After striking ageism issues for the first time in a decades-long career in the hospitality industry, Michele ‘Mimi’ Parrotta was ready for a midlife change.
A cannabis user for 41 years, Michele harnessed that accumulated life experience to pivot into a role as clinic manager and educator for a medical cannabis clinic in Ontario, Canada, in 2016.
It was there that she noticed a glaring gap in the market; a safe space for people 50-plus who were new to recreational and medical cannabis use.
Determined to do her bit to mitigate the stigma around cannabis that she says still exists even after Canada legalised its recreational use in 2018, Michele branched out on her own under the banner Mimi Cannabis, a one-stop shop offering education, consulting and a retail arm.
Michele tells us that the company name, Mimi Cannabis, is a play on words; her nickname and also ‘me-me’, meaning every user’s personal needs and experiences, which she says speaks directly to the over-50 crowd, especially boomers and seniors.
“Age shouldn’t be a barrier for people who want to access cannabis – and it’s not a barrier for me in this industry either,” says Michele, now 57.
“I haven’t found my age to be an impediment to joining this exciting emerging industry at all. My voice is heard and I am valued. I’m invited to the boardroom tables, and to high-profile VIP parties and events.”
Eager to know more about the lessons she’s learned along the way, we fired off some questions to Michele via email for the latest instalment of our Never Too Late series.
Was there a particular lightbulb moment that inspired you to make the change?
The lightbulb moment was a few different things, with legalisation coming to Canada I had been a cannabis user for over 40 years and really felt I had a lot to contribute to this new and exciting industry. I had been looking for a career move at the time and felt I was getting age discriminated in my own industry, so I specifically went looking for cannabis industry positions.
What for you have been the biggest challenges so far?
My biggest challenges have been dealing with the stigma of cannabis. Being over 50 many people and family members were quite shocked at my choice of industries to join but I knew it was where I belonged. I knew this was going to be something to be a part of. I also have experienced some challenges and ‘nay-sayers’ due to my age but I really don’t let it bother me. I know my voice is an important one. But I believe that people in my demographic need a voice in the cannabis industry.
Don’t ever let age stop you. Our experience and wisdom is so needed in today’s world.
How has it impacted you financially? Was it a big commitment?
Of course any start-up has its financial challenges. I was fortunate enough to witness a lot of mistakes that were being made out there like opening multiple locations and getting myself into huge expensive leases etc., so I decided to take my experience and business sense and start small, with an online presence, store and consulting. Like I always say, hindsight is 20/20 because then the pandemic hit and I was relieved that I did not have the overhead of a ‘brick and mortar’ during these difficult and challenging times.
What are some of the sacrifices you’ve had to make and what drives you to overcome those?
There have been quite a few sacrifices, one being social media. I always considered myself a private person so to put myself ‘out there’ was a big sacrifice. Also, I have learned that not everyone who you get involved with has your best interests at heart. Many people will use you for credibility, especially if they are not so credible, but I have learned so much and my eyes are wide open! Also, not everyone understands the life of an entrepreneur; it’s not for the faint-of-heart. I have been very lucky that my immediate family supports me 100 per cent.
Were there moments when you thought, ‘oh no, this isn’t going to work’, and if so, how did you overcome them?
I have often thought “oh no this is not going to work” but then you change someone’s life with medical cannabis, or you speak to a group of people who love what you have to say. I also rely on my publicist Tracy Lamourie to help me during those times of doubt or ‘imposter syndrome’. She motivates me and reminds me every day how important my message is. And like I said, my immediate family have been cheering me on from the beginning.
What have been some of the key lessons you’ve learned?
Trust is a big one. I keep my circle small and only discuss matters of my business with a select few people. I have learned that credibility and integrity is everything. I have learned that there are people who only want to ride on your coat-tails; they need to wear their own coat. I have learned that most people don’t want to see you succeed but that’s okay I keep my circle with people who lift each other up now. Took me a while to learn these things even at the ripe old age of 56!
Looking back, is there anything you’d do differently?
There are a lot of things I would do differently; number one, trust my gut feeling more. I was lead down the garden path at the beginning of my Cannabis Career. This was a real weakness for me. I wanted to see the good in everyone and guess what not everyone is good, so TRUST YOUR GUT! I would not have been so vocal about my ideas as there are many people who want to steal ideas etc. Trademark and secure your domains immediately.
What’s the most rewarding part of this new direction?
The most rewarding part is helping others. Many people within my demographic have been dealt a huge stigma when it comes to cannabis and cannabis products, so teaching them about dosing properly and the benefits of cannabis is so amazing. I also love the fact that I have to freedom to talk about cannabis freely and openly. Working for myself has allowed me to have more family time and for that I am very grateful.
What are your messages to others thinking of pursuing their dreams, or a new career/work direction in midlife?
My message to people my age about pivoting or starting something new is just do it. Put your whole heart in to it and let your passion do the rest! Remember, if you do something you love, you never have to work another day in your life! Don’t ever let age stop you. Our experience and wisdom is so needed in today’s world. Go after it with a strong business plan and lots of confidence.