Although Stephanie Cernicek was one of the first people officially licensed to work in Missouri’s cannabis industry, she never thought she’d wind up in that line of work. In 2017, as she was wrapping up her PhD in chemistry at the University of Missouri–St. Louis – her third degree from the university – she assumed she’d head into the pharmaceutical industry. But when she was offered a position extracting hemp to make CBD-infused tinctures for people with intractable epilepsy at BeLeaf ’s Life Oils, she figured she’d give it a shot.
Cernicek quickly found her stride, applying many of the same techniques she learned in her organic chemistry courses. As she saw firsthand the impact that CBD products had on patients, her perceptions of cannabis completely changed.
“I came from a very scientific, analytical background where you trust that pharmaceutical drugs are the best things possible for a patient,” she says. “Then I started seeing young children with intractable epilepsy who had tried three, four, even more pharmaceutical drugs and had them just not work. Seeing CBD significantly help these kids is definitely not what I expected – it was impressive.”
Over the years, Cernicek has become a major player in Missouri’s burgeoning cannabis industry, which saw the legalization of adult-use marijuana earlier this year. She serves on the board of multiple industry organizations, including MoCannTrade, and also teaches in Saint Louis University’s Cannabis Science and Operations certificate program.
But her main role is overseeing production at Mana Supply Company, a multi-state cannabis company that operates dispensaries in Colorado and Maryland, as well as a manufacturing facility in Berkeley, Missouri. Mana produces edibles, extracts, tinctures, topicals and vapes, including brands such as Kizmet, a line of high-quality, handcrafted chocolates; midose., a line of vape pens and melts designed for microdosing; and Escape Artists, a premium line of topical creams.
While Cernicek’s career path didn’t play out exactly as she had envisioned, she’s not looking back. She takes pride in rising to a leadership position as a woman in a male- dominated industry – while also pushing for more representation of women and people of color – and in knowing that the products she helps create benefit patients.
“Cannabis is not such a scary thing, as I think it might have been portrayed to many people,” she says. “It’s something that can help cancer patients be able to eat or get relief from their pain. It’s something that actually can help people function in their everyday life.”