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Charles Jones has vape pens are selling in 6 states and starting on 4/20 they will be available in California. Why are dispensaries ordering his vape pens in greater and greater quantities?
Charles has stumbled upon the holy grail of cannabis enthusiasts that is his vape pens allow you to experience consistent moods consistently. The moods you can experience are; party, focus, bliss, focus, relax, and flow.
Enjoy this fascinating interview to understand where the cannabis market is moving.
[1:18] – Charles’ Background
[6:24] – What is Functional Cannabis
[8:45] – Moods available for vape pens
[11:57] – What was budtenders’ feedback
[23:30] – How to manage distribution and licensing
[25:20] – Functional beverages next big category
[27:34] – Books that had an impact on Charles
[30:44] – Roadmap for LucidMood
What are the five trends that are disrupting the cannabis industry?Find out with your free cheat sheet at http://www.cannainsider.com/trends
MATTHEW: The Holy Grail of cannabis consumption is to be able to elicit the same mood consistently so you can count on getting the same experience. The alcohol industry mastered consistency a long time ago, but in general, only allows for one type of mood. Our guest today has successfully and consistently dialed in several experiences with his product. I am pleased to welcome Charles Jones of Lucid Mood back to the show. Charles, welcome back to CannaInsider!
CHARLES JONES: Thank you, Matt.
MATTHEW: Give us a sense of geography. Where are you in the world today?
CHARLES: Beautiful Boulder, Colorado.
MATTHEW: Good. And what’s the temperature like there? Is it mild, sunny?
MATTHEW: Seventy! Oh my goodness, that’s pretty warm for March. Okay. And for listeners that are new, can you remind us of your background and why you started down this path exploring cannabis moods?
CHARLES: Sure. So, I had a couple careers. The first was in software and the second was an executive coach, and that’s what I was doing when I stumbled upon the idea for Lucid Mood, upon the recognition that if we were to extract the individual cannabinoids and terpenes from the plant and combine them very intentionally, formulate them according to our growing understanding of neuroscience, that we would be able to dial in very specific therapeutic and recreational effects, and dial out the negative side effects that keep so many people from benefiting from the mood-enhancing effects of cannabis.
MATTHEW: We had you on the show sometime back, and I’ll link to that original episode [link here], but give us a reminder of what Lucid Mood’s first launch was and what happened.
CHARLES: Sure. Our development platform, if you will, for experimenting with various combinations of cannabinoids and terpenes involved using hemp pucks that we would infuse with cannabinoids and terpenes and then we would have people place these hemp pucks in a dry flower vaporizer in order to consume them. And that turned out to be, actually a very good development platform that allowed us to very efficiently test a lot of different formulas. But when we attempted to bring that to market, we just found that it was too cumbersome for folks, so we pivoted, and put our formulas into vape pens, and that’s where we are today.
MATTHEW: Okay, and this is kind of an interesting thing. You make it sound like it’s such a smooth transition, but that’s a pretty big pivot. Tell us a little bit about the feedback you were getting from investors, consumers, and what made you ultimately decide to pivot.
CHARLES: People have always loved the formulas and the effects that they get from it, so that has been a win from the very beginning. In our testing, we would hold what we would call testing parties, and we would invite people to come to them, and we would make it extremely easy for them. We’d have the pucks prepared, and we’d hand them the dry flower vaporizer with the puck already in it, so it was quite efficient. Once people had the experience, they were very excited and were very willing to go through those steps in order to consume it. Once we launched that product in dispensaries, however, the feedback that we got is, that essentially we were in this catch-22, that until people actually experienced how differentiated our effects were from the other products that were in the dispensary, there were very few of them that were willing to go through the effort of that current delivery system. Some of our investors had anticipated this objection, that there was just too much friction to enable speedy adoption. We saw that right away. Over a long weekend, my co-founder, a brilliant mechanical engineer and production engineer named David Georges, he put our oils into vape pens, and then we brought those back out to the market and had an entirely different reception to it. In fact, since launching in November 2016 here in Colorado, we’ve been seeing just tremendous, month over month growths, very rapid adoption, and an extraordinary level of customer loyalty to the product. We kind of went from something that was very cumbersome to what’s the absolutely… what’s the path of least resistance? What delivery system would be incredibly simple for people to use, so we put the oils into ready-to-use vape pens. People just open the package, there’s no button, there’s no need to charge it, they just put it in their lips, take a few sips, and they’re having the Lucid Mood experience.
MATTHEW: I want to talk about that growth and the reason why you think that’s happening, but let’s back up a little bit and talk about a new category that it seems like you’ve created called functional cannabis. What does that mean exactly?
CHARLES: We certainly view our product as representing a new category, and in fact many in the industry do as well. New Frontier Data, for example, calls what we’ve done Cannabis 2.0. From their perspective, it’s where cannabis is going, toward being able to deliver, as you mentioned in your opening, very consistent effects. But the other place I see that cannabis is going is that up until this point, the mood-enhancing experience of cannabis, whether you’re using it to relieve pain or reduce your anxiety or help you go to sleep, on sort of the more therapeutic side, or whether you’re using it to get into a state of flow, or just chill after work, or watch a movie, or as a social lubricant as a replacement to alcohol. You can get those effects from cannabis, but you could get these other effects as well. You would get this feeling of being tired or lethargic after you’ve used it. And of course some people struggle with feeling paranoid when they use marijuana, or feeling socially withdrawn. So those impairments, if you will, reduce your functionality. So you get the mood-enhancing benefits but at the cost of some level of functionality. So for us, functional cannabis is one that delivers a very specific or therapeutic or recreational benefit while keeping you functional, while eliminating those typical side effects, which I think all of us need to admit are there in cannabis.
MATTHEW: Right. And you touched on a few of the moods that you offer there, but can we go over some of them, because you have some interesting ones, for sleep, party, bliss, focus, maybe you could just do a little overview of each and how to think and orient about each one.
CHARLES: Sure. We have what we call the Wellness line, and the Wellness line includes Relief, which is very good for relieving aches and sores and pains, reduces cramps, and is actually fantastic if you have a hangover. It really tends to relieve that as well. So that one’s called Relief. We have Sleep, that’s kind of obvious, it supports you getting to sleep, or if you wake up in the middle of the night, you can just sip on the pen to help you go back to sleep. And you wake up in the morning refreshed. You don’t have the dullness or a little bit of a hangover that you might get from going to sleep on say, a heavy Indigo. We also have in that same line, one called Calm, which as the name implies, if you’re feeling a little anxious or stressed you just suck on this and you’re going to very instantly calm. Then in what we call the Play line, our leading product there is called Party, and it is like alcohol, it reduces social anxiety, it reduces social inhibitions, but unlike alcohol, it’s very energizing, uplifting, you’re very alert and clearheaded. You can sip it all night long and it doesn’t make you stupid. If you do a party with Party, it’s really delightful. It’s really good for almost any kind of social situation. We have another one called Energy, which is marvelous for going on a hike. Going out there, it’s uplifting and motivating and energizing. We have another one called Chill, which is both relaxing and blissful. It’s really wonderful for just kicking back with friends, watching a movie, stuff like that. Then we are bringing out another one called Flow, which you kind of become immersed in whatever you’re doing while retaining this almost kind of witness consciousness about what you’re doing, so it’s wonderful for artistic endeavors, or any kind of flow activity that you might enjoy.
MATTHEW: The first time that you launched Lucid Mood, the budtenders gave you some feedback, and then the second time they gave you feedback too. How would you contrast that feedback? What were they saying? When they were talking to you, did anything surprise you?
CHARLES: When we launched with the infused hemp pucks, the feedback is, oh, this is too much trouble, people aren’t going to use this product, and that turned out to be quite accurate. Then when we launched with the vape pens, the feedback that we got was much more nuanced and varied among the budtenders. One of the pieces of feedback is that people just really loved the taste of the product. Now, we don’t flavor the product per say, but the terpenes that we use to dial in the specific benefits that we are seeking, are all of course very flavorful. Most people like most of our flavors. There will be some people that don’t like some of them, but it’s a consequence of the formula we’re using. We get a lot of feedback on the flavor. The other feedback that we got was, some of the budtenders just thought it was wonderful that we had this one to one ratio of THC to CBD which creates this very functional, mild experience, if you will; the elevation without the stupefaction associated with cannabis. Some of the budtenders thought that was amazing and great and could immediately see that there were people walking into the dispensary that were looking for something like that, that would like the mood-enhancing benefits of cannabis, but didn’t want something too heavy, or too disorienting. Then there were other budtenders who said, who’s going to buy this product? It’s too mild? Isn’t the point to dissociate and check out and stuff like that? People aren’t going to like this product. And of course over time, one of the most common things that I now hear, say a year after we launched in a dispensary is, a budtender saying, you know, I didn’t think the market for this mild high would be as big as it is, but it’s not just the elderly people and the middle-aged women and soccer moms and stuff. I’m seeing men in their twenties that are coming in and buying Lucid Mood Party and Lucid Mood Chill. I think they’ve been surprised. I think we’ve really kind of found an underserved section of the market, and we have lots of anecdotes and stories and people writing us that, a friend shared Lucid Mood with them, and prior to this they had tried marijuana a couple times and it was just too overwhelming for them. Really, they hate pot, they love Lucid Mood. So it’s a really different product.
MATTHEW: This is really interesting to me because I feel like, much like Apple hides the complexity of their products, you know. they have RAM in there, they have microprocessors, they have all these different alternating technologies that the consumer just doesn’t have to know about at all, but you’re scrutinizing and agonizing over the details of the terpenes and the ratios and all these things that elicit an experience, but you boil it down to, for the consumers, like, how do you want to feel? Do you want to feel like you’re going into a party, and that’s what you want? You want flow? And that just makes it so dirt-simple that it invites you in and makes the first step easy, I feel like. And I would say that’s where the market is going. Because how much do I really, do I really need to know everything? There’s always the connoisseurs, or the kind of craft market, where they’re like, I want to know all the nuances of how the cannabinoids are interacting with terpenes, and how that’s playing with my biology and neurochemistry, but most people just wanna know how this is going to make me feel.
CHARLES: Early after the release of the product here in Colorado, we got into a new dispensary up in the mountains. This was during ski season. They placed an order for a case of each of the moods. Two days later, they ordered two cases for each of the moods. Two days after, they ordered four cases for each of the moods. So I had to find out what was going on. I call them up and say, hey, what’s going on? And they say, well, it’s ski season, we have a line of people out the door, someone comes up to the register and they’re here to enjoy the mountains and skiing here in Colorado and they’re from some state that doesn’t have legal cannabis and they’re not that experienced. They look up at our board of strains and they say, what’s the difference between indica and sativa? And that’s just a cue for us. We could spend the next 10-15 minutes, walking through what the differences are, trying to find, do they want something energizing, do you want Blue Dream or do you want Durbin Poison, kind of go through all these distinctions, and that could take 10 or 15 minutes. Or we could simply pick up your point of purchase display, put it in front of them, and say, what effect are you looking for? And make the sale in a couple of minutes, knowing that they’re going to have a wonderful experience. It’s not going to overwhelm them. And they’re going to come back. If we sell them a string, and it’s they become overwhelmed, they become paranoid, it’s too much for them, they don’t have a good time, it’s just not a sure bet. They may never come into the dispensary again. So yours is the safe bet for someone is a newbie. That Baby Boomer that got high in the ‘60s and ‘70s, and now life’s a little bit different and they’re interested in getting back into it again. The soccer mom, the busy executive who wants something to relax in the evening, but they have to be 100% sharp at 8 A.M. the next morning when they start their day. For all those people, we just offer them Lucid Mood. And that dispensary has actually become our number one customer here in Colorado.
MATTHEW: That’s interesting. So your point of sale display has kind of a chart or just different categories of feeling, so the budtenders just say, how do you want to feel? Do you want to feel Party, Flow, Relax, and they just point to it and say, I want to feel Relax. And that’s how the conversation goes. Pretty important to have that point of sale diagram or supporting information it sounds like.
CHARLES: Absolutely. We were seeing an average of a 50% increase in sales in the dispensaries that keep that point of purchase display next to the cash register. What they tell me is that the customer will make their product selections, get to the register, and oh, this looks interesting, what’s this? And they’ll just add it to their order. So yeah, it’s been a very successful marketing strategy for us.
MATTHEW: Of course, vape pens also have the additional benefit of being discreet, which we talked about a little bit, but when you light up a joint, it’s like everybody in a city block knows what’s happening, what’s going on with you. But with a vape pen, it’s just so much more discreet. That’s why the market is just really gravitating to vape pens. Even more in California, it looks like, looking at some of the data.
CHARLES: And they’re so convenient as well as discreet. And ours have the added benefit of, since we’re not starting from the extract from a strain, we’re starting with the purified cannabinoids and terpenes with all active ingredients, it doesn’t even smell like marijuana. It smells like aromatherapy. It smells like the terpenes that are in the product.
MATTHEW: When I hear this story about how you pivoted and how that created success, I think about the Lean Startup methodology, of the build, measure, learn, and iterate. You did all those steps. You built it, you got feedback from the market, you learned what they were saying, and then you said, this is the market speaking to me. I have to adapt. And you adapted, and then boom. Product market fit, takeoff new category, which is great, and also, the one thing I warn about over and over, is that if you have a me too product, you’re going to eventually have to drop your price. Because you can’t defend a margin if you’ve got a me too product. And this is kind of the antithesis of a me too product, what you’ve developed here with Lucid Mood. Especially when people… Like you said, you created a category, so if they come to find that they like the Party mood with Lucid Mood, any competitor that comes along after you, they’re going to compare them to you. You’re the benchmark, where, this doesn’t compare to Party from Lucid Mood. It’s like they have something in their mind that you’ve created. You’ve got this category in their mind that’s very sticky and that’s hard to pull out just by virtue of being first and creating the category. It’s kind of like Coca-Cola. There might be other colas out there that people like better, but they’ve got this in their mind that this is the cola. It’s got the cola category in my mind, and it’s just so woven in it’s hard to take out. Any thoughts about that?
CHARLES: I’m wondering how you got ahold of our internal marketing plan. That’s very much how we think about this. We’ve got, at this point, 18 months of R and D into the development of these formulas and patent pending on them, so we’re very much looking for that highly differentiated predictable experience that people can only get through our brand for at least the time being. And become the benchmark against which other functional cannabis products are compared.
MATTHEW: So tell us a little bit about how this works when you want to go to a different state. Do you license the product, and then how does that work?
CHARLES: We now have licensing partners in six states, and essentially, the way it works is that we sell them pen kits. We will sell them 1000 of the Party device along with a slurry that contains legal ingredients in it. The packaging, the supporting sales and marketing collateral, and we’ll ship that off to our licensee. Our licensee will then add THC distillate to the slurry and use a filling station that we’ve developed to fill the pens. It’s foolproof, +/-2%, in terms of the volume of oil that gets in there. This helps… Consistency and the quality of our product in every market is hugely important to us, and this ensures that if you buy a Party pen in San Diego or a Party pen in Denver or a Party pen in Providence, Rhode Island, it’s exactly the same formula, the same ratio of cannabinoids and terpenes, the same experience each and every time.
MATTHEW: Very interesting. We talked about how you created a category here. Let’s pivot a little bit to where you think the beverage market is headed, because this is a huge, huge category, beverages. And there’s some interesting things happening there. How do you think about it? Does it dovetail with the cannabis market and what you’re doing?
CHARLES: Certainly, when I walk through Whole Foods, for example, and walk through the beverage aisle, I’m starting to see beverages that have some of the same names as our cannabis products. You know, Energize, Revitalize, Sleep, Calm. These names are beginning to appear. So the functional beverage market, which is a term that’s actually used in the food industry, is seeing tremendous rates of growth. I think that it’s not just beverages and not just cannabis where people are saying, I want my beverage to convey some health benefit or some mood-enhancing benefit. To date, it’s largely been, I want my beverage to convey some caffeine, or some alcohol, to modify my mood. But things, I think, are becoming much more nuanced now. And similarly, in the past it’s been, well, I either want indica or sativa, things are becoming much more nuanced as well. It’s no longer enough to get high. What benefit is this high going to convey at the same time? So I see this tendency everywhere. In fact, I was at a restaurant recently and looking at the menu, one of the things they had on the menu was an energy salad. And the promise of the salad? I’m looking at this and I’m like, okay, this functional meme, it’s a thing. It’s definitely a thing.
MATTHEW: Let’s pivot to some personal development questions, Charles. Is there a book that has had a big impact on your life or way of thinking that you’d like to share with listeners?
CHARLES: Well earlier you mentioned, boy, Charles, this sounds like the Lean approach to development, and actually, here on my desk there’s a book, Lean Thinking by James Womack and Daniel Jones. So that’s certainly a book that has influenced our thinking here. Another book that has influenced our thinking here is a book called Play Bigger, and it’s a book essentially on category marketing, and what it takes to become a category leader. One of the basic premises of the books is that, if you are the first to market in a new category, let’s say soft drinks, as Coca-Cola was, then in the mind of the consumers, you become identified with, Coca-Cola becomes synonymous for the soft drink category. It’s very difficult, then, for a competitor like Pepsi to ever unseat the king of that category. And becoming synonymous in the minds of consumers with functional cannabis, being able to deliver something which is dialed in enough to produce one very specific benefit that the consumer is looking for, and is mild enough that they remain sufficiently functional. That they can enjoy that recreational benefit, or go through their day and get their work done if it’s a therapeutic benefit. Making Lucid Mood synonymous with functional cannabis, that’s our next goal in terms of marketing. And we’ve certainly achieved that in the states we are already in, and we are launching in California in April.
MATTHEW: California, that’s great. I was going to ask you about that. So you’re just in Colorado now? You’re in six states, you said?
CHARLES: We’re on the shelves in Colorado, Rhode Island, Delaware, Maryland, and Oregon. The next state that we’re going to add is California.
MATTHEW: Wow, that California. You’re going to be busy.
CHARLES: Very busy.
MATTHEW: So back to your point about, like, you don’t want to compete with Coke. If you realize, that someone like a Charles has totally dominated a category, it’s best not even to compete, and if he’s got Coke, make Dr. Pepper. Because it’s better to start a new category than to compete on someone that has the higher ground and can keep on pushing you off the hill. That’s my opinion, anyway. So you’re in six states, you’re launching in California in April. Are you going to be all over California, or mostly starting in Northern California or Southern, or how is that going to look?
CHARLES: We’re going to launch in San Diego, and then make our way north up through the state.
MATTHEW: Is it difficult… How do you have the conversations? Do you work with a distributer, or are they reaching out to you? How do you get into a market like California, and what do you do there?
CHARLES: We had it happen every way. For instance, in Massachusetts, five different companies have contacted us to see about being, asking if they can be our licensing partner for Massachusetts. That happened in that way, and in the case of California, a dear friend of mine who had just met another person in the industry out there in California and just immediately realized, oh, these guys are a match, and put us together, and it was pretty much love at first sight. Just the perfect partner for us. Someone that shares our values, who looks for something where, the impeccability of the product, which has been so carefully and thoughtfully designed, with a real focus on having a very collaborative relationship with the distribution channel. We’re confident we’ve found the perfect partner for us for California.
MATTHEW: I just want to ask, too, about where you are in the investment cycle, if you’re looking for accredited investors, can you tell us where you are there? Raising capital?
CHARLES: Sure. We’ve been raising capital largely from Angel Investors. We had a friends and family round, and we are now finishing up our last Angel Investor round before we syndicate a Series A. We are pretty confident that we found our lead for our Series A. This would be more of an institutional investor that runs a large cannabis fund. So that’s where we are in that.
MATTHEW: Cool. If there are accredited investors that are looking to, they like what you’re saying and they want to participate in Series A, or invest in some way, is there a way they can reach out to you?
CHARLES: Sure. Absolutely. I’m CJ[at]LucidMood[dot]net.
MATTHEW: Okay cool. Well Charles, as we close, tell listeners how they can find you in dispensaries. Is there a way to do that? Is there a locator? What’s the best way to find a Lucid Mood that they can try?
CHARLES: They can go to LucidMood.net, and there is a dispensary button on the home page if you click on that and give it your GPS. It will show you nearby dispensaries where you can purchase Lucid Mood.
MATTHEW: Great. Well Charles, thanks so much for coming on the show, and well done. Good job pivoting to create product-market fit. That’s a really inspiring story, and we wish you the best as you expand into California and other markets.
CHARLES: Thank you so much Matt. It’s been a delightful conversation.
Lamine Zarrad saw an opportunity to take his knowledge working in financial regulation for US Government and applying his knowledge of interpret The Cole Memo and then an app that would allow dispensary customers to pay for purchases with an app alleviating the need for dispensaries to manage massive amounts of cash.
Then Donald Trump and Jeff Sessions happened and Lamine was forced to put his cannabis app on the back burner. Now Lamine is evolving his technology to liberate workers in the gig economy by ensuring they get paid.
In 2016 Inc Magazine named Aeron Sullivan as one its 30 people Under 30 years old to watch as a promising founder. Indeed Aeron, co-founder of Tradiv was on the move. His online cannabis trading platform was helping 230 growers and dispensaries conduct business.
Then everything changed when Aeron had a profound spiritual experience that caused him to rethink his life, reality, and his future. Listen to Aeron’s gripping and inspiring transition.
[2:30] – Aeron talks about how he got in the cannabis industry
[4:15] – Aeron talks about his trip to Alaska
[10:18] – Aeron’s thoughts on the “I Am” language he heard
[14:00] – More than an LSD trip
[19:20] – Aeron talks about the second “I Am” message
[27:22] – Similar experiences with I Am
[38:05] – Final words from Aeron
[40:28] – Aeron answers some personal development questions
Learn more at
Aeron’s First Interview on CannaInsider:
In 2016 Inc. Magazine named Aeron Sullivan as one of its 30 People Under 30 Years Old to watch as a promising founder. Indeed Aeron, cofounder of Tradiv, was on the move. His online cannabis trading platform was helping 230 growers and dispensaries conduct business, then everything changed when Aeron had a profound spiritual experience that caused him to rethink his life, reality and the future. I am pleased to welcome Aeron back to the show today. Aeron, welcome back to CannaInsider.
Aeron: Hey, thanks for having me Matt.
Matthew: Give us a sense of geography. Where are you in the world today?
Aeron: Yeah sure. So, I live in San Diego, California, sort of in the center of the county. I’m here most of the time. I work from home about 80 percent of the time. And then my current job takes up to Portland, Oregon about four days a month.
Matthew: Okay cool. I’m in Central Mexico today.
Aeron: Oh really?
Matthew: Sunny, bright Central Mexico. It’s a great place to be in the winter time, although we’re getting close to spring here.
Aeron: Yeah, for sure. That’s great.
Matthew: Let’s jump into this here because everybody’s so curious. It’s been such a wild ride for you. You were on the show a few years back when Tradiv was just getting started. In fact I got to know you when you were in the Canopy Boulder cannabis accelerator program.
Aeron: Yes sir.
Matthew: What back then drove you to get into the cannabis space? You were in the Marines and then you transitioned to cannabis. Just tell us that little back story.
Aeron: Yeah a little context. What drove me? I had been in the military for nearly eight years and was getting ready to transition into the private sector. I thought I was going to get into software development, but more as an employee, not necessarily an entrepreneur. I just had this strange inner desire one morning after talking to a friend of mine who was in the cannabis industry that maybe my desire to do software could be applied to this market. One, because I thought it would be really cool and it would be really fun. Two, because I thought there was a good opportunity to create some wealth in a market that hadn’t been inundated with major players yet.
Matthew: You certainly accomplished that. You jumped right in and were converting dispensaries and growers and selling the value proposition of coming on the Tradiv platform, because there really wasn’t anything super - there were some solutions out there, but you really just dove in so much momentum right out of the gate and there was a lot of people jumping on the platform trading. It was going well. This is where the story gets interesting. Tell us what happened in Alaska. Because anybody who wants to hear the back story of what Aeron was doing at Tradiv you can go back and listen to the first interview I did with him where we go into all the details of that. I’ll link it in the show notes here. You went up to Alaska with your girlfriend. Tell us what happened because I’m fascinated about this.
Aeron: I’m sure there will be lots of questions so I’ll try to keep the intro brief. Basically, in February 2016 I was nearing the completion of a big fundraising round for Tradiv. It would have been, I guess you could call it, Series A, if you wanted to give it a name. I was tired and I needed some quality time with my, at the time, girlfriend. She and I had also planned on getting engaged. So, I had a lull, a weeklong lull in fundraising activity intentionally, and she and I went up to Alaska, outside of Fairbanks, kind of in the middle of nowhere. Stayed at a couple different places, both way outside of, I mean, Fairbanks is pretty off steer and not that densely populated anyways, but we were even on the outskirts.
We went there to get engaged and to spend some quality time together. The first evening we were there we took some LSD, which was not an uncommon thing for us to do. We did it probably once every six to nine months as sort of a, I don’t know, you could call it a spiritual healing experience that of course that we found to be very effective with the use of LSD, but this one was a little bit different. I was pretty experienced at doing LSD. I’d done different (5.47 unclear) and hallucinogens since I was 15, and I’d never had anything like this happen. We took our dose and then actually when I probably should have been sort of coming down off the experience I had these thoughts about the future of the world and the future us as a species clawing their way into my mind about overpopulation, about where we’re heading as a group of people.
I was pretty scared. It was occurring to me that we don’t exactly have many leaders that are concerned about the future of this world that isn’t completely mixed in with their own aspirations and broken perspective on what they think is best. About that moment I felt a very heavy presence that entered the room. Heavy like gravity, like the Earth is pulling on your feet, if you’re sitting down, on your behind, and it’s pulling you down towards the ground. Now imagine something coming into a room that had an equal or greater gravity, literally a gravity to it that is pulling you in a different direction. It was very scary. Not necessarily that I felt like my life was threatened, but it was very powerful and frightening. I didn’t know what to make of it and I’m sitting there for three to five seconds and wondering what’s happening.
My wife, at the time my fiancé, she felt something, but didn’t feel it as greatly as I did. So, I grab her hand and I tell her it’s going to be okay, and then about that moment whatever this thing was it speaks to me. It goes, you would call yourself human. You might say I am a man. She is a human and might say I am a woman. Well I’ll tell you that I just am. I don’t have to apologize for it. I’m not going to explain myself. There is no explanation. All identity comes from me. Everything comes from me. I simply am. I have been and I continue to be and I will be. I am the I am I am. And in that moment I just respond. I knew, I go oh you’re God. I literally said that. I said, “Oh you’re God.” And then I was plunged into a very wild experience that was a combination of communication from this I am at a speed at which I think a brain normally cannot sustain activity.
Let’s say Matt you and I had a conversation for three days. Compress that into 30 seconds. That’s how it was communicated. A combination of visions, a combination of what I now believe to be memories that were not my own. Again, it sort of had a message for me. We can talk about that in a minute, but this is a starting point. There you go. Is that good?
Matthew: Yeah. The thing that jumped out at me when I read an article about this some months back was the language, the I am language. Were I grew up there is a temple called I Am Temple in Chicago and heard Wayne Dyer talk about that when he was alive, this I Am language. Some of the ascended masters you hear, some of these texts you read about Jesus or Buddha, you just hear the language I Am. Before Abraham I am. There is some consistent thread through a lot of experiences where this language is mentioned, and I just have to think there’s something going on. There’s something here with this I am language. What’s your thoughts around that specific language?
Aeron: It’s interesting. I didn’t find this out for six months, six months later when I was reading the Bible for the first time. I believe it’s Exodus Chapter 3 Moses and the burning bush. Moses is at the burning bush. He’s of course terrified I’m sure, as I was. This being goes hey I’m the God of your ancestors. You need to listen to me. Moses is like okay, when I go tell people this message who is it I should say sent me. He says, ehyeh has sent you. Ehyeh in Hebrew is I will be. Oftentimes translated as I am. Of course Moses can’t go to the Israelites and say I will be has sent me. So he changes it. So, he’s informed by God to say Yahweh has sent me. He will be. He will be has sent me. I’m sure they’re like, well who’s he will be. He’s like, the God of our ancestors. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, okay now we’re connecting the links here.
That then becomes the Covenant name of the Hebrew people, Yahweh. It’s been translated a number of different ways. Jehovah and all those sorts of things, but it was Yahweh and it basically means he is the one who was, who is and who will be. So, you’re right. There are other people in history that has encountered something that says I Am, I just simply Am. The question is, is that a copycat thing, or is that some spiritual force out there that’s copycatting this known Covenant name of the Hebrew people? Or is it the God of the Hebrew people that’s just communicating to different people in different places in history. I think depending on what the fruit from the person who says that they encountered this I Am, you know, the fruit being what did they do, what were their actions, what were their speech, what did they speak on. I think you can oftentimes tell if that fruit is coming from a place of restoration and hope and goodness or if it’s coming from a copycat that’s trying to manipulate a human. I’m not commenting either way on any of that. This I Am language originated back around Exodus 3 when Moses was called to go lead the Israelites out of Egypt.
Matthew: Wow. This is some deep stuff. For people that have never taken any kind of hallucinogen they might say, well this simply was an LSD trip that took an unusual direction. But as you mentioned, and I have some experience with this as well, you kind of know what you are getting into when you take these things and dosages and what to expect. When someone says, Aeron, could this be an LSD trip that went the wrong direction or direction that was just unusual. Maybe tell us a little bit more about what your wife feels. She kind of felt a hint of this. So, she did feel something. You could be like okay it wasn’t just me, but for you it’s very clear. It wasn’t just LSD because that’s the question. That’s what most people I feel like will be saying that’s what happened.
Aeron: I find that there is - if you go read the Inc Magazine story, the follow up story that Inc. did on me a few months ago, it kind of lays out the story of Tradiv, and what sort of happened after this event. I think when you read that story you’ll come to one of two conclusions. Much like maybe audience members listening to this or people that I have talked to will come to one of two conclusions. Either despite the LSD or maybe using it as an aid or whatever, God spoke to you and he told you to do something and you did it. Great. We’re proud of you. The other one is, yeah there’s no way that happened. It was the LSD.
I’m not sure. I believe that if people will have ears to listen, they will understand that this wasn’t just LSD. If they are skeptical of these sort of spiritual experiences, they’re probably going to arrive at the same conclusion. Whether I was on LSD or not. If I hadn’t been on LSD and I came back and said hey God spoke to me. It was really crazy. Ah man you need to go see a shrink. I happened to come back and say, God spoke to me on LSD. They’re like oh well it was the drugs. People are oftentimes going to come to the same conclusion regardless of what these circumstances were. But pulling that thread a little bit, I was pretty experienced with LSD. I took a small dose. It was around 100 nanograms, for anybody that’s familiar. It’s a fairly small dose, especially for somebody that’s 220 pounds.
This began seven hours into the experience. So, I was on the way down. So, all of that to say, I think people who are experienced with LSD will go well yeah okay some entity outside of yourself speaking articulately to you is way outside the scope of a normal LSD experience. You’ve got a lot of perceptions shifts, and even self-introspection that can occur, but this was entirely different. The second thing I would say is that that’s not the last time that I Am has spoken to me. And the time since he’s spoken to me I was not on a hallucinogen.
Matthew: Wow, that’s crazy. One more thing on the psychedelics is that for people that aren’t familiar is that psychedelics, mushrooms, LSD, maybe you can throw (16.30 unclear) in there. The tendency to kind of melt away the ego sense of self, and then allow to whatever else there to come more in the foreground when it was typically in the background before. So, the ego kind of gets dissolved a bit with the mushrooms.
Aeron: Is it okay if I comment on that?
Matthew: Yeah, go ahead.
Aeron: One of the interesting things is there’s actually gene that people carry. It’s called latency inhibition. Some people have latency inhibition. Some people have naturally low latency inhibition. Latency inhibition is your ability to filter what is not important information. So, if you have high latency inhibition, your ability to filter out information is very high. You can focus on things despite a lot of stuff happening around you, but you’re not going to notice the details as much. People with low latency inhibition naturally have a harder time filtering out information. They catch more detail. Artists, creative people typically genetically have low latency inhibition.
The gene for low latency inhibition has also been directly linked to both psychosis and schizophrenia. So, people that are experiencing a lot and don’t know how to filter it sometimes that can turn into if not treated or - and treated and I don’t necessarily mean by drugs, but just treated through therapy and understanding and introspection, it can lead to schizophrenia and psychosis. I’m not a scientist. I’m not positive, but I have a feeling when you talk about your ego dissolving and things that are normally in the foreground becoming more apparent I think LSD and other ethnogens might have an effect on the latency inhibition of an individual. Meaning when I took that LSD that stuff that I’m normally filtering out my brain became far more aware of it and I’m not suggesting that God needs people to take LSD to speak to him. I actually don’t recommend people take hallucinogens because they don’t know what is speaking to them, and they’re in a very impressionable state of mind.
Regardless of that warning, I didn’t have that warning and I took LSD and God just chose, while my latency inhibition was extremely low and I was very open, and my intellectual veil had been pierced. That’s when he decided to speak to me the first time, and that would be my comment on what kind of scientifically what is going on when you say oh my ego dissolved and things from the foreground are becoming more apparent. It’s latency inhibition.
Matthew: Thanks for that clarification. So, the second time or the subsequent times that you were speaking with this I Am presence, what was the message then? Was it different than the first time?
Aeron: Well, you know, God’s a very patient person. I say person, he’s a very patient entity. He is like a person in many ways. You can relate to him. He’s got a sense of humor and he interacts with us, just like an inner relationship like another person would. He’s very patient. I have a feeling when he talked to me the first time he knows that he can’t just dump everything that he wants me to do on me at that moment. So, really, I like to say that this experience in February I sort of met the God of the Old Testament. He was pretty vague, unclear. I didn’t know much about him or I hadn’t gotten to know him. He just really gave me a bunch of information that would start to make sense over the last couple of years and continues to make sense even today.
The primary message was hey I’m real, you should believe in my because it’s important. I’ve got a plan for you, just as I do everybody and it’s going to seem impossible. It’s not going to make sense. All I require from you is to have faith. If you trust me, and you have faith, anything is possible. Will you do that? Of course after a lot of convincing I said, yes. So, I came back from Alaska with my mind in a way blown, but I didn’t have a different strategy in mind. I was part of a marijuana company, and I had started that and hey look at this great vehicle God had set up for me to be able to achieve his purposes. So, I come back and I was even more feverous in my pursuit of making Tradiv a success after February. I’ve kind of continued down the same road. February, March, April, May, we win Inc. Magazine’s 30 Under 30, but it was around May that I started to really desire to kind of learn more and get closer to this God that had blown my world open in February 2016 and he wasn’t speaking to me.
He didn’t feel like he was there. So, I start researching every religion on the planet, every experience with I Am that people had reportedly had. I’m just looking everywhere, and ironically I was looking everywhere but the Jewish and Christian faiths because that didn’t seem right. I don’t know, I had a lot of baggage with it you know, as do a lot of people. Then it was July 4, 2016. I had gone out with a friend and we were walking to a bar. It was about [12:15] in the morning. There was a group of young adults from the Rock Church San Diego from their young adult ministry that were literally having a bible study with six or seven of them in a yard at [12:15] in the morning. I kid you not, that same presence unmistakably that I had felt in February 2016 manifests itself in the center of this yard and like a gravity he’s like, hey I’m taking free will from you for a moment. You’re going to come over here and you’re going to sit down. It was like that too. It was like hey young child. Come sit down. You need to learn something.
So, I sit down, literally sit down in the dirt with this group of young adults doing a Bible study and I sort of arrogantly said, what are you guys reading. One of them said Isaiah. I’m thinking okay God’s about to teach you something through me, and I had it backwards. I’m thinking of questions. I have concerns. I have thoughts that are sitting in my mind but I’m not verbalizing them. And then for an hour and 45 minutes that group of young adults starts to have a conversation with me, and the interesting thing is their conversation made sense to them, but it was an entirely different conversation that I was having and God was speaking through them addressing the thing that was sitting on the very forefront of my mind. He was reading my mind and then using another human to speak something that made sense to them but made a total different sense to me, and this goes on for an hour and 45 minutes until the conclusion of the conversation. They asked me would you like to accept Jesus as your savior, and I said yes.
They put their hands on me. They prayed, and the most peaceful feeling that I’ve ever encountered in my life and have continued to encounter but especially in that moment just falls on me, and they pray for 5 minutes and all of my doubt and worry and desire to get to know this God, all of that was just sort of quenched. That thirst was quenched there in that yard. It’s now 2 am. I get up and the rest of the night was kind of crazy. We don’t need to get into that, but the point was I made my way home and started reading the Bible. Three days later my wife, at the time fiancé, also accepted Jesus and seven days later I was on a flight to Israel to travel as a poor person for a week through Israel and I was letting the spirit, what I call the spirit, guide me. I came back from that experience and about a month later I kind of decided okay I feel like God’s calling me away from Tradiv. It’s time for me to move on, and it was a three month process to step down. Shortly after stepping down I started a new position with a group called the Bible Project.
Matthew: Wow. What’s crazy about this story is that almost everybody listening will be like I’ve never had this experience so this must not be real, but essentially it’s just not real for them. It was real for you.
Aeron: It was very real for me.
Matthew: Yeah, and it’s very consistent with a lot of other spiritual experiences I’ve heard so that’s incredible. It actually must create some relief for you in many ways because you’re not like most people on the fence like should I just be an atheist, should I be agnostic or spiritual. You were kind of given this clarity and this presence to allow you to be like, all my doubts are gone.
Aeron: Yeah I mean I would say all my doubts about - I think clarity is one of those things. God will give us clarity and then he kind of lets us walk in that clarity a bit and then you start to have doubts, and then he gives you another dose of clarity and you start to walk and you have some doubts. Don’t get me wrong. This has been a hard journey for me. There have been moments where I have doubted if all this was real. There’s been moments where I’m like am I schizophrenic or manic or psychotic. I’ve even gone to a psychiatrist who specializes in these sorts of experiences to evaluate me to make sure I just haven’t gone off my rocker. No, I have full faith and trust now.
It began in February and solidified in July but has still been a rocky road of discovery and introspection and doubt and renewed faith back and forth and God’s really molded me into a place now where I do feel exactly as you said. I have no doubt and I have perfect clarity about who God is and about what his purposes and desires are for humanity and where I play a part in that. That’s a great feeling, but it’s not just a take some LSD and hopefully God speaks to you and everything’s going to be hunky dory. It has been hard.
Matthew: Right. Have you come across any other people that have had similar experiences to yours and be able to talk about it?
Aeron: Yes I have. You know, the Christian community is an interesting one in that experiences like mine are typically frowned upon because the Christian church, I’m saying global church, Catholicism and (27.45 unclear), evangelical, charismatic. I think of them all as one big entity. There are groups within that that are really open to experiences like this and even pursue experiences like this. I would say by and large churches and the people who attend churches have an idea of what the moral framework of society is supposed to look like. That even includes God not working in miraculous and magnificent ways and totally outside the box ways.
It’s not inside their box, they’re like no that’s not true. So, sharing this sort of thing within the Christian community can be challenging for the same reason it might be challenging to share it with an atheist. Well that’s impossible and a Christian is like, oh no God would never do with somebody on LSD. That’s impossible. So, there is that element. However, still within my group of friends and people that I know, both Christians, agnostics and otherwise who have had similar experiences. Not nearly as intense or as frequently or consistently as I have, but I have met lots of people that have had very paradigm shifting, total life changing experiences of a spiritual nature like this with an entity outside of themselves. Some of those have been because of drugs. Many of them have not.
Matthew: That’s great. Do you keep up with these people and see how they’re doing or is it just you kind of bump into them along the way or how does that work?
Aeron: I mean I have several friends that are consistent friends of mine that I see every week at church that have had experiences like this. I keep up with them. There’s people that have messaged me on LinkedIn or something after reading that story and be like, hey man I had something similar. Interestingly talking to the psychiatrist friend of mine who specializes in this, she’s had a number of patients and people she’s done research on that have had experiences like this. I didn’t get to know them, but she did and I kind of bi-curiously go to know them through her.
Matthew: It’s funny because up to a year or two ago if you said something like this, it sounds a little crazy and perhaps to some people now it still sounds crazy, but then there’s somebody that’s somewhat universally respected, at least in the states and probably Canada too, is Elon Musk. He comes out and says, I don’t know if it was a year or two ago now, he goes yes I believe we’re in some sort of simulated reality and then Peter (30.30 unclear), the guy who created the X prise and who’s the founder of all these exponential technologies. He thinks we’re in one too. He calls a twice removed simulation. I’m like, that sounds even scarier. This conversation is starting to happen and it just begs the question. Everybody goes through their daily life working, spending time with family, having fun, eating and things, but how often do we actually ask the question what am I doing here.
Aeron: It’s like the most important question.
Matthew: Right. It’s like the most important question and it’s a question I can count on one hand the time I’ve had serious conversations with people about that because the answer seems so elusive. How do you know? What perceptual tools do I use to figure this out. So, now that you’ve had this experience what do you think humankind is doing here?
Aeron: Yeah, that’s a great question. I’d say that’s the most important question. It’s interesting, Elon Musk, I forgot the name of the other gentleman that you mentioned, Jim Landess. Yeah, I think they’re scratching at the question. They’re jumping a little too far ahead to what they think the answer is, but they’re scratching at the right question. I think Elon Musk said there’s a one in billion chance we’re in base reality. Base reality meaning this is actually real and we’re not in a simulation. Maybe we can create simulations in the future, which will create new realities, but there is a one in a billion chance that this is the first base reality. I would disagree. This is definitely reality. The question why are we here is exactly the question we should be asking. If this is reality, what are we doing here? Here I’ll give the audience an answer. People can disagree, but here’s my answer on everything that I’ve learned over the last couple of years since God’s taken me on this ride.
We are here to love one another unconditionally. Most of us are so broken because we’re victims of other victims. People who have been abused and victimized and they’re taught how to abuse and victimize. We’ve been doing that generation after generation from the beginning. So, for us to say oh, okay I know how to love you. No you don’t. No we don’t. We are so broken we do not know what unconditional love actually looks like. Jesus on the cross is what unconditional love actually looks like. He came here and said, hey I’ve got a message for you. I’d like to introduce you to the Kingdom of Heaven. In the Kingdom of Heaven this is how it works, and if you don’t want to get onboard, you’re not entering the Kingdom of Heaven. This is not the same thing as saying you’re going to hell.
I’m just saying hey there’s this paradise over here. I would like to introduce you to it, but you won’t enter paradise unless you think and respond in certain ways. And if you understand it, I can assure you will respond appropriately, but we did not like that Kingdom and so we killed him. We killed him on a really narley Roman execution device, and rather than responding with violence he’s like, you guys just don’t understand what I’m trying to tell you. But rather than killing you, rather than responding with violence even those who are spiteful and hate me and want to murder me, I would rather die than lay a finger on you. That’s what unconditional love looks like. A man enters your home. He wants to kill your family. You have a gun in the drawer next to your bed. You grab it. You have a decision. Am I going to shoot this man or am I going to risk letting him kill me. Am I going to risk letting him kill my family?
The answer is in the Kingdom of Heaven yes you’re going to lay down your weapon and you’re going to trust God and if God determines that it’s your time to enter paradise, then that is fine, but there is no room for violence, retaliation, hatred, vengeance, sexual immorality, things that reduce the dignity that make humans human, even if it will kill you. That is how you enter the Kingdom of Heaven, and they killed Jesus over that. So, what are we here to do? We are here to learn how to unconditionally love one another and it has taken God thousands of years to teach us that. It will continue to take time for him to teach us that, but I’ll tell you what in this life or the next we’re all going to learn how to do it. And when we do we’ll be in this reality, and we’re going to start building it the way that it looks when people unconditionally love one another, which means that we build hospitals and we build homes and we build gardens and sports arenas. We do all those things, but it’s not based out of selfish desire to make money. It’s based out of our love for one another and our willingness to bless and serve one another with a great day, a nice hug, a good meal and housing that not too expensive where people have to bus two hours into San Francisco to serve the super wealthy.
It looks like when you have cancer we actually treat you despite your ability to pay it back because saving lives isn’t about making money. It’s about saving lives. And God’s patient. He’s patient. He’ll help us learn. He’ll teach us how to learn. He came himself 2,000 years ago to show us the full measure of his devotion of that unconditional love as an example, but that’s why we’re here. We’re not in some simulation. This is actually reality. It was actually made for us. You could call it a simulation in the sense that God exists outside of it and he made it for us, but this is real dirt. These are real rocks. These are real buildings and the question is did we as humans, given the authority we have to build something, did we make Heaven or did we build a Hell? I’d say we’re mixed up, but leaning towards the latter when you look at the world today.
It’s totally up to us, but there’s no amount of technology, there’s no amount of anything we can do as humans. All we have to do is get onboard with God and start letting our hearts change towards one another and learn how to unconditionally love one another and you watch Heaven be built on this Earth. It’s that easy.
Matthew: Wow, that’s a great question. There are great comments you have there Aeron, and I think it’s a good place to kind of wind up the interview. That was an excellent summary of everything you’ve learned here. I want to pivot and get some final thoughts too. I want to ask some personal development questions but also anything you want to say to the employees, investors of Tradiv or anybody in the cannabis community that were your former colleagues to kind of wrap things up there because you may not have had a chance to talk to all of them individually or broadly or anything that you might wanted to do and a lot of people will listen to this interview?
Aeron: Yeah absolutely. What I would say is I’d say I’m sorry. I had a lot of people follow me into that company. I had a lot of people give money, and I’m sorry truthfully from my heart, I am sorry. What’s a complicated thing is when God is dealing with humans who have all sorts of motivations that aren’t necessarily the best motivations we get ourselves into trouble. I should never have started that company, if I had been following God, but I wasn’t and I did. When I find myself in the middle of it and God comes calling there’s no perfect way. He’s like, hey I don’t want you to be in this company. You’re like, okay well I am. What should I do? He’s like, yeah I need you to leave. You’re like, yeah I’m basically letting all of these people down and I’m breaking my word and bond with them. And he’s like, yeah I know. I’m sorry about that, and I’m sorry for them.
Do you see what I’m saying? There’s no right answer here. So, I did what he asked me to. I left because I was trusting him. It does not mean that what I did to my investors and my friends and my colleagues was perfectly right, but in the wisdom of God it was the right thing to do. It doesn’t mean from a moral perspective that it’s the best thing that could have been done in a relationship purely with me and my investors and my colleagues and my friends, but I also have a relationship with God and that trumps my other relationships. So, I had to follow him, but I’m so sorry that it worked out that way. And in hindsight if I’d known what I know now, I would have never started and put myself in a position to be torn between listening to God and trying to honor my word and bond with my friends and colleagues and investors.
So yeah, to answer your question there or comment, I’m sorry, but I still did the right thing even though it meant having to do a smaller wrong thing.
Matthew: Good. I’m glad you got to say that. Let’s pivot to some personal development questions here. Is there a book that has had a big impact on your thinking or way of life, either prior to your spiritual experience or after, that you’d like to share with listeners?
Aeron: Yeah sure. There’s some great books out there on psychology that I think are helpful for people. Let’s see, if somebody struggles with shame, which is where a lot of our brokenness comes from, I’d encourage them to read Healing the Shame that Binds You by John Bradshaw. If somebody struggles with just understanding what’s happening inside of them, i.e. emotions, which is really where a lot of this comes from. Our inability to feel and react to emotions appropriately which is a large part how God made us, to be emotional. I’d really recommend the Language of Feelings by David Viscott. They are wonderful books that will help you to maybe forgive yourself a little bit for the stuff that’s happening inside you that happened to you when you were a kid, that happened to you as a teenager before you were able to even feel or understand what’ happening to you, you’re already formed. So, those are two great books. I think the (41.41 unclear) is a useful tool for kind of seeing.
We oftentimes think we’re a lot more put together than we are. I think the (41.49 unclear) is really good at helping you realize that you’re probably not as put together as you think you are. So, that’s more on of an anybody, no matter what faith background you belong to. I think those are great resources. If you want to get to know God, I think you should read the Bible, but there’s a caveat. If you jump into the Bible and start to read it at face value, you are going to be very confused and think that we have a very weird and angry God that is bloodthirsty. I’m not kidding. The Bible is very confusing, and it’s confusing because it was written to ancient near eastern people over 2400 years ago, in some cases 1950 years ago, and that is an ancient near eastern culture, a Jewish audience and 33 percent of it was written in poetry. Well we don’t really know how to read ancient Hebrew, apocalyptic poetry and actually get the point.
Matthew: Speak for yourself Aeron.
Aeron: No kidding right. So, if you read, you know you read some of these descriptions of a manifestation of God, you’re like whoa man. I’ve never seen anything like that. This must be crazy. Well that’s because they’re using anthropermophitization of the Divine which was a common tool across all ancient Near Eastern culture. You read Genesis 1 you’re like, I’ve heard of the big bang and it’s been explained to me pretty well before. So, what’s up with this seven day creation story. Did you know that all ancient Near Eastern culture had a seven day creation story. If you talked about God creating the planet, you spoke about it in a seven day creation story. Just like now when we talk about life springing forth from nothing we talk about it in the context of the big bang. It’s the language they use at the time, and God never came down and said hey guys.
A modern Western audience living in the year 2000 isn’t really going to understand this. So, let me update you on some chemistry and physics and then you can write this thing. He doesn’t do that. He speaks to the people at the time, in the context and language in which they best understand. So, when you read the Bible you need to equip yourself with the tools to read it properly. I would actually recommend people go to www.thebibleproject.com, it’s the organization I work for. There’s over 100 videos. We basically make cartoons on the internet for adults. They’re from three and a half minutes to seven minutes and they help break down the context, the language, the themes that are used and woven throughout the Bible to understand the overall story first. Once you understand the overall story, it’s a little easier to not get bogged down in some of these details that a lot of people in the Christian church like to focus on, but we’re missing the point.
We’re trying to analyze this blade of grass and we’re missing the beautiful herd of elephants walking by. You need tools to read the Bible. So, I’d recommend people start there, www.thebibleproject.com.
Matthew: Okay great. That’s the best way to follow your work is the www.thebibleproject.com.
Aeron: Yeah I mean, you know, all of my opinions that I’ve shared today are not shared by the organization, but I very much believe in everything the organization is doing. I think God has blessed that organization. We’re fully crowdfunded. Everything is free. There’s no denomination paying for this thing. We don’t belong to any denomination. We serve Catholics and Protestants alike, atheists, agnostics and Christians and Muslims and Buddhists alike. We’re trying to help share this story that God’s given us. It’s a story about us. Once you understand the story about us, it helps you understand the story about you and how you connect to this big confusing thing, but I do consider it truth, even though it’s a hard truth sometimes. Don’t just open Genesis and start reading. You’re just going to get confused. You need some assistance.
Matthew: Aeron what a great interview. Thanks so much for joining us today on CannaInsider. I really appreciate you taking the time to explain everything, what happened and clearing the air on a couple points I think that were hanging out there. Wish you all the best on your new endeavors, The Bible Project, and we’ll be wishing you well.
Aeron: Thanks Matt. I love you man. You’ve always been a good friend and been a real pleasure knowing you and I look forward to knowing you in the future.
[0:58] – What is PayQwick
[1:20] – Ken’s background
[3:06] – Headaches in the cannabis space regarding cash
[5:30] – How does PayQwick work
[6:26] – PayQwick’s ease of use
[8:23] – Ken talks about the Cole Memo
[11:45] – Cost to use PayQwick
[15:38] – Common compliance mistakes
[20:58] – Ken talks about cryptocurrency
[27:54] – Personal development questions
[32:12] – Contact details for PayQwick
Kenneth Berke is the co-founder and President of PayQwick. He is helping cannabis consumers, dispensaries, processors, and cultivators pay and receive payments digitally with their electronic wallet.
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While Canada enjoys full legal banking for cannabis businesses, US cannabis businesses are not so lucky. Business owners struggle to run all cash businesses in the absence of clear banking guidelines. To help us understand how cannabis business owners are using technology to circumvent this issue is Ken Burke of PayQwick. Ken, welcome to CannaInsider.
Ken: Thank you so much. I appreciate it.
Matthew: Give us a sense of geography. Where are you in the world today?
Ken: Los Angeles. So, north LA County.
Matthew: Okay great, and I’m in the San Miguel de Allende, Mexico today.
Ken: Oh lovely.
Matthew: And what is PayQwick on a very high level?
Ken: Sure, well, PayQwick is a compliance based electronic payment hub. Is that enables state legal cannabis transactions to occur cashlessly through the entire marijuana supply chain.
Matthew: What’s your background, and what caused you to start PayQwick? What was the need you saw?
Ken: Well, the need we saw was the tremendous amounts of cash changing hands both at the dispensary level, from the dispensary to the consumer, and also from the cultivator or manufacturer to the dispensary. You have people driving around making their deliveries, getting paid in cash, heading back to their manufacturing facility or farm with $100,000 to $200,000 in cash in their car, and we thought that was just insane from a public safety standpoint, as well as a normal business practices standpoint.
Matthew: Yeah, there’s huge amounts of cash going on and even having to pay taxes in cash is a real problem and you get charged a penalty for paying in cash, taxes. I think it’s Colorado anyway that requires when you pay in cash you pay a penalty. So, there’s all kinds of reasons you want to do it. Security, inconvenience, penalties. I can see what you mean. It almost feels like that show Miami Vice from the 80s where people are lugging around masses amounts of cash everywhere here and there.
Ken: Yeah. That is exactly it. It’s insane. It’s just insane. Then in Washington State you’ve got people driving hundreds of miles across the state to pay their excise taxes, or you used to have that before we got going in Washington and assisted with the banking situation.
Matthew: Let’s frame this a little bit more so people understand the extent of the problem. Can you talk about what life is like day-to-day for maybe an extractor or a cultivator, dispensary owner, and what they’re having to deal with in terms of hassle, security and compliance exactly?
Ken: Yes of course. Let me give you actually a real world story from one of our clients. They are a producer up in Washington. I’ll use the jargon from Washington State where they’re called producers and processors. Like many of them up there they’re family owned businesses so it’s the mom, it’s her husband and it’s her son. As they were operating it was typically the husband or the son that was making deliveries to the dispensaries or retail stores, but one day they couldn’t do it so she said, I’ll go make the deliveries.
So, she drove out, made the deliveries to the retail store. They had a couple of stores and she had about $30,000 to $35,000 in her car, and she wanted to stop for lunch and get a sandwich. She pulled into - maybe it was a Starbucks or something - just to get a sandwich or what have you and she was thinking what do I do with this money. I’ve got $30,000 in my car. I don’t want to leave it in the car. I don’t want to carry it in with me. What do I do? And then she also realized the danger that she was putting her husband and her son in on a day-to-day basis because they were the guys usually making the deliveries and bringing the cash back.
Matthew: Then she turned to PayQwick, or what did she do next to kind of mitigate this problem?
Ken: She turned to PayQwick, and she signed up for her PayQwick account and is getting paid now electronically through our platform.
Matthew: Does she have to - all the vendors and people she works with and so forth, she says, okay I’m going to be on PayQuick. This is how you get signed up. So there’s kind of a viral component to it in that the more people get onboard the more they want to get everybody else they work with onboard.
Ken: That’s absolutely correct. And our whole goal and what we’ve done is to make it easier to pay. To make it just as easy to pay with PayQwick or easier to pay with PayQwick than it is to pay with cash, but you’re right. It does have that viral component to get additional people signed up.
Matthew: How does a dispensary customer get their money into PayQwick if they wanted to pay a dispensary? Let’s say they bought a hundred dollars worth of items and they wanted to pay for it with PayQuick. How does that work?
Ken: Twofold, one, just like PayPal or Vimeo you link your PayQuick account to your personal checking account, and then you can transfer funds from your checking account into your PayQwick account and then use that to make your purchase at the dispensary. The other way that people are able to do that, we’re just rolling that out this month as a matter of fact in Washington, is the ability for people to load their PayQwick account with a Visa or Mastercard. So they’ll be able to use a credit card to transfer funds into their PayQwick account and then obviously use those funds in the store.
Matthew: This is getting interesting here. People are getting more options on ways to do it. Do customers who are loading up PayQwick have an questions the first time, or is it pretty much simple for them? They’re like, oh this reminds of PayPal or anything else.
Ken: It’s pretty simple. We don’t get a lot of questions in that regard. I think folks generally are familiar with how an eWallet works, given the prevalence of PayPal and Vimeo out there these days. There’s not a lot of explaining that has to go on in terms of using an eWallet these days.
Matthew: So, if I’m a customer at a point of sale at a dispensary, is there QR codes, or how do I actually then initiate the movement of money from my phone to a dispensary?
Ken: Yeah it would be a QR code on the phone that said just scanned at the point of sale.
Matthew: That makes it easy. Okay good. So, let’s say I’m a licensed dispensary that made $100,000 this week on PayQwick. What happens after all those sales in terms of compliance and know your customer, anti money laundering, all those things that a dispensary really has to stay on top of to ensure that they don’t get in trouble and spend their life dealing with bureaucracy?
Ken: That’s a great question. And people ask us what is PayQwick and when I answered your question we are first and foremost a compliance company that happens to have a pretty sophisticated eWallet. But we do all the normal filings that a bank would file. So, the bank files a CTR, currency transaction report, that would be - we file those as well. We’re a BSA filer. We file the marijuana limited marijuana priority or marijuana termination, SARS, Suspicious Activity Reports because we are registered federally as a money service business and so we file all those reports directly with FINSIN.
Matthew: And just for people that are still getting up to speed with the Cole Memo, can you just explain what that is?
Ken: Of course. So, the way the Cole Memo works is basically the Department of Justice obviously they’re tasked with enforcing the Controlled Substances Act and going after folks who are violating federal law. And as everybody knows, cannabis is illegal federally. So the local attorney generals went to Deputy Attorney General Cole and said how do we decide who we’re going to go after and prosecute and how do we decide who we’re going to leave alone. So, what James M. Cole issued was he said, this is how you use your prosecutorial discression and that’s what that’s called really. Every prosecutor has prosecutor discression.
So, he said to them, if you have a cannabis business that’s operating in compliance with state law, and the state has a robust licensing program for cannabis businesses, and that business is not implicating any of the eight enforcement priorities, let’s call them bad boy acts, which would include selling cannabis to minors, selling cannabis across state lines, having firearms at the premises, being a front for drug cartels or gangs, disguising your activity or using your legal activity as a disguise for illegal activity, growing on federal lands. These basically eight bad boy acts, if the marijuana business is operating in compliance with state law and not implicating these enforcement priorities, not doing any of these eight bad boy acts, leave them alone. Just leave them alone and go after the cannabis businesses that are engaging in any of these eight bad boy acts. So, that’s the Cole Memo in a nutshell.
Matthew: So, PayQwick helps marry up to each one of the points in the Cole Memo so your customers can kind of be at ease about it.
Ken: That’s absolutely correct. Under the Bank Secrecy Act there’s something called the know your customer due diligence obligations. That’s part of the banks’ responsibility and even at PayQwick we’re regulated under the same thing. We’re a non-bank financial institution so we’re subject to the Bank Secrecy Act and the anti money laundering laws as well. And under that there’s something called, like I mentioned, know your customer due diligence. You’ve got to go in as part of your compliance program and know you customers. There’s nothing magic about it. You really got to know your customers, which part of that obligation entails knowing that they’re not implicating any of these eight enforcement priorities.
So, when we onboard a client we go through the exact same onboarding process that a bank or credit union would engage in when bringing on a marijuana business themselves. That includes onsite site inspections. We’re looking at who all the owners are, all that kind of stuff, and making sure that they’re operating in compliance with state law and not implicating any of those eight enforcement priorities.
Matthew: Well, all those compliance points have expense. How much do your customers pay to keep up with PayQwick in terms of onboarding and then sustaining costs to use PayQwick? Can you give a ballpark there?
Ken: Typically when we onboard somebody there’s a $495 application fee that takes care of the initial onsite inspections, compliance review, that type of thing. Then we go out periodically and do onsite compliance inspections as well, and depending on where the business is, those typically run about $150 per inspection. I will tell you that the banks absolutely love it. We stand shoulder to shoulder with the banks in terms of compliance and share our compliance information both with the bank and with our clients. So from a bank’s perspective they can’t outsource their know your customer obligations under the Bank Secrecy Act, but they certainly can have someone who stands shoulder to shoulder with them and buttresses their own compliance efforts with respect to each of those marijuana businesses. So, it’s a huge benefit to a bank if they’re banking a cannabis client to have that client as part of the PayQwick platform because they get to piggyback on our compliance efforts. That’s number one.
Number two is a tremendous for our clients because when we go out and do our onsite compliance inspections if we find something that’s wrong or a potential violation, we tell them about it. They have an opportunity to fix before the state regulator shows up and issues them a notice of violation. So, a good analogy would be an OSHA inspection. If you have your own independent OSHA expert come in and review your facility, he or she is going to catch things that you can then fix before your state OSHA inspector comes in and takes a look and issues you a violation for something.
Matthew: That makes sense. Do other industries besides the cannabis industry use PayQwick?
Ken: Right now the answer is no, although it’s fully usable for any other industry. It’s an eWallet. I will tell you that we do have a number of what we call ancillary businesses and those would be landlords, they would be accountants, they would be lawyers or any other business that is serving cannabis businesses and historically have been getting paid in cash. The landlord, for example, I’ll give you another real world example, can open up a PayQwick account and just get paid electronically. We did get a call from a landlord who was getting paid about $30,000 a month in rent. He was getting it in cash and taking it to his bank and depositing it. After about three or four months the bank said to him, don’t bring that cash here anymore. We don’t want it. We’re not going to close your account. We know you, we trust what you’re doing, but do not bring that cash here.
So, the guy went out, before having a PayQwick account obviously, he went out and he bought a safe at Costco and he started putting the cash in the safe, and when he had contacted us his comment was basically, I have this $30,000 and it’s useless paper. There’s only so much I can buy at Best Buy and I’ve exhausted that. It’s just stacking up in my safe as useless paper. Now with a PayQwick account the tenant pays him the rent, $30,000, electronically through PayQwick. His PayQwick account is linked to his bank account so then he just transfers the money from his PayQwick account to his bank account, that same account that didn’t want the cash. The bank goes, great, fantastic. Now the money is coming in electronically. We have no problem.
Matthew: Interesting. In terms of when you see people make mistakes with compliance what are the top two or three offending mistakes that you see?
Ken: A couple that we see is, which is a really bad one, they’re not properly checking drivers licenses. So, and a drivers license should be checked not only at the door but again at the point of sale. Some states consumers are comfortable with doing that, excuse me, having the driver license checked at both places. Make sure your surveillance cameras are on. Make sure everyone is badged, all the employees are badged. There’s sign-in sheets and visitors get badges, that type of stuff. As we’ve seen is really some of the traps for the unwary. It’s just a matter of being diligent.
The other thing that we counsel all of our clients to do is appoint a chief compliance officer for your cannabis business, and send that person to the appropriate training classes. Make sure they’re familiar with the law and what has to happen and give that person appropriate authority within the organization to make decisions, to engage in disciplinary action, because compliance really starts from the top. It’s the owners of the business that have to have a mindset of compliance and make compliance a priority and then that will trickle down through the organization. If the owners don’t really endorse compliance, you’re going to end up with a corporate culture that doesn’t stress compliance as important.
Matthew: In terms of getting new customers signing up, do you see dispensaries sending out emails or text messages inviting customers to sign up so that when they come in, they walk in the door they’re good to go so they don’t have to wait and it’s more frictionless, or do most new dispensary customers actually do it there in the dispensary?
Ken: Most customers do it in the dispensary or they do it beforehand. They’ll download the app or they’ll go on our website and apply for their account and do it before going into the store. So, that’s where it’s typically done. And then the other big piece of our business is the business side of the house, the B2B transactions. There any cannabis business in the states in which we operate, they can go online to our website, fill out the application and you can attach copies of your articles of the organization or your operating agreement or that type of thing and get the application part started to open up a PayQwick business account versus a consumer account. That’s really where we seen the greatest amount of growth over the past 12 to 24 months is on the business to business side.
Matthew: I imagine those transfers are probably much larger.
Ken: They are much larger, and the other thing that we’re rolling out with respect to that side of the house is what we call our ecommerce solution. In the industry today there’s a number of companies out there that are starting what we call marijuana exchanges. And an exchange is pretty similar to Amazon. All the sellers, manufacturers and cultivators they list for sale what they have, their inventory, at the wholesale level. The dispensaries and the retailers can then go online, login to the website, select the items that they want to purchase for their store. They drop down into a shopping cart and then at checkout there’s a button where they can pay with PayQwick versus cash on delivery. That’s a really big part of our platform today is that ecommerce solution because again the biggest headache is not delivering the cannabis product. The biggest headache that we hear out there is carrying back the cash. That’s where the biggest risk is too.
We found, the criminals, they’re not really interested in stealing the product itself because they’re just going to have to resell it. If they can hit the driver when he’s driving back with the cash in his truck, then that’s the attractive target. So, what we try and do is eliminate that cash in the truck, if you will, coming back.
Matthew: I have to ask you about the block chain here in cryptocurrencies. I still think the volatility of cryptocurrencies is quite a problem for businesses and consumers in the space. They don’t want to watch their value drop 10 to 30 percent in a day on cryptocurrency they acquired and then have to come up with more cash to buy whatever they’re going to buy in the dispensary or from another merchant in the ecosystem. There is new entrants like (Di) and Tether that aim to fix cryptocurrencies to a stable collateral like the US Dollar or the Euro. With that, do you think there’s a place for cryptocurrencies emerging in the cannabis ecosystem for payments?
Ken: We really don’t, and I have nothing against cryptocurrencies, Bitcoin and (21.06 unclear) and the other cryptocurrencies out there. It’s an interesting idea, interesting concept. Clearly it’s here to stay. We just think it’s premature for the cannabis industry to be dealing with cryptocurrencies. What we typically tell clients is there’s no greater way to invite additional scrutiny from Jeff Session than to be engaging in cryptocurrency in the cannabis space. We already have strike one against us because we’re dealing with cannabis. Bringing in Bitcoin and cryptocurrency is just going to be another red flag for them.
So, having said that we just think it’s too early. It’s too soon. Let’s let the industry get its legs under them and under it and normalized and stabilized before you start introducing something as potentially dangerous or vague or inviting scrutiny as cryptocurrency. The other thing that listeners should be aware of is that Visa and Mastercard have now come out and said if you are buying Bitcoin or any cryptocurrency with your credit card that they deem that to be a cash advance and they’re charging another five percent fee to the consumer to purchase the Bitcoin. I know there’s been a number of banks, Citi Bank, Chase, Bank of America, they have prohibited their customers from using cards issued by those banks to purchase cryptocurrency. You can’t buy cryptocurrency at all with your Bank of America, Chase, Citi Visa card or Mastercard. You just can’t. They prohibit the purchase of cryptocurrency.
So, at the end of the day, like I said, we don’t have anything against Bitcoin or cryptocurrency per se. We just don’t think it’s the right time for it to be entering into the cannabis space. It’s too early in the life of the cannabis industry.
Matthew: Yeah if you’re bank is playing referee on what your purchases should be as an adult, I encourage anybody to switch banks if they do that. Because that’s a slippery slope when they say hey you can use your card for this or not that, or this or not that and it gets very political. And when it’s something, a political view you agree with that’s fine, but then how do you know the next year they’re not going to do something that you don’t agree with. So, I really don’t like to see big Wall Street banks deciding who should be able to purchase with what, with your own money. I guess you can still purchase with debit cards because it’s not the bank extending credit for something that might ultimately cannibalize their business. So, I can understand that.
Ken: I think the other thing I would mention with cryptocurrency is that all the banks and credit unions that I know except for one will not accept funds that have ever been in the form of cryptocurrency. So, if you’re a dispensary and you’ve signed up with one of these credit card processing companies where they use the credit card to purchase Bitcoin and then that Bitcoin operator tries to send you an ACH or tries to give you a check for those purchases, your bank is not going to accept them. No bank that I know of or credit union except for one will accept that check for deposit. So, you’re still kind of stuck, and you certainly can’t go and open a separate account at a different bank or credit union, try to deposit that money under a different name. That’s money laundering 101. You certainly don’t want to engage in that. Even all the banks and credit unions that we know of they won’t even accept the funds if they’ve ever been in the form of cryptocurrency.
Matthew: I’ve not heard of that, but you deal with more banks than I do. I definitely see this issue. I can almost see this across age demographics. When I talk to Millennials versus GenX versus Baby Boomers, the responses are almost entirely in the same bucket 80 percent of the time. Whereas the Millennials they see this as absolutely inevitable. They don’t trust banks. They don’t trust mutual funds, and they definitely are in to Vinmo and Square cash app and definitely into Bitcoin but also other cryptocurrencies, and they actually see it as not so much the payments as a store value. And then the GenXers are kind of schizophrenic on the topic but they see it like yeah I kind of have my feet in both worlds. Then Boomers generally but not always thinks it something crazy. It’s made up money. It doesn’t even make sense. It’s like Minecraft for adults. It’s totally something that’s just going to go away. It’s like a fiction. It’s interesting to see how different those world views are, but it seems to me like the Millennials are just waiting. They’re like the (26.26 unclear) waiting for the Boomers to get older, just a little bit older, a little bit older, and then they’re going to move. I’m a GenXer saying that, but I can just tell there is a wariness and frustration with the stranglehold that the Boomers have on the financial institutions and not changing them quickly enough to their liking. That’s why we see this kind of crazy (26.52 unclear) revolution that you’re part of happening here is people want more options and they want to see more of their banking services come from Silicon Valley than from Wall Street.
Ken: I agree with you. It’s interesting the demographics. I don’t doubt those demographics for a minute. Personally I’m a Baby Boomer, and I’ve fully endorsed eWallets from Vimo and PayPal and that type of thing. So, have completely gotten onboard with that technology if you will and that kind of (27.28 unclear) technology but definitely still feel more comfortable dealing in US dollars than in a cryptocurrency where the value can just fluctuate so dramatically day to day or even hour to hour.
Matthew: That’s true. Good points. Let’s pivot to some personal development questions here. Is there a book that has had a big impact on your life or way of thinking that you’d like to share?
Ken: I’m trying to think, a book. Alexander Hamilton’s book frankly and just how he, and obviously it’s an incredible musical at this point, but just what he went through and what he persevered to get where he did and the thinking involved was just so far ahead of his time. It really opened my eyes to things.
Matthew: Do you have a couple of examples you’d like to share of what you mean about what he thought about?
Ken: He thought ahead how he traded on the political level. What they were doing, the checks and balances in creating out government and the banking system etc. Just very impressive to me if you will.
Matthew: Have you seen the musical Hamilton?
Ken: I did. I was lucky enough to see it in New York on the very last night of previews before it opened. It’s just genius. I mean it’s just absolute genius how he read a book and thought, you know what I can make a musical out of this. It was like what.
Matthew: I guess you can make a musical out of anything, but a good musical is the challenge.
Ken: Right. And I had seen In the Heights and absolutely loved In the Heights, and my son is a musical theatre actor in New York. So, musical theatre has always been near and dear to our hearts growing up. My mom took me to a ton of plays, all the classics in Los Angeles at the Pantagias. So, musical theatre was a big part of our lives. We exposed our son to it and now he’s made a career out of it. Having said that, that’s another - and me personally I have absolutely no musical talent at all whatsoever, none, zero so I’m always in awe of people who can sing and dance.
Matthew: Maybe we could see a musical ad from PayQwick soon. Challenge accepted?
Ken: I won’t be in it but yes.
Matthew: Is there a tool, web-based or otherwise, that you consider vital to your productivity apart from PayQwick?
Ken: Yes as a matter of fact and that is I’ve gotten completely addicted to using One Note to keep track of everything that is going on in our company, in PayQwick. We share One Note amongst ourselves, amongst certainly the executives in the company to keep everybody focused and rolling in the same direction. So, One Note for us has just been an incredible productivity tool to share information, to share ideas, and most importantly with any business you got to stay focused and particularly in this space. There’s a lot of shiny balls that pop up all over the place that you can go chasing. If you do that you’re going to get distracted from your core competency, which for us is compliance and electronic payments. So, that One Note in keeping everybody focused and on track with what they need to be doing has really helped us, and obviously it syncs with your phone, computer, iPad, etc. So, you can really use it and have access to it wherever you go.
Matthew: Do you use it primarily for project management type function, collaboration type functions?
Ken: Correct. That’s exactly right.
Matthew: That makes sense. Ken, thanks so much for coming on the show today and helping us understand this mess that we’re in with the banking and finance. Your offering sounds like it makes it easier for people and everybody welcomes that. I hope we get some more clear direction from Jeff Sessions soon, but I’m not going to bet on it. Please tell us one more time how listeners can find out more about PayQwick and learn about your offering and connect with you.
Ken: The best way to do it is going to our website, and we’re spelling challenged. So, we’re at www.payqwick.com, but we spell PayQwick, P-A-Y-Q-W-I-C-K. There are phone numbers on there. There’s contact information on there. You can fill out an application to open a PayQwick account both business-wise and consumer-wise. We’d love to hear from you and join us.
Matthew: Ken, thanks again for coming on the show. We really appreciate it and good luck the rest of the year too.
Ken: Oh thank you so much.