Kicking Grass and Taking Names: A Conversation with Three Inspiring Female Cannabis Leaders

October 23, 2019
Abstract / Synopsis: 

Panel discussion with several prominent women in the cannabis industry: AC Braddock, CEO of Eden Labs; Autumn Karcey, CEO of Cultivo, Inc.; and Tracy Ryan, CEO and founder of CannaKids and founder of the 501c3 SavingSophie.

In June 2018, “Cannabis Crossroads” focused on three pioneering women in cannabis science (1). Just over one year later there seems to be several different views regarding gender trends in the C-suite levels of the cannabis industry. One fact that cannot be ignored is that several strong women dove head first into the cannabis industry, reaching the top of their respective fields and empowering others to succeed.

I recently had the opportunity to meet with three such women-leaders in cannabis cultivation, medicine, and science: AC Braddock, CEO of Eden Labs; Autumn Karcey, CEO of Cultivo, Inc.; and Tracy Ryan, CEO and founder of CannaKids and founder of SavingSophie. The messages they shared transcend opinions, surveys, and statistics and suggest that underpinning the emergence of these women as key opinion leaders is an unprecedented surge of growth, determination, opportunity, and self-support that is unavailable elsewhere in corporate America. These leading women entrepreneurs are not sitting back nor asking for permission to grow. There is nothing small-scale about them. They are leading the way and they are not looking back.

You each have been leaders in your fields for well over a decade. Can you please introduce yourself to our readers and tell us about the work that you do in the cannabis industry?

AC Braddock: I am AC Braddock, CEO of Eden Labs, a 25-year-old botanical extraction technology and product development company. When I became CEO in 2009, I recognized that legalization on a medical platform for cannabis required unquestionably safe concentrates for both producers of these products and patients. As more states legalized, I saw the necessity of being politically involved to help legislators and regulators wrap their heads around what this industry was and help direct them down a path that would create a solid infrastructure for growth. In conjunction with legislation, it was necessary to force a conversation within the industry on safe extraction technology to allay regulatory fears about product creation and consumer safety. It’s almost 2020 and the need to unite around the medical science and ending prohibition has not gotten less timely, it has become imperative.

Autumn Karcey: My name is Autumn Karcey. I initially started in the industry as a cannabis cultivator for approximately 10 years. Currently, I am the CEO of Cultivo, Inc., a design and construction management firm located in southern California. Cultivo specializes in the design and implementation of largescale cultivation facilities and manufacturing laboratories.

Cultivo sets itself apart by utilizing our many years of cultivation and building experience combined with good agricultural practices (GAP) standards and good manufacturing practice (GMP) processes and other applicable certifications to bring premium quality cannabis and hemp products to market.

Tracy Ryan: My name is Tracy Ryan and I’m the CEO and founder of CannaKids, a California oil line that was created after my infant daughter, Sophie was diagnosed with a brain tumor at just eight-and-a-half months old. We serve patients of all ages who are suffering from serious diseases such as cancer, autism, and epilepsy. I’m also the founder of our 501c3, SavingSophie, which we are using to raise money to fund our clinical research that we currently have going on at one of the top universities in southern California working alongside Dr. Anahid Jewett. What makes us so special is this research that we currently have ongoing and the discoveries that we are making by studying the blood of the patients who are consuming our CannaKids oils. We are up to 16 patients enrolled and we’re filing our third patent as we speak. We’re extremely excited because we are beginning to understand the mechanism of action and why the cannabis plant is doing what it’s doing in these cancer patients that we are seeing miraculously get well and stay well, as long as they stay on the oils. We’re hoping that this is going to lead us to many more findings since we are working on immunology and how cannabis is affecting the immune system.

Years ago, there seemed to be a “Wild West” atmosphere in the cannabis industry. Today there appears to be a new ecosystem of networking and legitimacy developing. Can you please share your thoughts on the transformations occurring in your field?

Braddock: Yes, legitimacy is increasing, but it’s still wild! The legitimacy is coming from the growing awareness around the plant’s health benefits, but especially how it is mitigating the need for hard pharmaceutical drugs that ravage people’s health. I believe people want to find cost effective and natural ways to prevent illness and improve health rather than treating symptoms with a one-pill-fits-all solution. The reason it is still “wild” is there are so many new entrants in the industry who do not follow the medical science of the endocannabinoid system, plant genetics, or healthy growing and processing procedures, but instead follow the money or “business as usual.” The bottom-line reason that the industry is still wild is because cannabis is still illegal federally. We need to take cannabis off of the Controlled Substances Act, allow public access, support small business, and release the prisoners of this war on people. It is criminal that it is criminal.

Karcey: It’s important to note that analytical testing of cannabis didn’t exist until recent years. I believe once the market became educated on issues such as pesticides and heavy metals in cannabis, the industry pre-legalization, split into two sectors: One where you had responsible operators and irresponsible operators. As a consumer, it was the challenge of “knowing your operator” in mature markets like California. You had a high concentration of cultivators so it was easier to know and trust your local growers. That was not so easy in places like New York and Chicago where there was less of a concentration of cultivators. Many cultivators would ship contaminated or below grade product out of state to a less mature market. I believe this was a big reason that so many states passed legalization. 

Legalization by design was supposed to create accessibly for consumers and raise quality standards by creating a chain of custody, combined with analytical testing, to provide safe medicine to patients and recreational users in various legal markets. The downside to this is that currently licensed producers in the U.S. are allowed to select and submit their own samples with virtually no third-party checks and balances in place. This creates multiple loopholes for any license holder to illegitimately bypass testing standards leaving operators to lean on their own morals and standards.

  1. J. Crossney, Cannabis Science and Technology 1(2), 52–54 (2018).

About the Interviewees

AC Braddock HeadshotAC Braddock is the CEO of Eden Labs, an internationally known and respected 25-year-old technology company that specializes in research and development of products in biofuels, flavorings, environmental remediation, functional foods, natural products, supplements, nutraceuticals, distilling, and more. While Eden Labs serves many industries, in 2009 Braddock envisioned that the purity of supercritical CO2-derived products would be a necessity for the legalization of medical applications for cannabis and cemented Eden’s reputation as the pioneer of extraction for healthy cannabis concentrates.

Autumn Karcey headshotAutumn Karcey is the CEO and founder of Cultivo, Inc., a firm specializing in cultivation and lab facilities design, located in southern California. Karcey takes a logical, consistent, and scientific approach when she designs cultivation sites. She combines the use of modern clean room technology, industrial agricultural equipment, custom fabricated equipment, high-end security systems, and sensor systems to create world-class facilities of enduring value.

Tracy Ryan headshotTracy Ryan is the CEO of CannaKids and the founder of After her infant daughter’s brain tumor diagnosis in 2013, Ryan dedicated her life to helping patients with her line of CannaKids’ medical cannabis oils. Now in full swing with preclinical human trials involving CannaKids’ cancer patients, including an animal model trial on her own daughter, it’s her mission to bring non-toxic drugs to market for patients suffering from cancer and other life altering diseases.

About the Columnist

Josh Crossney headshotJoshua Crossney is the columnist and editor of “Cannabis Crossroads” and a contributing editor to Cannabis Science and Technology magazine. Crossney is also the president and CEO of CSC Events. Direct correspondence to: [email protected]

How to Cite This Article

J. Crossney, Cannabis Science and Technology 2(5), 32-37 (2019).

Editor's Note: The print version of this column that appeared in the September/October 2019 issue was edited for length.