Trading in Taboo

Running a start-up is challenging, but even more so when your product pushes social boundaries...

…Just ask Chantelle Hackett-Smith, the Boston-based marketing manager of BotanaCare, which works with scientists to create marijuana products for medical purposes.


“Working in weed is a constant risk. A lot has changed in the 10 years since marijuana hit the market here in Colorado. But every time you think things have calmed down and the business can grow steadily, a new law or regulation will come in and you have to change everything.

BotanaCare is a family business, it was founded by my mum and my aunt. They were the first females to be hired into the steel industry and they were huge pioneers, but my aunt had fallen during one of her construction jobs and hurt her back really badly. She eventually started using cannabis provided by a friend before it was legal. She was a sceptic at first, but when she realised how well it worked, she started to grow her own and make her own blends.

As soon as the law in Colorado passed in 2010, she applied for a license with my mum with the goal of helping other people in pain. I came on board straight away, but we didn’t tell a lot of the extended family at first. Not everyone was supportive, but once people understand the importance of marijuana as a medicine and see the effect it can have on people, it changes everything.

It took a year before we had a shop up and running, and we ran that whole year on nothing, it was crazy. We needed the license to get a bank loan, but to get the license we had to be compliant and invest money to get everything set up. It was a risk, because after that the regulatory bodies could still tell us no, but we decided to go with it. We spent six or seven months getting investors so we could pay rent on the warehouse while we were waiting for our license.

Even though it’s now legal, there’s still this underground gangster mentality in the business. It’s pretty rough.

We knew we could do it differently. From day one we were working with researchers to prepare tinctures for different conditions. It’s a much finer art than most people know. You need a certain combination of THC and cannabinoid complex for each different ailment.

Over the past four years, we’ve gone from just a small medical store to having a recreation store too, and we now have around 20 staff.

There really isn’t a typical customer here, so anyone from the age of 21 to 85 walks through our door. Most of it is word of mouth; it’s hard with advertising – we can’t advertise in newspapers and magazines that sell at airports, and you can’t write off marijuana advertising like you can other advertising. Our approach is more native, and we work to educate people about the benefits of cannabinoids and our specific products.

You wouldn’t believe how many big dogs are now looking at us, at all of us. In the next five years we’re going to see the Walmarts of marijuana start coming up, it’s a turning point for the industry.

The biggest challenge still is the legal side of things. You invest so much into creating new products, and they can change the law and you have to redo an entire line because they change the wording of what you can say on it [the packaging].

There are days you want to quit and walk away from cannabis, but we know we’re helping people. We’ve worked with retired military people, the elderly. We just worked with a little girl who’s two and she was having uncontrollable seizures. The doctors couldn’t do anything, but after taking cannabis for 10 days she stopped having seizures and started responding to her parents. It’s days like this that make it worth it.”


This interview is one of three stories on Trading the Taboo. Read the full series in Issue 28 of Collective Hub, on stands now

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