Spotlighting the world of cannabis-infused innovation with Mary Jane’s Medicinals owner, Dahlia Mertens
Imagine a biocomposite as strong as fiberglass yet lighter in weight, a bacteria-fighting fabric, a more sustainable thermal insulator, a nanomaterial superior to graphene and cheaper, faster-charging batteries. Innovations such as these have been coming to life as a direct result of cannabis legalization within the United States and Canada. As the movement to legalize cannabis moves forward, many of the contrived stereotypes such as “reefer madness” that had been popularized in the mid-20th century are going up in smoke. Or up in nanomaterials and massage oils, as the case may be. Today a new breed of scientists, researchers, and cannabis entrepreneurs are emerging to shed light on ways in which the non-psychoactive properties of the cannabis plant can be used to enhance everyday life.
Since the beginning of ancient agriculture, strains of cannabis have been harvested for a variety of medicinal purposes. Hemp was a popular crop among practical-minded American colonists including President George Washington because it could be processed into a number of products including rope, canvas, paper, and clothing.
In 1942, the U.S. Department of Agriculture encouraged American farmers to grow cannabis in its “Hemp for Victory” campaign to support the nation’s dwindling supply of industrial fibers.
Yet as bright (and useful) as the history of cannabis has been, researchers are now poised to unlock even more hidden benefits. According to Barbara Filippone, President of EnviroTextiles, LLC, a leading innovator of new hemp-based products and biocomposites, “hemp has over 25,000 uses including variations of food, fuel, feed, and fiber.”
Among cannabis entrepreneurs that have been on the rise over the last several years is Dahlia Mertens, founder and owner of one of the world’s leading brands of cannabis-infused topicals, Mary Jane’s Medicinals. These days Mertens is riding a new kind of ‘Rocky Mountain high,’ the sort that comes from positive business results and a strong base of happy customers.
Inspired by positive customer feedback and bolstered by a growing demand for her products, Mertens and her team recently expanded manufacturing operations in the company’s Telluride-based facilities to include a state-of-the art grow, an indoor climate-controlled facility which houses hundreds of plants, “I’m excited about what’s next for our company” says Mertens, “we’ve got a highly talented team in place and the new grow means we can expand our product line and increase efficiencies in processing while also maintaining our commitment on quality.”
Although Mary Jane’s products have traditionally focused on herbal therapies in the form of salves, tinctures, and oils, the company will also soon be diversifying with the launch of “Mary Jane’s Wonder Buds,” a branded line of premium soil-grown cannabis for recreational use.
Fortunately for Mary Jane’s Medicinals and other industry leaders, the cannabis movement has come a long way since 1996 when California became the first state to legalize cannabis for medicinal purposes. Based on recent progress, Mertens is optimistic federal legalization is likely within the next five years, “of course I’ve been saying that for the past two years,” she adds with a grin, “but it really does seem as though the tide is changing – there’s so much more momentum now with new states coming online and others putting legalization to the vote in upcoming elections.”
Cannabis industry booms locally, yet still gets busted by federal banking practices
According to recent reports, Colorado tax revenues from cannabis reached $70 million, a boon to the state that exceeds revenues from the sale of alcohol during the same one-year period ending June 30, 2015. However, while the state is profiting from strong sales growth, Colorado entrepreneurs like Mertens still pay a heavy price due to federal legislation, especially when it comes to banking. According to Mertens, seven of her bank accounts were abruptly closed once banks discovered she was in the cannabis business.
Mertens believes businesses operating legally in states such as Colorado should have the same rights under the federal tax code as any other legal business. Currently, cannabis business owners suffer federal tax penalties that were meant to thwart the big “drug lords” and various other operators in the world of Schedule I narcotics trafficking, a disappointing catch that hardly seems fair and takes a heavy toll on law-abiding cannabis business leaders.
Although Mertens is now an established pioneer in the modern cannabis industry, she acknowledges that her acceptance of the plant’s potential benefits didn’t happen overnight.
Raised in Chappaqua, an affluent suburb of New York City best known for excellent public schools and a coterie of famous residents, Mertens grew up enchanted by the world of plants, a fondness which she readily attributes to her mother, “my Mom was passionate about gardening and I was usually by her side so it rubbed off. ”
Situated on a lush two-acres replete with old trees, lilacs, raspberry and blueberry bushes and a number of antique rose bushes, the Mertens’ family home provided fertile ground for gardening and outdoors exploration. Across the street from the family’s house was a swamp with trees growing out of moss tufts and vines hanging down from the branches. As Mertens fondly recalls, “it was like being in Tarzan – you could swing from moss tuft to moss tuft.” Although she notes it was a bit tricky because moss tufts are slippery and a splash in the swamp was not uncommon. “That’s how I would test my play dates when I was little,” Mertens joked, “if they fell in and cried we might not have another play date.”
Creativity seemed to be as much a part of the family’s DNA as gardening. Mertens’ Scotland-born mother had arrived in the United States after being handpicked by Martha Graham to study modern dance in her New York City company. Her father, meanwhile, is a successful photographer and her siblings have both followed suit by pursuing careers in the arts.
When asked if she ever envisioned herself as a leader in the cannabis industry as a child, Mertens laughs. Similar to her peers who grew up in the era of “Just Say No,” a prominent advertising campaign championed by Nancy Reagan in the “War on Drugs,” Mertens initially perceived marijuana in a negative light. “I more or less believed the propaganda about marijuana just as most people did back then.”
Today, Mertens perspectives on cannabis are a far cry from the outdated stereotypes she once held. Informed by science and inspired by Mary Jane’s customer testimonials, Mertens’ success in the world of topicals has made her a powerful and compelling voice for change in the growing community. Recently, she traveled to Washington, DC with Women Grow, an organization devoted to cannabis industry leaders, to help share opportunities that legalization can bring to communities throughout the United States.
Mertens is also a natural leader with an easygoing style. “She has a strong vision, but she trusts people she works with – as an artist, I really appreciate that” noted long-time friend and artist behind the Mary Jane’s logo, Liz Lomax.
Despite all the attention from the press, including a recent mention in Italian Vanity Fair, features on shows such as the Cannabist and a lead role in an upcoming documentary about female entrepreneurs, Mertens hasn’t let the attention get to her head. “We’re still a startup and there’s so much on our ‘to do’ list -we’re excited to continue expanding.” The future is bright and “I’m always learning,” she adds, “it’s fascinating because there’s so much potential for the plant to support natural healing and it’s still yet to be discovered.”
Sources & Additional Resources
Hemp for Victory, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a1oFcgLfgV0
Booth, Martin. 2003. Cannabis: A History. London, England: Doubleday.