Most Recent Interviews
- Jeff BoothEp 308 – Deflation Is Accelerating In Cannabis And Beyond
- Matt CutoneEp 307 – Dispensaries Forced To Adapt Turning To New Technology
- Seun AdedejiEp 306 – Born in Nigeria, Now He’s the Youngest African-American Dispensary Owner in America
- Dennis O’MalleyEp 305 – Cannabis Retailers Accelerating Innovation In The Wake of COVID-19
In this interview Maureen McNamara of CannabisTrainers.com helps us understand how cannabis business owners can make a connection with their customers, so customers stay loyal. Maureen also shares some best practices on creating edibles in the kitchen.
Don’t miss Maureen’s invaluable suggestions about making your cannabis business stand out.
Matthew: Hi, I’m Matthew Kind. Each week I’ll take you behind the scenes to interview the insiders that are shaping the rapidly evolving legal marijuana industry. Learn more at www.cannainsider.com. That’s www.cannainsider.com. What are the five disruptive trends that will shape the cannabis industry in the next five years? Find out with your free report at www.cannainsider.com/trends. That’s www.cannainsider.com/trends. Now here’s your program. Many cannabis businesses have invested in compliance training for their employees, but after that is done how do they go to the next step and ensure employees have meaningful customer interactions. We’re going to find out the answer to that question today with Maureen McNamara from Cannabis Trainers. Welcome Maureen.
Maureen: Hello, pleasure to be with you.
Matthew: Maureen, for people to get a better understanding of where you are in the world, can you tell us where you are?
Maureen: Yes, I am in Denver, Colorado.
Matthew: Okay, and how did you get started in the cannabis arena?
Maureen: It was interesting. It was almost accidental. I teach classes, I’ve been teaching classes for, oh my gosh, training’s been my focus for about 20 years. And last year… in the beginning of every class I introduce myself and I get a feel for who’s in the room, where do they work, what are they doing in the world. And I had about 13 months ago, I had some folks in my class that make edibles, and I stopped in my track. This is the first time anyone who had come to one of my certification classes that worked in the cannabis industry, and I was fascinated, and I kept referring back to how what I was teaching would be applicable to their business. And from there it just started to grow. Month after month I had more and more people coming and then seeing the opportunity and the need to provide to the industry, I created a new company called Cannabis Trainers.
Matthew: And what does Cannabis Trainers offer?
Maureen: Our top two programs, definitely about responsibility, knowledge, compliance and we offer those classes to owners, managers, cannabis consultants, really anybody in the industry. Our top two programs, one is about food safety and the other is about responsible selling.
Matthew: Okay. Can you go into a little bit about what each one of those is, the food safety and responsible selling?
Maureen: My pleasure, sure. Sure. So the food safety class that I teach, it sounds pretty boring, dry cracker. But it is one of those foundational elements that they need and in fact, Matthew, here in Colorado it’s a requirement for recreational adult use marijuana edible infusers to be trained in food safety. And I think that’s a really positive move. And it will likely, as more and more states become cannabis friendly, that that will probably be a requirement within other states as well. But the food safety class I teach, I have been teaching it for 18 years and I’ve certified probably over 10,000 people, and what’s interesting and that I’m loving is customizing that for the cannabis industry. So it’s based on the model food code and all of the basic elements to food safety, but then I bring in the cannabis twist to all the different parts from receiving to cooking to infusing, all of those elements. And I think it’s widely and hugely impactful.
There’s some crazy statistics out there. Well I think they’re a bit crazy. They’re not crazy, they’re real. They’re real statistics from the CDC. The Center for Disease Control says that just in the United States about 58 million people get sick every year because of food borne illness. So that’s a huge one.
Matthew: That is huge.
Maureen: If we could see all your listeners as raise your hand if you’ve had a food borne illness, it is unpleasant.
Matthew: Yes it ruins your weekend for sure.
Maureen: It will ruin a couple of days. It’s not good. And I applaud the team that put together the rules here in Colorado by making that mandatory, part of the regulations. And I think it shows a commitment to safety and compliance and certainly with cannabis and cannabis edibles. Part of the population consuming that are medical patients. And people at most risk of food borne illness are people that already have a compromised immune system. So I know because the clients that have been coming to my classes are committed to creating a product and medicine that does good in the world, not that’s going to create all the symptoms of food borne illness that we shall not speak to right now.
Matthew: Yeah right. So if I have a cannabis related business or maybe an edibles business and I want to get up to speed with compliance, what’s the best way to do it from like a holistic standpoint? I want to build it into my business, not just have it as an add-on that kind of gets duct taped on.
Maureen: That’s a great way to say it because I find compliance to be a foundational element, shall never be duct taped. And honestly, Matthew, it’s one of those things where get a gallon of coffee, a comfortable place, maybe even some reading glasses because you’re going to be at it for a long time. And really read through the rules, read them. Read them from front to back, and I have done that several times, and feel free to take frequent breaks. But it is interesting and I think that’s the most comprehensive way to jump in is read the rules and then you will be likely, unless you have a strong legal background, a bit confused. And that’s where I come in. I have found it part of my job to read the rules, read them again, read them thrice and then create it in a way that’s digestible and easy to understand, easier to understand. But really that’s the place to get up to speed with compliance is to go front to back on them, and then make your list of questions and talk to an attorney, a client, a coworker, somebody else that can say how do you interpret this. And that’s something I’ve found really interesting. As I read through the rules and regulations to ensure I’m sharing with people how to be most compliant. There is room through interpretation. So I have a working relationship with the enforcement folk, and I call them often with questions.
Matthew: So you have this food safety course and now it’s kind of evolved into edibles. Is there some big differences there as far as food safety and edibles? It’s probably, is it the food safety plus so you’re doing everything you were doing at food safety and then adding specifics for the edibles people?
Maureen: That’s right. The food safety program I facilitate is already a well-established, five learning people already trained course that’s based on elements of the food code. Not based on elements, it is based on the entire food code. Now what’s different, at least in Colorado and that I’m aware of in other states, no one yet is making cannabis infused edibles with highly risky foods. I think I know business, now going to be a crazy example, here we go. Cannabis infused chicken, cannabis infused burgers.
Matthew: Foie Gras
Maureen: These are the things I am grateful for here and now in this moment don’t yet exist, although I’ve just inspired somebody to go create that. Good luck. Why I say that is because there are potentially hazardous foods and certain high risk foods, and most of our protein items are high risk foods. So your classic restaurant works with a lot of potentially hazardous foods. Where our cannabis infused edibles are generally more baked goods and chocolates and lozenges and candies and things like that. There isn’t an across the board, those are all safe, yet they’re typically safer. There’s a lot of science that goes into determining which foods are actually potentially hazardous; water activity, ph level, etcetera, etcetera. But typically I’d like put air quotes around that, most edibles are… look at your classic cookie. You can have your cookie, non-medicated cookie just on your shelf. It doesn’t require refrigeration. So when I’m leading these food safety trainings it is about customizing the conversation to their specific needs from certainly receiving food safely, who they’re purchasing from and how to receive trim or flower, what to look for. How to make sure we’re starting with the highest quality ingredients so that we’re assured that we’re creating the highest quality and safe edibles. And I know that the word safe has many meanings when we’re talking about cannabis from a food safety prospective, from a concentration prospective, all of that.
Matthew: So there is people that have experience in baking and creating edibles and infused products, and then they have this experience and then they come to your class. Is there any light bulbs that go off where they say oh my god I was doing X, Y or Z and that was really put me at risk.
Maureen: I love when experienced people come to my program. It delights me because I really… I facilitate in a way that it’s really pulling on all of my participants’ wisdom, savvy, street smarts. I call them stories from the streets as well. And so I really love when there are well-educated, everybody comes in with knowing elements. And I believe and in fact I ask in most classes what did you learn that you didn’t know before, and everybody hand… every hand goes up and like I poll on some of those details. I would say the biggest opportunity, and this isn’t the cannabis industry, this is anybody making, working with food is the basic, this is something we started learning decades ago, it’s personal hygiene. And it’s amazing. In fact I will throw down a challenge to your listeners to how long do we have to wash our hands, and there’s actually details about that in the food code, and it’s 20 seconds. And I would say most people, and I’m an observer of this when I’m out there in the world, wash their hands for about 5 seconds or less if they do at all.
Matthew: It’s the Happy Birthday song right?
Maureen: It’s Happy Birthday twice, you know the deal. You know the scoop. So this is the number one way to keep ourselves healthy so that we never miss a day of work, a day of fun, whatever it may be is our own frequent, proper, thorough hand washing. And so almost every class I meet people are like yeah, I could correct and coach my team to do that better, more frequently, more thoroughly. And then we talk about details with glove use, and there are some guidelines around that so that we’re making sure we’re making safe product. It’s been wonderful. I would say I’ve trained a lot of people in food safety and a lot of cannabis focused people as well, and they’re already doing a lot of this really well and that’s good to see.
Matthew: Now what is reliable vendor training? Can you explain what that is and also tell us if that’s required?
Maureen: It is the other of the top two programs that we offer. And it’s a class that I love, and I’ve actually been leading its sister version for restaurants and hotels, safe alcohol service for 18 years. And so I transformed and created a program called Sell Smart, and it is the responsible cannabis vendor training. And it really digs into the details of at point of sale for cannabis consultants, managers, owners, and it goes into security at an establishment, at a dispensary, all the laws and regulations that really pertain to the selling process. Details of checking IDs, how to handle tricky situations and our final chapter is a hugely important one, How to Educate Consumers or Patients to Consume Responsibly and Safely. And it’s interesting about it being required. In Colorado it’s a voluntary program and it is called the Responsible Vendor Act. And if people get their team trained and then every new employee is trained within 90 days, they are then designated and considered a responsible vendor. And it is a voluntary program and I look forward to seeing, as the years go on, what other states will choose. In Colorado it’s voluntary. It’s interesting, I would put a guess out there. Am I allowed to make guesses and predictions?
Matthew: Sure absolutely.
Maureen: Is that I’m seeing that many of the enforcement divisions in each state are linked or cousin/sisters of the liquor enforcement divisions. And I have a hunch that when alcohol training has been required in states, those states will also mandate/require safe cannabis selling training as well. But this really varies state to state.
Matthew: Okay. Now switching gears to leadership. In addition to some of the services you offer, you offer leadership coaching. Is leadership something that can be taught?
Maureen: I do believe so.
Maureen: We have probably crossed paths with people that seem natural leaders. They seem to do it easily, effortlessly. It reminds me of being in yoga. There are people in my yoga class, I’m like whoa, you are so bendy and flexible and you can do that with great ease and I admire that. And then there’s other people in yoga like me that really need to work with positions, but it does get easier and it becomes more fluid. And I think that’s similar to there are natural talents and skills of leadership, and they are skills. So when we practice or get coaching on how to coach, how to lead, how to communicate, those skills strengthen and can transform. And so I do believe there’s a blend, but somebody that would claim, ugh, I’m just a horrible leader; I don’t buy it. I believe that if you desire to create changes, you can learn the skills, practice, practice, practice the skills and create a shift.
Matthew: Do you have an example of somebody that really took to the leadership training and came out of their shell and went with it?
Maureen: I do. I did some work with an organization, a nonprofit organization that works primarily with at-risk women and providing them food cooking, restaurant skills and things like that. And I was honored and thrilled to be able to work with this group. We did a five week series really blended of communication and leadership and to see the shift from session one to session five was powerful. And these are… these were people that really wanted to create changes in their life circumstance and likely hadn’t taken, you know, the Dale Carnegie course or leadership skill or a Red Books, etcetera. And so the shift that I witnessed was powerful. And one of the things, sometimes it’s just the simple things that really can create those changes. And one of them was on how to give feedback powerfully. So many of these men and women in the program would need to tell people how to do things better or differently and that always wasn’t so well received. So to give correction in a way where it can actually be heard and then skills change and develop was one of the most powerful things I saw them able to do.
Matthew: So some soft skills that people can work on right now, you know, eye contact, tone of voice, body language, can you tell us a little bit about those things?
Maureen: Well I do believe those are a foundational element to powerful communication, connecting leadership and really moving forward. And I would say consider those… I know we call them more soft skills, and they are transcendent between a colleague, a team, a customer, a patient, all of us, and find them so hugely important because they really are those foundational elements to success. And they create an environment of respect, professionalism, loyalty, and again that could be for my teammates, my colleagues or my clients. And the other thing that I think is really helpful about being a good communicator is that if something goes wrong, it’s just way easier to recover. I teach a class called “Calming the Cranky.” And all of us, we’ve had stuff go wrong in our business or not go quite the way we desired. I’m dreaming of a quote here and I forget who said it. A good recovery can be better than if nothing went wrong in the first place. A great recovery could be better for the customer interaction if nothing went wrong in the first place.
Matthew: That’s a great quote because you really get to see how a person responds under stress.
Maureen: Indeed, and if we have already created that respectful, professional, loyal foundation again with one of our clients, customers, patients or with our internal team, it’s simply easier to overcome or dissolve any of those tricky situations.
Matthew: Now one of the themes of this show is that at some point supply and demand are going to even and cannabis is not going to be this green gold in essence. There’s going to be more competition. It’s more commoditized, and dispensary owners and managers will have to stand out in a certain way. And some of the things you’re talking about like some of the soft skills, and I can even tell when we’re talking you weave in my name as we talk over and over again. And not everybody does that, and I can imagine that someone that’s a bud tender that listens to their customer, you know, says their name once or twice throughout the conversation shows that they’re listening and what customer is saying is being understood. These are huge advantages. Can you tell us some other ways that dispensary owners can do things to stand out so that customers come to their dispensary over and over.
Maureen: I am so grateful that you pointed that out, and I think that using names is a major way to show that person that they are important, that you are connecting to them and if we were going to poll your listeners again, right, now set aside whoever’s had a food borne illness. My next question for everybody is who listening is excellent at remembering or using names. My hunch is the majority of people are like, uh, not me, not me, sometimes I need to look at my own driver’s license to figure out names. So it’s a skill that is powerful to create connection. And I have a couple of tips especially for cannabis consultants, bud tenders is that one of the, let’s see, one of the skills that I encourage and invite people to do when they’re in Sell Smart class is to not only check that person’s identification at the door, but to keep that ID visible and available throughout the selling process and to check it again for sure as the sale is complete in that element. And with that, for those of us that think we’re not good at remembering names, good, don’t. You don’t need to remember it, just look at the ID. It’s really easy. It still creates that connection. So overall the question, I think, imposes how do we stand out. How do we stand out in this industry. And other industries might say location, location, location. It’s the three legged stool, location. I would say quality, compliance and connection. First of all with compliance, if we’re not being compliant, you know, good luck. That calls for shutdown, investment money gone, etcetera, etcetera. So please always play compliantly. I say whatever the rules are do that and add a little bit of extra rule in there. But the way I think we really begin to stand out is how connected we are, how caring, compassionate and creating that connection. As humans we desire to feel seen and heard, respected, honored and so much of that is in the high quality guest service, customer service, patient service skills. And I think you mentioned one of the most basic, yet helpful in creating that connection is really being attentive and in that attention using people’s names, making them feel heard and honored. And one of the things I’ve done several secret shops when I go in and visit and see how are the bud tenders doing and what’s my experience. And one of the things I really liked in creating that connection is staying ahead of the game and standing out in the competition. What if everybody has high quality flower and high quality edibles, but what’s the differentiator from there. And this cannabis consultant said, ladies I really hope you have a good experience like this, please come back next week. Let me know what your experience was and then I will be able to help direct you to your next purchase. And I loved it, and she was the only one out of the shopping that I had done that did that. One, comeback, ask for me. Let me know what your experience was, I will help guide you in your next experience. And there’s so many things about that that are great and inviting and it’s assuming of course I’m going to see you again. I have more products so you might as well do it with me, and I will guide. Like all of that is really powerful.
Matthew: A little bit of subtle power of suggestion in there.
Maureen: I know you’re going to have a fabulous experience and you’ll want more. Let me guide you.
Matthew: It’s so funny that we’re talking about these things. I did a poll recently and I asked everybody I knew almost in the cannabis industry, you know, who’s the best bud tender, what’s the best dispensary. And it’s so funny to hear the things come up over and over again. You know, and it’s the connection that you’re talking about. That’s what people go back for. I even heard things like, sometimes they even run out or they apologized even for those dispensary’s mistakes because the connection was so strong.
Maureen: That’s right. Those soft skills that you and I spoke to moments ago really help create that. And again if a ball gets dropped, when people feel respected, honored, appreciated, the ball is more of a bounce, right. It’s not going to shatter. So that is an important element to that. I also had another interaction that was a stand out experience. And I’m also very aware. When I go into purchas cannabis I’m very curious. I’m a newer consumer and I have a lot of questions, and I also want to honor that consultant’s time. And if there’s people in the waiting room or there seems to be a line, I kind of want to hurry it along, yeah, I’m still curious. He did such a good job. He said don’t worry about anyone else. I am completely here for you as long as you need. And the thing that was different about this, Matthew, and I think you’ll get this because this is a huge part to standing out and created that connection. It was authentic and genuine. You know, there’s probably.. you and I have crossed paths with people that are kind of wrote. They learned the script and they’re saying it and it doesn’t mean anything. He was very authentic and genuine, and really seemed like I’ve got all the time in the world for you.
Matthew: That’s a great point because if it’s not authentic and genuine, it can have the exact opposite effect.
Maureen: It’s so true. We’ve all crossed paths with that. Like oh, your robot is saying that and it doesn’t mean it is. And so sorry that was your experience. I wonder how can I make it better. Like it’s a script and the person doesn’t really care. But the caring, genuine, authentic, professional, those are the people that I’m seeing a lot of in this industry and they will continue to flourish.
Matthew: You know this has been a great interview Maureen. I’ve learned a lot today and I think that I may need to take How to Calm a Cranky Person course.
Maureen: It’s one of my favorite classes. There’s formulas that we use on how to handle a diffused, tough situation. It’s a good one.
Matthew: Now how can listeners learn more about Cannabis Trainers and follow your work?
Maureen: Oh I’d love for your listeners to come join me. Well that can occur at Cannabis Trainers on Facebook, on Twitter and www.cannabistrainers.com My I share my email?
Matthew: Sure, absolutely.
Maureen: Yeah, I welcome people if you have questions about what Matt and I spoke about today, I welcome you to reach out to me. It’s Maureen@cannabistrainers.com. So those are the best ways to reach out.
Matthew: Well great, you know, one more question. I was just thinking that you’re also really involved with Women Grow. We’ve had Jane West on here too. Can you just touch a little bit on your experience with Women Grow?
Maureen: I am a big fan of Women Grow. Jane West and Jazmin Hupp are the co-founders, and I’m proud to be one of the founding members. And really it’s about cultivating cannabis entrepreneurs. Who’s the next generation? And it’s caught like wildfire. We’ve got chapters from coast to coast and a lot of involvement. And I’m honored to be contributing in part of that. And one of the things in fact earlier this week, we are putting together webinars and live streams, and one of the first ones we’re going to launch in January is about how to get into the industry. If there are women that are curious and kind of watching us from the sidelines or really anybody who wants to be involved, well be having a webinar on that. And the industry, I’m really pleased and thrilled. There was times I was at a women networking event which happens the first Thursday, unless it’s on a holiday, of every month, and at the last meeting a couple of weeks ago I got teary eyed. I was moved, and listening to women talk about her experience and story about why she’s in the industry. And I felt and feel so honored to be part of this movement, to be a contribution in any way that I can to have it go more safely, professionally, filled with knowledge and awareness. And I find that so many other entrepreneurs and especially female and Women Grow are really moving the conversation forward in a super positive, professional way.
Matthew: I agree. Women Grow has been very helpful to me too. It’s not just women they are helpful to, you know, it’s been very helpful to me. So I appreciate that.
Maureen: They have lots of brave men that come in. Yeah.
Matthew: And just to reiterate for women listening across the country, there’s chapters in different cities and you can also make your own chapter if there isn’t one in your city.
Maureen: Yeah, please consider that. The team at Women Grow is trying to make… is making that as easy as possible, and we’ve had chapters popping up all over the country. And it’s a really great way to be collaborative with other professionals in your actual area.
Matthew: Thanks so much to you Maureen McNamara of Cannabis trainers for being on CannaInsider today. Thank you Maureen.
Maureen: Thank you.
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 www.cannainsider.com/itunes. What are the five disruptive trends that will shape the cannabis industry in the next five years? Find out with your free report at www.cannainsider.com/trends. That's www.cannainsider.com/trends. Have a suggestion for an awesome guest on www.cannainsider.com, email us firstname.lastname@example.org. We would love to hear from you.
Douglas Leighton of Dutchess Capital details why most people don’t understand how the cannabis market is different. Most new businesses have to convince prospective customers to try their product or service. This is not the case with cannabis. There are millions of people that use cannabis illegally right now they just need to be brought over to the new, legal market.
Also learn about Doug’s savvy investment style that includes investments in: MassRoots and Dixie Elixirs. See Dutchess Capital’s report, The Macro View of the Cannabis Market.
Matthew: Hi, I’m Matthew Kind. Each week I’ll take you behind the scenes to interview the insiders that are shaping the rapidly evolving legal marijuana industry. Learn more at www.cannainsider.com. That’s www.cannainsider.com. What are the five disruptive trends that will shape the cannabis industry in the next five years? Find out with your free report at www.cannainsider.com/trends. That’s www.cannainsider.com/trends. Now here’s your program. Douglas Leighton is a partner at Duchess Capital, and a well-known cannabis investor. Today we’re going to learn why Douglas is excited about the cannabis industry and what he sees is the best investments. Welcome to CannaInsider Douglas.
Douglas: Thanks very much for having me Matt.
Matthew: To give us a sense of geography, can you tell us where you are in the world today?
Douglas: Sure, I’m in rainy and cold Boston today.
Matthew: Okay. Can you tell us a little bit about Duchess Capital and its focus?
Douglas: Sure Duchess has been around for about 15 years, almost 20 years. I’m sorry. And we are a hedge fund. We have several offices around the globe, and we are industry agnostic, and we invest in primarily publically traded entities. And about a few years ago we started looking into the legal marijuana market, and we sort of progressed into, you know, still doing our traditional business, but we’ve put about 25 percent of our resources into the legal marijuana space.
Matthew: So you produced a report recently that gives a lot of detail about the cannabis industry and your thoughts about it. Excellent, very well done. Can you give us some high level overview of what’s in that report and what’s important about it?
Douglas: Sure. The first thing I think to mention, which is very important, is that this is a industry that is being served illegally and has been served illegally for thousands of years which today stands at about a $50 billion illegal black market. The current legal market for cannabis is approximately $2 billion. As more states come online, that black market will diminish and it will become a legal market. That gap has to be narrowed. That $48 billion has to be narrowed. That in itself is probably the highlight of the entire report.
The second is the fact that the demand is constant. The demand has been there for years and there’s no real marketing that has to be done on the side of these dispensaries and retailers because the demand is there, and marketing is a very large portion of a business’s budget, and that makes it very easy to sell a product that there’s already a current demand. The other thing that’s very important about that is that there’s only 24 jurisdictions in the United States have allowed either medical or adult use marijuana. There’s still 26 left to go. So that just in itself is a doubling or almost a tripling in the market due to the state sizes, populations in each state. And of those ones that actually have gone full, either recreational or medicinal, they’re still not fully built out. So we estimate about $1.7 billion will be spent in infrastructure, sort of the picks and shovels to miners over the course of the next 18 months. And that’s what gets us excited about the business.
Matthew: That’s an excellent point. So this industry exists. It’s just moving from black to white market, let’s say, and all these customers are lined up. It’s so much different than investments where you’re speculating if a market will… if we can create a market. The market is already there, it’s just transferring it to a, in many cases, less desirable, or most cases less desirable black market to a legal market. So excellent point. It’s enormous. It’s an absolutely enormous market. Can you tell us a little bit about your cannabis related investments so far, who you invested in and why?
Douglas: Sure. We looked at the cannabis space for quite a long time before we actually made an investment. And we started with the widest funnel possible. And our first investment was a company called Mass Roots, which is the only and specifically social media network for the cannabis space. I believe you had Mass Roots on a couple of weeks ago I think.
Matthew: Yeah, Isaac. Isaac, he’s a very smart young man.
Douglas: Yes, yeah. The team, Isaac and the team over there have done a fantastic job at building out this network with very little capital, and there’s a need to have this sharing service where on the terms of service of Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, you’re not allowed to post pictures of cannabis. This allows in states where it’s legal, you can talk and post pictures about cannabis and that is your marijuana profile where you don’t want your coworkers, parents, friends to see that maybe you use cannabis for medicinal purposes or you’re in an adult state that allows it, and you don’t want anyone else to know. This is where that’s your profile semi-anonymous network, and that has been… that’s been a fantastic and fun investment. We invested in that about a year and a half ago. You know, they’re now up to about 215,000 users from 6,500 when we made the investment which is pretty amazing.
Another company that we did sort of fall in that funnel concept was American Cannabis Company, and they are a end-to-end business service company that helps you if you’re looking to get a marijuana dispensary or cultivation license. They’ll help you from the beginning, planning stages of business and perform all the way through the application through standard operating procedures for running a dispensary and for running a commercial cultivation. And that company has been fantastic as well, and they’re growing very rapidly. Those are just two. We’ve made about 14 investments in this space so far to date.
Matthew: Do you see a spark in the eye of some of these entrepreneurs? Is there something at a gut level where you say, you know, I’ve looked at the math, but there’s something I just really like about these entrepreneurs?
Douglas: Absolutely. Without the spark there’s no investment. These are all young, younger-ish people and they are all immature, not as immature as they were two years ago when we first started looking, but they’re immature from a business prospective side, but they all are very hardworking, very energetic. They have the vision. They understand the industry. And they know where the industry is going to be. You know, the standard sort of stereotype of a stoner is, you know, sitting on the couch, you know, eating Doritos, watching TV. From the entrepreneurs we’ve seen, we do not get that image whatsoever. These are all very hard working, smart, young kids that are working 17-18 hour days, 7 days a week, and they’re really the pioneers of a new industry.
Matthew: Do you focus exclusively on equity investments or do you do some loans at all?
Douglas: We’re primarily equity, however we have done some short term debt loans to companies who are already equity invested in, just to sort of help them out over a hump either for factoring reasons or for some different short term financing issues, but generally we’re equity investors not debt investors.
Matthew: Do you have any opinion on whether or not you want to invest in companies that touch the plant or don’t touch the plant, or is that a non-issue for you?
Douglas: It’s a non-issue for us. We will invest either in the plant or not. We don’t invest in either Colorado or Washington State because of the residency requirements which forces you to invest in debt. We’re not debt investors so we’re staying away from those markets that touch the plant.
Matthew: Help us understand the supply and demand dynamics here. Infrastructure nationwide is still being built out. A lot of grow operations are still small, but we’re seeing some larger ones come online. At what point does the price per gram start to really plummet, or do you think that will happen?
Douglas: So that’s one of the interesting things that we wrote about in our report which is this is a very different situation than most other investments that we’ve looked at over our 25 plus year history. In that in some states, for instance Colorado, it was not… it was vertically integrated. You had to grow and sell your own marijuana for many years. As of July 1st, there was a decoupling of that where now you can actually grow your own marijuana and sell it to dispensaries. That is going to lead to a commoditization of the product which in turn will turn, put price pressure, and that is another reason why we’re not investing in Colorado, very similar to Canada and similar to Washington State.
Other states such as Massachusetts for instance, they do not allow that. You have to be vertically integrated. That will keep the price very high and the product will not be commoditized because you have to grow it and sell it in your own retail shop. And as far as interstate commerce, I don’t think I will see interstate commerce at least for ten years. And the reason why, many other people disagree with me, but the reason I believe that is for the simple fact that in the state of Massachusetts, you can’t even ship wine into the state of Massachusetts which has been legal for 80 years. They’re very protective of that, and I don’t see them changing that rule to allow anyone else to ship marijuana across state lines, especially in the state of Massachusetts.
Matthew: That’s a great point there. So the dispensaries in Massachusetts in essence by default have regional monopolies because there’s not enough supply and it’s so strictly regulated. Does that leave room for the black market to still exist then?
Douglas: Well it won’t because there is… as long as the price is similar to the price in the black market, which it should be able to be because it’s easier to grow and less expensive to grow on a commercial scale than it is to grow ten plants in your basement. That will in effect keep the price very similar to the black market.
Matthew: Okay. And how about let’s look at 2015, and are you looking at making any more cannabis related investments in 2015, or are you just keeping an open mind to see what comes to you, or what do you have on the horizon?
Douglas: So we will close two deals probably the end of this year bringing the total to sixteen. And next year, you know, we look to do 12 to 15 investments. If we, you know, we’re shown 30 we would do that, that set the criteria. If you know valuations are still in check, you know, we’ll certainly look at more, but we would… we also would do none if we couldn’t find the right spot for it.
Matthew: Yeah let’s talk about valuations for a little bit. Where do you see them? They’re still reasonable, do you see more becoming unreasonable? What can you tell us?
Douglas: They had a spike along with the public equity markets in January through March. They have become a little bit more reasonable. They need to be considerably more reasonable. They’re not yet, and a lot of these entrepreneurs simply just don’t understand how to value a company, and they believe because they’re in the cannabis space that it’s worth a considerable more. And the issue with that that was just recently in the last week, a company that raised capital at a very high valuation. They launched their product and within a week, they were sued by a major city, the second largest city in the country and they were sued to be shut down. And now they’re fighting. They’re using all the invest money for lawsuits. So as much as I love this space and I think it’s the next great frontier, there’s a tremendous amount of risk in this space, and that’s why valuations need to be adjusted to that.
Matthew: If I’m a entrepreneur listening or an investor listening, what are the big problems that need to be solved in the cannabis industry that someone’s going to be, do really really well if they can solve these big problems?
Douglas: I’m going to… three off the top of my head. One, banking, and that’s merely a safety issue. There’s too much money being carried around by people that should not be carrying around that much money. Number two, they need to reschedule the drug. This is not as risky as heroin or cocaine. And number three, they need to change 50 years of brainwashing and stigmatism that is put on this plant on how evil it is and that needs to be changed. Those three things are the most important things. You’re never going to change number three or make any money from it anyway, but the first two are very very important to change.
Matthew: Now a lot of the entrepreneurs out there that understand the investor's point of view really well seem to do well. And I think there’s a perception that that’s not the case. But can you tell us a little bit about how entrepreneurs can be more investor friendly?
Douglas: Sure. The first is to not… to put a pitch deck and PowerPoint together that you understand and that is your gut feel that’s your vision, not that someone wrote for you and you’re reading it to me. I want to hear it from your heart of exactly what your vision is and how you’re going to get there, and what you believe is your, you know, differentiating fact in your value proposition and what this money that we’re going to invest is going to turn into. And the second thing is to have open communication. While the process of the investment is being made, once it’s made, constant reports, monthly reports on financials whether it be contracts, user growth, anything positive and most importantly anything negative. We have 25 years experience in investing. We have a very deep bench of people that can help us out, and we need to know all the good news as well as all the bad news, and if a pivot has to happen, let us know about it. Let’s discuss it and let’s try and fix it together, not just tell me everything’s great every day, because I know that’s not the case.
Matthew: Right, and you don’t want to be the last one to know. Okay. So you mentioned you’re in Boston, and the stigma still exists to some extent, in some places much more than others. How is it changing there? Are attitudes changing a little bit?
Douglas: A little bit. You know, Boston’s always a little slower to change than other places, but it’s slowly changing. And you know the issue is people again have been so, you know, brainwashed by “Reefer Madness” throughout the years and how dangerous the drug is that people really need to be educated to understand that it’s not as dangerous as heroin and cocaine. It’s not addicting. No one ever died from it, and there just needs to be an education process which is taking place, but it just takes a long time.
Matthew: And Doug how can people learn more about Duchess Capital?
Douglas: They can go to www.duchesscapital.com or they can call us on any of the social media outlets. We’re on all of them. And you know, contact us if you have any questions.
Matthew: Thanks so much to Douglas Leighton for being on CannaInsider today. Thanks Doug.
Douglas: Thanks very much. Have a good day.
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 www.cannainsider.com/itunes. What are the five disruptive trends that will shape the cannabis industry in the next five years? Find out with your free report at www.cannainsider.com/trends. That's www.cannainsider.com/trends. Have a suggestion for an awesome guest on www.cannainsider.com, email us email@example.com. We would love to hear from you.
Listen in as Genifer Murray, founder and president of CannLabs (CANL) describes the different ways CannLabs tests cannabis, not just for potency but for harmful substances like mold and heavy metals. Genifer also tells us the highest THC level she has ever seen in a cannabis flower. Don’t miss this episode.
Matthew: Hi, I’m Matthew Kind. Each week I’ll take you behind the scenes to interview the insiders that are shaping the rapidly evolving legal marijuana industry. Learn more at www.cannainsider.com. That’s www.cannainsider.com. What are the five disruptive trends that will shape the cannabis industry in the next five years? Find out with your free report at www.cannainsider.com/trends. That’s www.cannainsider.com/trends. Now here’s your program. Today we’re going to learn about cannabis testing and why it is important. CannLabs provides cannabis testing services and consulting services to help growers ensure they have the highest quality, safest product for the public. I’m pleased to welcome Genifer Murray founder and president of CannLabs to CannaInsider today. Welcome Genifer.
Genifer: Thank you Matt. I’m very excited to be here.
Matthew: To give us a sense of geography can you tell us where are in the world?
Genifer: Yes, I’m actually in Denver, Colorado.
Matthew: Great, and I want to dig into what CannLabs does testing-wise, but can you give us a little background on yourself and how you started CannLabs?
Genifer: Sure. Basically at the beginning of 2010, so the end of January, I was back visiting my dad in Arizona, and I was at a friend of a friend’s restaurant and started talking to this gentleman. And he found out I had a degree in science and he kind of perked up and I thought that was a little weird. And then he was asking me about if I was… trying to find out if I was pro cannabis or not and quickly he found out I was, and said he had an idea of testing. And I said testing, kind of like everybody else. And he said yeah like, you know, you test milligrams of Vicodin. And that moment changed my life forever. Did my due diligence and we started CannLabs together then I bought him out at the end of 2011, and I brought on another investor. And then we went public in June of this year, 2014.
Matthew: Wow that’s a great story.
Genifer: Yeah it’s crazy.
Matthew: It is. Now many business owners may kind of get dragged into testing hemming and hawing. They say well I already know my cannabis is clean and arguments like that. And then at some point there’s a couple of realizations. A) this is inevitability. I have to get this done. But B) this can really help my business. I can stand out and give, you know, my customers confidence that, you know, my THC level is this high. I don’t have mold and etcetera. Can you help us frame how we should think about testing?
Genifer: Yes, and you’re absolutely right. It’s been a tough road first of all because nobody understood it. I mean it’s new thinking and when you try to explain that to people early on, you know, all they can think about was their unnecessary cost, and that they’re, you know, they’re doing their best to compete and to spend more money, they just didn’t get it. But in actuality it does make you stand out, and it does show that you are selling a top of the line product. And that doesn’t mean… I don’t mean that without testing you don’t have a top of the line product. I just mean that you can prove to somebody that it does not have pesticides, it does not have mold, and give them an exact dose of what they’re taking which is very important to find out why this plant works so well. We need to know the specifics about the plant and the more we know about the plant, the more we’re going to be able to help and make better medicine.
So it’s also to discover new cannabinoids. A funny but tragic story is CBD. So four years ago it was barely talked about, okay. All samples had less than 1 percent. It was insignificant. We really didn’t talk about it much, and then I remember testing for my first 1 to 1 ratio. It was 7 percent/6 percent CBD to THC in the summer of 2010, and I tested it like 10 times to make sure it was what it was. I called… it happened to be Bubblegum Kush, I called and since then he has been growing some amazing genetics. But if you weren’t testing, okay, you found a plant that did not produce a lot of product. It wasn’t a high producer. It didn’t look as pretty as what you thought the THC plants did, and it didn’t really get you high so people got rid of it. And unfortunately that was… those were high CBD genetics. And so a lot… and now we have a CBD shortage. Kids need it, you know, cancer patients. Like it’s a real big contributor to this plant, and so you know, if people that have been testing, they could have had plenty CBD stains now. And I feel like that is the same now for CBC and CBG and THCV and some of these other amazing cannabinoids that we’re learning more about now.
Matthew: Yes. Can you talk a little bit about the entourage effect because you have a really good understand of the cannabinoids, how they interrelate and how we should be thinking about that.
Genifer: Yeah, so to really just make it simple, cannabis brings you back to ground zero, if you will. If you’re neurons are over firing, you know, they will calm them down. If they’re under firing, they’ll bring them up. But the most important thing is in pharmaceuticals you have one interaction, right. You have one active ingredient and thus it creates all of these side effects. Well in cannabis you have over 500 constituents in that plant working for you. There’s over 66, that we know of, cannabinoids to this point. We test for about 9 of them. And then you have all the flavonoids and carbohydrates and protein and chlorophyll and all these other things in the plant that help work together. But these cannabinoids are like… it seems like a lock and key. So that’s why you’re not getting a ton of side effects.
Matthew: Okay. And what tests do you do the most that are the most popular?
Genifer: Well it’s always been potency. It started with potency just because the people that wanted to get ahead with testing, wanted to show that they had high THC, okay. But and now that’s the only thing mandated in Colorado for recreational users. It’s potency of concentrates, edibles and flowers, but soon will be health and safety. But to me all the tests are very important, and if you put product… and as you consume cannabis and you understand it, you can taste… you can taste things. You can taste a bad flush or somebody not flushing. You can taste, you know, butane and propane in hash oils. I mean you get familiar with the tasting of it, but unfortunately when people come from out of state, they don’t know, they don’t understand and everybody thinks, oh well cannabis can’t kill you so you know, why should it be tested. Well we’ve been doing things to cannabis that’s never been done before, one. And two, really like 20 years ago or 10 years ago or even 5 years ago if you were sick and went to your doctor, most likely you’re not going to tell your doctor that you’re consuming cannabis, right.
Matthew: Right, right.
Genifer: So do we really know the specifics on that, no we don’t. But the more we know about it the better.
Matthew: And could you tell us a little bit about how the testing works, let’s just say for THC concentration? I did take a tour of your labs and it’s exactly how most people would picture. There’s people walking around with white lab coats on and there’s machines and it looks very complicated to someone that’s layperson, but can you kind of describe what is happening there in the lab?
Genifer: Sure. So you have different… usually these tests need different instrumentation, and just to give you a difference, machines make things and instruments measure things. So all the things in our lab are instruments as far as when were measuring something. We prefer liquid chromatography. So we use a UPLC, a waters UPLC to do potency. The reason we do that is THC acid is what naturally occurs in the plant, CBD acid, and when you use gas chromatography, you decarboxylate that so you can’t get the acidic numbers. So really… and also you don’t want to change the structure of the molecule. You really want to analyze it in its natural state. And so that’s why we prefer liquid chromatography. But then when you’re talking about residual solvents, you know, you have to ignite the sample so it does take gas. So we use a GC flame ion detector with a head space, and so that ignites the oil sample and it traps the gas in, if there’s any butane or propane and then we measure parts per million for that. And then another chemist test is heavy metals and that’s done with ICPMS, pesticides. Can either be done with liquid or gas. And then micro has its own test. So your micro lab… our micro lab downstairs, mold, mildew and then your bacteria; e-coli, salmonella, we do ph water activity and then we’ll be starting genetics.
Matthew: Now just out of curiosity, how would heavy metal find its way into cannabis? Is that leached in through the water or is there some other way?
Genifer: So it could be reached in through the soil. So actually hemp is used for soil remediation, and so it pulls the impurities out and then you get rid of the plant. That’s one of the ways hemp is used. And so cannabis, kind of the same thing. So if you have bad soil or if you have… if you have nutrients, let’s say, that maybe have some heavy metals in them and your plant’s up taking and you’re not flushing, and then possibly water too.
Matthew: Okay and now how long does a typical battery of tests take, your most common test? Is it a few days, a week or how long?
Genifer: So potency usually we have some customers that get a 24 hour turnaround time. We also have expedited service available for same day as long as it’s dropped off in the morning. But typically it’s 48 to 72 hours. And then with the other stuff usually the residual solvents can get done in the same amount of time as well. But again microbes take a while to grow. So usually that’s 5 to 7 days. But we’re getting our QPCR method validated, and so what that does is it accelerates the growth. So instead of 5 to 7 days, it could be one day or two days. I think two days, and then if there is an infestations then we have to run plates to double check that. You always have to double check micro. And then pesticides it kind of depends on if it’s a pesticide scan or if it’s a quantification of pesticides. Of course quantifying takes a little longer, and it’s a different method. But usually potency and residual solvent, the most popular tests, are you know 48 hours I would say. And we’re trying to get that down to 20-24 hour.
Matthew: There’s so much innovation in the cannabis industry in terms of edibles, concentrates. I mean every time I turn around there’s a half dozen new things. Is that cause some complications as far as having, you know, testing edibles versus flower. Are you having to constantly retool to manage all these things or is it pretty simple?
Genifer: You know what that’s such a great question and usually people don’t ask that and listen it is very complicated. Edibles are the most complicated, right. They have different matrix in them. Some have seeds. Some have nuts. Some have sugar. Some have this. Some have that. And so you.. we have to validate every method we use for everything. So our gummies has an extraction process, our brownies, our chocolate, sodas. And so we absolutely validate each of those methods and they’re all fairly different depending on the makeup of the edible. And then it is crucial to make sure that you extract the edible so you get all the cannabinoids out of it. And that’s kind of been the hard part of it. It’s not actually getting it on the instrument once you have figured out you instrumentation and have calibrated it and validated it and everything. It’s really the extraction process that is most important. And then we also have checks as well. So once the lab tech turns in the values, then we have our manager go over data review. And that’s very very important and I think a lot of labs don’t do that. But you know we’re only human and we can make mistakes whether that’s a decimal point or write down the wrong number on the wrong line. So it’s very important to have checks and also to, you know, have less of a chance for human errors. So we have a lot of things that help us like software for the scales and stuff like that so it alleviates handwritten problems.
Matthew: Now switching gears a little bit to problem mitigation. So let’s say I’m a cultivator. I send in a sample and it comes back with some things that are undesirable, let’s say, how do you work with those cultivators to say look let’s help you so this doesn’t happen again and figure out maybe how it happened?
Genifer: You bet. That’s one of the things that, you know, we do. And because we… these are relationships to us. Really it’s us doing a service for them. And so we just… we’re not like another environmental lab where we’re like hey, yeah sorry here you go. So we remediate. We go out and site track and look at what’s going on. Simple things, filters, that kind of thing that people just don’t understand or maybe their grower is getting lazy or you know, somebody missed it. I mean it could be as simple as covering up water. What kind of water you are using, you know, all of those factors that go into good manufacturing processes. And let’s face it, you know, most people do not have good manufacturing processes, at least what they need to to have a consistent product. So yeah, we help every step of the way, and actually microbial infestation depending on what it is can be remediated, whether that’s extractions, some extraction help. Now obviously if you extract something with pesticides it’s only going to amplify it. So this doesn’t work for pesticides, but with a lot of microbials you can run it through and extractor and it can be cleaned. So that’s an option, and then obviously going through and treating the plant with some safe things. So there’s a lot you can do, and you know with a lot of money riding on these crops, you know, you’re better off testing more and having less infestations. Because as you know you can grow a crop and it’s great and then the next time it’s got powdery mildew on it. So it’s really better to do a lot of testing so you don’t risk losing a crop.
Matthew: So if you had to narrow it down to, and I know it’s a hard thing to answer, but a takeaway for a cultivator. Say look, this is the number one or number two thing that most cultivators overlook that is pretty easy to mitigate to improve their yield, what would you suggest?
Genifer: Well improve their yield or have a healthy yield?
Matthew: I’m sorry, to have a healthy clean plant.
Genifer: You know what it is treating every crop like it’s the first one. So cleaning out the room. Taking everything out of the room and absolutely cleaning everything in the room. You know cleaning all your supplies. Filters, filters are a big one. People don’t think about them and especially filters where you’re sharing a facility with another person, another business. For instance we had somebody that had actual black mold, and it was blowing from the bakery next door.
Matthew: Oh god.
Genifer: So yeah. I mean you really have to be careful. And then of course, you know, should suit up. You should actually, I mean, depending on how, you know, how good you want to be, I mean you should suit up. You should shower when you get there. Suit up, leave your suit there. I mean, you know, not have a dog there, not have a dog in the dispensary that people pet and then go look in the grow. The less people in the grow the better of course. But, you know, those are some things that we definitely recommend. And then there’s, you know, other things depending on how you’re growing as well because there’s so many growing styles. But keeping things absolutely clean.
Matthew: Now if somebody is listening that has a legal home grow, can they send samples to CannLabs too?
Genifer: Sore subject, no they can’t. It’s a real sore subject. Unfortunately since CannLabs has a license and a certification by the state, we are only allowed to take samples from licensed entities, which breaks my heart mainly for the parents that have relocated from across the country if not the world to come to Colorado. And the medicine can be, you know, expensive. So they want to grow their own and then they can’t get it tested to dose it for their children. So they’re desperate and then they go to maybe some labs that aren’t certified. Well there’s a reason those labs aren’t certified. I mean there’s a lot of people that claim to be testers that don’t even have a chemist. It’s ridiculous. So we’re hoping to change that, and then medical marijuana doesn’t have to be tested. So when you come across the country, you still don’t know what’s in your medicine. It’s ridiculous.
Matthew: So is this… what’s the horizon look like for, you know, you’re talking about people that come from other states to get medicine for their kids. Is there a solution on the drawing board or is it still up in the air?
Genifer: We are so trying to, you know, fix it in legislation, this coming legislation period. So starting, I believe, in the end of February or end of January. But I don’t know what to say. And you know I’ve thought about actually opening or having somebody else open another lab because I know what I’m doing, but you couldn’t make it. I mean the labs here are barely making it as it is just because there’s only one thing mandatory and there’s so many labs here now. But so, one person opening up for patients, they couldn’t even make it work. So it’s a really tough situation right now, and we have to get it fixed. And if not, then yeah I’ll have to, you know, we’ll have to do something and have an instrument just at least to do potency.
Matthew: So this is a good transition to what’s going on in politics. I mean we could talk about Denver in particular, but how do you feel in general lawmakers are doing in finding the right balance of, you know, helping consumers, helping cannabis businesses and so forth? Do you think they’re finding the right balance? Is it too conservative some places, too liberal or just is insight lacking in any specific arena apart from what you just mentioned?
Genifer: Well what’s happening, what happened in Colorado specifically is you had an industry before regulation. Okay, so pre-2010 you had dispensaries here. I mean, you’ve had dispensaries all along since it passed in 2000, but nobody knew right. They were way under the radar. They started popping up at the end of 2009 when the Ogden Memo came out in October. So until July of 2010 there was no regulation. So once regulation came, the industry is not going to implement mandatory testing. They don’t want to pay for it. So they lobbied against it. And I didn’t realize that starting up. I had no idea. I had no… I had never lobbied or any, I mean, I’d heard of it but I didn’t really understand it. So once I understood that, then I started lobbying at the capitol and talking to people and you know, and people… most patients and people that consume of course want testing. And so it’s just getting implemented because of 64. Now if 64 wouldn’t have passed, who knows if medical would be tested now, but I would be out of business if it wasn’t. I knew that once recreational passed I would have a market because there’s no way they can make it legal without testing it, but here we are a year later with no health and safety testing. So I was a bit wrong. The other states are implementing it right away. So I don’t see how Colorado will not implement it fully. We recommend AHP, the American Herbal Pharmacopeia. They wrote a great testing regime that they got information from, you know, all the respectable labs and some other scientists and I think it’s a good start. But until we start it, and start testing we’re not going to know if we’re under testing or over testing right. Like Colorado doesn’t require listeria. Well does listeria find itself on the cannabis plant, I don’t know. So maybe we should test it for that to see. So basically the next couple of years are going to be testing and then figuring things out and figuring out what likes to grow within this plant and other things like that. But it’s crucial that we get this data.
Matthew: Now I love your input on this because it’s something I think about a lot, and I really don’t know the answer. So let’s say I’m a cultivator and I’m growing a specific strain of cannabis, we’ll say Star Dog, and I know what the cannabinoids profile is of this plant, but right down the street someone else is growing Star Dog too and their cannabinoids profile is different. I mean how do we get to a place where we can say this is an optimal Star Dog or an optimal Blue Dream? I mean how is that going to work?
Genifer: That’s genetics. So once we start doing genetic profiling in terpenes, terpenes play a big part in the plant. It is thought that terpenes are what distinguishes the sativa and indica. It is not the cannabinoids count. We still need more research on that, but there is no way to know if you’re smoking a sour or you’re using a Sour Diesel. We will have to genetically be able to every strain coming in, test the genetics and then you’ll know what’s what. But until that happens, you know, people are… something happens in the world and they name pot after it. Peyton Manning, you know, back when… what is his name? Charlie Sheen had his own strain for a while, you know. So I think there’s a strain called winning. So you know people change those or they, you know, they fool the customer and they’re like okay well Sour Diesel is a huge, you know, a huge strain. So we’re just going to call this Sour Diesel. So until we have genetics and we have, you know, terpenes and everything, we’re just not going to know. And again so that, you know, hopefully motivates growers to test their stuff so they know exactly what they have and if it’s fading or getting better or whatever that is. Because a lot of people are seeing their mothers, they’ve taken too many clones and their strains are failing. So you know, with testing, you know, we can figure this all out and we’ll know how to prevent things.
Matthew: Now I’m curious, what’s the highest THC concentration you’ve seen in a plant that’s come in for testing?
Genifer: So to date, 4 ½ years later, 32 percent.
Genifer: And that, I mean, any higher than that, so it’s like you’ll see some 40 percents and high 30s and it’s ridiculous. People are doing the calculation wrong. You don’t add THC acid and THC. It’s not 100 percent decarboxylation. So when you do that you have to take your THC acid number times 5.87 and then add THC and that’s your max THC. Now that doesn’t mean what you’re getting, right, because if you’re smoking or vaping or baking, it could be different decarboxylation rates. So it just… we just give you that’s the max it could be.
Genifer: But you know, it’s very hard to get that high, I mean, very hard and people should not take that lightly.
Genifer: But it doesn’t mean that… it doesn’t necessarily… also I want to mention that just because it has a high THC doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to feel higher. It depends on the terpenes and everything in your body as well. I’ve smoked an 8 percent and I was high as a kite, and it was probably because of the terpene profile. So you can’t always lay it on THC.
Matthew. Right. Right kind of we point to that in isolation but it’s really you have to look at the other variables as well.
Genifer: Yep absolutely.
Matthew: So what states CannLabs currently offer testing in right now?
Genifer: So we’re currently in Colorado and Connecticut. And then we just recently got local and state approval for an 8,000 square foot lab in North Las Vegas.
Matthew: How great. Now Las Vegas they’re kind of… they’re regulatory system seems a little bit more aggressive in helping tourism. Is that what you’re seeing as well. Like they really just want to…
Genifer: You bet.
Matthew: They go from 0 to 100.
Genifer: It’s reciprocity. Yeah they’re smart. They did reciprocity. So you know, if I have my card here I can go buy there which was very smart. But I truly believe, I mean, they’re very close to getting… to being recreational and if they decided to go recreational in 2015 I wouldn’t put it passed them. They’re not in great financial… North Las Vegas is not in good financial standing right now. So marijuana will literally turn that state, the city and the county, Clark County they’re around, I mean it’s going to be absolutely amazing just like it did in Colorado. I mean before marijuana, you know, the I70 Corridor was a bunch of empty buildings that have been empty for 10,000… or 10,000 years, for 10 years or so. So I mean it makes a huge economic impact. So we’re really excited about Vegas.
Matthew: As far as requirements go, is it… what requirements are going to be in place for testing in say Vegas or perhaps Oregon or is that still kind of unknown. Like hey THC concentration, pesticides or we don’t know.
Genifer: So they’re funneling AHP, the American Herbal Pharmacopeia. Connecticut is, Nevada is, Illinois is, Washington is. I’m not sure about Oregon, but most of these states, you know, when they’re creating legislation, they don’t know. They don’t understand. They need help and you know, since the monograph is already done, states can understand that. They understand it’s a third party, right. It’s not me telling them. It’s the American Herbal Pharmacopeia that has a ton of monographs for a ton of botanicals. So it’s really been catching on, and I believe that most of the labs are, you know, think it’s a good starting place.
Matthew: And what’s on the horizon for 2015?
Genifer: Whew. So literally it’s like a whirlwind. So you know in the marijuana industry it’s like dog years. So as I’ve only been in 4 ½ years it’s really been 28 ½ years, you know.
Matthew: Yeah you’re an industry veteran. I mean 2010 is that when you started. It’s like that’s really a long time in this industry.
Genifer: It is a long time, but Jill, my compliance director, I mean she started in 2008. So there’s some people that have been doing it a lot longer than I have. But 2015 will be definitely opening we hope first quarter, if not second quarter, you know, we’re going to be opening in Nevada, and then we have a lot of other amazing announcements coming up very soon, but of course I’m a publically traded company so I can’t share those until those are common, until those are public knowledge.
Genifer: But anybody that would like to look at our ticker symbol you can always go to our website www.cannlabs.com and click on investor, but our symbol is CANL.
Matthew: And could you give out your website Genifer.
Genifer: Sure yeah. It’s www.cannlabs.com.
Matthew: Well this was very informative for me Genifer. I could geek out all day and listen to you talk about this stuff.
Genifer: I appreciate that, and I’m a total science nerd. I love science, and we learn something new, I’m not kidding, every day here. It’s pretty fascinating.
Matthew: Well that’s great. Well thank you so much for being on CannaInsider. We really appreciate it.
Genifer: Well thank you so much for having me 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 www.cannainsider.com/itunes. What are the five disruptive trends that will shape the cannabis industry in the next five years? Find out with your free report at www.cannainsider.com/trends. That's www.cannainsider.com/trends. Have a suggestion for an awesome guest on www.cannainsider.com, email us firstname.lastname@example.org. We would love to hear from you.
The New York Times calls Jake Browne “The First Pot Critic.”
Jake is the critic for The Denver Post’s “The Cannabist” Column
– Jake reveals his favorite strains for people who are trying cannabis for the first time
– How Jake evaluates buds, looking for evidence of disease or insect feces
– The best cannabis for sleeping
– Jake’s favorite strain
– Jake’s favorite vaporizers
– A special discount on a Hempbox.com subscription
Matthew: Hi, I’m Matthew Kind. Every Monday and Wednesday look for a fresh episode where I’ll take you behind the scenes to interview the leaders of the rapidly evolving cannabis industry. Learn more at www.cannainsider.com. That’s www.cannainsider.com. 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 www.canninsider.com/consulting. Now here's your program. While the world of food and wine has had formal critics since the printing press was created, the same isn’t true for cannabis. Today we have on the show Jake Browne who’s perhaps the best known pot critic out there. The New York Times recently followed Jake around for the day to see what it’s like to be him; sampling strains and digesting the unique experience of each one. Jake is also the co-founder of HempBox, a monthly service that provides a curated selection of the best hemp products that Jake handpicks. If all that wasn’t enough Jake is also a comedian and co-host of a podcast called Whisky and Cigarettes. Welcome to CannaInsider Jake.
Jake: Matt thanks so much for having me. I appreciate it.
Matthew: Jake I have to say you’re a busy guy with an interesting life. Can you tell listeners how you got started in the cannabis industry and became a pot critic?
Jake: Yeah. I actually back in 2009 had a friend that opened a dispensary, and I was working part-time, and so you know hey do you want to come in and help me, you know, with some office work. And so I started off helping them kind of get their papers in order. I remember initially they had their files organized by first name because it was always oh, yeah Matt’s coming in, we’ll look him up under “M”. So you know, helping them provide structure. But since then I’ve worked as everything from bud tender to general manager, marketing director and consultant in the industry on top of doing social media management and then blogging, which I won several awards for here locally.
Matthew: Okay and what’s your day-to-day life like as a critic? How do you spend your time?
Jake: You know I’m a freelance journalist first. So, you know, I may be working on something else. When I am doing reviews, I’ll go and check out maybe a couple of dispensaries in a day trying to find something that A) hasn’t been reviewed already by myself or one of the cannabis’s two other critics or I’m, you know, really trying to find something that I think people can find across the United States or even across the world. So I tend to try and find genetics that people should be familiar with and then, you know, take a sample home and give it a shot.
Matthew: You said you were a bud tender before. Since you’ve been on the other side of the table what do you think that bud tenders in general could be doing differently, or how do you think they could be helping consumers more when they come in?
Jake: You know that’s really interesting. I had a big article about this right around the time that recreational shops started opening here in Colorado because a lot of times they weren’t addressing the fact that people still had medical needs, that they weren’t just shopping for recreational purchases. That there were a lot of people that didn’t ever opt into the medical system and some people that couldn’t, for example, veterans with PTSD aren’t covered under Colorado’s medical program. So just that they would actually, you know, make the effort of, you know, at least trying to engage people in that dialogue.
When I, you know, kind of graduated from bud tender to GM, one of the things that I would do every morning was give my bud tenders a blind test and say, listen I’m going to pull five strains that are on the selves, strains that you should be familiar with. Can you identify them by scent alone? Can you identify them by sight alone? And I think that was one of the first things that really peaked my interest in reviewing strains and really getting to know them intimately.
Matthew: Now I’m sure you get a lot of feedback from people because cannabis is such a subjective experience. What kind of criteria do you use to evaluate a strain so people can make sense of it?
Jake: You know I think that with my body of work, you know, over 25 reviews now, I have a pretty good baseline established for at least how strains will affect me. So, you know, even subjective you could say oh well, you know, this strain definitely had a much more dramatic effect on him than others, and people have their own baselines I feel like in a lot of cases. So you know, kind of listening to themselves if they find that sativas tend to make them sleepy for whatever reason and those people do exist, then you know, kind of just read my reviews, you know, opposite or you know it’s a bizarre review for them. But most importantly I think that what I’m trying to do is help people identify strains. That, you know, there isn’t, you know, some governing body that says, “all of the Sour Diesel must have these characteristics.” You know, you can walk in and see things mislabeled or misidentified all of the time. So I’m just trying to give, you know, consumers a tool by which they can go in and say, well you know you’re saying this is OG Kush, but it’s clearly, you know, has these, you know, Sour Diesel notes and body and structure. So, you know, I don’t believe you.
Matthew: Now if someone has a cousin or a parent visiting from out of town that’s really never consumed cannabis before, is there a good kind of toe in the water strain where they can have a good experience that you would suggest?
Jake: For a lot of people that are really trying to make that toe in the water, you know, try if you will, I generally recommend getting one of the vaporizer pens or even just a really low dose of edibles because I tend to find that vaporizing is going to be a little bit of a duller high. It’s not quite as racy. They’re also a lot more accessible for people who aren’t interested in smoking. But, you know, if I have to recommend a strain, and this is one of my least favorite strains that I had reviewed that I Flow is perfectly accessible for someone. I think I even refer to it as the training wheels of pot. You know it’s one of those strains that I never find, you know, all together too overpowering. And you know, I generally find the effects don’t last that long either. But the biggest advice that I can give is no matter what you’re starting with just start slow. You know, there’s always more there to try. I did an interview with a guy who does fitness training out here and incorporates edibles, recently. And he probably made the best analogy that I’ve heard is that edibles or marijuana in general is a lot like salt. You can always add to a recipe, but once you add too much salt, it’s very hard to go back.
Matthew: That’s a great, great way of saying it.
Jake: And it’s so easy for people to understand. It’s like oh yeah we’ve all had something that was too salty. It’s just trying to find that perfect amount of seasoning. And you can tell I’ve been watching too much Top Chef lately.
Matthew: What are two or three of your personal favorite strains. I know you review different strains, but if you were just to go out with some buddies and just grab two or three, what would you grab and why?
Jake: I just recently did my top ten strains for 2014 over at the Cannabists, but that was only the top 10 that I had reviewed and enjoyed from these specific shops. You know, Super Lemon Haze is one of my favorites if I’m looking for a very creative energetic sativa. And, you know, that didn’t make my top 10 because the particular one wasn’t the best example of the genetics, and it was also $24 a gram which is way more than anybody should be paying in Colorado. So I would recommend Super Lemon Haze and sativa. For hybrids I really love Blue Dream. And then in an indica I like kind of old school pre ’98 Bubba Kush, although there’s been some really nice Tahoe OGs that have come out lately, especially Swerve from Kelly Connections Cut. If you can find good Tahoe OG, I always recommend that as a good one to kind of set you down at the end of the night.
Matthew: I love it. How do you compare dabbing to smoking flower to concentrates for people that may have just smoked flower once or twice, they’re not familiar with dabbing. Can you describe how that feels?
Jake: Yeah I mean I don’t do a lot of dabbing anymore, mainly because my tolerance just goes way up whenever I do. It’s best for people that need a large amount of THC in a short amount of time.
Matthew: Okay, moonrocket.
Jake: I mean it’s marijuana but on steroids. You’re talking about, you know, upwards of 90 percents now where these are super, super strong. When you compare high end, you know, flowers are 20 to 30 percent THC right now. So you’re getting a ton all at once. And you know, again with dabs it’s hard to start small I guess would be the easiest way to put it. You know, it’s definitely going to be, you know, that same high experience. I just, I worry that people that aren’t familiar with dabs and want to start off with, you know, a quarter gram at once are going to be in for a really bad time. You know, and it’s not to say that dabs, you know, aren’t for anyone. It’s just it’s really something that I feel like came out of necessity for people that had serious medical conditions and now are becoming kind of this recreational version of Everclear, which might be the easiest way to put it is just, you know, if you’re usually going out and having a white wine spritzer, don’t go out and order two shots of Everclear.
Matthew: You know, you mentioned the vape pens and then we talked about flower having 20 to 30 percent THC at times. I noticed they’ve done some tests on some of these vape pens and some of the vape pens don’t even have as much THC as the flower. Is there any vape pens where you feel like they’re doing a good job and they work pretty well?
Jake: I think, if you’re talking about pre-loaded cartridges, it all comes down to what the material that’s going in is. For example I went to Buddy Boy Brands which is a shop out here and they have these new kind of e-cigars,it looks like a giant cigar and lights up, but it’s, you know, a vape pen. But the one reason I really like them is because they have mahatma concentrates in there, and they’re one of the best, you know, kind of locally strain specific Bruce Banner which I really enjoyed. So it really just matters on what the concentrates are that are going in. I think for, you know, just regular, you know, vapes the Pax is getting some really great reviews out there. I’ve done the Fireflies well, and I really like the Firefly for flower. It’s nicely portable. It’s about the size of a cell phone and it looks really nice too. You know, I think it really depends on what you’re looking specifically for in a vaporizer. And if somebody has specific questions always feel free to hit me up on Twitter on Facebook and I’m sure we’ll talk about those later.
Matthew: Yeah. You had on your 2014 List of Favorite Strains, Blue Dream, and that’s definitely a popular strain. Can you describe what you experienced for people that haven’t looked at that review why you like Blue Dream so much?
Jake: One really interesting thing that people always talk about with Blue Dream is it stimulates the same thing runners high. I don’t know if I’ve ever run so much that I’ve become high from it. It’s just their experience on that one. It’s very much an active strain for people that are worried about, you know, couch lock or you know, I never want to do anything other than sit down with Netflix and catch up on, you know, old episodes of Frasier. It’s a really go kind of body mover to get you up. It’s not ever too, you know, immensely engaging where it can start getting a little anxious or possibly paranoid. For me it’s just very balanced and good for a lot of different times during the day, maybe not right before bed. But, you know, from waking up to, you know, kind of a happy hour strain when you get off work. It pretty much does it across the board for you.
Matthew: Now I’m glad you mentioned, you know, different strains and particularly going to bed in you know for relaxing and things like that. If there’s somebody out there that has monkey mind like me that never shuts off, is there a strain you recommend for that, for just a good night’s sleep?
Jake: Yeah absolutely. I mean I think that there are a lot of new OGs, specifically that Tahoe OG earlier that I talked about or pre ’98 Bubba Kush is always a really good one for me. You’re generally looking for indicas that are lower on the THC side. The White is another example that’s been really prevalent out here in Colorado that I would highly recommend. No pun intended. I mean, it’s so subjective I guess in terms of what helps people sleep, but you know it’s avoiding those hybrids. You know, anything with haze or diesel in it, you know, you can hybridize and you can call it indica dominant all you want to, but if there’s a little bit of those strains in there, your mind can still latch onto that. So it’s really having that conversation with your budtender and going, you know, what’s the closest you have to 100 percent indica and what makes this strain up. I mean, what goes into it because a lot of times they can tell you oh year well it’s got some of this, but it’s really understanding all of those components that will give you a better understanding of what exactly you’re smoking.
Matthew: So when you grab a bud for the first time and before you put it in your pipe, can you just describe, you know, other than scent what you’re looking at, you know, when you’re evaluating it. I meant you’re looking for, you know, obviously maybe some pests or maybe some, you know, gunk on there that you don’t want. How do you evaluate what you’re looking at?
Jake: Yeah, I mean, one of the big things I look for is stippling or stippling in the leaves which are little white spots which generally indicate that a bug has been eating there, and so you’ll kind of notice an absence of chlorophyll. Also mites leave behind little black chunks of, you know, mite gunk I guess. Can we say poop on this podcast?
Matthew: Sure, yes we can.
Jake: So I mean, they’ll leave behind like little tiny bits of fecal matter which nobody appreciates ever. You can also be on the lookout for powdery mildew which looks similar to those white spots, but it’s almost fuzzier. And it will be different than trichomes in that it won’t have the tiny heads on top. You can also be looking for bug mold. This tends to be in denser nugs and you’ll notice towards the middle it’s where moisture couldn’t escape and so the bud will actually start rotting from the inside out. And the best way to look for that, it’s called botrytis, is that it will almost look grey or brown in the middle and you’ll start to see little bits of mold in there as well. So on the kind of pest or fungus mold side that’s what I’m looking for.
But I’m also looking for a stereotypical bud growth. So I’ll be looking at the calyxes. Are they rounded or they’re fox tails, what color are the pistols. And then what was the cure like. Is there a lot of amber in the trichome heads? Are they cloudy which is going to indicate a more sativa high or are they clear which would indicate to me that maybe it was harvested a little prematurely. So there’s all kinds of things that I’m looking for with every sample. And you know, I don’t necessarily write all those up, but they help kind of inform me what kind of smoke I’m in for.
Matthew: Now as we get to the end of a life cycle of a plant before it’s harvested, you’re supposed to, you know, cycle through a lot of water to get, you know, the fertilizer and so forth out of the plant. If that doesn’t happen as it should, what do you taste in your mouth if you were to smoke that?
Jake: There is some people out there, I think William Breeds who reviews for our local Village Voice paper Westward, he is amazing. He can tell what type of nutrients they used by smoking it. You know, for me I’m looking for kind of like a fertilizer, metallic kind of taste to it. Generally it’s going to be a little bit harsher and you’re looking for how it burns, you know, is it going to burn to a clean ash or is it going to be kind of gray to black.
Matthew: Now you’ve attended the Cannabis Cup here in Denver. For somebody that’s never been to one of those, can you kind of paint a picture of what it’s like and also what happens at [4:20]?
Jake: So it’s kind of like going to a trade show, but then on half of the trade show it’s just people that want to get you high. Like you walk up to the booth and instead of handing out like little samples at like Costco on the weekend, they’ve got flower or dabs were huge at [4:20] here last year. I mean people, there were so many different dab stations. So I mean it’s every product that you can think of under the sun. One of my favorites last year was there’s a guy that just had these cool hammocks that you could put up wherever. And so it was like, yeah you know I’ll just go take five in the hammock booth.
Matthew: I like that.
Jake: Yeah, exactly. There are edibles. It’s a little bit of everything. I think that, you know, if you’re interested in being a home grower, there are people that can talk to you about lights or different soils or grow mediums. And then there’s also very much the, you know, the fun side of people hey, we’ve got this new pipe or this new type of rig. It’s literally everything under the cannabis sun that you can think of.
And then [4:20] down at Civic Center Park is a very different experience than it used to be. It used to be a little bit more unstructured. You kind of just walk in and then there’s people passing joints around and throwing Frisbees. And then last year it was a very different year. There was, you know, security checkpoints and everybody goes in. You couldn’t bring your own food or drinks. So there’s been concessions, bands that were playing, things like that. But it’s interesting, [4:20] at Civic Center Park is a much different experience than it used to be, but they’re still very different in that, you know, there aren’t people that are just giving things away at Civic Center Park.
Matthew: Now you’ve kind of watched the market evolve here in the last year. What has surprised you since Cannabis became recreationally legal that you weren’t anticipating?
Jake: I mean prices fell. I think that everybody who was just kind of waiting for prices to fall, but they did so a lot quicker than we had anticipated. And I think that that was kind of due to a lot more shops coming online than I had initially expected. You know I’m not sure what the count is here, you know, in the City of Denver, but it’s got to be over 50 shops at this point. So I think that that competition is been really strong. But, you know, the medical market continues to outpace the retail market. I think that a lot of people were interested in, you know, marijuana but they still don’t want to pay tourist prices. So you’re seeing a lot more interest there. But I also think that you’re starting to see some interesting things in breeding that it’s no longer being done in basements. It’s now being done in laboratories and that plant selection has advanced a lot with the, you know, with testing technology coming along as far as it has. And now a lot of that guesswork is gone because you can take plant samples in and say, you know, how is this testing for CBD, for example, and people can, you know, really pick out those strains where it used to be, well this one looks and smells the best so we’ll keep breeding with that.
Matthew: Now if someone were to just come out and hang out with you for a couple hours who’s never been to Denver and they wanted to consume some cannabis and have a great afternoon, what would you advise them to do?
Jake: Actually we offer a concierge services through my website. If you wanted to come out to Denver and really have a curated experience. But I mean there are a few great dispensaries downtown. I like to show people a few different feeling, couple of different shops where they really get a feel for, you know, what this legalized experience is because not all shops look the same. You have some that feel very much like a day spa. You’ve got some that feel like an Apple store, and then you’ve got some that feel very much like an old school dispensary as well. And you know, one of the nice things too is that I’ve been involved in the food and beverage industry for many years here. I always know good places to drop in and eat, you know, depending on exactly what you’re looking for. And then there’s a great late night scene here as well, and I’ve actually done a few pieces kind of travel related on, you know, if you’re a tourist coming here what is there to see out there, you know, where are the spots that you have to hit and all of that is available on the Cannabist as well.
Matthew: Now switching gears to HempBox, can you tell us what that is?
Jake: So what we did was we started essentially what is a hemp of the month program where people sign up and we’ll send them four to five items, usually one to two full sized items of hemp consumer goods. So it’s not, you know, a necklace and a bracelet every month, but different bath and body products and different nutrition products because hemp is so good for you whether it’s inside or outside. And we’ve found amazing response from people that are using, you know, hemp topical, hemp hair care products, they’re also adding hemp hearts to their smoothies or a protein powder. Every once in a while we’ll do hemp bars or raw chocolate. And so really trying to get out there that hey, you know, you may use hemp in this one aspect of your life, but there’s so many different ways to incorporate it. And I think that, you know, with industrial hemp now being legal here in Colorado and a lot of other states that are looking at bringing industrial hemp online, that very soon we’ll start to see it out pace what we’re doing in the legalized cannabis sativa and indica markets.
Matthew: Can you highlight one or two products in HempBox that you put in there recently that you were just really excited about?
Jake: Yeah absolutely. I mean we helped a company out of Ohio launch called Hemp and Honey Plus, and it was probably one of the best reactions that we’ve had from our subscribers. They went nuts over this body cream. It was just… feels like you’re rubbing a tiny hemp cloud onto your skin. This stuff is amazing, and it not only highlights hemp oil but also manuka honey which has antioxidant properties and antimicrobial properties that they’ve used in this tribe forever.
In our latest box we just shipped out something called Ultra Shake which is such a cool concept. What they do is they use freeze dried berries, hemp seeds and a lot of other different super foods. And then what you do is just add cold water and shake it, and it becomes a smoothie that you can have anywhere on the go, and we’ve already had some really great feedback about that. They offered not only a smoothie sample, but then also a free 4-pack for any of our subscribers. So really excited as we start hearing more and more rollback from there. But, you know, one of the nice things is that we’re always coming up with some really cool products. And you know, we’ve worked with some of the big names in the industry like Dr. Bronners or Manitoba Harvest is another one that comes mind, but we also support some really cool small hemp businesses as well. People that, you know, are going from boutiques to hopefully big box stores pretty soon.
Matthew: Now we had Doug Fine on the show recently, author of Hemp Bound, and he was talking about how they’re using hemp in Europe to create a concrete or a hempcrete out of it and it sounded just amazing. Is there any kind of strange applications like that you’re hearing about?
Jake: I loved the Doug episode by the way. He is such an interesting guy and has been doing amazing work in the hemp industry for so long. And hempcrete is fascinating to me. They’re talking about doing different hemp applications in batteries. I think the thing that I’ve been the most interested in is how much they’re really interested in massage oils. There are so many people that, for example, we just sent out a candle that after it’s done, you know, lighting up your living room turns into a massage oil that can be applied however you see fit. But just the amount of kind of ingenuity that’s going into this, when we got into it I’d always worked in the, you know, medical marijuana industry and people would always give me, you know, hemp products and I would go okay thank you and then it would kind of go into a drawer. And then, you know, we started going through some of the stuff, and I was like wow these products are amazing. You know, now that we’ve really delved into it, I’d say we’ve had contact with over 500 different hemp product companies at this point. So it never ceases to amaze me what people are doing out there and what kind of ingenuity and the entrepreneurs that are in this space, just consistently blows my mind.
Matthew: It really is a super food too because you know, you’ve got the complete protein. You have the Omega3, 6 and 9 in there. You have the fiber. I mean it’s really, it’s incredible.
Jake: You know what we’re seeing too is that there are a lot of athletes that are starting to move over, you know, that don’t want whey protein because it leaves them bloated and they’re switching over to hemp protein. On It is a really good company that we’ve worked with in the past that does a lot of work.
Matthew: Yes we had the founder of On It on the show, Aubrey.
Jake: Yeah we love their products. It’s such a smart way to really fuel your body for the day, and it’s such an excellent protein source that I think a lot of people are missing out on.
Matthew: I agree.
Jake: Very cool.
Matthew: Now Jake as we close how can listeners learn more about your articles and find your reviews, find HempBox, find you on Twitter. Can you let us know?
Jake: Totally. Yes so www.hempbox.com is how you can find out all the information about the boxes. Check out all of our HempBox approved companies, and you know stay up to date there. www.jakebrowne.com has all of my kind of social links. I’m on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and then you can always check out the Cannabists, that’s www.thecannabist.co, go over to the Strain Reviews portion and you can always find my latest reviews there or sign up for my mailing list at www.jakebrowne.com and we’ll just get it right to your inbox whenever they come out.
Matthew: Jake is there any special offers for CannaInsider listeners who have never tried HempBox before?
Jake: Yeah if it’s your first time and never seen a HempBox before just enter the code CANNAINSIDER on the checkout page and we’ll get you your first box for 50 percent off. So it will be only $9.99 and you’ll get 4 to 5 different hemp products that will show up on the first week of the next month.
Matthew: Well thanks so much for being on CannaInsider today Jake. We really appreciate it.
Jake: It was so much fun Matt, thanks for having me on.
Emily and Morgan Paxhia have jumped on to the scene of cannabis investing with a fury. They are emerging as thought leaders in the industry and focused exclusively on cannabis investments. Learn why they are so bullish on this industry and what they are investing in now.
Matthew: Hi, I’m Matthew Kind. Each week I’ll take you behind the scenes to interview the insiders that are shaping the rapidly evolving legal marijuana industry. Learn more at www.cannainsider.com. That’s www.cannainsider.com. What are the five disruptive trends that will shape the cannabis industry in the next five years? Find out with your free report at www.cannainsider.com/trends. That’s www.cannainsider.com/trends. Now here’s your program. What is it like to be at the center of the cannabis investing community, first to hear about deals from entrepreneurs while grappling with decisions about which investments have the best risk adjusted return? We’re going to find out the answer to that question today with our guests Emily and Morgan Paxhia founding partners of Poseidon Asset Management. Welcome Emily and Morgan.
Morgan: Thanks for having us.
Matthew: To give us a sense of geography, can you tell us where you’re located in the world?
Emily: Yes we are located in San Francisco, California which is where we feel is right in the heart of all that is happening to the industry.
Matthew: Now you’re not California natives. Why did you choose California and why do you think it’s the center of it all?
Emily: Yeah because, you know, there’s a lot of things that are great that are happening in Colorado or Washington, but we really had our eyes set on the massive potential of the state of California. From an economic standpoint, the state is the largest… the 8th largest economy in the world, and we feel that once cannabis is legalized for adult use and with the existing medical side getting streamlined and kind of brought under that umbrella, we think the potential is greater than that of Colorado and Washington state’s combined. We also like being near the entrepreneurial spirit of what’s going on in Silicon Valley with all the startups going on there. And then it’s just really easy access for us to travel to all of these great markets including Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Alaska and Las Vegas. So there’s a lot of things really nearby and it just gives us a lot of access.
Matthew: And what does Poseidon Asset Management do?
Emily: So we launched the Pioneer Hedge fund that focused entirely on the cannabis sector.
Matthew: Okay. How did you get started in this business? What’s your background, and how did you come to focus on cannabis?
Emily: Yeah I think we’ll both dive in on this one. Morgan do you want to take it?
Morgan: Sure, yeah I will start off. So I have an investment focus background doing investment management for several years prior to this. And you know, we have a deep tie to the cannabis plant itself which we can touch on that in a minute. So we saw a lot of potential there, and it was just one of those opportunities where we were all at a point in our lives where we were ready to commit to something that we were passionate about. And I feel like there’s only a few times in life where your passion and your profession can align. And so taking my investment background and crafting a strategy that was needed in this industry was really where it brought my interest to this space, and I will let Emily explain about her’s.
Emily: Yep, and so I have a research and consulting background. I worked with a lot of different companies including American Express and all the Viacom entities and even the McKenzie Group. So spent a lot of time doing that, looking at markets, looking at segments, looking at companies and brands and trying to understand where they’re viable and what their potential growth is and how they can improve upon all of that. And we just thought it would be an interesting synergy to come together with Morgan’s financial background and my research and consulting background to really take a look at the market not just from kind of a math and numbers and strong finance side, but also from that kind of qualitative softer side of understanding trends and where they all fit into a market. And then we have another partner who is our digital person. He does all of the work on our website and our blogs, and he’s a writer and he keeps all of that updated. So we really are trying to bring a fresh take on the financial approach to investing and doing so in a very new category.
Matthew: So Emily with your research background was there any particular investments that you thought sounded good, but then when you dig into the numbers you say this particular kind is not as good as I thought, but it looks good on the surface. Are there a lot of those out there?
Emily: Yeah, I mean there are a lot of companies that on first flash look good, and even sometimes their numbers, you know, their projected numbers look good. But then once you really dig in, one of the things we talk about at Poseidon a lot is that we’re really investing in the people, not just the idea. Because the people are really the ones who are going to see a good idea through. So even if a company looks good on paper, it’s really important to get out there and meet with the people and see what they’re actually doing and understand who they’re potentially making this product for or who they’re considering when they’re putting these projects together. We were just up in… as I was telling you earlier, Morgan and I were just up in Washington. We are doing due diligence trips all the time because nothing replaces a face to face meeting and seeing what these facilities look like or what the equipment or what the technology performs like.
Matthew: And Morgan how would you describe your investing style. It sounds like you were in the investment world prior to Poseidon. Did you have the same investing style before coming over and now you just brought it into the cannabis industry? How did that transition look?
Morgan: Yes, there are a lot of crossovers from previous work experience. We’re focusing on managing the risks of the portfolio, building a well constructed, well diversified portfolio of, you know, different assets so they can contribute positively; something that we thought was absolutely necessary in this new industry. You know, we’re very much growth focused as the industry is in growth mode, and we want to make sure that we positioning ourselves appropriately, but also quantifying the risks and building the portfolio around that. So that’s a lot of my background is doing exactly that. And instead of managing investment portfolios for well over 100 families, I’m now focusing on one very focused portfolio. So there’s a lot of similarities, and it’s, you know, everyone thinks cannabis is this esoteric kind of investment. And it’s really just like other sectors in the marketplace. It’s just a new market that’s a newly investible market. So you know, just taking those methodologies that we’ve built over the years and bringing them to this space has worked out very well for us so far.
Matthew: Emily you just highlighted your recent trip to Washington. Can you tell us a little bit about the entrepreneurs you’re doing due diligence on or maybe not these current ones, but some you’ve done in the past. What does that look like, and what kind of investments are actually being made? Are they in physical capital assets? Are they equity stakes? What do the investments look like?
Emily: Yeah, so our investments run the range of the capital spectrum. We’ve done everything from preferred equity stakes, to equity, to you know, like Pre DPO-IPO things to short term high interest rate deals. So we’re looking at everything. We like having that kind of all of that mixture within the composition of the portfolio. You know on these trips that we’re taking we’re looking at pretty much everything. We’ve been taking trips looking at technology around improving growing efficiencies. We’ve been taking trips looking at real estate. So it’s a range of things, and it’s just really exciting to get out there and see what’s happening in the industry. Because I think people from the outside looking in don’t understand just how high tech everything is, how much process and procedure goes into what’s going in the cannabis industry. So you know, we were at an investment conference a couple… actually a month or so ago, and one of the things we have raised with investors is like okay, have you invested in real estate, yes. Have you invested in technology, yes. Have you invested in consulting or business services, yes. Well if you’ve done all that, then basically you’ve done what we’re doing in the cannabis industry.
Matthew: Right. And you mentioned preferred shares. Can you tell listeners a little bit about what preferred shares mean compared to let’s say, common shares and how they’re different?
Emily: Yeah Morgan do you want to take that? That’s definitely your wheelhouse.
Morgan: Sure. So basically you know, looking at the way the capital spectrum lines up, when you’re looking at common stock, you know, you’re just a general shareholder of the company. You are technically have an ownership stake in the company, but when you are moving up, I guess a tier so to speak, when you’re looking at the preferred shares, you know, you might have different rights than, or you should have different rights than the common equity holder. You might have the potential for distributions in the way of dividends that might technically flow down to the equity shareholders. You might have more rights as far as voting in the company in the decision making process. You might have more influence over the decision making process. So it’s a way that in these early stages we’re able to be a more engaged partner than just generally just participating with capital.
Matthew: Okay that makes a lot of sense. Are the new deals you see priced at a fair valuation you would say? Because I’ve heard a lot of different investors speaking and, you know, they’re saying some of the valuations just seem crazy. Are the majority crazy and the minority fairly valued? I mean, feel free either one of you to weigh in.
Morgan: Sure yeah, I’ll jump in. So the valuation, this is such a new investible industry that valuations are really hard to say firmly, this is great, this isn’t, you know, this is a cheap deal or not because we don’t really have a baseline. You know there’s not… this isn’t a developed industry where we can have these easy comparisons versus other companies that are already existing, operating and are trading or valued at X value. So we have our own methodology that we have developed as a way to try to de-mystify the valuation question. And in general though we do feel that the valuations as a whole are too high. There should be a larger risk premium built into this market, and we’re not seeing that for the most part. And I think that is driven by people seeing the growth potential of the industry and thinking, you know, when you put together these financial projections well yeah we should be at this massive company in five years, but reality is not reflecting that. And so so much of what it comes back to is, you know, what does the underlying business actually look like. And to Emily’s point is so much of a qualitative analysis of the entrepreneurs and do we think they’re able to execute even at an X percent of what their projections are, and do we then see that as a good investment opportunity for us.
Matthew: How is the landscape of cannabis investment opportunities evolved in the last year? I mean are you starting to see more of a similar kind of deal structure perhaps real estate or something come up over and over and over again. Because the industry is kind of saying hey this works, you know, investor meets entrepreneur here and these are kind of the terms. Are you seeing more of that happen now, more regularity in terms of deal structure and flow?
Emily: That’s a good question. I think we are seeing… I think we are seeing some patterns in terms of the deal structures that are emerging. But I’m also comforted by seeing some new deal structures emerging that are kind of mirroring what is going on down in Silicon Valley in terms of some of the startup deal structures down there which is kind of nice. But it’s good to see a range of things, but it’s not just pure equity that’s being offered or not just short term debt, but it’s nice to see these things. And you know we are seeing… and the other ways that the investment landscape has evolved is that we are seeing kind of more professional approach of companies seeking funding coming to us. Whereas in the beginning of the year, and this is still happening, but it is improving. In the beginning of the year people are coming and just saying, you know, I have this great idea. And it’s like okay well where is the business plan and where is X, Y and Z. And they hadn’t even thought about that or maybe sometimes haven’t even heard about that idea. So now we’re starting to see these folks taking a little bit more time before they’re approaching us and putting together some of those necessary documents and necessary structures before they’re going to go ahead and start asking for funding. Now I say that.. that is happening more, but it’s not always happening of course. There’s still people rushing into this sector trying to, you know, do the get rich quick thing and just looking, you know, sending off haphazard, you know, that’s poorly typed and not really thinking it through. But we are pleased to see that people are improving in terms of the way that they’re seeking funding.
Matthew: Now being close to Silicon Valley there is just a huge positive in many ways. There’s such a startup culture. There’s a great ecosystem. Have you seen any cannabis startups kind of mimic tech startups where they have an idea, they get capital, it doesn’t work so then they pivot to something else and they’re successful there. Have you seen any of that yet?
Emily: Oh yeah, there’s lots of pivoting going on in this industry, and I think that’s a great thing. Like we said, some of these people are people that are great people. They have great ideas, but maybe they didn’t hit it right the first time and they’re really adaptable and ready to move and make a difference in terms of what they’re bringing to this space. So yes we are seeing that, and I think that’s a good thing. We see that as a sign of adaptability and willingness to stay in this sector and not just to try to do a one off and move on if it doesn’t work out. So we are seeing some of that.
Matthew: Morgan can you tell us a little bit about how some of the real estate deals work? I mean at a high level, you don’t have to disclose any of what you have going on, but just like some of the structure. Like when people say there’s cannabis real estate deals, what does that mean?
Morgan: So typically right now what we’re seeing in the industry is basically a standalone entity that has a real estate, whether it’s one property, ten properties, whatever. It’s an entity that focuses on real estate. And then there’s another entity that is focused on the cultivation or dispensary or whatever that’s actually involved in the cannabis industry. And then you have that underlying cannabis entity then leasing from that real estate property. So that way it’s two separate vehicles and that way as an investor looking at the industry might say, you know, I’m more comfortable having a hard asset such as real estate. Then that way they feel like there’s more of a degree of separation. And you are getting that function of having, you know, the cannabis entity a separate piece and only participating maybe on the real estate side. And that’s also driven because of state laws where for example in the state of Colorado, we’re a California entity, we could not participate in the equity ownership in a Colorado grow facility because we’re not a Colorado resident. However we could invest in a Colorado real estate entity that might so choose to lease to a cannabis grower.
Matthew: Okay. And then looking ahead in the next three years, which is a lifetime in the cannabis industry, here in Colorado we just had vertical integration and pried that dispensaries had to grow 70 percent of what they sell. Now that restriction’s is removed, in what other way do you see the dynamics of the cannabis industry changing?
Emily: Yeah, I mean there’s so many ways that we think the dynamics of the industry will be changing, and not only just like within the state, but we think that once, you know, broader… it grows across the United States, we think that larger corporations and companies will be interested in, you know, putting a towel in and getting involved. And we know that this is already starting to happen. They’re starting to take note and take interest because we know that money talks. But I think it’s going to be very… I mean we’re very interested to see how this is going to play out. It’s a conversation we have with our companies that we’re investing in is where do they see themselves a few years down the line, and how are they going to… are they planning to withstand that influx of bigger companies? Are they trying to kind of keep their niche position or are they looking to potentially be bought out by one of those companies? So that’s like one dynamic that we’re watching to see who are these bigger players who will want to come into the space once they feel it’s safe enough. Morgan do you want to add to that too?
Morgan: Sure yeah. So I think one of the big changes we’ll see in the next couple of years will be banking. That will certainly change the dynamic in the industry right now. That piece is mixing so you have these… you have tremendous amounts of cash being handled which is really unfortunate and unsafe and unfair to the dispensary owners or the growers. Because if they’re being compliant with their state laws, you know, putting that unfair burden to them, but it also prevents them having access to traditional loan instruments that they might need, short term cash, you know, just more of those traditional banking services. So it adds a bit of making their operations less efficient, less profitable. And at the same time it does create opportunities for angel investors funds, you name it, to be able to help them maybe by doing direct loans, but I think that will be a major change for the industry itself. And I think when you see that piece it’s going to also bring in a lot more of that institution money. When they see that green light that banks are functioning and servicing the industry, I think that’s going to bring in a lot bigger capital. And when all of that happens the return profiles are going to shift. The high yield notes we’re seeing right now will go down, you know, you’ll have that yield compression. The equity, you know, how much we’re seeing… even though I was mentioning before about valuations, they’re still generally very positive when you find a good investment. And I think as more capital comes in the return profiles are going to also get compressed. So I think, you know, the opportunities are—as an investor—are the best they’re going to be for the next couple of years. And then as these other services come online, it’s going to change the game.
Matthew: Now Emily maybe you want to start with this answer, but are there any exciting entrepreneurs out there, and they don’t have to be ones necessarily you invested in. They could just be part of the community that you’ve seen and you’re like wow, they’re tackling a big problem and they’re doing something cool. Is there any from out there that you would highlight?
Emily: It’s kind of difficult for us to speak specifics on that just because of the nature of you know, hedge fund rules in the world because it can be seen as us giving guidance. But we are… I can say that we are, yeah, there are some really exciting companies out there. There’s one group that we really like that we think is doing… or a couple of groups that are doing a really good job of consulting. I think consulting is the aspect of the market that’s saturated and a lot people are stepping in saying that they’re going to consult or they’re being consultants, but they really don’t have the experience or acumen to really help people to get their grows off the ground. And there are a couple of those guys that are really standing apart from the rest who are winning the licenses in the critical states that are not giving out very many, and really helping their growth not only once they get the licenses, but then on the other side to help them have the product that’s going to pass muster. There are some really neat things around genetics going on, and you know, when it comes down to these plants, there are a lot of people that are connoisseurs and understanding the niche interests in this industry are important. And I’m getting cloned from A to B is something that’s interesting seeing those really different and unique ways that people are improving on protecting those genetics and getting those things to the patient or clones to the patients or getting them to different shops that need them in order to continue to grow and cultivate the things that their patients are seeking or that their enthusiasts are seeking the adult use market. So that’s a really exciting thing that we’re seeing. Is that okay to be giving kind of that broader level? Is that helping you?
Matthew: Yeah. To your point about the genetics, I mean, there is so much crop lost from mildew and diseases that I don’t know how I feel about genetics, but at the same time I think it will be very positive if we get rid of some of those diseases that cause so much crop loss. So I think that would be great.
Emily: Yeah, no, I think we were talking more about strain genetics in terms of keeping the purity of a strain. We are very… the other side of that, you are absolutely right, like the GMO, anything around, anything that smells of you know, any kind of modifications that reminds us of a big corporation who I will not name.
Matthew: And we’re all thinking the same one. Yes.
Emily: Yes, yes. No, that we are not in support of and we would not be pro that, that would not be tickling us. We want this industry to stay as organic and beautiful as possible without bringing in any unnecessary modifications. And I do think we know there are ways to, you know, promote organic growth of these plants and protect them against pests using all sorts of really natural ways of doing that, and yeah we’re very opposed to anything around that. Thank you for clarifying. Oh and also hemp. How could we not have talked about help yet? Hemp is something that is so exciting to us. It’s something that we feel like is very much in the early stage of getting notice from people in the United States. You know, Kentucky and Colorado just had their first crop harvest, and it was amazing. We went to see a hemp harvest or a crop in Boulder, Colorado, and it was absolutely incredible. I mean speaking of something that doesn’t require genetic modification, the hemp plant can grow in very little water. I mean the ground was cracked and these plants were just thriving. And they’re absolutely amazing, and the things that can be done with hemp are astounding. You can use it to build homes and to replace… BMW and Maserati use it in their cars because—Morgan knows the tensile strength of it—but it basically is super strong and very light. Morgan what’s tensile strength of it? You know that.
Morgan: It’s ten times the tensile strength of steel which is… everyone always turns their head at me sideways when I say that.
Matthew: Wow that’s incredible.
Morgan: Yeah it is incredible. It really is, but it’s just something that’s, you know, we’re only just starting to bring back. We have the strongest seed bank of hemp in the world as of World War II right Em?
Morgan: And we destroyed it all.
Matthew: Now Morgan this dovetails nicely with what you were saying earlier they have a close relationship with the plant. Can you tell us a little bit more about that?
Morgan: Yeah so we have a family history where unfortunately we lost both of our parents to cancer at a young age.
Matthew: I’m sorry to hear that.
Morgan: Yeah it was, you know, and one thing we know is that, you know, it’s not that we’re… you know we still know so little about the plant, but one thing that is pretty obvious to everybody is it benefits from pain management and nausea and helping people with being able to eat because of the nausea relief. And you know, when they were going through… especially thinking back on when our father was going through the intense chemo and just seeing his discomfort and knowing that he actually… he was a flower child back in the day, and you know he really was an advocate for it as well. So we believed he would have benefitted greatly if he would have had safe access to it. You know, we know he would have never have done that in front of us because he wouldn’t want to put us in a… put his family in a tough situation. So just by his discomfort he chose to just deal with the, you know, the general unpleasantness of going through that process. So seeing that first hand really ingrained in our heads just how wrong this was. And I really, at that time when we were so young, I was 12 years old. So I mean it’s not like I was thinking about a hedge fund back then, but when the world started coming around a much more realistic place, I mean that’s really why we felt so passionate about it.
Emily: Actually Morgan I do have to say I think you were born thinking about hedge funds.
Morgan: Sure I did start investing at age 12 so I guess I did.
Emily: Yeah he was born 40.
Matthew: Well that’s an inspiring story and it’s been really interesting to hear a lot of people have different ideological reasons why they feel passionate to get into this industry. So I’m glad you shared that. Is there any… go ahead Emily. I’m sorry.
Emily: I mean one of the things is, I mean, for us it’s like we spend more than a full time job focus on growing our funds and supporting this industry and being passionate about is really what enables us to do that because we really care. And we really care about the funds’ performance and we really care about the benefit of this industry, on the society as a whole. So it’s one of those things where it’s easy to work hard when you believe so strongly in it.
Matthew: That’s true. Do either of you have any investment heroes that you look to for kind of your play book?
Morgan: You know, I’ve always, you know, the big guy in the world today still is, you know, Warren Buffet, he was just a legend. And, you know, he has just always been so focused on the big picture and really getting into these companies and understanding them inside and out, and not getting deterred by what’s going on in the media or the general stock markets. You know, and I think that is something that is so easy to get sucked into day to day with the amount of, you know, headlines and this that and the other thing. And just having that complete focus I think is just something that is so impressive and I think has led him to be, you know, so successful and so I hope that we can, you know, capture as much of his thought process as we can. So he’s always been someone I’ve read his books and follow as closely as we can. And I’m actually reading another one of his books right, or not his books, but one of his favorites, The Intelligent Investor, by Benjamin Graham. And a lot of his, you know, he says he learned a lot from Benjamin Graham and it’s just amazing. You know reading about these guys because even though a lot of these practices they did decades ago are still working today. When you hear this time is different, you always want to question that statement, and those guys have always stuck to that. You know, they don’t let the bobble heads on TV try to tell you different.
Matthew: Great point. Now in closing how can listeners learn more about Poseidon?
Emily: Okay so they can go to our website which is www.poseidonassetmanagement.com, and I should spell it just because a lot of people don’t know how to spell Poseidon. It’s www.poseidonassetmanagement.com . We also have a Twitter page that we’re constantly Tweeting or sharing articles or things that we find really interesting or compelling about the industry or even about related industries. Like if we see something that’s interesting in fact that we think applies to cannabis, we’ll tweet about that. And that’s at @poseidonasset, and then we have a Facebook page as well, and again we post all of our updates to those places. And our blog is of particular interest I think for anyone who is really looking to learn more about what’s going on in this space because our other partner Chris has a lot of content that he is posting. We have original content there about our travels. And we’ve interviewed some people, like we interviewed Doug Fine who is this amazing, amazing person who is really leading the charge on hemp, and he’s written a really important book about it called Hemp Bound. And we’ve got some other interviews that we’re actually working on right now that we’ll be posting before the end of the year probably, but check under our media tab under the buzz header.
Matthew: And are you accepting new investors still or no investors?
Emily: No, we’re accepting investors as we go.
Matthew: Okay and how about… go ahead Morgan. Sorry to interrupt.
Morgan: Oh sorry I was going to say yes, we are open to new investors, but unfortunately the hedge fund we are only able to accept accredited investors.
Matthew: Yes and how about entrepreneurs that think they have a good opportunity for you. They can reach out to you as well?
Emily: Yep. We have a contact section on our website and there’s actually a section for people who are looking to submit potential deals and then a section for investors.
Matthew: Well thank you so much to Emily and Morgan Paxhia of Poseidon Asset Management for being on CannaInsider today. If you enjoyed the show today, please consider leaving us a review on iTunes. Every five star review helps us to bring the best guest to you. Learn more at www.cannainsider.com/itunes. What are the five disruptive trends that will shape the cannabis industry in the next five years? Find out with your free report at www.cannainsider.com/trends. That's www.cannainsider.com/trends. Have a suggestion for an awesome guest on www.cannainsider.com, email us email@example.com. We would love to hear from you.