If the Sonoma County cannabis industry is to grow and thrive as the business mecca for marijuana in California and possibly the United States, William Silver is likely to play a vital role.
Silver joined Santa Rosa-based cannabis manufacturing firm CannaCraft Inc. earlier this month as its CEO, stepping down in December from a decadelong position as dean of Sonoma State University’s School of Business and Economics.
Silver brings CannaCraft and the cannabis industry instant credibility within the North Bay business community, a super-connected contact list of colleagues and friends across varied sectors, and the ability to think outside the box. These could prove valuable commodities as California’s estimated $7 billion cannabis industry emerges from the shadows, wrestling with issues from high taxation to Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ desire to curb its growth.
Silver’s resume is impressive. He is an educator on entrepreneurship and innovation; a published author on a book — “The Way of Zing” — about aligning one’s work with their life; a rainmaker who helped raised $11 million for SSU’s Wine Spectator Learning Center, which will open in May and house its Wine Business Institute; and a consultant and advisor who has served on the boards of the Santa Rosa Chamber of Commerce and Sonoma County Vintners, where he played a major role in luring the county’s signature Taste of Sonoma wine-and-food event to the university’s Green Center last year.
His decision to take the job will likely serve as a turning point that will lead other local professionals to consider working in the cannabis industry, said Ben Stone, executive director for the Sonoma County Economic Development Board. It comes as the industry seeks to erase the stigma left by outlaw growers and sketchy head shop owners, crafting a new reputation as a mainstream business that needs to attract top talent for one of the country’s fastest-growing industries.
“I think it’s a hallmark in this industry as it’s becoming more normalized,” Stone said of Silver’s hiring. “You’ll have people of more traditional background going into it.”
For Silver, a 53-year-old married father of three teens, the decision was rather easy after first consulting with the co-founders of CannaCraft on its corporate structure and leadership team. The job gives him a chance to influence the future of the company — which produces such products as chocolates, vapor cartridges and massage oils — but also help to shape a developing industry.
“This was an opportunity to make a difference, not only for this company and this industry, but also for our region,” he said.
He experimented with weed while in college as he did his undergraduate work at the University of Michigan and later received his Ph.D. from the University of Washington. But he said it was the personal experience of having three family members — a son, his mother and mother-in-law — all battle cancer and noting the ability of cannabis to relieve pain and nausea during chemotherapy. Yet, there is scant research being conducted on the plant. His wife, Adrienne Silver, is a Kaiser Permanente pediatrician.
“As I learned about the efficacy of this plant for the potential in helping certain diseases, I wondered ‘why we are suppressing people’s ability to do research? Why aren’t we sharing knowledge?’ This was another opportunity to make a difference,” he said.