When Beth Stavola initially recruited her youngest sister away from a “respectable” job on Wall Street to join her in the medical marijuana industry, their conservative parents were less than thrilled. The two women are the eldest and sixth of seven children who grew up in a strict Irish Catholic home in Ocean Township, New Jersey.
“ Surely but slowly, I reeled her in ,” smiles Stavola, who today serves as chief operating officer of MPX Bioceutical, an Ontario-based corporation traded publicly on the Canadian Securities Exchange (CSE: MPX.CN) (OTC:MPXEF) that acquired her flourishing medical marijuana venture in January 2017 for $25 million.
Winter, who is 16 years younger than Stavola, admits she was hesitant to dip her toe into the new world of legalized pot. Raised in a family centered on church, school and sports and on the heels of the “Just Say No” era, it took a while to come around to the idea of selling a product that remains federally illegal in the U.S.
“When Beth worked on Wall Street and I saw how successful she was…how powerful, how much she commanded the room and just this amazing life she built for herself, it was just natural for me to follow her,” says Winter.
Early on, influencing state and local politics became a staple of building the business as it has for other successful marijuana entrepreneurs in this new and rapidly evolving industry. To date, 30 states have legalized some form of marijuana, including nine that allow recreational use for adults over 21. As more and more localities examine the job creation and tax revenue legal marijuana can generate, as well as the societal implications, industry leaders like Stavola and Winter are weighing in on everything from regulation to compliance to social justice.
The duo’s latest target is their home state of New Jersey, where newly elected Governor Phil Murphy (D), is already expanding the state’s existing medical program, a move that legalization advocates say is the next step towards ending prohibition. Stavola stood next to Governor Murphy on the day he signed the new measure.
In February, the sisters and the New Jersey Cannabis Industrial Association (NJCIA) led a delegation of elected officials that included six state lawmakers and the Mayor of Atlantic City on a “fact finding” trip to Las Vegas. Stavola and Winter believe Nevada, where pot is highly regulated and taxed just like gambling, is a viable model for the Garden State. During the Vegas summit, the visitors met with Nevada counterparts and got an inside look at businesses, including the thirty thousand square foot cultivation and processing facility in North Las Vegas owned by MPX.
Along a corridor lined with massive grow rooms and sophisticated chemical engineering equipment, the curious guests took in the future of commerical cannabis.
“The thing is, we are bringing this industry from the shadows to the light,” remarked Assemblywoman Annette Quijano (D), who represents the city of Elizabeth, “It’s a brand new industry. So I have to spend the time to understand the industry: the good, the bad, and the ugly.”
While public opinion in the state favors more medical access, according to a new Fairleigh-Dickinson poll, only 42% of New Jersey citizens say they want marijuana fully legalized in the state. Concerns over safe driving, risks to children and ensuring opportunities for minority and female entrepreneurs to break into the business are top of mind. A bipartisan group of legislators is urging caution and introduced a proposal that would decriminalize small amounts of marijuana rather than open up a full-fledged commercial market in the state. Lawmakers are set to begin hearings early next month.
“It’s wonderful to work together,” grins Stavola, looking back on all she and her sister have built thus far, “You know what? I know I can count on her.”