Weed Queen: Tahira Rehmatullah
This is one of my favorite interviews so far because Tahira gives us insight on what it takes to be a successful woman in a new and exciting industry, what initially inspired her to work in this market and how you can do it too.
Check out our interview below, where Tahira Rehmatullah talks about how she started her entrepreneurial journey in an industry dominated by men and shares some really helpful advice on how to jump into the cannabis industry.
How would you describe yourself and what you do?
I would describe myself as a cannabis investor, advisor, and entrepreneur. I have had the good fortune of working across the cannabis industry for the last seven years, giving me the opportunity to experience many different areas with a variety of people. From brands to investment platforms to retail to cultivation. I always like to have my hands in a few different opportunities because I get to learn and apply those learnings to new projects and ideas.
What’s your favorite part about your job? Least favorite?
My favorite part about my jobs is that every day is an adventure. As the industry grows and changes, I have the opportunity to not only participate in the creation of a lot of new aspects of the industry but also the implementation and execution of concepts and practices that have already been established. It’s exciting to be part of an industry that is still forming and developing and finding its identity and playing an active role in that.
My least favorite part of my jobs is that there are not enough hours in the day. There are so many interesting things to pursue and exciting opportunities — there just are not enough hours to actually do all the things!
What were you doing before you started a career in cannabis?
Before joining the cannabis industry, I worked in finance. I started my career at Ernst & Young and then went to a hedge fund for about five years. I also spent a year at a nonprofit fellowship working on urban housing renewal for lower income populations. All of these roles were building blocks for what would eventually become a career in cannabis.
How did that influence what you do?
My previous work influenced my decision to go into cannabis by allowing me to see what truly excited me and what very much did not. What I realized in my previous work was that I really wanted something that was more mission oriented and ultimately helped people. I did not necessarily know at that time that cannabis was going to be the emerging industry that caught my attention, but after my grandfather was diagnosed with cancer in 2013 and my family and I discovered cannabis as an alternative treatment, I realized how much power there was in cannabis and couldn’t deny the opportunity to help people and establish a new industry. It also encouraged me to be more entrepreneurial and creative about what I wanted to do and how I wanted to do it.
How did you learn the skills to start and run a successful business?
The skills I needed to start and run various businesses were collected along the way from variety of roles. I have financial training for my previous jobs in finance, I had the opportunity to work at two different nonprofits, and I was able to get an MBA before coming into cannabis. All of these helped me create a strong educational foundation that I then was able to turn into action once I joined the industry. However, I certainly didn’t know everything. I learned so much along the way through trial and error. I have made a lot of mistakes in order to understand what would ultimately lead to success. And I’m still learning! I think that’s one of the more exciting things about this industry and quite frankly any area that you’re operating in. You always want to be learning and creating something new and different.
What factors have contributed towards your path of success?
I have had a lot of help along the way. I have learned from some of the best – both what to do and what not to do. I have had a lot of support from friends and mentors inside and outside of the industry. I think one element that continues to amaze me is the network of support that I have been able to establish, and that’s a testament to how important relationships are. I’m only here because people helped me along the way, and I hope to do the same for others.
Did you ever expect a career in the cannabis space?
I never expected a career in cannabis! It was probably a bigger surprise to me than anybody else. But after I started to learn about cannabis in 2013 — the power that it had on so many populations who were suffering, the injustices that were suffered with so many minority populations, and the lack of availability and opportunity for so many – it was something that I knew I needed to be involved with. I did not necessarily know what that meant or how that would come to be since it was so early in the industry – I didn’t even know that there was an industry forming at that time. I was very fortunate that an opportunity to work in the space fell into my lap and knew that it was something that was meant to be. I didn’t know how long it would last or that the industry would develop as quickly and interestingly as it did, but seven years later, here I am!
Were your family and friends supportive of your venture?
My family and friends are actually quite supportive of my many adventures in cannabis. My parents understood early on that cannabis was medicine for so many people and thought that the medicinal aspect was the most interesting. I’m sure they did not necessarily anticipate the explosion in the industry that has happened, but they’ve always been supportive of me pursuing various opportunities and creating a footprint in the space. At the beginning, it was probably more of a joke to most people in my life because nobody really understood that cannabis would become such a large opportunity in the US and around the world, but now everybody understands what’s happening and they are interested and supportive.
What has your personal experience with cannabis been?
I was not an active cannabis consumer when I was younger or prior to coming into the industry. I really started to look at cannabis when I started looking at the opportunities within the industry. To be honest, I wasn’t comfortable with how to access it and didn’t know what was safe and what wasn’t. But I had long suffered from issues with sleep and chronic pain and once I was actually in the industry and had more access and understanding, I started consuming cannabis in various formats to help me with the different things that I was suffering from. And now I get to help others by recommending products and explaining the differences in what’s available. That’s probably the most satisfying part of being in cannabis – being able to educate and help others.
Did you ever feel like you weren’t taken seriously because you are a woman?
I feel like there were elements of not being taken seriously in every industry and job I’ve ever worked in. But that has never stopped me. There will always be barriers, there will always be something that tells you that you’re not necessarily in the right place. But you have to decide that for yourself. And I have decided that this is the place that I want to be and this is where I want to continue to grow and excel and help others do the same. So although there are barriers at times, I’m committed to overcoming them or getting around them. Whatever it takes.
How/do you think your involvement in this industry is going to positively impact your community?
I do think that my involvement in the industry has had and will continue to have a positive impact on my family and broader South Asian community. Seeing a woman involved in a space that is unchartered is not something common in a lot of communities and I hope that encourages others to do the same. I also hope it encourages others to think about natural remedies for health and wellness.
What has been your greatest obstacle in this industry to date – and how have you overcome it?
I’ve had a lot of obstacles in the industry that I’ve had to overcome. I think one element is the volatility. Because businesses are still young and leadership is inexperienced there are always twists and turns along the way. Regulations are always changing. Capital markets are still developing. Companies constantly mismanage money. There are still so many elements working against the industry, even after so much opportunity has been created. These things lead to a lot of chaos and a lot of inconsistencies. However, I have to say, that’s one of the exciting elements as well. I’ve overcome a lot of these obstacles by being nimble and utilizing my network to be able to understand the various obstacles and find solutions to either switch directions or get around them.
What’s the biggest change you want to see in the cannabis industry?
I would like to see more black and brown people engaged in the industry at all levels across all verticals. I think many of us had very high hopes that this industry would develop differently than others. That women would always have a seat at the table. That minority populations would be able to thrive in a way not seen in other markets. However, we’ve seen the same trends develop in cannabis that have developed in other industries. It’s unfortunate but it’s not how it will always be. There’s a very strong effort by a variety of people to change the way the cannabis industry runs, and I hope to play the small part in that as well.
Now that cannabis is legal, what excites you most and what worries you the most?
What excites me most is that more people will have access to products that may benefit their health and wellness on a daily basis. That people will not have to hide in the shadows or get product that maybe is not the safest just to deal with their day-to-day health issues. With legality also comes the opportunity for social justice reform and for blacks and browns to no longer be persecuted by antiquated drug laws. What worries me is that so many people will be left out of the industry because of their race or their economic position. There are so many people who have long been advocates of cannabis and I’m worried that they will not get the opportunity to actually participate in a meaningful way. I’m worried that we will look like every other industry that is run by a small concentration of people who control wealth and opportunity. I’m very much hoping that we find ways to develop systems that allow for much more access.
As a woman, what challenges did you encounter (if any) building your business in a male-dominated industry and how do you plan to create change and inclusiveness for future WOC joining the industry?
There are a lot of challenges for women and for people of color when you’re building a business in a male-dominated industry, which most industries are. Sometimes you’re not taken seriously or are assumed to be the secretary (that has definitely happened to me more than once). Sometimes it doesn’t matter how educated you are or how much more experience you have then everyone else in the room. You’re still often judged by your gender. However, I try to use this to my benefit as well. I try to elevate other women and minorities in different conversations and different platforms in order to allow for more voices around the table. I try to mentor and offer guidance to those who need it and those who seek it out. My partner at Highlands Ventures Partners, Jacqueline Bennett, and I work with a variety of groups who are female or minority lead. Our goal is to help them thrive. To take what we’ve learned over the years both in and outside of cannabis and apply that to the industry so others can benefit. We also work to help businesses we invest in and our own in hiring diverse talent. Change has to start at the top!
What would be your best piece of advice for fellow women looking to pursue the cannabis industry?
For women looking to pursue the cannabis industry, the best advice I can give is to seek out a great network and mentorship and ask for help. There are so many people who want to help others and want to give their time to support each other. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. It’s also important to think about where you want to participate in the industry and be clear about what you’re pursuing. Think about that and establish clarity around your path so you can seek out the right guidance and support system.
What would you consider to be the most effective way or initial steps of breaking down barriers and ceilings to pave this path for women in the industry?
Look for other women or minorities who want to elevate others. You may not be able to convince those who don’t necessarily want to help, but there are many people who do want to help and want to see a shift in the genders and skin tones sitting around the table. That includes men and women so think broadly about who those people are and how you can access them.
There’s still a perception or stigma attached to the people involved in the cannabis industry or just consumers that partake in recreational or medical use, as being stoners- if you have encountered this kind of close minded perspective, what would your argument be to shift the conversation to one of the importance of the weed market and why it should be celebrated/normalized?
I think the stigma around the industry is fading, particularly given how many different types of people are now engaged in the industry. There are always going to be the puns around cannabis and consumption. I don’t know if that will ever change. I do think that there is more dialogue around cannabis as a significant part of health and wellness routines and medicine. Whenever there are conversations that lean into the stereotypes, I always bring up the other side of the equation which often is enlightening for people. To be honest it is surprising to me how little so many people know. I think I’ve spent so much time in the industry that a lot of information is just obvious to me. But I have to remember that not everybody understands what has happened, how it has happened, or what’s to come. It’s our job to educate and inform others in the best possible manner and be patient because not everybody is coming from the same vantage point. Our goal is to normalize and celebrate cannabis, and the best way to do that is through education.
Do you have any suggestions on how we can help normalize cannabis?
I think the best way to normalize is to continue talking about it. To continue to share stories and facts around the impact that it has had on a variety of people. Beyond that there’s so much more and how it has helped so many different people. I think that is what ultimately is going to shift the mindset of many people.
Where can we reach you? (IG/ Twitter handle and or email)
Name 4 of your favorite women in weed that you’d like to give a shout out too. What do they do and where can we reach them?
Jacqueline Bennett, Partner at Highlands Venture Partners, and my partner in crime and constant support system
Emily Paxhia, co-founder and Managing Partner at Poseidon Asset Management, and one of my nearest and dearest friends
Rosie Mattio, founder of Mattio Communications, and one of the women in the industry who has always been ready to lend me a helping hand
Kate Crowther, senior associate at the Novus Group, and someone who has taught me to stay calm in chaos
Key Takeaways from Tahira Rehmatullah:
- Seek out a great network and mentorship and ask for help.
- Look for other women or minorities who want to elevate others.
- Think about where you want to participate in the industry and be clear about what you’re pursuing.
- It’s our job to educate and inform others in the best possible manner and be patient because not everybody is coming from the same vantage point.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
Huge shout out and big thank you to Tahira Rehmatullah for taking the time to chat about her experiences as a female entrepreneur and executive in a male dominated industry, for giving us great advice and tips on how to be successful in the weed world and for shouting out other dope Weed Queens!
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