Seattle native Alisa Stack recently joined Takoma Wellness Center in Washington, D.C. as General Manager. As is the case with so many new entrants to the legal cannabis industry, her entry is anything but traditional. A 20-year veteran of the Department of Defense, Stack spent two years in Afghanistan as Deputy Chief of Staff for Stability Operations in Kabul. She was responsible for development and oversight of detention policy, including operations at Guantanamo Bay, and was a specialist on issues relating to terrorism.
Stack also brings an impressive educational background, including a Bachelor of Arts in International Relations from the University of Washington, a Master of Science from the National War College and a Master of International Affairs from Columbia University. We reached out to Alisa to better understand her transition to the cannabis industry and how leading companies in the space are finding talent from unusual sources.
Alan: Alisa, before we talk about your new position at Takoma Wellness, can you discuss your background and how you became interested in the cannabis industry?
Alisa: I joined the Department of Defense in 1997, and loved every job I had. I worked on counterterrorism policy and strategy, spent two years in Afghanistan with the International Security Assistance Force, and worked on a major reorganization of how the Department accounts for people missing from past conflicts. I also worked on detention policy twice, and was privileged to spend two years at the National Defense University. I worked with true heroes. They mentored me, taught me about leadership and management, and supported me in taking on challenges that I hadn’t known existed. It’s their example, in many ways, that gave me the confidence to make the leap into the cannabis sector.
On a trip to my hometown, Seattle, I saw my first dispensaries and recreational shops. Coming from the land that produced Nordstrom, REI, and Starbucks, I thought we could do better in terms of customer service and comfort, especially for patients who might be experiencing distress. It piqued my interested. I started researching, going to conferences, and talking with experts. I volunteered with two organizations, Law Enforcement Action Partnership and Americans for Safe Access, to learn and gain experience. The more I learned about medical marijuana, the more it reminded me of why I joined the US Government: to help people.
I found that there are some parallels between my experience at the Department of Defense and the medical marijuana industry. Both are highly regulated, so having clear standard operating procedures and compliance checks are vital. Circumstances are always changing, so quickly adapting standard operating procedures is normal. Importantly, training and education are valued as part of the job.
Alan: I am familiar with Takoma Wellness as an early leader in the Washington, D.C. medical cannabis market that seems to share your desire to help people. Were they looking to fill your specific position, or did you reach out to them initially?
Alisa: Yes, Takoma Wellness Center was looking for a general manager. In learning about the industry, I had followed Takoma Wellness Center in the news and heard the owners speak in different fora. I thought I’d be a long-shot candidate, but this is where I wanted to be.
Alan: What is it about Takoma Wellness that resonated with you?
Alisa: Many things. First, their desire to memorialize Mrs. Kahn’s parents through the Center is admirable — and creative. They have been successful in creating a living, giving memorial. Second, Takoma Wellness Center’s commitment to quality and reliable access to medicine is something I wanted to promote. Third, the Kahn family’s activism on behalf of patients is evident in how they run the center and in their continual engagement with the District of Columbia to change and enact regulations that advance patient access to safe medicine. Similarly, their involvement with industry and patient advocacy groups has set standards. They’re a name brand with an excellent reputation. Whenever I mention where I work, the response is, “Oh, they’re great. I love the Rabbi!” Many organizations have great mission and vision statements but are challenged in living them. Takoma Wellness Center lives its values.
Alan: Many of our readers are looking to enter the cannabis industry. What advice can you share about seeking a position despite having no prior experience in the industry? Was this a big factor in the interviewing process?
Alisa: Networking and persistence. The networking, like any job transition, helps with building knowledge and finding opportunities. Persistence, like any job transition, helps with rejection.
Being unknown and untested in the cannabis industry was a challenge for me. At the same time, many people in the business told me that leadership, communication, and management skills are needed in the industry. Volunteering, going to industry conferences, and informational interviews helped me show potential employers where my skills would help.
Alan: Tell us about your day-to-day responsibilities at your new position.
Alisa: After just a few weeks in the job, I’m still learning. I will, however, continue to promote Takoma Wellness Center’s patient-centered work environment, attract and retain talented staff, examine standard operating procedures, and look for ways to continue to improve the patient experience.
Alan: I know you are new on the job, but what kind of changes are you working on at Takoma Wellness?
Alisa: My initial reaction is that Takoma Wellness Center should play to its strengths. So far, I’d like to focus on capturing what makes Takoma Wellness Center work so well and find ways to repeat and magnify strengths.
Alan: Can you share some observations as a relative newcomer to the industry? How do you think the industry can improve?
Alisa: Coming from the outside, it would helpful to have industry standards and standardized terms. Similarly, having more research and some basic education would make entry into the industry easier. I enjoy working with Americans for Safe Access, in part, for this reason. They’ve been very welcoming in explaining the different aspects of cannabis and creating systems and terms that the layperson can understand.
After just a few weeks on the inside, I have a greater appreciation for the absolute necessity of changes to banking and tax regulations.
Alan: Alisa, thanks for taking the time to share your inspirational story with our audience! We look forward to checking back with you in the future and wish you and the team at Takoma Wellness much success.
Do you have an interesting story to share? Let us know!