Company: La Mota
There are 24 hours in the day, and La Mota CEO Rosa Cazares needs each and every one of them.
Cazares has guided the Oregon-based company through a time of incredible growth. She and her partner, Aaron Mitchell, opened the first La Mota store in 2015; the couple’s growing empire now has 20 cannabis retail stores, four outdoor farms and two wholesalers.
The self-funded company, which started with just Cazares and Mitchell, now has about 200 employees and expects to hit 300 by the end of the year.
“We’re going very fast,” Cazares says. “It’s a race to the top.”
Somehow she still finds time to be a mom and plan the company’s next step to take over the world.
One might think Cazares would feel burnout after more than four years of constant expansion and navigating the turbulent waters of an ever-changing industry. Quite the opposite. She loves the challenge and the opportunity.
“No other industry has this kind of opportunity for growth,” she says, adding that the company owns its own real estate and plans to have 30 shops in Oregon by the end of 2019, before bringing the brand to other states next year.
Cazares and Mitchell work well as a team, she says. He handles products, real estate and acquisitions, while she focuses on retail, licensing and construction. They feed off each other’s ambition.
“I didn’t envision being this big, but I always knew we’d do something amazing,” she says.
Company: Sana Packaging
Title: CEO and co-founder
One of the major downsides of cannabis legalization is the tremendous increase in packaging waste, but marijuana is just a microcosm of a far greater plastic epidemic.
Ron Basak-Smith recognized this problem while attending graduate school for his MBA at the University of Colorado.
“If we keep using (plastic) at the rate we are, the total mass of plastic is going to outweigh the total mass of fish,” he says. “Stuff like that becomes alarming. It gets us off our ass and gets us doing something.”
So Basak-Smith got off his ass. He started doing something.
With the help of classmate and co-founder James Eichner, Basak-Smith started Sana Packaging, a company focused on sustainable packaging solutions for the cannabis industry. As a university student, he took Sana through Canopy Boulder’s 16-week accelerator program, then spent the year after graduation raising capital.
Sana Packaging launched its first product in 2018, a plant-based pre-roll container made entirely from hemp plastic. Earlier this year, the company introduced packaging made from reclaimed ocean plastics.
Sana Packaging now works with about 40 companies all across the country, but it’s still a two-man operation that relies heavily on manufacturers and research-and-development partners.
“James and I feel super fortunate to have this opportunity to make an impact in this industry and help bring solutions to something we both care very deeply about,” Basak-Smith says.
High End Market Place
Company: High End Market Place
Title: Co-founder and co-owner
Company: High End Market Place
Title: Co-founder and co-owner
Morgan Hutchinson and Gareth Kautz were fresh out of college when they won a cannabis retail license in Washington’s lottery.
Kautz had just finished up a master’s degree in teaching from Concordia University and Hutchinson had earned her digital technology and culture undergraduate degree from Washington State University Vancouver, but they shifted gears when Washington legalized adult-use cannabis.
“I grew up smoking and I’d always said if it were legal, I’d try for a store,” Kautz says. “So we decided to take the risk and we won a license.”
After that, Kautz put more than 20,000 miles on his car, driving around Clark County trying to find a location for the shop, before finally finding a willing landlord in uptown Vancouver. In January 2015, Kautz and Hutchinson opened the High End Market Place, also known as HEMP.
“Through that process we really learned how to do a lot of things ourselves,” Hutchinson says. “You have to have the motivation to want to learn in this industry. We really approached it knowing the regulatory environment would be difficult, but also knowing we could learn the process.”
To set their shop apart, the co-owners dedicated the company to customer safety by personally vetting all the products HEMP carries. That takes a lot of driving to grow sites around the state, but it’s paid off in customer satisfaction, Kautz says.
“We go and visit every single grow, and I make sure we inspect how they grow,” he says. “We want to know the people behind the products. I think that’s the best way to tell who you should get into business with.”
HEMP often sends products from its shelves for further testing, just to be certain they don’t contain pesticides or microbial contaminants. HEMP was also the first cannabis business to join the Greater Vancouver Chamber of Commerce. Hutchinson, who previously worked part-time at the Chamber, was able to break down some of the stigma surrounding cannabis in her time there. It also helped normalize the industry within the city’s business community.
“Because I saw the way things worked in there, and I saw the opportunity for us as a small business. … The Chamber was one of the first to consider us in the cannabis industry as professional businesses,” Hutchinson says. “And for them to jump on so early I think was really important — not just for us, but for all the cannabis businesses in our city.”
Company: Coalition Brewing
Title: Co-owner and general manager
After more than a decade spent working in bars on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean, Phil Boyle knows beer.
“Beer is the great equalizer,” he says, an Irish accent dripping across every word. “We can all sit and have a beer; we can’t sit and have a spliff.”
Today, he is the co-owner and general manager at Coalition Brewing, a microbrewery in Portland Oregon whose Two Flowers IPA was the first CBD beer to be sold on store shelves.
Boyle has been bartending since 16 in his hometown of Dublin, where it is treated like a “craft” instead of just a job. But he fell in love with a woman from Portland and immigrated to the United States about six years ago to marry her. He first found work in an Irish bar in Portland and then moved on to Coalition, one of the city’s many microbreweries.
As competition increased around Portland’s oversaturated beer culture, Boyle says he began to feel the pressure to innovate and heard of a brewery in Colorado adding CBD to its beers. He began to research and learned about the agricultural and biological similarities of hops and cannabis.
“The more research I did, the more I didn’t want it to be a gimmick beer,” he says.
Today, Coalition makes a whole series of beers that incorporate cannabinoids and terpenes. This year, the company hosted its second 4/20 Beerfest featuring 10 CBD beers and an appearance by Rep. Earl Blumenauer. Boyle sees the growing cannabis industry much like the craft beer industries of the 1990s and is excited to be a pioneer in combining the two.
“Both beer and cannabis are children of prohibition,” he says. “Cheers.”
KB Pure Essentials
Katie Moodie and Brooke Brun started KB Pure Essentials as an all-natural wellness brand in 2013, but their business took off when they started incorporating CBD into their products, selling out their entire inventory at the first farmer’s market they attended with hemp-based topicals.
“We knew we were on to something,” Brun says. “That had never happened before.”
The business has continued its upward trajectory as the women, led by Moodie on the formulation side, have continued to refine and improve their product offerings over the past four years.
“We have very focused roles,” Moodie says. “I do more of the production, formulation and business development. Brooke is focused on the creative, sales and running the online store. We both split up to do events and interact with the community.”
“We work really well together,” Brun adds, “and we try to be careful not to step on each other’s territory too often.”
KB Pure Essentials products are sold through a variety of brick-and-mortar retailers and wellness offices, farmer’s markets and the company’s e-commerce platform. The company sources its CBD from certified organic hemp farms in Europe and includes cannabinoids in their raw (CBDA) and decarboxylated (CBD) forms. In addition to its own retail-ready brand, the company also offers boutique manufacturing services to other CBD companies, allowing them to white-label KB products or use their own custom formula. In a way, the manufacturing angle turns would-be competitors into customers and provides CBD startups with a path to market that doesn’t require a massive capital investment.
And while all companies tout their customer service, KB Pure Essentials takes it to another level with the two founders taking an active role in being transparent and solving any problems that may occur.
“Katie and I try to be the face of our customer service, so when clients call in with issues, they talk to us,” Brun says. “They don’t talk to someone who has to get answers from someone else.”
Company: Top Hat Cannabis
Title: Co-founder and CEO
Before starting Top Hat Cannabis and Top Hat Concentrates in Juneau, Alaska, John Nemeth was working on a revitalization project to restore Detroit to its former glory. Coming from a family of Michigan entrepreneurs, Nemeth took pride in knowing he was not only restoring the city he called home, but that he was also bringing people back to the buildings his grandfather’s construction company built so many years ago. It was a humbling endeavor for the young entrepreneur.
“I’ve known wealth. I’ve known poverty. I’m glad to have experienced all sides of the spectrum of being an entrepreneur,” he says.
When the time came for Nemeth to travel his own entrepreneurial path, he took with him the lessons he learned in Detroit and built Top Hat Cannabis to be the sustainable, environmentally friendly and equality-focused cannabis company that it is today.
“Our process has a very low impact on the environment,” Nemeth says. “We’re able to use glacier water to hydrate our cannabis plants and hydro-powered electricity to run our cultivation facility. … We make all of our nutrients and teas for our operations in-house. Our soil is regenerated from the original supply we received when we began over two years ago.”
Nemeth promotes diversity within the company as Top Hat Cannabis is one of few producers in Alaska with a female head grower. Nemeth also represents the industry on several city infrastructure committees and as a member of the Alaska Marijuana Industry Administration.
“I have a sincere passion about helping the power of cannabis be known,” he says. “Seeing how this plant helps people heal has been a humbling and extremely rewarding experience. It makes me excited for the future of this industry.”
Company: Keystone Shops
Title: President and CEO
Company: Keystone Shops
Title: Director of Finance
Company: Keystone Shops
Title: Director of Strategy
The three guys at the top of Philadelphia’s Keystone Shops dispensaries have been friends for a long time. CEO Michael Badey has known Director of Strategy Connor McCue since elementary school and Director of Finance Jack Francis since high school.
Badey says the relationship between the trio is at the core of their success.
“Trust is a big part of this industry,” Badey says. “And us being friends for so many years was a really important part.”
But don’t get it confused, McCue and Francis aren’t just because they all came up together.
“I didn’t just pick these guys because they’re my friends,” Badey says. “There are so many friends who are great and you’ll wish them a happy birthday and hang out, but by God if you are going to hire them in your own company that would be a bad decision.”
Badey says Francis, for example, was not only the disciplined and dedicated captain of their high school swim team, but a hard worker in college who went on to get his CPA and master’s degree from Villanova before getting a job at Ernst & Young, one of the largest accounting firms in the world.
Francis says he was looking for a change of pace and wanted to get in on the ground floor of an industry where he could make a difference. When his friend offered a role in the nascent cannabis industry, something he was interested in anyway, Francis leapt at it.
“Pairing these two things together just made good sense,” he says.
And while McCue may not have the same career experience as Francis, Badey says the two of them have worked together on multiple projects — for school, work and fun — and he knows he can trust McCue to not only get things done and done well, but to step up to a challenge and take on whatever needs doing.
McCue says he always struggled to figure out what he wanted to do for his career and saw cannabis as a way to apply all of his skills to a single, emerging industry. When Badey asked him to do some marketing and branding work, he did it. When other needs arose at the company, he did them too. These days, he works more on the operational side of the business.
“The greatest opportunity just came out of the blue,” he says.
After graduating college in 2015, Badey approached his father with a business proposal for Pennsylvania’s newly created medical marijuana market. His father saw the potential and some family friends were also interested in getting into the business. The group pooled their resources and got behind Badey’s plan, forming the company in July 2016.
“I really just saw the potential for all this,” Badey says.
Badey scouted potential locations and through the first part of 2017 worked on completing the state’s 600-page application, earning one of 10 dispensary permits granted in June 2017. Keystone Shops was the fourth dispensary in the state to open and the first in the Southeast region to sell product. The company opened in February 2018 and sold out of product in six days.
Today, Keystones Shops has two locations just outside of Philadelphia. A third shop will open this summer inside the city — located just off the intersection of the city’s two major highways and less than a mile from the sports stadium complex where the Phillies, Eagles, 76ers and Flyers play.
With 70 employees on payroll and an eye toward the potential opening of New Jersey’s adult-use market and the expansion of Maryland’s medical program, the three friends says there are not satisfied with just three stores. They plan on “refining” the current model and then expanding the company footprint.
“Expansion is the name of the game from there,” Francis says.
Company: Green Thumb Industries
Title: Chief strategy officer
In 2018, as Green Thumb Industries was preparing to go public, CEO Ben Kovler, head of capital markets Andy Grossman and chief strategy manager Jennifer Dooley visited hundreds of prospective investors to educate them about the opportunity presented by the U.S. cannabis industry.
The experience, Dooley says, was “incredible,” but “in most cases, I was the only woman in the room and the last handshake, if at all.”
One can imagine the look of surprise when Kovler and Grossman would turn the pitch over Dooley, who has an MBA from Northwestern University.
“I wasn’t there just to take notes,” Dooley says, pointing out that 48% of GTI’s leadership team are women, “and we are driving our business every day.”
This year, Dooley is focused on solidifying the fundamentals to position GTI’s staff, infrastructure and business for long-term, sustainable growth. GTI is currently one of a dozen or so multi-state operators that are expanding rapidly throughout North America, but it wasn’t that long ago that the Chicago-based company was just another upstart chasing the potential riches of legal cannabis.
Dooley remembers the exact date she joined the company — March 15, 2016 — and the pitch that drew her in — “How would you like to build the most tantalizing marijuana brand in the world?”
“I remember the date,” she says, “because I believe I hit the jackpot in a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity with a once-in-a-lifetime team. … There’s a phrase: the more things change, the more they stay the same. We have grown from one production facility and one retail store on my very first day to a portfolio of fantastic brands produced and distributed across 10 production facilities with about 20 stores open and many more to come, (but) the strategy has been the same every step of the way and it comes to life every single day.”
The Marijuana Venture Interview: Hope Wiseman
When Mary & Main opened in Capitol Heights, Maryland, on Labor Day 2018, Hope Wiseman was acclaimed as the youngest black woman in the country to own a licensed cannabis dispensary.
That recognition earned her a weird level of respect — respect Wiseman felt she deserved, but not simply because of the newspaper and magazine articles that followed (including this interview to kick off Marijuana Venture’s fourth annual 40 under 40, highlighting some of the amazing young entrepreneurs in the legal cannabis space).
Rather than being recognized simply for getting a license and opening a dispensary, she wanted to earn the esteem of her colleagues through her work ethic and ingenuity — character traits she learned from her mother, Dr. Octavia Simpkins-Wiseman, a successful dentist and entrepreneur.
“I thank my mother every day, because now that I’m older, I can see the influence that she’s intentionally and unintentionally imparted on me,” the 27-year-old CEO says. “It has pushed me to be an extreme go-getter. I always reach for things that may have seemed unattainable to others, but my mother and her hard work, her resilience, always let me know that anything I wanted was possible if I put in the work to get it.”
Today, Mary & Main is still relatively small, with about 20 employees, but Wiseman says it’s exciting to have that many people involved, considering the years in which it was just the company’s three co-owners — Wiseman, her mother and Dr. Larry Bryant, an oral surgeon — toiling to make their business dream a reality.
Marijuana Venture: What does your strategic vision look like at Mary & Main? What areas do you want to grow?
Hope Wiseman: Our focus is definitely on education. I don’t want it to be hard, inconvenient or uncomfortable in any way for people to learn about cannabis and what it really is. We do free educational classes every Wednesday evening, where we can talk about everything from cannabis 101 to the history of cannabis, women in cannabis, health and cannabis. I think that’s a really good way for us to make cannabis relatable to their everyday lifestyle and change the stigma that surrounds this industry, that cannabis is only for people who want to get high.
I really get a kick out of talking to someone who heard “cannabis” and all they thought about was Snoop Dogg and weed. They come in and see a bunch of other stuff: “You have drinks?” “There’s a lotion I can put right on my nerve pain that’s not going to make me high?” Education is everything on the East Coast right now. Patients on this side of America are clueless to all the different ways cannabis can be used. It’s not just for lazy people and it doesn’t make you lazy.
We’re also working on an internal workforce development program to be able to continuously train people to move up in the industry. We meet so many people who are interested in joining the industry who know nothing about it. They have some skills that would be really valuable, but they don’t know how to transfer them into the industry. We feel like we can develop a program where if we hire somebody on an entry-level position, we have specific classes and different milestones to reach so that they know they’re making progress and learning. For us, those are good benchmarks for us to know that when a person has completed this step of the program, they’re ready to be promoted and to move up in the company.
If we can develop a program that is working internally, it’s something I can bring to other states to implement into other companies as well.
MV: What has the journey been like from developing this business idea to opening Mary & Main?
HW: This originally started in my brain back in 2014. I realized that Maryland was going to legalize (medical) cannabis, set up regulations and begin accepting applications. I was in Atlanta at the time, and I called my mother and said, “I know you don’t really know anything about cannabis, but let’s look at it from an economic perspective.” She saw those numbers and said it looked like a great venture to go into.
As we started doing more research, we started to realize how many other reasons there were to join this industry. We actually became much more passionate from other perspectives: the medicinal perspective and how this plant helps people have a better quality of life, as well as the social justice aspect of the industry and that African-Americans have been disproportionately affected by the War on Drugs. We had this unique opportunity as minorities who have resources and have the capacity to really do this, to blaze a trail behind us and allow other people to enter this industry that may not have had the same resources.
My mother and I began putting things together, and we realized we needed help. Dr. Bryant ended up partnering with us, and the three of us wrote our application in 2015. We won the license in 2016, and from 2016 to 2018, it was an uphill battle trying to become operational.
From the capital needs to the difficulties of locating a property, it was very difficult, but I’m proud that we were able to open last Labor Day and we’ve been doing great so far.
MV: What were the biggest challenges you faced along the way?
HW: The wait time and the excessive capital needs to become operational are why the average person could not do this. There’s a time period where there is a lot of work to be done and a lot of money that has to be spent, but you’re not making any money. We have two people who are very accomplished in their careers and very successful and then one person who is also very successful, but young and no family. It wasn’t a big deal for me to be broke for four or five years, so I was the one who took the brunt of that.
My mom and Dr. Bryant, they couldn’t stop working to get everything done. I left my job and moved back to Maryland, and it was difficult, but I was able to strategically build this company during the time that we were looking for a building and then the buildout. I spent that year building our SOPs and building our operation. It was just the perfect marriage. It worked out very well that I had two people behind me who could put me up on their shoulders and make sure I had food on the table.
MV: What did you do before diving headfirst into cannabis?
HW: Before I really started moving toward the cannabis industry, I was going to have a long career in investment banking. At the time, I was working as an equity institutional sales analyst in Atlanta, which meant I was selling stock research to hedge fund managers and mutual fund managers, which was great, because I got to learn a lot about a lot of different industries. I got to learn how to model companies and what things you should be looking for to prove the financial health of a company. I learned things I utilize every day.
My education background is in economics. I have a degree from Spelman College. But before that — and I think this lends a lot into the way I am right now — I grew up doing competitive dance and pageants. I think that experience at a young age, having to be so regimented and dedicated to something, which was unlike the majority of my peers, is why I’ve always been able to put in extra work and kind of be isolated to achieve something. I’ve been doing it since I was a child.
MV: Do you miss the financial industry at all?
HW: No. [Laughs.] I love what I do now. I feel like I’m walking in my purpose every day. I feel like everything I’ve done throughout my life, even in my childhood, has brought me to this point that I’m at right now. Everything was necessary.
My financial background gave me the little bit of credibility that I did have before I won this license, for people to even believe I was capable. It’s so funny that as soon as I got the license, everyone looked at me differently. I was like, “Man, I’ve been telling you I was going to do this forever.” I’ve had the license for years, but now that the store’s open, people have said, “Wow, you’re amazing.” I say, “I’m the same Hope I was when I told you I was going to do it.”
MV: Did you experience people who doubted you as a young entrepreneur, or even more, as a young, black, female entrepreneur?
HW: I’ve experienced that my whole life in a lot of different areas. I definitely experienced doubt from pretty much everyone who really understood the complexity of the cannabis industry. They were like, “How are you going to pull this off?”
The thing they didn’t know was that I understood I couldn’t pull it off alone. I know what my strengths are, and I know what my weaknesses are. I also know that you need people with experience; wisdom is something that cannot be bought.
During the application process, we weren’t even tuned in to the fact that I should have been making connections (with state and local officials). Now that I’m in the industry, I’m much more politically engaged. I’m much more connected to local community leaders and leaders within the industry.
I don’t experience the doubt as much as I did, just because of the title I now have. I’ve been given a platform by being recognized as the youngest African-American woman to own a dispensary. That platform automatically gives me credibility, where I don’t get questioned from every aspect — being young, being a woman, being black. I find the only time those feelings come up for me are in fundraising discussions when I have to be in a room where I’m the only person under 50, the only black person and maybe the only woman.
MV: How can the industry get to a point where you’re not the only woman or the only black person in the room? How do we move forward in that regard?
HW: I think we’ve done an awesome job in this industry at making diversity a hot topic. At the same time, I don’t think we focus enough on equity inclusion from minority groups and that’s where the real change will come from. People who are stakeholders in the company, those are the people who make the real change. Although diversity is a hot topic and everybody is putting together diversity plans where they promise 50% of their staff to be black, I’m sorry, but 50 black trimmers is not doing anything for the black community that has suffered so much because of the War on Drugs.
That’s why I want to develop this workforce utilization program, so companies are able to hire people from these disadvantaged backgrounds and they’re able to have a real chance to move up in the industry and eventually reach a place where they can have real influence and power.
As an industry, we have to think more along the lines of equity inclusion, not just inclusion. I’m not saying minorities should just be given anything. I don’t believe in that. However, I think there needs to be more done to provide minorities with the resources so that they can actually achieve something. Don’t make it so unobtainable that there’s no possible way. Yeah, a black person can apply for a license and they could possibly win, but when the qualifications are so outrageous that we know most African-American families don’t have that type of wealth, you’re not saying it, but you’re pretty much saying black people don’t apply.
Another thing I’m working on is empowering minorities to do the work. They’re going to have to work hard. You’re going to have to compete with people that might have more money or experience than you. But how do you position yourself so you can still be successful?
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Company: High Quality
Title: Founder and owner
When High Quality founder Brock Binder was young, his mother told him that he would either become president or find a cure for cancer.
“I think I did both with this company and working with this plant,” Binder says. “I’ve always conducted myself as a high achiever, no pun intended.”
Five years ago, Binder opened High Quality in Corvallis, Oregon as one of the youngest dispensary owners in the country. While most Oregon retailers rely on their own grow to stock their shelves, High Quality has largely abandoned the vertically integrated model to focus on building a better retail experience.
The company has expanded steadily over the past five years, having completed more than a quarter-million transactions, growing its employee roster to 20 and recently adding a sister, CBD outlet, The Lifestyle Store.
Binder draws on his experience as a former operations manager at Fred Meyer, a Northwestern chain of department/grocery stores, to “create more one-stop-shop experiences and bring everything together under one umbrella.”
“I’m working on what I’m calling our High Quality campus which will include our dispensary, our CBD store and a CBD and hemp café aspect,” he says.
High Quality is also notable in that Binder is one of the few men in a management position.
“We are actually a female-dominant company; 70% of our management team are women,” Binder says. “That’s been great. Obviously there’s been a big push for women to establish themselves prominently in the workplace. I’ve been blessed to have some extremely strong women that have come to apply to this company.”