Women Leading The Cannabis Industry: “Understand and know the federal and state laws” With Dr. Elaine Burns of ‘DrBurns ReLeaf’

Like many industries, there is still a good old boys network in the cannabis industry. I think organizations like Women Grow and Ellementa, which provide resources, mentorship and support for women in cannabis is key. Growing women into the industry has to come from a grassroots effort of women supporting each other. As more and more big corporations come into the industry and bring their often traditional, gender-biased culture this becomes even more important. Changing corporate culture comes from leading by example.

had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Elaine Burns.

She is an Arizona-licensed Naturopathic Physician and the first in the state to pass the American Academy of Cannabinoid Medicine (AACM) physician certification test in 2012. In the field of cannabinoid medicine, she is a trusted educator for patients and clinicians and actively advocates at the legislative level to help give patients a voice.

In addition to her healthcare contributions, Dr. Burns is a wellness entrepreneur. She is the founder and CEO of DrBurns’ ReLeaf™, a physician-formulated CBD wellness collection which includes botanical-infused products. She also serves as the medical director of the Southwest Medical Marijuana Physicians Group, which she founded in 2011. The organization offers guidance and sound medical advice to patients seeking alternative therapies focused on use of cannabis.

A devoted healthcare professional with practices and products rooted in science, Dr. Burns is passionate about providing alternative treatment options and confidential care to her patients. She has accrued more than nine years of clinical training and regularly enrolls in continuing education and post-graduate medical cannabis courses. This ongoing training and devotion to healthcare has allowed Dr. Burns to identify challenges within the medical marijuana community and stay at the forefront of the industry.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to the cannabis industry?

Asa naturopathic doctor, I have a background in botanical medicine which prompted me to transition into the medical marijuana space when it became legal in Arizona. Mainstream doctors do not have this same background or training, which is why I was ready and prepared to fill this healthcare role. Without having knowledgeable physicians in the industry from the start, it would have been hard to have a successful program in the state.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

When people find out my last name is Burns and I’m in cannabis they think it’s hysterical. As someone who focuses on the clinical, not recreational side of the industry, I never made the link between “Burns” and smoking a joint. But what that taught me is how the misconceptions about cannabis are more deep-seated and broader than I thought. Recreational or adult-use cannabis are often lumped together with clinical use, however they are far from the same. This leads to the stigmatizing of people in the clinical cannabis field and those using medical marijuana.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

This isn’t a mistake, but more of a situation I never expected to be in while running a physician’s practice. Being a doctor in this industry is not for the faint of heart since cannabinoid physicians really toe the line when it comes to legality issues. When I first opened the Southwest Medical Marijuana Physicians Group, it was common for undercover DEA officers to pose as patients or reporters and do undercover video-taping when they came in. We have come a long way since Arizona’s MMJ Act passed in 2011. Now, I am often invited into very well-known conventional physician groups, such as Banner Alzheimer’s Institute, Banner Neurological Institute and Barrow Neurologic Institute, to educate mainstream physicians regarding the science and therapeutic potentials of cannabis. What I’ve learned over the past decade is the importance of putting one foot in front of the other, especially in this industry. It’s hard work, but in the end, the rewards are worth it.

Do you have a funny story about how someone you knew reacted when they first heard you were getting into the cannabis industry?

As I said before, most people think I’m using a pseudonym for my work in the cannabis industry, but Burns is really my last name.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

There really isn’t a specific person. I collaborated with many people along the way and I’m very grateful to each for their professionalism and business acumen. It really does take a village, especially in an industry like cannabis.

Are you working on any new or exciting projects now? How do you think that will help people?

Yes, I’m working on a new extraction product line called Legit Extracts that will launch soon. It’s a full spectrum, not isolate based line, meaning that more benefits from the cannabis can be retained and the therapeutic value is higher.

Ok. Thank you for all that. Let’s now jump to the main core of our interview. Despite great progress that has been made we still have a lot more work to do to achieve gender parity in this industry. According to this report in Entrepreneur, less than 25 percent of cannabis businesses are run by women. In your opinion or experience, what 3 things can be done by a)individuals b)companies and/or c) society to support greater gender parity moving forward?

Like many industries, there is still a good old boys network in the cannabis industry. I think organizations like Women Grow and Ellementa, which provide resources, mentorship and support for women in cannabis is key. Growing women into the industry has to come from a grassroots effort of women supporting each other. As more and more big corporations come into the industry and bring their often traditional, gender-biased culture this becomes even more important. Changing corporate culture comes from leading by example.

You are a “Cannabis Insider”. If you had to advise someone about 5 non-intuitive things one should know to succeed in the cannabis industry, what would you say? Can you please give a story or an example for each.

There is just one fundamental thing: Understand and know the federal and state laws. Some people getting into the industry have no idea that even something as simple as banking and merchant services will not be available or, at the very least, challenging. Something every buyer should know is that this industry draws in a lot of people who want to get rich quickly. The Green Rush brings a high risk of integrity issues; Be cautious.

Can you share 3 things that most excite you about the cannabis industry?

  1. The current, developing studies on the therapeutic benefit of cannabis
  2. More mainstream doctors referring patients for medical marijuana treatment
  3. Seeing an increase in studies

Can you share 3 things that most concern you about the industry? If you had the ability to implement 3 ways to reform or improve the industry, what would you suggest?

The biggest challenge in the industry is access to banking, merchant services, medical malpractice insurance due to the lack of federal support and clarification about the cannabis industry. Until medical marijuana is legalized at the federal level we will continue to have this serious issue in our industry.

What are your thoughts about federal legalization of cannabis? If you could speak to your Senator, what would be your most persuasive argument regarding why they should or should not pursue federal legalization?

Let me give you a timely example of the problem without having federal legalization. During the pandemic, I applied for and was granted a PPP loan through my bank. Literally as I was filling out the online paperwork, my documents disappeared. I called the bank and found out it was because they just realized I was a doctor that prescribed medical marijuana.

Today, cigarettes are legal, but they are heavily regulated, highly taxed, and they are somewhat socially marginalized. Would you like cannabis to have a similar status to cigarettes or different? Can you explain?

Recreationally, sure. Clinically, no. Clinically it’s medicine and should be treated like any other medical prescription.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“You get in life what you have the courage to ask for.” — Oprah

People in general, women especially, have a hard time asking for what they want. If you don’t ask, you know the answer.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

What I’ve done since 2011 at the local level is to advocate and educate about the medical benefits of cannabis. I’d love to create a movement of open mindedness to view cannabis from the medicinal, rather than the reefer madness alternative.