WOMEN TO WATCH | Becky Lohmann
Representing industry disruptors for years, government relations firm Catalyst has taken medical marijuana into their portfolio of clients and priorities. Leading the charge for the firm is Becky Lohmann, who has kicked her interest in medical marijuana into overdrive since her learning her sister, Anna, has epilepsy.
“My youngest sister, Anna, had her first seizure at home – she was 20 at the time,” Lohmann said. “Through scans of her brain, her neurosurgeons determined that she has a dense frontal lobe and so she was put on daily medication to prevent any future epileptic episodes. The popular medication, Kepra, that she was prescribed did help to prevent seizures but it also caused my happy and very social sister to become depressed – a common side effect of that drug.
“My family pushed for another treatment option but her doctors were concerned that other medication would not be as effective at preventing seizures. And with any conventional pharmaceutical seizure medication currently available to her, there was a very high risk of birth defects in babies during pregnancy. Seeing my little sister facing these medical challenges with no good options for treatment made my big sister mode kick in, and like so many other families, seemingly overnight I found myself a medical cannabis advocate.”
At the time of diagnosis, it was very challenging to find doctors who would consider CBD or THC as treatment options, and Lohmann said she could hardly blame them. But that’s changed since the passage and implementation of Amendment 2 – now Article XIV of the Missouri Constitution, which provides the program framework and the right for Missourians to use medical marijuana for qualifying conditions.
“Today she is able to treat her epilepsy with medical cannabis and we are so grateful for the full life she gets to live without being burdened both mentally and physically by side effects of conventional pharmaceutical drugs.”
Catalyst was active in the Capitol halls years ago when Missouri first passed a hemp pilot program, sponsored by then-Senator, now-Attorney General Eric Schmitt. While that progress has turned into a constitutional program, supported by a record amount of voters for any constitutional program, Lohmann believes there is room for continued and substantial development for medical marijuana in Missouri.
“Big meaningful change on cannabis has required courageous leadership both from elected officials and regular people,” Lohmann said. “And that work can’t stop, especially now. This is an exciting industry and I’m thrilled to be an advocate for our clients, the industry in general, and patients like my sister.”
Catalyst has made waves in state government over the past decade, helping usher in policy to allow innovative businesses – from Tesla to DraftKings to Uber – to exist and flourish in Missouri. While the firm currently represents and serves medical marijuana clients, they are laying the groundwork to continue advocacy in the Capitol, assisting medical marijuana facilities to also prosper in this new regulatory framework. A good regulatory program is good for patients.
“My passion for impacting public policy started when my family learned my youngest sister had epilepsy. When we started seeing the obstacles and limited options for medical treatment, specifically the (former) Missouri ban on CBD Hemp Oil, which we knew was effective in treating the disease, I wanted to become an advocate for people like my sister,” she said. “I was very fortunate to have been connected to Catalyst who at the time was on the ground level working to advance legislation through the state legislature that would have legalized medical cannabis. Unfortunately, that legislation faced a lot of challenges at the time and did not become law, but the experience we gained and the relationships we developed in the industry have been extremely helpful in our advocacy for our clients since the passage of Amendment 2.”
The topic of lobbyists can be polarizing for those outside the political realm, but anyone in the political realm will be quick to tell you how effective the services of lobbyists are to advocating for effective public policy, especially in the era of term limits.
“As with any industry, particularly a new, highly-regulated industry, there are significant advocacy and education that needs to be accomplished to ensure regulators and lawmakers understand how policy and regulation affect patients who rely on this medicine as well as the businesses that provide it to them,” Lohmann said. “It has taken decades to see the legalization of medical cannabis in Missouri because of the work of advocates who have never taken their foot off the gas. It is critical that those invested in the industry have a seat at the decision-making table when any policy or regulation is being considered.”
Advocating for a strong program with patients prioritized is a full team effort at Catalyst.
“Catalyst was an early adopter of advocacy in the cannabis industry when some considered it too controversial or were skeptical about its medical benefits,” said Danny Pfeifer, founder of Catalyst. “We specialize in helping disruptive, highly-regulated industries navigate the legislative and regulatory process and achieve their legislative and public policy goals, so it is exciting to help onboard our clients into this new market in Missouri. As long-time advocates for medical cannabis, it is also professionally and personally fulfilling to be working in an industry in which our clients are helping patients overcome chronic medical conditions where traditional pharmaceutical medication has failed to attain the desired results.”
Beyond the personal connection, why is Catalyst relevant? Why are they being featured? The firm specializes in successfully representing disruptive and highly-regulated industries facing business-altering barriers or existential threats. Lohmann says the firm has a unique understanding of the challenges these businesses are facing and how to overcome them. While the program is here, the work is nowhere near over.
“It takes constant, ongoing engagement with policymakers and regulators on a new, highly-regulated issue like medical cannabis, and that work can be challenging for business owners that need to focus their time and energy running their medical cannabis facilities back home,” Lohmann said. “There is also a fairly significant learning curve still happening with medical cannabis and more often than not the well-meaning policy can be really detrimental for patients. Having advocates in the Capitol day in and day out that understand and truly believe in this medicine is crucial for this industry to thrive.”
Catalyst has offices in Jefferson City. The firm has over 50 years of combined regulatory, political, and legislative experience.