Women to Watch: Mary Ann Denzer
Cannabis stories. Most of us have them and many times they’ve provided the impetus that propels us to join the industry full time. In this installment of Women to Watch, Mary Ann Denzer shares her own “why cannabis” moment and we learn more about what makes her a Woman to Watch – and that story began in 2013. As one of the founders of Riverside Wellness, just north of Kansas City, Denzer took her chance to join the cannabis industry and hasn’t looked back.
“In 2013, I moved to Colorado to work in municipal water, and recreational dispensaries were just starting to open. With a background and passion for community work, public health & law, and as a longtime fan of cannabis, I was fascinated by the social & legal shifts that were occurring in cannabis. It was so refreshing to go to a get together and be offered a puff off a joint or edible much in the same way that you would offer a guest a glass of wine. I started seeing jobs for cannabis chemists and had to apply. As a cannabis chemist, I got the opportunity to test up to 60-100 products a day for potency, residual solvents, pesticides, terpenes, and more in one of the first cannabis testing facilities in Denver, and the variety of products available was incredible to me,” Denzer recalls of her start to cannabis in her professional life.
“People close to me have a long history with PTSD, epilepsy, and chronic pain, and I grew up watching the people I love suffer and get prescribed a layer of various medications with uncomfortable and often dangerous side effects. At the lab, I got the opportunity to work in an environment surrounded by incredibly intelligent chemists and microbiologists and discovered quality cannabis science and research,” she continued. “My husband and I came back to Missouri in 2017 to be closer to our friends and family. Turns out Kansas City is a really special place, and being able to bring this incredible industry to my community is such a dream come true. The fact that we get to create all of this AND serve our community while doing it makes me grateful every day.”
One key area of Mary Ann’s ethos revolves around the industry’s lack of diversity and a genuine quest to fix that. “Honestly, I think diversity in general needs to be addressed everywhere. I have met some incredible women in the cannabis industry, and the women I know in the cannabis industry are some of the smartest, most hilarious, resilient and hardest-working people I know. There are some real ups and downs when it comes to cannabis work, and my female cohorts have often kept me sane. We know how to work hard, allow each other the space to grow, and have each other’s backs at the same time. As women, I think we often fly under the radar and forget the value we bring to the table, and that can get taken advantage of, which is so frustrating to watch and experience. Riverside Wellness is a women, minority, and veteran owned dispensary, and one of our goals was to welcome a variety of experiences and lifestyles to the table. The diversity we have been able to bring to our team has made us stronger, more compassionate, and better able to interact with the diverse clientele we experience on a daily basis. I think it is so important to hold ourselves up and demand more. We are in the infancy of this industry and we really get to set the standard. I want that standard to bring a more diverse perspective to the table to better serve ALL of our community,” when asked about representation of women in Missouri’s cannabis market.
Mary Ann’s passion for the plant and the industry is palpable – she goes on to talk about the parts of the industry that she loves, and declares herself a creator and organizer, bored in a traditional office, she spends her time constantly looking for opportunities to be better for both employees and patients. “Honestly, my favorite moment is when no one knows I exist and the patients are falling in love with our dispensary and our employees! It’s an incredible day when I look out across the dispensary and see our patient care associates growing, learning, and connecting with the patients.”
While she accepts that many potential patients refuse to get a patient card, she also knows that education is critical for patients, “While I hate the barrier to entry that a medical card requires, the medical market is a really beautiful space that lends itself more to the exploration of the medical benefits and research of cannabis and the benefits it can bring to our community and I hope we don’t lose that in the shift to recreational,“ Denzer said about Missouri’s current state.
Finally, this badass COO provided her best advice for those who want to be successful in cannabis, “Be flexible. Be resilient. Be ready to work. Be ready to be challenged. Be ready to respond to change and grow. Be scrappy. Every once in a while, let yourself fall apart and know that you are still amazing. Don’t let anyone ever tell you that you are less valuable than you are, but also listen to how you can continue to grow. Take it all with a grain of salt. Choose who you work with wisely, and ask every single question you need to ask to find out if it is a good fit. There is a tendency to think that there is a lot of quick, easy money in cannabis and all we do is product test all day. Get rid of that idea as quickly as possible. There is so much opportunity everywhere in cannabis, but it is not an easy task. The day to day in cannabis can be grueling and the passion I have for what we do is what gets me through the everyday nitty gritty. We are creating something out of nothing in a highly regulated, constantly changing industry – one that requires heavy tech development and integration, full development of distribution chains and centers, harsh banking restrictions and regulations, heavy tax burdens, initial regulatory development & interpretation, operational and workforce development as well as the day to day trudging of education and normalization. It’s a terrifying and exciting proposition to be at the forefront of the cannabis industry in Missouri, but I wouldn’t want to be doing anything else.”