Women to Watch: Bianca Sullivan
By Rachael Dunn
From volunteering at an AIDS non-profit in the 90s to helping clients at Sullivan Law, Bianca Sullivan of Fresh Green is a woman with a passion for medical cannabis that only matches her education and experience.
“I am very excited about being able to be a part of the birth of this industry in our state and be involved with a new venture that brings all of my experience and passions together on a new and exciting path. Helping others, science, business, law, all of these experiences and passions will serve me well and set me up Fresh Green for success in an industry where I can continue to truly help veterans and other people in need.
“For a number of years now I have actually been preparing to enter the industry, feeling that legalization was inevitable in Missouri and knowing that when it did happen, I wanted to be ready. I think that the background that I have in business, science and compliance is well-suited to success in the Missouri market.
“Helping people is what I like to do most and always have. I’ve had experience running commercial real estate businesses, and for the last 10 years have not only been an
Sullivan’s story with cannabis started in Southern California, where she lived for six years.
“My original goal was to carry-on with my education in medical school, but as is often the case, life things happen and you take a different path,” Sullivan said. “I first became interested in the cannabis industry when I was an undergrad at UCLA when California was in the early stages of medical legalization. Some of my earliest exposure to the medicinal properties of cannabis came while volunteering at an AIDS non-profit group in Los Angeles. We helped educate patients and the community on Proposition 215, the Compassionate Use Act of 1996, which was the first state to legalize medical cannabis. With a majority of the states now having legalized marijuana in one form or another I’m proud to say I was a part of its inception.”
Her time in California not only put her in the middle of the beginnings of legalization, but in the middle of the AIDS crisis.
“This was right in the midst of the AIDS crisis and I had several friends and acquaintances at the time unfortunately suffering from the disease,” Sullivan said. “Seeing what medicinal marijuana did for those people I knew who were suffering from this terrible disease, really convinced me of the incredible medicinal properties of cannabis. Even though I may not have directly known then, I really think it was that moment and those experiences that set me on the path to where I am now.”
After California, she went to business school at Loyola Marymount before returning home to Kansas City, attending the University of Missouri – Kansas City. However, the potential of cannabis did not end for Sullivan in California.
“Later in life when I became a mother, I faced the challenge of a child with a different auto-immune disease. I also suffer from a health condition myself that I do believe medicinal cannabis may well help someday. These things really brought the whole subject matter home to me in personal way.
“That path gave me extensive experience in the restaurant and food service industry, compliance with FDA and local health and safety regulations, commercial real estate, and other business management skills that have served me well and I think provide a good base for the newest path that I have chosen in the cannabis industry.
“While helping the family business when it was in need was gratifying, it did not completely satisfy my natural desire to help others really in need. I think that is what ultimately led me to law school. Early on in my legal career I found ways to help others. I got great satisfaction from working with the Midwest Innocence Project, an organization with a mission to educate about, advocate for, and obtain and support the exoneration and release of wrongfully convicted people in the Midwest.”
Beyond personally supporting causes, Sullivan and her husband opened a law firm and are able to regularly take on pro bono cases.
“From there, even after opening the law firm with my husband, I continued to get the most satisfaction from helping others in need. At Sullivan Law we have done that for nearly 10 years now and we have always represented individuals that face long odds and uphill battles get well, or at least be made as whole as possible after their injuries. Along the way, I was fortunate to be involved in pro bono cases where I was able to help people and families that could not afford to help themselves and would certainly have been crushed under the power of legal authorities or government agencies without lawyers willing to fight for them without being paid.”
Sullivan is taking all of her experience and education, from her undergrad in Biology to food service and legal, to her dispensary.
“Obviously, there is a lot to learn and it’s a new industry in Missouri, but I feel that I am well-positioned to learn that with the background that I’ve had in business and law. Particularly in the landscape of legalization in Missouri, a legal background, leaving aside actual experience in the cannabis industry in another legal state, is perhaps the most valuable experience that one can have as the industry begins and grows in Missouri.”
“Above all else, I want Fresh Green as a company and as a dispensary to fulfill the mission of bettering the lives of those patients that will benefit from cannabis, but may not be able to afford it.,” Sullivan said.
But Sullivan is not just paying lip service to helping those get the medicine they need.
“Of course the company will have to profit to survive, but a dedicated percentage of that profit will always be earmarked for discounts available to veterans and low income patients in need,” Sullivan said. “Having supported the Challenged Athletes Foundation while competing in triathlons over the years, I have had an up close look at some of the challenges that our veterans are facing these days. However, I do not want Fresh Green to stop there. The company will also be dedicated to reducing, and hopefully one day removing, the stigma associated with cannabis use.”
Sullivan has been hands-on with monitoring the rule making process, attending the advisory committee hearings in person.
“I’m here to make a difference and learn everything I can to ensure the success of my new company. I just felt strongly that I should be at these hearings in person to absorb any information I could about this emerging industry in Missouri.”
“When Missouri began seriously considering legalizing cannabis for medical purposes, I was immediately interested in being involved. I saw another way to help some of my clients and others that would benefit from legalization.
“The legal industry is a constant evolving and developing industry, so that is nothing new to me. That being said, with that set up for success in Missouri’s regulatory scheme, also comes some level of complexity in the number of rules and the requirements of the rules that Missouri is imposing on businesses in this industry. As a lawyer, I have been dealing with rules, regulations and compliance with rules, and specifically precise compliance with rules my entire career. While the cannabis industry may be a new topic for me, its rules and regulations, while clearly addressing a new subject matter, are no different than rules and regulations that my husband and I have had to research, read, interpret, and comply with for our entire legal careers. As lawyers, complying with rules is basically what we do everyday.”
From the first to one of the most recent states for legalization, Sullivan is encouraged by the state’s approach to rulemaking.
“I think that Missouri has chosen the smart path to legalization and learned from a lot of the mistakes that were made by many of the 32 states that came before it. The state has set up a system of regulations and an application process that will set up those who do obtain licenses for success, avoid many of the problems that other states have encountered, and avoid many of the hard lessons those states had to learn along the way.”
In addition to providing access to medicine, Sullivan hopes to also reduce the stigma related to cannabis.
“Another thing I feel very passionate about is reducing, and with any luck, removing the stigma surrounding the use of cannabis in general, but more specifically the medicinal use of cannabis. So many people are afraid to speak with their family, friends, even their physicians about cannabis and whether or not it is a viable option for their ailments. My hope is Missouri becomes an example for the elimination of that symbol so that everyone that can benefit from this extraordinary plant can do so without the stigma that is so often associated with cannabis.”