Nico Murillo, Texas
An entrepreneurial itch attracted Nico Murillo to cannabis. As a certified research chef whose 20 years of experience includes more than a dozen years doing product development, she suspected the emerging cannabis edible industry presented opportunities.
Texas had just opened applications for cannabis edible manufacturers, so she submitted her plan, one of 43 to do so. The process has been slow – only three licenses have so far been awarded, and just two are operational – but it has brought Nico into contact with patient advocates in the state. She credits the “autism moms” and patients in Texas with a new outlook that extends deep into her life.
“I’ve always been for the underdog,” Nico says. “Patients have shown me my destiny, what I should fight for.”
As she began advocacy work at the state capital, she discovered that there was a lack of medical focus, as most of the groups were focused on adult-use legalization. She asked around to some mentors, who suggested Americans for Safe Access. Nico didn’t know much to begin with, but she met committed activists such as the Zartler family, ASA Courage Award recipients who were profiled in the July 2018 issue of the ASA newsletter, and decided to launch a Texas ASA chapter. The Zartlers became original partners and board members as the group applied for federal 501(c)3 non-profit status last September.
Texans for Safe Access started its first public meetings in January. They only had four meetings pre-COVID-19, but they were already largely digital.
“The transition may have actually helped the chapter,” Nico says. “People can get to meetings now that we livestream them online each month, and we have an active presence in online education.”
Education is the focus for the chapter now, as the Texas state legislature only meets every two years, and then only for 140 days. The chapter has half-a-dozen registered nurses on board, guiding initiatives. Chapter Board Member Olga Obie, MD, an emergency physician with a background in naturopathy, has been contributing to the education efforts, including 15-20 minute question and answer sessions that they stream online through facebook and post on their YouTube channel.
“The ASA message has worked out well, creating a professional, safe environment without the stigma of recreational use,” Nico says. “But we’re still struggling to reach outside of cannabis space to seniors, the Latin and minority communities – people who don’t know anything but are looking for medical alternatives.”
Since May is Military Appreciation Month, working with veterans is the chapter’s focus right now. They are preparing to release some COVID-related info and are actively fundraising to create more content, including more patient testimonials on their website.
“For our chapter, what is most important is to get stories out so policy makers can see the patient experience,” Nico says.
When the Texas legislature returns in 2021, Nico knows they will need to be ready for intense lobbying, since approximately 10,000 bills hit lawmakers each session.
Nico’s experience in product development for FritoLay and Pepsico means she is used to working with analytical labs and has been inside all the largest food manufacturing facilities in the U.S. and Canada.
She hopes to contribute that experience to guidance for the cannabis industry on food safety handling, glyphosate testing, and worker safety standards.
“Texas has the potential to be a big producer of hemp oil, but what matters is access across the board, not just for the few,” says Nico. “That’s why we’re fighting for home grow, as it solves the problem for patients in remote rural areas.”
Nico is still hoping to get her edible business licensed, and she’s also preparing to launch a skincare line, but she’s not worried about the business side. Through her advocacy she’s gone through her own healing. She’s found what she calls her destiny, as well as new goals, priorities and a stronger vision of the value of service.
“I’m glad to have been given the opportunity to lead this chapter, and happy to be part of a larger organization,” says Nico. “We want to collaborate on some big moves to make safe access national.
This profile was originally published in the May 2020 ASA Activist Newsletter
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