Extracting Cannabis in the US and Europe: A Q&A With Alisia Ratliff
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Image credit: Alisia Ratliff
Analytical Cannabis’ Scientific Advisory Board grew by another new member recently, thanks to the addition of Alisia Ratliff, experienced extractor and CEO of the cannabis consultancy firm Victus Consulting Ventures.
To mark the addition, we caught up with Alisia to discuss her firm, how she got into the industry, and how her cannabis experience differed between working in the US and the UK.
Leo Bear-McGuinness (LBM): How did you find your way into the cannabis industry?
Alisia Ratliff (AR): Honestly, it was truly serendipity, a bit of curiosity, and a longing to do more in my professional life than just push buttons on a liquid chromatography machine or write monotonous scientific papers. I was also influenced by three major people in my life to take a chance working in the legal cannabis market.
My husband, who is now my business partner in our consulting firm, has long been against using any pharmaceutical medications and was an avid protagonist of using cannabis for its many benefits. He encouraged me to not only try something new that would give me the opportunity to be impactful with my work, but also accomplish things I never imagined, like being an author in major publications, educator on multiple platforms, and C-level executive as a young, female person of color.
One of my favorite mentors and university professors reached out to me one day asking if I was looking for any new opportunities in Florida. She forwarded me a job description from a new start-up that was looking for experienced chemists who had run instruments and performed extractions. Little did I know, it was one of the first cannabis licensees in Florida looking for a laboratory director/head chemist. Needless to say, without her random (or divinely timed) email, I wouldn’t have been exposed to job roles in the industry.
Finally, after receiving the job interview and consulting with my life coach hubby, I conducted one more round of research by watching Dr. Sanjay Gupta’s documentary Weed on CNN. I too had a negative perspective of cannabis in general and really was grossly miseducated. His documentary opened my eyes about the immense benefits of cannabis, specifically in children suffering from daily seizures. I, too, gave it a try when I was experiencing postpartum depression and was astonished with the positive results.
Six years in, I am very happy to be working in such a progressive, dynamic, and innovative industry.
LBM: You’ve also set up your own firm, Victus Consulting Ventures, with your husband. How did that come about? And what kind of work does Victus do?
AR: My husband and I have encountered and overcome several challenges in our lives thanks to God’s grace. Sometimes the worst things can happen with the best intentions and unfortunately this has happened in our lives, forcing us to make a decision to rise up or become defeated. At that moment, we decided to rise up! Victus in latin means ‘way of life’, ‘nourishment’, and ‘diet which sustains life’. We were looking for a new way of living, a nourishing work environment, and sustainability. Thus, Victus Consulting Ventures was born.
At Victus, we are a consulting firm serving the cannabis, biotechnology, and life sciences sectors. We provide guidance, expertise, and contract services to clients anywhere along the seed to shelf pathway. We also specialize in helping companies prepare license applications, business plans, and fundraising strategies.
LBM: Since entering into the industry, you’ve also relocated across the Atlantic. What do you make of the differences between the US’s cannabis sector and what you’ve found in the UK and the rest of Europe?
AR: What a great question! I am extremely fortunate to have the experience of working in multiple markets around the world. After working in all of the markets in the US (adult use, medicinal, and CBD only), I can say there’s still a ton of ground to be made as an industry. On the contrary, I do think the European and British approach to legalizing a cannabis program is safer for the end user. For example, mandatory food safety certifications for cannabis operations became widespread across the States only a couple of years ago. Prior to that, consumers and patients were really at risk of contaminated products. The EU and British approach is much more stringent on regulations, making end products very safe for consumption. However, this kind of process places a huge regulatory burden on manufacturers to meet all compliance requirements, driving the retail price up. The best thing I have experienced traveling the world consulting with cannabis firms is the enthusiasm for the plant’s properties and the widespread overhaul of the misinformation around cannabis as a drug. I love the fact that we have many new countries on board with both legalization and decriminalization, including some Asian countries such as Thailand.
LBM: Further to that, you must have witnessed a fair bit of change across the industry since you began (as a developing sector, things can move quickly). Has any aspect gotten better/easier since you started? And what still needs to change?
AR: Oh definitely! As a new laboratory director in a medicinal cannabis facility, I used to research so much about the different extraction methods, equipment, and how to troubleshoot. I remember the internet was filled with so many ways to do things, it was also filled with tragic results from these questionable, DIY methods. When concentrates began to become popular, butane extraction was being performed in non-C1D1 environments, including personal homes. We have come a long way from then with smarter, safer equipment. Because of the evolution of the industry and science, we have gotten much better at cultivating the plants, extracting cannabinoids, infusing cannabinoids, and so much more. Regulatory environments are improving with more awareness of standards and consumer safety.
Although we’ve made huge strides as an industry, we still have a long way to go in standardizing methodology across the world. The need for diversity and inclusion in leadership teams across the sector is still overwhelmingly low, but climbing slowly. Finally, the overall tone of utilizing cannabis as a medicine or recreationally still needs to change globally. The war on drugs instilled such a negative stigma around the cannabis plant. Now our task is to educate the consumers using real world data, proving the benefits and lack of harm from using cannabis in your life.
LBM: What are you working on currently?
AR: Victus Consulting Ventures started off consulting new licensees in the legal markets of the United States. Now, approximately two years after inception, we are servicing clients in the US, Canada, the UK, and Europe. We were even approached this year by a farm owner in Columbia. In my opinion, we have been successful with our clients due to our unwavering transparency, effective communication, and hands-on-experience. Cannabis consulting opened the doors to projects in the life sciences, healthcare, and biotechnology fields. We are now diversifying our platform to reach clients in new sectors. The biotech project we are currently heading up is going to revolutionize the industry helping cultivators grow healthier, higher yielding plants, formulators stabilize cannabinoids in water-based solutions, and increase the consumer product experience.
LBM: Is there anything you’d like to share with our readership about your experience or views on the industry?
AR: I am just excited to be a part of an innovative industry that has offered me so many opportunities as well as adversity. Adversity does not feel good when its occurring, but the feeling of overcoming the challenge and stepping forward is priceless. As a scientist, I have expanded my technical knowledge base tremendously; as an executive, I have defied odds, climbing straight to the C-suite; and as a young, ambitious woman of color, I have become stronger, wiser, and better. In my short tenure in the cannabis industry, I have been admitted to the Royal Society of Chemistry at the highest level of Fellow, joined several conference seminars, and, overall, have been able to make a positive impact with my work and mentorship. I am truly blessed and honored to be a part of the advisory board for Analytical Cannabis.
Alisia Ratliff, CEO of Victus Consulting Ventures, was speaking to Leo Bear-McGuinness, science writer at Analytical Cannabis. Responses have been edited for clarity.