“Be aware of the challenges.” With Len Giancola & Nycole Cummings

A big piece of advice for this industry is to be aware of the banking challenges. Like I mentioned, I was blown away by the difficulties I faced. Being in a cash-only industry affects the way you pay employees, vendors and the way you do taxes, among other things. As a part of my series […]

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A big piece of advice for this industry is to be aware of the banking challenges. Like I mentioned, I was blown away by the difficulties I faced. Being in a cash-only industry affects the way you pay employees, vendors and the way you do taxes, among other things.

As a part of my series about strong women leaders in the cannabis industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Nycole Cummings.

Nycole has been involved in the cannabis industry since 2014 and has been an owner and board member for The Grove since the company was founded in 2015. Her expertise helped the company secure six marijuana licenses, including one cultivation, one production, two dispensary, and two distribution licenses. A 19-year Las Vegas resident, she is a founding board member of TGIG, LLC, The Grove’s parent company, and is the company’s third-largest owner.

She is currently the executive vice president of accounting for Focus Property Group, a large master-planned community and land developer, and its many subsidiaries, where she manages all financial management operations and is involved in all major corporate decisions and strategy. Cummings is responsible for all day-to-day accounting procedures, as well as preparing budgets, cash flow projections and financial forecasts, and providing analysis for ongoing financial and operating strategies.

When she’s not working or spending time with her daughter Ruby, Cummings is active in the LGBTQ community and donates her time, talent and resources to several nonprofit organizations. She is the treasurer of Aid for Aids of Nevada (AFAN), is a board member of the Ritter Charitable Trust, and she actively supports MS Society, Cure 4 the Kids, the Candlelighters Childhood Cancer Foundation of Nevada, ALS, Boys & Girls Club of Southern Nevada, Olive Crest, Shade Tree, and Make-A-Wish Foundation.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to the cannabis industry?

I got involved in the cannabis industry in 2014 when it was first emerging in Nevada. The development and real estate industry, which I have been a part of for 17 years, was facing many trials and tribulations due to the market crash. Meanwhile, there was so much excitement and interest in this new industry that was developing in Nevada. I had the opportunity to join The Grove, and I welcomed the chance to take on a new and exciting challenge in my career.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

The most interesting story would have to be a collection of different experiences I’ve had due to the lack of banking for marijuana companies. When I decided to enter the cannabis industry, I knew banking would be a challenge, but I was definitely not prepared for how difficult it really is on an every-day basis. There are many instances that made me realize that this was not going to be so much harder than I thought. For example, before opening our business, we were able to operate with investor funds, utilizing traditional banking. However, once we opened for business we were told to close all accounts and everything from that point forward became cash only. It was at that time that I discovered many barriers that other businesses don’t face, like paying employees and vendors with cash or money orders. I also had problems with my personal banking accounts.

The banking challenges have taught me to be adaptable and take problems one step at a time. I didn’t anticipate some of the issues I faced, but my team and I were able to take a step back and figure out what needed to be done in order to solve the problems at hand.

Do you have a funny story about how someone you knew reacted when they first heard you were getting into the cannabis industry?

This is not a funny story per se, but it’s definitely the most memorable reaction I’ve experienced when I first entered the industry. Many of my friends were unaware of my venture into the cannabis industry. I had dinner plans with a couple of friends who quickly became inquisitive as I arrived not only late but also bringing with me, or rather on me, the lingering smell of cannabis. After telling them about my new business endeavor I was somewhat surprised to receive comments, particularly from one friend, such as “but you’re a mom” and “what if your kid gets into products.” I explained to her that I have, as many people do, items in my household that are far more dangerous for my child such as, prescription medication, knives, alcohol, and eventide pods. It’s about being a responsible parent. Needless to say, my friend didn’t approve and had no problem letting me know.

Approximately three years after that conversation, this same friend reached out and told me her cousin was diagnosed with a brain tumor. She met with me at the dispensary and was given information on various products that may possibly help her cousin with pain, nausea, anxiety, and sleeping. I received a call from her a week later. I was happy to hear the products were helping and that it was night and day compared to the prescribed opiates her cousin was taking. She said that upon taking cannabis her cousin was sitting up, talking, eating and able to walk to the restroom unassisted as opposed to being lethargic, not having an appetite and needing assistance walking to the restroom. Fortunately, my friend was able to see first-hand the positive effects of cannabis. She apologized for her initial reaction.

This story is a reminder that we’re slowly breaking down the stigma of cannabis by educating people about its benefits and providing products that help people. It makes all the challenges worth it.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

I am extremely fortunate as I have many people I am grateful for, including my family, friends, and coaches who have helped me throughout my life. Their constant support and lessons have helped shape who I am today.

I’m grateful for the work ethic my father passed on to me, as it has been crucial in my career. Also, having worked for and with John Ritter, founder, and CEO of Focus Property Group, for more than 17 years has been an invaluable experience, not only in business but also in philanthropy.

Are you working on any new or exciting projects now? How do you think that will help people?

We’re always in search of new opportunities for growth and the chance to share our knowledge of cannabis and high-quality products with more and more people.

Our line of edibles, VERT Unlimited, was recently voted “Best Cannabis Product” in Las Vegas for 2019, and we’re excited to be adding chocolates to this line of products. We can’t wait for our customers to get their hands on these treats.

Ok. Thank you for all that. Let’s now jump to the main core of our interview. Despite great progress that has been made we still have a lot more work to do to achieve gender parity in this industry. According to this report in Entrepreneur, less than 25 percent of cannabis businesses are run by women. In your opinion or experience, what 3 things can be done by a) individuals b) companies and/or c) society to support greater gender parity moving forward?

The unique thing about the cannabis industry is that it’s new and being built from the ground up. This is a rare opportunity for women, as well as minorities and entrepreneurs, to cement our roles as business owners and leaders as we shape the industry. We can set the standard for gender equality in cannabis. We need to consciously work together to support one another, mentor other women, and make it a priority to form connections with other women, in business and everyday life.

The woman can benefit from trusting, listening to and taking advice from women who have been there, done that. Now more than ever women need to reverse the stereotype that women don’t support other women. I believe more women should try to mentor other women rather than compete against them.

Businesses can show support by addressing unconscious bias and incorporating training programs to help team members recognize their own implicit bias in order to assist in making fairer decisions. Implementing flexibility for all parents with family-friendly policies, providing equal pay and setting targets for having women in leadership roles also are great steps businesses can take towards gender parity.

You are a “Cannabis Insider”. If you had to advise someone about 5 non intuitive things one should know to succeed in the cannabis industry, what would you say? Can you please give a story or an example for each.

To start, knowledge is key in the cannabis industry. Strive to gain as much knowledge and insight as possible. This leads to the next piece of advice: it’s okay to ask. This is a new and evolving industry, and there’s always new information, changing rules and regulations and more. There may be times where you need to reach out to someone for help.

Also, staying up to date on legislative changes is crucial. These are changes that can affect your business, so you want to know what’s going on.

A big piece of advice for this industry is to be aware of the banking challenges. Like I mentioned, I was blown away by the difficulties I faced. Being in a cash-only industry affects the way you pay employees, vendors and the way you do taxes, among other things.

Lastly, I advise those in the industry to be adaptable. We’re in an industry that will continue to change and we have to be ready in order to be successful.

Can you share 3 things that most excite you about the cannabis industry?

I’m excited to see the research aspect of the industry taking a step in the right direction, and I hope to see more and more progress in that area. There also are many other things to be excited about in this industry, like the business opportunities for entrepreneurs and the benefits local communities will receive through the industry’s tax revenue. For me, the best part about the industry is that there is an alternative for people who may otherwise rely on opioids. Also, I enjoy seeing the industry’s growth and the breakdown of the stigma of cannabis.

Can you share 3 things that most concern you about the industry? If you had the ability to implement 3 ways to reform or improve the industry, what would you suggest?

There are still many areas that need improvement and would allow the cannabis industry to flourish if reformed. In Nevada, there’s a need for tax reform on 280E, which prevents cannabis businesses from taking regular business deductions and raises the potential for the tax liability. We need to look at ways to improve this because this tax law can greatly affect businesses in this industry.

Also, as I mentioned before, the banking situation in the industry makes running a business so much more difficult. We simply need to be given access to banking.

A big concern for anyone entering this industry is the federal recourses. While cannabis is legal in many states, there is always that fear that the federal government can shut businesses down and even pursue legal action against business owners. The industry will be at ease if marijuana is federally legalized.

Additionally, I would also love to see reform in cannabis access for veterans. Again, this is something that may be solved if cannabis is legalized federally. Veterans should have the option to choose alternatives to help them with ailments.

What are your thoughts about federal legalization of cannabis? If you could speak to your Senator, what would be your most persuasive argument regarding why they should or should not pursue federal legalization?

Like the majority of Americans, I support the legalization of cannabis. Taxes collected from the legal sale of cannabis support important public programs such as law enforcement, school programs, drug treatment, and mental health centers and youth mentoring, just to name a few. The cannabis industry is also creating jobs. New Frontier Data estimates that the number of people employed in the cannabis industry is expected to reach 1.63 million by 2025 if cannabis is federally legalized.

Today, cigarettes are legal, but they are heavily regulated, highly taxed, and they are somewhat socially marginalized. Would you like cannabis to have a similar status to cigarettes or different? Can you explain?

Absolutely not. Cigarettes have no medicinal benefit whatsoever, and smoking cigarettes is the top risk factor for lung cancer and a major cause of heart disease. Cannabis, on the other hand, can help alleviate a number of conditions such as cancer, MS, chronic pain, nausea, PTSD, and numerous other conditions.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

I actually have a “life lesson book,” which is Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom. My favorite quote is, “The little things, I can obey. The big things — how we think, what we value — those you must choose yourself. You can’t let anyone — or any society — determine those for you.”

This quote has been a big part of my life. It has taught me to speak up for what I believe in and to stand up for what I think is right even when those around me don’t agree. This book is full of life lessons, and I recommend it to anyone who hasn’t read it.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I would love to see a movement for cannabis research. As I mentioned earlier, there have been positive steps toward more research, but there’s so much more to be done. We’re scratching the surface on what cannabis can do, and there’s so much more to discover. We need to learn the good and the bad from its benefits, to whether there are potential side effects or long term effects and much more. I’m eager to see more cannabis research and what we learn from it.

Thank you so much for the time you spent with this. We wish you only continued success!

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