Inc.

Flying High

CAN A 58-YEAR-OLD FORMER INSURANCE EXECUTIVE BUILD THE FIRST NATIONAL MARIJUANA BRAND? WITH THESE GUMMIES, SHE JUST MIGHT
FORBIDDEN FRUIT Wana’s THC-infused gummies taste like gourmet Sour Patch Kids and can pack the wallop of a powerful sleeping pill—making them the top-selling edible in Colorado.

NANCY WHITEMAN STILL MOURNS those candied, spice-dusted almonds. “They were so good. They were so stinking good,” she sighs longingly. And so stinking hard to make—legally.

Because Whiteman, the unlikely co-founder and co-owner of the most successful specialized candy business in Colorado, didn’t stop with the curry powder and sugar and salt. She also dredged those almonds through syrup infused with THC, the active ingredient in marijuana.

After all, that’s what her seven-year-old company, Wana Brands, makes: treats that can get you really, really high. The Boulder-based business, which Whiteman runs with her ex-husband, ended last year as the best-selling purveyor of marijuana-infused edibles in its home state of Colorado, according to industry data firm BDS Analytics.

Whiteman may have begun her legal-pot career rummaging through weed-extraction videos on YouTube and testing recipes in a kitchen that was “one step up from an Easy-Bake oven,” but Walter White she is not. Nor is she even Mary-Louise Parker’s Nancy Botwin, the housewife-dealer of Weeds. A 58-year-old mother of two, Whiteman presents as more sales rep than druglord: russet hair in a sensible bob, a sly sense of humor tucked beneath a Northeastern reserve, and the professionally tidy business casual of someone who started her career in suits. “Whatever your stereotype might be of somebody in the marijuana business, I’m probably not it,” Whiteman, a former insurance marketing executive, wryly acknowledges. “I think a lot of times people are just surprised.”

Whiteman happened to be in the right place at the right time. Colorado in 2012 became one of the first two states to legalize marijuana for nonmedical (or what’s called recreational or adult) use and is now its biggest U.S. market. Anyone age 21 or older may now walk into a dispensary there, show an ID, and buy an ounce of loose “flower” to smoke, or concentrated oil for a vaporizer, or a pot brownie or chocolate bar or ice cream or granola bite or any other of the many, many types of food that are infused with THC.

Wana—an abbreviation of marijuana, and the brand name for the Mountain High Products parent company—currently sells about a dozen edible products in both medical and recreational varieties. What put Whiteman on the map last year, helping her company earn $8.4 million in revenue, is Wana’s sour gummies: neon-bright, sugar-dipped, vegan cubes of pectin and corn syrup and fruit flavor and 10 milligrams of THC-infused oil per bite. They look like fancy square gumdrops, taste like gourmet Sour Patch Kids, and can pack the wallop of a powerful sleeping pill that simultaneously stokes every lingering anxiety about your email backlog. (In this reporter’s experience, at least.)

Whiteman’s pragmatism

You're reading a preview, sign up to read more.

More from Inc.

Inc.3 min read
Beating the Office-Space Blues
The occupancy limits, nursing rooms, and fine print of finding the right real estate for your business.
Inc.2 min read
Neighborhood Cleanup
North Carolina’s Bogue Banks is home to Transportation Impact, whose 66 employees get time off from work for pursuits such as caring for their waterfront community.
Inc.1 min read
How Inc. Selected Its Best Workplaces
With labor tight, firms are getting creative to attract and retain talent. Your foosball table won’t cut it anymore.