Senior editor Patrick Wagner lists his favorite stories Marijuana Venture ran in 2023, in candid detail
It’s the first week of the year. Most cannabis media companies are pushing their Top 10 most-read stories (including Marijuana Venture) and while the majority of the world got to phone it in until after the new year holiday, I have been busy working super, super hard to compile my own personal Top 10 list of what I thought were the most interesting stories we ran in 2023.
I’m not counting down here, so don’t try to look for a metric to measure why I would consider No. 5 to be objectively better than No. 6. This is a Top 10 list. And please don’t be surprised to find that most of these were my stories; here at Marijuana Venture we are allowed to pursue stories we find interesting and, yeah, that’s what I did for most of the year.
How many times have you walked into a room and wondered about its design decisions? I had this story cooking for so long that by the time we were ready to run it, I had to go back and create a new list because of all the acquisitions, mergers and closures that had happened since I first started gathering the data. Still, it was a rare opportunity to talk to designers from across the country about designing a cannabis store: the genesis of each project; who they’re targeting; and how they worked within regulatory, financial and/or space limitations Plus, some of these stores are just amazing to look at.
If you’ve seen our 5 Companies Killing It section you might be thinking, “this Top 10 list of stories went off the rails pretty quickly.” Well, yes, it’s not technically a specific story, but it’s my list and having covered so many stories about things that make it suck to be in the industry, it’s nice that our editor-in-chief Garrett Rudolph dedicated a section of the magazine for companies who are thriving (i.e. “Killing It”) but also those who are giving back. It’s just nice to report on something positive that isn’t increasing some company’s bottom line.
Our former managing editor Brian Beckley and I would occasionally digress about the old High Times magazines we saw in the ‘90s and how they would often have these photos of massive brown bricks of hash (sometimes stamped with a medallion for some reason). Neither one of us could understand why the coveted hash bricks in those magazines simply disappeared. Brian took on this story and found the answer, which I won’t spoil, but it was pretty interesting to say the least.
If anything is going to break the prolonged silence at our office, it is most assuredly one of the many PR emails trying to spin straw into gold. Our editor-in-chief Garrett Rudolph wrote this opinion piece on such an email and produced something better than most of the PR pitches that reach out inboxes. It’s a good critical look at marketing in cannabis, and I am hopeful we will get the chance to commentate more on the industry as the magazine moves into 2024.
Working in the cannabis industry, let alone on the media side, you get really familiar with the racist history of cannabis and the need for equity in the industry. They’re such common talking points that I would guess nearly every issue we’ve published hits on them in some way. But this piece written by Nichelle Santos, the New Jersey state co-director of Minorities for Medical Marijuana, does more than just highlight the problems, it discusses a path forward and issues a call to action that would be beneficial for the entire industry.
Having already covered cannabis tourism a number of times in my nine years at the magazine, I thought I knew what this story was going to be before I took my first interview. In the past, cannabis tourism was — and I am being reductive for the sake of brevity here — either people getting on a bus to go tour a cannabis operation, or adding weed to any existing tourist activity — and I wasn’t wrong. But operators were forced to get creative after the appeal of legal cannabis waned and the pandemic forced people indoors. Factor in the growing worldwide acceptance of cannabis and the rise of consumption lounges, and I was surprised to find a vibrant, burgeoning sector that is finding its footing.
4. The Topless Potshop saga
I love it when someone stands up and confidently says, “I have a terrible idea!” That joy is only increased when the person fails to read the room and then doubles down on it. That’s what happened in Whately, Massachusetts, earlier this year when two entrepreneurs thought adding boobs to cannabis retail might give them the competitive edge in the commonwealth. It’s a very dumb story about two guys who boobs and cannabis was going to be the next chocolate and peanut butter. I thought it was fantastic.
An aptly titled article for a story on Justin Costello, a conman who had a surprisingly long career in the industry. This story recounts how Costello ruined several people’s lives, his attempt to flee the country and how he was caught.
He is a dick and thankfully in jail now.
2. 40 Under 40
Yeah, I know the annual 40 Under 40 feature isn’t technically a story, but with our editor in chief away for the issue (and again, my Top 10 list), the vast majority of the 40 nominations, profiles and writing were left at my discretion. I went all out, spending late nights finding the absolute best candidates we could add to the issue (and after eight years of the annual feature, it was no small feat). I was happy to find such a diverse, brilliant group of professionals in nearly every segment of the industry. I found this year’s group so compelling that I even added (nearly) all the Q&A interviews to each profile online.
Consumption lounges showed up fashionably late to the industry. So late in fact that when I opted to cover the new segment, I found that there had been very little published about them, especially when it came to describing what the actual business models look like. It took most of my time and most of the editorial pages in the July 2023 issue, but I came back with a deep dive on the varied forms consumption lounges have taken in nearly every state (no one in New Mexico could answer a phone) that allows them to operate. It’s an incredibly exciting and frustrating new segment of the industry and I look forward to investigating it in the future.