Masha Turbovsky Belinson on Making Medical Cannabis Education Bilingual

ACS Laboratory's head of corporate dev shares her deeply personal journey with cannabis

For over 20 years, Masha Turbovsky Belinson has resolved major challenges for Fortune 500 companies in the areas of omnichannel marketing, e-commerce, application development, compliance, talent acquisition, resource planning and brand activations. She brings that passion and experience to cannabis and psychedelics.

For the last three years at ACS Laboratory, Masha stays on top of legal, scientific and product development, helping to drive corporate growth through client acquisition and retention. ACS Laboratory tests cannabis in Florida and hemp from 48 states and 16 countries worldwide. Masha co-founded Extract Collective and CannaFamilia; both focus on patient navigation and cannabis wellness education through experiential events and in a post-Covid world.

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

Masha, tell us...

Where you grew up, and where you live now.

I was born in Kiev, Ukraine, immigrated to Philadelphia, PA, and grew up there until I went off to college. In 2016, I moved to Boca Raton, FL, where ACS Laboratory's corporate office is located. I like to joke and say that Boca Raton is the epicenter of the Florida cannabis industry, but in reality, that's really what I'd like to see it become.

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

My current role is corporate development for ACS Laboratory. It is my job to understand the science of cannabinoids as well as compliance regulations across the industry and how they impact businesses overall.

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

In 2012, a week before my 39th birthday, I was diagnosed with stage two breast cancer. I had three tumors in my left breast. I knew it was because of the stress and toxicity in my life. I knew I was putting everyone ahead of myself and that I was conflicted and unhappy. I started doing research on causes and cures. I found a private Facebook group called "Cannabis Oil Success Stories," and after reading these stories about how people cured their tumors, even stage four cancer with cannabis oil, I knew I had to try this option rather than chemo and radiation. I also completely changed my diet and cut out sugar and other toxins. I started practicing daily prayer, kundalini chanting and meditation. I ordered a container of Rick Simpson Oil (RSO) and started dosing daily.

There was no way I was going to pursue the traditional medical protocol, which treated the disease and not the person; and so, I took my life into my own hands and transformed it spiritually, emotionally and physically. On November 28, 2012, I had a double mastectomy and reconstruction—I was only 40 years old. I faced my bewildered surgical oncologist who scratched his head in wonder when he saw the analysis of the breast tissue post-surgery—the tumors had shrunk to nothing. "I don’t know what you did," he said "but you don't need chemo or radiation. Your tumors are gone!"

I knew that someday I would work in the cannabis industry and that no patient should have to go through what I went through medically and emotionally. No one should have to experiment with untested medicine, figure out how to dose themselves and then have to be ashamed of the stigma in front of their friends and families. I knew this was my calling and what I wanted to do. It was my purpose to help burn through the stigma and re-brand cannabis as medicine.

A favorite flower, edible, product, or brand.

Having the advantage of being able to read the lab results gives me the unique lens of knowing exactly what is in every product. I like a chemovar that has a full spectrum of cannabinoids and terpenes. Beyond THC potency, the ideal flower for me would also contain CBD and THCV. For terpenes, I love the gassy piney stinky smells. I also look for humulene because it helps with appetite suppression and beta-caryophyllene because it helps with inflammation. Specifically, I like more heirloom chemovars like Acapulco Gold, Durban Poison, and Sour Diesel. As far as edibles, I like low dose edibles like Kiva mints or vegan 10 mg gummies from multiple brands.

The biggest challenge cannabis marketers face today.

Brand loyalty. Brands are fighting for the consumers' attention because there are so many different types of products, it's almost overwhelming. It has become a price war or a THC potency competition. Many new consumers/patients still need help navigating. In less mature markets, like Florida, they went from prohibition to dozens if not hundreds of choices. As for long term, the cannabis industry is still highly stigmatized and restricted when it comes to making claims, and messaging and advertising platforms. Cannabis brands have to find a way to educate consumers beyond THC potency by explaining the medical benefits of the different chemovars, all while keeping the education interesting and developing brand loyalty.

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

On the marketing side, I'm excited that cannabis is more mainstream. The mainstream media has started to portray cannabis in a positive way and there are more studies available recognizing the efficacy of cannabis for certain conditions, especially Covid symptoms. I'm also excited about the amount of analytical data that is available now. We have the ability to partner with our clients to use their test results as a way to help market and differentiate their products leading to easier patient navigation and brand loyalty.

A cannabis trade/social justice organization that you support.

A couple of the groups I support are the Women in Cannabis Study and Women Employed in Cannabis because they both give more visibility to empowering women in the cannabis space, highlight important data and connect women-run businesses. I also want to support the Last Prisoner Project because they aim not only to have records expunged for minor cannabis crimes for people whom the industry is built on, but also because it was founded out of the belief that no one should remain incarcerated for cannabis offenses. We owe it to them to make these wrongs right for people that have been at the forefront of creating this industry. 

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

I worked on a project with ACS Laboratory to translate Certificate of Analyses into Spanish. This allows Spanish-speaking patients to be able to read what is in their cannabis test results. Thirteen percent of the United States population speaks Spanish at home, and 26 percent in the state of Florida. Everything in our current society seems to have a bilingual option with the exception of medical cannabis education, so we are doing what we can to make this option available. 

The second project is in the popular minor cannabinoid category, where I helped develop safety testing guidelines, making ACS Laboratory the only lab in the country that tests for all the white metals used to make HHC as well as all three analytes for the potency of HHC. If you have not heard about HHC yet, get ready! It's the legal bridge between cannabinoids and psychedelics.

Someone else's project you admired recently.

Jennifer Wetzel's The Women in Cannabis Study is so amazing. I recently participated and was one of the sponsors of the study because it has so much valuable data and gives more visibility for women in the cannabis industry. These kinds of actionable industry insights are critical and this study made the data digestible.

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

I admire Jane West. She is an early pioneer and visionary for the cannabis industry, founder of Women Grow and creator of a super cool female-focused accessory line. She is a big advocate for social justice and working with smaller businesses. I admire how she communicates, her equity crowdfunding strategy and her business strategy of successfully getting distribution in many stores across the country and in Canada.

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

I would be in the psychedelics industry. I would study mycology, functional and psychedelic mushrooms, and their benefits on mental and physical health. We'll eventually see the psychedelic mushroom industry converge with cannabis for micro dosing and social dosing. I'm excited to see what is to come, and to be part of developing analytical testing standards to achieve precision dosing for psychedelic mushrooms and other entheogens.

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.

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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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