Nobody Puts Tessy in a Corner; From Crunching Numbers to Liberating Oklahomans, a Woman’s Story of the Reclamation of Her Own Power
by Jessi Lane, Patient Advocate
Tessy Copeland-Dukes, EA is a trusted, kind-hearted woman with a take-no-bull disposition. She understands that you can catch more flies with sugar than you can vinegar. She strives to end generational patterns, traumas, and stigmas with herself, so that her children can live lives bigger than she had. She is warm, caring, and wise beyond her years. Tessy is one smart cookie. When she has something to say she is clear and concise and holds a captive audience. If she were running for District Rep, you would cast your vote for Tessy. Her passion for the cause is contagious. Tessy Copeland-Dukes embodies the Divine Feminine.
Tessy comes from a long line of strong, independent, empowering women. Tessy’s late grandmother Dorothea Copeland was a standout female plumber in the 1960s, who went on to work till age of ninety-three. She owned a plumbing shop and once earned top saleswoman for Kohler. Her Aunt, Mary Jo Copeland, was the first female Mayor of Tecumseh, Oklahoma – a quaint city comprised of fifteen square miles total, where Tessy’s family still resides. The late Mary Jo Copeland was the mother of Mary Copeland Fallin, who served as Oklahoma’s first female and 27th Governor from 2011 to 2019. While Tessy has so much admiration for these women before her, she also respects their differences in views. She has set out to create her own journey.
Tessy herself is a well-educated analytical person. Having graduated from East Central University with a master’s degree in Accounting, Tessy spent 11 years overseeing large corporate banks and multi state corporations as a Senior Tax Accountant. She poured her life into her tax job, working seventy to eighty hours per week in a male-dominated industry while raising her children. “Within that male dominated upper management environment came a lot of expectations without recognition,” she says. “No, I don’t expect to be patted on the back, but when you’re relied upon to deal with duties above your pay grade because ‘you’re the best one for it’ or ‘the staff respects you more,’ you would think that would be enough to prove your worth.”
Having personally cared for her father for 16 years battling by his side through addiction, mental health, liver failure and transplant, his PTSD, Cancer, and suicide of their loved ones, Tessy continued to pour into others, including her mother who at that time lived with alcoholism. Tessy was determined to create a healthy life for herself. During her time in college, Tessy befriended her now business partner Melinda while doing odd jobs including a position in Melinda’s custom drapery shop. Years later, in producing quality foods for Oklahoma farmer’s markets and co-ops across the state, Mittie’s roots budded with the 2012 opening of Mittie’s Kitchen – when Melinda started a commercial kitchen with the support of Tessy from a tax accounting standpoint. Mittie’s Kitchen was named for Mittie, Melinda’s grandmother. With the 2018 passing of State Question 788, Tessy and Melinda felt their calling. It was time to merge their shared passion of providing small batch, high quality goods with their life-long enthusiasm for cannabis as medicine – and in April 2019 they did just that.
Mitties Medicinals is a family owned, female owned, small batch cannabis processor. A locally renowned mom and pop brand, Mittie’s Medicinals’ boutique full spectrum product line includes nano emulsified drink mixes, tea bags, suckers, and Cannagars. Combined with their gummy and hard candy selection, Mittie’s provides a plethora of reliable patient consumption possibilities. Mittie’s products are made with love from the Mittie’s family including her spouse, Mikie, who comes from a human resource and finance background and is a valuable business resource. “[Mikie] handles a lot of the Cannagar production. He packs, I wrap them,” Tessy says. Currently he is still juggling his primary job to provide health insurance. Tessy notes their business has given them a platform to do something they both love together and strengthen their marriage in many ways.
With Mittie’s power-packed line of wellness products, and the life changes folks – including Tessy’s own mother – are accruing because of it, comes a new-found level of respect and admiration from her peers Tessy never felt in accounting. “I don’t want to work in corporate America,” she told High Hopes podcast (Spotify, 2022), “I don’t want to run my business like corporate America. I don’t want to run my business like big pharma.” While Tessy fully believes in what she is now doing and her pure intentions to help patients, she says she “has spent many years being sat in the corner, quietly counseled for advice that was portrayed to the masses as theirs. I was never given the deserved respect for my successes but quick to be reminded for my failures.” Tessy often finds herself inundated with Imposter Syndrome and gets uneasy with praise and recognition but says that Mittie’s has given her a new sense of being.
While industry professionals trust and respect Tessy and patients rely on her brand for consistent, quality cannabis as medicine, there are unavoidable peaks and valleys along her entrepreneurial journey. “Such a struggle feeling like you’re doing everything for [the] right reasons but then you hit so many roadblocks that make you want to just turn around.” She says some days that is how she feels about every part of her life. “[The industry] started to get more corporate,” she told High Hopes. She went on to say, “I started feeling discouraged in the last few years. It was like more regulation, more regulation and it felt so much more like big pharma – like companies were taking these more corporate styles the way they were putting their products out there and I didn’t want that.” Tessy and Melinda wanted it to be like their roots, like the farmer’s market. “I wanted it be more like that atmosphere – like we got to really help patients,” said Tessy.
It is common knowledge that Oklahoma’s market was so outlined to inevitably result in oversaturation across the board. The Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority June 13, 2022 licensing report shows 2,266 licensed retailers and 1,449 licensed processors. Recently, commercial processors have experienced varying burdens with the state-wide transition to the contracted METRC seed to sale tracking system. “METRC is not really developed for small manufacturing which presents a lot of challenges in the way we manufacture edibles,” Tessy says. “Testing, quality, and compliance is very important to us but so is efficient manufacturing.” She explains that METRC is set up for mass production. Only after mass production does it allow you to test products, which she finds is a very inefficient way to produce goods at their scale.
Tessy considers the first few years to be continued beta mode and through research and development and life experience believes they are ready to continue steps to expand their patient reach. “METRC implementation and economy has impacted sales more than anything,” she says. “We see that cannabis sales really reflects the economy – when it’s back to school, holidays, times patients have other financial obligations like rising gas and food prices they use less disposable income on cannabis.” She goes on to say, “I think that might surprise a lot of people with the stigmas around cannabis.” In her observations, Tessy has found cannabis incomparable to addictive drugs or even tobacco in this way – when patients do not have that disposable income, she finds they do not purchase. “It’s ok, things are incredibly slow in the market [currently] but on the other hand I’m super low on inventory.” With family emergencies, deaths, and the team spread thin, Tessy is feeling that roadblock, however she remains hopeful, empowered, and ever patient. “Even on the darkest days,” Tessy says, “I know with time the light will shine again.”
After winning the 2021 Herbage Magazine People’s Choice Award for Best Blunt with their Cannagar as well as several edible wins and connecting with the people of Sherweed Forrest, Tessy finally felt like she identified with this community of people that have the same like-minded vision. “It’s about having small batch, high quality products at affordable prices,” she told High Hopes. “I know that I’m not going to get rich in this and that’s okay to me because I am providing for my family, and I am so rich in the community that I have built.” She continues to show out for her brand industry event after industry event, which helps fill her cup, but Tessy understands when it is time to pause for family. The delicate balance of fulfilling both business and personal obligations is not for the weak. You must remain steadfast and steady.
“I’ve lived a lot of life in my 38 years,” says Tessy. “My life is never dull and sometimes feels like more adventure than I signed up for but it’s beautiful – all the good, the struggles, the ups and downs have made me a better human being.” She never looks at adversity with defeat but instead chooses to sit back and look at it from an all-encompassing view. “I accept the reality that it will work, or it will not, but the journey has purpose no matter how hard it is to see – and I do my best to choose grace.” She goes on to say, “I hope that I raise my kids to be better human beings than me. I hope that I build a legacy whether big or small that they can be proud of.” Everything produced by Tessy, Melinda, and the Mittie’s family has a purpose, a passion, and a story. It is about time you join Mittie’s in your own story of healing and happiness.
Jessi Lane, Patient Advocate is a writer and Oklahoma cannabis industry professional since 2018. She is a Certified Cannacian III and Trichome Institute Certified Cannabis Consultant with a “full spectrum” Postpartum Wellness background.