Nancy Whiteman of Wana Brands on Industry-Leading Edibles and Cannabis for Good

Inside the hurdles and promises of the business

Nancy Whiteman, dubbed as "The Queen of Legal Weed" by Inc. and "The Martha Stewart of Edibles" by Entrepreneur, is CEO of Wana Brands, a producer of top-selling cannabis-infused products including edibles, vapes and extended release capsules, four different CBD/THC ratios as well as a variety of different dosages, onset times and duration of effects.

Wana Brands is ranked the No. 1 edibles brand in sales revenue in the U.S., according to the BDSA 2019 Brand Share Report. Nancy leads the company's strategic vision and has been instrumental in Wana Brands' growth into new and emerging markets. She also directs the development of partnerships and licensing agreements domestically and internationally. 

Prior to Wana, Nancy was a principal with The Whiteman Group, a sales and marketing consultancy, and previously held a range of marketing and business development positions, including vp of marketing and new corporate ventures for the Paul Revere Insurance Group in Massachusetts.

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

Nancy, tell us...

Where you grew up, and where you live now.

I was born in Chicago and grew up in White Plains, New York. Since 1996, I've lived in Boulder, Colorado.

Your current role in the cannabis industry.

I'm the CEO of Boulder-based Wana Brands, North America's largest cannabis-infused products manufacturer. Wana products are sold in dispensaries across nine states, with more states coming online soon. Our products are also available in Canada, where we are the No. 1 cannabis edible. I am also CEO for Wana Wellness, our hemp-derived CBD brand.

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

At a recent industry event, I spoke about the future of cannabis edibles. After the presentation, one of the attendees approached me during the networking portion and told me he had come to the event to personally thank me for saving his son's life. His 17-year-old son had leukemia and was undergoing chemo, with side effects that took a severe toll on the teen's morale and quality of life. Long story short, they discovered Wana Sour Gummies made all the difference during the son's treatment. The dad reported his son was successfully completing his chemo with fewer side effects and significantly improved quality of life thanks to the gummies. Cannabis is a challenging industry to work in, but stories like these keep me going. We're truly making a difference in people's lives. 

A favorite flower, edible, product, or brand.

My favorite products are Wana gummies, of course! As a company, we put all our resources into creating a best-in-class cannabis edible that delivers a consistent, enjoyable experience. After all, that's what most consumers, including myself, are looking for—a quality, predictable product that never disappoints. When it comes to specific products, Wana Exotic Yuzu 2:1 ratio gummies are my favorite for a good night's sleep. I enjoy the Wana Quick Peach Bellini Sativa gummies for social activities.

The biggest challenge cannabis marketers face today.

As long as cannabis remains federally illegal, marketers face the challenge of working across different states with constantly changing regulations. These regulations touch all parts of the brand, from how we communicate with consumers to packaging design. For example, in Colorado we can include pictures of fruit on the packaging. However, in Illinois and Maryland, labels cannot contain images. Each state also sets its own regulations around advertising, promotions and merchandise such as T-shirts and hats. It is a constant juggle, with our operations and marketing in each state built around that state's unique regulatory environment. 

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

I'm excited about the innovations coming out of Wana's partnerships with companies including Azuca and Quicksilver Scientific. We worked with both of these industry leaders to integrate nano-emulsion technology into our products. Azuca's technology powers Wana Quick Gummies; this proprietary technology transforms the potential of our gummies, providing effects similar to inhaled cannabis products with a 5-15 minute rapid onset and a shorter duration. This fall, we're building on the success of our Wana Quick Fast-Acting Gummie line with the roll-out of our Fast-Acting Tincture, powered by Quicksilver Scientific's delivery system, which provides more options for consumers who prefer ingestible products but don't want the delayed onset and long duration of conventional edibles. Our tinctures are sugar-free, while our gummies have 3 grams of sugar, less than a serving of salad dressing. 

A cannabis trade/social justice organization that you support and why.

Wana supports the Last Prisoner Project's advocacy and restorative justice work as a "Partner for Freedom." We face an incredible irony in the industry, with thousands of people incarcerated for merely possessing cannabis, the same plant that we've built our businesses around. Living in a fully legal state, I think it can be easy to forget that simple possession can still land someone in jail in many states. In fact, in 2019, more people were arrested for cannabis than for all violent crimes combined, according to recently released FBI data. Over 90 percent of those arrests were for simple possession. Reform is long overdue, and organizations like LPP are critical to ending the racist War on Drugs.

A recent project you're proud of.

I'm proud of our recently launched initiative, providing trusted resources and guidelines to address systemic racism and social equity throughout the industry. We're applying these practices in all areas of our operations, and are also partnering with organizations like Black CannaBusiness magazine to elevate the work being done by Black cannabis entrepreneurs. We all have a responsibility to build a more equitable, inclusive industry moving forward—it's something I think about every day in my leadership role at Wana.

I've also been involved in helping to author The National Cannabis Industry Association Gender Parity White Paper Series, which I believe is long overdue. The project will provide a framework for holistically addressing gender parity across all areas of the industry, with special consideration given to minority women and the LGBTQ community. With the industry poised for tremendous growth in the next few years, we have a responsibility to ensure that women have a place at the table, with an equal shot at opportunity.

Someone else's project you admired recently.

I really admire the mission of the new Cannabis Impact Fund. Its pillars are racial justice, environmental sustainability and community engagement. The Impact Fund is focusing the next 12 months solely on racial justice efforts within and outside of cannabis.

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

I want to give another shout-out to Mary Bailey and Sarah Gersen and the whole talented team at the Last Prisoner Project. This organization is relatively new but has already made a huge impact on getting people who are still incarcerated for minor, non-violent cannabis offenses out of prison. I especially admire that their work goes beyond release and focuses on expungement and successful entry as well.

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

Wellness is always at the front of my mind. If I weren't in cannabis, I'd likely be working in the consumer food and beverage industry, utilizing the same food science that we rely upon at Wana to create healthy products made with natural ingredients. Consumers are increasingly seeking healthy food alternatives, including low-carb products made without artificial sweeteners. While naturally derived sweeteners like monk fruit and sugar alcohols exist, relatively few consumer products incorporate them in a good way. I believe there's a lot of market potential in creating low-carb jams, jellies, sauces and other products that can out-compete their conventional counterparts.

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.

Tim Nudd
Tim Nudd was editor in chief of the Clio Awards and editor of Muse by Clio from 2018 to 2023.

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