5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started: “It is becoming more and more apparent that smaller businesses are being edged out.” with Gina Dubbé, Dr. Leslie Apgar and Fotis Georgiadis

It is becoming more and more apparent that smaller businesses are being edged out. With the large, multi-state companies buying up the smaller licenses, those with passion for providing patients with quality and safe medical cannabis options will no longer have a voice. In the bidding war for new licenses, the large companies are edging out the smaller independents, as they have much deeper pockets to buy their way in. Also, because they control so much of the market, they can sell to themselves at lower price points than the independents can buy it wholesale, which puts undue economic pressures on the smaller companies and can force them out of business.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Gina Dubbé and Dr. Leslie Apgar. Gina is a serial entrepreneur with a track record of growing successful businesses in emerging industries. Prior to Greenhouse Wellness, Gina was the co-founder of TheraPearl, a company that produced revolutionary hot and cold compresses filled with gel beads. TheraPearl provided a reusable, drug-free way of relieving pain and inflammation associated with muscle strains and sprains, swelling from surgery, spa treatments and allergies, and a host of other pain-producing conditions. Given her success with the company, Gina was named to Forbes Magazine’s list of Women Who Built Outstanding Companies in 2014, and TheraPearl made the Inc. 500 list of the Fastest Growing Private Companies in the US for 2 consecutive years. After TheraPearl was purchased in 2014, Gina had the resources and desire to build another business, and saw the burgeoning cannabis industry as an opportunity to provide alternative treatment options for pain management. She applied for and was awarded the dispensary license for Maryland’s 12th district, thus leading to the formation of Greenhouse Wellness. She is a Licensed Professional Engineer (PE) with a master’s degree in engineering from George Washington University and a bachelor’s degree in industrial engineering from West Virginia University.

Leslie is a physician born and raised in the Pacific Northwest. She graduated from the Honors Program at Washington State University with a BS in Zoology, then attended Penn State University for medical school. Dr. Apgar completed her residency at Penn State University’s Milton S. Hershey Medical Center. Dr. Apgar has over 20 years of experience in direct patient care and routinely counsels patients, seeing the various, sometimes devastating, conditions that can cause the need for alternative therapies. As a skilled minimally invasive surgeon, she has been on numerous hospital committees helping to educate and train new surgeons and students, change policies, and embrace emerging technologies. She has been board certified since 2002.As a serial entrepreneur and having cared for so many women with wellness complaints, she decided to fill an obvious void in the community by expanding into the aesthetics field. Her company, PuraVida Med Spa & Laser Center, was born in 2008, and she became the sole owner of the wellness facility in 2013. Her business continues to thrive well into its 11th year of operation.She partnered with Gina in 2017 to open Greenhouse Wellness, a medical cannabis dispensary in Howard County, Maryland, where she serves as medical director. Dr. Apgar regularly consults with patients on integrating medical cannabis as part of their treatment plan. Under her and Gina’s leadership, the dispensary won a “Top Workplaces” award from the Baltimore Business Journal, the first dispensary in the state to be acknowledged for such an award.

As a combination of both Gina and Leslie’s backgrounds and experience in the cannabis field, the two created Blissiva, a cannabis product company that develops product specifically to help women find relief from symptoms of anxiety, endometriosis, chronic pain, and more. Blissiva’s first product, The Balance Pen, sold out in under 6 weeks, validating a need for more female-oriented products in the marketplace.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you share with us the story about what brought you to this specific career path?

After medical cannabis became legal in Maryland, one of my patients mentioned a business opportunity to me in the field, so we scheduled a conference call with her and her California-based contact. They were interested in pitching to me, as the medical director, and getting funding from Gina for a dispensary in Maryland. Gina was looking for new opportunities after selling TheraPearl, and I was intrigued enough to at least listen to what they had to say.

So, we were driving home together after tennis as these two people gave us an overview of their concept — they were planning to bid for a cannabis cultivator, processor, and a dispensary.

Gina, being the savvy investor, asked a question regarding the economic return profile of the investment which was met with some silence and an answer of, “That’s not really important. That’s not how this works. You wouldn’t understand.”

We were a bit taken aback by the tone and response, and although we didn’t expressly say it to each other, were fairly certain we wouldn’t move forward with this specific proposal. I then dropped Gina off at her house (we were neighbors) and I hadn’t even gotten through my door when my phone rang. Gina shared, “I looked up the proposal requirements for the dispensary. It looks like it’s 20 hours of work. So, screw it. Let’s just do it ourselves.”

The proposal was due in 2 weeks, and in the middle of those 14 days, I was leaving for my honeymoon, but we jumped in. To make a longer story short, Gina dove right in, and 20 hours turned into 120 hours. She did the vast majority of the research by herself at her computer, working tirelessly. I — honeymooning and not having any formal training in medicinal marijuana — looked up the science and chemistry on it, learning on the fly about the primitive nervous system we all have, acting as science consultant and proofreader.

It was, essentially, a business proposal — and to our great surprise and delight, we were awarded a license, opened Greenhouse Wellness in December 2017, and we’ve been at it ever since.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

Our very first patient, we refer to her as “Patient Number One,” was incredibly motivated for us to open and had been emailing us for weeks before we officially had product available to sell. She had been injured in the service and had hardware in her back after surgery to correct her spinal fractures. She was in constant pain, had a fentanyl pump, and was on a significant amount of oral morphine tablets. The opioids were ruining her life, and she was desperate to have help weaning off her pharmaceuticals. To get her off of her meds, we used a THC elixir, which she used to replace a dose of her oral pain meds. When she was off her morphine, she started to wean off the fentanyl pump. Within 3 months, she was off the opioids entirely, and she is now off the cannabis as well. She made such an impact on the whole staff, and especially on me, as a physician, who had never before seen the impact of cannabis on opioid use first hand. We watched her personality change week to week, watched her change her gait as her pain lessened, and celebrated in unison when she announced she was off her pain meds completely. She changed everything for us.

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?

A lot of our funniest moments have been a result of our assumptions proving to be flat out wrong. I was convinced that flower was not going to be a valuable delivery system of cannabis in terms of medical efficacy. We really opened with a strong focus on vapes, oils, and tinctures. However, now having learned so much about the biology of the plant, I’ve completely changed my mind.

From Gina’s perspective, the funniest mistake was assuming the natural demographic would be a younger, more recreational crowd. However, one of our first patients was an 80-year-old woman, and the majority of our patients are over the age of 50. It continues to surprise and delight us — this is a demographic that grew up with a stigma around cannabis, and one that is now aging and really stand to benefit from the medicine. We are happy to serve them and are so touched by the positive outcomes they are finding.

Our funniest “day” in the dispensary was most certainly our first 4/20. We really thought it would be a “normalish” day with a slight uptick in sales due to specials we ran that week. Boy, were we wrong, as patients practically busted down our doors. It was a boon in terms of business. We achieved our highest sales on record since opening. We both just stood there completely shell-shocked and pleasantly overwhelmed at the endless traffic and excitement the entirety of that Friday.

Are you working on any exciting projects now?

Yes, we are incredibly excited about Blissiva, a medical cannabis product-oriented company designed specifically for women. We came up with the idea after meeting so many women in Greenhouse who were looking for relief from illnesses and hardships like breast cancer, menopause, endometriosis, insomnia, and anxiety. Because I’m a practicing OBGYN, and now a doctor practicing cannabis, we saw a unique opportunity to use the medicine to create products specifically made for the complexity, beauty, and power of the female body and mind. Our first of these products, The Balance Pen, aimed to help women find relief from symptoms of anxiety and insomnia, and we sold out in under 6 weeks. We are now examining our second product lines, which will be engineered to help with sexual health.

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?

Just like raising a child, to obtain success in the cannabis industry, you really need a village. Our village includes people that inspire us with their courage, usually our patients; people who keep us focused, like our accountant, who keeps us financially compliant; our security contractor, who keeps us safe and secure; and our wellness consultants, who are examples of kindness on a daily basis as they interact with our patients face to face, helping to diminish pain and suffering in the Maryland medical cannabis population.

This industry is young, dynamic, and creative. Do you use any clever and innovative marketing strategies that you think large legacy companies should consider adopting?

Marketing has certainly been one of the trickier parts of marketing this business. Given that the drug is still federally illegal, traditional advertising, like social ad placement, billboards, and more, are off limits.

Due to this, we have found more “grassroots” marketing and community engagement to be very effective. Tactics like hosting educational events and outreach, placing ads in local businesses, like diners where we know our patients are visiting, doing outreach to colleges, and having a focus on earned media through public relations, has not only helped our lead generation, but also our credibility and brand awareness.

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


1. Seeing patients feel better in real time.

This is one that NEVER gets old. We have seen so many of our patients not only find relief from their physical symptoms, but many have also been able to wean themselves off of addictive opioid regimens. This is huge to us, as our nation battles a very intense opioid epidemic.

2. The receptivity to Blissiva.

As mothers and middle-aged women starting a dispensary, we certainly had our fair share of negative reactions. Certain friends of ours may not have understood (we never held it against them) and institutions like banks even took issue with us personally. However, seeing so many women (especially ones 50+) have SUCH a positive reaction to Blissiva validates our vision of making this medicine accessible to ALL by offering a safe and comfortable experience.

3. The stigma is certainly changing.

Again, even anecdotally, we could tell you this is happening as our patient base is largely comprised of baby boomers. We see parents coming in trying to find relief for their children (children who are 18+, of course) and even friends or family members (we have some relatives in law enforcement) who are changing their opinions and asking questions about how this medicine might bring relief to themselves or loved ones who are suffering. It’s really encouraging to see the dialogue become much more inclusive and inquisitive versus just judgmental.


1. Big business coming in.

We bid in two other states after winning a license in Maryland (Pennsylvania and Ohio), and it has become very clear that already in this burgeoning stage of the industry, consolidation and big business are taking a lead. Even in Pennsylvania, where the state opened up the application process again, nearly all those who won in the second round were large, multi-state companies. This is concerning because it’s really edging out the ability for smaller, independent businesses with deep ties to their communities to thrive.

2. Monopolies.

The big companies are positioning themselves to monopolize the market, and this will limit the options that are available to patients as far as what medicines are available, as sadly, the large companies answer to their shareholders and profit over patients.

3. Unintended consequences of the plant becoming recreationally legal.

Also concerning is the unintended consequences of the plant becoming recreationally legal. When this happens, the trends indicate that versions of the plant that are very medically focused (i.e. higher CBD amounts) aren’t as accessible because the recreational demand is more focused on high THC products. While we certainly hold no judgment around that desire, those products are not always the best for those whose intention is medical, not recreational, in nature.

Can you share your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started Leading a Cannabis Business”? Please share a story or example for each.

1. You’ll lose friends.

Some folks just can’t accept cannabis as an alternative healing method, and can’t even agree to disagree because their “just say no” to drugs mentality is so hardwired. We hope that with the tincture of time, their opinions will change as more and more data become available on the validity of cannabis as a medicine and that the friendships will return.

2. You’ll lose a bank.

Gina’s personal bank, who she’d done business with for 35 years, saw in the paper that she won the medical marijuana dispensary bid — which was in her personal name, as we hadn’t had time to create an LLC or anything — and “invited her” to remove all her accounts from the bank. Basically, her personal bank tried to cancel her personal account. They had their mortgages there, all of their family’s checking accounts, the kids’ savings accounts — it was a cold slap in the face, and one of the first experiences we had of feeling like “pariahs.”

3. It’s harder than any other business.

We have found that in this industry, there are a lot of cannabis enthusiasts who saw a business opportunity, and perhaps not as many business enthusiasts who saw a cannabis opportunity. That can be challenging for some, because at the end of the day, in our case, you are running a retail business, which can be difficult. You have to deal with part-time employees, inventory management, supply and demand, and more. We are business enthusiasts, so we manage these things fairly well, but they are still challenging.

4. Cannabis is really impactful medicine.

Had I known how impactful this medicine would be, I would have wanted to jump in sooner, and I would have focused on educating others much earlier. There is so much opportunity around cannabis education, and my role these days is really to educate those around me, from the patients, to the community, to the medical practitioners. There is so much to learn, and the potential for healing from cannabis is so great that we have just scratched the surface. I am excited to see what comes next.

5. How big business would come in and snatch everything up.

It is becoming more and more apparent that smaller businesses are being edged out. With the large, multi-state companies buying up the smaller licenses, those with passion for providing patients with quality and safe medical cannabis options will no longer have a voice. In the bidding war for new licenses, the large companies are edging out the smaller independents, as they have much deeper pockets to buy their way in. Also, because they control so much of the market, they can sell to themselves at lower price points than the independents can buy it wholesale, which puts undue economic pressures on the smaller companies and can force them out of business.

What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive?

Definitely implement a training program. Product knowledge and customer experience is key to maintaining a great brand and growing patient base. The more you educate your employees and the better you treat them, the more this will reflect in their interactions with patients, and all will benefit.

Additionally, always emphasize what makes you different. We were nervous about being one of the only women-owned cannabis businesses in the state and taking such a strong medical approach when many of our competitors were positioning themselves more recreationally, but this made us stand out. We’d find patients who would drive, in some cases a couple hours, just for that unique difference.

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

Definitely inspiring more women in business. We are currently in the process of writing a book about how we founded Greenhouse Wellness and Blissiva, and the true intention behind this endeavor is to encourage other women to unapologetically “go for it.” We were two working mothers with many odds stacked against us — we were in an industry we knew nothing about at the time, one that was heavily stigmatized, and one that had very few women in it — and we just went for it and didn’t look back. While the number of stories of female entrepreneurs are certainly increasing, we still have a long way to go in providing examples that let other women know it’s okay to throw your hat in the ring.

We hope our story will serve as an inspiration and a love letter — for other women who are forging their own ways in their careers and lives, becoming their own types of disruptors, and challenging the status quo. It’s certainly the mantra we go to bed with, and we hope it’ll be the fight song other women wake up to, or the pat on the back when they are doubting themselves.

What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?


@blissiva — https://www.instagram.com/blissiva/

@greenhousewellnessmd — https://www.instagram.com/greenhousewellnessmd/




Thank you for joining us!

5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started: “It is becoming more and more apparent that… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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