Q&A Session with the National Hispanic Cannabis Council
Question 1: Can you give a little background about yourself?
Answer 1: I stumbled into the industry after my last corporate position. It was a really good stopping point for me to reflect and figure out what the next move was in terms of my career. At that point, I had 13 years of experience in public accounting, corporate tax, and helping multinational companies do tax planning. This was back in 2013, right around the time cannabis was hitting the mainstream media. I had some time on my hands and started doing a lot of reading and researching about what this industry would shape up to be. That really sparked my interest, but I have had a lifetime relationship with the plant. I have been a consumer for a good portion of my life. It just so happens that I also grew up in a neighborhood in the South side of Chicago where it was really hard not to be impacted by the drug war that was going on. I have always had a deep feeling for what it was and was not doing. Fast forward to 2014, I knew I wanted to do something in the industry and I took a consulting job with a licensee here in Nevada. At the time it was strictly medical but they really needed help. One client led to another and out of that I had this ‘Aha’ moment where I realized I could build something around this. I really saw a need for the help and I also felt there was a space for financial professionals who had a relationship or understanding of the industry and wanted to break the stigma around cannabis. Accountants are pretty conservative by nature, and this helped to shine a light on something that felt so wrong, when it is not. The firm was created in 2016 and was a predecessor firm named K&H Consulting. In 2018 when adult-use started to be much more pervasive we did a re-brand. Indiva Advisors, the firm that we are today, was created in early 2018.
Question 2: What is your experience with advocacy for Hispanics or other minorities?
Answer 2: I want to say that I have been a champion in my career to advocate for women and minorities. Early on in my career I don’t think I knew what it was called, but I knew I was helping someone and moving things where I could. I know now we call that being a champion or sponsoring/mentoring someone. Another thing I have been passionate about is the fact that I am a first-generation daughter of immigrants. I know it is a real struggle and I am always looking for others to lift in that space. In terms of real commitment to that work, I currently serve as the Treasurer and sit on the Board of Directors for the Minority Cannabis Business Association. This is really the first trade association in the industry that I believe is dedicated to lifting minorities in this space. We are providing educational programming, scholarships, and connections with current licensees. And of course, policy work – we are sitting at the table where these conversations are being had to make sure there is a place for minorities and small business. Last year, the American Institute of Chartered Public Accountants Commission on Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity selected Indiva Advisors to sit on that committee for three years. That is a huge accomplishment that I am very proud of. This is a group of my peers that felt the need to put us in that seat because of the work that we are doing. That is an opportunity to lift minorities and specifically Latinos. Looking for more Latino finance professionals is important as our demographic grows here in the U.S. We need more people that look like the population that we are serving.
Question 3: Where do you see opportunities in the industry for aspiring entrepreneurs?
Answer 3: My business is not plant-touching, but we do service plant-touching operations. I have taken all the experience from my previous roles and brought it here. There was some re-tooling and I had to learn about some issues related to the industry like 280e, being familiar with handling lots of cash, and understanding the cost of goods sold. There is definitely some sharpening of the pencil in order to be able to service the industry but nonetheless, I have been in accounting for 20 years. I say do what you do best and re-tool it to see how it fits here. Every service or product that you can think of is also in the cannabis industry. The industry needs marketing, legal professionals, software, and so much more. For people who are interested in getting involved in the industry, it is not a straight line to a license. There are so many different opportunities and options and I believe when you have a passion in whatever you are doing, bring that to the table and find a way to monetize that skill or trade. Most people I talk to who want to get involved in the industry are mainly interested in obtaining a license. That is very challenging for a number of reasons and I don’t think it is for everybody.
Question 4: What advice would you give to someone who does not have a lot of professional experience but may be interested in the industry?
Answer 4: In any industry you will have to have some sort of specialized knowledge in order to succeed. One example of this could be people who used to operate on the unregulated market or previous black market who are now trying to enter the legal industry. There is an opportunity and position for those people here. All of those people who operated in the unregulated market were frankly the first salespeople. They are the original budtenders. There is a skill set there – they understand the customer and the market. They add value to any operation, in my opinion. We value experience when looking for team members and people to join our companies. I do know many individuals that have come from the unregulated market and are now managers at dispensaries, cultivators, and processors. Figure out what you are looking for then get connected. That is where organizations like the MCBA and NHCC are going to be extremely helpful because we are bringing education for the members to help navigate the industry.
Question 5: According to research, Nevada stands out as the most inclusive for Latinos in the cannabis industry. Is that something you see reflected in the work you do?
Answer 5: I am not sure I see this percentage in the client base that I serve here in Nevada. Recently we have migrated the responsibility of overseeing the cannabis programs here in Nevada to the Cannabis Control Board. In that transition there has been a new commission on diversity, equity, and inclusion created to ensure we have diversity in our market. This diversity should be seen at all levels including ownership and executive, because it is my opinion that there is a disparate gap between minority ownership and total ownership here in Nevada. The goal of the diversity, equity, and inclusion commission is to hopefully right some of this inequity.
Question 6: What is your perspective on social equity programs across the country? How could they improve in your opinion?
Answer 6: I think we are making progress. This is still somewhat of a new idea, in the last few years. We are making progress in terms of social equity programming and issues being highlighted faster. We saw that recently in states like New York, Illinois, and New Jersey. These are big states with big markets where they are putting social equity first in terms of adult use. I think this is a great thing to see. When it all shakes out, we need to look at what it really means for minorities in terms of real ownership and opportunity in the industry. In that respect I think we have a lot of work to do. There is still a huge gap between the haves and have nots. We have to continue to be at the forefront of policy. I cannot stress enough how important it is to be there when they are making the rules that will have an implication or opportunity for people of color.
Question 7: What sort of advice would you give to people who are looking to learn more about the industry?
Answer 7: There is so much more information than ever before about the industry and different aspects of it. You can take a course on cannabis in college now, that was never available for me. If you are looking for more information on how the industry works or what it is, it is out there. For young people who are interested in it, I say get educated. Talk to a lot of people and network, even join organizations to make those connections and build relationships with others in the industry. I learned something a long time ago through a great mentor. If find that you are the smartest person in a room, you need to leave that room immediately. You need to find a room where there are people who are smarter than you so you can continue to learn and ask questions.