Priscilla Vilchis says she’s primed to build a cannabis business empire.
The owner and CEO of Premium Produce, a marijuana cultivation and production facility in Las Vegas, Vilchis, 32, worked in the health care business in her native California until a few years ago, when she noticed an opportunity.
Flash forward to today, and about 50 people work at her cultivation facility near the Strip — turning out Reina brand lip balms, CBD oils and edibles. Vilchis also has a sister company in California and plans for an operation in Los Angeles County.
Why did you get into the cannabis business?
I was working with physicians, managing their practices and making sure they were up to par with all the laws (in California). I was in my mid-20s and I saw a common thing in every doctor’s office — when patients came in for pain, doctors would prescribe medication.
Patients were becoming aggressive, and we would catch them selling (their prescriptions). I started to think about whether the world knew that this was becoming something so crazy. I phoned my lawyer, Steve Silverman (now Premium Produce’s chief compliance officer), and I said, ‘I need you to find me the best state for medical marijuana, because I believe that it’s going to be the alternative for opioids.’ You can’t overdose on marijuana, but you can die on opioids.
So, you decided to bet on the cannabis industry and bet on yourself, winning a medical marijuana license in Nevada in 2014. Did that feel like a big risk?
I knew we shouldn’t be giving these people all these opioids. It wasn’t going to be a good thing for them. (Silverman) recommended investing in the state of Nevada because they were coming online. I said let’s get a team together. I knew if we could give physicians an alternative, they would take it. After putting in $250,000 in fees per license (three applied for, two granted), I ended up winning. I was the youngest female Latina to win a license after competing against all these millionaires and billionaires. I was 27 at the time. That’s how my vision started.
What’s it like being front and center in an industry that’s maturing before everyone’s eyes?
For me, I saw the industry way before everyone else did. I had the vision years ago. That’s why they call me the genius now. Before, they called me crazy. I walk proud now because I know this industry is going to be equivalent to, if not bigger than, alcohol and tobacco.
You’re not the only female marijuana business owner in Nevada, but there are certainly more men in leadership positions. What’s it like being a young woman in the cannabis business?
It’s male-dominated. I visit my competitors, and it’s usually a group of older men in their 70s. These are prominent businessmen who have done a lot of things and built casinos and been successful, but here I am. I want women and minorities — black, white, Latino, everyone — to see me and know anything is possible. I want people to know that if others call you crazy, just look at what I’ve done.
How will cannabis mix with the casino and resort business as it continues to mature?
Alcohol and tobacco had it difficult, too, years ago. When we talk about prohibition, they were in the same boat as marijuana is now. I have faith in the system that marijuana will get there. I know right now you can’t smoke in public, but you can purchase marijuana. I tell people to be patient. We’ll get there.
Nevada’s marijuana licensing process has come under scrutiny this year through a series of lawsuits that are still being sorted out. What’s your view of that process after having gone through it?
I think the state is doing its best and working every day to get better. I believe Nevada will be, one day, the best state for marijuana. Nevada waited a bit to see what other states were doing before coming out with its own program, which I think was good. I hope everyone honors what the state has put out there and obeys it.
Where does your confidence come from?
If you believe in anything and you’re passionate, you’ll achieve it. I believe that. I think it’s imperative — especially for a Latina woman — to remember that your word is your honor. The odds might be against you, but whatever you put out there, it has to be accurate. You have to gain that respect and deliver on what you say.