A Female Force in the Cannabis Industry: Q&A with Melanie McLaughlin

From her time as a television executive and talent manager for “The Montel Williams Show” to her current role as the COO and managing member of Montel by Select, Melanie McLaughlin is an established force within both the entertainment and cannabis industries.

How is she using her unique mix of career experiences to promote cannabis? We caught up with her to find out.

How did Montel by Select begin, and at what point did you get involved?

We started Montel by Select because Montel and I believed there was a market for high-quality, trustworthy products that would benefit from the knowledge Montel had gained about cannabis since his diagnosis with multiple sclerosis. I wrote the initial business plan, relying in part on my many years of licensing and marketing experience for consumer goods. We then raised the funds to launch our business in late 2016.

Did you ever think you would be in the cannabis industry?

It never crossed my mind until 2000. When Montel was diagnosed with MS that year, he turned to cannabis when nothing else worked. That’s when I began learning about the industry. His journey and positive experience showed me how critical it was to ensure safe access to cannabis-based medicines.

As entrepreneurs, we saw the need for higher-quality products and a better retail experience early on. Back then, cannabis shops in California – at least the ones to which I was exposed – were often seedy and only offered bud [THC-based plant material]. That experience propelled us to develop a business plan for a more medical experience. That was our first foray into cannabis as a business.

What is it like to work in the cannabis industry after working for so long in television?

You would probably never think this, but there are actually many similarities between the two industries, so my media background was the perfect training for working in cannabis. No two days are ever alike, and one must remain flexible to be successful. A lot of people thrive in structured environments. I thrive in chaos. Both industries have more than their fair share of chaos, and in that lies the challenge that makes this work so exciting.

What’s your favorite part of managing Montel by Select?

It’s exciting to be part of an explosive industry, especially after being involved in advocacy at the state level for so long. Much has changed for the better in the last few years, and it has been very rewarding to be part of the path forward.

I’m most proud of the progress we’ve made combatting the stigma that has long been associated with cannabis. It’s no longer seen as taboo. Most people are at least comfortable enough now to have a conversation about it, and that wasn’t the case 10 years ago. My sixteen-year-old son just wrote an essay for school on why cannabis should be legalized on a federal level, and he received an A on the paper. We live in a small, rural, conservative town in Connecticut. That says a lot to me about how far we have come.

You’ve known Montel for a while now – what’s the best part of working with him?

When Montel is passionate about something, there is no stopping him. I love the passion and optimism he brings to his work every day. He is also brilliant and a very creative thinker. I have a more pragmatic personality, so I believe we make good business partners. He is also a very caring, loyal person. He is not just a business partner after 30 years – he is family.

What’s it like to work in the cannabis industry as a woman?

I’ve gotten used to being the only woman in the room at business meetings over the past 20 years, so it has been similar to the other industries in which I’ve worked. I do see a lot of opportunity for women in cannabis, and while I believe the industry as a whole is supportive of women, it often fails at communicating and acting on that support. My personal goals are to proactively support women in the industry by networking more and to encourage our company and others to actively seek out women for all levels of employment.

Where do you see the industry going in the next 3-5 years?

I believe the federal government will either reschedule or de-schedule cannabis in the next few years, which will impact the industry in a positive way. I tend to believe that the medical- and adult-use products will become completely separate and have different access points (i.e., medical-use products will be obtained through pharmacies and adult-use products through retail). We already are seeing a lot of consolidation in the industry and there’s no reason to think that trend won’t continue. 

To learn more about Melanie or the other members of our team, click here.