Tsion Sunshine Lencho is a Stanford educated attorney specializing in the cannabis industry. Before starting her own practice, she was employed at one of the nation's top law firms. Today Sunshine works with cannabis entrepreneurs to help them navigate the ever-changing regulatory environment. From business licensing to intellectual property services, Sunshine aims to help entrepreneurs thrive in the turbulent cannabis industry. However, for the first part of her life, Sunshine held very different beliefs. She grew up in poverty in a neighborhood outside of D.C. It was during the height of the D.A.R.E. era. Cannabis was depicted as a dangerous substance. Meanwhile, Sunshine was a dedicated student. Education was the opportunity for self-advancement and improving her family's economic status. She accepted without question that cannabis was bad. Years later, Sunshine's mindset changed. She no longer held the total trust of authority she once had. At 19, Sunshine had her first hit of purple kush. Over time, she learned about the real story behind cannabis. A story fueled by mass incarceration, corporate greed, and violence targeting primarily people of color. She was determined to make a change. Today, Sunshine is a passionate advocate and leader in the cannabis community. In addition to running her own law practice, Sunshine is also a co-founder of Supernova Women – a space for women of color in cannabis.
Can you tell us more about your transition into the cannabis industry?
I studied cannabis in a law school class focused on the issues surrounding the alcohol and beverage industry under various federal and state schemes. There was a footnote to marijuana (as it's referred to in federal law) Several years later I found myself at a cannabis career fair trying to convince dispensary owners and product makers to hire a Stanford educated attorney. That went about as well as you could imagine, but from that career fair I found my local networking opportunities, my first job as a consultant working in my home state of Maryland's medical marijuana licensing applications, and was hired by my first cannabis law clients.
How has cannabis influenced your life?
Memes circulate in the cannabis community likening the first toke to a mind changing experience. For me, I had that "conscious expanding" experienced when I read about marijuana as a law student. Growing up inside the Beltway, you had a certain view of drug users and those "social deviants". Finding out so much regarding the health benefits cannabis provided a century before truly blew my mind.
What do you enjoy most about what you do?
I became an attorney because of the insatiable need to understand how things work. Nothing in this country happens without a lawyer having touched it – and in this industry, it is quite difficult to actually accomplish meaningful business growth without at some point talking to a lawyer. For many of my clients and folks I've met through my work with Supernova Women and the Oakland Regulatory Commission, I'm the first attorney they've ever hired. And for far too many I'm the first black female attorney they've known. It's great to be able to help folks understand that they're on the right track and the task of meeting the ongoing regulatory requirements in California, though a challenge, is actually surmountable.
Any tips for maintaining a work-life balance?
My suggestion to others trying to balance their new cannabis career against sanity would be to list the things outside of cannabis that bring you joy and are most important to you. It can be as short or as long as you want. Revisit it often, and make sure you're actually making time to do those things.
What is the biggest mistake you see cannabis companies making?
Jumping into operations without considering pending and existing legislation. People who look for "workarounds" need to be mindful of the fact that this space is still a federal issue and trying to fall outside state regulation may put you business model at risk.
Why is education so important to the cannabis movement?
Ignorance of the law is no excuse, but ignorance of your state's cannabis laws and local legislation that may impact you will leave many aspiring participants behind. So much of our nation is focused on D.C. right now while lawmakers locally and on the state law fail to represent their constituent's interests and meet expectations set during the election season. Nothing is more dismaying than having to explain the tax structure under Adult Use to a voter who supported Prop 64 and assumed they were voting for a pot of gold aimed at California's struggling school systems or to explain to them that there is no lawfully available adult use to purchase until 2018 or that their local jurisdiction in the wake of MCRSA/AUMA passed a ban, so their imagined business operations are now unlawful.
What is the biggest barrier to entry for people who are interested in launching a cannabis business?
Money and time.
Name the top 3 skills every cannabis entrepreneur needs
An understanding of civics – this is a highly regulated area and if you're clueless about how and where to plug in the interplay of local, state, and federal laws you're limiting your growth.
Empathy – this is an industry formed from compassion. If you can't see why folks may be weary of big cannabis or unlimited grows, you are the outlier and will lose out on many opportunities because of other's perceptions of your interests.
A discerning palate – from the quality of cannabis product, to design, to potential business partners, a mistake in any of those categories may lead to a lot of heartache and potential financial woes. If a deal or financial projection tastes too sweet, to continue the metaphor, it probably is.
What do you see in the future of the cannabis industry?
I'm excited that this industry allows me to collaborate with multiple generations to affect change. Just when I thought we millennials (check the 2008 definition, 80s babies we are in that group) here come the recent college grads diversifying SSDP and bringing an international voice to the movement.
If you could offer an aspiring cannabis entrepreneur one piece of advice, what would it be?
Budget, budget, and then budget. This will force you to learn every aspect of the legislative structure under which you plan to operate, help you understand the market, and also ensure that you have a plan b, c, and d when the bank shuts down your accounts, a vendor can't make timely payment, or you receive an audit.