With almost a decade long participation in the cannabis industry, Lezli Engelking is the Founder of a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit Foundation of Cannabis Unified Standards (FOCUS), The International Cannabis Health and Safety Organization. Founded in 2014, FOCUS is based in Arizona and works globally.
Engelking has been highly perceptive from a very young age with a consistent eagerness to learn. She grew up with compassion in her heart and aspiration to give back to society. While tenacity and perseverance were the riding force behind her progress. According to her, all her life experiences including the professional roles she held previously laid the groundwork for her current role. She shares, “My college years taught me how to effectively communicate and actively listen. Working in mental health, I learned how to effectively change the stigma of depression and mental health. Working in London, I became keenly aware of how every decision and process ultimately affects the success of a business, regardless of its size. My years in advertising and marketing taught me the invaluable lesson that every market, every consumer, every human is unique, and brings along their own set of beliefs, needs, and preconceptions. Through my work in the highly regulated and compliance-driven pharmaceutical industry, I learned the importance of systems and processes in assuring correct outcomes. I use these skills all day, every day, and truly believe they have had a huge impact on my successes in life.” Having over two decades of experience working in pharmaceuticals and non-profit sectors, her astute knowledge of the industry comes mainly from the 12 years she spent with Eli Lilly. Being at Lilly inspired her to steer her prowess and apply it to the booming cannabis industry. This is when she opened the first vertically integrated chain of cannabis licenses in Phoenix. After serving around two and a half years as Executive Director of that company, she came face to face with the need for the quality and safety standards in the cannabis trade. Like the tobacco or pharma industry, Engelking realized that the cannabis industry’s unique position today makes it vulnerable and prone to the similar complications that cost these industries setbacks in terms of consumer safety, public health, and quality standards. She asserts, “Mistakes where real people paid the price, sometimes even with their lives.” She treated this analogy as a precautionary tale to avoid repeating the same bungles. She shares, “I recognized early on that as the cannabis industry began to scale and grow, cannabis would be governed by the same types of standards that govern any other industries. This led me to sell all of my financial interest in the industry to develop standards and provide third-party accredited certification.” Engelking’s progressive and intuitive approach has been significantly influential in shaping local and international cannabis policy including coordinating and developing cannabis specific educational content for the Association of Food and Drug Officials, Department of Agriculture, and the National Environmental Health Association. In 2018, she contributed to the United Nations and World Health Organization meetings on the global rescheduling of cannabis.