Q&A with Jennifer M. Sanders, Founder and CEO of CNS Equity Partners

Jennifer Sanders speaks at the MJBizConINT'L conference in Toronto.

How did you identify this business opportunity in the cannabis sector? What was your “aha” moment?

It was not an “aha” moment. It was grief.

My mom passed away, and I did home hospice her last few months of life. A friend from Harvard Medical School recommended we use cannabis hash oil. I was so against it. Before then, I hadn’t even tried or consumed cannabis. I was doing great in my professional life and didn’t even consider it.

Later, because of another business, I moved to San Francisco. Once I sold a business after moving to San Francisco – a few months after my mother passed away – I realized I had a duty to go out there and tell people like me, business professionals, that this is truly a medicinal plant and legitimate business.

There is real opportunity to help others and impact this industry, and we need to get medicine out there affordably. We have to invest, build and manage great companies that are built for philanthropy and positive impact.

How are business professionals different from other cannabis consumers?

We need to do it in a different way than it’s being done. I was living in California, and all these edibles would say “Made With Love,” and there was a lack of transparency in the ingredient and process. Instinctively, I knew this needed to change and that I needed to form a business to do that.

Everyone (in the cannabis industry) keeps talking about how they care about the medicine, how they’re fighting the stigma. But for most of them, they’re not. They’re wearing hippie tie-dyed shirts and going around with reefer glasses and saying 4/20 this and 4/20 that, and that’s not changing anything. That’s not elevating the industry; it’s contributing to the stigma.

So you tried a more business-minded approach to selling cannabis. What did you learn?

I learned that I had no clue how this industry worked. I had a risk-management background and did not realize how volatile this industry was. It was extremely humbling.

It’s not about having skills. It’s about expecting change and expecting that what you plan isn’t always going to work out. I was grateful to have diversified our portfolio with companies that were out of the cannabis industry to balance those challenging times.

You own other businesses outside the cannabis sector. How does that help?

The reason I am still in the cannabis industry is because I believe in the plant and its impact to our world.  As a portfolio manager, I diversified very heavily out of the cannabis industry to create a balance within the holistic health sector, which allowed me to weather these storms. I believe cannabis is one of many medicinal herbs and a component of holistic health.

What are your tips for thriving in such a volatile industry?

You have to truly have passion for this plant and the patients. Expect change and be diversified in order to survive it. You have to know there will be volatility and how to react to volatility. A lot of people have lost a lot of money, and I have yet to see many profitable companies (after tax) in this industry yet. You have to love the plant, and I really do.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Editor’s note: Each month we ask a cannabis industry executive for business tips and advice, as well as insights from their own professional experiences.