BY MARIE LODI | Product photography by Nathanael Turner with portraits courtesy of Wana
Wana founder Nancy Whiteman always jokes about needing a better origin story for her foray into cannabis. “So many people entered the industry for very noble reasons—personal experiences of loved ones or a commitment to activism. My own story started out less inspiring!” she says. Once called the "queen of legal weed" by Inc. Magazine, Whiteman had used the plant recreationally for a long time, but didn’t know too much about it from a medical perspective, that is, until a neighbor had told her he was starting an infused soda brand and she began to learn more about the industry.
She and her partner founded Wana in 2010, but she still didn’t really understand the scope of cannabis’s benefits, and the impact it had on the health of so many people. “It really wasn’t until we had products on the market and I began to hear from patients how much our products were improving their lives that I truly understood the power of cannabis as a plant medicine,” explains Whiteman. “After that, I became obsessed with the plant and how people could use it to improve their health and wellness. It was the proverbial light bulb going off for me.”
Over a decade later, that revelation continues to be the driving force behind the work Whiteman does with Wana. Her “obsession” led to the brand becoming the number one cannabis edibles company in North America. Wana, which specializes in gummies, currently operates in 12 different states and nine markets in Canada, and continues to grow, thanks to its dedication to innovation, quality, and consistency. “Innovation is really in our DNA as a company,” says Whiteman.
In 2020, Wana debuted its Quick Fast-Acting Gummies, which produces Delta-9 THC effects with a much faster-onset time than traditional edibles—five to 15 minutes—and can last up to three hours. According to Whiteman, the product is “as close to an inhaled cannabis experience you can get with an edible.” The gummies, which come in flavors like Strawberry Margarita, Peach Bellini, and Pina Colada, are vegan, kosher, gluten-free, and sweetened with organic ingredients instead of high-fructose corn syrup. The “happy hour”-inspired theme was purposeful. “We employed the happy hour flavors, because they’re all very enticing flavor profiles and appeal to consumers for use in social settings,” explains Whiteman. “We use an extensive sensory evaluation process to evaluate flavors and often go through many rounds of testing and improvement before we land on a final formulation.”
Cannabinoid research is a huge focus of the brand, as evidenced in another recent innovation—the Wana Optima’s line, which features daily wellness products such as its “Fast Asleep” gummies. The brand teamed up with Abstrax and Effects Lab by Budboard to harness consumer data and AI algorithms to find correlations between strains and their terpene profiles that users said had helped with sleep. The terpene combinations were then replicated in the Fast Asleep formula. “With this line of products, Wana is tapping into the Entourage Effect like never before, utilizing a variety of rare cannabinoids like CBG and CBN as well as functional ingredients to produce unique, specific effects,” says Whiteman.
Social responsibility is a major part of Wana’s brand ethos, with a specific focus on donations and aid, volunteering, environmental impact and sustainability, and ethical and transparent business practices. “Cannabis legalization provides great possibilities for equality that we believe creates an immense opportunity,” says Karla Rodriguez, Director of Corporate Social Responsibility. “Essentially, we have a chance to change the world by becoming the first industry to address issues of diversity, equity, inclusion, and social justice from the ground up.”
This work is personally important to Rodriguez, who decided to enter the cannabis industry after seeing how it could help people, as well as the negative impact anti-legalization can have. “I used it recreationally over the years, but I also witnessed how it helped a family member through cancer treatments and another loved one with mental health struggles. My family also unfortunately suffered through the tragedy of a family member who passed away using synthetic cannabis because he was not able to legally utilize cannabis,” she says. All of these experiences influenced her decision to enter the industry. “Today, I see myself as an advocate for how cannabis can be used as a tool for good health and wellness, as well as why it should be accessible and legal to prevent further trauma from the War on Drugs, unfair incarceration, and people accessing unsafe alternatives,” says Rodriguez.
“We have a chance to change the world by becoming the first industry to address issues of diversity, equity, inclusion, and social justice from the ground up.”
Last year, Wana launched initiatives to partner with organizations of varying sizes and focus that would help move the industry to a place where it could rectify injustices and create necessary change. One initiative was CannabisForJustice.com, which was spearheaded by Wana following the company’s own efforts to seek social equity in the wake of George Floyd’s murder. The website provides resources that address a range of racial issues, touching on everything from education and training to recruiting, hiring, and retention, as well as information about how companies can join with other organizations and causes supporting Black Lives Matter and other social justice issues. "Our goal was to provide information and resources for other companies in the cannabis industry seeking to do more on social justice issues,” explains Rodriguez.
Wana’s incredible product innovations and social responsibility efforts help make Wana an inspiring cannabis brand, but so is the fact that women like Whiteman and Rodriguez are helping to bring change—especially in an industry that has felt like a boys’ club for so long. When it comes to advice for other women looking to work in cannabis, both Whiteman and Rodriguez agree that networking is key. “There’s nothing better than making authentic connections with those people and businesses that inspire you or grab your attention,” says Rodriguez. Adds Whiteman, “One great way to do this is to get involved in local and online organizations—don’t just attend stuff, get involved! We are still an industry in its earliest stages and there are many folks out there who are always looking for the right people.”
But Whiteman’s number one piece of advice is to let your curiosity lead and to always be open to learning. “There is so much going on from a science and technology perspective. It's a very exciting time but it’s also very easy to get behind if you are not constantly following the latest developments in the industry,” she says. Rodriguez says to not be afraid of challenging your own expectations and don't sell yourself short. “It’s really important to remember that everyone in this business is still learning and evolving, and it seems we hit the reset button all the time,” she says. “The industry was new to everyone at some point, so think long-term and don’t worry too much about not knowing everything.”
Marie Lodi is an LA-based writer, editor, and podcaster. Her bylines have appeared in The Cut, PAPER, Buzzfeed News, Bustle, Fashionista, Allure, and more.