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Rylie and Janie Maedler along with Dr. Reggie Gaudino discuss the challenges in growing hemp for medical-grade CBD and Rylie’s Sunshine brand.
We have all met amazing people within the cannabis industry—pioneers that bring brightness to our lives. In this installment of “Cannabis Crossroads,” I sat down with three inspirational forces to discuss the journey of the Rylie’s Sunshine brand. This is an ongoing story of not only fighting stigma, but also one of perseverance, change, family, and community. I greatly admire and respect Rylie and Janie Maedler and Dr. Reggie Gaudino. They are shining examples of what can be achieved through community and collaboration when hearts lead the way and work together to overcome fear.
We have been following your journey for several years. For readers not familiar with Rylie's Sunshine, can you please tell us a little about the brand and explain why it was created?
Janie Maedler: Rylie created a 501c3 in 2015, Rylie’s Smile Foundation, after she achieved no evidence of disease (NED) from her bone tumors. Through Rylie’s Smile Foundation she helped create safer legal access to medical cannabis for pediatric patients by steadily creating legislation in her home state of Delaware. Beginning legislatively in 2015, she was able to pass bills for medical marijuana (MMJ) for pediatric patients, administration of MMJ on school property, added pediatric autism as a qualifying condition, and inspired the Compassionate Use Program which allows doctors to prescribe MMJ for conditions not listed on the states qualifying conditions if they have scientific evidence that it will benefit the patient medically. We knew that these laws would set a precedent if Rylie could accomplish these changes legislatively in her state—enacting these laws would help other states do the same.
Within the first two years, Rylie’s Smile Foundation became well known for not only legislative improvements for pediatric patients but it also became an advisory for out of state legislators and many families navigating medical cannabis for the first time for their severely sick children. This is where we not only saw a drastic need for quality cannabinoid medicine but we were seeing that this was a bigger issue then anyone could ever imagine! There was no education in the general public nor the regulation of products. Many patients or consumers who were desperate for improved health were being taken advantage of. We examined countless sources of medical cannabis. We were horrified at some of the products' lab reports and sales tactics to get “rid of subpar products” at high cost to unsuspecting desperate parents. It came down to Rylie and our family wanting to create a company that genuinely cared where these families’ medicines were coming from, it’s cannabinoid levels from plant to finished product, how it was grown, and how it was processed. Simple transparency. Since the 501c3 could not cultivate and process cannabis, Rylie’s Sunshine was created to assist in this area.
Rylie Maedler: We knew we would need help to accomplish this to the degree of quality that I wanted for families. I immediately brought on medical and research advisors who were well versed in medical cannabis research. Among them, I asked Dr. Reggie Gaudino to join me and he accepted. This has been a dream come true for me since we share the same values of clean quality cannabis medicines and transparency. I value his input tremendously and it’s great to have him be such a big part of my life now. I admire what he has accomplished and the things he has set out to do to advance cannabis research.
Janie: Dr. Gaudino shared Rylie’s goals with Front Range Biosciences who in turn decided they would love to help Rylie achieve these goals. Each year we plant approximately 35+ varieties of Front Range Bioscience’s genetics in order to study how they perform in our region, our specific soil conditions, and how well they achieve expected cannabinoid profiles. This helps ensure that we grow the healthiest and best plants that we possibly can. Front Range is present from the months leading up to planting our seedlings and clones to ensure our soil and irrigation testing are taken into consideration when making amendments. We then keep extremely detailed data on each variety, which includes tissue sampling the varieties to look at their cannabinoid performance as they mature. With this data we can plan what we will plant the following year to target certain medical conditions and exactly when to harvest for the highest cannabinoid levels we are looking for. We cannot imagine doing it any other way now! We put the utmost care from the soil all the way to the end product to ensure it is something we can confidently give to our own medically compromised family members.
As the youngest CEO in the cannabis industry, what inspires you on a daily basis?
Rylie: The main thing that has inspired me has always been the patients that I’ve helped and the friends that I’ve made during my journey of educating and advocating for better cannabis access. Every person I’ve met has had their own journey and their own struggles to overcome, which inspires me to be like them and help them continue thriving.
Today you operate your own farm out of Virginia. Can you share with us what it has been like to grow, harvest, and produce your own products? What lessons have you learned along the way?
Rylie: Yes, we have 25 acres of farmland on the Eastern Shore of Virginia. In the beginning there is a lot of trial and error. Thankfully, we’ve had help along the way from our amazing advisors, fellow farmers, a great farm crew, many friends who have experience, the assistance of Front Range Biosciences, and Dr. Gaudino. It is a lot of responsibility and physical hard work, to say the least, from laying the irrigation, planting, weeding, collecting three to four dozen tissue samples every couple of weeks and taking note of how each variety is doing in detail all the way through to harvest and post processing. We are steadily learning and working to continuously improve. Since I suffer from seizures, the hardest part for me is when the field gets hot, so I am in the field early in the evening, also when it’s cloudy or rainy I’m out there. I’ve done everything from driving the tractors to hanging the drying poles from our ceiling. My favorite part is the tissue sampling of the plants. This gives me a chance to look at the differences in their odor, color, leaf pattern or size, the flowering stage, and even what type of pests are present. I find a lot of lady bugs still since we released so many a few years ago. I also enjoy taking photos of the plants. The biggest lesson I’ve learned is that there are a multitude of plant varieties and they have different characteristics. You can get amazing results from a little plant sometimes and poor results from a huge plant. They also all have different odors due to their varying terpenes. It’s fun to learn about the tissue sample results when we come across one that has a really pleasing smell. Last year my favorite happened to be a high cannabichromene (CBC) variety, which made sense because of my seizures.
Janie: For me, I enjoy being in the middle of our field and looking up to see my children, my husband, father, stepmother, extended family, our crew, and pediatric families who come to volunteer, in the field with smiles on their faces. We all are in awe that we are nurturing a plant that will improve someone’s quality of life. All of us talk to the plants but I think I might do it the most. There have been times that a family desperate for help has reached out to us and sometimes their stories break you to the core. It’s hard to not let it weigh on your mind heavily so I will sit in the middle of the field and just try to take in the role these plants will have. Often families will come for a couple of days to help us and be a part of the creation of their loved one’s medicine. I often see them talking to a plant or two as well. The biggest lesson I have learned is that in cultivation you never have complete control over Mother Nature, so do not expect it.
What led to you to become involved in the cannabis and hemp space?
Rylie: In second grade, I was diagnosed with AGCG bone tumors. My mom gave me cannabis oil, and right away this helped me with my pain and swelling. Only a few months later, my tumor had shrunk and there was bone regeneration. My tumor team was astounded but they were not aware that I was using cannabis. At the time, cannabis for pediatrics was illegal in my state. I met a lot of sick children during this time and it didn’t make sense as to why they had to use such toxic drugs “to feel better” yet they were feeling worse. My mom explained to me that even though cannabis was medicine that it was federally illegal and she could get in serious trouble for giving it to me. She was willing to take the risk rather than see me suffer, which was a huge deal considering several of our family members are in law enforcement and my father works for the state as a teacher. She kept my dad in the dark as much as possible so that he could say he was not involved if she was caught and arrested. She always left information and instructions for my cannabis dosing hidden away with my oils just in case. Not many parents would or could take this chance like she did because of various circumstances. Some are single parents afraid of losing custody or due to being in a marginalized population are rightfully too scared of being caught then sent to prison. We met parents who desperately wanted to give it to their gravely ill child but could not. I didn’t understand why this medicine was so illegal since most medicines today come from plants. I felt very guilty the first time a child that I knew died. I knew she could have benefitted at least in feeling better toward the end. I will never forget her or others who passed away. I asked my parents if I could do something to tell the parents about this medication that had benefitted me so much. So, with the help of my parents, I created a foundation that would help educate, advocate for better access, and support research of less toxic therapies. With huge risk during this time my mom and I invited one of our local legislators to our home, asking to create a law, making medicinal cannabis legal for severely sick children.
Having an idea of what I was going to ask, he came to our home prepared to say “I cannot help you in this. I’m sorry.” Somehow, I was able to convince him with showing him my medical records, report cards and explaining why this was life changing for me and could be for so many other children. He did cry some but so did my mom as she explained that she understood she was breaking the law, but she would build a rocket ship if my medicine was on the moon. He promised to help and a few weeks later he presented me with the first draft of Senate Bill 90. To my surprise he and other Senators who knew my situation decided to name it “Rylie’s Law.” I had to answer a lot of questions stemmed from stigma, but it was passed unanimously in every health committee, the Senate, and the House of Representatives. A first for an MMJ pediatric law!
There was still so much education and breaking through the stigmas that needed to happen. So, through Rylie’s Smile Foundation, I started speaking at different medical conferences to educate doctors, legislators, or anyone in general who wanted to know more about the importance of cannabis as medicine. In 2017, I founded Rylie’s Sunshine to help in my goals. We research different medical conditions and make medicinal oils from plants on our farm with absolutely no chemicals or pesticides. As a patient, I know what it’s like to receive untested and unsafe oils; and sadly, how common it is.
The legal and commercial landscape has changed in many ways since we first met. What are some of the biggest challenges you continue to face?
Janie: We have had a lot of obstacles from the very beginning in 2013 when I started Rylie on cannabis oils for her tumors. She used both tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCA) and cannabidiol (CBD), all full spectrum. Back then it was nearly impossible to find full extract cannabis oil (FECO) anywhere much less CBD rich FECO! When I did find a safe source, it was extremely expensive and highly secretive because nobody wanted to get caught. I had many yard sales to be able to afford her cannabis oil each month. It’s unbelievable how expensive it was.
When Rylie passed MMJ for pediatrics in our state, EVERYONE was scared to speak up… except Rylie. That tiny nine-year-old girl stood up before all of those big legislators and convinced them, even the ones who originally objected, to make a change they’d never forget and be proud of. Rylie continued making changes to help children so that they would not have to go through all of the things she did to gain access. It’s hard to imagine the difficulty resulting from negative stigmas these days but they are still very present in many corners of society. I’ve watched Rylie in action before legislators and going up against six figure lobbyists. I can tell you that she fights for quality access legislatively from the heart and sometimes when she is done, I feel like I need to catch her and protect her but she won’t have that. She is like a cute lion.
Front Range Biosciences (FRB) is a leader in cannabis and hemp genetics and analytical testing. How is FRB working with Rylie and Janie? In what ways do you help improve product quality?
Dr. Reggie Gaudino: We've partnered in a way that benefits both companies. Rylie's family has a fair bit of land that has been used for agriculture. Janie had grown about an acre a couple of years back and had done really well. I was already an advisor to the “Rylie” brand, they were nice enough to allow me to work with them, so we found a way that FRB could run field trials on their land. And then all the biomass goes into products for both Rylie's Smile and Rylie's Sunshine. Some of the varieties we test have been bred for specific terpenes or minor cannabinoids, and so all that gets to potentially help kids and their families. So, it's kind of a perfect match. Our stuff will end up potentially helping someone, and having potentially been introduced into at least a few use case studies. We are also taking a look at the actual concentrate made from the variety that helped Rylie. Our chemistry team has taken an initial look at it, but we need to go back and use some more sensitive instruments to get a bit deeper.
As for the product quality, it depends on whether or not you mean the quality of the plants or the oils. For the plants, we tested all our breeding product progeny at first on just a few acres in 2020 and then Janie must have been on some amazing training program over the winter, because she went from 4 acres last year to 13 acres this year, without a lot of additional help, if any. How that helps us improve is to get metrics on things like performance in that environment, since the performance of any given genetic will not be the same everywhere. It allows us to identify which varieties from our germplasm should be sold in which regions to allow us to make sure our product is helping the cultivator do his best. If it is a genetic that is suited to that set of conditions, then you start out with a stronger base. It also helps us get a feel for the spectrum of photoperiod response when you have crosses that include plants that have different light trigger requirements. So, that's how it helps us. I'll be honest, that region is a tough region to grown in. In general, the things that do well there do well anywhere else I put them. So, it definitely helps us.
As far as helping improve the quality of their products, with that much biomass they can do a lot of experimenting and formulating, and get up to speed with their new extraction facility, so hopefully that is useful to them. Also, the partnership, when the weather cooperates, means that when we do find those good genetic combinations, with respect to minor cannabinoids or other compounds, they get to put that into their formulations too, so I think we help there as well.
FRB has the latest world class genetics available on the market. In addition to helping keep THC levels compliant and increase yields of other cannabinoids, how does superior genetics result in better products?
Dr. Gaudino: This is really the reason I am at FRB. The concept of one size fits all seems to be deeply rooted in the industry, and that is potentially due to the fact that so many people grew indoors for so long. However, the reality is that one size does not fit all, so you can't develop for one area or one method (say indoor growing) and expect that genetic to do well in the outdoors or with vastly different growing conditions. So, we approach it differently. We start with the idea of what’s going to make the farmers job the easiest in that area and then we put the needed traits in first. That, of course, is balanced at least in hemp by the need to stay compliant. Luckily, we are not only working with hemp, so we get to explore the full palette of different types of cannabis in our research. Once you find the best overall genetics for a given area, you've now got a good platform to build plants that do everything better, with less input.
With the right genetics, even your need for pesticides and potentially some degree of applied amendments goes down. So right there, you can see how in the downstream smokeable flower or extracts would gain as well. Happier plants express more of what you want, they yield more, and they need less sprayed on them.
What goals are you looking to achieve by working with Rylie’s Sunshine and other farms?
Dr. Gaudino: I really want us to be able to help Rylie figure out what compound or combination of compounds helped her overcome the disease that nothing else could. Then I want to breed that up so more people have access to it, and we can continue to show why this plant is, in fact, a miracle.
As for other farms, the partnerships are all about mutual benefit. They help us produce some of the best genetics on the planet and we in turn help them maximize the return on their investment and labor. We're starting to create those partnerships on the regulated cannabis side now as well. The hemp industry collapse in the US has hurt our development on the hemp side. We've had to reduce the extent of our hemp field trials. But Rylie's is a partnership that will continue because of the number of ways we work together.
What advice and words of wisdom do you have for individuals that look up to you and want to get into the industry?
Rylie: If you want to get into the industry, don’t be afraid to reach out to others and ask for help. Nearly everyone I know is in the cannabis industry for a specific reason, and there is something you can learn from everyone. Working together is key, due to our knowledge on cannabis growing more and more every day. Overall, we are a strong community of people, and I believe that the only way to move forward is by working together and respecting each other, especially the patient population. Having a company that strives to do the best for others is my business plan.
Rylie Maedler is CEO of Rylie’s Sunshine and President of 501c3 non-profit, Rylie’s Smile Foundation. Rylie is heading the charge of her research and development company, Rylie’s Sunshine with her mother, Janie Maedler by her side–dedicated to creating safe and affordable cannabis oils for children living with debilitating illnesses.
In January of 2015, Rylie’s Smile Foundation was formed. The 501c3 provides health education, technology devices and advocates for more treatment options for sick children all while supporting the research of less toxic therapies on a global scale. Since its formation, Rylie and the 501c3 have been responsible for the passing of four current laws that have greatly improved safe access to pediatrics and are currently working on federal legislation that will protect the rights marginalized MMJ patients.
Rylie’s non-profit work led to the establishment of Rylie’s Sunshine in July 2017. Rylie’s Sunshine cultivates, harvests, and produces full spectrum products that are reliable, safe, natural, and clinically tested. Her company collaborates closely with Front Range Biosciences in order to ensure plant health is of the best quality for consumers and patients while advancing research for farmers in the Mid-Atlantic Region
Dr. Reggie Gaudino oversees the cannabis genetics and scientific research division for Front Range Biosciences (FRB). Formerly the President at Steep Hill, the acquisition of Reggie and his team has significantly advanced FRB’s breeding program, resulting in additional unique and advantaged cannabis varieties.
Previously, Dr. Gaudino has served as a genetics researcher with 18 years of intellectual property experience in patent writing, management, and prosecution in fields as diverse as software and telecommunications to biotechnology and molecular genetics. Research from Dr. Gaudino has been peer-reviewed and published, leading to important new discoveries in the cannabis industry.
As an internationally recognized leader in the field of cannabis genetics, Dr. Gaudino has served as a patent agent at Sequenom, Inc., managed IP-based acquisitions for the Vortice Research Group, worked at four law firms focused on biotechnology, and has served as an advisor to multiple portfolio investment companies. Dr. Gaudino received his BS in Molecular Biology and PhD in Molecular Genetics from the State University of New York at Buffalo and conducted four years of post-doctoral research at Washington University in St. Louis.
Josh 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: Josh@JoshCrossney.com
How to Cite this Article
J. Crossney, Cannabis Science and Technology 4(9), 26-29 (2021).