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Accelerating Cannabis Startups with Micah Tapman

Micah Tapman

Michah Tapman is a Partner and Program Manager at CanopyBoulder, the first cannabis accelerator. In this interview we explore the big problems that need to be solved in the cannabis space, how entrepreneurs are picked to particpate in the CanopyBoulder program and more.  Learn more at

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Key Takeaways:
[0:54] – What is an accelerator
[1:28] – Micah’s background
[2:24] – Growth of CanopyBoulder
[2:58] – Micah talks about class selection
[4:06] – Micah discusses opportunities in the cannabis industry
[5:30] – Micah talks about a couple entrepreneurs in CanopyBoulder now
[7:55] – Micah discuss the types of businesses that CanopyBoulder invests in
[11:28] – How can an applicant stand out
[12:31] – Micah talks about the current class of founders
[14:19] – The importance of networking

Read Full Transcript

Our next guest is Micah Tapman cofounder of Canopy Boulder the first cannabis accelerator. Welcome to CannaInsider Micah.

Micah: Thanks for having me.

Matthew: Before we dig into everything that is going on at Canopy Boulder, can you review what an accelerator is for us so we can understand the model and why it is impactful?

Micah: A business accelerator is basically means for companies to get a little bit of a jump start in a new industry. We provide funding, mentorship and networking opportunities as well as a three month program with set deadlines and some guidance on building a business plan and pitch deck.

Matthew: Okay and what’s your background? How did you get into the cannabis industry and specifically into Canopy Boulder?

Micah: Well I guess my background is perhaps a little bit different than some in the cannabis industry. I come out of the military, the Marine Corps to be specific, also Fortune 500 consulting where I worked in cyber security for many years. I also was an entrepreneur and started a couple of companies as well as a few other ventures with some friends. I got into the cannabis industry primarily because of Patrick Rey who is a good friend of mine. We actually ride bicycles a fair bit, and he convinced me that the opportunity was real and that the industry was growing and that it was a real business environment, not just the old stereotypical playground.

Matthew: We had Patrick Rey on the show last year when Canopy Boulder was just announced. Where has Canopy Boulder come since that time?

Micah: Well we’ve come a long ways actually. I think Patrick was on November or December of last year if I remember right, and since then we’ve completed fund raising, raising $1.2 million for the accelerator. We’ve opened our offices in Boulder and we’ve launched the inaugural class effective March 30 of this year. We’ve got 10 companies in our office space right now.

Matthew: Great so you picked your first class. What’s that selection process like? Is it difficult to sort through them all and decide who is going to get in?

Micah: Absolutely. The selection process is really challenging because of the quality of applicants and the number of applications that we receive. We had over 115 applications. Many of the teams were very strong with very interesting resumes for the founders and great ideas for the industry. We had to narrow that down to a group of about 20 companies that we went through a due diligence process with before finally selecting the 10 that we brought in.

Matthew: Okay so there’s ten that you brought in. Is there more than one or two people on each team? What’s the average team size or is there some that are individuals?

Micah: Yeah we’ve got a couple teams that are sole founders, but on average we’ve got two people per team so about 20 founders are in the office right now, and our largest team is 4 people and our smallest team is a single founder.

Matthew: Okay. So if you were to break down the big problems that need to be solved in the cannabis industry, if they fall into certain categories, what would you say they might be?

Micah: Well I think there are actually a ton of challenges in the cannabis industry right now. A lot of interesting ones around branding, data, data analysis, business to business commerce, human resources, packaging. Those are some of the biggest ones in my ones in my experience here.

Matthew: You’re right. This industry needs everything any other industry needs and that’s a lot of what other industries need.

Micah: Yeah and it’s a really interesting space because the industry with its legal considerations right now is not being served by some of the largest businesses. So for example advertising would normally be… online advertising would normally be a core competency for a company like Google or Facebook or Microsoft. They do a lot of work in the advertising sector, but they’re not really serving the cannabis industry. So there room for an advertising network to spin up, focus on cannabis, willing to do the hard work to develop a compliant advertising network.

Matthew: Yeah great point. Can you highlight one or two of the entrepreneurs that are in Canopy Boulder now so we can get a sense or flavor of what they are and what they’re doing?

Micah: Sure. We’ve got a number of really interesting founders doing some really neat stuff, but to pick on a couple of them. We’ve got a team called Healthy Heady Lifestyles that’s doing a network marketing play for in home marketing of cannabis accessories. Helping people who are perhaps new to cannabis understand how to use accessories, how to consume correctly. And that team is lead by Holly and her husband Steve who come all the way to Boulder from Boston, Massachusetts actually.

Matthew: That’s really important because there’s a lot of people that are just not going to go to a dispensary or they’re just not going to go through the normal channels, but they will have a friend or acquaintance show them in house how a vaporizer works or what it even is, and that’s an interesting thing that they’re doing there. It makes a lot of sense.

Micah: Yeah it’s a really interesting piece of the market puzzle. And the evolution of the cannabis industry I believe. You know there’s talk about the cannabis industry just being the legalization of cannabis and how there’s already a marketplace for people to sell into. And it’s just a matter of changing the law and regulations. But I actually disagree with that pretty strongly, and I don’t really see the existing marketplace, the black market if you will being the market that we’re really looking to serve. Certainly those people will be part of the market, but as with any other industry there are a lot of people who really don’t understand cannabis yet and they don’t understand how to consume it correctly or if they even want to consume it. So Healthy Heady Lifestyles is really bridging that gap and that’s one of the themes that we’ve actually latched onto with Canopy Boulder is trying to make this industry more accessible to what I sort of think of as the average consumer.

Matthew: Sure. Now it’s important to distinguish between businesses that touch the plant and don’t touch the plant. Can you tell us the distinction between those two things and where Canopy Boulder falls in terms of business that you invest in?

Micah: Absolutely. We do not touch the plant. That means we don’t invest or work directly with growers, manufacturers of edibles or infused products or retail or medical dispensaries. So all of our companies, all of our portfolio companies are working in the ancillary products and services space. We like to refer to that as the picks and shovels of the cannabis industry.

Matthew: Sure. Yeah and that’s really important for investors too because there’s a lot of investors that for whatever reason cannot get over that hurdle mentally or legally or whatever it might be for an investment that touches the plant. So you open yourself to a much wider pool of potential investors that can help these companies grow.

Micah: Absolutely. That is one of the things that we have been most aware of in talking to investors is that concern over directly touching the plant. And we think that over time that will evolve and that concern will fade away a little bit and our investment methodology in 2016 and 2017 may very well be a bit different.

Matthew: Is there another entrepreneur team that you can highlight in addition to Healthy Heady?

Micah: Sure. Another team that is making a very interesting play in the space is called BDDS, and it’s going to be a market research firm. The founder Roy Bingham is one of our more interesting founders in that he comes from a very traditional business background. He’s a Harvard MBA. He ran an investment bank. Worked at McKenzie Consulting. So when you look at his resume honestly you think of him more as a vice president at a Fortune 500 company rather than the CEO of a new start up in the cannabis industry.

Matthew: You know that’s a really interesting point because there’s a lot of people and I encourage them to apply to Canopy Boulder, that say hey am I too old, am I too young, do I have the right experience, do I have this, do I have that. You know they think of reasons not to apply. What do you say to people like that?

Micah: I think that is a very reasonable fear to be honest. And while I think that the risk is not as great as people feel, it is a significant commitment and people do need to take some time to think about whether or not they’re really willing to jump into this industry. The industry thrives on personal networking and a sense of community. So people really need to commit to it and they need to attend events. They need to be very public about the fact that they’re getting into the industry in order to build those relationships. And actually that is one of the things that Roy Bingham, the CEO of BDDS really struggled with at first was that he knew he had to be public about jumping into this industry and becoming involved with it, and it took a little bit of time on his part to really make that decision.

Matthew: Well I give him credit then. Roy, good job. Now how can an applicant stand out. You went through over 100 applications as you mentioned and I’m sure you’ll get more for the next class. What is a way that applicant can really give you an idea of what their personality and charisma is like in addition to give you a really nice snapshot of what their business idea is?

Micah: Yeah so we ask every applicant to do a video introducing themselves and while it’s a short video, we think the video is actually really important to show their personality, to show their character. Just give us a little bit of a glimpse of their passion for their business idea and who they really are. We also actually look at their application structure. Do they have a cofounder? Have they done a lot of due diligence work on the application because to us that speaks highly of their ability to attract for example a cofounder to overcome the hurdle of reaching out to prospective customers and doing a survey. And those things are very difficult for many entrepreneurs at first, but they’re critical to the application looking good to us.

Matthew: Sure. Now you have a very busy schedule for the entrepreneurs over the 13 weeks. Can you talk a little bit about what they go through and the climax at the end?

Micah: The 13 week program is essentially divided into 3 sections. Month one is a lot of networking, getting involved with mentors and essentially revisiting all of their assumptions about their business plan and what they’re trying to do here. We really push them hard to think through ever piece of their business plan. They post their pitch decks up on the wall from virtually day. And we start walking through the pitch decks and trying to understand what they’re really aiming for. Then in month two they really settle in to doing a lot of the sort of grunt work. That’s the real hard work of getting out and talking to people, doing lots of surveys, validating their data, or building prototypes for their technologies or in one case, actually two cases, we have hardware devices and hardware products that are going to be built.

Then in month three we’re actually going to be pitching to a number of different investor forums which is going to be a very very exciting month of June here in the Denver area. We’ve got the ArcView investor network that we’re going to be pitching. We’ve got the Rockies Venture Club which is the Angel Investor Group in the front range of Colorado. And then finally we have our demo day which is June 29th just before the NCIA reception for their big industry event.

Matthew: You touched on something really important there that I would like to highlight and that is you want to get the entrepreneurs out and talking to prospective customers. What does that entail and why do you feel like it’s so important to do that?

Micah: One of the biggest problems that entrepreneurs typically run into is they build their business based on their assumptions, not so much based on data. We are big fans of trying to get the data first and putting aside those assumptions. For example if I wanted to build a new phone to compete with the iPhone I could dream up some new crazy design and make it bright green and think it’s going to sell really well and it may or it may not, or I can go out and I can do a survey of 5,000 people who might buy a new phone and see what they would like and then go build it. We strongly urge entrepreneurs to look towards doing surveys being data driven, instead of relying on their own assumptions.

Matthew: Okay great point. Steve Blank, a famous Stanford professor calls it getting out of the building. You know we’re all in our own heads. We think something is a good idea and then we talk to prospective customers and they say they don’t like it, but they do like this which is something you didn’t think of and you hear it ten times and you have this light bulb over your head and go oh my god I have to pivot to this because this is what they all want. Have you seen any pivots already possibly where the business idea has to be tweaked a little bit because it’s not really something that was optimal out of the gate but they’re pivoting to something that may be more optimal now?

Micah: Yeah so one of the companies that we have is called Highest Reward, and Scott Afable the CEO came in with the idea of taking Highest Reward in the direction of a human resources data play. So he was doing a survey of employers and employees to figure out human resources practices across the cannabis industry. Now this is a big business in sort of the normal industry space. Now let’s say auto manufacturing or consulting practices etc., but it’s really new in the cannabis industry. And Scott was running into quite a bit of resistance getting the data from employers and just reaching out to people and figuring out human resources practices. One of the things though that he found as he was trying to get this survey data was that a lot of the employers in particular needed help with human resources problems really in the human resources outsourcing field. So Scott pivoted from looking at his company as a pure data play to looking at his company as one division being a data play and the other division being an outsourced HR solution for cannabis industries.

Matthew: Great point. Excellent. That’s a pretty quick pivot. It was what the end of March that Canopy Boulder launched the first class and here we are in mid April. So that’s a pretty fast pivot. So that’s pretty cool.

Micah: Yeah and I think that the speed of the accelerator process is something that is really valuable for entrepreneurs to understand. Having started a few businesses of my own and been around a lot of people starting businesses, one of the biggest problems that I’ve seen is being very slow to bring your idea to market. And this happens a lot when you’re working alone or as a small team of two or three people. You just tend to work on it nights and weekends and a little bit here and there. And it will take you months and months to bring anything to market. In the accelerator world a day is a long time and we have teams that from Monday to Tuesday will execute on several tasks, maybe make a little bit of a pivot or an adjustment to their strategy and continue moving on.

Matthew: Now Micah as we close how can listeners learn more about Canopy Boulder and also apply to another class, the next class?

Micah: Yeah the application process is best started on our website where we have a little bit of information about the program and about the application process. I would encourage any applicant to go to our website, read some of the blog posts, check out the videos, see what we’re all about. Then they can go online and complete the application as well.

Matthew: Now is Canopy Boulder accepting new investors as well?

Micah: Yes we are. We’re actually just opening our fund raise for Canopy Boulder 2016 and also our second accelerator which will be opening in San Fransico in 2016 as well.

Matthew: Awesome. Well Micah thanks so much for being on CannaInsider today. We really appreciate it.

Micah: Thank you Matt.

Matthew: If you enjoyed the show today, please consider leaving us a review on iTunes, Stitcher or whatever app you might be using to listen to the show. Every five star review helps us to bring the best guests to you. Learn more at What are the five major trends that will impact the cannabis industry in the next five years? Find out with your free report at Have a suggestion for an awesome guest on, simply send us an email at feedback at We would love to hear from you.

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The Future of Indoor Growing with Chad Sykes of Indoor Harvest

Chad Sykes

In this episode you’ll get a glimpse of what indoor growing will look like in the years ahead. Where water, nutrients, are delivered to plants on demand without the need for soil, the sun, or much growing space. Chad Sykes is the founder and CEO of Indoor Harvest, Indoor Harvest is traded under the symbol: INQD

*Get the FREE CannaInsider Podcast for your smartphone, CLICK HERE.*

Key Takeaways:
[1:22] – Chad’s background
[2:43] – What is Indoor Harvest
[4:27] – What is aeroponics
[8:29] – Chad explains his ideal way of indoor cultivation
[10:52] – How to reduce cultivation costs 70%
[13:18] – Chad explains where his ideas come from
[14:27] – Chad talks about the study being performed with Tweed
[18:35] – Chad talks about MIT’s City Farm
[20:55] – Produce that grows well using aeroponics
[23:20] – Indoor Harvest signs LOI with PUE 1.0
[28:05] – Lighting used for indoor farming
[29:11] – Chad’s final thoughts
[32:34] – Contact details for Indoor Harvest

Read Full Transcript

Matthew: Hi, I’m Matthew Kind. Every Monday and Wednesday look for a fresh episode where I’ll take you behind the scenes and interview the leaders of the rapidly evolving cannabis industry. Learn more at That’s Do you know that feeling when you sense opportunity, when you see something before most people and you just know it will be successful, then you're ready. Ready for CannaInsider Consulting. Learn more at Now here's your program.

As more capital flows into cannabis cultivation business owners are looking for ways to drive automation and yield for their plants. That’s why I’ve invited Chad Sykes CEO of Indoor Harvest to help us understand the latest in terms of technology and indoor growing. Welcome to CannaInsider Chad.

Chad: Thanks Matt.

Matthew: To give listeners a sense of geography can you tell us where you are in the world today?

Chad: Yeah we’re based in Houston, Texas about five/ten minutes from downtown Houston over here in the historic 5th Ward.

Matthew: Okay. I want to jump into everything you’re doing with Indoor Harvest, but before we do, can you tell us a little bit about your background and how you got in to indoor cultivation?

Chad: Yeah so originally I spent about ten years in the mechanical trade industry primarily on the plumbing side, but I did do some work on medical gas and HVAC. I worked for a number of mechanical contractors as a project manager and a superintendent. So I had quite a bit of experience in working on large mechanical projects, mainly hospitals. I did some breweries, dairy operations and things like that. I initially started my career out in the construction industry in mechanical trades and then served in the military and then got into doing investor relations once I got out of the military.

What basically got me into vertical farming was back in 2008 I was helping one of the first indoor farms in the United States, Angel Eyes Produce which is also the first to get organic certified vertical farming. Basically went in and was helping them raise money and that was when I was initially introduced to indoor vertical farming, and basically just followed the industry since now and been following ever since. And in 2011 I felt that there was an opportunity here so I quit my IR job and started Indoor Harvest.

Matthew: Now tell us exactly what Indoor Harvest does.

Chad: Okay so basically what we did was having followed the vertical farming industry since 2008, basically what I did was followed it and identified some key issues with how people were approaching the industry. There’s been a lot of large failures in the industry, VertiCrop, TerraSphere, companies like that. And basically what they all had in common was they were designing a large pre-engineered system. So you would franchise the system or license the system. The problem with that though is in vertical farming how you sell your crops, your business plan itself, you know, and the building, the infrastructure of local markets, everything all really dictates how the facility should be build. And so a one size fits all solution just really isn’t the future of vertical farming.

So we’ve spent all of our time since 2011 developing individual fixture components that we can basically combine in a number of variety of ways to build a variety of system types. So I guess the big differentiator between us and other people in the industry is that we’re setting up to be a mechanical contractor. What that means is we can be hired and do all the design and build work from process flow to automation, the system itself. Everything is completely designed from the ground up specific to that client’s needs. So we’ve basically developed all these fixtures, we just basically combine them using standard mechanical construction techniques.

Matthew: So to understand indoor farming it’s probably helpful to understand what aeroponics are. Can you explain briefly what that means, that term?

Chad: Yeah so aeroponics is the one discipline of cultivation that we’ve decided to focus on, but we do offer hydroponic methods and things like that. They’re a little more less complex than aeroponics, but the primary benefit of aeroponics itself is a dramatic reduction in water usage. You typically see about a 60 percent decrease in fertilizer usage. You can typically run an aeroponics system drain to waste and use the same amount of water as you would typically see in a recirculating hydroponic system. So you eliminate a lot of the controls and risk factors that go along with recirculating the system. You also see higher yields, faster growth, sometimes in the neighborhood of 30 to 40 percent faster. And you see higher photochemicals in the plants. So one of the reasons we chose to focus on high pressure aero, and not necessarily for produce production, I personally believe that for the most part hydroponics is going to be the indoor method primarily used to cultivate the low margin crops.

Our primary target market with the high pressure aero system is actually what we call bio-manufacturing or for plant based expression where crops are grown indoors primarily for their chemical content which is used in the pharmaceutical industry quite a bit to grow a variety of vaccines and various proteins. Yeah the big issue is, you know, the big issues looming right now are going to be, for example, antibiotics. We’re going to have a huge issue with antibiotics and new antibiotics which was recently discussed in a Vice News program on HBO that you know, most of these new antibiotics are going to probably most likely be plant based dry. So we’re going to you know extract the chemicals from these new found plants deep in the Amazon and you know they’ll have to be cultivated in order to express the plant or pull the chemicals out. That’s primarily what we’re developing on the high pressure aero side is a pharmaceutical based type production platform.

Matthew: So I understand this correctly, so aeroponics is kind of using a mist to nurture a plant to drive some compound out of the plant, but maybe not use the whole plant itself. Whereas hydroponics it’s some sort of soilless medium where you actually do want the full plant. Is that accurate?

Chad: Close. I mean basically the big difference is in the response of the plant. So with aeroponics, especially if you’re doing research, you can make changes to the inputs of the plant, both the climate environment and the nutrients and water amounts. And what you see is an immediate change in the plant. So when you’re using hydroponics you don’t typically see an immediate change in the plant. So you know it takes a couple of days to see changes once you’ve changed your formula. Whereas with the aeroponics because the plant is feeding so efficiently you can make very precision changes and then identify what that’s done to the plant itself.

The primary reason for this is because since the roots are being fed about a 50 micron mist, the water molecules and the nutrients and the atoms and all that kind of good stuff are more readily available to the plants, especially if you’re using an inorganic fertilizer. So the plants basically feed very very efficiently as opposed to hydroponics.

Matthew: Now when you look at indoor cannabis cultivation, I’m sure you don’t see it with the same lens as the average person. Can you just kind of walk us through how you think about cannabis cultivation done indoors? There’s the typical, traditional way that it’s done and the way that you would see it as an ideal. Can you just kind of walk us through that?

Chad: Yeah so the primary way most commercial facilities are cultivating cannabis are either in pots like coco or soil or their using like flood and drain system with rockwool. Basically the methods that are being used today in the cannabis are pretty much what the elicit growers were using for the last several decades. You know there’s been some advances in lighting technology. There’s been advances in HVAC and things of that nature, but there really hasn’t been any change in how the crops themselves are cultivated.

So the difference between a platform like ours is basically with cannabis you could expect as much as a 70 to 80 percent reduction in cost of goods using a platform like ours. You know, this is mainly the reduction in fertilizer usage, the reduction in labor because you eliminate all the labor associated with managing the medium. So if you got a grow with thousands of pots of soil or rockwool, that has to be disposed of and managed. So you eliminate all of that. The faster production rate, you’re going to get a faster production rate with aeroponics, and you have more precision control over the photochemical makeup. So you can dial the system in. You can purposely stress the plants to produce higher levels of photochemicals. So it’s an all around better platform. It’s basically like comparing a Pinto to a Porsche.

I believe the reason these technologies haven’t been adopted yet is just primarily because they haven’t been developed yet. To my knowledge we’re the first company actively doing controlled research and development to bring aeroponics into the cannabis cultivation.

Matthew: So I really want to dig into that 70 percent reduction, and I’m sure that’s probably an estimate, but it’s fascinating. Cultivators out there or business owners want to know, hey what exactly is the 70 percent. So you’re not lugging around huge bags of soil for one, so you need less space. It’s entirely more efficient and you’re delivering right to the root system exactly what it needs when it needs it. But what else, I mean what else makes up that 70 cost reduction?

Chad: It’s primarily just the operation itself. I mean for example I personally believe over the next decade or so you’ll start to see cannabis flowers becoming more of a connoisseur type product. I think that eventually the market will move more towards extracts and that’s only because of the labor involved in drying and curing and packaging raw flowers. I can envision in the future, you know, a large automated platform where there’s very minimal human input. You know a situation like aeroponics I mean if you’re dealing with any kind of a medium, that’s going to complicate the automation process. But if you’re working with a system that has no medium, you know, you can more readily automate that process.

So I would imagine future cannabis cultivation is going to be very strain specific or specific strains will be developed based on their growing qualities. You know for example you could see large scale sea of green type automated facilities that would go straight to extraction. So there’s minimal waste and ease of manufacturing. Basically long story short I mean the cannabis industry when I look at, you know, it’s about where the 8 track cassette player was. And we’re basically right now wrapping up development on the CD-ROM. I guess that’s a good way to kind of explain as we’re really working on the high tech side of the industry, you know, capex costs for these types of equipments are higher. I think due to the huge price, you know, of cannabis because it’s still technically in parity with the illicit market and things like that. There really hasn’t been no incentive for growers to use more advance technology, but I think that’s going to change. I think price pressures, you know, as the market started to become saturated and your supply and demand starts to come in parity with each other, I think what you’ll end up seeing is a move towards more higher automation just to be able to compete.

Matthew: Now where do you get your ideas for automation? I mean do they come to you in a dream? Do you take them from other industries? I mean do you go over to Holland because I’ve heard they’re way ahead of us, ten years ahead of us in their cultivation practices. Where do you get them? Is it necessity is the mother of invention? Where do your ideas come from?

Chad: You know I had no background in horticulture before I started this company. You know I just basically looked at it from a mechanical process. And for me when I was introduced to aeroponics everybody sort of displayed it as being some really high tech method and to me it was just a high pressure nozzle system that you would typically see in dust suppression in a mine or any sort of chemical process. So you know from a mechanical point of view I just looked at what people were doing and decided I can do that better. I can do it easier. And so we got started playing around with it and so that’s where we’re at today. And I guess it’s just a knowledge of mechanical processes. Whether you’re doing a dairy facility or a meat processing facility or a large hospital medical gas system. These are all large mechanical systems that require a certain level of automation and that’s my background.

Matthew: Now we’ve had the CEO of Tweed, Bruce Lenten, on CannaInsider in the past. I understand you’re doing a pilot study with them. Can you tell us a little bit about that?

Chad: Yeah so we needed, we had already developed our high pressure platform. We had already filed patents on the particular design that we developed, but what we needed for cannabis was to do additional R and D to be able to develop the platform for cannabis specifically. And each plant is a little different based on how its root structure develops and things like that.

So what we did with Tweed was we wanted to find a grower outside of the United States because of all the federal issues and you know we ended up setting on working with Tweed. And the purpose of this whole relationship with Tweed was to do the R and D that we needed to finish out developing this platform to bring to market. So we set up a pilot at Tweed’s facility and basically that pilot is underway right now. It started about a week ago. And we’ll start to get feedback based on how the plants are growing. And what that feedback will allow us to do is basically develop IP for the process, for specific to cannabis. And then what would happen is Tweed would have the rights to that IP outside of the United States and we would have the rights for the IP inside the United States, and we would have the exclusive manufacturing of all systems for period of ten years. So if Tweed likes the pilot, if they like the results, then they would have access to the IP for use in their facilities.

Matthew: So to give listeners a sense of context here, I believe health Canada has awarded somewhere in the neighborhood of 25 cannabis cultivation licenses. Tweed has one of them. And to compete in this market in Canada, you have to raise a lot of capital and it’s legal to raise capital on a national level. So Tweed is a publically traded company that’s raised a lot of money and they can really invest in their best cultivation practices. How large is the, roughly is the size of Tweed’s grow there in Canada, Chad.

Chad: I mean it’s pretty sizable. I’m not sure the exact space that they have. Having been in their facility they definitely have a lot of room to grow. I believe the facility they’re currently in, the indoor facility is I think roughly 400,000 square feet. I may be wrong about that.

Matthew: Yeah it’s enourmous.

Chad: What I can say, I’ve been in the facility and they’ve definitely got tons of room to expand.

Matthew: That’s good. Is there one aspect of the pilot that excites you the most that you think Tweed will see the most benefit from.

Chad: I think ultimately it will just be the data, the data that we pull out. You know the question will be whether it makes sense to their capex plans to you know to retrofit it or to do it slowly or whatever. You know I don’t know whether or not Tweed will end up using the equipment, but for us you know the relationship, the data that we get will allow us to develop the platform out regardless.

To back up a little bit, I mean, we’re not doing this to prove aeroponics works. We know it works. We’ve used the system. We’ve grown a number of in house technology pilots ourselves and then MIT has been using a platform we built for them for over a year and a half now, and they’ve grown a wide range of cultivars. They’ve grown everything from lettuce to cotton. And the numbers are pretty much average. I mean you pretty much see the same benefits regardless of the crop. So I don’t suspect this will be any different with cannabis.

Matthew: Yeah let’s talk about MIT a little bit. So they have a program called City Farm where they’re looking to help metro areas grow food vertically I believe in a kind of metropolitan environment versus a rural environment. Is that accurate?

Chad: For the most part yes. Basically MIT City Farm is developing the sort of brain or the software infrastructure which would be open source. So what they’re developing is a open source automation platform that will be able to collect a wide range of data and then share that data across the network basically for research purposes and hobbyists could use it to share lighting recipes and things like that. But also what City Farm is working on right now is developing a software platform that would be open source that would allow developers to develop a wide range of technologies for indoor farming upon that platform. It’s real similar a parallel to 3D printing. I mean that was basically designed out of MIT as well. You seen how well the 3D printing open source makers movement has really exploded because of that.

I think that openly what MIT is wanting to do is make the data and the platforms available to researchers and developers to help speed up development of vertical farming. Because the thing to understand is you know, even though cannabis growers have been growing indoors for years only recently has the produce role started to grow indoors. And there’s more money, you know, being invested into research in that area because of interest in food security and things like that. You’re not seeing that research being done in cannabis. I think that’s primarily because again there’s been no incentive for growers to really invest in new technology because the profit margins are so high or the cost of cannabis is so high. I mean compare that to a produce product like lettuce. I mean there’s no reason cannabis should be $2,000 a pound basically. So I think that ultimately that’s what, MIT is basically working towards developing open source platforms.

Matthew: So is there certain produce that lends itself to really doing well in the indoor growing environment with aeroponics. You mentioned lettuce. Is there any others?

Chad: Aeroponics will grow just about anything. I mean you can even take hardwood cuttings off of a shrub or a tree and you know for many strains or many types of hard woods you can actually propagate the hard wood from a cutting just like you would clone a tomato or a cannabis plant. So there’s a huge range of applications for aeroponics not just for what we consider crop production. There’s ornamental production, there’s mass production, there’s seedlings for forestry and things like that. So the applications are quite wide and vary dramatically.

There’s still actually, to be quite honest, a ton of R and D left to do. We’ve been approached to look at things like, you know, developing platforms to grow ginger, to grow saffron. So there’s definitely interest out there in the markets for very specific niche platforms. This R and D just has to be done. I mean nobody’s doing it really so somebody has to.

Matthew: Now there’s some large players like Aero Farms who have not gotten involved in cannabis. Why do you think that is?

Chad: Well I’m not specific to why Aero Farms has not. My gut reaction is that it’s just probably simply that the platform’s just not really designed to grow cannabis. The other issue I think for many or most people in our industry, in the vertical farming industry, the reason they have not crossed over to cannabis is that many of them are research heavy. So they’re being funded typically through colleges or research grants or things like that. And I think just simply being involved in cannabis is a concern for those groups because they could possibly lose their grant and research funding. All of our research has been privately funded. We have not attempted to gain any funding, but we could easily probably get it, but you know it is a sensitive topic. It’s a political topic and vertical farming is an industry that is moving towards government subsidies and research grants and things like that. So I think for a lot of these companies they just don’t want associate for that particular reason.

Matthew: Now Indoor Harvest recently signed a LOI with PUE 1.0, can you tell us more about that?

Chad: Yeah so PUE approached us, saw our news release about what we were working on in the vertical farming industry and they were looking to bring their HVAC system that is used in the data center industry to the vertical farming industry because there’s a lot of great technological features that would benefit indoor farming with PUE’s platform. And it’s a little different than your standard chill water or DX system. They include a heat well which is from a Koyoto. And long story short they basically have really really a high level of efficiency compared to other systems especially in cooler climates.

So the vertical farming for produce for example is going to be prevalent in areas where their water resources are going to be an issue or where climate such as cold weather or lack of sun or minimal sun like Canada and places like that, that’s where you’re going to really see vertical farms develop out. And in the colder climates these systems that PUE makes are in incredibly incredibly efficient. They’re able to take in outside air up to 60 or they can take 90, I think it’s 94 degree temperature inside facility temperatures and reduce that to 72 degrees with no compressor runs as long as the ambient temperature outside is 68 degrees. So it’s a very highly efficient system. And when we did our due diligence you know we found that there was a good fit. And so the letter of intent we signed with PUE is basically the first step in a collaboration with them to bring or develop their platform to work with indoor farming.

Matthew: Now you mentioned that indoor farming lends itself well to some place where water is scarce. You recently signed another LOI with the city of Pasadena. Can you tell us about that?

Chad: Yeah so the city of Pasadena Project is something we’re probably the most excited about. It is a public… if we can get everything set with the city, it would be a public/private partnership. So there would be a commercial aspect to what we’re doing as well as a nonprofit aspect. The primary purpose for us with the facility is to just basically develop a large scale demonstration farm. So something we can number one do long term R and D in. The other thing is to season our team, you know, it’s not like you can go out and hire somebody with experience in indoor farming. It’s a very very young industry. So there’s only a handful of people that are out there that have the knowledge.

So one of the benefits of this project is it’s going to include an academic aspect. So the city is trying to tie that into the academics that are local in Pasadena and Houston so that the facility would both serve not only as our demonstration facility and long term R and D facility, but it would also serve as a facility to educate and train the next generation of indoor farmers, especially managers and operators and things like that. So it’s a pretty broad project and it’s also part of Pasadena’s redevelopment plan for the North Pasadena area. So it’s going to be for the most part a show piece of that area. The facility itself is just really a big CSR R and D type of situation where we’re being subsidized by the city to provide fresh food and education and all the good stuff that comes with the nonprofit side of the project.

Matthew: Do you have any ideas on what kind of food is going to be grown there?

Chad: At present no. We actually have a project meeting May 4th and in that project meeting we’re going to start discussing the terms of the MOU which would be the final proposal that would then go in front of the city, the city council. And so I’m not exactly sure how that’s all going to work out just yet. Ultimately what we have to do is bring in some specialists here in the city of Houston and Pasadena to determine what the market is for particular crops. And ultimately the business, the commercial side of the business or the for profit side of the business will be based solely on what we think would be the most effective solution for the Pasadena area. But that will take place in the next month or so once we start doing that R and D.

Matthew: What kind of lighting do you typically use on the projects you work on? Is it traditional, LEDs, something else?

Chad: I mean as a mechanical contractor, for the most part we’re agnostics to lighting. We typically provide the client with information and let them decide. We do work closely with Illumintex which is an LED company. They’re sort of our default light system because it integrates well into our framing platform. But in terms of lighting, you know, like I said we are a mechanical contractor so we’ll use any lighting system that meets the client’s specifications. So it’s just really basically we just provide the client with information and allow them to make an informed decision on their own.

Matthew: Now Chad in closing do you have any final thoughts on how commercial cannabis cultivators should start to evolve their thinking around become more efficient because I feel the way you’re going is kind of inevitability here in the next five or ten years. And if there’s some cultivators listening now that can make some of these changes or tweaks that you’re talking about, adjust their thinking and process, they can have a real advantage. Is there anything you can share?

Chad: Again it’s just really about automation. You know, creating consistency in your crop. I’ve been in a lot of cannabis grows, and you know a good percentage of them didn’t have adequate integrated test management. You know, it has a lot to do with facility design I think. The best thing I can tell growers out there right now is don’t rush into setting up the cheapest grow you can because your more heavily funded competitor is going to develop a more advanced, more efficient platform and ultimately produce the product cheaper. So that’s the best thing I can tell growers is to look at what are the advanced technologies. Don’t assume you know rockwool and coco is the state of the art because it’s currently not. So that would be my best advice to growers is to just look out there and see what technologies are available, and there’s a lot of really interesting new technologies being developed on the produce side.

Matthew: Yeah. And a lot of cultivators that are on the fence about how to use this new technology might take a small portion of their grow and dedicate it to trying new things to see how it works and you know how they can evolve.

Chad: Definitely, like I said, it’s ultimately going to come down to technology is going to evolve in the space to make operations more efficient. If that’s changing from high pressure sodium to LEDs, that alone is a pretty good drop. I know that some growers don’t like LEDs because they see generally a 20 to 30 percent reduction in their production output, but I think that if they looked at their grams per watt of their actual cost of goods, they would see that they actually have a higher margin. So as long as they can increase their production to meet whatever production they’re looking for, they would have a higher margin. Ultimately technology in this space is moving very quickly. It’s another reason why we have not focused on a pre-engineered system like companies like AeroFarms and other companies out there is that the technology is moving so quickly in the space it’s just better for us to focus on what are the new technologies and then adapt those to our current construction methods.

Matthew: Fascinating stuff. What I hear you saying is like don’t have a technology religion. You know, you said be agnostic. I think let the data speak for itself, try new things.

Chad: Exactly and there’s a lot of companies out there that say they have the next greatest best thing and ultimately for us as a mechanical contractor you know building out this Pasadena facility will provide us a location to test out these products and see if they actually, you know, can be integrated into our construction methodology. It really is. The technology is moving very quickly. This whole indoor farming space is truly at its infancy. And I think that if investors in the market were to closely look at our company they would find that we are probably one of the few companies positioned to be a design, build, engineer for the space.

Matthew: Now Chad where can investors learn more about Indoor Harvest and then people that are interested in becoming clients perhaps learn more?

Chad: Well the first thing they can go to our website which We’re also pretty active on Twitter and that’s at We also blog pretty regularly about our operations on our Facebook page which is also You can reach us through any of those mediums. You can also go to our website and email us through our contact form. For our aeroponics platform we’re probably still at least another six to eight months out to wrap up development there, but if growers are interested, they can contact us. We are about to release our shallow raft system. So we’re hopefully going to get sales started on that either later this month or early next month.

Matthew: Okay. And is there a ticker symbol associated with Indoor Harvest?

Chad: Yeah the ticker symbol is INQD and we trade over the counter, actually OTC markets, OTCQB and we were one of the few companies that went public through an S1 directly as opposed to a reverse merger.

Matthew: Okay great. Well Chad thanks so much for coming on CannaInsider and educating us about indoor growing. This is a fascinating topic and I know a lot of people are going to be interested in learning how they can update their grows to get somewhere near the Star Trek utopia you’re talking about here.

Chad: The Star Trek utopia is not that far away.

Matthew: Cool. Thanks for being on CannaInsider Chad.

Chad: Thank you Matt.

Matthew: If you enjoyed the show today, please consider leaving us a review on iTunes. Every five star review helps us to bring the best guests to you. Learn more at What are the five disruptive trends that will shape the cannabis industry in the next five years? Find out with your free report at Have a suggestion for an awesome guest on, simply send us an email at feedback at We would love to hear from you.

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The Five Disruptive Trends Shaping The Cannabis Industry Now

Creating a Cannabis Edibles Company from Scratch with Julie Dooley

Julie Dooley

Interview with Julie Dooley, Founder of Julie’s Natural Edibles. Julie discusses the different ways to make cannabis infused edibles. Learn how different strains of edibles can affect your symptoms. We explore why Julie uses cannabis butter for her edibles.

*Guess What? You could be listening to this interview on your commute. Get the FREE iPhone app or Android App*

Key Takeaways:
[1:18] – Julie’s background
[2:38] – Julie discusses gluten sensitivity
[3:46] – What licenses are required to create edibles
[4:41] – Julie discusses how she cooks with cannabis
[6:37] – Julie talks about how they break down the cannabis plant
[9:23] – Julie explains why they use the butter
[10:42] – Julie discusses specific strains they use in their edibles
[13:49] – Julie explains how the butter is uniform in dosage
[15:31] – What does high metabolizers and low metabolizers mean
[17:22] – Do people get relief from autoimmune problems from edibles
[19:01] – What are flavonoids and terpenoids
[23:02] – Does having a full or empty stomach affect the effects of an edible
[25:37] – Julie discusses her appearance on the Pot Barons of Colorado
[26:51] – What’s next for Julie’s Natural Edibles
[27:23] – Julie’s Natural Edibles contact information

Read Full Transcript

Matthew: Hi, I’m Matthew Kind. Every Monday and Wednesday look for a fresh new episode where I’ll take you behind the scenes and interview the insiders that are shaping the rapidly evolving cannabis industry. Learn more at That’s Are you looking for a fulfilling and lucrative career in the cannabis industry? Visit That’s Now here’s your program.

Cannabis infused edibles continue to take market share away from flower at an accelerating pace. One of the reasons for this is there are many entrepreneurs creating tasty and healthy infused edibles that entice and delight us. Today we’re going to talk with one of the entrepreneurs doing interesting things in the edible space. I am pleased to welcome the owner of Julie’s Natural Edibles, Julie Dooley, to CannaInsider. Welcome Julie.

Julie: Thank you Matt for having me.

Matthew: Julie to give us a sense of geography, can you tell us where you are today?

Julie: Yes I am located in Denver, Colorado inside a manufacturing facility.

Matthew: Okay, and what’s your background? How did you get started making edibles?

Julie: So kind of a long story made short, I started my journey with education in genetics. I became a parent. I ended up working in the finance industry for many years as a budget officer mainly for a university here in Colorado. And then I entered into the entrepreneurial space in 2009 to jump into the edible market. Continue on if that’s okay Matt.

Matthew: Sure, absolutely.

Julie: So I was diagnosed with celiac disease in 2001 which kind of changed the entire course of my life. I began to pay attention to food and the sources and what I put into my body. And during this journey I was introduced to cannabis which helped with the issues related to celiac disease and continues to be my top choice anytime I need relief.

Matthew: Now you mentioned celiac disease and obviously gluten is involved in aggravating celiac disease, but I feel like that… is it possible that it’s the GMO in wheat or modern wheat that’s causing these sensitivities? I mean I know this is maybe anecdotal, but it seems like a lot of people when I was young could eat gluten and now there’s a real sensitivity to it. Do you notice that as well?

Julie: Yes, well I’m not a nutritionist. I do pay attention. I am very familiar with foods and the sources and agriculture today. I definitely would agree that wheat grown today is entirely different than it was 100 years ago. And it’s been modified to such an extent that celiac such as myself I don’t recognize it as a food anymore. It’s literally an antibody that my body attacks. Therefore it’s becoming much more prevalent in today’s society with the American diet as it is consuming the agriculture, the GMOs that we’re not sure what they’re going to do in our body. It’s an increasing food related illness. I would definitely agree with that.

Matthew: And for listeners that want to learn more about modern wheat and the problems it’s causing a great book is Wheat Belly, if you get a chance to read that. Now many people don’t understand there’s different kinds of licenses in Colorado. You’re not a dispensary and you’re not a cultivator. What kind of licenses do you need to create edibles?

Julie: So I’m known as a manufacturer or infused products here in the State of Colorado. The Department of Revenue is the specific area where I get my license from at the state level, and it’s an annual license. We are also licensed by the city that you’re manufacturing in. In my case it’s the city of Denver, Colorado. So we have a separate license with them. That’s also annual, and within the city of Denver we’re monitored by the traditional health department, fire department, you know, public neighborhood area and zoning if you will and like any normal manufacturing food facility would be.

Matthew: Now there’s a lot of ways to cook with cannabis, can you describe at a high level how you do that with butter or oil or what your preferences are?

Julie: Absolutely. So essentially once we’ve infused our marijuana into clarified butter or coconut oil in my kitchen. We bake with it as we please. The difference between home baked edibles versus manufactured edibles is laboratory testing and scientific methods maintained throughout the baking process. Does that answer your question.

Matthew: Yes, well when you talk about clarified butter, you know, a lot of us may not be familiar with that, people listening. Now Ghee is typically associated with Indian food, but is it the same thing. How is it different and what is clarified butter exactly?

Julie: Good question. Clarified butter is essentially the milk solids have been removed from the butter oil. So the flavor is still intact, but now you’re dealing with a pure oil, and in our case we use it strictly for a longer shelf life purposes.

Matthew: Okay, now someone that has a lactose intolerance are they typically, is it easier for them to handle clarified butter than other kinds of butter?

Julie: So again I’m not a nutritionist or a doctor, but for people with dairy intolerance I do know personally some that can handle clarified butter. That’s not why we chose to use it of course. It’s to extend the self life our natural products, but for people that do have dairy intolerance we also brew into a coconut oil just for that reason so we can offer somebody with a dairy intolerance still an edible that’s manufactured at a high level.

Matthew: Now for breaking down cannabis sugar leaf, flower or trim into oil, do you have a preference as far as BHO, CO2, alcohol? I know there’s a lot of different people saying things, different things out there. I’d like to hear what you think about that.

Julie: Yeah absolutely. So in our kitchen at Julie’s Natural Edibles we extract exclusively into clarified butter or coconut oil. We love this natural, old fashioned extraction. The attraction of cannabinoids to fat is very natural in nature and it pulls the cannabinoids off the plant in a slow warm process. So it’s easy, it’s safe. We don’t have the fire department worried about what we’re doing. As far as the other extractions, BHO, CO2 are similar in that they’re both a gas that’s used to extract on a cold level and it’s a lot faster and it produces a much more intensely potent oil. Not to say it’s bad, it’s just a different extraction which requires hardcore industrial machinery at this level. Alcohol is a truly cold extraction and really good for people who are using this as strictly a medicine. So I love the alcohol extraction, but that is again not something we do in the kitchen here.

Matthew: Now can you get the full cannabinoid profile from the plant when you’re going directly into butter or is there any limitations there?

Julie: So since current lab testing, this was an interesting question I thought Matt, because current lab testing doesn’t truly offer us all of the cannabinoid profile. To date, my laboratory that I use can test for nine cannabinoids only, and we do know that the butter when we do an extraction can show all nine. Now some of these we don’t want to show. We’re traditionally trying to avoid a cannabinoid called CBN. Now that makes you sleepy, and if we’re trying to do an uplifting product, we would avoid that cannabinoid all together. And we’ve learned through the years how to avoid it. So we strategically are extracting four specific cannabinoids that we can test for right now. In the future we’re going to be, every year we anticipate that the laboratories will be able to expand on this and we’ll get more and more information from these reports. Once we do then we’ll continue to go after certain cannabinoids.

Matthew: Now I want to kind of give listeners some context on the differences between, you know, BHO, CO2, alcohol extraction and what you’re doing with butter. Would you say what you’re doing with butter is kind of maybe a more natural and kind of a comfort food approach versus the others which seem to be more like hardcore industrial? Is that a fair description?

Julie: Yeah absolutely. It’s a natural. It’s an easy process. You know it took me still about a year to hone and perfect, and I couldn’t have done it without the laboratory testing helping. So it was relatively easy for me to get involved in whereas I said yeah, you need industrial level rooms at this level. The city of Denver has gotten very strict about extraction process and something that’s flammable is going to catch the eye of the fire department of course and they’re concerned. And so they lay down a lot more restrictions for those type of extractions. And so that’s why now I actually believe in CO2 extraction. We love that extraction for one of our products that needs to have a higher potency. So we buy that from a professional who makes that here in Boulder, Colorado. We don’t even try and get in their alley. We just leave those extractors to specialize in what they do and then I become kind of the specialist in butter.

Matthew: Okay so you, you know, a lot of times when we buy edibles we don’t know what strain of cannabis it comes from. It might just say hybrid or a sativa or indica. It doesn’t go into a strain. Do you edibles go into specific strains?

Julie: Absolutely, and that the scientist in me Matt. I want to understand cannabis on a very deep level and that’s part of the mission of our company is to learn about it and then to educate about it. And to do that we have to stay true to the string that way we can kind of dissect that one particular strain, understand anecdotally how it acts in the body for a general consensus. It’s going to be different for everybody, but generally we can start to predict that a specific strain is going to behave a certain way. And to do that you have to stay true to the strain. Now because I’ve been in this business for five years and have been testing for five years Julie’s natural edibles is able to start to blend hybrid and creating our own hybrid if you will going after specific anecdotal results. So for instance I want low anxiety that also stimulates the appetite. So I might need to combine two strains to get that desired result and having not understood the strain by itself I wouldn’t be able to then eventually blend it or not. Some of them are perfect just as they stand, and we’re happy to provide that to the public then so that they can appreciate and start learn themselves. Oh Afghani it’s an indica. It makes me kind of relax, and then they see Afghani again and they know what to expect and they can reach for that.

Matthew: Okay and what’s your most popular strain/product right now?

Julie: Our most popular is what we have in stock.

Matthew: Okay.

Julie: Basically I have seven strains currently. One second, we’ve got an Afghani of course which I just mentioned which is an indica and tends to keep people relaxed. It’s an low anxiety. We have something called D.J. Short Flow. Anything with Flow in it is a low anxiety, but this is still and uplifting sativa. We have something called Kaboom which is another uplifting sativa and that can be uplifting and a very intense euphoria, and so understanding Kaboom I can kind of prepare you for this intense euphoria that traditionally accompanies a strain like that. There’s more strains in the kitchen. They’re all fabulous. Get to know them and love them and we’ll keep producing them.

Matthew: So when you create a big batch of butter how do you make sure that when you get it on granola or one of your products that it’s perfectly uniform? It’s one thing I’ve been wondering about because, you know, especially with something like granola that’s loose. It’s like how do I know this bite is uniform with this bit in terms of getting a dosage?

Julie: That’s a great question and as an educator in consuming edibles I really appreciate this question because we worked hard to get to homogeneity which is kind of what you’re referring to right now. And to make a homogenous product that is the same as the first granola that I produced as the last granola we use the lab. That’s essentially how we master the technique. We tried several different ways of mixing and preparing and then when we consistently got a good lab result from one piece… the first one out of the batch and the middle out of the batch and then the last one we’re getting consistent results, we stick with that method. So basically the critical part to that question is that we have to use and work in tandem with a laboratory. Their tests are everything to our products. And once we receive the results then we just use the data to create the recipe.

Matthew: Okay.

Julie: And then of course we do verify our math by resubmitting finished product. So we submit it for potency and then we’ll do homogeneity. We’re also testing for microbials, and that’s been really helpful to help us determine shelf life for these products.

Matthew: Now as a creator of edibles I’m sure you’re very familiar with people that are high metabolizers and low metabolizers. Can you talk a little bit about what that means in the context of edibles and how people should think about it?

Julie: So start low and go slow is how we tell everybody how to consume an edible. You don’t, if you’ve never had it, it’s an entirely different experience than smoking cannabis and it lasts longer. It’s much more effective as far as pain relief and anxiety relief or whatever kind of relief you’re trying to achieve. I’m sorry.

Matthew: Low metabolizer.

Julie: Yes. I’m so sorry. So the metabolism, and so everybody’s different. So starting low, going slow. Once you’re familiar with it, then you can start to gauge what your dose is going to be and that’s where it’s so important to continue to use products that are produced at a level we produce at Julie’s Natural Edibles and other manufacturers here in Colorado where we lab test and that way you can kind of get used to what is a 10mg serving and is that effective for you or are you going to need 12mg or are you going to need 25mg. And so it’s kind of backwards whereas like the pharmaceutical company kind of gives you a pill bottle and suggests a serving or a dose, we do the opposite, try a little bit. Try a little bit more if necessary. It’s kind of you have to gauge it yourself. So understanding your own metabolism is very important.

Matthew: Now autoimmune issues there’s a lot of, it seems like a lot of autoimmune issues right now and there’s more and more I hear about it every day; Crohn’s disease, psoriasis, rheumatoid arthritis and there is more. Is there any of your edibles that you’ve heard anecdotally that people are really getting relief from their autoimmune problems?

Julie: So it’s a good question, and I thought about that a lot because I myself am a celiac. I have an autoimmune disease, and do I gravitate towards a specific strain, and the answer is no. It really depends for me on my mood and what time of day I want to consume it at. And you know my state of mind is very important. That being said, there’s some days that the flare up is really extensive and you know very painful and you’re looking for the strongest relief, that’s when I would gear towards a CBD. Anything higher, the cannabinoid known as CBD which I’m sure people are starting to really hear that word. Basically it is a cannabinoid that’s been isolated on the plant and it is a large reason that people are starting to be familiar with cannabis in general because of its ability to help with anti-inflammatory. It’s great for anti-nausea. We know that it’s helping with the neurological disorders. And so I would say that to somebody who is new, who really is in a peak bad experience during their autoimmunity, you know, because it kind of ebb and flows with any autoimmune. You have good days and bad days. So a high CBD would be something that I would gravitate towards.

Matthew: Now what about flavonoids and terpenoids? Can you explain what these are and how we should think about them in the context of edibles?

Julie: Yeah another great question Matt. So this is, flavonoids and terpenoids are responsible for the flavors and for the color and for the odor that cannabis might have. Now somebody like myself, I’m a connoisseur, if you will, of cannabis now. I am very familiar with strains and what I’m looking for in flavors. When I detect a sweet smell for instance, that’s a flavonoid that’s responsible for keeping that… I know that it’s going to be a relaxing edible. The sweet smelling cannabis is usually a higher indica and we know that indica dominance can be much more relaxing.

So it’s something that we actually look for now. And the sweeter they are, we’re starting to learn that that can mean even something more, and I’m just so excited to continue on the study of flavonoids and terpenoids. Without a microscope you can look at the cannabis and you can see yellow hairs or purple hairs as people call them off of the bud, and that is a flavonioid or a terpenoid. And when you smell it it’s sweet or it’s citrus or its opi, that again is terpenetes [ph] responsible for that. We can taste it in the butter as well. That does transfer. Once we get into an edible that flavor is not as dominant, however it’s still responsible for the anecdotal property that we’re expecting from the edible itself. So it does matter. Like I said if I’m looking for a sweet, a relaxing edible, I’ll look for a sweet smelling cannabis.

Matthew: It’s funny how far it’s come. I mean since I was in college it seemed like the quality was just unbelievably low and now it seems like it’s something from outer space. It just incredible variety and quality.

Julie: There is some truly wonderful growers in this state for sure.

Matthew: Now I have a friend that just loves your granola, and she swears that it acts way faster than other edibles, not necessarily stronger, but faster. Have you heard that feedback before?

Julie: You know I have and here is what we know about that. And this is still new data, so bear with us as we continue to study this, but because our edible is paired with fat, the natural oil of butter or coconut oil and then it’s paired with something like an oat or even a cranberry, we know that when they’re absorbed in the body it’s a little bit faster than if it was paired with just sugar which will essentially kind of fly through your digestive system. Some of it gets absorbed, some won’t . But when you pair it with a fat it’s a lot longer, you know, your body gives it a lot more attention essentially and it gets relatively quickly absorbed in the blood.

So that could be what you friend is experiencing, and we’re happy that she noticed that because that’s something that I was very… I had to, when I was creating the recipes for Julie’s Natural Edibles back in 2010, we knew that I couldn’t use sugar in the kitchen because that’s not the way I eat. We knew that we couldn’t use gluten because I’m a celiac and that wasn’t going to work. We did this without understanding truly that pairing with fat was naturally going to be a better product. And now that five years later that we know that in fact we may also understand a little bit why, we’re really proud of creating a product that’s good for you on many levels.

Matthew: Now how would eating a big, fatty or protein rich meal before consuming one of your edibles change the impact versus having let’s say an empty stomach?

Julie: Great question. So this is, again, to do with the fat. Assuming that the meal you ate was loaded with proteins and fats, your body is going to have that in its stomach and its early part of the digestive system, then the THC gets introduced. And the THC is going to bounce from fat to fat and then eventually into the blood stream. Once it hits the liver then all bets are off and we call that your second peak by the way. And that’s where we suggest people have planned their peak and they are where they’re supposed to be at that point. If you’ve eaten a meal, again, what happens in the liver is going to be much more intense. I’m still in the learning process of why so stay tuned. It’s kind of, we laugh, not that I’m a scientist like Einstein but something like that we just knew, you know, that gravity existed. We don’t know why. We know pairing THC with fat is really effective, but we’re still just learning why.

Matthew: Right. So it’s the exact opposite of alcohol, you know, you don’t want to be fall over drunk with a couple drinks, you have some food first. But with THC and cannabis, you know, having a fatty, protein rich meal can really turn up the volume on the effects.

Julie: Exactly, and that is a good point, if you don’t mind me throwing in here, that if you do find yourself that you ate, and I recommend eating before you consume an edible actually because on an empty stomach you can have kind of similar to the burps from omega pills. That can happen if you have an empty stomach. I’ve known people that have given us feedback, and we want to avoid that, but also then you have to eat less of the edible and that’s important because you know these edibles are expensive. And one dose, once you kind of figure out what your one dose is that’s with food, it’s really helpful information. But the point I wanted to bring up is that should you over indulge and you’ve eaten that mean, and you ate too much of your edible the best thing to do at this point is to just consume water, no fatty food. So you could eat candy. Sugar is actually it helps expel the THC from your system, and always be with a trusted friend.

Matthew: Good point. Now you were on the MSNBC show the Pot Barons of Colorado. What was that experience like?

Julie: That was a fun experience. We were, to put it mildly I guess, we were looking for an opportunity to educate the public. At this point we have a lot to offer in regards to edibles. And so we thought that this would be kind of a good platform for that. It turned out to be more of a learning experience about media. I now understand a lot more about interviewing process and media in general. So we’ll just kind of leave it at that.

Matthew: Yeah the editing process can be kind of harsh reality when you see what you thought happened and then the outcome I imagine.

Julie: Exactly, and it was time consuming so that… which was fine if they had passed on the educational message that we were so urgently trying to have them talk about, and then have it not mentioned was a real heart breaker here at my company.

Matthew: So what’s next, looking ahead, what’s next for Julie’s Natural Edibles?

Julie: So thank you for asking. We are planning to relaunch. My company was known as Julie & Kate Baked Goods since 2009, and my dear friend Kate left for Atlanta many years ago, and so we finally decided it was time to rebrand officially, and we’re looking forward to a big launch for April 20th which is now kind of like a national thing.

Matthew: And where can listeners find Julie’s Natural Edibles?

Julie: So we’re available anywhere in the state of Colorado at a dispensary, licenced dispensary, available on the medical market as well as the recreational market. So if you’re out of state and you’re 21 you’re welcome to come here. We do have the most inventory is available in the city of Denver and Boulder. Please feel free to look at our website. It has a current list of where we’re located.

Matthew: And what’s the URL of your website?


Matthew: Well July thank you so much for coming on CannaInsider. We really appreciate it.

Julie: I appreciate the questions Matt, thank you.

Matthew: If you enjoyed the show today, please consider leaving us a review on iTunes, Stitcher or whatever app you might be using to listen to the show. Every five star review helps us to bring the best guests to you. Learn more at What are the five major trends that will impact the cannabis industry in the next five years? Find out with your free report at Have a suggestion for an awesome guest on, simply send us an email at feedback at We would love to hear from you.

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The Five Disruptive Trends Shaping The Cannabis Industry Now

The Cannabis Search Engine and Insights Platform Called Weave

Christian Nitu

Interview with Christian Nitu, Co-founder of Weave. Weave is both a cannabis search engine, but also an analytics and insights platform for dispensaries.

Learn more at

Key Takeaways:
[1:18] – Christian talks about his background and starting Weave
[3:15] – What is Weave?
[4:37] – Weave from a dispensary perspective
[6:12] – Christian talks about what Big Data and cannabis
[8:31] – Do you see the need for express lines in dispensaries
[9:35] – Christian talks about integration capabilities
[11:42] – Weave from an individual perspective
[13:11] – Who can access the dispensary analytics
[15:23] – Christian discusses possible delivery options for Colorado in the future
[16:49] – Health related queries
[17:43] – Becoming a Weave alpha user

Read Full Transcript

Matthew: Hi, I’m Matthew Kind. Every Monday and Wednesday look for a fresh new episode where I’ll take you behind the scenes and interview the insiders that are shaping the rapidly evolving cannabis industry. Learn more at That’s Are you looking for a fulfilling and lucrative career in the cannabis industry? Visit That’s Now here’s your program.

Weave is a search engine that helps customers find cannabis products easier. Weave allows customers to view real time menus and place orders online for in store pick-up. For dispensaries Weave is a resource planning tool to make sense of sales information and buyer behavior. Weave’s data analytics platforms transforms cannabis data into money making reports and easily digestible information. I’m pleased to welcome the co-founder of Weave Christian Nitu to CannaInsider today. Welcome Christian.

Christian: Hi Matt. Thank you for having me. I’m excited to be here and talk about Weave.

Matthew: Cool. I want to jump into Weave and everything you’re doing with it, but can you tell us a little bit about your background and how you came to start Weave?

Christian: Yeah sure. So was a student here at the University of Colorado back in 2011. So I started my first company here in Boulder, and that was around the hardware IOT space. So we developed a company called the Snow Gate that produced an electronic locker system that could be controlled by your phone. So I ran that for about three years and that’s where I got my experience with entrepreneurship and startups and technology. And it just kind of captivated me into getting more information about technology and how people used it as consumers for products and product development, and that’s where I started getting really interested.

But we ended up selling that company to the largest locker manufacturer in North America last year. And that kind of freed up my time and so I started to do some consulting for an ad agency in Boulder, and they were looking at the cannabis space as kind of a new business. And so I started to work with dispensary owners and managers. And just noticing different trends on the retail side, I started to figure out that there were a lot of pieces from a technology aspect that were missing in the industry that could really help clean up a lot of the inefficiencies from managing your inventory to helping consumers find the right products and then also, I mean, one of the biggest glaring problems that we saw was that there was this huge information gap. You have millions of customers going into stores asking for certain products to feed a certain need, but they don’t have any quantitative research or information to get that from.

So that’s kind of where we started to piece together Weave, and I started that company in September of last year with four other co-founders. So right now it’s just us five. We have our headquarters in Boulder and we’re just getting ready here to launch pretty soon.

Matthew: So Weave is pretty ambitious. Why don’t you tell us what it is and who should use it.

Christian: Yeah sure. So, you know, from your description you have it down to a “T”. The only thing I would add to it is that Weave is very focused on the localized approach. We see other search engine sites for this space, you know, gathering a lot of information on stores around the whole United States. Where Weave is focused is really providing kind of a localized experience. So getting as much information as we can from our POS API that we’ve developed from getting, you know, inventory results, starting to work with lab companies to get testing results, and really starting to track kind of buyer behavior and consumer behavior. Figuring out what people want so that we can help customers find the right products for a specific need and then help them reserve it through our service. And then we can help businesses make sense of all this data that they’re already gathering, and now being able to make business decisions on data driven information.

Matthew: Okay so looking at it from a dispensaries point of view first, Weave integrates through a API into the software at the dispensary at the point of sale, and collects that information and produces it into easy to understand reports and insights.

Christian: Yeah. So that is our first product that we are developing. It allows the dispensary managers and owners to see a very intuitive, simple way of the data that they’re already capturing. We allow them to kind of parse through that data in a very easy manner. The other products that we’re developing already is going to be allowing for a more full experience on the data side. So that will be separate from the POS integration, kind of our own platform of products coming to market.

Matthew: What kind of insights would a dispensary manager or dispensary owner be able to get out of using Weave that they might not typically be able to have if they were just, you know, looking at some spreadsheets or something like that?

Christian: Sure. So I think one of the biggest key values that Weave has is being able to gather all the information they’re already gathering, but being able to forecast that and make sense of the historical data so we can find out product trends around their particular store, product trends around particular geographic locations. We can help them with staffing, but more importantly the consumer side allows us with the technology that we’re building, we’re capturing search queries and we’re making sense of certain words that people are asking about cannabis. So if people are typing in beverage, we can figure out what products they’re actually looking for or what stores they’re looking at to find these products. So we can connect the consumer behavior with the data that they’re already capturing on the storefront and connect those two together.

Matthew: Now we hear that term “Big Data” thrown around a lot. What does that mean to you?

Christian: Big Data means that there’s a lot of unorganized data pipes out here in the cannabis industry. Right now, I mean, it’s still an industry that’s growing so a lot of people haven’t been able to kind of settle down and look through all the data. So you have stores collecting information on sales records. You have product, new companies trying to understand their inventory flow, and then you have people that are trying to figure out how to capture customers’ information, figure out how they’re buying things in stores and looking for certain products. So with Big Data with cannabis it’s being able to connect all of these different data points together and produce something that businesses can make decisions on.

Matthew: Now is there an aha moment when you’re talking to a dispensary owner where they kind of have, it clicks and they get what this can do for them? Is there one bullet point where they kind of say oh, okay this makes sense. I see the benefit for me.

Christian: Yeah sure. So I mean on our reservation product which is going to be in beta later this week in Boulder, we’re going to be giving that out for free. So we’re not going to be charging any dispensaries to upload their digital storefront. So I think the aha moment is when we’re telling them this piece. They are able to kind of see that as a great online marketing tool, being able to go and find people online in a way that adheres to the law and being able to get their customers online driven into their stores, and it’s at no cost to them. So I think that’s kind of the benefit from our first product.

Matthew: Right, there’s a huge value add there because the average dispensary customer spends $1,000 to $2,000 a year, and if they get frustrated having to wait on a Friday afternoon at 4 o’clock to get their order, that could be… the lifetime value of that customer is enormous that they’re losing. But this can only go well, this order ahead if the dispensary says, you know, we’re going to treat people that order ahead a little differently. We’re going to have a express desk kind of like Harbor Side Health Center has in Oakland where if you know what you want and you order ahead, you can just come in and pick it up. Do you see the dispensaries welcoming the idea of an express desk or something so people don’t have to wait in line, like people that want to talk to a bud tender?

Christian: Sure. I see huge value and we’ve already talked to stores about that. You know there are a lot of customers that are going into stores already knowing what they want. So they want to be able to cater to those customers’ needs as well. So I think initially, you know, they want to test it and make sure that it’s being used and it’s not disrupting any of the workflow that they’ve already established with their employees. But I think over time what they’ll see is that it actually reduces the inefficiencies. So with staffing being able to know when to have employees there with certain products trending faster throughout the day or whatever it is, but being able to reserve a spot, kind of an extra station for a self-checkout experience. It think they’re already… we were to have seen stores here in Colorado already doing that. So I think it goes in line with where the retail side of this stuff is going in the future.

Matthew: And is it pretty easy to integrate with Weave then? Let’s say if I have M.J. Freeway or Bio Track or Adolis or the big software packages out there, how do I integrate with Weave?

Christian: So right now we do have one integration partner already settled. We’re already working on a couple others as well. From the standpoint of the technology companies talking to the software providers, it’s very easy. We handle, we prefer kind of a rest API, that’s how we integrate with our technologies, but we work with the software company to build a bridge between Weave. And on the storefront level it takes a manager about two minutes to set up. They just have to go into their dashboard with whatever software provider they have, whether it’s Bio Track, M.J. Freeway or Adolis and then simply turn on our API key, and then we go ahead and we go ahead and we sync that. I think right now with what we have in our beta database, we have about 5,000 products and it takes us about 2, less than 2 milliseconds to kind of sync all of those together and figure out what’s where, you know, what quantity is where.

Matthew: Sometimes I feel like the cannabis software industry is a little bit closed. Like they don’t see the value of having an ecosystem, partners, but really if they let someone like Weave in that only strengthens their offering to the end user and makes them more sticky and less likely to leave because hey we’ve got our weave integrated with our POS software and our seed to sale software. We’re happier. We’re not, you know, there’s no threat.

Christian: Right exactly, and that’s kind of what we’re trying to make aware is that we’re helping bridge consumers to the stores in an online fashion. So for the POS systems we see them as a great source of technology in the backend for operations side on the storefront level, Weave helps bridge the gap with the customer end. So we kind of go in sync and provide partnerships that are beneficial for both parties.

Matthew: Now looking at Weave from a individual’s point of view, they’re just going to Weave and it looks like a Google search bar. There’s like a flashing cursor, like what do you want to know. So maybe you would type in, you know, autoimmune inflammation strain or something and you might see search results that would say here’s some information around that that you might find useful. Is that how it works?

Christian: Yes, so that’s the goal of it. The first alpha version that we’re releasing right now is going to be allowing people to just search by product name or store. But we’ve already started developing and we’ve been working on this for a while, kind of the core technology of the Weave search engine which we think makes us distinguishable is really on the natural language processing and machine learning techniques that we’re using. So you know we’re gathering data on what is exactly available at stores, knowing the quantity, knowing all of that information.

We’re starting to track user queries, kind of the words that people are asking bud tenders as if they’re in the store. And then we’re working with cannabis doctors as well as test lab companies and hopefully at some point research companies, people who that are doing, you know, the clinical research studies on things like PTSD, child epilepsy and different diseases. And taking all that information and we compile our own algorithm to help find the right product for that search query . So that’s kind of the evolution of where the search engine is going to go, but for right now we’re focused on just providing a simple service of being able to see exactly what’s in the store before you get to it and then as we collect more data the engine will get more powerful as time goes on.

Matthew: So with all the data that will be collected at the dispensary, will you be able to generate reports or something for the industry with insights about what’s happening for people that don’t own a dispensary but are interested?

Christian: Sure so I think… our main concern at Weave is definitely privacy. We take a very hard approach about what we’re doing with people’s information. You know from a consumer perspective we don’t capture anything that’s incriminating. We don’t require you to give us an email address or require you to give us any personal information other than a phone number when you’re ordering, but we redact and erase that information within 24 hours to 36 hours. So we don’t keep anything on the personal side.

What we’re being able to aggregate though are the questions and the reasons why people are reserving certain products. So from an industry perspective, I think that’s very valuable to know insights into consumer behavior. On the store side, you know, what we’re doing is we’re pulling together a lot of product inventory levels and understanding the flow of business through a dispensary, but again we don’t want to be, you know, exposing all that kind of information out to the public. So we’re going to be aggregating all of this stuff and displaying it in a way that people will be able to see kind of generalized approaches of edibles are trending here, you know, certain products are doing well over here, and these are the questions people are asking in these areas.

Matthew: Okay so there’s a predictive component to it where a dispensary owner would maybe say okay it looks like Girl Scout Cookie strain is going to be popular for the next ten days, make sure we get more of that over here, start curing more, you know, they make decisions around that so that they have more available in the next couple of weeks. Is that how you see the dispensaries using it more?

Christian: Yeah and I think it’s going to go in line with how this industry is working. I mean right now people are still figuring out the supply and demand issue and getting their operations to a point where they don’t run out of inventory. So that’s what we want to do. We want to be that layer of service that helps them plan and forecast, kind of like resource planning tools.

Matthew: So there’s an order ahead component which is, in Colorado, unlike California where you can have cannabis delivered that meets certain conditions. In Colorado that can’t happen, do you see any kind of delivery option in the future or is that just too far out?

Christian: So for our immediate roadmap, it’s not on there. We would welcome actually the opportunity to talk to other companies that are providing this service. But I think the mission really for Weave is to get information out there into the public sphere about cannabis products. You know, the landscape of consumers are changing. You don’t have your typical stigma of what a consumer is anymore going into stores. You have moms, doctors, lawyers, people from the past that have used it before and now are coming back. And some of their questions, some of the stuff that we’ve been capturing already, it’s interesting; 75 percent of the search queries are related to health and wellness.

So being able to help people find products for health and wellness reasons I think that’s a very good mission that Weave is trying to achieve. So being able to get that in a quantitative fashion, I think that would be… any service that helps us get there, I think that would be a benefit.

Matthew: Yeah, and there’s a lot of… there’s a certain demographic of people that are interested in cannabis but still kind of have this nagging bias in their head that it’s something that’s wrong, that they’re trying to get over and this is a good first step to educate themselves before going into a dispensary as well. So what kind of health related inquiries or queries do you see that maybe surprised you a little bit?

Christian: Sure. I mean we have, you know, some of the most common ones are obviously things like back pain, insomnia is a very big one. There are things that go along with finding high CBD strains. I think a couple of interesting ones are finding things that affect, you know, finding out cognitive effects. Finding out what can help with eye strains. And another interesting thing is we’ve had a lot of queries around athletes and sports. What is good for running? What is good for lifting? Things like that that you wouldn’t kind of equate to being a cannabis user. So you see there are multiple applications for the plant, and if we can help people find the right products for that reason, I think that’s a very good thing to offer the industry.

Matthew: Now you mentioned that Weave is in alpha, if listeners are interested in becoming an alpha user, how can they do that?

Christian: Yeah sure. So they can go ahead and go to our website which is We sometimes have a problem with people just going to and seeing a bunch of hair products. So we just want to make sure that people know to go to the domain. Go ahead and enter an email address and we’ll add you on our list to check out our staging site, but we’re going to be releasing that here in Boulder this week with about four stores, and then the hope is that at the end of April we’ll have been in Boulder, Denver and a couple other locations that we’ve been talking to.

Matthew: Great. Great, and how about investors? Are you still open to new investors?

Christian: Yeah, I mean, I think it’s every entrepreneur’s job to always be open to getting more money. So yeah, so we’re definitely very much in our seed round still. We raised a small investment early, late last year and now we’re looking to bring in some more money so we can add some engineers. I think the cool thing about Weave is that we’re very engineering heavy and we’re very tech focused. We have about three engineers on our team, and we’re looking to add more and Boulder’s a great hot bed for attracting great talent. So we’re looking to raise some more money this month to get us out and going. But if they’re interested in contacting, you know, please reach out to me at and I would be happy to field any questions.

Matthew: Great. Well Christian thanks so much for being on CannaInsider today.

Christian: Yeah, thank you very much Matt. I appreciate our talk and thank you for having me.

Matthew: If you enjoyed the show today, please consider leaving us a review on iTunes, Stitcher or whatever app you might be using to listen to the show. Every five star review helps us to bring the best guests to you. Learn more at What are the five major trends that will impact the cannabis industry in the next five years? Find out with your free report at Have a suggestion for an awesome guest on, simply send us an email at feedback at We would love to hear from you.

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The Five Disruptive Trends Shaping The Cannabis Industry Now

Interview with Johann Hari, Author of Chasing the Scream

Johann Hari

Johann Hari is the author of Chasing the Scream, The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs. Johann walks us through all the alarming and rarely mentioned ways the war on drugs hurts societies and how ending prohibition brings order. Johann details how countries around the world are ending prohibition and the amazing results they are seeing as a result.

*Get the FREE CannaInsider Podcast for your smartphone, CLICK HERE.*

Key Takeaways:

[1:31] – Why rats only choose drugs when they are alone and unhappy
[10:37] – What happens to the drug market in MD when a dealer gets arrested?
[14:40] – Johann discusses Arnold Rothstein and Rosalio Reta
[22:31] – Do humans have an innate desire to experience altered reality
[37:34] – The results of drug decriminalization in Switzerland and Portugal
45:13 – How to find Johann’s Book, Chasing The Scream.

Read Full Transcript

Matthew: Hi, I’m Matthew Kind. Every Monday and Wednesday look for a fresh episode where I’ll take you behind the scenes and interview the leaders of the rapidly evolving cannabis industry. Learn more at That’s Do you know that feeling when you sense opportunity, when you see something before most people and you just know it will be successful, then you're ready. Ready for CannaInsider Consulting. Learn more at Now here's your program.

Today’s guest is Johann Hari. He has written a captivating book called Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs. If you’re like me and you feel like you had a good understanding on the genesis of the war on drugs, you’re about to be enlightened. Welcome to CannaInsider Johann.

Johann: Hi Matt, lovely to be with you. Thanks for having me.

Matthew: To give listeners a sense of geography, can you tell us where you are in the world today?

Johann: I am in fact in London at the moment.

Matthew: Great.

Johann: London in England I should say as you can probably tell from my voice.

Matthew: Right.

Johann: Now I want to jump into Chasing the Scream, but before we do let’s talk about an article you wrote for the Huffington Post this year called the Likely Cause of Addiction has been Discovered and is not What You Think. This article has been shared over a million times I believe, and what did you uncover here and it obviously resonated with a lot of people? What about that article has people talking so much?

Johann: Well it’s a short extract from the book, and I guess… so I discuss it in much more detail in the book, but I guess it’s now a hundred years since drugs were first banned. And four years ago when I started writing about… started writing the book, I think I realized I knew that we were coming up to this centenary, and in a way I thought I knew a lot about this subject. I’ve written about it for a long time. It had been in my life for a long time. One of my earliest memories was trying to wake up one of my relatives and not being able to and as I got older realizing we had drug addiction in my family. But actually I realize that there were just loads of basic questions about this issue that I didn’t know the answer to like why were drugs banned a hundred years ago? Why do we continue with this war on drug users and drug addicts even though so many of us can see it can’t work? What do the alternatives really look like and what really causes drug use and drug addiction?

When I was looking for these answers just for myself, I realized I couldn’t find them in the books I was reading that too often we discuss this in a really abstract way, you know, as if life is a philosophy seminar, and we could talk about it in this very abstract way. And I didn’t want to do that. I wanted to find out… I wanted to find out how these, the answers to these questions have really changed real people’s lives. So I ended up going on this big journey across nine different countries and spending time with lots of different people from a transsexual crack dealer in Brownsville, Brooklyn to you know, to the hit man for the deadliest Mexican drug cartel, to the only country that’s decriminalized all drugs from cannabis to crack. And I guess what I discovered is almost everything we think we know about this subject is wrong. Drugs aren’t what we think they are. Addiction is not what we think it is. The drug war is not what we think it is, and the alternatives to the drug war aren’t what we think they.

And I guess the one that most surprised me was the one that you asked about first which is about addiction. You know if you’d said to me four years ago, I don’t know, what causes heroin addiction? I would have looked at you like you were a little bit simple minded and I would have said, well heroin causes heroin addiction. You know we’ve been told, you know, it seems kind of obvious right. We’ve been told this story for a hundred years. It’s become part of our common sense. We think that if you, me and the next 20 people who walk past your door all used heroin together, on day 21 we would all be heroin addicts because there are chemical hooks in the heroin that at the end of it our body would start to physically need.

The first thing that alerts me to the fact there’s something not right about that story was when it was explained to me if after this interview you or I step out onto the street, and you know, I’m hit by a car and I break my hip, I’ll be taken to hospital. It’s quite likely I’d be giving a lot of diamorphine. Diamorphine is heroin. It’s medically pure heroin. It’s much stronger than you would ever buy on the street because it’s not got all the contaminants that drug dealers inevitably put into it. And then you or me, if that happens, will be given that diamorphine, that heroin for quite a long period of time. Anyone listening to this, anywhere in the developed world, lots of people near you are totally, legally being given heroin in hospitals.

If what we believe about addiction is right, if the story we’ve been told for a hundred years is right, what should happen? Those people, at least some of them, should leave hospital as heroin addicts. They should try to score on the streets. There have been studies of this, that doesn’t happen. You will have noticed your grandmother was not turned into a junkie by her hip replacement operation. When I learned that it just seemed so odd to me that even though the facts behind is so robust, I didn’t really know what to do with it until I went and interviewed a guy called Bruce Alexander who is a professor in Vancouver. And incredibly important figure in the world of addiction, and I think has really revolutionized how we think about it.

Bruce explained to me, the theory of addiction that you and I have in our heads and almost everyone has in their heads comes from a series of experiments that were done earlier in the 20th Century. They’re really simple experiments. Your listeners can do them at home if they’re feeling a bit sadistic. You get a rat and you put it in a cage, and you give it two water bottles. One is just water and one is water laced with either heroin or cocaine. If you do that, the rat will almost always prefer the drugged water and almost always kill itself. So there you go, that’s the theory of addiction. You might remember there was a famous partnership for drug free America.

Matthew: Sure, sure.

Johann: Advert, yeah this thing like, you know, it will happen to you. In the 70s Bruce came along and said hang on a minute. We’re putting the rat in an empty cage where it’s got nothing to do except use these drugs. Let’s try this differently. So Bruce built “Rat Park” which is a different kind of cage. And Rat Park is basically heaven for rats. Anything a rat could want in life is in Rat Park. It’s got cheese. It’s got colored balls. It’s got tunnels, but crucially it’s got loads of friends. It can have loads of sex, anything a rat wants. And they’ve got both the water bottles, the drugged water and the normal water, but here’s the fascinating thing. In Rat Park the rats don’t like the drugged water. They hardly ever use it, and none of them ever use it in a way that looks compulsive. None of them ever overdose. There’s really import human examples I can tell you about in a second if you want, but what Bruce says is that this shows that both the right wing and left wing theories of addiction are wrong.

The right wing theory is that it’s a moral failing, you know, you indulge yourself, you know, you indulge yourself, you are a hedonist, all of that. The left wing theory is your brain gets hijacked. You get taken over. You’re left powerless. What Bruce says is it’s not your morality and it’s not your brain. To a much larger degree than we’ve appreciated before, addiction is an adaptation to your environment.

Matthew: Wow that’s crazy.

Johann: There’s huge implications for that. I mean there’s a guy called Peter Cohan, he’s a professor in the Netherlands, who says, you know, we shouldn’t even use the term addiction. We should think of it as bonding. Human beings have an innate need to bond, and when we’re happy and healthy we’ll bond with each other and with the people around us. But when you can’t do that because you’re isolated or traumatized or beaten down by life, you will bond with something that gives you a sense of pleasure relief. Now that could be, you know, it could be gambling. It could be cocaine, it could be pornography, but you will bond with something that gives you some sense of pleasure because that’s what we have to do.

And this different theory of addiction has massive implications for the drug war. You know, the drug war is based on the idea that the drug is what causes the problem, and so we need to physically eradicate the drug from the world. If in fact the vast majority of people who use that drug don’t develop addiction, if in fact it’s isolation and trauma that are the largest drugs of addiction, suddenly the fact that our whole approach looks different, because what we do at the moment is we take people who are addicts if they’re isolated and traumatize, and we isolate and traumatize them further thinking it will make them stop.

You know, I went out with a group of women in Arizona who were forced to go out on a chain gang wearing t-shirts saying I was a drug addict and dig graves. You know, we do that to them and actually okay that’s an extreme thing, but actually that’s pretty much what we do to addicts all over the world. We humiliate them, stigmatize them and cut them off. You know, and those women will never get a job again because they’ve got criminal records. They don’t jobs in the legal economy. We certainly do that to addicts all over the United States and in Britain. And you know in that prison at one point I asked to go to been shown solitary confinement block which they use a lot, The Hole it’s called. And I went to The Hole, and there were women in these tiny little stone cells and were put there for the month for like the most minor infractions. And I suddenly thought this is the closest you could ever get to a literal human reenactment of the experiment that guaranteed addiction with rats. And this is what we do thinking it will make people stop, but also has implications I think, much wider implications, than just drug policy.

We’ve created a society where for a lot of our fellow citizens life is… life looks a lot more like that first cage and a lot less like Rat Park. You know we talk a lot in addiction about individual recovery and that’s really important, but we need to talk much more about social recovery. Something’s gone wrong with us, not just as individuals, but as a group and I think we need to think differently about that too.

Matthew: Wow that’s fascinating and somewhat unintuitive, but once explained it makes sense. You’ve come up with a lot of unintuitive ways to think about the war on drugs and how we can think about better. Can you talk a little bit about your findings in your book about what happened in Maryland when drug dealer’s arrested?

Johann: Yeah, you know, the book is told through the stories of people I met or got to know or researched and learned about, and they’re really a broad range of people. One of them is a cop I got to know in Baltimore called Lea Maddox. He’s really an amazing person. Lea signed up to be a cop with one reason in mind. Her best friend, Lisa, who she’d know since she was a kid was murder by what she believed was a drug gang, and the day Lisa’s body was found Lea went and demanded the sign up papers and she went into the cops with one goal and one goal only which was to destroy and break drug gangs.

And for years she obsessively enforces the drug laws. She will bust people just for using a joint. But Lea’s really an honest person and Lea started to notice two things that kind of troubled her. One was the people they arrested were mainly African Americans, even though African Americans we know, and there’s lots of evidence and they’re more likely to be drug users or drug dealers than anyone else in America, and Lea really isn’t a racist so she was troubled by that. The second thing was even more troubling for her which was if you’re a cop and you arrest a, I don’t know, a rapist, the less week there’s less rape in your town. If you bust a drug dealer, Lea noticed two things, firstly there’s no less drug dealing, right? There’s someone on the corner the next day. The drug price doesn’t go up. So we know that, you’re not disrupting the supply.

But what struck her stranger was the murder rate actually goes up, and this is a pretty consistent finding. It was Lea’s anecdotal observation, but it’s proven if you do a drug bust, the murder rate increases and that’s basically because when you ban drugs they don’t’ disappear. They’re transferred from doctors and pharmacists to armed criminal gangs. And those armed criminal gangs work different from the doctors and pharmacists. If you or me walk into a doctors or a pharmacist to try to steal their prescription drugs, they’ll call the police. The police will take us a way. So that pharmacy doesn’t need to be violent or intimidating right because they’re operating with law and they have recourse to the law. If we go out to a local coke or weed dealer and try to rob them, obviously they can’t ring the cops. The cops would arrest them, so they have to be violent and intimidating. And they have to establish their patch by violence and they have to maintain it by violence.

And if you knock one of them out either, you know, they’re killed or you arrest them, what you do is you trigger a turf war for control of their patch, and there’s a huge amount of violence until someone emerges on top. The Nobel Prize Winning economist, Milton Freedman, calculated there are 10,000 additional murders every year in the United States that are the result of this war for drugs of dealers fighting out and people getting caught in the middle. And Lea, you know, Lea had gotten into this to bankrupt the drug gangs, and suddenly she realizes oh god, actually I’m the one keeping them in business. You know prohibition and the drug war are what keep them going. The alternative is to reclaim that trade for pharmacists and doctors is the way countries that I went to have tried with remarkable results.

So Lea quit the police and she retrained and now she’s a lawyer who spends a lot of her time trying to get the convictions of people like the people she arrested quashed to end the drug war. She’s a really extraordinary person.

Matthew: So this is crazy and unbelievable. You make the point that the DNA of gangs that deal in illegal drugs is to create unspeakable violence because that’s kind of how they stake out their patch. Can you tell us a little bit about Rosalio Reta in Mexico in the Zeta gang and maybe a little bit about Arnold Rothstein and how they kind of play that part?

Johann: Yeah. I basically, you know, Rosalio is someone who really… I think about him a lot. I wanted to understand this dynamic. Obviously if you think about housing project in the US right and there is going to be one here, if one is listening to this, where say 5 to 10 percent of the economy is controlled by armed criminal gangs in the drug trade. So that place is going to be a really miserable place to live. If you look at northern Mexico where I went, it’s 70 percent of the economy, 7-0 percent. So basically you just end up with a situation where the armed criminal gangs can pay better wages than the states so they end up owning the cops, and they own the state and they hijack the whole infrastructure.

One of the ways I tell that story in my book is I got to know and interviewed a guy called Rosalio Reta who between the ages of 13 and 17 was a hitman for the deadliest Mexican drug cartel and killed about, butchered and beheaded about 70 people. And I went and interviewed him. He’s now in prison in Tyler County in Texas in constant solitary confinement because he’s the only person who’s ever been in that kind of cartel who can kind of tell what it’s like from the inside and hasn’t been killed. So every time he’s ever taken out of solitary, he’s immediately stabbed by one of the other prisoners who knows they’ll get loads of money from the Zetas for killing him.

Rosolio grew up in Laredo which is just on the American side of the border, but it’s kind of twinned with Nuevo Laredo on the Mexican side. And he would kind of go back and forth, you know, when he was a little boy. He’s about 26-27 now, but when he was a little boy he would go back and forth across the border like most people do just to buy candies and things. And he was recruited when he was 13 to be a hitman. They like having, they like using kids. They call them the expendables partly because kids that age don’t really understand death in the same way I think. And yeah they kind of kept him very heavily coked up and this guy Miguel Trevino who was the, at that time, number three in the Zetas, later rose to be number one in the Zetas. And exactly that dynamic you’re asking about which is right into your question, so Rosolio did unbelievably horrific acts of violence.

It’s important to understand this has nothing inherently to do with drugs. This is to do with prohibition right. Ask yourself where are the violent alcohol dealers today? They don’t exist right. They did exist under alcohol prohibition. It’s not that they were drunk. Al Capone wasn’t an alcoholic and he wasn’t using alcohol in heavy amounts and therefore committing violence. Today the drinks isle at Wal-Mart doesn’t go and shoot the people who work in the local liquor store in the face, right. Even though nothing’s changed about alcohol, it’s the same drug that people were killing each other over during prohibition in Chicago. What’s changed is the legal regulatory framework.

Often we talk about, you know, drug related violence, and people think what that means is someone using drugs, losing it and killing people right. In the book I cite, there’s a really important study of this by Professor Paul Goldstein who looked at everything that was described as a drug related murder in New York City in 1986. The exact figures are in the book, I’m saying this from memory, but I think they’re right. Two percent of the killings were like where someone had used drugs and lost it, right, or killed someone and there was drugs in their system. I think 7 percent were an addict who was kind of committing a property crime in order to feed the habit and something went wrong. And all the rest, the overwhelming majority were armed criminal gangs killing each other to gain control of the trade, right. So actually the overwhelming majority, they’re not drug related. If we banned milk and people still wanted to buy milk and therefore criminal gangs provided it, the milk trade would work this way. Would we call those milk related murders. Well you could, I mean, it would make as much sense.

But what you get with that dynamic and I tell this story about the inside of the… it’s Rosolio’s life inside the cartels, is often when you look at what’s happened to northern Mexico, and it’s really pretty scary when I went there, but often when you look at what’s happened in northern Mexico, it looks like, kind of like Jeffery Dahmer style psychosis, right, it’s so extreme the violence that you just think oh, this is just a bunch of psychos. It’s not. It’s the function of the system. The way it works is if you’re the guy who’s prepared to breach the moral taboo a little bit more than the other guys, you will gain a brief competitive advantage. So if you’re the first person to say, we’re not going to kill the other side, we’re going to kill the other side’s pregnant women, then you get a brief competitive advantage. If you’re the person that says, actually we’re just going to kill their pregnant women. We’ll kill them and put them on YouTube, put it on YouTube, then you get a brief competitive advantage.

If you’re the first person to say, you know we won’t just kill them and put it on YouTube, we’ll cut off their faces, sew their faces onto a football and mail the football to their relatives, which is something that actually happens, then you get a brief competitive advantage because the nature of a prohibition based system is whoever is prepared to push the violence further will control a little bit more of the trade. So this insanity, and clearly it requires a degree of sadism for people to do this obviously, but that whole cruelty and violence is the product of the system we’re in. Where else, what other system would have given 13 year old Rosolio Reta an enormous financial incentive, like an enormous financial incentive, to go and butcher and behead people? Where else would have taken, what other system would have taken a 13 year old boy and taken him to a training camp where he was taught the mechanics of how you dissolve a corpse right? Where would that have happened.

I think that’s where about I tell the story of a transsexual crack dealer in Brownsville, Brooklyn called Chino Hardin who was conceived when his mother who was a crack addict was raped by his father who was an NYPD officer. So he’s a child of the drug war in the purest sense. And Chino, you know, is one of the most empathetic and decent people I know, but from the age of 13 when he starts selling crack on his corner, he’s drawn into the requirements of violence. You know you cannot be empathetic in that situation. You have to be terrifying or you’re going to be destroyed. And these dynamics are playing out, not just in, clearly what’s happening in northern Mexico is much more extreme because it’s a larger portion of the economy, but these dynamics are playing out pretty much everywhere in the developed world except the places I went to where there have been experiments with legalization and you just see this whole dynamic bleed away.

Matthew: Gosh that’s so crazy to think that, you know, the prohibition causes the violence because you’re right we’re so engrained to think it’s the drug. It’s the drug that’s causing the people to change, but it’s really prohibition. The direct result of that is this compounding and escalating violence because you’re saying if you have that escalating sense of violence, you have a competitive advantage in the trade of this prohibited substance, whatever it may be; milk, heroin, alcohol. Now is there an innate sense for humans that they just want to experience altered reality? This is something we can’t legislate a way or you know, point a gun at group or a population and say don’t get high, don’t get drunk. It’s just something that’s part of humans that we need. Would you say that’s accurate?

Johann: One of the most interesting people I interviewed was this guy called Ronald K. Siegel who is a very distinguished retired professor at UCLA who advised like three American Presidents, the World Health Organization, and one of the things Ronald K. Siegel spent his career doing was giving drugs to animals and monitoring animal drug use. And basically it turns out this applies not only to humans, but pretty much to most living species. You know elephants get drunk. Birds get drunk. You know, mongoose’s like hallucinogens. You know the massive range of animals that get, you know, mashed up in all sorts of different ways. And he argues, I think he’s right, the intoxication impulse is a really deep and innate human drive, and it’s ineradicable.

You know you look at a little kid who will spin around and around and around to make themselves dizzy even though they know it will make them sick, that’s the first manifestation, and all children do that. It’s been observed that all kids do that. That’s the first manifestation of the intoxication impulse. Obviously it manifests differently in different people, but there has never been a human society where humans did not seek out intoxicants in the environment and use them. The only society where there were no naturally occurring intoxicants were the poor Inuit in the Arctic, and they would starve themselves to get altered mental states because this is just so deep in human nature. I tell the story in the book of the Temple of Eleusis. In ancient Greece, 20 miles away from Athens, every year there was this extraordinary rivalry at the Temple of Eleusis where people would go for this massive drug party where they would this hallucinogen and they would experience states of ecstasy. And you know, it sounds pretty much like Burning Man, and it was forcibly shut down when the Emperor Constantine converts to Christianity.

Yeah this is a really deep and innate human impulse. And one of these that’s kind of surprising to me in the research actually is the, you know, quite how large the proportion of this was. If I said to most people, I mean your listenership is going to be more informed on this matter, but you know most people you say to them, what proportion of currently banned drug use do you think does no harm to anyone, doesn’t damage their health, doesn’t make them addicted, anything right? The actual figure is 90 percent, 9-0 percent and that doesn’t come from like the Drug Policy Alliance or a group supporting drug reform. That comes from the UN Office of Drug Control who are the main drug war body in the world, even they had to admit that a few years back, although I’ve noticed they’ve taken it down from their website. Rather embarrassed that people picked up on it.

So it’s important to understand this is a deep human impulse, and in the vast majority of people, the vast majority of the time, it’s a healthy impulse, you know, they have a good time. They find a chemical, they have a good time with it and they don’t get addicted. It doesn’t damage their body. It doesn’t damage their mind. Great, now the other 10 percent who are addicted which includes some people very close to me, including some of my closest relatives, they are in fact people who were seeking out the drugs to deal with a deep sense of pain that preceded the drug use. You can look at this. I cite a really interesting study that looked at, it was a really interesting and weird study, it look at five year olds, and it just monitored five year olds with their parents. I think it was only the mothers.

Basically you get a five year old, you put it with its mother and you give them like a task to do together, right, and you know building blocks or whatever. And they monitor them literally, I think it’s for five minutes. It was a very short period of time. And they monitor basically how supportive the mother is, how good their relationship is, how connected they are. And then it just follows, it goes back them when they’re 18 and figures out if they’re addicts. And what it finds is just by looking at five year old and how connected they are with their parent for five minutes when they’re five, I forget the figures. They’re in the book, but you can predict to an incredible degree of accuracy whether they will be addicts, you know, years 13 years later when they grow up.

So what that tells us is, and it really relates to Rat Park and what we were talking about there, addiction is a very real tragedy. Addiction is not the earthquake. Addiction is one of the aftershocks of underlying pain and trauma. Now aftershocks are bad. An aftershock can bring a building down after an earthquake. It’s not a trivial thing. It’s a very very serious things. But it’s important to understand what the real cause of it is and what explains, you know, I guess I would say, you know, if you want to think about this in their own lives. I forget the drug laws for a second right, I’ve got in front of me, I’m feeling a little bit ill so I’ve got one of those dissolvable vitamin C things that you put in water and you drink it.

You’ve probably got a drink in front of you, right?

Matthew: Yes.

Johann: Totally forget the drug laws, totally legally you and I could be drinking vodka now, right. We could both be drunk. You and I probably got enough money in the bank that we could go off and be drunk, buy loads of vodka and be drunk for three months, right, and never sober up, you know, until our money runs out, right. We’re not doing that and very few people do that. Not because anyone externally is stopping us, but because we’ve got things we want to be present for in our lives. We’ve got jobs we love. We’ve got people we love. We’ve got things we want to do. You know the reason why most addicts do what they do is because they can’t bear to be present in their lives because their lives are too painful. And the answer is to make their lives less painful, and there’s a place where they did that, you know, Portugal and the results were incredible and I can talk about that if you don’t mind.

Matthew: Sure, sure, please.

Johann: Yeah, yeah it’s fascinating that you know, totally honest, I put off going to the places where they’ve tried the alternatives, the drug war for one, and I was thinking to myself why was I doing that. And I guess I kind of thought what if I go to the places where they’ve tried the alternatives and that doesn’t’ work either, then this will be a book about and irredeemable human tragedy or just a, you know, a very deeply engrained human tragedy. But then I went to the places; Switzerland, Portugal, Uruguay, you know, I interviewed people from Colorado and Washington who led the successful campaigns. And it was really kind of extraordinary.

Portugal to me was one of the most striking examples, oh and Vancouver as well. Portugal was one of the most striking examples. And in the year 2000 Portugal had one of the worse drug problems in Europe, indeed in the world. One percent of the population was addicted to heroin, just kind of mind blowing. And every year they tried the American way more. They arrested more people. They imprisoned more people, and every year the problem got worse. And one day the Prime Minister and the leader of the opposition got together and they basically said look, obviously we can’t carry on like this right. We can’t, you know, we can’t have an ever increasing proportion of our population addicted to heroin.

So they decided to set up a panel of scientists and doctors, and basically they said to them go away, look at the evidence and tell us what would genuinely solve this problem and they did something really smart. They agreed in advance to do whatever the panel recommended. So it just took it at politics. So the panel goes away. It looks at all the evidence. Led by an amazing man called João Goulão, and they come back, and they said, decriminalize all drugs from cannabis to crack, but and this was the crucial thing, take all the money we currently spend on arresting and imprisoning drug addicts and spend it on turning their lives around, on learning the lesson of Rat Park which is reconnecting them this society.

So partly that was things that we think of as treatment in America and Britain like, you know, residential rehab and psychological support, and that does have real value. But the biggest part of the program is something completely different. It was subsidized jobs for addicts and microloans for addicts so they could set up businesses. So let’s say you’re a mechanic, got an addiction problem. When you’re ready, go to a garage and they’ll say if you employ this guy for a year, we’ll pay half his wages. Really simple, the goal was to make sure that every addict in Portugal had something to wake up for in the morning and something to get out of bed for. And it’s been nearly 15 years and the results; injecting drug use is down by 50 percent, 5-0 percent in Portugal. Overall addiction is down, overdose stats are massively down, HIV transmission among addicts is massively down. And one of the ways you know it’s worked so well is almost no one wants to go back.

I went and interviewed this guy called Joao Figueira who led the opposition to the decriminalization. He’s the top drug cop in Portugal. And he said to me, everything I said would happen didn’t happen, and everything the other side said would happen did, and he talked about how he felt ashamed having seen this work in practice that he had spent 20 years arresting and harassing drug users before the decriminalization because it didn’t work and this way did. And he hoped the whole world followed Portugal’s example. And it was so exciting to see that these alternatives were working. It’s important to understand there are limitations to what they done in Portugal as well.

So in Portugal they’ve decriminalized use, but they haven’t legalized sale. So the drug trade is still in the hands of criminal gangs. The best way to put it is they’ve shut down orange is the new black, but they still have Breaking Bad, right. But this is not perfect which is why you have to look at legalization. And legalization does not mean a kind of free-for-all. You know, it doesn’t mean having a crack isle in CVS, right. There are places that have tried legalization and it’s working extremely well. Obviously your listeners will know very well about the extent of the marijuana legalization in Colorado and Washington. And you know, it’s very revealing if you look at 53 percent of people voted for the legalization, but now support of legalization is way above that level which means that when people saw it in practice, they liked it and they thought, you know, a higher number of people thought it worked than before, significantly higher.

In Switzerland to where they’ve legalized heroin for addicts it’s a different model, significantly different model. And the way it works is if you’re a heroin addict, if you go to a doctor, the doctor will refer you to a clinic and that clinic will provide, will give you heroin in the clinic. You have to go there. And it’s really fascinating to go there. It looks like a kind of, I went to one of the ones in Geneva. It looks like a kind of fancy Manhattan hair dressers. You turn up and people go into a little booth and they inject the heroin, and then they leave to go to work because they overwhelmingly get jobs. When the chaos of street use ends people get their lives together. They help them get housing. They help them get employment, and what’s fascinating is you can stay on that program as long as you want, right. They’ll never kick you off. There’s no pressure to reduce your dose. But what’s fascinating is most of the people on the program, the overwhelming majority, just choose to reduce their dose and eventually stop because their lives get better, and they can bear to be present in them. So you don’t want to on smack the whole time if your life is getting better.

Matthew: They’re creating their own Rat Park.

Johann: Exactly, and that’s a good way of putting it. And you know there’s obviously, they’re not going to drug dealers, right. Heroin dealing, you know, was just absolutely decimated by this because why would you go to a street dealer to buy a much more expensive contaminated product when you can go to the doctor and get a much cheaper, purer product. Obviously you don’t do that. So what we see is, you know, there are models of legalization that work, and this is a much more sensible way to spend the money. And it’s interesting because Switzerland, you know, when I’m explaining it to Americans, I’m trying to say Switzerland is an extremely right wing country. I’m a Switzerland citizen as well as a British citizen. Switzerland is an extremely right wing, this is not like… this isn’t like San Francisco voting to legalize heroin. This is like Utah voting to legalize heroin, and they did it.

It’s very interesting the way they won the argument. Their campaign was led by an incredible person called Ruth Dreifuss who was the first female president of Switzerland and who I interviewed. Really she is an amazing person. And she ran it not on a kind of liberty based argument. A very different way, and I think such an argument that we really need to use in the drug reform movement in the US. And it was actually an order based argument. Everyone in the world where legalization has prevailed generally liberty based arguments which is like it’s your body, you can do what you want with it, which I am philosophically sympathetic to, just don’t get much traction. People don’t like those arguments. What works are order based argument, what Switzerland is.

The drug war means anarchy. It means unknown criminals selling unknown chemicals to unknown users all in the dark. Legalization means order. It means we take these criminals. We bankrupt them. We take these chaotic addicts and we put them in nice clean clinics where they’re not in our public places screwing things up and being chaotic and spreading disease and all those other things. Legalization means the restoration of order. It means the opposite of anarchy. And that really, you know, Swiss people voted twice in referenda by really huge margins; 70 percent to keep heroin legal for addicts for precisely that reason because of that argument. It wasn’t because of compassion or anything else. My Swiss relatives, you know, they met Michelle Bachmann that led Bernie Sanders. They thought they were being nice, you know, and also because of the enormous fall in street crime. I think the figure was, there was a 93 percent fall in burglary. It’s something absolutely extraordinary, once that was introduced. Again it’s very striking. That was extremely controversial before it was introduced. Once it was introduced, it worked incredibly well. It’s not very controversial anymore in Switzerland.

Matthew: The one thing I worry about here is we have entrenched interests, pharmaceutical companies, private prison systems, prison guard unions that don’t seem to welcome this ending of prohibition. Do you see that dissolving just by the mere fact that it’s so successful in Switzerland and Uruguay and Portugal?

Johann: No it’s not going to dissolve. There are corporations who have one thing. They are legally obligated to do one thing and one thing only which is maximize profit for their shareholders. They’re going to carry on doing that. They’re never going to stop. What we have to do is overwhelm them, and we have to… which of course has happened. If you look at, you know, all sorts of things, corporations are stopped from doing all sorts of things. Think about what the United States was like at the turn of the 20th Century what corporations were allowed to do then. There are loads of things, for example, promote tobacco to children which they’re not allowed to do now. That’s not because those companies saw the light. It’s because ordinary citizens organized and demanded that these companies be stopped by the government from doing, and that’s what we need to have when it comes to the drug war. They’re not going to go away. They’re not going to stop doing what they do, but we need to make our voices louder than their voices so that the government has to regulate them and stop them from committing the most kind of egregious acts.

And you know anyone listening to this who thinks oh that’s such a tall order, you know, I would tell them the story about one of the most amazing people I met in the journey for my book. And in the year 2000 there was a homeless street addict in Vancouver called Bud Osborne. And he was in a place called the downtown East Side of Vancouver which was a notorious area, has the largest concentration of addicts in North America and possibly the world. It’s regarded as like the place at the end of the line in the city at the end of the line in North America. And Bud was watching his friends die all around him. People would shoot up behind dumpsters so the cops wouldn’t see them, but obviously, you know, if you’re hiding so no one can see you and you start to overdose then no one sees you. Your body is found a day later. You die.

And Bud thought I can’t just watch this happen. I can’t just watch my friends die all around me, but he also thought I’m a homeless junkie, what can I do. And he had a really simple idea. Got together with a group of the addicts and he said, when we’re not using which is most of the time even for hardcore addicts, why don’t we have a timetable and why don’t we just… not with the police, not with nurses, not anyone else just us, why don’t we patrol the alleyways, and when we spot someone O.D.-ing just call an ambulance, right. It’s a really simple idea. And so they started to do it, these addicts, just on their own. And within a few months the overdose rate started to really significantly fall in the downtown East Side which is great. Because, you know, it mean people were live who would otherwise have died, but it also meant the addicts started to think about themselves differently.

They started to think oh maybe we’re not like the pieces of rubbish people say we are. Maybe we can do something. So they started to organize. First thing they did is they would turn up at public meetings to talk about the menace of the addicts, and they would sit in the back and they’d… after a while they would kind of put up their hands and they go oh, I think you’re talking about us. Is there anything we can do differently. And sometimes people would be really angry and sometimes they’d, you know, they’d say things like oh you leave your needles lying around. And Bud said, that’s fine we’ll extend the patrol, we’ll pick up the needles and they started doing that. And as they got more involved, Bud had learned that in Frankfort in Germany they had opened safe injecting rooms where addicts could use the drugs legally and be monitored by doctors and that it had virtually ended overdosing in Frankfort. And he was like great we got to do that here, but there had been nothing like that in North American since Harry Anslinger, the birth of the drug war in the 1930s.

But Bud thought alright we’ll start demanding it, and they decided to at this very large and dedicated group of addicts, their friends and supporters decided to target the mayor of Vancouver. It was a man called Phillip Owen, he was a very unlikely person to target. Phillip Owen was a rich right wing businessman from a very wealthy family who had no idea about addiction and so the addicts should be taken and forcibly detained at the local military base and never let out, this was the idea where he was coming from. If you pitch at Mitt Romney, that’s kind of like the American equivalent to Philip Owen. And they started… everywhere Phillip Owen went, they turned up in huge numbers and they had with them a coffin, and the coffin said something like who will die next, Phillip Owen, before you will put a safe injecting room. And this goes on for years. And they will say things like at public meetings like, you know, do you remember our friend who asked you a few months ago who would die next Phillip Owen before you open a safe injecting room, well she was the next person who died. She’s dead now because you didn’t open a safe injecting room.

And after 10 years, totally to his credit, Phillip Owen says who the hell are these people and incognito he goes to the downtown East Side and he just spoke to loads of addicts, and he was totally blown away. He had no idea their lives were like this. He had no idea there were people in such pain, and he then went and met Milton Freedman, the Nobel Prize winning economist who was really good on the drug war partly because he had grown up in Chicago under alcohol prohibition. And Phillip Owen came back and he held a press conference and he had the Chief of Police and a Coroner and a representative of the addicts, and he said he was never going to speak about addiction again without an addict present, and he was going to open the first safe injecting room in North America and the most compassionate drug policies in North America and that things were going to change.

And Phillip Owen opened the first safe injecting room, and his conservative party was so horrified they deselected him and his political career ended, but they selected a right wing candidate who was opposed to it and he was beaten by the more liberal candidate who then won and kept the injecting room open. And when I went to the downtown East Side and interviewed the people involved the injecting room had been open for 10 years and the results were in. Deaths by overdose were down by 80 percent, and average life expectancy had increased by ten years which are like, you don’t get figures like that in epistemology except when a war ends which is what this was. And Phillip Owen told me and it was the proudest thing he ever did and he would sacrifice his entire political career all over again. And Bud, who I got to know well, and you can hear the interviews with him on the website he died last year. He was only in his early 60s, but he had been a homeless addict during a drug and it takes a toll on you.

And when Bud died they sealed off the streets of the downtown East Side where he had lived as a homeless person, and they had this incredible memorial service for Bud. And there were lots of people in that crowd who knew that they were alive because of what Bud did. You know as a direct result of the activism, the Canadian Supreme Court has ruled that addicts have an inalienable right to life and that includes the right to have a safe place to use drugs. That can never be taken away now. Anyone listening to this thinks uh, the drug war is such a big thing, the forces ranged against us are huge. I would just say to them, you are so much more powerful than you know. It’s hard to think of a more disempowered person than a homeless street addict. Bud didn’t wait for a leader. He didn’t wait for someone else. He didn’t ask permission from anyone. He didn’t sit there and ring his hands and say oh it’s so hard. He just started, and because of what he did an enormous number of people who would have died is still alive. If he can do it, we can do it.

Matthew: Great points Johann. I think that’s a good place to close. What a wonderful summary of your book and your travels and your discovery you’ve given us. Again that book’s called Chasing the Scream. It’s available at and most places online. How else can listeners find your work Johann?

Johann: They can go to and they can hear all the people we’ve pretty much talked about like Rosolio Reta, the serial killer and Bud and Chino and Lea Maddox, the cop in Baltimore. You can hear interviews with all of them at the website as well. And you can hear like, you know, I think particularly people are interested in marijuana, you know, the story of why marijuana was first banned. It was a crazy story. The story of the man who launched the modern war on drugs, Harry Anslinger. The story of how he stalked and killed Billy Holiday the jazz singer and just the, you know, and what happens when you legalize marijuana. So yeah loads of stories there as well.

Matthew: And this audience is definitely partial to listening to books. That’s how I have Chasing the Scream on the audible app.

Johann: Oh great.

Matthew: Just so everybody knows when you sign up to be with Audible they give you one book for free. It’s a great first book to get if you like to listen to audio books.

Johann: Crazy I probably shouldn’t say this, but if you sign up, you claim that as your free book and then you cancel, you get to keep the free book. So you can in fact get the audio book for nothing if you want to. Maybe I shouldn’t say that. I’ve been hearing really good things about the audio book. Apparently the guy who read it is really good.

Matthew: Yes.

Johann: I was slightly worried because the poor guy has to do like, you know, Mexican voices, Portuguese voices, he has to do the voice of a transsexual crack dealer from Brownsville Brooklyn. He has to do the voice of the president of Uruguay.

Matthew: Yes. It’s a wide range.

Johann: Yeah it’s slightly torturous for him, and he has to be my posh English voice. It’s very, yeah, problematic. I feel sorry for him.

Matthew: Well Johann, thank you so much for coming on CannaInsider we really appreciate it.

Johann: Great. Thank you so much.

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