Cameron Forni knows a thing or two about building a billion dollar cannabis company. The CEO of Cura and founder of Select Oil has always been an innovative thinker. In 2015, he identified and developed the need for an organic cotton wick vape pen, providing a healthier consumption method. From there, he set his mission to be the leading provider of cannabis oil to both consumers and premium brands in legal markets, both in the U.S. and internationally.
We spoke to Forni about his entrepreneurial journey, Cura’s record-breaking success in the cannabis industry, and his predictions for the future of cannabis.
Cannabis Aficionado: Tell us a little bit about your journey through entrepreneurship and how you ended up in the cannabis world.
Cameron Forni: I’ve been an entrepreneur my entire life and have had many incredible mentors. Entrepreneurship was in my blood; I did everything from selling flowers on the side of the street in Milwaukie, Oregon as young as four-years-old, to managing a car detailing business in high school, to building an event company in college. I have always been interested in business and entrepreneurship.
Right out of college, my goal was to create jobs, not to take a job. I started my journey in entrepreneurship when I co-founded TextNoMore, an app designed to reward drivers avoiding texting while driving. From there, I co-founded TryEco LLC, which holds a patent on a starch-based, biodegradable super-absorbent polymer used primarily in agricultural applications. I always had a focus on building businesses that helped people live better lives and achieve more and that’s what led me to cannabis.
With both a medical card and a caregiver card on hand, I started looking at what the future of cannabis would be. I knew that combustion wouldn’t be a long-term option for most cannabis consumers, so I started focusing on safety and vaporization. I started taking apart every vaporizer pen in the market and learned that silica fiberglass was commonly found in most cartridges, so I built a new cartridge, innovated with organic cotton and unique absorption systems.
That’s when Select was born. It’s been quite the journey!
Over the last 18 months, Cura has seen record-breaking success in the industry. You became the first cannabis company to appear in INC. magazine’s annual top 50 companies in 2018. Now, your billion-dollar deal with Curaleaf Holdings is said to be the largest ever among American companies. How does it feel to be behind one of the industry’s golden unicorns?
Wow, what an incredibly cool question to hear. It’s often difficult for me to pause and reflect, so thank you! I’m thankful for the team who has helped build this incredible company with me every day. When you are relentlessly working and traveling (on pace for 300 flights this year alone) because you are so obsessed about something, it’s hard to turn it off. It’s been more than four years of hard work, but in cannabis years, they say that for every one year you multiply by seven because it’s moving so fast!
Sometimes it’s really hard to step back and look at what the work has become. People think that achieving milestones like the Inc. 500 placement or our billion-dollar acquisition must be all we think about, but it’s not always straight forward. We face federal regulatory approval, state licensing approval, audits and regulatory change in each state so often that it’s difficult to master balancing it all. That’s why you need an incredible team.
Cura is widely respected in the industry for innovative extraction techniques and its focus on setting high standards for quality products. How has it evolved from its beginnings into the industry leader it is today?
First of all, it’s always been about building the best team possible and taking care of people along the way.
Our evolution over a short period of time is due to our constant focus on innovation, setting best practices and our never-ending pursuit of better.
Senate Bill 582 will allow Oregon to import and export cannabis products across state lines — but only if the federal government changes its policies. What are your thoughts on this?
The main hurdle is the federal Controlled Substances Act which bans interstate shipments of cannabis. That would have to change. Otherwise, the states that attempt to implement this are subject to crackdown by the Federal Government. There is much work to be done here before this becomes a reality.
Which international markets do you think are really leading the charge right now?
The industry is in the first of a nine-inning ball game. With now 11 states with adult use policies, 33 states with medical cannabis laws and 62 percent of Americans in favor of legalizing cannabis (according to PEW), I expect the industry to have massive growth and significant consolidation.
Canada is the leader from the standpoint of the financial market because it came in early, established policies and amassed significant capital to deploy into international markets. However, the leaders in medical cannabis and cannabis research is still Israel who has been making significant investments into research and development in cannabis science.
Will vape pens replace flower? Why or why not?
There’s a nostalgia and ritual to consuming joints and using flower. With baby boomers and longtime cannabis users that will undoubtedly continue. However, U.S. consumer preferences always gear more towards convenience. The closer we can create the experience of vaporizing unique cannabis terpene and oil formulations, the closer we can get to replicating the experience to that of flower. Long term you will see vaporization pass combustion of flower and in the end, it’s safer.
What new challenges will the industry face going forward?
Banking, taxation, legislation and real estate have always been the major challenges facing cannabis operators. We are the most heavily taxed industries in the world. We are also one of the most heavily tracked — meaning track and traced — industries in the world. In every legal state we use RFID chips on each product case that goes to stores in order to track the product from seed to sale.
Last but not least, cannabis companies achieving profitability is becoming critical to survival in this space. With large gluts of products in states like Oregon, it makes it very hard to run a profitable business under incredibly high taxation.
What trends are shaping cannabis in 2019?
I expect unique terpene profiles and oil formulations to become more popular. Additionally, innovative, discreet and more elevated devices will be the main drivers for 2019.
What demographic do you see having the most growth?
We’re seeing more and more young professionals 25-35 come on board to cannabis at a quick rate. Millennials are seeking cannabis options that suit their own personal needs and they’re becoming more willing to share their interest in cannabis publicly.
What are your one year, five year, and 10-year predictions for the cannabis industry?
1 year: More states will continue to come on board and legalize adult-use cannabis. With that, we’ll also see an uptick in normalization around the country.
5 year: Ideally, the STATES Act will pass, providing more people with access to cannabis, jobs and business opportunities around the country.
10 year: Cannabis is treated by society and regulated by the government like alcohol and will become mainstream.
What do you know now that you wish you knew when you started?
The biggest piece of advice I’d offer to new cannabis entrepreneurs would be to surround yourself with people who fill in your weaknesses early on.
It’s important to be agile and never get stuck to a plan. The plan is always changing because the regulatory environment is always changing. You can’t work in this industry without being agile and nimble with decision-making.
Finally, what are the three things people don’t know about being a cannabis entrepreneur?
- Time commitment: If you want to be successful in this business be prepared to give up your social life. I find myself traveling 48 weeks a year. Having a very understanding partner is critical as well!
- The regulatory environment WILL shift beneath your feet. Expect to order one million boxes of packaging and 2 weeks later that package is obsolete in one of the states you operate in because they need a new sticker
- Cost and funding: Traditional capital is not readily available to the cannabis entrepreneur, you need to make sure your business can survive and thrive. It’s very expensive to handle all the taxes and fees that accompany a cannabis business. For example, in California we face 44% supply chain tax, 12% excise tax, 11% sales tax, 5% gross revenue tax, 35% 280E tax, along with licensing fees and higher-than-normal rates for real estate… just because we’re a cannabis company.
Cheri Sicard: Cannabis Activism Never Tasted So Good
Renowned cannabis chef and activist Cheri Sicard has launched a new website to help eductae people on how to create their own edibles and topicals.
There’s no such thing as an edible that’s effective for everyone. Cheri Sicard, aka Cannabis Cheri, knows this well — and she’s teaching others how to perfect infusions that work for each individual.
Her at-home recipes and do-it-yourself projects have earned her the title of the “Martha Stewart of Weed“.
But, Sicard wasn’t always a proponent of the plant. In fact, she was “once one of the pot-averse females she’s now aiming to educate,” reports the Daily Beast.
“Be Involved, Be Educated, Celebrate”
Before she became the acclaimed foodie, activist and entrepreneur she is today, she traveled the world as a variety arts performer in the circus, and as a magician and mentalist.
“The circus is a traveling melting pot,” says Sicard.
That’s where she realized her passion for food. In addition to visiting local marketplaces, she says, “I would hang out with a lot of the matriarchs of the families, and I learned how to cook all these ethnic foods.”
She combined her love for food, and writing — and in 1996, founded FabulousFood.com, one of the largest online recipe sites at the time.
In 2002, Sicard’s first book, The Great American Handbook, was published. The book is described as a guidebook to patriotism, and offers 101 suggestions on how to be involved, educated, and how to celebrate American heritage.
After making a career of teaching others about cuisine, and citizenship — she made the move into the cannabis space where her mantra, “be involved, be educated, celebrate,” still resonates.
Closeted Smoker to Educated Activist
Cannabis entered Sicard’s life in her late 30s.
“I came late to the party,” she explains. Aside from an occasional toke at a soiree, she says she never really consumed it — not until her doctor recommended it for chronic nausea.
“It worked for that, plus a whole lot of other things,” she says, including gastrointestinal issues, and symptoms of depression.
“It dramatically changed my life,” Sicard adds.
But, she was raised on Reefer Madness. Despite the positive effects she experienced, Sicard still worried she was harming herself by using cannabis.
“That’s when I immersed myself in the subject, and I realized I had been taught a lie,” she says. “That really pissed me off.”
Cheri Sicard: Political Junkie on a Mission
What rattled her most was that her earlier work focused on how the U.S. is supposed to work. Once she learned the truth about the Drug War, she says, “I couldn’t shut up about it.”
Sicard went from being a closed smoker to an outspoken activist. “I haven’t been back since,” she adds.
She turned her anger into activism and began advocating for prisoners currently serving life sentences for cannabis offenses.
For the most part, the public is unaware that there is such a thing as people who are serving life for pot, Sicard explains. “When I tell people, it’s shocking to them. They think, ‘There’s got to be more involved, there’s got to be dead bodies somewhere.’ But no — it’s just for marijuana.
Sicard works to raise awareness, and rally public support via social media for those serving life for cannabis.
Whether it’s organizing fundraisers or garnering support for clemency efforts, Sicard’s goal is to “to make sure [the prisoners] know that the public is watching.”
The work is rewarding, Sicard explains, “We’ve seen a lot of victories.” However, there is a long way to go toward righting the wrongs of the Drug War.
This is where her experience as an entertainer helps serve her in her advocacy work. “The show goes on no matter what,” she explains. “No matter how discouraging it gets, you can’t give up.”
Evolving into a Cannabis Foodie
When cannabis became part of her life, it became part of her food, too.
Naturally, Sicard began to cook with cannabis. Though she was an experienced cook and professional recipe developer — she had to learn the basics of combining the two.
“There wasn’t great information out there at the time. Most of the cookbooks out there weren’t great, and had conflicting information,” she adds. “I had to learn what worked and what didn’t on my own.”
She had her fair share of failures. One of which she describes on her newly launched Cannademy website.
“[…] When I first started trying to cook with cannabis, there was a great three-day camp-out music festival that a lot of my friends can barely remember. That’s because most of them slept through it.”
Sicard explains that was due to overestimated tolerances, and her lack of knowledge about making edibles for a crowd.
She learned there’s no one size fits all model for edibles. So, she began to hone-in simple, effective recipes.
That’s when she made her move the world of cannabis and food, becoming a leader in infused recipe development for home chefs.
Her books have gained mainstream attention; Mary Jane is sold at Urban Outfitters, and the Easy Cookbook became the top seller in its category after its release.
Now, Sicard is taking her skill sets to digital audiences through a series of online courses.
A Pretty Magical Thing
Sicard’s courses focus on the nuances of cooking with cannabis. Topics currently range from skincare to easy cooking for home chefs. She even offers a free course on how to properly dose edibles.
Sicard aims to help consumers who are confused, and inundated with bad information or experiences.
She believes that there’s no such thing as an infused product that works for everyone. This is, in part, why she is focused on teaching others how to create — and properly dose — their own infusions.
Affordability is also a motivation.
Learning how to create your own topicals, for example, can be cost-effective and work just as well or better than products on the market because recipes can be personalized, Sicard explains.
What sets her courses apart from others is that she directly consults and troubleshoots with her students.
Because everybody reacts differently, she says, “I really try to focus on where that spot is for them — which can be a pretty magical thing.”
A personal, and fan-favorite topical recipe is her Lavender Green Tea Whipped Cannabis Body Butter, which is made with Matcha Green Tea powder, beeswax, and hemp seed oil among other ingredients.
Sicard teaches a free course on how to make the body butter at home with three basic ingredients: coconut oil, cannabis, and tapioca flour or cornstarch. She also offers a tutorial on how to upgrade the recipe with essential oils, extracts, teas and more.
In terms of dishes, Sicard’s favorites are savory and spicy infusions, like pizza, or barbeque shrimp, she shares.
She does have a foodie pet peeve; Gummies, or fat-free infusions.
“Cannabis is better in foods that contain fat,” she explains.
In fact, a recent University of Minnesota study finds that “CBD exposure is vastly increased when CBD is taken with high fatty foods.”
Because of that, Sicard warns consumers to steer clear of fat-free edibles; “Down with fat-free gummies!”
Sicard credits her success to her brutal honesty. She won’t give you any bullshit, she assures. While she admits that people don’t always like what she tells them, it’s a definite strength in an industry so wrought with misinformation.
Her advice to others is not to be hesitant about cannabis as she was.
“Get over that. This is something that is good for you. It’s healthy and has long term preventive health benefits.”
Cannabis should be celebrated, not treated as a vice, she says.
Peter Barsoom: Engineering Edibles & Elevating Expectations
Continuing cannabis legalization has seen a boom in innovation and product development. One of the categories that has benefited the most is edibles. Gone are the days of freaking out from one too many weedy brownies. Modern edibles are healthier and more effective, in direct response to consumer demands. They are discreet, measured and the consumer experience and expectations can be precisely dialed in.
Peter Barsoom is the CEO of 1906, one of Colorado’s most successful and innovative edibles companies. 1906 has just released a groundbreaking product that marks a quantum leap for cannabis medicine: 1906 Drops that utilize pharma technology.
Cannabis Aficionado spoke to Barsoom about being first to market, his stance on social responsibility and cannabis entrepreneurialism.
Tell us about your journey through entrepreneurship and how you found your way to cannabis?
Prior to cannabis, I spent 20 years in finance in New York. The idea of getting into the cannabis market was really my wife’s idea. We came up to Colorado in mid-2014 and immediately realized how amazing the quality of the flower that was available to consumers. We wanted to create an edibles experience that was parallel to the amazing flower we had available to us — that’s when we started 1906.
Can you tell us a little about the name 1906?
1906 was the year the Wiley Act — also known as the Pure Food and Drug Act — was passed, which effectively started the prohibition of cannabis. Our mission is to do two things: bring awareness to the last 100 years of prohibition and also to bring cannabis back to its pre-prohibition status as a mainstream substance.
In your own words, what makes 1906 different from other edible companies on the market?
We focus on three things to attract a larger group of cannabis consumers for whom it could be an alternative for either alcohol or pharmaceuticals
Number one is great flavor. Because our product is food, it should taste like food and be healthy like the food we want to put in our bodies.
Two, it should deliver a specific effect. People use cannabis not just for getting high. People use it to help with sleep, give some relief from pain, help with anxiety, a boost of energy — there’s a specific reason why you or I use cannabis and it’s not just for “getting high.”
Third is that it’s fast-acting. Because I’m a New Yorker, I believe patience is a virtue and you shouldn’t have to wait for 60 minutes to 90 minutes for your edibles to kick in.
Can you go into detail on your patented ‘microencapsulation technology’ and the role it plays in your edibles?
Microencapsulation is the technology that we utilize that comes from the pharmaceutical world. Pharma knows how to make drugs get into your system faster. Or, in some cases, the extended release version.
We licensed the technology from a Canadian bioscience company, which is called a lipid microencapsulation. What that means is, by combining cannabis with the medium-chain fatty acid, it allows it to bypass or skip digestion, and get into your bloodstream faster.
Also, it avoids the degradation of the cannabinoids by your stomach acid, so you get more of the cannabinoids into your bloodstream. You could almost think of it is as like a bullet train, where the cannabinoids are passengers that get into your bloodstream much faster and are protected more than the normal digestion.
Tell us about your exciting new product, the first medical cannabis pills on the market?
Yup, that’s correct. It really is very simple. At one level, it’s revolutionary. Another level, it’s as normal as anything else.
As Americans, we have four and a half billion prescriptions annually. Most of those come in what format? Pills that we swallow. The predominant way that Americans take medicine is in a pill form. It could be your pill for your cholesterol, your pill for sleep, your pill for anxiety. It was always odd to me that as cannabis is medicine, why wasn’t it available in the traditional medicinal format?
The second thing came from our consumers, which is that our consumers were asking for a vegan, gluten-free, portable, discreet way to take 1906. Maybe it’s somebody who can’t take chocolate because they have hypoglycemia, or they’re somebody who’s going out on a hike and can’t take chocolate pretzel because those will melt. There were a whole bunch of cases and demands from consumers for different products.
Pills are the way that we Americans consume our medicine. So, Drops was born from that work, bringing to the market a discreet, portable, vegan, gluten-free, something-you-can-swallow format.
So, you’re reaching a new audience that doesn’t necessarily buy edibles or smoke flower or vape. But they’ll happily take a cannabis pill.
So true. For a lot of people, it feels more accessible and acceptable in that format.
How’s the response been?
Phenomenal. We’ve had great, great feedback from the stores, and from our customers, so far. We have something that will resonate.
Where are they currently available?
Only in Colorado.
Any expansion plans?
Massachusetts, Michigan, Illinois and New Jersey will all be rolling out over 2020. Those are very exciting markets. There’s a great demand for these products in the new, young markets that are beginning to legalize. We can build the brand on the East Coast.
Can you tell us more about your GROW cannabis program?
We’ve developed a program called GROW Cannabis, which stands for Generate Real Opportunity for Working in Cannabis. This is for those individuals who’ve been negatively impacted by the War on Drugs. It was never a War on Drugs — it was a war on people. The people who’ve been negatively impacted, who are now out in society, their lives have been significantly damaged. The opportunities lost, the time that they spent in prison and so forth, is truly an injustice.
We think we have a responsibility to help those who’ve been incarcerated, to get back into society, through employment. This industry will create thousands of new jobs. Why not create a training program, so those people can gain real employment in this industry? So that’s what we’re doing. We’ll be launching next year in New Jersey, to get the program right and then we’ll be rolling it out in other areas.
As a New Yorker, what are your thoughts on the current situation in that state?
It’s hard. Every other state, besides Illinois, has done it through a ballot intuitive. It is very hard… it’s so political. I totally get it, the challenges they have. It takes a little while. It will happen. It takes like two years.
How can the cannabis industry, as a whole, be better?
I think it’s about remembering the community and how we got here. We got here because a lot of people were unfortunately incarcerated. That makes for a unique perspective. How we give back to the community? We’re creating a new industry, so we get to write new rules for it.
What trends do you predict for cannabis, going into the ‘Roaring Twenties’?
You know, I have… all I know is, it’s all being dictated by consumers. That’s where we’re seeing changes. The demand for legalizing, the demands for social use, the delivery, other options like that. If we’re looking into where consumers are, that’s what predicts what the future looks like.
With your experience, what do you see happening in the cannabis industry 1, 5 and 10 years from now?
I think in the next year, we’ll see something happen at a federal level — maybe not legalization, but maybe banking. In 10 years, we’ll start to see places where people can consume both cannabis and alcohol, in the same place. That will transform social use. It will transform how we gather… I think we will see beverages be a much larger way in which people consume cannabis.
What do you wish you knew when you started out cannabis entrepreneurship?
I wish knew how hard it was going to be. In retrospect, maybe I don’t wish? Maybe if I knew how hard it is, I might not have… but it is some of the most rewarding five years of my life.
Finally, what are three things people don’t know about what it takes to be a cannabis entrepreneur?
I think, number one, it will take more time and money than you can possibly predict. Number two: believe in what it is that you’re doing and listen to consumer demand. Keeping the consumer at the center of things, you’re more likely to be successful. Number three: I get a lot of advice from other folks in the business. This is one of the friendliest industries I’ve ever been a part of.
Chef Andrea Drummer: Creating an Elevated Dining Experience
Being able to smoke, vape, and ingest cannabis legally in a place other than your own home used to be nothing more than a pipe dream. But times are changing — especially within the rapidly expanding industry of mainstream marijuana.
In 2018, the city of West Hollywood (WeHo), Los Angeles, announced it would be granting eight consumption licenses to create cannabis havens — positioning itself to become a world-class destination that will rival the best lounges in the Netherlands.
First to open was Lowell Herb Co. and its stunning Original Cannabis Café (rebranded from Lowell Café in November) that opened to the public on October 1, 2019. While infused cuisine is not yet on the menu, patrons can sample both farm-to-table cuisine and cannabis, with authentic Californian flavors. Highly trained sensimilla sommeliers provide tableside flower service, to explain the available consumption options and cultivars, specifically chosen to pair with the first-of-its-kind food menu created by Chef Andrea Drummer.
Chef Drummer is renowned for her expertise in pairing cuisine with cannabis cultivars that complement the weed’s terpene and flavor profiles. She is also the executive chef and co-owner of the Cannabis Café. A pioneering leader in both the cannabis and culinary industries, Chef Drummer is a world-class Le Cordon Bleu-trained chef who has crafted meals for Wiz Khalifa, Miguel and Chelsea Handler.
We were lucky to be early through the doors of this already iconic hot spot, to sit down to lunch with Chef Drummer and learn more about the history-making menu.
Cannabis Aficionado: Tell us about the Original Cannabis Café, the first cannabis restaurant in America.
Chef Drummond: The Original Cannabis Café is the first of its kind — it’s completely beyond any of our imaginations. An onsite consumption cannabis café where you’re able to have a great meal and indulge in some of our beautiful flower here that we offer.
You’ve crafted a food menu to pair with the experience of smoking and ingesting cannabis. Can you elaborate on that?
Throughout the extent of my career in cannabis, I’ve been able to infuse the food directly based on the flavor profiles of the cuisine and the terpenes in the bud. But we’re unable to do that just yet. Our menu is an offshoot of that experience — pairing the same flavor profiles of the bud that we offer with the cuisine, so I have to be very mindful of what flavor profiles I’m putting on the menu. I want to do some really intense flavors, things that enhance the cannabis experience, while being considerate of what flavors and notes come forward when you partake or indulge in cannabis.
What excites you about the next stage of the cannabis-infused food evolution?
What’s exciting is that we get to implement all of these culinary ideas — like gastronomy and different methods of cooking — and pair them with the cannabis consumption experience. So, we’ll be able to really play around with these ideas and these notions. It’ll be great to see other chefs really get involved and put their stamp and mark on the industry.
I suspect we’ll see more shows on Netflix that are more cerebral and thoughtful. Maybe some things on Travel Channel — things that are more, for lack of a better term, mainstream. Things that will help normalize the idea of cannabis consumption paired with cuisine and infusing directly. I’d love to get back to that.
Is there a differentiation between somebody who wants to use a concentrate versus a flower? Are you trying to guide them towards different taste experiences?
I am more adept with pairing flower versus vapes — although, I paired one vape that was pretty delicious. I tend to go more towards the flower because that’s been my experience. Of course, I hope to become more versed in everything else.
Are you leading any education platforms around cannabis and food?
I have reached out to some culinary institutes to see if it’s something they’d be interested in looking at in the future. They’re open to it. Not many are averse to the idea. They just don’t know how to fit it into the curriculum. From talking to them, that seems to have been the conundrum.
Now that we have the freedom to do it and explore — what we’ve been able to do here at the café — I would hope to see culinary institutes implement courses to teach this type of science and this type of cooking.
You’re also a well-known advocate and activist for the legalization of cannabis and the social injustices associated with it. What do you see happening from here?
I know there’s work to be done. You can’t miss the fact that I’m a woman, and that I’m black, so that comes in the way of inspiring others and speaking to social injustice. The fact that I’m here, free, talking to you, in this place, while other folks that look like me are incarcerated — some with life sentences — isn’t lost on me. It’s incumbent upon me to be active, not only by inspiring but also in the hiring processes and further activism.
What’s next for the Original Cannabis Café?
We’re focused on doing the best job for the communities — the cannabis community, the culinary community and West Hollywood. In the immediate future, I’m looking forward to launching our brunch menu, which is exciting. We have the opportunity to play around with ideas. That’s super exciting because there isn’t a template for it.
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