Diane Czarkwoski, Canna Advisors
“We are standing on the shoulders of others who have been advocating the benefits of cannabis for decades before us.”
Describe yourself and what you do.
I am a founding partner of Canna Advisors, a cannabis consulting firm that I started with my husband, Jay. Our firm’s consulting services address a full spectrum of industry needs including: dispensary and cultivation license applications, facility design consulting, hiring practices, and operational expertise.
For the past four years, we have been honored to lead the industry in advising. We have helped hundreds of investors and entrepreneurs start and grow their cannabis business in competitive and emerging markets. We have been a part of dozens of company’s licensing in the United States, as well as consulting projects in Canada, Puerto Rico, and Guam.
As a business owner, I make it a priority to give back by supporting the cannabis community through educational endeavors. I am a founding member of the National Cannabis Industry Association, and have served as many roles within the organization. I am also a proud founding benefactor of Women Grow, a lifetime member and selection committee member of the ArcView Investment Group, a sustaining member of Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP) and the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP).
In 2016, I was honored to receive Arcview’s Outstanding Member Award and was named one of the “50 Most Important Women in Cannabis” by Cannabis Business Executive.
What is your origin story for your canna business?
Before establishing Canna Advisors, my husband and I were both in real estate development. When the real estate market collapsed in 2008, we discovered that we could put our business expertise to use in the newly developed medical marijuana industry. In 2009, we founded Boulder Kind Care (BKC), one of the first medical cannabis operations in Colorado. I was responsible for managing BKC’s dispensary while Jay focused on cultivation operations.
We quickly earned a reputation as one of the most professional and patient-focused dispensaries in the state, and we were one of the first to get licensed. In 2012, we decided to sell the business and adapt our operational expertise to cannabis business consulting and advocacy. Hence the establishment of Canna Advisors.
What is your Cannabis origin story?
I suppose my story starts with my upbringing in Kansas. I never had a relationship with cannabis growing up but had no issues with it. Many of my friends used cannabis, but for me, the fear of getting arrested outweighed my curiosity. As an adult, I would use cannabis if it was offered to me by a friend.
When I moved to Colorado in 1997, I met my husband Jay, who was a co-worker at Computer Associates. We both worked in the tech industry for more than a dozen years during its boom. Looking back, I think this experience was so helpful in my ability to keep up with the rapid evolution of the cannabis industry. I was groomed to feel comfortable with constant change.
In 2003, we made the leap into entrepreneurship. Jay got his Commercial General Contractors license and I got my real estate license and we began to buy, build, and sell property. We were doing very well, and then the loan market collapsed.
With the future looking bleak for the next several years, it was Jay who suggested we pivot and explore the opportunity of a new medical marijuana business. Once I began interacting with our patients and hearing their stories, I became a true advocate.
I never had a relationship with cannabis growing up but had no issues with it.
What is your Superpower?
I think I am great at connecting people and opportunities together.
What has been your greatest obstacle in this industry or with your business to date – and how have you overcome it?
Uncertainty – getting comfortable with forging your own path.
I’m often asked, “What’s the best way to____.” People see me as a pioneer in the industry, but what they have to realize is that in many cases, what they want to do has never been done before. You have to become comfortable with being the first.
I had the unfortunate experience of having one of the first cannabis businesses in the city of Boulder, Colorado. This is one of the hardest areas to operate a cannabis business. Even though the District Attorney Stan Garnett and Congressman Jared Polis are huge advocates for legalization, the City Attorney is not. Colorado’s cannabis business owners that are still operating say that if they had to do it all over again, they would not operate in Boulder.
My suggestion is to fight; and unite your voice with other businesses to be heard. Make sure that you are following all the rules and don’t stop advocating for change! I have evolved to become comfortable with uncertainty, whether it is the constant evolution of regulators and their treatment of cannabis businesses, or my own personal uncertainty. I’ve been tested and know that as long as I have my family with me, I will be fine.
Make sure that you are following all the rules and don’t stop advocating for change!
What is your vision for women in this industry?
My vision for women in this industry is to make this a new kind of industry.
We are standing on the shoulders of others who have been advocating the benefits of cannabis for decades before us. They all had the same mindset – to change what they could not accept.
I recently heard Steve D’Angelo tell a story about how the re-emergence of the medical marijuana industry began in San Francisco when AIDS hit the community. There was a gentleman named Dennis Perone who’s partner, Jonathan, became a victim of AIDS. Dennis grew cannabis and treated Jonathan with it. He was raided. His defense was that he was providing medical marijuana to his partner and it was helping him, and it was upheld.
Then the parents of sick children got involved. People could see the positive effects of cannabis and who can argue with helping children?! Then the veterans started speaking up…one by one, each of these groups helped open the minds of others and opened the doors of opportunity for this industry.
The industry will never be this small again. This is not just a new industry, it’s a new kind of industry.
It is rooted in advocacy, community, and diversity. If we make sure that these core values carry forward, it will have a huge impact.
Do this because it is the right thing to do. Honor those who lead this charge and keep it true to its beginnings.
Connect with Diane