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Trishelle Kirk has been the chief operating officer of Everest Apothecary since 2019, a full service medical cannabis dispensary with four locations in Albuquerque, one in Las Lunas and one in Las Cruces. The Rolling Paper. spoke to her about what motivated her to choose a career in cannabis.
The Rolling Paper: What attracted you to a career in the cannabis industry?
Kirk: I’m one of the few people in cannabis that kind of fell into it. My last job was at a locally owned solar company, and I was there for five years. As I was planning my next career move, I was listing off the things that I care about, and my main goals were that I wanted to be in an emerging industry and in a growing locally-owned company. Everest checked both of those boxes, so I dived in. I’ve learned a lot about the industry since, but I honestly knew quite little when I first got started.
I liked that the industry was growing so quickly. I was really attracted to the fact that it is very different from other industries. Cannabis can’t cross state lines, so it’s very regimented and restricted to the state, which I thought was very interesting. I also liked that New Mexico is on the cusp of moving from a medical market to an adult-use market, so I knew that there was going to be a ton of change and a ton of growth in the next five years.
And Everest is locally-owned and operated, so I was able to talk with all the owners and find out what made them want to be in cannabis. It’s a very community-based business, and that’s something that was important to me, too.
Some of these companies have outside ownership, and I feel like local ownership makes a big difference because it’s local products. I feel like when you have outside ownership in a business that’s really not crossing state lines in the foreseeable future, you miss how it impacts the community, how it can benefit the community, what the community wants. And I think all of those things are really important.
In what ways is working in the cannabis industry different than working in other sectors?
Running a cannabis business brings a unique set of challenges that I haven’t encountered in other industries. I think the main areas of difficulty are options for banking, leasing, merchant services and even purchasing. It makes every little thing you do harder. And on top of that, we operate under an archaic tax code. Even after all of these additional expenses, it further reduces our options for profitability.
We don’t really have the margins you see in other businesses. Not because the margins aren’t possible, but because of the banking laws and the tax code. We just don’t have the margins that you would expect.
The other thing that is surprising and hard is that there’s is still a stigma around cannabis. It’s very present. Even though New Mexico is—I feel—rather progressive in terms of cannabis, we’re still locked out of opportunities because of negative assumptions.
I also feel that what makes cannabis so different for me is that my team at Everest is the most passionate group of individuals I have ever had the pleasure of working with. I’ve worked in organizations where the employees really believed in what they were doing, but it really pales in comparison to the passion and commitment that you find in the cannabis industry. Throughout all of the challenges, it’s just energizing and inspiring to be around people who believe so much in the product and the industry. It’s the sweet to the sour of all the challenges that come with it.
What advice do you have for others trying to break into this industry?
Cannabis positions are really competitive. We get hundreds of applications for every position that we post. I get this question very often, and I think the advice I would give is that we get tons of applicants who say, “I’m just trying to get into the cannabis industry.” And that is far less interesting to me than candidates who say “Everest is a company where I want to work.”
For me, the attributes that really mean that you’re going to move up and do great in cannabis are creativity, drive and flexibility. Those are the things we really need.
What do you think the next year holds for the industry?
I think that there is just a ton of opportunities. Adult-use is on the horizon. If it happens, that’s an opportunity for New Mexico to be a leader in the cannabis industry. I think that New Mexico is really well-positioned in terms of everything we do. Cannabis is a really hard business, and it’s a really expensive business, which means that it’s ripe for innovation and disruptive technology. And that’s something New Mexico does really well.
We have a lot of New Mexicans in research and development. My hope is that as it goes to adult-use—and as we break down the stigma—some of those R&D groups start putting their eyes on cannabis. I also think that what the state does now could eventually position us to be a national leader in cannabis. We’re well-positioned to do large-scale manufacturing. We’re well-positioned to do large-scale cultivation. We’re well-positioned to initiate a program that allows New Mexico to diversify its tax revenue and what we do now will decide what that looks like.