When Emely Perez’s mother became sick with stomach cancer, she found relief through CBD, the non-intoxicating cannabidiol derived from hemp. “We’re big into health and wellness. We did research, and we started giving her that, and we had her longer through CBD,” said Michelle Castro.
Castro and Perez are now the first franchisees for CBD retailer Franny’s Farmacy in Pembroke Pines, Florida, where they were in the midst of buildout and permitting when reached earlier this year.
It took more than a year to find a location. “It’s so stigmatized, just the leaf, the hemp,” said Castro. “It was really hard, again, going back to the stigma. They would just think it was another smoke shop, and it’s not that. Everywhere we would get knocked down.”
Getting a loan was impossible, too, because credit “doesn’t exist in the hemp industry. It’s just hard-earned money, over a hundred grand,” of their own funds they used to get started. Medical marijuana is legal in Florida; it’s on the ballot in 2024 for recreational use. Marijuana remains illegal at the federal level and the varying state laws mean there are still roadblocks to expansion.
“The black market’s never going to go away,” added Castro. “Obviously, it’s more affordable” on the street. “It all depends on the quality that people want to smoke or edibles. You either want to put good things in your body, or go with the black market.”
Franny Tacy is the first female hemp farmer in North Carolina, a pioneer in cannabis-from-hemp franchising with Franny’s Farmacy, and now CEO of a newly restructured organization meant to bring several formerly separate companies and multiple investors under one roof. Franny’s Operations is the new name, announced in January.
“We’ve been working on this over a year. When I started as the first female hemp farmer, everything was illegal,” she said, meaning until 2019 when the U.S. Farm Bill allowed hemp farming for non-intoxicating cannabis. “Everything was set up as separate entities” for liability reasons.
“It has become obvious as we grow, it is the time to restructure and become one,” allowing “all the opportunities for collaboration and investment.”
Tacy said her company used a crowdfunding platform in 2018, selling “half a million dollars worth of shares” to some 1,400 investors. They now hold 15 percent of the shares in the umbrella company.
Warren Williams, who sold his software development company, is her new business partner, with a 10 percent stake. “We met when he was leading the way in North Carolina to get hemp legalized,” she said. “We were the only state that was funded by the farmers. Every other state funded it with state funds.”
In North Carolina, “the farmers raised over $200 million to fund the hemp commission. He was just doing this as a passion. So, I’m super honored he’s now officially a partner,” Tacy said. “We’re ready to thrive.”
Starting with a hemp farm in 2017, in Asheville, the operation includes a manufacturing facility to create products containing CBD; a distribution center; and Franny’s Farmacy, the CBD dispensaries.
Tacy said she paused franchise sales during the COVID-19 pandemic, mostly because of mandated shutdowns but also to install systems and work on unit-level profitability. That sales effort is now re-launched, with 11 open and the Florida shop nearly ready to go. A Franny’s Farmacy franchise costs between $158,000 to $1 million to open.
Tacy said she’s proud of signing Perez and Castro as her first Florida franchisees, whose parents were immigrants and whose personal stories show grit and hustle.
“Both my parents are Cuban immigrants,” Castro said. “My dad came when he was 12 years old, and my mom came when he was 17. They just, you know, hustled every day, and tried to make the American dream.”
Perez today is a “middle-aged mom,” she said, and a dental sales rep who will keep her day job for now as Castro runs the new Franny’s Farmacy. “I was a teenage mom, and I got pregnant when I was 17 years old, and I beat all odds.”