I had the distinct pleasure of meeting the fabulous Amanda Ostrowitz at this year’s CannaTech event. From the moment she stepped on stage for our CannaPitch Event on day one, I thought, “Dang, this girl is a powerhouse!” She lit up the stage and dazzled us with the astounding resources she’s collected and organized through her web-based business, CannaRegs. Aside from being the CEO and founder of CannaRegs, a subscription service that provides enhanced access to all cannabis rules and regulations, and the winner of this year’s Marijuana Tech StartUp Competition, she’s also, simply put, a really great lady.
Enjoy this Q&A with Amanda.
How did you end up a marijuana lawyer founding CannaRegs? Throughout law school, I dabbled in a few different areas of law, at one point planned on being a tax attorney, and ultimately landed in consumer finance law. I was supposed to go directly to work for a mortgage technology company after graduating but they got bought a few months before graduation and I ended up going to work at the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City. While I was at the Fed, the topic of marijuana banking would occasionally make an appearance in lunch time conversation. The general consensus (which I did not agree with) was that the thought of banking the cannabis industry was outlandish. Being the researcher I am, I began looking for the banking laws that were affecting the industry and quickly realized that they were hard to find; they were spread between many different resources and agencies, and they varied by location. I was shocked that there was no one place where all this information existed, so I decided to build it, and that’s how CannaRegs was born.
So how does a nice Jewish girl wind up as a lawyer in the cannabis industry? How could I not! I believe the Jewish culture has a long history of entrepreneurship. While the rest of my family hold very conventional jobs, I take after my grandfather who was a career entrepreneur. It was that entrepreneurial spirit that helped him survive the Holocaust, and that same entrepreneurial spirit that helped him land on his feet when he brought my grandmother and father to the US after the war. My only regret is that he isn’t still around to guide me through this process.
Do you love what you do? Totally! People ask me why I love my job so much, and there are so many reasons it’s hard to know where to start. One of the things I like most is that I am a part of a nascent industry and that my work will help shape its future. Because this is a new industry, I have also found that my age is not a barrier the way it was in the banking world. In the banking industry it didn’t matter how much I knew because if I wasn’t at least 40 no one was going to take me seriously. In the cannabis industry all that matters to people is that I know what I’m talking about. Here expertise reigns supreme to gray hair. The “good old boys club” hasn’t even had time to form yet. Lastly, I love that my work helps bring medicine to people who desperately need it.
What are the biggest lessons you’ve learned along the way? Along the way I have learned that even in this relatively new industry, some people are still somewhat hesitant to accept new people. Given that cannabis came from the black market into the public domain, there are still lots of trust issues and you have to be careful about how you approach certain people who have been in it the industry from the start. I have learned a lot navigating that process, and I have been fortunate to have some mentors take me under their wing along the way. Having someone who has been around from the start, who can introduce you to the bigger players, makes a world of difference. Nonetheless, I have also learned that some people are just intimidated by confident young women.
What tips can you offer for industry hopefuls wanting to advance in this field? Pivot off your existing skill set. The best choice I made was pivoting my existing skill set to this industry, rather than jumping in in an area where I had no experience. All of pervious work experience dealt with complex regulations. Often, my job was to break down lengthy regulations in a way where they were easily understood to non-lawyers. It is this same skill set that is at the core of CannaRegs, but instead of banking regulations, we help people find and understand cannabis regulations. The mistake I often see (for example) is people who have made a career as a CPA deciding to quit their job and start a skincare line. Rather than starting a skincare line, I’d recommend they first enter the industry by providing CPA services to marijuana businesses.
Where do you see yourself and your company in five years? In 5 years from now, I definitely see myself in the cannabis industry. If CannaRegs is still it’s own company, it will be a national and international, and I will still be running it. Alternatively, if the right offer comes along, and CannaRegs is sold, I could see myself running a marijuana regulatory law firm or lobbying firm. Either way I expect to still be involved in marijuana regulation. If you’re interested in seeing Amanda’s presentation at CannaTech, please visit our youtube page.