Courtney Maltais on the Hope, Politics and Science of Cannabis
With close to a decade of professional experience in cannabis, Courtney Maltais has worked with industry leaders in manufacturing, cultivation and product formulation to create efficient and ethically sound practices for producing high-quality products.
In 2013, Maltais co-founded The Clear, the first cannabis distillate oil to market in the world. Maltais continues to work as chief botany officer of parent company Clear Cannabis Inc., with a focus on product development and educational outreach.
On a more personal level, Courtney is committed to honoring the legacy of cannabis through science and education. Through CM Botanical, a consultancy she founded in 2018, she is combining her passion for cannabis and her talents in science and writing to uplift others with a deeper understanding of what happens behind the microscope.
In addition, Maltais is a thought leader in the cannabis space, educating business owners, political leaders and consumers on cannabis science and technology. Maltais advises for the National Cannabis Industry Association, and has numerous published works on cannabis research and innovation.
We spoke with Courtney for our Higher Calling series, where we chat with leaders in the cannabis space.
Courtney, tell us...
Where you grew up, and where you live now.
I grew up in New Hampshire most of my life, only living briefly in Boston when I was attending Berklee College of Music to study film scoring before I switched my focus to biology and plant science. The East Coast played a large role in my fascination with nature, or more specifically botany—I spent most of my free time exploring the woods and wetlands, foraging for native herbs and watching local maple house workers tapping trees throughout the cold winters to make every grade of syrup you could ever imagine. This feels almost like a past life, when looking at where I live now. I uprooted to Los Angeles about seven years ago with the intent to begin a career working with cannabis. It may not be as quaint as my upbringing, but the desert coastal life certainly has so many rich layers and textures. I feel so connected to the wildlife and the culture out west; I feel so lucky to call this place my current home.
Your current role in the cannabis industry, and where you're based.
Currently, I am working as chief botany officer for Clear Cannabis Inc., assisting them in product development and connecting with state licensees to maintain The Clear standard in manufacturing and production of cannabis concentrates. For the past two years I have been advising for the National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA), and more specifically, helping put together white papers and assisting in regulatory efforts with a focus on efficacy, sustainability and civil rights in the cannabis industry. When I am not working with The Clear or lobbying on state and federal levels for cannabis, I help support CM Botanical. It's a cannabis consulting firm I founded in 2018 that's focused on educational outreach and science writing. I wanted to fuse my love for learning with my passion for cannabis in a way that gives people the tools to deeply understand the science behind this plant and inspire a more playful and enticing approach to STEM topics in everyday life.
Your earliest cannabis memory.
I had started consuming cannabis around the age of 16, and confided in my mother as I felt safe to connect with her on this. Little did I know that she used to grow her own outdoor crops when she was younger! This connection through cannabis allowed me to have a deeper intimacy with her that I am so grateful for. She brought me to a smoke shop, where we purchased my first glass pipe, and she proceeded to give me the most honest and thoughtful advice on safe cannabis use—which at the time was still illegal in New Hampshire. She made sure I understood how to be discreet, how to purchase it, and how to identify the flower is safe to consume. Her only request was that she knew where I kept it so she could have a little puff from time to time. It was a very special connection we had when it came to transparency, and I feel cannabis strengthened this bond even more.
A story about the positive impact cannabis has had on your life.
Aside from the connections I have made with so many incredible and brilliant people because of this plant, I also have a very personal health history with cannabis. In my late teens, I went through a traumatic life experience that ended up prompting an autoimmune response. It took five intense years of tests, illness, take-home exams, doctor's notes and late nights in urgent care before I was diagnosed with celiac at the age of 21. There were not many things I could do to manage the symptoms as I began my healing process, but cannabis was a pillar in the restoration of my health. Having access to cannabis gave me the ability to live a better quality of life as I undid years of autoimmune flare-ups that went unchecked. I believe it helped stabilize my immune response, while also helping with pain management, mood stability and appetite. Even to this day I still seek cannabis when going through any immune system flare-ups, and I couldn't imagine trying to get through those days without it.
A favorite flower, edible, product or brand.
I am quite partial to The Clear's new Reserve Line in Nevada, made using all cannabis-derived and strain-specific flavor profiles (but maybe I am a little biased, ha!). Outside of The Clear product line, I have always been a big fan of Om Edibles bath and topical products—they are a women-owned and operated legacy brand out of Northern California. I have also been a dedicated fan and friend of IC Collective and their incredible chem-genetics flower varieties—no strains have ever left me so uplifted and physically in such a state of bliss.
The biggest challenge cannabis marketers face today.
One of the more lofty challenges we have been facing as a multistate operator (MSO) is the variations of regulations from state to state. Once more scientific evidence comes out, and we are able to truly define what types of products, dosing and ingredients can be used, this will become easier to navigate. Until then, there is a need for industry leaders to collaborate on these issues and offer as much insight as possible. Many brands want to keep their plans close to their chest, as this has been the way the industry has been for decades. But with so many outside corporations coming into the space, it is important for the leaders in cannabis to work together to create an equitable space for medium- and small-sized businesses to succeed. Otherwise we may see the end of niche products and retailers, similar to the e-cig/tobacco industry.
One thing you're excited about right now in cannabis branding, partnerships or marketing.
We have faced so many changes in everyday life due to Covid-19, creating a place to pivot and adapt to life in a pandemic. I am very optimistic for the amount of online resources available now for professionals and consumers to access from their own homes. There are affordable ways for people to connect and learn about cannabis now—in fact, I have been working toward building resources for people to garden their own cannabis at home. Even beyond the hobbyist market, there is a new space opening up for online formal education in cannabis that I believe will bring a new wave of technology and understanding to the industry through university research programs and graduate study-level programs available throughout the U.S.
A cannabis trade/social justice organization that you support.
The National Expungement Week (NEW) campaign was launched in September, and I find this to be such a relevant initiative for the cannabis industry. NEW is offering a number of resources through its online platform to offer legal aid for individuals across the U.S. to have their records cleared of non-violent criminal convictions. Currently, there are thousands of individuals that are still in prison or suffering the consequences of having records of cannabis-related crimes. It is organizations like NEW that help repair the injustice against communities adversely affected by the War on Drugs, offer resources for healing these traumas, and help educate on how to create a more inclusive industry together. There have been a number of cannabis organizations collaborating with NEW, and I hope to see many more offering resources and support in the future.
A recent project you're proud of.
I had the opportunity to speak with Congress members in Washington, D.C., when I was invited to speak at the NCIA Lobby Days event, and had such positive results from the experience. We were able to get support from both Republican and Democratic representatives on the initiatives we were there to represent. We specifically were lobbying for the SAFE Banking Act and Small Business Tax Equity Act of 2019: two bills that would create opportunities for cannabis businesses to do business with banks, acquire business loans, and be able to write off expenses similar to any other legal business within the U.S. The current laws in place limit cannabis businesses, as they date back to a time when restrictions were in place to keep illegal businesses from getting tax write-offs or access to banking. We are still waiting for these bills to advance, but luckily the support is overwhelmingly in our favor. Getting to speak on behalf of the industry at this level was such an honor, and really gave me a perspective on how my voice can truly make an impact for so many in our industry. I look forward to future engagements with NCIA and other organizations working to make a safer and more equitable industry for all people.
Someone else's project you admired recently.
I have been following Tree Femme Collective for a few years now and I have always looked to this organization as a focal point in creating an inclusive, healing and empowering platform for Black, Indigenous and people of color, womxn, and non-binary creative and cannabis professionals to connect and educate on cannabis, wellness and culture. It was founded by @jeanandjane420 and continues to grow. Currently the collective's organizers are offering many resources on how to take action in supporting BLM and other civil justice initiatives—but they continue to offer so many resources for health and vitality in your everyday life. I have admired @jeanandjane420's focus, as well as her rich background and skills that give her so much authority in the cannabis community.
Someone you admire in cannabis who's doing great things.
Dragonfly Earth Medicine created the DEM Pure Certification a few years back and works with a consortium of farms in Northern California to create cultivation/agricultural practices that are beyond USDA organic—because they are restorative and truly as sustainable as farming can get. They follow strict criteria that focuses on local sourcing of compost and nutrient materials, while also reducing the amount of resources on their farm, and creating ways to reuse waste materials in the garden and in the production of cannabis products. I support their efforts on regional sourcing and their practice of permaculture farming, while also working with their community to support one another in thriving both in the garden and in their business. I hope to see more shifts towards sustainable agriculture, as our quality of life depends on it!
A movie, TV show, music or food you most enjoy pairing with cannabis.
I am always in the mood for a good horror or sci-fi film, and if I get the munchies you can bet I will definitely be munching on a Tony's Chocolonely Honey Almond Chocolate Bar. It's fair trade, and they do incredible work to make sure that all their business practices are ethical and take care of the farmers, processors and everyone involved in the production of their chocolate bars. Definitely makes it a guiltless pleasure!
What you'd be doing if you weren't in the cannabis industry.
It's really hard to say where I would be, but I would likely be working as a science journalist or perhaps an astro-biologist, culturing sheets of plant cells in zero gravity. These sorts of career daydreams feel odd these days, as I feel there is so much work to be done here on the ground, where my focus could serve the greater good. I am glad that all paths led me to where I am working in cannabis, as I feel I can align with my passions and also give back something valuable to the world, and hopefully leave it a happier, healthier and better place.