I had the pleasure to interview Lynn Key. Lynn is the founder of Nature’s Key one of Oklahoma’s largest edibles companies. At 61 years old, Lynn left her office job to form her edibles company. Her motto which is now the company mission is to “help people help themselves, naturally.”
Thank you so much for doing this with us Lynn! Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to the cannabis industry?
I have always been interested in helping people. I am known to be a “fixer”. Growing up I always thought I would be a nurse or a counselor. However in the words of John Lennon: “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”
Being a cannabis user for years, before it became legal, I was always searched for natural medicine. I want people to know that there are medicines without side effects or the expense of western medicine. Therefore I started an essential oil business. I held classes and marketed the oils and their God-given benefits.
The essential oil business was turning out to be exciting and profitable for me so I decided to form an LLC. In January of 2018, I went to my attorney for assistance. While working with him, he asked me, “what do you really want to do?” I told him I would like to open a dispensary. It was not legal in Oklahoma yet. The vote to legalize medical marijuana was not to take place for several months. Nevertheless, my attorney, bless his heart, encouraged me to pursue it. So I started with a CBD shop which helped open the doors to the cannabis industry.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
This is a tough one to answer. This industry is truly the definition of the wild west. The laws are consistently changing which makes each day extremely interesting. However, I must say the most interesting thing I learned was, it is difficult and sometimes impossible, to convert an edible recipe from something you would make in your own kitchen to something you would produce commercially.
When trying to convert grandma’s recipe we found making it in bulk ended up to be a goopy mess. We also needed to consider shelf life. A homemade recipe cannot withstand the length of time a brownie may be on display, in a dispensary before, purchase.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
During our first week of being open, we were scrambling to make money. I promised a company I would get them 500 cereal bars on a weekend. I knew we wouldn’t have a problem with getting them all made. What I neglected to think about were labeling and packaging. The first night my husband and I were up until 2:00 a.m. printing and labeling. Jokingly I said to him, “one day we are going to look back at this and laugh.”
The next day we still had hundreds of labels to apply. Three young men from Medicus Auri, also processors, came in to meet me. The meeting took longer than expected. When my husband came up to my office he noticed I had not labeled any packages. He expressed his disappointment. Upon hearing that, these 3 young men whom I had never met before, rolled up their sleeves and stayed until every package was finished.
What did I learned from that? I learned that this industry can be extremely helpful and kind. Sure we have some negativity in this industry, but overall we are quite open to assist when needed. We do not have to be in constant competition. We can share the love and help each other out.
Do you have a funny story about how someone you knew reacted when they first heard you were getting into the cannabis industry?
The best story I have on that is when I told my 85-year-old dad, whose comment was, “I don’t recall giving you permission to do that!” He was serious.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
Oh my gosh! So much help and advice from so many people. However, the one that stands out the most is one of my investors, Brad Gorsuch. I was struggling and he came into my life like a beacon of light. He understood so many aspects of developing a new business. His ideas and his friendship helped to lay the entire ground floor. Brad taught me the importance of reaching out for help, whether it be a consultant, or purchasing the pricy equipment to help us grow. His biggest lesson? We all know it. We need to spend money to make money.
Are you working on any new or exciting projects now? How do you think that will help people?
We are always in research and development mode at Nature’s Key. Science is now understanding how the whole plant helps our bodies. It is important to feed our endocannabinoid with the full spectrum of the cannabis plant, not just THC or CBD. Nature’s Key is working on developing edibles that are catered medically to heal people. People are just now learning how the whole plant helps us.
I am getting testimonials from people who tell me our combination CBD/THC edibles have improved their lives. Low doses of THC combined with a higher dose of CBD is providing, to the patients, as well as medical professionals, that these combinations do not make one “high.” They tell us they have less anxiety, more focus, and a greater sense of well-being.
Ok. Thank you for all that. Let’s now jump to the main core of our interview. Despite the great progress that has been made we still have a lot more work to do to achieve gender parity in this industry. According to this report in Entrepreneur, less than 25 percent of cannabis businesses are run by women. In your opinion or experience, what 3 things can be done by a)individuals b)companies and/or c) society to support greater gender parity moving forward?
1 . The number one thing I would say to, A, B and C are: Stay Positive! So many times we are sucked in by the naysayers. These people mean well but the negativity can drag you down and make you doubt yourself. Women especially get that raised eyebrow look. Having confidence in yourself helps you shake off the negativity and move forward as the strong woman you are.
2. Come up with a plan, but be willing to change. Your plan should be flexible enough to not stop you dead in your tracks if there are roadblocks. Although your plan may appear flawless, listen to others and learn from their experiences. It is so much easier to learn from someone else’s mistakes. Learn from your mistakes as well. Grow from it and share it when needed. When you help someone else, karma makes sure to pay you back. I truly believe that.
3. Take care of yourself! Starting a business is stressful starting a cannabis business triples the stress. So many women I know struggle to eat at all when they are under stress. At my house, my husband sometimes jokes when I make a “happy plate,” meaning I have taken the time out to eat my food. Love yourself, you are going to need all the love you can get.
4. Stress can make anyone emotional. Women will often cry more than men. One time I was sitting in the company lounge, I was crying my eyes out to my production engineer. I was to him, “I am the happiest I have ever been in my entire life, but I am so stressed out!” This too shall pass!
You are a “Cannabis Insider”. If you had to advise someone about 5 non intuitive things one should know to succeed in the cannabis industry, what would you say? Can you please give a story or an example for each.
Educate yourself. Just because you smoked weed for 40 years and you can tell the difference between indica and sativa doesn’t help you to develop medical marijuana.
This goes for all industries to treat your people well. In the cannabis industry, we have a high turnover rate. When an employee feels appreciated, needed, and secure, she/he is likely to stay with you and remain an honest employee. Honesty is extremely since most of us are in an all-cash business.
Produce a high-quality product people will trust with brand recognition. We use only the best ingredients with no artificial flavors or colors. We test our product for potency on a regular basis because we never want a patient to get miss.” “A miss” happens when a product states it contains 35 mg of THC whereas the lab tests verifies it contains 2 mg. That happened to me when I bought my first edible from another company. I tried it. I ate a 50 mg candy, experienced no results, so I sent it off to the lab only to find out it only contained 2 mg. Be true to your brand and value your brand. Don’t cheat the people.
Know and like your competitors. They are trying to make a living just like you. More than once I have had competitors in my office asking for advice. I don’t give away company secrets, but it shows kindness as well as the confidence to help a competitor. For example, I let them know what they need to do to pass health department criteria. Why not help someone out? They may compete with you a little but now they are also your friends.
Prepare for taxes! The taxes are unreasonable and were made by an uneducated government. Relatively speaking a non-cannabis business will pay 35% in taxes, our industry will pay almost 80% Prepare for that!
Can you share 3 things that most excite you about the cannabis industry?
I am extremely excited the House Judiciary Committee has approved a bill to decriminalize marijuana.
People are educating themselves more and more about holistic healing. They understand that you can get help without the “stoned” effect of cannabis. There are so many people who are treating depression, anxiety, and pain without the harmful side effects. Elderly people, as well as children, are experiencing the benefits of micro-dosing. Micro dosing is a low dose of THC. This is exciting because people can experience relief without the head change.
It is exciting to be in this industry and it keeps you on your toes. There are the ever-changing laws, the inspections, the licensing — It is never-ending. Sure this business can be frustrating at times, but it is extremely gratifying. People thank you and hug you for changing their lives. This life is as rewarding as it is challenging and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.
Can you share 3 things that most concern you about the industry? If you had the ability to implement 3 ways to reform or improve the industry, what would you suggest?
We need legal banking. It is dangerous as well as impractical that this industry is not allowed to bank its money without exuberant fees. My husband and I were forced to close our personal credit union accounts because they read an article, in a local publication, about me owning a cannabis business. Some business owners have to pay our employees in cash. It is hard to pay bills when you have only cash.
Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority also known as OMMA needs to stop forcing us to put a lie on all of our packagings. It is an OMMA law, to put on every package, “not safe for kids or pets”. This is not true. Should a child eat 50mg of THC, the child would sleep it off and wake up the next day. Instead, the government chooses to remain uneducated and keeps “Refer Madness” alive with pointless warnings. If a customer should call wanting advice because her dog ate a brownie, I would direct her to watch the dog for symptoms of chocolate consumption as chocolate is toxic to dogs, not cannabis. We know in the industry all living creatures have an endocannabinoid system.
Legalize the plant so more studies can be done here in the U.S. There is research from other countries, but we need it here as well. The more research that is done, the more we can learn and understand from the benefits of this plant. We have barely scratched the surface on the terpene profiles that come from this herbal miracle. With proper research and testing, we could develop more lifesaving medicines. We need to educate people on how to feed their endocannabinoid system. People would sleep better, wake up with less pain, and have a greater feeling of well-being.
What are your thoughts about the federal legalization of cannabis? If you could speak to your Senator, what would be your most persuasive argument regarding why they should or should not pursue federal legalization?
Make the laws based on fact, not opinion or profit. We govern marijuana like a schedule one narcotic because the government has it listed as a schedule one narcotic. According to the DEA, schedule one drugs are considered drugs with “no currently accepted medical use and high for attentional abuse.” Any marijuana educated person knows that is not true. It is embarrassing to this country when an elected official tries to keep the “Refer Madness” hype alive out of ignorance and for profits. Thirty-three states have legalized marijuana in one way or another. The people have proven this law to be antiquated and wrong, because of the documented medical benefits. It, unfortunately, will take an act of congress to get it removed from such inaccurate status.
At the very least, consult with an industry professional in the edible industry (like myself) before implementing new laws. The Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority is operated under the Oklahoma State Department of Health. Many of their board members specialize in other fields such as public health, pharmacy, the Dept. of Agriculture, and the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics. While these laws do help protect the public and allow for measurable cannabis growth and consumption, these laws do not pertain to edible companies and their THC usage. This creates a major problem for us, especially the auditing process as we are required to track and report to the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics our monthly THC usage. Right now, we report the total weight in pounds of the amount of product we sell each month. For growers, this is logical. We, however, may sell 10- 4oz brownies at 100mg each and 10- 4oz brownies at 50mg each, but we are required to record we have sold 80oz of product and not the THC. I believe by consulting with business owners or including cannabis professionals on the OMMA board, it would alleviate many of the discrepancies we currently have in our laws.
It will be amazing when my industry is recognized as a legitimate legal business federally like it is on the state level. This industry creates jobs and tax money in our state. In Oklahoma, medical marijuana generated more than 34.5 million in tax revenue for July through September in 2019. This type of revenue can change the lives of 1000’s of Oklahomans if you used correctly. Marijuana can and does save lives. We need to recognize it. Voters have spoken! Listen to them.
I would love it if all my state representatives would come to visit my facility. See the lab and understand the science we are putting into our products. Expose themselves to what we are accomplishing
I was honored to have State Representative Jon Echols come to meet my team and me. A close relative Alzheimer’s Disease. They were looking for a product that would help keep her calm and non-agitated. His family has a caregiver’s license and they tried THC alone, but it didn’t help the way they had hoped.
Nature’s Key together with GrOKC created a gummy combination containing CBD/THC and an isolated terpene that worked well for her. Everyone’s endocannabinoid system is different which is why this combination may not work for all patients. It is our purpose to develop more medicinal blends.
Today, cigarettes are legal, but they are heavily regulated, highly taxed, and they are somewhat socially marginalized. Would you like cannabis to have a similar status to cigarettes or different? Can you explain?
Financially it would be better for cannabis business owners if marijuana were taxed and regulated like cigarettes. However, that gives us the argument that smoking cannabis is just as dangerous. This is an unfair statement since cigarettes have no medicinal value. I have read articles that smoking marijuana is not as dangerous as tobacco but I do not wish to delve into that at this point as I am not educated drawbacks. I am an edibles company I do know there are plenty of alternative options. As long as cannabis is seen in the same light as cigarettes, it will prevent marijuana from being recognized as the truly medicinal plant that God gave us.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“This too shall pass” This is not just a quote for business, it is a quote for life.
In business, the cannabis business especially, we experience many roadblocks it can feel as though you will never be successful. As I said earlier, stay positive and BELIEVE in yourself. Believe in the law of attraction. On more than one occasion, I was redirected by this belief system. Pause, size up the situation, and push forward. It is never as bleak as it appears.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
This one is easy. I believe in the Hermetic “law of attraction”. Basically, you attract what you feel and think about. If people would look forward instead of behind they would see a better future. Most people are programmed to believe that they need to look at the experience of yesterday to live. However, what if yesterday you were a failure with no faith or no hope? That energy gives you nothing to draw from. If you move to look forward and push ahead with hope, positivity, and joy, you will live a much better life. I know some people will disagree but, they can’t prove me wrong in my life. I am truly blessed. The more people moving forward with joy in their hearts will only make this a better world. Don’t you agree?
Thank you so much for the time you spent with this. We wish you only continued success!