THE COURAGEOUS LEADER
There were so many times where I could have given up…there are so many unknowns in the Cannabis industry… but I didn’t give up. Today, I am stronger because of it.
Shelley Stormo is a Massachusetts native. After spending ten years as a licensed therapist treating mental health and substance abuse during the height of the opioid epidemic, Shelley founded a small cannabis company and was awarded a license in 2013 in the original limited license application process run by DPH. The license was acquired by Pharmacann in 2016 and Shelley continued on with the company and now serves as the Vice President of Retail Operations nationally.
Shelley's passion aligns with Pharmacann's mission to "improve people's lives through cannabis" specifically focused on increasing awareness around the pain relieving properties of cannabis as an alternative to opiates. Following the recent merger with Livwell, Pharmacann now operates over 50 retail dispensaries across 8 states. In her current role, Shelley's focus is on implementing time and cost saving measures across all Verilife stores to improve the store teams' experience while maintaining a positive culture and fun atmosphere.
What excites Shelley is the opportunity to positively impact the store teams through standardizing and finding ways to reduce the burden of back of house operations. Having worked every role in the store, give her an intimate understanding of all the store operations. “I see my job as essential to improving the work lives of our employees and doing my part to bring this start-up company to the next level to become the preferred store nationwide for everyone's cannabis needs,” she says.
A surging cannabis sector leaves a lot of room to lead and carve your own spot. “As a new and "alternative" wellness industry, I see a huge opportunity for women to rise as leaders within cannabis companies,” says Shelley who seized the opportunity nearly a decade ago. “My passion for and belief in cannabis as a natural medicine and an effective alternative to addictive opiates led to my success in obtaining a license in a highly competitive landscape in Massachusetts in 2013. Entering the cannabis market at such an early phase was a huge opportunity and partnering with a company like Pharmacann opened the doors for me to continue to grow as a leader within the company,” she notes.
“The cannabis industry is very much in its infancy and, due to the conflict between federal and state laws, many technological and payment options are simply not available to us yet,” says Shelley. The industry is extremely regulated and compliance is always front of mind. Any one entering the industry from a traditional retail environment have a lot to learn in this very specialized industry. There’s not a lot of defined processes, the rules and the laws are still growing and changing. Not only that, but regulating bodies are still learning and understanding the business. It’s like guiding a very small boat at sea; you never know which way the wind is going to blow, or if the waves will blow over your business or the whole industry. It’s tough, but it’s one of those things where if you can survive it as a business, you can look back at that experience and think about how much you enjoyed those days when you were just a little row boat making it work out in the ocean. “There were so many times where I could have given up during the fundraising, application and overall licensing process. It has not been easy from a personal or a professional standpoint but I am stronger because of it,” says Shelly as she emphasizes that aspiring professionals to be persistent and not give up. It’s important, she says, to follow your dream and passion and make sure to find a company that aligns with your mission and values.
Given the nature of the industry, Shelley understood early on that collaboration and information sharing between operators is key so that the industry as a whole can progress and become more accepted and mainstream. Given her background as a licensed therapist, it was quite natural for her to maintain interpersonal relationships and being assertive for her voice to be heard. This played a significant role in fostering her growth within the company and the industry. She surrounds herself with some of the best names in the industry. “We rely heavily on each other and leverage each other's strengths so we can get better every day,” she says.
VP of Retail Operations, PharmaCann
The Courageous Leader
Nominated by Zipline
Melissa Wong, CEO
EVP, CVS Health Corporation