One-On-One With Rachael Speegle

By Ellen Marks
Albuquerque Journal, N.M.

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Rachael Speegle shares her journey from dancer to cannabis entrepreneur. Speegle also shares how she came to change her mind about the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes.


Rachael Speegle describes her route to cannabis entrepreneur as “quite an evolution,” one that included dancing professionaly for two renowned companies, doing the physically demanding job of EMT in New York City and working as a nurse at Presbyterian Hospital in Albuquerque.

Now, the 36-year-old businesswoman is head of Verdes Foundation, which operates dispensaries in Albuquerque and Rio Rancho.

It’s been an unlikely progression, she says, because “I was actually an opponent at first of cannabis use, period.”

During her work in the medical profession, she saw “people dying of alcohol abuse, dying from addiction disorders. When someone would say that (cannabis) is better than drinking — to me, a bullet in the head was in that same category,” she said.

Speegle changed her mind after the man who would become her husband, Eric Speegle, started Verdes with his father in 2010.

Speegle started researching and realized that “my role as a nurse is patient autonomy and advocacy, so it doesn’t matter whether I agree with what a patient wants to do with their body. It matters that I protect their right to do that.”

From there, she came to believe that “this plant does provide a signifiant medicinal purpose and that we can help our community use it as such and be strategic and not just intoxicate themselves.”

Speegle this year was among 21 people nationwide named to the Aspen Institute’s prestigious Class of Health Innovators Fellows. Those chosen commit to launching a venture that will “have a positive and lasting impact on health care,” according to the institute’s website.

A large part of Speegle’s early life was devoted to dance. Speegle, who grew up in New Jersey and New Mexico, started dancing when she was 3 and talked her parents into sending her to North Carolina School of the Arts when she was a teenager.

“I could do an arabesque that touched the back of my bun,” she said. “It was a scholarship-maker.”

Speegle graduated from high school when she was 16 and got to see her dream come true. She established a career that included time with the world-renowned Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and and the Jose Limón dance company.

All that changed, though, when she decided to take a summer wilderness EMT class at Yosemite between tours and performances because “I always had a passion for backpacking and hiking.”

During a required stint at Fresno Medical Center outside Yosemite, Speegle had the experience that upended her life.

“I watched a woman come into the ER … who didn’t speak English,” Speegle said. “And she was about to undergo a bilateral amputation, and nobody brought a translator and nobody explained to her that she was going to leave without her legs.”

Speegle drew pictures to try to communicate and held the woman’s hand as she went into the operating room.

“I had had no interest in medicine before, but by the time I left, I thought, ‘That’s the type of advocacy I want to do.’ Performing for wealthy people at galas is not what I want to do. And it was really instantly transitional. And that was the end of dance.”

What’s on your bucket list?

I know this sounds really esoteric, but I want to help my community adapt to change faster. I think it’s what holds up economic development in New Mexico. I think doing things for the sake of tradition is overrated, and I really want to dedicate my life to stepping away from tradition and stepping into change that makes sense for the next generation. Something more materialistic: I’d love to be on a sailboat for a few months of my life. I used to be on a sailing team when I lived in New York.

What are your favorite places?

My favorite places continue to be the mountains, and it continues to be the mountains of Colorado and the mountains of New Mexico. There’s just something really, really special to me that’s different than the ocean, different than laying on a beach. It just fills my soul in a different way.

How would you spend a perfect day off?

I love going up to the crest, taking a quick little hike, then driving to Madrid, sitting at the tavern and feeling like you’re far away. Being connected to the artist community and forgetting that there’s anything else that matters in the world. That’s a good day.

What’s a splurge for you?

I’ve always had cars that I could afford with the cash in my pocket. The car that I have now (Audi A7) came after the last one broke down and blew up on the side of the road. So my car is my one materialistic thing. I don’t know if it’s fast for the rest of the world, but it’s way faster than anything I’ve had cash in my pocket for.

Were you in New York during the Sept. 11 attacks?

I was dancing that summer. I was actually supposed to be at the trade towers that morning to pick up a book at Borders bookstore. My mom called and made me late, and I was so mad — “she calls me one more time before I have to be at rehearsal” … Anyway, It was a good day to pick up the phone. I went straight to class, (but) I was stuck on the Manhattan Bridge watching the first building. The having not been there was almost twofold. There’s an element of relief and an element of guilt that goes into it all. I didn’t work through it at the time. I really compartmentalized and just pitched in.

What did you do?
I couldn’t get home. I lived in Brooklyn, so I went straight to St. Vincent, and I donated blood. And then I stayed at a friend’s, and over the next couple days, I made food for the Fire Department. I took their clothes and washed them. And I’m just starting to realize that I never went back to dance fully after that. I never felt absolutely committed after that.

What’s the scariest thing you’ve ever done?

Going to the Aspen Institute for the fellowship was the most frightening thing I can ever remember doing. Visceral response for days. Total impostor syndrome.

You mean you felt like you didn’t belong?

Yeah. The whole time having to overcome my own demons of comparison and coming from such an unconventional education and background to stand next to people who are running Stanford Medical School and who went to Booth (School of Business at the University of Chicago) for their MBA after going to Harvard for their M.D. And looking at them and seeing how it makes such sense that they’re there and not fully understanding why I am. And to still have the courage to get on that plane and walk into that room and to participate really took a lot of self-awareness and courage.

How do you feel about it now?

It’s not scary anymore. It’s really been amazing to realize that I’m more than just the sum of my degrees and that my value is much deeper than that. And I came back from that a different person.
Several years ago, you started a New Mexico chapter of Women Grow, a cannabis industry networking effort for women.

What prompted you to do that?

When I am in a room of other producers, it is all men. I never understood the feminist movement until I joined this industry, and I have become a feminist in response.

Is there a particular incident you’re thinking of?

They’re daily — of being called a girl, of being referred to by my appearance, of being devalued and undermined.

What really worries you?

Overpopulation. I have made a conscious choice not to have my own children, and it feels like a sacrifice every day. Because the thing I worry most about in this world is … the fact that we’re so deeply attached to having children that we’re doing it at the expense of our resources.

What gives you hope for the future?

That every generation is better than the last. I truly believe that even if I can’t relate to them all the time, I know that it has never gone in the opposite direction when I look back historically.

Rachael Wilenta, 36, born in Belleville, N.J.; married to Eric Speegle since 2014; one stepson, Carter, 12 years old; one rescue dog, Finn. (Speegle describes his breed as “New Mexico brown dog”); associate degree in allied health sciences, Swedish Institute, 2006; bachelor’s in university studies, University of New Mexico, 2010; nursing degree, 2013.

POSITION: Verdes Foundation CEO since November 2018 and COO starting in 2014; Presbyterian Hospital nurse, 2012-2015; Presbyterian EMT, 2010; EMT in New York City, 2002-03; founder of Medically Orphaned Pets, which provides financial support for animals whose owners have died or are too ill to care for them; board member, New Mexico Philharmonic.

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