by Brian Chaplin, Chief Brand Officer at Medicine Box
Not even a month into the new year, and some of the biggest players in the cannabis industry have already been hit with several crippling blows. While we’re thankfully a long way away from the federal raids of yore, we’re seeing cutbacks, layoffs and corporate “realignments” in California across the board, some of them by the biggest names in the industry. When the big boys like this are struggling, what does that say for the OGs?
First off, speaking as a California cannabis entrepreneur who has survived both the post-64 aftermath, an armed robbery, AND subsequent charges by the Nevada County Sheriff’s Department, I can assure all of you that NONE of this can crush you if you are determined enough to survive and make the proper sacrifices at the right time. Not too soon ago, I posted some observations for a more inclusive, impactful and interconnected cannabis industry which went viral on Instagram, and I decided to expand upon them for the benefit of the NCIA’s members. There’s going to be a lot thrown at us this year, and I’ve found that I’ve raised my chances for survival by determining what to focus on and what to ignore.
- Making the Right Alliances: Since our foundation in 2016, Medicine Box has carefully selected the sorts of partners we work with. Not only should they fill in the gaps in our organization, but they also have to understand the plant and the culture that has developed around it. People like the Caladrius Network, which has distributed medical cannabis for free to catastrophically ill children, or House of Harlequin, one of the original CBD breeders, have helped us become better stewards of our consumers. Simply put, alignment is not a trend; vet them wisely and give as much as you get.
- Get out of the Cannabis Bubble: The cannabis consumer we’re all looking to reach simply isn’t going to meet us halfway. Some of our partnerships have provided valuable beachheads into the sorts of communities we all need to convert. The feedback we have gotten from the live music webisode series Jam in the Van and the LA-based popup concert promoters Silverlake Sessions has helped us to finesse our marketing and product creation immensely and connect to the audiences we need to reach. And we expect to do more of this in the year to come.
- The Brand Is Key: I don’t have to tell you how powerful the Apples and Nikes of the world are. People are profoundly loyal to a brand that is in turn loyal to its foundational values. Our Seven Pillars of Nature, Music, Food, Mindfulness, Community, Collaboration and Recovery are emphasized in everything we do as a team
- Education, Education, Education: You simply cannot do enough of this with the products we’re creating. We’re constantly having to fight back certain misconceptions, such as the idea that THC is strictly recreational, that even the industry itself tacity promotes. Even the most devoted consumer has something new to learn about many of the new products and methods of ingestion. You’ve got to keep at it until the numbers show it’s starting to sink in.
- The Rush to Vertical Integration: Too many people are trying to do it all at once. We’ve managed to avoid crashing early by picking a lane and sticking with it. So ask yourself: are you a medicine maker? A cultivator? A manufacturer that wants to make oil? Most of the big boys I just mentioned are suffering precisely because they tried to do it all too soon. Don’t let this happen to you!
- Going Big: One of our strongest partners, Brent Gerson, heads the subscription box/research service The Study. To paraphrase him, one of the most important things he’s found from surveying his customers is that you can’t learn much about the average cannabis consumer from 30,000 feet. Making those consumer connections is crucial, and size often obscures those connections. You become so focused on compliance and data that you forget there’s a human being at the other end of the supply chain. My own social media work has helped start those conversations, and it means a lot for people to know who they’re buying from. You can’t get that from a billboard.
- The CPG Mentality: The move to commoditize cannabis has not only hit craft growers and product makers hard; it has also short-changed the consumer. Moreover, it moves away from the core values of the heritage cannabis community here in California, which has sustained it for generations. Especially if you’re making a product that serves a specific wellness purpose, such as our relaxing tincture Equanimity, a commoditization approach is simply not appropriate. The sooner the industry learns that, the better.
This being 2020, we’re looking at an election and possibly a few more states coming online with legalization. While California is unique, it’s still a market everyone wants to crack sooner or later, and it’s made a few mistakes everyone is learning from. While the future is far from certain, I expect to be at this point next year looking back, regardless of the changes I’ve made, being thankful I executed on the priorities I’ve made over time. Will you?
Brian Chaplin started the cannabis/hemp-infused herbal wellness brand Medicine Box in 2016. Beginning his trade as an underground cannabis cultivator in 2009, Brian has released a series of award-winning edibles, snacks and tinctures, including Equanimity, which won second place for Best Tincture at the 2019 Emerald Cup. He lives, works, skis and meditates on the shores of North Lake Tahoe.