Dr. Chanda Macias on Empowering the Next Generation of Women in Cannabis

The CEO of National Holistic Healing Center on playing catch-up with other industries

Dr. Chanda Macias, PhD, is a true cannabis pioneer: having spent years in biomedical research and developing her knowledge of medical marijuana, in 2015 she became the country's first Black woman medical cannabis operator as CEO of National Holistic Healing Center (NHHC), a medical marijuana dispensary in Washington, D.C. In addition, she is also CEO of Ilera Holistic Healthcare, where she helped make history twice in Louisiana with her partnership with Southern University—which became the first HBCU in the country to launch a hemp-based CBD, and then cannabis-based THC products. 

She additionally serves as chairwoman of the board of managers and CEO for Women Grow, the global leader in connecting, educating, inspiring, and empowering the next generation of women leaders in the cannabis and hemp industry, and as first vice chair of the National Cannabis Roundtable Board, dedicated to promoting common sense federal legislation, tax equity, and financial services reform. A wife and mother of four, Dr. Chanda has two degrees from Howard University (B.S. and PhD) and an MBA from Rutgers University. 

We spoke with Chanda for our Higher Calling series, where we chat with leaders in the cannabis space.

Chanda, tell us...

Where you grew up, and where you live now.

I come from a military family, so I grew up in a lot of different areas. Right now, I’m splitting my time between Louisiana and Washington, D.C. 

Your current role in the cannabis industry, and where you're based.

Regardless of my corporate title, I consider my primary role in the cannabis industry to be an educator and advocate for patients. Professionally, I wear several hats: I’m the CEO of National Holistic Healing Center in Washington, D.C. I'm also CEO of Ilera Holistic Healthcare in Louisiana, where we partner with Southern University, one of only two cannabis license holders in the state, to produce medical marijuana products for Louisiana patients. Additionally, I’m chairwoman of the board of managers and CEO for Women Grow.  

A story about the positive impact cannabis has had on your life.

Beyond all the unexpected doors it has opened for me professionally, it's all about seeing the real life changing effects that cannabis has had on people. Like when a cancer patient began taking cannabis and was able to go bowling with her family again—a simple pleasure she thought she had lost forever that cannabis returned to her. 

A favorite flower, edible, product, or brand.

The HOPE line of cannabis products for autism is one of our top sellers and a personal favorite for the way I've seen it bring new hope to autism patients, especially children and their families, who were looking for an alternative to pharmaceuticals.    

The biggest challenge cannabis marketers face today.

Prohibition. It puts a stranglehold on the industry from all sides: patient access, governmental oversight, entrepreneurship, interstate commerce, marketing and other engagement—you name it. Cannabis will continue to play catch-up to other industries for as long as we remain outlaws in the eyes of the federal government.  

One thing you're excited about right now in cannabis branding, partnerships or marketing.

What excites me now are the new partnerships that Ilera Holistic is forging to bring new options to patients in Louisiana. We’re combining Ilera's medical cannabis with other brands and technology our customers know and trust, like our recent partnership with PAX Labs, for example, to launch our first inhalable product, and with more on the way. 

A cannabis trade/social justice organization that you support.

I’m the first vice chair of the National Cannabis Roundtable Board, and I'm proud to be part of an organization that is dedicated to promoting common sense federal legislation, tax equity, and financial services reform. It's high time that state legal cannabis businesses receive the same treatment as non-cannabis businesses for issues like equitable access to banking and funding.  

A project you worked on recently that you're proud of.

Ilera Holistic was a driving force in the education and advocacy in Louisiana that resulted in the passage into state law of ACT No 286, which granted all Louisiana patients full access to medical cannabis and the right to discuss alternative healthcare options with their doctors by allowing any state-licensed physician to recommend medical marijuana to any of their patients to find relief for any condition. This was the largest expansion of the state program and helped to clear one of the largest obstacles to every Louisianan having the right to safe, effective cannabis medicine. I'm also advocating for a number of common sense cannabis legislations on both the state and federal levels. 

Someone else's project you admired recently.

Overall I've been impressed with New York State's adult-use rollout over the last year. I feel they are open to learning from other states' mistakes and are creating solutions instead of new problems, such as the governor's commitment to create a $200 million public/private fund towards industry equity in the state. 

Someone you admire in cannabis who's doing great things.

It’s impossible to name just one, but at the top of the list are the patients and advocates who have driven this industry from day one. They fought for the right, sometimes (and still) at personal or professional risk, that today, more Americans than ever can legally access safe and effective cannabis medicine. Beyond just the boardrooms, it is the day to day work of the community that will always be at the heart of this industry. 

What you'd be doing if you weren't in the cannabis industry.

I'd be back where I began: in scientific research, still looking to unlock answers that would help patients live better lives, very much like I am now. 

Higher Calling is a weekly series, publishing on Thursdays, where we chat with folks in the cannabis industry about their personal history and taste in cannabis and the future of cannabis marketing. For more about Higher Calling, and our Clio Cannabis program, please get in touch.

Profile picture for user Jessica MacAulay
Jessica MacAulay
Jessica MacAulay is a senior broadcast journalism student at the University of Colorado Boulder and a contributor to Muse by Clio.

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