Cannabis influencers: An unlikely, but unifying voice for the industry
Susanna P. Short ditched the corporate insurance world for cannabis consulting, playing a major role in wrangling the state’s 12 licensed medical marijuana companies during the unprecedented coronavirus outbreak. Steve Hockstein | For NJ Advance Media
This story is part of a series of profiles, The CannaInfluencers: The people shaping the cannabis industry in the Garden State. Written by NJ Cannabis Insider reporters, the profiles will publish the weeks leading up to the Nov. 3 election, when New Jersey voters will decide whether to legalize recreational, adult-use cannabis.
Susanna Short had found her niche in the insurance business and didn’t see herself getting into politics.
But when talks of legal weed began seriously in New Jersey three years ago, the pieces began to fall into place: cannabis could combine her past passions in education, community organizing and business management, she realized.
So Short ditched the corporate insurance world for consulting and has since become a self-trained subject matter expert in cannabis. She played a major role in wrangling the state’s 12 licensed medical marijuana companies during the unprecedented coronavirus outbreak. Through her, they have called for home delivery and curbside pickup, two provisions the state Department of Health has since greenlit.
At first, she stayed out of the spotlight. But she’s proven an unlikely voice at the table as the state inches closer to legalizing marijuana with a November ballot question poised to pass.
“We look at this ballot, and I think that my voice is an important one to have in the mix,” she said. “I am a suburban mother, I go to church every week. I think there are other people like me who maybe haven’t been totally educated on the issue. I have had some success in changing hearts and minds.”
Short, 41, started researching cannabis on her own when someone approached her with an investment opportunity in cannabis as Gov. Phil Murphy campaigned on legalizing marijuana. In talking to social justice and patient advocates, she said she knew she didn’t just want to diversify her portfolio, but to take an active role in what would become a burgeoning industry.
Before insurance, Short ran her own SAT prep program, The Big Envelope. The Philadelphia native had also worked as a community organizer in Brooklyn after graduating from The University of Scranton. But after she underwent a routine surgery that had serious complications, she took a step back from the SAT business.
The social justice aspect of cannabis policy drew her in, and she left insurance to begin working, unpaid, toward legalization and medical expansion. She began by volunteering behind the scenes with the New Jersey Cannabis Industry Association and developed a resource guide for municipalities about the impact cannabis could have on their towns.
But Trenton didn’t welcome the outsider with open arms.
“People who had been on the scene for a while were reluctant to include me comprehensively in certain advocacy efforts because I hadn’t ‘earned my stripes’ so to speak,” she said. “There were some people who seemed determined never to include me in certain efforts despite the value that I could add, which I didn’t get because I have a stronger together approach.”
Undeterred, Short continued to put her mark on the industry. She pursued a license in the 2018 request for applications, and again applied for a cultivation license in North Jersey in 2019. She’s among the 150 or so that remain tied up by a lawsuit against the state Department of Health.
“I have had some ups and downs,” she said. “I have lost more money than I’ve made in the industry.”
In 2019, she took a spot in the government affairs department of iAnthus, a cannabis giant that holds a license for a dispensary slated to open in Atlantic City. She has continued to work as a consultant, which has allowed her to reach across lines to competing dispensaries.
iAnthus head Randy Maslow, who knew Short from their days at NJCIA and brought her on board, called her “an expert with a genuine interest in diversity, equity and inclusion” who has a vast knowledge of cannabis regulatory policy.
While she encountered obstacles as an outsider, Maslow said Short has an ability to build consensus among insiders.
In early 2020, she had begun collaborating with the state’s 12 dispensaries, seeking to unify them on certain issues in the medical marijuana program. When the coronavirus outbreak upended life in New Jersey, she spoke as a coordinated voice for all of the licensed alternative treatment centers on curbside pickup and home delivery.
“It’s a testament to the fact that she’s not a professional lobbyist by background,” Maslow said of her success in bringing the varying interests together.
Short lives in Mendham Township with her husband, Michael, and 8-year-old son, Grady. Homebound and unable to travel, she launched an at-home art camp for him this summer. But Short said she also talks with him about her job.
Susanna P. Short with her son, Grady.
“I talk freely with him about the work, and all the various issues that are at stake here,” she said. “We talk about racism, try to work to be anti-racist.”
Ever the optimist, Short still sees New Jersey’s cannabis industry as one that can change lives for the better, from patients to those impacted by prohibition.
“I see so much potential for the ways that this industry can work together to be force for good, and I am grateful to have a meaningful role in the collaboration,” she said.
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