As the 33-year old CEO of Premium Produce, a company that grows, manufactures, and delivers cannabis products, Priscilla Vilchis is a cannabis educator, an advocate for legalization, and a role model for countless Latina women in America. She also represents a growing trend in the U.S.: Ambitious young women entering the cannabis industry and making waves in what remains a male-dominated space.
Vilchis grew up in California and got her start in the healthcare industry, helping doctors navigate a byzantine system of rules and regulations. In just a few years, she quickly became the first woman to grow, manufacture, transport, and distribute cannabis in California and the youngest to procure two medical cannabis licenses in the state of Nevada. Her company is one of the most diverse in the business and it places major emphasis on employing members of marginalized communities at every level of the org chart. Vilchis also spends a significant amount of time working on community programs that empower young people in disadvantaged neighborhoods to help them aspire to greatness.
We caught up with Vilchis to talk female entrepreneurship, the changing attitudes in the cannabis business, and why it’s sometimes necessary to grow a thicker skin.
cannabisMD: First off — I’ve got to ask — why the cannabis business?
Priscilla Vilchis: It all started when I witnessed the unfortunate, crippling, ongoing opioid crisis [when I was] in my former business, which included helping top doctors in California navigate through complex insurance regulations.
I saw their patients suffer from pain and in many cases, addiction. So, I decided to seek alternatives for individuals taking opioid medications for pain management, children diagnosed with epilepsy and suffering seizures, as well as the elderly enduring acute and chronic pain [from diseases like] osteoarthritis. People called me crazy at first for investing in the cannabis industry in 2014. Those same people now call me a genius.
cMD: In the past you’ve talked a lot about how the cannabis industry can benefit local communities, especially marginalized ones. In what ways, specifically, do you think this happens?
PV: There is a lot of potential — but still so much work to do so that the cannabis industry can benefit local communities, especially minorities to its full potential. In Nevada, where my grow facility is located, the industry is creating jobs and the revenue generated from the state’s marijuana excise sales tax is going to help fund public education.
I would like to see business loans become available for people who want to enter the industry. For example, Latinos are opening businesses at an impressive rate and many use loans to do so. If we create a program to educate and offer loans, we will see a rise in minorities in the cannabis industry.
cMD: How did it feel to be the only woman out of hundreds of applicants to get a license from L.A. County to grow and manufacture cannabis? Is it a lot of pressure on you, or is it exciting?
PV: It is an honor but it also holds a lot of responsibility. Many times I have had to navigate through unwritten laws and policies and deal with unexpected situations that arise from such a new industry. Nonetheless, I am honored to be paving the way for future female cannabis entrepreneurs — I strive to be a role model for them.
cMD: Growing up in a very conservative Latinx family where cannabis was heavily frowned upon, you’re in a unique position to empathize with families who have concerns about the industry and about dispensaries or plants opening in their towns. What do you think are their biggest worries or fears? What comes up most often?
PV: I grew up scared of the “marihuaneros,” as my grandma would call them. Our family thought the worst thing you could grow up to be was someone who smoked weed, they were seen as people who committed crimes and were lost. Latinos are divided when it comes to the legalization of marijuana, especially for recreational purposes. But through education of its benefits I have seen more and more approval of its use.
cMD: You’ve said a number of times that your long term goal is to have medical marijuana reimbursable by insurance companies. Even now, when America is more cannabis-friendly than it’s ever been, that seems like a very ambitious goal. What do you think needs to happen to make it a reality and what are the biggest obstacles to it?
PV: Making medical marijuana reimbursable by insurance companies is a win-win for all — it’s cheaper than opioid drugs and a lot safer. However, marijuana is still a Schedule I drug and we can not make any carrier or insurance carrier break federal law. We must continue to fight to end the federal ban and continue to educate our policymakers.
cMD: What are some myths surrounding cannabis/what do you wish people know about the cannabis industry that they don’t?
PV: The cannabis industry is the new billionaire industry; but it’s not as glamorous as some may think. It takes a lot of sweat and tears and a thick skin. We always have to be ready and prepared to take on unexpected setbacks.
cMD: The cannabis industry seems to be one where young women are really leading in a way that they haven’t had the opportunity to do in other spaces. Why do you think this is?
PV: Cannabis is currently a level playing field for those who enter. It’s a young and exciting industry and I feel like we are in the era of the female. There is still a glass ceiling and women still have to work harder, but we’ve come a long way.