Eleven years ago, while an undergrad at Hamilton College, Hillary Peckham received the news that her grandmother had been diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS. Although the doctor had recommended marijuana to ease her grandmother’s pain and improve her quality of life, neither Hillary nor her family members could find any legal way to purchase it. Instead, her grandmother was prescribed many pills a day to combat the disease.
The Bedford Hills resident, now 31, knew firsthand how awful it is to live with chronic pain. A failed hip surgery in 2009 left Hillary unable to walk for two years and resulted in muscular atrophy. If there was a drug that offered any hope of eliminating suffering, she was determined to obtain it for her grandmother.
“During the time my grandmother, Frances ‘Granny Franny’ Keefe, was battling ALS, my mom, my sister and I began researching medical cannabis as an alternative treatment,” says Hillary. The three were inspired by the potential benefits. Although Granny Franny passed away in 2012, the Peckhams continued their research and decided to develop a business plan to sell medical marijuana products. “Granny Franny was a woman who filled our lives with laughter and joy. We wanted to start something that embodied her positive spirit,” says Hillary.
Two years later, when former New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed into law the Compassionate Care Act, which legalized medical marijuana, the trio was off and running—but it wasn’t easy. “Obtaining a license to sell medical marijuana in New York was extremely challenging. The state was offering a total of five licenses, so the competition was fierce,” says Hillary. “My mom started preparing in advance of the application process, which largely contributed to our success.” Hillary’s own contributions to the process made her the youngest individual to be awarded a medical marijuana license in the country.
In 2015, the Peckhams launched their company, Etain Health, with a corporate office in White Plains (now in Brewster) and a production facility in Chestertown (a hamlet in the Adirondacks). According to Hillary, “Etain is a figure in Irish mythology who represents women in a transformational capacity. We thought it was the perfect way to honor my mother’s Irish heritage while giving a nod to our female-run business.” Hillary was named chief operating officer, with her mother Amy Peckham serving as chief executive officer and sister Keeley Peckham as chief horticultural officer.
“At its core, Etain is a wellness brand. Our goal is to help others utilize the benefits of the cannabis plant to support their overall health. We want to provide a form of cannabis for everyone, whatever their needs may be,” says Hillary. The company’s dispensaries—in Kingston, Syracuse, Yonkers, and Manhattan—carry a wide range of products including whole flower (the smokable part of the cannabis plant), vaporizers, edibles, and tinctures in range of THC levels. The company is one of the only manufacturers of a water-soluble cannabis powder, which can be stirred into drinks and incorporated into meals. Also unique are their lozenges, which are made with a combination of Etain’s high-quality cannabis extract and local honey. The Etain shops also sell a variety of CBD products, aromatherapy, clothing, and books.
The Peckhams are proud to be a female owned and operated business and are very committed to elevating other women-owned businesses. “We partner with women-owned CBD and health and wellness brands to bring their products to our shelves and we use our platform to highlight other women in the industry,” says Hillary. “All the non-THC products available for purchase at Etain dispensaries are from women-owned brands.”
In a surprising announcement at the end of March, Etain revealed plans to sell its operations in New York State to the investment company RIV Capital. The deal, expected to close this year pending regulatory approvals, is estimated at $247 million and is a clear sign that investors are eager to enter the cannabis market. Hillary sees a strong future for medical marijuana and the Etain brand. “[The sale] is great news for the cannabis industry and for people who live in the Hudson Valley. It will allow us to increase the number of employees and expand our operations in the state. The acquisition will benefit both medical patients and future adult-use [recreational] customers, which are core to Etain’s overall mission,” explains Hillary.
As for the future of the family’s involvement in the business? “Our mother will be transitioning to the board of directors of RIV Capital, while Keeley and I will be integrated into the firm as core leaders in the future of Etain,” explains Hillary. “We will continue to concentrate our efforts on seeking out opportunities to partner with and elevate small, women-owned brands in the cannabis and cannabis-adjacent spaces.”
Related: The Face of Medical Marijuana