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An Interview With Candice Georgiadis

Take time to earn the legitimacy factor from the industry. There have been people working to make this mainstream for decades so honor their time and work and listen to their advice.

As a part of my series about strong women leaders in the cannabis industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Mika Stambaugh.

Mika is an Emmy award-winning journalist and dynamic entrepreneur known for thinking outside of the box to execute exclusive results. Her professional career is packed with accolades for her creativity, hustle, and leadership earning Mika her Emmy wings in 2008, as a Field Producer at CBS 2 News Chicago.

That same year she moonlighted to follow her dream to open a small business, showing her willingness to do what it takes to be successful and superior at time management.

Her business savvy sense landed her as the spokesperson for the City of Chicago Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection in 2014.

At City Hall, Mika spearheaded the communication strategy for several high-profile policies such as house sharing ordinance with Airbnb, rideshare companies, like Uber and Lyft, entering the Chicago marketplace, Chicago’s minimum wage increase, amended tobacco and liquor laws, and more than 60 consumer protection campaigns. Her ability to secure media to saturate the market brought the department roughly $5M in earned media.

Mika relies on her calm, collected communication skills to lead projects to rid the situation of crisis. She’s commended for being a fair and strong manager with proven success in advertising and marketing in digital and social media. Her comfort zone is producing large-scale events, launching multi-media marketing campaigns, crisis-solving strategy, and recognizing a void and filling it.

Mika was the driving force behind the growth of Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s small business expos by securing local success stories to deliver the keynote speech, offering free headshots, and providing experts in areas entrepreneurs needed the most guidance. Bill Rancic, Michelle Williams of Destiny’s Child, Bill Kurtis, and Laura Schwartz were just a few of the keynote speakers in the last 2 years secured by Mika.

Her determination to achieve success is contagious and her team is motivated by her high energy and passion for perfection. Her work ethic is naturally contagious and she’s always wearing a smile paired with a positive attitude.

Mika has been on the Board of Directors for the YWCA Metropolitan Chicago, Susan G. Komen, PAWS Chicago, and Big Shoulders Fund and has served on several host committees for fundraisers to benefit the sick and the less fortunate. Since 2010, Bronzeville/Hyde Park has been home for Mika and her French Bulldog, Louie.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to the cannabis industry?

Back In 2019, I was t-boned while driving my car and broke my shoulder. I remember the moment when I was handed a bunch of pills to treat the pain, which was scary because I don’t even take over-the-counter pain medication like Advil or Tylenol. At that moment I was so scared to be another victim of the opioid crisis, so I called a good friend who had been using cannabis for decades and asked him what I could do as an alternative to opioids… he said, “CBD, silly!” He said it was a household name. I had never heard of it, so I asked for his recommendation. Immediately, he connected me with a founder of Seven Leaves CBD, and he personally delivered topical and sublingual CBD products to me and that was my preferred pain management path for the next 4 months. Ever since, I have been a loyal customer and huge supporter of CBD.

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?

Acannability is the industry’s first member-driven, advertising cooperative. We sell memberships and pool the funds to support the industry by educating consumers, which will also support the supply chain. We have been to several cannabis conferences and the one question I hear most frequently is, “Why do you think you can come into this industry and become the go-to resource and good housekeeping seal of approval?” I am learning this industry sticks together and is leery of outsiders, so immediately I had to prove my marketing, advertising, and communications expertise. My 20-year communications career is why I know we can build Acannability. I worked at CBS News Chicago for a decade earning a National Emmy for Field Producing and then I went across Daley Plaza and was a spokesperson for Mayor Rahm Emanuel, where I oversaw the marketing and comms for emerging businesses and developed over 50 campaigns to educate consumers and business owners, including the roll-out of rideshare, home share, plastic bag ban, and the minimum wage increase. When I realized this hadn’t been done for the emerging business of cannabis … I immediately knew what to do to get everyone informed.

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?

I grew up in Crystal Lake, IL. It is a suburb about 45 minutes Northwest of Chicago. I was an athlete. Drugs weren’t tolerated. I was raised with the DARE campaign. Just say no to drugs. I was so fearful of being labeled a “druggy” or “stoner” that I really stayed away from pot for the most part. Not to say I didn’t partake and I for sure inhaled! Fast forward 20 years… more and more friends used cannabis to stay calm, relax, or just sleep better. I am very high-strung and for sure was told a few times to “chill out and smoke some weed” which I did but I always got paranoid. It just wasn’t fun for me… I preferred alcohol since it maintained my high energy. Now 41 years old, I started to dabble with cannabis in forms other than flower in my 30s. I have to say gummies have been the biggest learning curve because if you don’t go low and slow you can really end up in a place where you just have to put yourself to bed. My funniest story is I was gifted a few gummies prior to understanding the proper dosage… they were 20mg and I shared them with some close girlfriends (who shall remain nameless). We didn’t microdose and ended up laughing for hours and hours, recording silly Marco Polo videos of each other and a few other silly acts, but ultimately, we refer to them as the “large orange ones” to this day. I know now I like to microdose 2.5 mg at a time and give each bite around an hour to kick in.

Do you have a funny story about how someone you knew reacted when they first heard you were getting into the cannabis industry?

I have been in the communications, marketing, and public relations industry for 20 years. I am taking my decades of expertise and bringing it to the cannabis industry. Acannability is an advertising company. But when I told my parents and family about my new business, I was very careful to make sure they know I am not pushing products or selling anything other than education to consumers. Since launching Acannability, I have learned so much about what cannabis products can offer. Some products claim to suppress your appetite and help you sleep or focus, but the ones that several friends and family members have asked about are the ones that claim to “elevate your libido” which always puts a smile on my face. Another funny thing that happens the second a friend hears about what I am doing their first response is, “Let me know if you need any product testers!” It always makes me laugh, but I totally get it.

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?

James Malackowski, who is also a Founder of Acannability, has always been such a driving force in my professional path. We met when I was the Director of Communications for the City of Chicago’s Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection. He invited me to lunch and pushed me to think about what was next for me and urged me to start my own PR firm, which I did! Building this with him feels right and I am very excited about what we are offering the industry and consumers.

Are you working on any new or exciting projects now? How do you think that will help people?

We have been on a roadshow to introduce Acannability to the industry. To date, we have 12 members and growing. We are making meaningful progress and as we continue to grow, build, support, and educate I know the impact will be remarkable. Anyone can be a member, which is a perk of starting an advertising cooperative company. The “ah-ha” moment for anyone learning about Acannability is when I explain to them that the “Got Milk” campaign is a cooperative model, and so is Sunkist… as well as The Associated Press. It is a model that has been proven a success many times over.

Ok. Thank you for all that. Let’s now jump to the main core of our interview. Despite 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?

I am a proud certified WBE (Women Business Enterprise) with the City of Chicago. There are probably only a handful of women in my life that don’t consume cannabis. I think the 3 things that need to change are the stigma of cannabis, access to safe and affordable products, and learning about the different cannabinoids and their amazing powers… which is why we are building Acannability.

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.

  • Don’t come in like a giant. The industry has been on an island for a long time, you can’t come in like a “know-it-all.”
  • Take time to earn the legitimacy factor from the industry. There have been people working to make this mainstream for decades so honor their time and work and listen to their advice.
  • Be collaborative. Don’t reinvent the wheel, but support what has already been built by adding your experience and expertise.
  • Share your experiences. Don’t come in saying you aren’t a cannabis consumer and think you are going to gain their trust. I made that mistake and several people told me to share my experiences, so the industry knows where I am coming from.
  • Pack your patience. Nothing, I mean NOTHING moves quickly in this industry. It isn’t federally regulated, which plays a huge role in the pauses.

Can you share 3 things that most excite you about the cannabis industry?

  • I love hearing about the healing powers of the plant.
  • I want more people to understand the benefits of CBD and the options available to consumers who are seeking a non-intoxicating supplement that also has healing and calming capabilities.
  • Sustainable hemp is going to be a game-changer!

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?

If I had one message overall, it would be: AS A NATION WE NEED TO GET ON THE SAME PAGE.

  • Companies are either making it or they are not. It needs to become federally regulated so we can all work together as a country.
  • I think it is unfair that pharmaceutical companies can have commercials based on their research and studies, but cannabis companies aren’t allowed to even show a pot leaf in their marketing campaign in certain states.
  • Incarceration. The fact that some citizens are jailed for recreational amounts of cannabis in some states, while other states are flourishing from tax revenues, is not fair.

What are your thoughts about 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?

Cannabis has been around for 3000 years but has been illegal for the past 70 years. WHY?

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?

I think cannabis should be accessible to everyone who meets the legal age of consumption, and the government should tax it. But I also believe the government should stay out of everyone’s personal consumption choices.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

YOLO, “You Only Live Once” … in honor of my late friend, Mike Hansen, who was the biggest fan of cannabis in my life. I chose to live my life as Mike did. If I want to do it, I do it.

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. 🙂

The Cannabis industry is very inclusive already, but I would like to see the social equity piece really come together to eliminate the barriers that have been in place for decades. I believe with education a lot can change… as we say at Acannability, “Let’s Cooperate!”

Thank you so much for the time you spent with this. We wish you only continued success!

Wisdom From the Women Leading The Cannabis Industry, With Mika Stambaugh of Marketing & PR was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.