“I’m completely atypical I think, in terms of how I came to the cannabis industry,” Leah Heise explained over the phone from her home in Maryland, which was at that particular moment, largely under a sheet of ice and snow. She continued to chronicle her relationship with the once maligned plant, now rapidly being re-branded not just in the medical and business worlds, but far and wide, in every avenue of American culture.

Heise only tried it recreationally once in her adolescence. And she threw up. “It was the Reagan years, you know? And Nancy Reagan was doing a great job of frying everyone’s brains as eggs on a pan. I really bought into that entire smear campaign that it was bad and that you were going to end up like Jeff Spicoli from Ridgemont High,” she explained.

It is safe to say that a younger Heise would never have guessed that one day she would be the CEO of Women Grow, a nationwide initiative that aims to empower, connect and encourage women working (or aspiring to work) in the ever-growing cannabis industry.

A Personal Journey

Heise’s path to the industry was one punctuated by anguish. In 2001, she was diagnosed with chronic pancreatitis—a nagging disease that causes the pancreas to become increasingly inflamed. The condition never heals or improves, only steadily deteriorates.

“One of the only things you can do is live day-to-day on a high level of opiate pain medication,” Heise explained—dooming those diagnosed with it to a lifetime of low-level dependency. A full 12 years later, Heise’s doctor discovered that her particular variety of the disease could be mitigated to a degree by surgery, and in its aftermath, he suggested that she try marijuana as a means to cease her use of opiate pain medication after more than a decade.

“I spent so many years in and out of the hospital…being starved and being treated with methadone [and] morphine” Heise described. She was ready for a cure, and this one worked.

The more she learned, the more she was surprised by the potential held in each stalk and stem of the plant so long reviled or relegated to the fringe of society. With a background in law that emphasized regulatory compliance, Heise decided she was going to do two things: She was going to start growing cannabis, and she was going to create a legal practice in the industry.

“Just as I started diving into this, Maryland passed its medical cannabis law. Everything happened right at the perfect time. Everything seemed to be steering me toward this path,” she reflected with assuredness. When I asked her if the discovery of cannabis has changed the course of her life, she took a big breath before exhaling, “So dramatically.”

And that’s how she came to Women Grow.

Read More On Paste Magazine