by Michael Nocella
Etain Health, a small chain of medical marijuana dispensaries founded in 2015, has the distinction of being among the first companies to earn a cannabis license in New York State. Its other distinction is that it’s proudly women-owned in a male-dominated industry. CEO Amy Peckham and her daughters Hillary (COO) and Keeley (chief horticulture officer) operate four dispensaries – a flagship in Manhattan, plus locations in Kingston, Yonkers, and Syracuse. It’s the maximum number allowed in New York under a single license.
FLX420 Magazine recently spoke to Hillary about the company’s roots, how the family succeeded in the competitive licensing application process, and why they chose to open a dispensary in the Finger Lakes.
For those who have not heard of Etain, what does it offer? How can people access its services and products?
Etain delivers the highest quality and purest products so medical marijuana patients feel good about investing in their health and wellbeing. We grow four proprietary strains (Dolce, Mezzo, Balance, Forte) at our pristine facility in the Adirondacks. Each strain has a particular ratio of CBD and THC to target specific wellness needs. We also sell the largest variety of high-quality dosing methods and devices in New York State, including the innovative Motif magnetic vape pen, water-soluble powder and whole flower. The health & wellness products we carry are available for all customers, not just New York State medical marijuana card holders.
There is an Etain in Syracuse, on Erie Boulevard East. Why was it important to have a dispensary in this part of the state?
I think most of the attention on New York is centered around the five boroughs and Long Island, because it’s a major tourist destination. However, I think there is significant opportunity outside of New York State and in more rural areas. Syracuse is a major city, it has a large university and airport, and it’s in the Finger Lakes region, another tourist destination. Overall, as New Yorkers, we wanted to make sure that we could serve as much of the state as possible from a geographic perspective, and Syracuse was a great fit.
Tell me about your background – where you’re from, where you went to school, and what you thought you’d be doing when you grew up.
I’m a fourth-generation New Yorker. I attended Hamilton College in Clinton, New York, and the Tuck Bridge School of Business at Dartmouth. I started Etain right out of college. The only jobs I had prior to that were summer jobs. I was a swim-team coach for five years for ages three to 18. Through that, I got some basic management expertise. But really, this is my first and my only job experience in the real world.
At what point in your life did cannabis enter the equation?
Our family’s interest in cannabis began when my grandmother, my mom Amy’s mother Frances, was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS. My mom spent countless hours researching the various alternative medicines that could provide our beloved “Granny Franny” with better palliative care – and each time, came back to the idea of marijuana. She was frustrated knowing there were no legal methods to procure cannabis for Granny in New York.
Meanwhile, patients in California (1996) and Colorado (2000) had been accessing medical marijuana for many years. Even after Granny’s death in 2012, my mom’s research into the benefits of medical marijuana continued. In 2014, when my sister Keeley and I were away at school, New York State passed new legislation for the use of cannabis for medical purposes. Amy immediately jumped into business mode with me, and soon after tapped Keeley for her knowledge of horticultural therapy, which she was studying at Tulane University. As a family, we quickly put together a team to build a business. Our goal was to secure a cannabis license from the state to ensure that people suffering with chronic pain or illness could find easy relief.
What was it like getting your business off the ground? What were the obstacles? When were you able to say, “OK, this has a chance to be something.”?
In June of 2015, Etain Health was one of 42 companies that applied for a cannabis license. The highly competitive application process involved preparing more than 1,000 pages of documentation in 30 days including details on where we would plan to have their dispensary lease, full growth plans, and construction plans for a manufacturing facility. Applicants had to ensure that if they were selected for a license, they would act upon their plan at once with no delays. Together, my mom and I printed all of the paperwork, boxed up multiple copies of the application, and dropped the boxes off in-person in Albany for consideration.
In record time, we had to build a manufacturing plant and cultivation store in 2016. A major component of the business plan was selecting a name that resonated with all of the Peckham women. Etain is a Gallic goddess in Irish mythology and in many legends, she represents women in transformational capacity and is a protagonist. The name we chose was the perfect way to honor my mother’s Irish heritage while giving a nod to a female-run business.
What does it mean to you all that you operate one of the first women-owned dispensaries in New York?
Being one of the few women in the space when we were applying and awarded a license was a challenge in itself. We didn’t have peers that we could look to for help or guidance. That’s one of the many reasons we are invested in supporting other women in the cannabis industry.
Have other women reached out to you for advice?
We want to build up other women who are interested in getting into the industry in NY and beyond. We were really fortunate to find the organization Women Grow. Right as we were starting to research the industry, they had their very first meeting; it happened to be in New York. The organization is very inclusive. Its goal is to help women meet each other and get into the industry. We are honored to continue to support them and connect with other women in the industry, or interested in the industry, through them.
In a male dominated industry, what has that dynamic been like for you? Is any of that that dynamic built into your priorities as a business/overall brand ethos?
Supporting women is a major priority for Etain, both internally and externally. We’ve recently launched a curated selection of women-owned CBD and health and wellness brands in our dispensaries to highlight these women and their products. To have shelf space to dedicate to these brands is something we prioritized when we opened our New York City Flagship and now have expanded this to our other three locations. We’re carrying an assortment of items from a variety of brands including CBD chocolate from Portland based Gron, to gummies from New York-brand TribeTokes, and to CBD-infused beauty products from Maryland based NFZD Beauty. We also carry merch from New Jersey brand Buy Weed From Women owned by poet Jasmine Mans. We collaborated with her on a Good Weed, Good Women box that supported the Food Bank for New York City and further enhanced our message supporting women.
What is your assessment of the cannabis scene in New York at the moment? What will it be like in the future?
New York’s Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act (MRTA) was designed to be one of the most progressive cannabis laws in the country. It includes a provision that sets a target for the newly formed Cannabis Control Board to award 50 percent of New York’s adult-use cannabis licenses to “equity applicants,” and provide some additional resources to those applicants. It’s vital that New York passed legislation with an initiative for diverse business ownership. That’s something Etain strongly supports, especially fostering small business social equity licenses and minority- or women-owned business enterprises (MWBEs). As a woman-owned business, we hope to see more MWBEs in the New York market in the future.
How will the new regulations impact your business?
One of the challenges we face in the New York market is the limited-approved products we are able to sell to patients. We were pleased with the recent expansions to the medical program that allowed for the sale of items like whole flower, but in order to increase accessibility and help more patients, we’d love to be able to introduce edible products to the market.
Whole flower is something that our patients have been asking for for a long time, and Etain is excited to make it available. We will continue to be the go-to for a concierge medicine experience within the Medical Marijuana program as the New York market continues to expand.
Will you open more locations?
Etain has been granted a recommended selection for a vertically integrated permit in New Jersey, which would allow us to move forward with plans to open a cannabis growing and processing site and medical dispensary there. It will transform the company into a multi-state operator and bring our high-quality products to more medical cannabis patients.
What about Etain makes you the most proud?
During the pandemic we expanded our retail presence with a new flagship location in New York City, bringing our total number of dispensaries to four. At the same time, we launched a rebranding and product reformulation. The pandemic delayed our original opening on East 58th Street from April 2020 to August. While everything then felt impossible, not opening was unacceptable. Providing care for our patients was the biggest motivator. We were able to transform the 5,000-square-foot street level space into a dispensary and retail location for the commercial distribution of its medical marijuana and THC-free products.
What advice would you offer to people applying for a retail license in New York?
It’s really important to vet all of your business partners. There are people who will take advantage of the green rush who are not trustworthy and don’t have the all-important business acumen.
Also, compliance is key. If you’re in business for a quick dollar, it’s not worth it for all the hurdles you face. You have to be passionate about what you’re doing.