Our Team

JOHN PAYNE – Executive Chairman
John B. Payne is the Vice Chairman of the National Veterinary Associates (NVA) Board. Before joining the NVA board, Mr. Payne served as President and CEO of Compassion-First Pet Hospitals from 2014 to 2020.

John founded Compassion-First in 2014. Today, the family of specialty and emergency veterinary hospitals located throughout the U.S. dedicates itself to changing the veterinary landscape and elevating patient outcomes. With 44 hospitals across 14 states, Compassion-First has more than 3,000 employees and over 230 board-certified specialists across a wide range of medical disciplines.

Mr. Payne’s other board memberships include Chairman of the Board for American Humane and Zivo Bioscience, Inc. He also serves on the Board of Regents for Ross University School of Medicine and Ross University School of Veterinary Medicine.

Before creating Compassion-First, Mr. Payne served as a member of the global leadership team for Mars Pet Care. He also served as president and CEO of Banfield Pet Hospitals and as president and general manager of Bayer Healthcare’s North American Animal Health Division.

ALEX WAKIM – Chief Executive Officer/Chief Marketing Officer
Alex Wakim is a creative start-up leader, specializing in operations and business development. With many years of director-level management in the beauty and subscription spaces, Wakim is skilled in navigating accelerated growth environments within booming industries. Having had a personal interest in the cannabinoid and pet spaces for many years, she is honored to lead this outstanding team of professionals and industry leaders and to help shape the future of pet care.

BLAKE SMITH, MPH – Chief Technology Officer
Blake Smith has over 5 years of experience formulating and compounding cannabinoids for the medical cannabis industry, after a career in pharmaceutical formulation and education. He is the owner and Chief Scientific Officer of Zion Medicinals in Utah. Smith is regarded as the subject matter expert in the state and works closely with universities and regulator agencies to innovate/compound cannabinoids for specific conditions. He holds a bachelor’s degree in biology and political science from the University of Utah and a master’s degree in biostatistical analysis epidemiology from Westminster College.

ANNIE CASTA, MD – Chief Medical Officer
Annie Casta, MD is the Chief Medical Officer with more than 7 years of experience treating and advocating for patients in both her primary care sports-medicine practice and the medical cannabis arena. In addition, she is the team physician for the USA Judo and USA Ski teams. While pursuing her subspecialty in Sports Medicine in Massachusetts, Dr. Casta learned about the use of medical cannabis as a treatment option for different medical conditions. This led her to begin working with Cannacare, a major New England-based company, for over 4 years providing services to patients who qualified for medical cannabis to treat their medical conditions. She was an asset in the implementation and treatment care for medical cannabis in the states of Maine and Massachusetts.

JOSEPH WAKIM – Acting Business Development Officer & Founder
Joseph Wakim co-founded and served as CEO of Mid-Atlantic Veterinary Specialists, where he oversaw the acquisition by Compassion-First Pet Hospital Group. Additionally, Wakim has extensive experience in the cannabis field as a farm co-founder and owner. Coming from a three-decade-long career in hospitality, Wakim’s vast and varied background aids him in creating cross-industry connections and creative concepts.

STUART WILCOX – Acting Chief Operating Officer & Founder
Stuart A. Wilcox has over 30 years of global supply chain and operations experience and has served on numerous cannabis and biotech innovators boards. He is currently Chairman of the Board for Ora Pharm, an international cannabis company based in New Zealand, and partner of NuRevelation Bio-tech Company based in North Carolina.

In his career, Mr. Wilcox held the position of Chief Operating Officer for 3 years building a small cannabis company in the Northeast to the largest cannabis company, Curaleaf. He has been instrumental in leading all efforts to legitimize and professionalize the medical cannabis industry, including passing legislation to require SQF (Product Safety) certified programs, standard product testing and pharmaceutical and product standard operating procedures. Curaleaf has filled prescriptions for over 400,000 patients in 23 medical cannabis states.

MARK CUSHING – Veterinary and Regulatory Strategist/Counsel
Mark Cushing is the Founder and Managing Partner of the Animal Policy Group, LLC (APG), based in Scottsdale, AZ, Los Angeles, CA & Portland, OR. APG’s clients represent a wide range of veterinary and pet health interests. Most recently, Mark is the author of Pet Nation: The Inside Story of How Companion Animals are Transforming Our Homes, Culture and Economy, a book released by Penguin Random House.

Mark focuses his practice on providing high-level strategic consulting, state and federal advocacy, regulatory and policy services to animal health and veterinary clients with needs at any level of government, including universities and industry groups throughout North America. Since 2004, Mark has specialized in animal health, animal welfare, veterinary and veterinary educational issues, developing a cutting-edge practice across these sectors. He currently leads several industry coalitions and initiatives. Mark has guided successful accreditations for a growing list of veterinary colleges, and is co-founder of the Veterinary Virtual Care Association.

Mark is a frequent speaker at veterinary medicine and other animal policy conferences. He is an adjunct professor of law at the Duncan School of Law in Knoxville, Lewis & Clark Law School in Portland, and the University of Oregon School of Law. Mark is an honors graduate with distinction from Stanford University and the Willamette University College of Law.

ELEANOR GREEN – Advisor
Dr. Eleanor M. Green held the Carl B. King deanship of the Texas A&M University College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVM) and is a Diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine (ACVIM) and the American Board of Veterinary Practitioners (ABVP).

She received a Bachelor of Science (BS) in Animal Science from the University of Florida and a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) from Auburn University. She established a veterinary practice in Mississippi as partner/owner. She became a founding faculty member of the College of Veterinary Medicine at Mississippi State University.

Her academic appointments have included: equine faculty member at Middlebush Equine Center at the University of Missouri, head of the Department of Large Animal Clinical Sciences and director of the large animal hospital at the University of Tennessee, chair of the Department of Large Animal Clinical Sciences and the Chief of Staff of the large animal hospital at the University of Florida.

Dr. Green has a special interest in the future of veterinary medicine and the innovations that will help ensure a thriving profession.

LINDSAY JONES – Endoflor
Lindsay is a senior operations professional with 40+ years of experience with well-known start-up businesses in the US and Canada, including Starbucks and the Original Cakerie, and has held key leadership roles with Frito Lay, Campbell Soups and Chiquita. He was instrumental in growing the Florida Cannabis program in 2017 with the addition of 5 acres of cultivation space and expanding Curaleaf’s retail footprint from 1 to 22 dispensaries in only 12 months, making it one of the largest in the State. His team was the first to gain approval to dispense cannabis-based medications to mobility constrained patients and veterans struggling with PTSD through secure drive-up windows at multiple state-approved locations. In the face of exponential sales growth, he oversaw the expansion of staffing from 50 employees in 2017 to 500 by the end of 2018. Jones led the first cannabis business to achieve Global Food Safety Certification. He was an inaugural member of the National Cannabis Trade Federation and was part of the first cannabis group to address the capitol staff at the US Capitol.