She is a former US Air Force veteran, police officer and college professor.
But now Burnetta “Bee” Thomas is set to be crowned the new queen of the cannabis industry and potentially the first African-American woman to make a multimillion-dollar fortune from her marijuana-based business.
Hailing from Wisconsin, Thomas built cannabidiol (CBD) business Hemplogica from the ground up, starting out with nothing, to recently inking a deal that’ll see her supplying products to 88,000 gas stations across the US. And all this within a matter of months.
Her dream? To make “Hemplogica the Coca-Cola of the cannabis industry.” Now, multimillion-dollar investors are clamoring for Thomas’s company in a bid to get a slice of the lucrative green pie.
But admittedly, when she first started working with weed, Thomas had never even smoked a spliff.
“I had no interest in joining the cannabis community, it just kind of happened, it was like destiny,” she admits. “I can remember writing a goal for myself — I want to be the No. 1 woman in the cannabis industry and travel the world and design products made specifically for women. And now here I am and it’s crazy.”
Hemplogica makes CBD products that have zero THC — the psychoactive cannabinoid that gets you stoned.
Rather, the range of gummies, tinctures, anti-aging skin creams and oils produced by the brand contain medicinal, non-psychoactive CBD which, while unlikely to get you high, can treat a wide range of health issues, from depression and anxiety, to inflammation, epilepsy, cancer, brain injuries, and neurological diseases including Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.
Taking her place as a potential guiding light very seriously, Thomas says she’s proud to be a role model for the black community, adding, “I feel so blessed to be here. I am honored to represent the African-American community and give back in such a way.
“I understand how important my role is to people who look like me. Just like when I was a police officer, I had a lot of people who looked up to me in that role because of who I am. They can see themselves in me, and I want people to see themselves in me because we are the same. I feel honored I can spread a positive message.”
Following her service in the Air Force, Thomas started her career as a military police officer in 1998, before moving to the Wisconsin police force in 2000, where she worked for three years.
Having previously gained a doctorate in business, Thomas then transitioned into a career as a college professor. But after eight years, she felt the urge for another career overhaul.
“I was very academic, very straight-laced,” she explains. “My fiancé Matt was already in the cannabis industry, so I was watching him do things from the sidelines. And then the day came for me to renew my teaching contracts, and I suddenly had this feeling it was time to do something new. I thought, ‘Do I want to continue being a college professor, or live the life of a rebel in the cannabis industry?’ And I wanted to be a rebel!
“I was like, OK, this is crazy. … But I like adventure, and I am always up for a challenge.”
It was then that Thomas and Matt made the move from Wisconsin to California to run an unlicensed dispensary, Holistic Health, located at the back of a surf shop in San Diego.
At that point in her life, Thomas had never touched any kind of cannabis.
“I had no idea. I was very black and white when I moved out to California.”
Starting at the bottom of the industry, Thomas first learned the ropes as a plant trimmer.
“It was a wonderful experience. When I first encountered the cannabis flower, I thought, ‘Wow, all of this fuss over a plant!’ That was when it just hit me how powerful it was.”
Her initial challenge was educating herself about cannabis, which she had to do quickly. Thomas’s family thought she had “lost her mind” and that she should stick to teaching.
Thomas recalls, “I was one of those kids who always did everything by the book. … I went into the military, then college. I was a professional. No one saw [my cannabis career] coming. I was the last person anyone in my family thought would do this. Other family members smoked [marijuana], but I didn’t. It was interesting to see my family look at me and think, ‘Wow.’ I think a lot of my cousins were cheering me on.”
Craig and Cindy Hedgley, Thomas’s parents, were shocked their daughter, who had never even dabbled in drugs and who had enjoyed blemish-free careers in law enforcement and the US Air Force, would suddenly involve herself in a profession that’s seen by many as skating a thin line of the law.
“To begin with, my parents were pretty shocked and didn’t know what to make of it,” Thomas continues of her career move. “But they have always supported me in my decisions, even though they were taken aback by my new direction! I think once I explained to them, and they understood, they realized that there is a lot of misinformation [about cannabis]. And they could see Matt and I were doing well, working hard and helping people.
“Now, my parents are on board with what I do. I had to educate them. I had to get rid of their bias after getting rid of my bias. I am proud to say they take the CBD products. And they trust me and support me in everything I have done.”
Within a matter of months, Thomas and Matt had moved on from the unlicensed shop, to managing a new licensed dispensary — The Healing Center, located in Mission Valley, San Diego.
“We had to do everything from ground zero,” she says. “We started with a licensed delivery service, then moved to the shop. Before the doors opened to the licensed dispensary, we were already getting our name out there to have traffic. We did a load of guerrilla marketing, getting out there on the streets with flyers. It was all about word of mouth. The day we opened the store, we had a line down the stairs and around the corner. And it was like that nearly every day. It was crazy! We were rushed off our feet.”
Thomas and Matt took the dispensary from zero to $2.6 million in sales in just six months, with 9,000 medical marijuana patients. Particularly convenient was that they were able to get referrals from the health center located next door, relishing the fact they were helping people who had severe medical issues, such as cancer.
Indeed, the couple was inspired to set up their business because they had both lost loved ones to serious illness.
“Matt lost both of his parents to cancer, unfortunately, and that is one of the things that motivates his desire to heal and help others. His mission is to help as many people as he can.
“He lost his sister to opiate drugs as prescribed by the doctor,” Thomas continues. “I lost my aunt to opiate drugs. That is what motivates us to be here. It is far beyond the money.”
Witnessing firsthand the benefits CBD has on people’s health, Thomas says, “I have seen people who have had stage four cancer, and they have come to me with their medical records. And they show me the paperwork, and they point to their body and say, ‘There was a tumor here last week and now there isn’t.’ To be able to have a hand in that, healing someone from something which they thought was going to end their lives, is amazing.”
However, Thomas’s journey into the world of cannabis hasn’t all been smooth sailing. She recalls how on one occasion, the couple were set up and had their stock stolen.
“A patient called in with their ID and they checked out. I sent Matt out to the delivery. But when he gets there, it was like a robbery. They took the products, the flower, oils, all sorts of things. You name it, he had it in the bag.
“They got away, but because we were managing a licensed dispensary, at that point we were able to fill out a police report. We told the cops, ‘We need to get our cannabis back.’ The police found the bag of cannabis with the concentrate, the flowers and the edibles. It was quite crazy that Matt was able to go and pick it all up. He went down to the police department and it was very funny. The cops couldn’t believe they were handing us back all our cannabis — and neither could we! We asked if we could take a picture of it there in the police department, but they said no!”
Working tirelessly to turn huge profits on The Healing Center, the couple had swiftly taken it to the No. 1 dispensary in the area. They asked the owners for a profit share, but had their request rebuffed, which became the catalyst they needed to go it alone.
“It was what we needed to take the jump,” Thomas says, adding that branching out by themselves turned out to be the best decision they ever made.
It was September, 2017 that Hemplogica was finally born.
The pair knew a private investor who was interested in making inroads into the cannabis industry. He also happened to have bought the name Hemplogica as a domain. Thomas felt it was meant to be.
“Six months is quick, but it really started way back when. When [our investor] told us the name, we knew it was perfect. Hemplogica has been a blessing. I knew in the beginning when we were creating it. I told Matt, ‘We are designing this brand to sell it.’ And it’s crazy because that is exactly what we manifested. Six months later, we have had several offers.”
Explaining the products, Thomas says, “The reason they are zero THC is because even with a low dosage, [THC] will build up over time. And then if you do a drug test, it will register. There are some people who cannot have any THC [in their systems].”
For every item the company sells, Hemplogica donates 100mg of CBD oil to a child with epilepsy. According to the Epilepsy Foundation, about 300,000 American children under the age of 14 are living with epilepsy.
“We have been inspired by the stories of children with epilepsy having great success with CBD,” Thomas explains. “This is medicine and it can truly help. We have to give back in what we do. It’s our mission at Hemplogica to try and help as many of those children as possible.”
Despite working together so closely with her fiancé, Thomas says the couple has successfully managed to navigate any issues they may have when it comes to intertwining their personal and business lives.
And Matt is bursting with pride over what his life partner has achieved. “He is very, very proud. But I could not have done any of this without him. He is my backbone and my right arm and my left arm. It can be very challenging to be in business with the one that you love, but it is rewarding as well. He is an amazing business partner and a wonderful man.”
Now, Matt and Thomas are planning to focus on hemp in a bid to grow their business even further and continue to give back to the community.
When hemp, the fiber of the cannabis plant, is extracted from the stem, it can be used to make rope, stout fabrics, fiberboard and paper. It’s also flame resistant and can even be used to build homes!
Thomas lights up, figuratively speaking, when she talks about her vision to introduce hemp as a product to poorer communities around the world.
“That is the direction we are going in. CBD and hemp go together. It is so fantastic, it can be used to help build flame-resistant homes. Who wouldn’t want that? We are interested in helping farmers grow hemp so they can have a sustainable lifestyle. We are now looking at reaching out to communities who don’t have technology and resources, so they can build incomes for themselves.
“I always want to give back, make a difference,” Thomas adds. “That is what it is all about at the end of the day — helping others. The money is a beautiful thing. But it is all about serving humanity, it is all about serving.”