Women to Watch: Dena Ladd


Dena Ladd | JAINE


For over two decades, Dena Ladd, has been helping to shape policy and impact communities. As an advocate and as a leader, Ladd has shown her ability to navigate tough situations, and at times controversy, while pushing for advancement in education and understanding.

“I have over twenty-five years of experience in public policy and community affairs, I have been fortunate enough to have been involved in issues that have both local and national impact in the areas of medical research and health care,” Ladd explained.

“I was the Executive Director for the stem cell coalition in Missouri for 12 years. I worked with researchers and business leaders ensuring that all research legal on the federal level remained legal in Missouri.”

Equally important in understanding her success and story is understanding Ladd as a leader and advocate for women in science and industry. In the same way that Ladd champions education and opportunity, she pushes for inclusion and diversity. Ladd helped to create the Women in Science, Entrepreneurship and Research (WISER) initiative, targeted at engaging women in the STEM career and education fields. Additionally, Ladd is a founding member of the Alliance for Regenerative Medicine (ARM), where she has served on its board for seven years. 

Since 2018, Ladd has used her accumulated knowledge and skill set to help create Missouri’s cannabis industry.

Ladd said that her greatest professional accomplishment was, “Influencing the narrative, on the state and national level, about the importance of life-saving medical research and cures and therapies to benefit patients. The opportunity to meet and work with patients, researchers and those who care deeply about research has been an amazing experience.”

“I hope to take that experience and move plant-based research forward,” she explained.

“I became interested in medical cannabis in 2018, to see how it was going to benefit patients and what was the potential of research happening in the state.”

Why did you choose cannabis?

“Just like stem cell research, cannabis can be a controversial issue. It comes down to educating people about the benefits and how it helps patients.”

What makes cannabis unique?

“I am a huge believer of plant-based medicine. There is still so much research that needs to be done.  It is encouraging to see patient advocacy groups, such as the Michael J Fox Foundation and others providing information to patients about the benefits of medical cannabis.  In Missouri, there are nurses, physicians, and passionate people educating people on the benefits of cannabis.”

A founding member of both Missouri Medical Cannabis Trade Association (MoCann Trade) and Jaine, Ladd has been a figurehead for Missouri cannabis and an inspiration to those in the industry.

As someone whose life has been dedicated to the betterment of health and wellness, Ladd’s involvement in Missouri’s cannabis industry brought a degree of credence and credibility to the science of medical cannabis in its infancy in the state.


2022 has been a landmark year, so far. Earlier this year, Ladd launched her consultancy – DSL Consulting Group, specializing in community and governmental affairs consulting. Later this year, Ladd will launch a new cannabis accessory company. The company aims to donate a portion of the proceeds to fund plant-based research. And in January Ladd was named the new board chair of MoCann Trade, a position that allows her to continue to advocate for patients and research while also helping to inspire and foster a culture of talented women – breaking glass ceilings while leading one of the fastest-growing cannabis markets in the country.

“I was asked to be a founding member of MOCANN and at the time there were only two women on the board.  Now I am proud to say, I am the MOCANN board chair and one of my priorities is making sure women are at the table. The board is now 1/3 women and recently we added more women and people of color to the advisory board,” Ladd said.

What is it like being a woman in your field?

“Being in politics and public policy much of my career, I have been used to working in a man’s world. I started a state-wide initiative, Women in Science, Entrepreneurship and Research (WISER) nine years ago.  It gives women in those fields a chance to network and learn from each other.  I am a founding member of the Missouri women’s cannabis group, JAINE, and the organization is much like WISER. JAINE gives women in the Missouri cannabis space a chance to network and meet and learn from each other.”

What advice or encouragement would you give to other women in the cannabis industry?

“I have connected with so many great women, not only in Missouri but on the national level in the cannabis industry,  I would encourage them to connect and network with others and certainly take the time to mentor women coming into the field.  Find a way to have a seat at the table because you can play an important role in this industry.”

Where do you see the cannabis industry going in the near future?

“I am hopeful that Legal MO will pass in November.  In that initiative, research licenses will be available to apply for and groups in the state can start to do research.” 

What are you passionate about?

“Teaching others about how to make a difference and have a voice. Recently, I started training researchers on the importance of public policy and how to advocate. They play an important role in moving research and therapies forward by speaking to people with influence.  I have also worked with college students and young adults teaching them how to be advocates.”

Where do you find inspiration?

“Seeing people put their heart and soul into their businesses.  I am fortunate that I have worked with all of the innovation centers around the state and met entrepreneurs passionate about what they do.  It has been inspiring watching people in the Missouri cannabis industry build their business, raise capital, hire and train their staff and find creative ways to promote their organizations. Now as an entrepreneur myself, I look for advice from those who have built their businesses.”

What motivates you? 

“Sharing my experience and knowledge with young adults starting their careers.”