Shanel Lindsay has found the place where equity meets edibles.
For the last 10+ years, she has been ingrained in the Massachusetts cannabis community as an innovator, entrepreneur, attorney, and prominent voice for the cannabis legalization movement.
Today, she is the treasurer of the Massachusetts Cannabis Advisory Board, a co-writer of the state’s adult-use law, and the CEO of Ardent, a biotech cannabis company focused on improving the science and medicine of cannabis.
This Jill of all trades wears many hats — and is driven by her longing for social equity and genuine love for the flower.
From D.A.R.E to Cannabis C-Suite Exec
Shanel Lindsay is a product of the D.A.R.E generation. Like many others, she was taught that cannabis is negative and unfavorable. So when she first tried it at age 17, she never expected the experience to put her on a path towards becoming the cannabis C-Suite executive she is today.
It wasn’t until her freshman year of college that Lindsay began to use cannabis to treat pain and inflammation caused by an ovarian cyst that developed after the birth of her son.
“Very early on, I started using cannabis [to treat my cyst],” she said. “That’s when I really started to say, ‘how can I use this other than smoking?’ because my cyst was hurting and I was having pain and inflammation.”
Cannabis, she said, not only helped ease discomfort, and the daily stresses of college life, but it also served as the motivating force in her entrepreneurial endeavors.
“It helps me to get into a creative mode and also a very analytic mode. When I started going to law school, cannabis was always there to help me out,” she told The Emerald.
In other words, Lindsay turned to smoking when she needed to get shit done.
The stigma surrounding consumption, however, was not conducive.
“Being somebody that was really trying to grow and make something of myself, I was very, very frustrated all the time about the negative viewpoint that people would take about my cannabis use,” she explained.
The Switch Flicks
Establishing edibles as her consumption method of choice, Lindsay gained her competency in cannabis while earning her law degree at the University of Pennsylvania.
It seemed like things were going really well.
“At the same time that I’m going to law school and pursuing my career in law, I’m also learning about cannabis and the science behind it,” Lindsay expressed. “[I was] taking what I can from all this conflicting information and instruction on the internet.”
In 2009, however, shortly after Massachusetts decriminalized possession of small amounts of cannabis, Lindsay was pulled over for a minor traffic violation on her way to work.
Under decriminalization, when the officer discovered a half-ounce in Lindsay’s car, she should have paid a fine and been on her way. But instead, she was arrested.
“It really opened my eyes to the fact that this isn’t going to just be a smooth path to legalization, people are still going to be arrested under decriminalization,” she added. “People are still overstepping their boundaries and putting people’s whole lives and careers in jeopardy.”
As an attorney, Shanel Lindsay knew her rights and was able to argue her way out of the arrest. The regular consumer, however, likely would not have had the knowledge to do.
Shanel Lindsay recognized that decriminalization models are restrictive, and limit licensing and employment opportunities, which further marginalize Black and Brown communities, and operators in the traditional cannabis market.
The only way to actually protect people — she realized — is with full-out legalization.
Thus, Lindsay began positioning herself to address racial injustice and social equity in the cannabis industry.
In 2016, Lindsay co-drafted Question 4, the law to fully legalize cannabis for adult use in Massachusetts. The following year, she was appointed by the State Treasurer to the Massachusetts Cannabis Advisory Board, where she provided legal services to industry businesses.
Lindsay also co-founded EON, or Equitable Opportunities Now, in 2016.
EON, which takes its name from the idea of waiting eons for opportunities, is a non-profit working on the legal side of this to ensure equity provisions in legislation. They provide free legal services and support to equity-owned businesses who want to enter the industry.
EON also partners with Northeastern University’s law program in Boston in which students spend an entire semester working on legal issues for nonprofits and raise awareness about equity programs and the legal basis behind them, she explained.
“Exclusivity is my Mantra”
Lindsay hopes that Massachusetts can serve as an example to other state equity programs.
Her number one piece of advice — exclusivity.
By that, she means that for a certain period of time, only equity applicants should be able to get a certain business type.
“This guarantees that there will be investments,” Lindsay explained. “It also allows for smaller, unfunded businesses to be able to create and grow themselves without these huge businesses coming in and crushing them.”
“The industry is so tilted to these large businesses, there is no competing with them, they’ve gained the knowledge and capitalist skillset through their preferences and other places. That is one thing that has become crystal clear to me,” she added. “Exclusivity is my mantra everywhere I go at this point.”
Innovating the Edibles Space
Because edibles are Lindsay’s preferred consumption method — she is starting with infused foods.
In order to create accurate and efficient edibles, cannabis must go through a process called decarboxylation. It must be heated at a specific temperature for a certain specific amount of time before the THC is activated and can be used in foods.
Shanel Lindsay was inspired to innovate after she struggled for years to properly dose her edibles. Thus, she began fostering ideas for a way to remove all of the fuss and fear with a device that delivers decarbed cannabis to patients looking for an alternative method to consume.
After years of trial and error, lab-testing and experimentation, Ardent developed the Nova in 2015, a bullet-shaped device that properly decarboxylates and infuses THC and CBD into virtually any product.
In response to demand for an even more user-friendly device, Ardent launched their latest decarbing machine, the Ardent FX, in 2020. Created to function like an easy to bake oven, the new FX allows users to not only decarb and infuse, but bake treats directly in the device as well.
From the beginning, Lindsay thought, ‘a lot of people are going to be turned away from this medicine if they don’t have any comfort or understanding in trying to make it on their own,’ she explained. If you want to see the science, the lab tests are there and available. If that kind of thing overwhelms you, however, just press the button and you’re covered.
Ardent wants to prove to consumers that they don’t need an ounce or two ounces of flower to make efficient products. With the FX, users can rely on 30% less material during the infusion process. Depending on your cannabis’ THC levels, you’re able to make 200mg edibles with just 1 gram of flower.
Funding a Future
While Ardent is flourishing now, getting there, and getting investors, wasn’t easy.
“I really wasn’t even able to get $50,000 [in investing] because it’s a concept no one has heard of. It sounds really sciency, people didn’t really understand it,” she stated. “I’m also this young woman of color, and people are looking at me and I think I saw what could go wrong instead of what could go right.”
Lindsay’s mother was her first investor.
“I had a great idea, but I don’t think I ever would have been able to bring that to market if I wasn’t able to have my mother invest,” she explained. “I think of all the great ideas people have but they can’t get traditional funding or money, or even cannabis money or funding because they don’t have the right pedigree or look.”
As Ardent continues to grow, they will be able to provide support to innovators like herself looking for funding.
Guidance for Ganjapreneurs
Shanel Lindsay’s number one piece of advice for women, minorities and entrepreneurs stepping into this space is to make something with what you have right now.
“A lot of people have these five year, 10 year plans, and then sometimes it doesn’t come to fruition,” she said. “Someone told me once was to just look around and say, “What can I do with what I have right now’”
“The cannabis industry is very much an apprentice industry [and] it’s difficult to learn if you’re not seeing it first hand. I definitely encourage people to go and find the community where they’re at,” Lindsay added. “That will help you refine your business idea and understand how you fit into the landscape.”
Having now dipped her fit into the worlds of science, law, entrepreneurship, and cannabis, Lindsay has found her place at the intersection of equity and innovation. Where will you turn?
Written by Rita Thompson