Kim Stuck’s Indelible Mark on the Cannabis Industry—From Keeping Tabs to Transformation
The year was 2013. Barack Obama started his second term in office, the Harlem Shake overtook Vine, and Taylor Swift knew you were trouble when you walked in. But while the world’s former British colonies readied themselves for the arrival of Prince George, Colorado residents were anticipating the approaching legalization of marijuana—and no one was more excited than Kim Stuck.
She had recently been named the first Cannabis Specialist for Denver’s health department, a position she essentially created. Armed with years of experience as a food inspector for the Denver Department of Health Services, she jumped at the chance to help the fledgling cannabis industry earn consumer confidence.
And while the work was important, what Stuck ultimately found was frustration. After three years in the role, her enthusiasm began to sag.
“I loved the job, but as a regulator, as I was not allowed to give solutions to people. I could only state what the regulations are. It was up to the companies to decide how to meet them,” she recalls. “After a while, I got so tired of disposing of products and always being the bad guy. I had fallen in love with the industry. I believed in plant medicine. I knew I could help companies more if I was working for them instead of against them.”
And with that thought, an empire was born.
An International Go-Getter
Stuck started Allay consulting as a one-woman shop. Leveraging the knowledge and contacts from her work with the city, she offered her services to local businesses. Her pitch was simple: Since nobody knew the rules better than she did, she could ensure that problems would be spotted before the health department found them.
“Starting my own company was very, very scary. I was leaving that plush government job and you know, I think I must have been crazy. But it was the best decision I ever made,” she says. “I absolutely love what I do, and I feel like I’m making a positive impact every day on our amazing industry.”
If her business is any indication, that impact is massive. Allay Consulting boomed out the gates. After one year in operation, Stuck hired her first employee. Six months later, she hired more. Now, she has offices in Colorado and Oregon, and works with businesses in all 50 states, Canada, Mexico, Israel, and more.
Along the way, Stuck went from a being a small business owner to the Queen of Cannabis Compliance.
‘From a public health standpoint, it’s terrifying’
Part of what elevated her was timing. But most of it was pure work. Stuck confesses that she’s a nerd when it comes to regulations. A quick back-of-the-envelope calculation estimates that she reads about 70 pages of rules and regulations every day.
That’s a level of dedication that would make even Leslie Knope jealous. But for Stuck, it’s the price she pays to improve her industry, which is fighting for survival and consumer acceptance without the support of the federal government.
“Most state and local regulations usually come from the Department of Revenue. In fact, in most states, there isn’t a health department that oversees hemp and cannabis, which is a huge issue. From a public health standpoint, it’s terrifying,” Stuck says. “And a lot of states are waiting until the FDA comes out and issues regulations because cannabis and hemp don’t really fit into their categories. They’re not food. They’re not supplements. So, we’re in this weird limbo, where there aren’t enough regulations, but at the same time, if something does go wrong, there are consequences.”
“Some of them are starting to work on it, like Colorado’s Health Department is finally going out and doing inspections. But it took years, and that’s mainly because of bandwidth,” she adds. “They don’t have enough inspectors. Think about Oklahoma, for example. They granted 14,000 licenses overnight. What department can keep up with 14,000 new businesses? How can they be expected to go in and do audits every six months for 14,000 new businesses? There are not enough trained regulators to be able to do that. That is what’s happening in a lot of states.”
That kind of gray area is great for fly-by-night cannabis companies that want to crank out cheap goods, make a few bucks, and fold at the first sign of trouble. But for those who believe in offering high-quality and medicinal products, the lack of guidelines is a headache.
Stuck works to fix that problem. She helps businesses signal to consumers that their products are safe and effective, even when a government won’t stand behind them.
Stuck puts it simply: “Consumers really don’t know if products are safe or not, or if companies are being good to their workers, mainly because of the lack of regulation.”
Building Confidence on Both Sides
To create trust, Stuck helps companies meet different standards, usually from voluntary certifications.
“GMP (Good Manufacturing Practice) certification is probably the most popular and the biggest certification for the cannabis industry because it’s essentially hiring a third-party accredited certification body that is acting as their health department,” she says. “They’re coming in every year and doing an audit that companies either pass or fail. They make sure that the products that they’re making are safe and that they’re not contaminated, that they’re going through all the testing that they should, that the ingredients are being tested—that everything is being tracked.”
As any food or restaurant inspector will attest, problems can occur in even the most fastidious companies. Regulations are designed not only to prevent problems, but also to limit the damage to consumers when the worst inevitably occurs.
For an industry that is still building consumer trust, that’s vital. But it’s also important for state governments, too. Despite growing legalization, many cannabis enthusiasts believe governments have a bias against their industry. But Stuck sees it differently. From her viewpoint, both sides have more in common than it appears.
“A lot of states really want cannabis to be legal because of the tax money from it. And a lot of regulators are a little more careful with cannabis and hemp than with food and restaurants because there’s a bigger media spotlight on it,” she explains. “So, if I’m a regulator and I go into a cannabis company, I’m going to really pay attention to that company because if something goes wrong and somebody gets sick, it’s not only going to be a simple violation and a fine. It’s going to be in the local paper. Cannabis is a really big buzz word right now and people and the media are really paying attention to it. So, if one cannabis company does something wrong and somebody gets sick or dies, that’s going to be front-page news, and it’s going to make all the rest of the cannabis industry look bad. So, if there’s extra scrutiny, it isn’t necessarily because they don’t like cannabis. It’s kind of the opposite.”