Spurred by the opiate crisis and determined to end the stigma of cannabis-based medicine, Mike and Julie Girocco founded Releaf Labs in 2018, quickly establishing the company as a fixture in Oklahoma’s burgeoning medical market.
With its 8,000-square-foot manufacturing facility outside Edmond, just north of Oklahoma City, Releaf products have proven a hit in the Sooner State and the company, which started with just four employees, has grown to employ 30 people, including 15 who work full-time at the processing facility.
Mike has enjoyed the company’s success, but he’s particularly proud of seeing Releaf’s employees working together, getting better every day and caring about the company they’re building.
“That’s really where my gratification is,” he says.
Initially, Releaf produced primarily pre-rolled joints, but now specializes in distillate vape cartridges. The company acquired another processing business owned by Matt Williamson, which was rebranded as ALTRD. Williamson and the Giroccos had such a good partnership that he stayed on after the acquisition to work as Releaf’s chief operations officer.
“We’re big on collaboration and strategic partnerships, and that’s what ALTRD was all about,” Julie says.
Since its launch, Releaf has put a heavy emphasis on customer service.
“When we visit a client, it’s important the dispensary and their patients know they are of utmost importance. Whether the shop is small, medium or large, we will help educate them and follow through on our commitments,” Julie says. “‘You’d like 100 carts? Okay, we’re going to deliver them tomorrow.’ We do everything in a professional manner.”
The company is also extremely active in the community, using holiday celebrations, local events and sales of specially packaged products to benefit charity organizations. In the spring, the company participated in Autism Awareness Month and donated to WovenLife, a child development program in Oklahoma, and Julie hopes to continue to work with charities close to home.
“We do bundle deals known as #GiveReleaf,” Julie says. “In our most recent, ‘Bundle For The Brave,’ we gave part of the proceeds to the Travis Mills Foundation, supporting wounded veterans and their families.”
Although they have immersed themselves in their community, the Giroccos only came to Oklahoma in 2016 and quickly recognized the promise offered by State Question 788, the ballot initiative that successfully legalized medical marijuana. One of the many benefits of setting up shop in Oklahoma is the minimal overhead and almost-nonexistent building code regulations.
“We can do things here that we never would have been able to do in California,” Julie says. “We are surrounded by our family’s land and that allows us to expand and grow. Where else would we be able to do that?”
However, the limited regulations and low barriers to entry mean almost anyone in Oklahoma can obtain a commercial cannabis license, and the prospects of being pioneers in a new industry have created somewhat of a Wild West. The free-market competition and boom of new products and companies drives some good manufacturers to become great, but also opens the door for others to cut corners, creating uncertainty about the safety of the products.
“There remain some unethical characters in the business,” Mike says. “Sourcing cannabis feedstock is still a challenge. Somebody will show you lab results for a potential purchase and then deliver something totally different.”
The Giroccos say Releaf works diligently to keep patients safe by doing a preliminary lab test on all plant materials that come in, then doing a final test of the finished product. The facility is also immaculately clean, and showering facilities are available for employees. All workers are required to change into fresh lab gear before entering the processing lab, to eliminate the possibility of contaminants being introduced into the facility.
Mike says he would also like more consistency from the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority.
“Our biggest problem has been the interpretation of opaque packaging,” he says. “If somebody can sell flower deli-style, why is that allowed to be visible when our moon rocks and infused joints can’t be? We would like all inspectors to be on the same page, and all legislation from State Question 788 to be interpreted the same way.”
Releaf has also attempted to stay ahead of all state regulations, implementing a seed-to-sale tracking system more than a year ago, as well as a meticulous waste handling program, long before any state requirements were set in place.
“We’re trying to get better all the time, and we have to as we add more product,” Julie says. “You can’t be ‘loosey-goosey.’ You have to tighten up.”
Releaf’s commitment to patient safety, customer service, innovation and continual improvement have allowed the company to thrive in the new market, but with more than 5,000 licensed growers and nearly 1,500 licensed processors, competition in Oklahoma is stiff, and the Giroccos know they can’t rest on their laurels.
“We need to stay ahead of the curve,” Mike says. “We don’t need to be doing what everybody else is doing.”