Lezli Engelking: Foundation Of Cannabis Unified Standards
She’s always been a woman seeking to make an impact, but it wasn’t until she stumbled upon the cannabis industry that she really found her avenue to do it. Kind-hearted, tenacious, and relentless, Lezli Engelking of FOCUS, is not only seeking to make a major difference, she’s pursuing the daunting task of establishing a higher standard of regulation and better business practice that will protect everyone partaking in legal cannabis. Ferociously enthusiastic, Lezli is making FOCUS the center point of better business in the cannabis industry.
What was the deciding factor for you to join this particular industry?
Unlike most entrepreneurs who made a conscious decision to enter the cannabis industry, I became involved more by accident and opportunity. I spent the previous 12+ years in the pharmaceutical industry, working closely with physicians to improve patients’ lives. I loved helping to improve the health of others and would have stayed on that course, had changes in the regulatory environment not taken away my ability to help. I was taking some time deciding what I wanted to do with the rest of my life, when a friend asked me to take part in an application for a medical cannabis license in Arizona. As Executive Director at Bloom Dispensaries flagship location, I was able to interact with patients on a daily basis and hear their incredible, life changing experiences they were having with cannabis. I quickly realized the amazing benefits and huge potential of cannabis – and all of the accompanying public health and consumer safety risks in a rapidly developing industry without any nationally accepted, accredited standards.
I was able to interact with patients on a daily basis and hear their incredible, life changing experiences they were having with cannabis.
What skills from your previous experiences helped you in what you are doing now?
I truly believe everything in my life until this point has been preparation for FOCUS. Growing up with the Executive Director of the Mental Health Association for a mom, I saw how she fought tirelessly against the stigma of depression and for mental health parity; It taught me at a very young age, not only about compassion and giving back, but also about the importance of tenacity and politics. Working in London, I became keenly aware of how much of an impact each and every decision has on the successful operation of a business regardless of its size. The years I spent in advertising and marketing taught me the invaluable lesson that every market, every consumer, every human is unique, and brings along their own set of beliefs, needs, and preconceptions. It was working in the highly regulated and compliance-driven pharmaceutical industry that really paved the way for FOCUS. The pharmaceutical industry wasn’t always so highly regulated – they arrived where they are today because they made a lot of mistakes along the way. Mistakes where real people paid the price, sometimes even with their lives, which is why I am so passionate about the unique position those of us at the forefront of the cannabis industry are so lucky to find ourselves in. We have the opportunity to learn from the mistakes that the pharmaceutical industry made, instead of repeating them, by implementing quality and safety standards to protect consumers and the public early on.
Right now, where are you guiding your passion and energy?
100% of my passion and energy is being driven towards improving consumer safety and public health in the cannabis industry.
Describe your work ethic to me in one word.
What do you consider your weakness as an entrepreneur? Your strength?
My innate nature to trust people and take them at their word is what some would call a weakness. I choose to see the good in everyone and in addition to it being who I am, it is also how I choose to live my life. I chose to trust – and sometimes that means I am disappointed… Only sometimes though! I have found, more often than not, when given the chance, people will pleasantly surprise you! One of my favorite quotes is…
“The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them.” –Ernest Hemingway
My strength? My ability to motivate and excite people… I am often told my energy is contagious.
How are you differentiating yourself from the competition?
I am a firm believer in the power of teamwork and nowhere is that more evident that in my work with FOCUS. I have an amazing business partner, James Keyes, who is my perfect complement with his impressive and extensive background in the standards industry. Together, we have a depth and breadth of knowledge that is unparalleled; Our joint experience and skills are what is required to take on a project of this scope.
The second factor that differentiates FOCUS from any similar efforts that have been previously made, is that FOCUS follows all American National Standards Institute’s (ANSI) Essential Requirements for Standards Development Organizations in everything we do. This is extremely important, because it is required by ANSI of any organizations wanting to accredit their standards.
For those not familiar with ‘standards’ language, like myself a very short time ago, ANSI is the Gold Star in the Standards world. One example of an Essential Requirement is that our Standards Creation Committee must represent a “balanced stakeholder input.” We selected members of the cannabis industry, regulators, standards industry, researchers, pharmacologists, consumers, patients, and the general public to develop a world-class quality and safety standard applicable to the needs of the market that will also address the unmet needs of regulators and the health and safety of consumers and the public.
At FOCUS, we are committed to partnering with the industry and outside stakeholders as we develop our internationally accredited standards. A truly balanced, market driven standard that will protect the industry, the consumers, and the public is something I take great pride in being able to provide and look forward to watching the impact it will make.
How do you find inspiration in this industry? What have you found that has inspired you?
What a terrible question! Inspiration is everywhere!
I suppose if I have to limit it to one thing, I find inspiration most through helping others. Ensuring patients and consumers have the ability to purchase a safe product; Watching peoples’ lives improved through this amazing plant; Or even through the fast-growing businesses it has created. I am inspired by the challenge of overcoming parents’ fear of this industry by improving the way our current industry markets their products. And one day, hopefully very soon, knowing that I will no longer be reading news stories about some reporter who overdosed on an edible or about how 30 labs tested the same sample and all came out with different results. These are things that are easily within our power to change at FOCUS.
I often hear people in the cannabis industry complaining about the naysayers of cannabis – the people that are out there protesting new initiatives and the like. It is the responsibility of each and every one of us in the cannabis industry to produce safe, quality products so that there are no more stories like this for people to feed on. I find inspiration in developing standards that will help companies ensure a safe quality product gets to market every time and in the fact that FOCUS will play a role in the transition of cannabis from the shadows into the mainstream.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever gotten?
I am absolutely blessed to have such many amazing, smart, wonderful people in my life that help and mentor me. I can truly say I could’ve never gotten where I am today without them. When I think about certain words of advice that I carry with me all of the time and that really define who I am, the words that come to mind are actually from Maya Angelou, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
It is the responsibility of each and every one of us in the cannabis industry to produce safe, quality products so that there are no more stories like this for people to feed on.
What’s your newest knowledge about the marijuana industry?
One of the things I love most about this industry is that every single day, some new and exciting information is released regarding cannabis – from the Surgeon General’s recent admission that cannabis deserves a deeper look, to the economic and social benefits coming to fruition from our work in creating a legitimate cannabis marketplace in the past few years. Watching these efforts prosper is fantastic! However, continuing to improve and provide the principles needed to take this industry to the next level is the newest challenge we currently face as a unified industry today.
If you could rewind time to 5 years ago, how would your business be different?
The only regret I have is not starting sooner. I recognized the need for an organization like FOCUS immediately after entering the cannabis industry and began discussing the possibility of creating it shortly thereafter. If I could go back, I wouldn’t have allowed myself to become so consumed with helping Bloom’s patients instead of recognizing the bigger impact I could have had on public health by stepping away earlier to develop accredited industry standards as I am today with FOCUS.
What will we be seeing from you and FOCUS in the coming future?
Our International Pilot Program commences this coming Spring of 2015. FOCUS standards will be piloted across some of the best cannabis businesses in the world. Our esteemed Standards Creation Committee will work to establish the principles and guidelines that numerous cannabis companies will follow during this pilot. Upon completion, we will collect our data, redefine our metrics, and publish the world’s first accredited standard for cannabis. This is something truly amazing, even unbelievable just a few years ago, and a great milestone for our industry as a whole. Anyone who cares about the long-term viability of their cannabis business should be equally as excited about this project.