijuana.

This was the case when I entered the market. I did not have access to a continuous supply chain and I was not vertically integrated. I can not conclusively state that my limitations on obtaining access to products was due to the fact that I was one of two African American women in the nation with a dispensary, or the fact that less than 26 percent of the cannabis industry are women, despite their high level of experience and education which would bring value to any business enterprise. I can say conclusively that my white male counterparts did not face those same challenges.

Fortunately for my business, I could appeal to the only African American male cultivator in Washington, DC, with a vertical operation, and obtain two strains for the first three months after opening the doors of National Holistic Healing Center. It was through value created through education, classes, one-on-one consulting in biomedical research platforms, that I was able to grow my patient base. When the other cultivators realized that potential revenue stream through National Holistic Healing Center, they finally decided to provide me with a supply chain but at a high price. In other words, the average pound of medical marijuana at that time cost $4,000, and one cultivator agreed to sell us 10 strains at $6,500 per pound -- but I had to buy all 10 strains, thus paying $65,000 when my patient base was under 50 people.

Related: We Have a Problem: The Cannabis Industry Is Losing Women Leaders

As a woman in cannabis, do you feel that you are at an advantage or a disadvantage (or both) and why?

As women, period, we face both no matter the industry. I will be honest, it has not been an easy path. Overall this is a complicated industry. Not only has it been a huge risk for me and my family, it has also been grueling. When people in the industry question me on, "How did you get here?" I'm taken aback -- it's not as if I took at shortcut.

As the second black women to open a dispensary -- but I believe the first to open a medical dispensary -- you must understand people of color face challenges our counterparts have not faced. When I enter a room of cannabis professionals, people are taken back by my professional and educated background. My knowledge and studies have been questioned because of my gender and race. There are times when those interactions were incredibly hurtful. For some they may not understand but women and especially women of color are often expected to underachieve. I have experienced reactions when people felt I should not have access to resources which have led to the success of my company, but myself and my team work damn hard. We have sacrificed like everyone else. This is when I am most thankful for my education.

I may not be able to throw money at a problem like I have seen in other circumstances, but I know how to solve a problem effectively and efficiently. I have confidence in my skill sets and I appreciate the journey that brought me to this point. It truly has prepared me. With all of my education, I am also a wife and a mother of four children. I understand the causation of a problem, and can allocate the appropriate funding to address those measures. I believe in organic growth and the ability to understand my mistakes on a smaller scale. This has allowed me to not repeat the same mistakes on a potential larger scale with detrimental consequences to my business. The cannabis business is not about the race, but the marathon.

Should legislation be in place, in fall 2020 I hope to open a recreational dispensary in Washington, D.C. We have a great team who has been on this journey with me and I could not be more excited.

What accomplishment are most proud of in this industry?

I am most proud that God have me the education and experience to save my patients lives. I am a biomedical researcher, and I vowed to understand diseases and find ways to prevent, treat and cure. Academia is not a financially rewarding environment, but instead it propels you to naturally nurture your inner ambition. Conventional healthcare has failed our patients. It actually propelled the opioid epidemic in our nation. National Holistic Healing Center (NHHC) has implemented a cannabis replacement therapy plan to address the opioid crisis, and our patients are reclaiming their lives. We have created a way to provide medical support to mothers who treat their children with medical cannabis. Our center will guide adult children through treatment options for their parents who are impacted by multiple diseases and disease states. We have the ability to treat veterans with PTSD with suicidal tendencies, to rebuild their foundation. To help people and provide solutions to their pain is an extremely proud feeling. These are real people with real stories who felt ignored because their needs were not being addressed. I am most proud and thankful to be able to serve as many as we have since opening our doors.

What was your greatest lesson learned?

The greatest lesson learned is that people explore medical cannabis as a last option, and not a primary one. Unfortunately, I typically see patients when they have explored all other medical treatments, and there is no other option available. This is a tough lesson as well, let me explain. Once my patients have started treatment with medical cannabis, and experienced first-hand the medicinal benefits of the plant, they are dumbfounded by their improved quality of life.

Then I experience the patient remorse; the patients are sometimes angry/sad that they did not exercise the option to use medical cannabis earlier in their treatment. The fact we are able to provide some with comfort even if they have come to us very late in their stage it is also tough to witness. We want to provide the support but it is up to the patient to be open to the option. I have lost the most beautiful spirits, but I know that medical cannabis gave them comfort and happiness in their final days. For the ones who have been able to extend their life span through this medicine, it has been wonderful to see them convert into advocates because they are living testimonies of the benefits.