Although she’s long been separated from the fourth estate, HempMeds Co-CEO Caroline Heinz still enjoys a camaraderie with and connection to the press for which she once worked. “We are colleagues,” she told The PotNetwork. “I'm a journalist.”
If anything, her career trajectory, a meteoric rise through the ranks of the Medical Marijuana Inc. subsidiary, has proven she has a muckraker’s tenacity. It’s a talent that’s allowed her to find success in the face of sometimes despairing odds in both her personal and professional lives.
“It’s amazing,” said Heinz, reflecting on her rise up the corporate ladder. Although as one of the few minority women to hold a seat atop a cannabis boardroom — Heinz hails from Brazil — there were times she put extra pressure on herself to succeed. “The night I was going to my C-section for my daughter, she was too big so I couldn't, you know, I waited 42 weeks. I was going to the C-section room while working, and it was like go give birth!”
HempMeds, she said, was supportive and has been ever since. Like most women, Heinz was worried that a baby could mean the end of her career, especially since her family was still back home in Brazil. And the corporate world, well, they want results.
“I think it's a win-win,” said Heinz, referring to the supportive atmosphere she found at work. “I think it's really nice that the company has a CEO that is a woman. It’s hard and it's rare and they show the core values of our company.”
Moreover, it’s a picture of what happens when a talented woman is allowed to succeed in the cannabis industry. “I think it's really changing,” said Heinz. “It’s again, all about results and how you're doing and that's great.”
Before joining HempMeds, Caroline Heinz was a producer for TV Globo in Brazil. After a brief stint in the entertainment industry working on films, she decided that she couldn’t stay in Brazil anymore and came to the United States. She was doing marketing work in LA when a cancer diagnosis changed her life.
“I was diagnosed with really bad bed cells in my uterus,” recalled Heinz. “I was insecure because I was new in the United States. I'm not secure with doctors. So I postponed the treatment.”
Heinz waited so long that treatment was no longer an option. Instead, the doctors told her that they would have to remove a part of her uterus — a surgery that would impact her chances of ever becoming pregnant.
And that’s when a friend posted something on Facebook.
“By the time I started studying about CBD a friend of the friend posted on Facebook that he was looking for someone that speaks Portuguese to work on Facebook, Instagram — to do social media for a new CBD project,” she told The PotNetwork. “So I met him at Whole Foods in the morning.”
It was one of those chance moments where everything and the stars align. Heinz made the move into the CBD industry, and soon after her daughter was born.
Medical Marijuana Inc., or MJNA, is famously known as a company of firsts in the cannabis industry. They’re the first publicly traded cannabis company on a stock exchange, and, perhaps more serendipitously, they are the first company to introduce legal, medical cannabis products into Brazil.
“We are pioneers in this industry,” said Heinz. “Brazil is a really conservative country especially with drugs and marijuana and all that kind of stuff. So we started really fighting to change the laws in Brazil because they needed products. At the end of 2014 probably 14 families were putting a lawsuit against the state and they were importing our products. Then in 2015, we finally changed the law so that it was possible for Brazil to import these products.”
According to Heinz, there are roughly 10,000 people in Brazil that support their CBD products with ana additional 500 doctors helping them to do clinical trials and spread the message. They’ve helped people with seizures and are completing studies on autism along with other major ailments that look extremely promising for the future.
Not only did Heinz help change the law to allow the importation of CBD into Brazil, but she was instrumental in writing legislation there to have the Brazilian government subsidize CBD for those that need it.
“It’s a big achievement,” she told The PotNetwork.
And it’s one she probably undersells herself on too. After all, Caroline Heinz worked her way up from communications to Vice President of HempMeds Brasil to Co-CEO, all within a period of six years. In May 2020 — at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic no less — she earned the top honor along with Raul Elizalde, the former President of HempMeds Mexico and Latin American operations.
It’s something that’s extra-special for Heinz because, as she told The PotNetwork, as a woman, becoming CEO is probably something she couldn’t do in Brazil. “Brazil is not the same,” she said. “It's really rare for you to see a woman in a CEO position.”
The statistics are better in the United States, especially in the cannabis industry, but not by much. In 2019, women accounted for about one-third of all industry executives, according to Marijuana Business Daily. However, that number has fluctuated over the past few years. For example, in 2018, it had fallen to only 26 percent from a high of 36 percent the previous year.
“I think the industry is changing quickly,” said Heinz. “And we can see the difference at the events. [They] have much more women now speaking. We have much more women in higher-level positions.”
But there’s still much work to be done. “[As a woman] I had to, for sure work probably four times more than everyone,” said Heinz.
Right now, Heinz and HempMeds are focused on the major issues plaguing the CBD industry, like the Food and Drug Administration. For over a year now, the government has been promising to regulate the industry but instead has relied on sending out warning letters, with no regulations in sight.
“I think we really need to stretch ourselves and show the FDA that we are serious,” Heinz told The PotNetwork. “That we're companies that have data, that are doing studies.”
“We understand also that they have a lot of lobbying from the pharmaceutical industry because they put in a lot of money and they don't want some CBD companies like us taking that<’ she continued. “But it doesn't work this way.”
Of course, it frustrates Heinz to see all of these fly-by-night CBD companies giving the industry a bad name, especially when she’s out there every day working hard to keep things legitimate.
For now, though, Caroline Heinz is focusing on what’s right in front of her, which is the success of the HempMeds brand.
“In Brazil, we are collecting data with doctors from patients that have been using our product since 2014,” said Heinz. “So we have data of probably around like 50 patients that are using our products since 2014. I think shows enough about safety right and efficacy.”