Marin County cannabis delivery CEO explains why she switched from film production career

CEO Spotlight

In this monthly series, the Business Journal talks with those who occupy the top spot in a local organization, asking about their professional and personal opportunities and challenges.

Sponsor of North Bay Business Journal's CEO Spotlight series is Summit State Bank. It had no input into the editorial content.

Nurit Raphael has plans to grow her Marin County-based cannabis delivery company, but accomplishing her goals will take changes at the state and federal levels.

“My two biggest concerns are taxes and federal legalization,” Raphael, the 38-year-old CEO and co-founder of ONA.Life, said. “There’s no established timeline for when we will see taxes get lowered on any of the layers of taxation, and there’s also no timeline on whether the government will drop cannabis off the Schedule 1 list,” she added. “It's infuriating to see cannabis on a list next to heroin and claims of no medical value.”

If the federal government treated cannabis similar to what it does alcohol, then ONA. Life would likely be able to ship product from its San Rafael warehouse to people instead of hand-delivering it.

With licenses from the city of San Rafael and state, ONA may deliver marijuana anywhere in California. Right now, however, the bulk of its customers are in Marin and Sonoma counties, as well as San Francisco and Oakland.

The business’ name comes a combination of Raphael’s first name and the first letters of her brothers’ names — Oren and Aviv.

The following is a question and answer between the Business Journal and Raphael that has been edited for space and clarity.

How did you go from production coordinator on “Game of Thrones” to CEO of a cannabis delivery company?

I found my career in production to be unfulfilling. I would spend four to six hours daily in a dark screening room that was truly sucking away at my soul. I knew I needed to change the trajectory of my career path or I would continue being miserable. I took a leap of faith, left my postproduction career in the rearview mirror, attended a cannabis women’s networking event, and never looked back. My first job in cannabis was assisting a cannabis intellectual property lawyer. While working with the firm, I was creating ONA.Life on the side with my older brother, Aviv Raphael.

With Aviv as co-founder of the company, is there any sibling rivalry to contend with?

Rivalry with Aviv? Absolutely not. The hardest part of working with my brother has been learning to work and communicate as “co-founders” instead of as siblings. Sometimes, it's easy to forget that in the office we are co-workers and not brother and sister. We both have made the mistake of speaking to each other as siblings. Over the years, we have learned to divide the responsibilities according to each of our strengths, and it works perfectly.

Tell us about how your mom introduced you to cannabis.

In high school I got my wisdom teeth pulled out. The surgeon prescribed Percocet and my mom refused to let me take them. She actually flushed the opiates down the toilet. She proceeded to find cannabis from a friend. She then cooked it on the stove with butter, and I drank it with a straw. I’ll never forget how much better I felt on our sofa. From that moment forward, I knew cannabis was my medicine of choice.

What did it take for ONA to be one of five cannabis delivery services in California to meet all the regulations in order to launch in January 2018 when recreational marijuana became legal?

It took three years of dedication, determination, passion, and straight grit. ONA started in 2015 under Proposition 215, a cannabis collective law. When I noticed the laws were changing, I started a cannabis delivery association — Marin County Couriers Association — for all the Marin County delivery services. This allowed us to unify our voices on a state and local level. We first had to change the language of the law on a state level because they did not include delivery as a license type. After that was successful, it took about two and half years of lobbying in all the cities within Marin County to finally have the city of San Rafael allow a delivery ordinance. To meet all the state and local regulations we had to find a location within a “green zone,” get city approval, state approval, pay lots of licensing fees, security systems, insurance, bonds, and the list goes on.

How do you decide which brands of cannabis and types of products to provide?

I have a checklist for the brands that become an ONA Proud Partner. The secret sauce for picking new brands is 100% part of the ONA secret sauce, and I can't give away all the details. But I strongly consider if the brand gives back to the community. ONA prefers to represent brands that are health conscious, have a real heart, are legacy operators, and are helping our industry destigmatize cannabis.

What are your thoughts about Marin County’s cannabis laws?

Marin County allows for testing, manufacturing, and distribution. In terms of not allowing a storefront for retail sales, I personally think it’s smart. If you follow cannabis news, you will see that the storefronts are constantly getting broken into all around the Bay Area. We know a lot of clients would love a storefront in Marin, but for safety and discretion within Marin County, I find delivery to be the best possible option for buying cannabis.

What aspect about your business keeps you up at night?

Taxes! The taxes are out of control. We currently pay multiple layers of taxes: state, federal, local, sales, and excise tax. It’s overwhelming and makes our business incredibly difficult.

What is your approach to making tough and important business decisions?

I prefer to call a team meeting. I never make a tough decision on my own. My brother and I always communicate all of our important decisions, and most of the time include the manager and chief of staff at ONA.

What lesson did you learn early in your career that you now recognize as an important one?

There are snakes in the grass, and you can't trust everyone. Unfortunately, I made an error in 2018 while we were in the middle of getting our license. I learned a really hard lesson, but thankfully, it was in the beginning. Now, I know for future endeavors to be more cautious.

How do you help motivate people?

At ONA, we love to make sure our 12 employees know how much we appreciate all of their hard work, so we love to offer bonuses, sample products, and positive affirmations. We also try to have team dinners so we can spend time together outside of work hours.

What goals do you have for the company in the next five years?

The goal for ONA in the next five years is to continue expanding into new areas like Palo Alto, Menlo Park, Danville, and deeper into Napa. We would also love to see ONA in New York one day, ONA SOHO!

What are the benefits and drawbacks to being located in the North Bay?

The benefit is that we are dealing with people who can afford legal cannabis. The tax is being passed over to the clients, and not many areas can afford legal cannabis. It’s a huge blessing that we don’t have to worry about our clients going to the black market to purchase their cannabis.

A drawback would be there’s still a stigma with cannabis, and sometimes, you don’t know what kind of comment you may receive from someone. Although, we are doing our best to eliminate the stoner stereotype in Marin County.

What one government regulation would you change, and why?

Dropping cannabis from the Schedule 1 narcotics list, for obvious reasons. In addition, I would change the “280 E tax code” which forbids cannabis businesses from deducting otherwise ordinary business expenses from gross income. Removing 280E would allow cannabis companies to be treated like any other normal business in the U.S.

What would you redo in your career, and why?

I would have left postproduction earlier and followed my passion project of ONA.

How do you spend your time outside of work?

Outside of ONA, I love to explore nature with my husband on hikes around Marin County. I spend a lot of time with my family. I love Pilates, and I’m an avid traveler.

What advice would you give someone just starting his or her career in your industry?

Follow your heart, have a very detailed business plan, and take it one day at a time.

Kathryn Reed is a journalist who has spent most of her career covering issues in Northern California. She has published four books, with the most recent being Sleeping with Strangers: An Airbnb Host’s Life in Lake Tahoe and Mexico. She may be reached at kr@kathrynreed. com, or follower her at, Twitter @Kathryn0925, or Instagram @kathrynreed0925.

CEO Spotlight

In this monthly series, the Business Journal talks with those who occupy the top spot in a local organization, asking about their professional and personal opportunities and challenges.

Sponsor of North Bay Business Journal's CEO Spotlight series is Summit State Bank. It had no input into the editorial content.

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