The Accidental Activist: An Interview with Nurit Raphael
How one woman found her calling, faced her fears and founded a canna-business that gives back to the community
All Images Courtesy of Nurit Raphael and Mike Rosati >
As the cannabis industry in California grows, you hear story after story of women ruling the industry. In California and Colorado – the two largest cannabis markets in the United States – approximately one out of every three founders or owners is a woman, according to Marijuana Business Daily. And they continue to maintain a significant presence as leaders in the industry.
It makes you wonder: How is it that women are able drive the movement and truly thrive as business owners in a way that no other industry allows?
“We all lift each other. We’re all helping each other. It’s amazing,” says Nurit Raphael of San Francisco, California. “It’s truly amazing.”
Raphael is the founder and owner of ONA.life, a boutique cannabis concierge in the Bay Area. As we chatted about the journey she’s taken to get where she is, I noticed a recurring trend that fueled her success: strong, female mentors who were willing and able to point her in the right direction and connect her to others with similar goals.
Going through school, Raphael developed a close relationship with Dana Townsend, Executive Producer at Spy Post, a FotoKem Company. “She was the ‘boss lady’ before that was a thing,” remembers Raphael. “She just had faith in me that I could learn as I go. And I did.”
With the help of Townsend, Raphael’s first career path out of school was a success. She worked for several years in post-production on big-name projects such as Game of Thrones, After Earth and Paranormal Activity, but eventually Raphael hit a breaking point. “I was working all the time, overtime, and I decided I couldn’t do it anymore. I just had no connection to what I was doing.”
After taking a break to travel, Raphael landed in the Bay Area and started to explore the idea of breaking into the cannabis industry. With no obvious industry contacts and no extensive knowledge of cannabis legislation, she once again sought out female mentorship — this time with Shabnam Malek and Amanda Conley of Brand & Branch LLP.
“I went to a [cannabis] networking event in the city and met Shabnam and Amanda,” Raphael recalls. “I had emailed them two days before, and they never responded. But when I met them at the event and told them my story, they made the connection.”
As luck would have it, the two lawyers were seeking an executive assistant. They found one in Raphael, who jumped at the opportunity and began to familiarize herself with the legality around cannabis in California. “That’s what I was really scared about, joining the industry,” she remembers. “It’s still a federal Schedule 1 drug. My biggest fear was getting into an industry that could potentially lead to legal issues. I wanted to make sure I was playing by the right rules and regulations.”
After learning the ropes, she eventually moved on to start her own canna-business with her brother, Aviv, but found it more challenging than expected. “It’s so hard. It’s been a two-and-a-half-year process,” Raphael says of the complex regulations around establishing a dispensary, delivery or retail outlet in Marin County, California.
“When we first opened our collective, I knew that what I was doing was very much a gray area. The scary part was coming out to the city, coming out of the shadows and hoping that they would say ‘okay, you can continue’ or ‘we acknowledge your existence’ which is how it’s stated right now.”
Nurit continues to work closely with each locality in Marin to develop local ordinances for licensing. While her work at the local level is still ongoing, it certainly helped prepare her for a shock at the state level.
“When [the state] first released the licensing, they didn’t even have delivery licenses as an option. You could only be a delivery service if you were attached to a dispensary or a brick and mortar. So that was a huge, holy shit moment. There’s not even a license available for what I’m doing.”
“‘Just go. Just go there and make yourself heard.’ And that’s what I did.”
So, for a third time, she looked to the women in her life for guidance.
Raphael had met Amy Jenkins, a public affairs specialist and legal advisor for the California Cannabis Industry Association, at her first Marijuana Business Convention & Expo, commonly known as MJBizCon. “Amy truly glamorized the much needed advocacy work in the industry,” Raphael recalls, “and I would ask her for advice. ‘Amy, how do I get involved in policy and advocacy?’ And she said ‘Just go. Just go there and make yourself heard.’ And that’s what I did.”
Raphael and a group of like-minded business owners, many of them women, joined forces and took action to ensure they got the licenses they needed to keep operating at the state level. “We started a state association,” she said. “I started the Marin County Couriers Association. Somebody started a San Francisco association. San Jose. San Diego. L.A. And we all banded together. We wrote letters. We went to the capital together. We spoke, and they added in delivery licenses to the legislation.”
The state license was a sweet reward for years of hard work, but Raphael credits the experience with giving her something even better. “My favorite thing about everything that I’ve done: learning to use my voice and sticking up for what I believe in,” said Raphael.
For Raphael, her real work began after the capital. In addition to running a successful delivery business, Raphael has dedicated herself to cannabis education through local events and appearances. Nurit and Aviv also use revenue from ONA.life to give back to the community, donating one dollar from every purchase to help a family in need.
With her own canna-business, Raphael has finally found a way to create that connection to her work she was searching for. “I love it. It’s almost addicting to see the change that you make. Sometimes you feel powerless, but you’re not.”
Whether you’re new to the cannabis industry or curious about joining it, Raphael is living proof that there is a place for you. All you have to do is ask.