My Cannabis Career is a series of interviews featuring people in the cannabis industry. These stories illuminate diverse cannabis career paths, share learnings from strategic actions taken along the way, and provide insights into a green future.
From working at Dunkin' Donuts with a felony record to opening her own cannabis delivery operation, Alissa Nowak’s career path has been far from traditional. Through initiative and sheer will, Alissa bet on herself and on Massachusetts’ cannabis market to build her own legal cannabis delivery business, Lucky Green Ladies.
After previously delivering cannabis illegally from her car, Alissa now has an opportunity to bring patients their medicine without looking over her shoulder for police. She gave her brand the name "Lucky Green Ladies" because she feels truly lucky to have an opportunity to work in cannabis — legally. With this luck and a drive to take a second shot at success in life, Alissa is here to make waves in the industry.
Read on to hear the full story of Alissa Nowak and her career in cannabis.
Can you provide some details on your relationship with cannabis and how that brought you to this industry?
I started smoking cannabis in high school with my friends and I immediately thought it was incredible. I loved it. The feeling I could get from a joint or bowl wasn’t comparable to anything I had ever felt. Cannabis helped me with anxiety and stress. Plus it was a lot of fun.
The problem was that I came from a very conservative family. I went to Catholic school. My parents were totally not okay with me consuming cannabis. Whenever they smelled that classic “weed scent” in our home, they freaked out.
My parents’ disapproval of cannabis was actually a contributing factor in what I consider the worst decision I ever made in my life. When I realized I couldn’t get away with smoking weed, I switched to prescription pills. I was trying to replicate the feeling that cannabis gave me with unnatural drugs and I was doing so because I wanted to hide it. There’s no smell with pills. And it’s easier (or so I thought) to get by using these drugs without anyone noticing.
At 19, I had a felony arrest for Xanax possession. It was a life-altering and unexpected moment for me. I didn’t have a troubled upbringing that led me down this path. I came from a good family and the arrest was something that I don’t think anyone saw coming.
After being arrested, I went back to cannabis. I threw out the pills and couldn’t even understand why I started taking them in the first place. Cannabis met all of my needs, plus it was legal in most states anyway, so I got my medical card.
With a felony on my record, I moved to Massachusetts. I felt embarrassed applying for jobs and noticed it was hard to feel good about myself. My self-confidence was at an all-time low.
I was working at Dunkin' Donuts because I felt like no one else would hire me. Even though I had a bachelor’s degree and was in the process of getting my master’s, my arrest made me feel inferior.
My partner and I bought a house and then ended up breaking up so I was left with a mortgage that I couldn’t afford.
Out of desperation, I made an Instagram account and just started selling weed to make enough money to get by. In a short span of time, my (illegal) business blew up. I built a recognizable brand by delivering cannabis in the legacy market.
But all things come to an end and I was arrested for the illegal distribution of cannabis. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise because the cannabis-related arrest helped me qualify for Massachusetts’ Social Equity Program.
The name of my brand, Lucky Green Ladies, stems from the idea that I consider myself lucky to even be in the position of selling legal cannabis. I was headed down the wrong path but was able to flip this experience into a positive light with my legal cannabis operation.
As part of both the LGBTQ+ community and the legal cannabis industry, have you found that there is an equal representation of marginalized groups in cannabis?
There aren’t many LGBTQ+ licensees in Massachusetts. I don’t have an exact number, but my estimate would be that there are less than 10. That’s out of 300 retail stores. There’s clearly a huge disparity.
But the few gay folks that I’ve come into contact with in cannabis have been incredibly supportive. I regularly conduct cold outreach to people via email and all of the LGBTQ+ owners that I reach out to have answered right away. They always want to help.
Through my outreach, I found out about the Massachusetts LGBT Chamber of Commerce, who have been amazing. Not only has the group helped me with my business, but they hold events where people come and support each other. They’re creating a tight-knit community of LGBTQ+ people in cannabis who are excited to help each other's businesses grow and thrive.
To put it simply, there isn’t enough being done by either the state or the larger cannabis companies in Massachusetts to foster an inclusive and diverse cannabis industry. But for those of us in the LGBTQ+ community—even though it’s small—we have each other’s backs. We’re going to make sure no one is left behind.
How are you personally helping to improve diversity in the Massachusetts cannabis industry?
As a social equity entrepreneur, I’ve seen firsthand how difficult it can be to build a business in cannabis. From applications to licensing, it’s a long process with little guidance for those without the resources to hire help.
Even though I’m still getting my foot in the door, I decided to create a Positive Impact Plan which will essentially function as my own version of a social equity program.
I’m putting together a curriculum and teaching potential social equity participants about the steps they’ll need to take to successfully apply for and operate a social equity cannabis license in Massachusetts.
The state’s social equity program was life-changing for me. They taught me for six months about opening and operating a cannabis business. I wouldn’t be where I am without it.
But I’d like to take my program a step further by opening it up to disadvantaged business enterprises (women, LGBTQ+, Veterans, etc.). Unfortunately, the social equity program in Massachusetts isn’t offered for DBEs, so I’m giving those groups the same access to education that I was lucky enough to receive.
What is the biggest challenge that prospective LGBTQ+ cannabis businesses face? How can we solve this?
I’ll be upfront here, I’m relatively new to the LGBTQ+ space myself. I came out about 5 years ago and can only speak from personal experience.
But I would say the biggest barrier I’ve seen in cannabis is centered around education. If you don’t have a mentor helping you, then you’re operating entirely on your own in a space that is riddled with confusing laws, regulations, and applications.
I wouldn’t have been able to do this without help. Every person isn’t afforded that same opportunity.
If I had to take guess where the disconnect between cannabis and diversity is happening then I would say it’s because of a lack of access to education. Starting a business isn’t easy. Starting a cannabis business is downright difficult. Money and capital are one thing, but understanding compliance and regulations is a whole other beast.
I’d say the best way to improve diversity in cannabis is to start with education. Providing mentorship programs and reading materials for those trying to advance in the cannabis industry is a must, especially with the growing competition across the board.
Education is only a start, there’s a long list of changes that I want to see in cannabis. If we don’t see someone else making them, we all need to step up to be that change.
Don’t be put down by mistakes in your past. Let them motivate you toward new goals.
If you’re part of a disparaged group, search for programs meant to help you succeed in cannabis. Social Equity Programs are sometimes hard to find but can change your life.
Find a mentor! Reach out to others in your community and ask for advice and build a relationship. In cannabis, it’s all about surrounding yourself with the right people.
Alissa's journey in cannabis is far from over, but she's already overcome more than most. We're looking forward to watching Lucky Green Ladies take off in the coming months. To keep up with Alissa's cannabis career, follow her on Linkedin.