The Nirvana Group
The media often refers to my home state as the “Wild West of Weed,” and I wouldn’t argue with that label. Oklahoma’s free-market approach to the medical industry has made dispensaries more ubiquitous than household-name franchises like Starbucks, McDonald’s and Walmart, according to recent data.
On the one hand, easy access to the industry has made it possible for many small and family-owned businesses like my own to thrive. However, that low barrier for entry has contributed to a highly saturated market, which drives down prices and increases the prevalence of bad actors who jeopardize the reputation of the industry as a whole.
As a young CEO, I’m actively working to elevate quality, operate efficiently and defy any negative perceptions of the licensed cannabis market. My family and I transformed one smoke shop into a full-fledged, seed-to-sale operation with cultivation, production, distribution and white labeling facilities and capabilities, along with house brands and multiple dispensaries. We aim to set — and to raise — the standard for cannabis in Oklahoma, restoring confidence in regulators and hopefully paving the way for the transition to the adult-use market.
One mantra we stand by is to never cut corners, even when the pressure is there to do just that.
For several months of 2021 through early 2022, the track-and-trace system — a necessity for the licensed cannabis industry to maintain accountability and transparency — was hindered by a controversy over whether businesses should be saddled with the costs of a standardized system (Oklahoma mandates the use of Metrc). For small businesses and startups without access to capital, it could present an economic hardship, but we would never for a second pause the use of our track-and-trace systems. Their use and standardization across the licensed industry is necessary for progress.
Fortunately, the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority and business owners reached an agreement allowing Oklahoma’s system to move forward. But a key takeaway from this whole situation is that we need more communication between state officials and the owners and operators of local cannabis businesses on the ground, so that regulations are mutually beneficial, make sense, add value and push the market in a positive direction.
Being a cannabis CEO in Oklahoma is never boring, and I thrive on navigating all the daily ups, downs and complexities. But at the same time, striving for success also means working to achieve a market that’s consistent and set up for long-term growth.
Arshad Lasi is CEO of The Nirvana Group. In less than three years, The Nirvana Group has grown from one small tobacco shop into the largest vertically integrated cannabis company in the state, including seven medical dispensaries, a wholesaler and cultivation, extraction and processing facilities, as well as house consumer brands and more.