Dahlia Mertens: “Weed, it’s just a plant! It’s so good for everything”

THINK POSITIVE THOUGHTS! MIND OVER MATTER — Our minds are very powerful, and our thoughts largely control how we feel. When we become conscious of our thought patterns and realize when we are having negative thoughts, we can choose to change what we are thinking. The vast majority of the scenarios we worry about never happen. Why […]

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THINK POSITIVE THOUGHTS! MIND OVER MATTER — Our minds are very powerful, and our thoughts largely control how we feel. When we become conscious of our thought patterns and realize when we are having negative thoughts, we can choose to change what we are thinking. The vast majority of the scenarios we worry about never happen. Why expend all that energy towards that place of fear? Instead, choose to focus on positive outcomes or things that you are grateful for. It is an exercise that takes practice, but the more we become aware of our thought patterns and consciously choose optimism life gets happier, less stressful, and we attract better outcomes

As a part of my series about the women in wellness, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dahlia Mertens.

Dahlia Mertens is the founder and CEO of Mary Jane’s Medicinals, one of the leading cannabis topicals companies in the country. With a passion for the healing properties of cannabis and a holistic approach to well-being, Dahlia has been using a natural whole-plant infusion process since 2009 at the Mary Jane’s Medicinals production facility in stunning Telluride, Colorado. Over the past decade, her products have earned many awards and accolades, including the High Times Cannabis Cup and Dope Cup for “Best Topical”, and have helped thousands of people address their pain and health issues in a natural and holistic way.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” better. Can you share your “backstory” with us?

I founded Mary Jane’s Medicinals in 2009 in Telluride, Colorado, when cannabis legalization was in its infancy. Entry into the industry was relatively easy, as there was no regulatory structure for cannabis in Colorado. As a result, dispensaries were popping up all across the state. That era was called the “Green Rush.”

While working as a massage therapist, I developed a keen interest in achieving wellness through natural healing. I became inspired by natural body product lines that used herbs and essential oils to alleviate muscle aches and pains in my clients or simply allow for a more relaxing massage. An entrepreneurial spirit began to emerge. Could I create my own line of healing body products? After six years as a therapist, I was ready to delve into something new, something that interested me. It was during a fall trip into the woods of northern California that I decided to turn my interests into a career, but I did not know where to start.

I traveled to California to help trim cannabis on a weed farm, both to earn a little extra income and because I was curious about that scene. While I was out there, a friend of mine had infused some grapeseed oil with cannabis and offered to rub some on my sore neck. I had never heard of cannabis being used topically before and was very dubious whether it would have any effect. To my surprise and delight, I felt relief of tight muscles and neck pain shortly after application. That got me thinking that maybe I could create a line of my own.

When I returned home, I began serious research, experimenting with different recipes for massage oil, salve, and lip balm. In researching cannabis topicals, I discovered there was very little information on the subject at that time. There were one or two small companies out of California making infused topicals but little information on how or why they worked. I decided to forge ahead anyway because I believed this was an opportunity to create something unique, safe, and beneficial- and hopefully create a successful business as well!

After trial and error, I came up with formulations that worked on the myriads of people who were willing to try them. I was amazed at the positive comments I received. Hitting the road with a car full of topicals, I was determined to get the word out. Most of the people I met with at dispensaries had never heard of cannabis being used topically and thought I was selling snake oil. In these cases, I would leave them samples and tell them to just try it. This approach worked, and the calls started coming in. The testimonials began rolling in as well. Each and every time I heard of a new ailment these naturally derived topicals helped relieve, I got very excited. They seemed to treat a very wide variety of issues. I still did not know how or why they were working, but I knew we were onto something.

Ten years later, Mary Jane’s Medicinals has become one of Colorado’s most trusted brands. Distribution has already expanded into Oklahoma and New Mexico, with expansion planned for more states in the near future. Recognized as a pioneer in the industry, I am proud of the company’s leadership as well as its role in educating people about the healing properties of cannabis-infused topicals. There is now a lot more knowledge out there on why cannabis works so well with the human body, and it is exciting to see people open their minds to the holistic, natural healing benefits of this remarkable plant.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career? What were the main lessons or takeaways from that story?

My story is that of the American dream: a story of how an idea can become a reality through dedication, perseverance, and grit. Mary Jane’s Medicinals was my first entrepreneurial endeavor. With a college degree in theater arts and work experience mostly in the service industry, I had very little business experience. I had to learn everything about creating and running a business from the ground up and while on the job.

In the beginning — and for the first few years — I hand wrote invoices. My ‘bookkeeping’ was a box of crumpled receipts; my ‘office’ was the computer lab at the local library; I paid people with envelopes of cash and crossed my fingers at tax time.

Mary Jane’s Medicinals began with very meager resources! Starting out with a shoestring budget of about 1,500 dollars, I operated my business very much hand to mouth the first few years. Supplies could only be purchased and employees paid when I had made a sale or an order came in. With no money for bookkeepers, lawyers, payroll services, and CPAs, I was truly a one-woman show and out of necessity was a prime example of “on the job training.”

Early on, efforts to generate investment money in order to afford professional business services were unsuccessful, so I just kept plodding along. There were times when I felt this hindered my growth, and perhaps it did. But I also saw people lose their businesses to greedy investors, get ousted from their business by contentious partners, or have their business licenses revoked due to poor decision making. Mary Jane’s was small and it was tough to pay the bills, but at least it was all mine. I did not have to answer to anyone, and all decisions were mine, good or bad.

My message here is that it is possible to start a business without investors and without a ton of experience. You just have to be resourceful, creative, and courageous. Starting a business does not have to cost a million dollars, and you don’t need an MBA. In fact, I found it empowering to build my business from the ground up and figure it out as I went along. It forced me to learn so much and put myself out there in a way I had not before. As Goethe said, “Be bold and mighty forces will come to your aid”. I have found this to be very true in my journey with Mary Jane’s.

Can you share a story about the biggest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

In the early days of my business, there was no money to build out an expensive grow facility. My only option was to purchase the cannabis I needed for my products from licensed growers. At that time, grow facilities had to be vertically integrated with a dispensary or manufacturer. This meant that you could not have an independent grow, which limited the number of facilities.

I had never had an issue sourcing cannabis when Colorado was just medically legal. But when recreational sales were implemented in 2014 everything changed. All of a sudden, demand skyrocketed and cannabis became scarce. At that point, I thought a good option was to build out a grow of my own, so I did not have to depend on a turbulent market for the cannabis supply my business required.

Soaring sales made the prospect of having my own grow possible, so I began the slow and expensive process of building one. When recreational sales were implemented, the state created a new cultivation license and it became possible to legally operate an independent grow that was not affiliated with a dispensary or manufacturer. This opened up the space to people that just wanted to grow, and as a result many more licenses were granted.

When I began building out the grow, the numbers looked really good, as the price of cannabis was 2,400 dollars per pound. However, by the time I had completed the build and had my first harvest, the price had plummeted to about 800 dollars per pound. All of the new licenses that had been granted resulted in more harvests. With a glut of weed now available on the market, price wars ensued.

It became clear to me that my grow no longer made financial sense as I could purchase cannabis for far less than I could grow it. While this big mistake cost precious time and money, I learned a valuable lesson from it. I needed to focus on my wheelhouse, which was manufacturing topicals, not growing top-shelf nugs!

Considering all of the resources and money sunk into this grow, it was almost inconceivable to shut it down after just a couple of harvests. I was also in desperate need of more manufacturing space, as our production facility was the size of a single car garage. My employees were literally climbing on top of each other. I was having a hard time finding a new space that was zoned properly for cannabis, as zoning for cannabis businesses had many limitations. It made sense to convert my large grow space into a manufacturing facility that could support the growth my business was experiencing. So I made the tough, but logical choice.

In retrospect, I wish I had the foresight to see that the new grow licenses that were being issued to so many people meant that soon there would be a lot more weed on the market and my supply issues would be solved. I wish I had realized that this too would cause the price to drop. I wish I had put all that money into a sound sales team instead of a doomed grow. But alas, I had to figure this out the hard way.

I learned from this that you can not get too attached to outcomes. Sometimes you have to make tough decisions and pivot dramatically from what you initially set out to do. Sometimes you lose money and time. But in the end, if you keep your business moving forward then that can be considered a success. And now I am better at analyzing the market and making informed choices instead of impetuously shooting from the hip!

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 about that?

When I first started my business I did not know what my parents would think of it. They did not consume cannabis, so I worried that they would not support my decision to get into the industry. However, when I explained that the products would be topical, non-psychoactive, and meant for healing, they were quite receptive. I gave my parents a jar of my salve which they shared with their friends. Shortly afterward I got a call from my mom about the great results she and her friends were experiencing with relieving pain issues, circulation problems, and nerve damage. She was a believer and excited for the good these products could do, and I have felt very supported by her and my father ever since. This industry is very tumultuous, and I have had many moments in which I have wanted to throw in the towel. However, their support has helped me get through those times, and I give them a lot of credit for giving me the strength to stay the course.

Ok perfect. Now let’s jump to our main focus. When it comes to health and wellness, how is the work you are doing helping to make a bigger impact in the world?

In the early days in this industry before the regulations and legal structures were put into place, it was not clear if what we were doing was legal. There were many times when I would worry that the feds would show up at my door and haul me off to jail for being a drug dealer, rather than an individual with a passion for natural ways to achieve health and wellness for so many people. Aside from some under-age drinking, occasional cannabis use, and a few traffic violations, I had never walked on the wrong side of the law, so having to consider the reality of incarceration was new to me and of course a very scary prospect.

There were times I considered giving up. But in those moments I would remind myself that I was doing something good and making a positive impact in the world. So many people wrote to me with reports that our topicals were helping them get off their opioid regimen, allowing them to get out of the house, or just simply sleep through the night. Our products were helping people’s quality of life improve in a natural and holistic way. It was during these early days I realized we were doing important work.

Cannabis has been subject to so much propaganda and misinformation over the past century, but it has now been proven to be an incredibly medicinal plant that has so many benefits for human health. When I first started my business, I would often be hesitant to tell people what I did because it was not uncommon that once I mentioned the word “cannabis”, I would get a derisive look. But I also realized the importance of being open because I saw it as an opportunity to be an ambassador and educate people on the healing properties of cannabis.

Topicals have proven to be a very effective ambassador as well because it is a way that people can experience the therapeutic benefits of this plant that does not involve getting high. As a result, I have seen many people that were adamantly opposed to cannabis change their tune and even integrate it into their daily self-care regimens. In fact, we continue to innovate our products by leveraging the latest technologies for even greater efficacy. We just launched Mary Jane’s Medicinals Super Strength Nano Salve, which combines the latest in nanotechnology with our proprietary whole plant infusion process, resulting in a product that nourishes skin while providing the highest potency topical available, a total of 1,000mgs of cannabinoids with a 1:1 ratio (500mg THC: 500mg CBD) for maximum efficacy.

Big pharma has become so powerful, and a lot of the addictive drugs they push have proven to be very detrimental to human health. The opioid pandemic being a very clear example of this. Cannabis is a natural herb that is gentle on the body and has almost no dangerous side effects. The success of Mary Jane’s Medicinals has helped to get this message out and has offered an alternative to pharmaceutical drugs for many. As Bob Marley said, “Weed, it’s just a plant! It’s so good for everything.”

Can you share your top five “lifestyle tweaks” that you believe will help support people’s journey towards better wellbeing? Please give an example or story for each.

1. THINK POSITIVE THOUGHTS! MIND OVER MATTER: Our minds are very powerful, and our thoughts largely control how we feel. When we become conscious of our thought patterns and realize when we are having negative thoughts, we can choose to change what we are thinking. The vast majority of the scenarios we worry about never happen. Why expend all that energy towards that place of fear? Instead, choose to focus on positive outcomes or things that you are grateful for. It is an exercise that takes practice, but the more we become aware of our thought patterns and consciously choose optimism life gets happier, less stressful, and we attract better outcomes.

A few months after I started my business I went through a traumatic breakup. All of a sudden, I found myself homeless, jobless, and had very little money to speak of. It had been a messy split and word travels fast in a small town. I felt like everyone was judging me and that a scarlet letter was emblazoned on my back. Dark times indeed. I considered giving up my fledgling business and moving back east. Then I found a book called “Ask and it is Given”. This book addresses the power of our thoughts and it resonated with me. I started becoming aware of negative thoughts and would then consciously choose to think of something positive. My basset hound Rosie became an effective tool. If I was feeling hopeless and depressed and could not think of anything good my go-to was my love for Rosie. It is something that I still have to practice diligently, but it helped me pull myself out of depression, get back on my feet, and continue to build my business.

2. MEDITATE: This is also an effective way to have better control over our ever-moving minds. In our fast-paced competitive society, we are constantly barraged by news feeds and stress. Taking time to breathe, focus our minds, and connect to our source can be a very effective tool in reducing stress.

2019 was an especially tough year for my business and as a result, I was dealing with a ton of stress. I have never been an anxious person, but I started experiencing panic attacks and even found myself under my desk in tears on more than one occasion. When I shared what I was going through I was often recommended meditation. Finally, things came to head for me, and I decided I needed to make a change. I heard of a meditation group that was meeting Monday mornings so I decided to give it a shot. After the first meeting, I walked out feeling a lightness I had not felt in a long time. It was compelling to me how 20 minutes of quiet focus could so dramatically alter my mood. Monday mornings had become a time of dread and anxiety, but starting my week with a group meditation changed all that. When COVID-19 hit, and we were ordered to shelter in place I decided quarantine could become my own personal meditation retreat. So I began meditating twice a day for longer periods of time. I found that this helped me deal with the stress of a global pandemic with remarkable grace and ease. I even found that I was less stressed out than I had been before the crisis and felt grateful for the time to go inward, reset, and focus on self-care.

3. TURN OFF THE NEWS AND GO FOR A WALK IN THE WOODS. It’s not necessary for you to know every terrible thing that is happening. It won’t do you any good. So don’t subject yourself to excessive amounts of it. There is a lot of beauty and wonderful things that happen too, but news outlets rarely report on the good stuff. Nature is filled with natural abundance, balance, peace, and so much beauty. We can have a more positive impact if we are coming from a good place within ourselves, and nature helps remind us of the wonder of this world. I try to remember when I am feeling beaten down to look up to the mountains, or if I am feeling frazzled to go sit by the river. This helps ground me and remind me of my special place on this precious planet of ours.

4. SLEEP. We all need about 8–9 hours of sleep, even if you think you don’t. So allow yourself the time to rest and repair. You will be better for it and so will the quality of your work and play. I also have found that if I am getting good quality sleep I have wonderful lucid dreams. Last night I taught my niece how to fly in a dream, to fly like a bird. It was super fun! I also find that I will have insights or creative ideas while in the dream state.

5. CHOOSE THINGS THAT BRING YOU JOY! Laughter and joy are incredibly good for the headspace. What is life about anyway if you have no fun. I chose to live in Telluride when I was 27 years old. I was not sure where my career was going or what I wanted to do with my life but I knew I wanted to be in a place that brought me joy. When I tell people I live in Telluride, they often say, “You are so lucky!”. But it was a choice I made because I thought I would have a happier life as a result. I couldn’t afford it, didn’t know what I was going to do for work, but I took a leap of faith, and I am so glad I did.

If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of wellness to the most amount of people, what would that be?

I didn’t start this movement but I have found myself in it: the legalization of cannabis. Cannabis not only has innumerable benefits for human health in a holistic and natural way, but hemp is incredibly renewable and can replace many of the materials we use that are damaging to our environment. The earth is our home, and as we negatively affect the health of our environment we also negatively affect our own health. So cannabis and hemp can help both the health of our planet and our own health as well.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?

SURROUND YOURSELF WITH PEOPLE THAT HAVE DIFFERENT TALENTS THAN YOU, AND THAT YOU CAN LEARN FROM. In the early days when I had to figure most things out for myself, it was empowering, but also frustrating at times. It was rewarding when I was able to figure something out, but that kind of learning can be slow going with many mistakes along the way. Lately, I have been able to hire some high-level people that have taught me a lot and have facilitated faster and easier growth. I have felt burnout in the past. However lately I am reinspired, and feeling inspired is crucial for success.

TAKE TIME WHEN HIRING PEOPLE AND REALLY CONSIDER YOUR OPTIONS. When I was experiencing rapid growth there would be times when I was desperate for more help. Telluride is a small town with an even smaller hiring pool. I often found myself bringing on the first person that came along. When you hire a new employee you are making a big investment. It costs money to train them. Inevitably there will be mistakes — some costly — and you are trusting them with the details of your business. In the end, even if you feel desperate, it is worth spending the initial time in hiring the right person. If you make a hasty choice it can cost you a lot of money and frustration. On the other hand, a good employee can bring so much value to your company, make your job easier, and elevate the team as a whole. So take the time, hire the right people, and get references!

LISTEN TO YOUR GUT, BUT DO NOT BE TOO IMPETUOUS. Think things through. Intuition can be a very powerful tool, and it has helped me make many of my decisions, mostly good. Although sometimes I get excited about something and I think it is my gut telling me to go for it, but excitement can cloud vision. An example of this is the grow. If I had really analyzed the market I would have realized that I just needed to hang in there for a few more months and then my supply issues would be gone.

LEARN FROM YOUR MISTAKES, AND CELEBRATE YOUR SUCCESSES. This one seems obvious, but I have certainly found myself repeating mistakes. We all have our lessons to learn in life. I believe that is why we are here in this “Earth School” of ours. In some cases, we can learn from others’ mistakes. But some lessons we have to learn ourselves, and some we have a really hard time getting and have to go through the painful process of making the same mistake numerous times. When missteps occur, try to be very cognizant of them and take note of how you will do things differently in the future. On the flip side, it is important to learn from your successes as well and then celebrate them. I love a good party, and it’s good for the team too. So when you have a great quarter and you can afford it, take everyone out to a nice dinner. After all, we spend so much of our lives working that it is important to infuse some fun into all that effort. At one of my team parties, we ended up in a drunken conga line weaving through the restaurant. That was a blast!

BE CONFIDENT AND UNAPOLOGETIC, UNLESS YOU ACTUALLY OWE SOMEONE AN APOLOGY. I am proud of what I have accomplished with Mary Jane’s and have experienced a lot of success with this company. It is rare that a first-time business owner can build something from the ground up and maintain and grow that business for over ten years. And even rarer if you are a woman. Sometimes I have felt “less than” due to the lack of business experience I had and would disparage myself and my choices when talking with more experienced business people. I would focus on how much more successful the business could be if I had made different decisions. In those moments, I try to remind myself of what I have accomplished and change my tune. An insecure person generates pity, whereas a confident person inspires and attracts success.

Sustainability, veganism, mental health and environmental changes are big topics at the moment. Which one of these causes is dearest to you, and why?

There is so much insanity in the way we treat ourselves, our fellow humans, the animals with which we share this planet, and our environment. If we can endeavor to become more empathic and compassionate, we would live on this planet in a conscious way in alignment with our natural world. This would resolve all the issues addressed in this question because they are all intrinsically connected as to how necessary it is for us to evolve as a human race. Enlightenment is possible. If we can all work together as a global community, we can accomplish feats beyond our wildest dreams. As Stephen Hawkings points out, we are all connected.

What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?

Instagram & Twitter- @maryjanesmeds

Facebook- @maryjanesmedsco

Thank you for these fantastic insights!

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