Image Source: Nancy Whiteman, CEO and co-founder of edible cannabis company Wana. Courtesy of Wana
When Nancy Whiteman left her lucrative consulting position in 2010 to prepare edibles in Boulder, Colorado, recreational cannabis use was still prohibited.
After the state legalized marijuana retail sales four years later, Whiteman’s risk paid off. With a net worth of $225 million, the 64-year-old creator of the edible cannabis company Wana is currently one of the wealthiest self-made women in the United States, according to Forbes.
“I like to say I went from the most traditional industry to the least traditional industry,” Whiteman said to CNBC Make It in 2018. “I desired a company where I could create value and it was independent of me. I also enjoy cooking.
The sale of Wana to Canopy Growth, a cannabis business with headquarters in Ontario, Canada, in 2021 for $350 million, contributed significantly to Whiteman’s wealth. According to the selling announcement, she received an initial payment of $297.5 million in cash and controlled 100% of the business at the time of the acquisition.
Wana’s current CEO is Whiteman. According to a Forbes article published earlier this month, it all began when the father of her daughter’s classmate hinted in conversation that he worked in a rather shady field.
That “got my undivided attention,” according to Whiteman to Forbes.
At first, Whiteman and her former husband John Whiteman chose to collaborate with the friend’s father and conduct an experiment in a nearby commercial kitchen. After a year, the pair made the decision to strike out on their own, investing $50,000 to $60,000 of their own cash to launch Wana from their kitchen.
Without funding from outside sources, Wana performed market research by visiting dispensaries to discover what was in demand, and the pair frequently had to pay their employees out of their own pockets, according to Whiteman. To supplement her income, she occasionally took on marketing consultancy assignments, she now admits to CNBC Make It.
At the end of 2011, she and John divorced, but they chose to continue working together in business. In 2014, Colorado allowed the sale of unprocessed marijuana through dispensaries, and as the popularity of edibles increased across the country, so did Wana’s annual earnings.
Whiteman told CNBC Make It in 2018 that by 2017, it had increased to $14.5 million, from just $100,000 in its initial year. Whiteman acquired John’s remaining firm shares a year later.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, recreational marijuana usage has been allowed in 23 states and Washington, D.C., in the 13 years following the introduction of Wana.
According to Grand View Research, the U.S. cannabis market was worth $13.2 billion last year. According to data gathered by Seattle-based analytics startup Headset last year, edibles account for 12% of that market.
Because so many people are attempting to produce and market their own edibles, several experts warn that the once-burgeoning trend is now slowing. Early on in the pandemic, cannabis sales in the US soared, but after stabilizing, they began to decline in 2022.
That presents a problem for Wana, which is currently pulling out of Oregon and leaving California, the country’s biggest cannabis market.
According to Whiteman, “We just so happened to enter the market as wholesale pricing started to really plummet.” We found ourselves in the unfortunate position of having a very expensive product in a market where prices were being squeezed.