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Brands and Buds: Matt Morgan and His Cannabis Empire

Matt Morgan, a sixth generation Montanan farmer, exclusively tells Cannabis Aficionado how he grew one of the cannabis industry’s most successful companies.

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Matt Morgan
PHOTO | Supplied

In a week I’ve become something of an expert in all things Matt Morgan. He’s a fascinating read and is achieving rock star status as one of the first cannabusiness celebrities in the short time that weed’s gone legal.

If you’re one of his 777k followers (at press time) on Instagram you know that Morgan lives something of a fantasy lifestyle, photos of beautiful grow rooms with mountains of colas and bags of buds piled sky high—and even though he makes his cannabis business lifestyle look easy, you better believe it’s not. His hard work and tremendous drive are beginning to pay dividends, but only after years of growing his personal empire.

Matt Morgan is a builder of cannabis companies and they’re more than just uber successful. They’re powerful, game-changing, and visionary. In little more than a decade of hard and determined work, Morgan has carved out a comfortable niche.

For Morgan, a sixth-generation farmer from Montana, leaving the family’s fields of alfalfa and wheat to pursue cannabis meant more than breaking with tradition, but changing his parent’s perception that stoners were stupid, lazy, and wouldn’t amount to anything.

“My family was very anti-cannabis, actually. They would much rather have me drink alcohol growing up versus smoking cannabis. They had all the propaganda shoveled in their mouth for so many years about how cannabis was basically the devil, right? The last thing my family wanted me to do was to be involved in that sector — from a personal consumption standpoint as well as a business standpoint,” says Morgan.

“I’m still carrying the torch as far as farming goes, but its just in a completely different way. I’m a much bigger fan of the cannabis plant versus alfalfa!”

Despite Morgan’s family attitude, he wouldn’t change a thing about his childhood explaining how growing up in Montana “just gives you a certain set of core values” that have shaped and guided him in his pursuit of success in the States and beyond.

“I think people pick up on it very quickly when you have small-town roots,” says Morgan. “You shake peoples hands, and when you shake people’s hands, that’s your word. You follow through on everything that you say you’re going to follow through on.” He adds emphatically, “Honesty and integrity, all those things are instilled in you growing up in a place like Montana. People automatically trust you more or less based upon how you act, how you’re raised, and I think that goes a long way in business.”

Morgan’s moral code would soon pay off as he got his first taste of success selling real estate in his early twenties. What followed in 2008 is probably Morgan’s biggest game changer as the financial collapse left him to do some serious soul-searching.

That need to land on his feet and find the next big business opportunity led Morgan to settle on cultivating cannabis after months of online research. After getting his Montana medical marijuana card, Morgan blindly started growing; — expecting his first crop of six plants would produce High Times-worthy buds.

“In my head, I was like, ‘Man, if a bunch of hippies can grow up plants from seeds and grow some good buds, there’s no chance I’m not going to pull this off.’ But of course, my first couple attempts were epic failures,” Morgan laughs.

“I had no idea what I was doing. You name a branch, I hit it on the way down.”

Lucky for Morgan, he’s a fast learner and recovered quickly from his mistakes. Over a ten-month period, he scaled his grow operation to one of the largest in the state. Everything was going well for Morgan in Montana’s medical program where a caregiver could grow up to six plants per patient, with no cap or limit on size. Morgan’s hometown of Missoula was booming with more than 60 dispensaries in a town of 60,000-plus people.

“The ratio was ridiculous and Montana doesn’t really like change all that much,” says Morgan. “Once they saw all these dispensaries popping up and everybody growing cannabis, legislation came in and put a halt to everything. They limited each share grower to three patients and that’s when I started looking at other opportunities to scale the way I wanted to scale.”

In 2010, Arizona was crafting some of the most favorable cannabis laws for building a large-scale operation with unlimited plants, weight, and growth — and if he could secure one of the licenses from the state — it had everything Matt Morgan was looking for and more.

Moving to a new state where you don’t know anyone could seem daunting and intimidating, but not for Morgan who immersed himself by building a brand of hydro stores that would soon service the states large grows. With three Ugrow hydro stores under Morgan’s leadership and making steady gains, Morgan knew the key to scoring one of the 121 state licenses would be seeking out the who’s who of Arizona’s cannabis culture.

“Since I really didn’t know anybody the hydro stores gave me a chance to really get involved. I’d meet and greet with everyone in the space, which was very helpful early on.”

And his strategy worked. Knowing that the licenses would be highly competitive, Morgan’s intrepid networking led him to an influential senator’s son and indeed, they won a license in the first round of applications, quickly acquiring their second within a few months of being in business and Bloom dispensaries was born.

In as little as ten months that Morgan and his partner had grown Bloom dispensaries, they were now employing 120 personnel and earning revenues in excess of a million dollars a month. It’s here that I learn that Morgan has as huge a heart as he does a mind for business. As a difference in Morgan’s life is created, or as he experiences a certain level of success, he makes sure that the wealth is spread around.

“You’re literally seeing people, hiring them, and they’re driving to work in a car that barely runs and then six months later because of this job they’re driving a new car. Things like that are just so fulfilling in general. Helping and seeing all these people that you’re making their dreams become reality. The larger you can scale, the more people you can help,” says Morgan.

Morgan recalls how his mentors, most of whom were CFOs, CEOs of Fortune 500 companies and Fortune 100 companies gave him the “playbook on how to be a monster in the business space” because they understood the business from A to Z. Without them, he says, it would “take me forever to figure out how to recreate the wheel. They really turbocharged everything for me.”

To create Morgan’s own personal game-day book of business moves, he relates taking a lot of pages from other industries playbooks and “globbing them into a hot soupy mess” and navigating his way through to make sure he avoids all the common pitfalls or as many as he can.

Morgan quickly expanded the business to include more properties and turning over a million dollars a month in sales. It wasn’t long until his success attracted the eye of an investor who within hours of meeting Morgan wanted him to immediately fly on the company jet to meet his boss in south Florida. It didn’t take long for Morgan to meet and get a feel for the family company and know that he’d be a better fit working for them — but that was only after a “grueling six-hour interview process where they hammered me with questions and it felt like an interrogation,” says Morgan.

“In their defense, they should be asking as many questions as they want. The family office put up an absurd amount of money to build out the cannabis company and gave me a huge injection of capital to scale to sizeable proportions.”

But things didn’t go as smoothly as expected for Morgan when Bloom’s investors couldn’t come to terms with the family office. In the end, the family office would make an offer to start a new company leaving Morgan to walk away and completely divest himself from Bloom. In March of 2014, Tryke and Reef dispensaries were born.

To get started, Morgan created his temporary corporate headquarters in Tempe, Arizona, hired his executive team, and after receiving a license in the state he quickly set up three dispensaries in the somewhat remote Queen Creek. Morgan knew he had to attract the younger generation of trendsetters, the 21 to 30-year-old segment who he describes as the “cool kids who want to a part of this movement.” So he made it the “cool place to be” and brought in Wiz Khalifa, Berner of Cookie’s fame, and the Jungle Boys. Soon enough Reef dispensaries had 500 people a day driving 30-60 minutes out to the sticks because Reed wasn’t just a dispensary, it was a destination.

With a proven track record in Arizona, Morgan broke into Nevada and was awarded all of the eight applications submitted. “We won the most licenses in the state of Nevada, built our flagship store next to the Strip, built the 24/7-hour dispensary in North Vegas, popped up two more dispensaries in the Reno area and popped up one more flagship in Arizona with a large cultivation.”

Preparing for Nevada’s first day of legalization on July 1st, 207, found Morgan buying as much weed as humanly possible. “I was gobbling up product left and right in preparation because I knew that consumption would be a five to seven multiplier on what it currently was — and no one believed me,” Morgan says incredulously. “They thought we’d be lucky if we got a two multiplier, but all I could think was ‘You guys are nuts!’ and I was actually right. I ended up stocking several thousand pounds of cannabis in anticipation for rec sales.”

 

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Market research 🤓 #beautifulgirls @jungleboys

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To say the first day of Nevada’s legalization was a pivotal moment for Morgan would be as big an understatement as saying the Apple iPhone didn’t change the course of telecommunications. Standing on top of a building the size of two and a half football fields at 11:30 pm the evening that Nevada went rec, Morgan was scratching his head wondering just how he got there,  “There were all these news outlets trying to interview me and so many cameras in my face. Looking around I wondered ‘how in the hell did I get 1200 people to stand in a line at midnight to buy weed?’” says Morgan.

“This massive line wrapped all the way around the building. This was a wow moment.”

Everything that Morgan had worked for over the past two and a half years in Nevada was culminating in that very moment. The fruit of all his labor was paying off and as he watched the fireworks go off at the stroke of midnight, Morgan knew that what he had accomplished was next level.

By the time that Morgan was exiting Reef, the company that he had built was running at over $100 million revenue run rate on an annual basis. It was common while he was there to hear comments about the strength of the culture instilled within the company — which Morgan equates back to his chief human resource officer’s core values and company culture.

“When I left Reef, we had 430 employees and every single one of them had a very similar culture and core values,” said Morgan. “You’d have a contractor, for example, come in and you’d ask someone for a broom and four people would be running as fast as they could to get a broom. I think that’s partly because they saw the CEO taking out his own trash, or I’d be picking up garbage all the time in the parking lot.  I just don’t care. I’m not above any job, you know what I mean.”

No matter what size of the job, or even what job needs to be done — Morgan is not afraid to roll up his sleeves, dig in, and get dirty. That must’ve been what led Dan Bilzerian to come calling on Morgan. “Bilzerian’s been a good buddy for a long time and he approached me to help him build out a cannabis brand, be a brand ambassador and one of his advisors. We recently launched his new brand Ignite, and I’ve been intimately involved with helping him get that started as well,” says Morgan.

“Business is like a full-contact sport,” says Morgan. When it comes to big money, all bets are off, and it brings me back to survival of the fittest. You’ve got to do whatever it takes to be successful… and always go to bed being the hardest working guy that day.”

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Jason Pinsky: Decoding the Pinsky Triangle

Jason Pinsky, the chief cannabis evangelist at Eaze and cannabis producer for Viceland’s “Bong Appétit,” explain the mysticism of the Pinsky Triangle.

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Jason Pinsky
PHOTO | Tommy Quicksilver

Originally published on Cannabis Now.

From the cosmic aspirations of ancient pyramids to the light-bending power of a simple prism, the triangle has served as both a sacred symbol and a source of engineering sturdiness throughout human history.

For Jason Pinsky, the man who currently serves as chief cannabis evangelist at Eaze and cannabis producer for Viceland’s “Bong Appétit,” the triangle he has constructed is both structural and symbolic, representing his personal and professional ethos.

I had the opportunity to speak at length with Pinsky about his unique path to the top of the emerging cannabis industry — and it all started with a delayed flight.

After three days of MJBizCon, where I networked furiously, partied excessively and slept only briefly, I found myself in the bustling lobby bar of the Cosmopolitan, nursing a neat double scotch and puffing voraciously on some promo vape pen.

It was already nearing midnight, but my flight wouldn’t leave for another couple hours due to delays from high desert winds howling just outside the hermetically sealed walls of the Cosmo. That’s when I got a surprise text informing me Pinsky was available for an interview upstairs.

Pinsky opened his hotel suite door and welcomed me in with a grand sweeping gesture of his hand. He cut a bohemian figure in a black sweater, a flowing white scarf adorned with colorful plaid strips and his signature “Pinsky shades” — thick, black, rectangular frames with lazy rounded corners and over-sized, tinted lenses that sprawl almost to the bottom of his nose; if you’ve seen the final shot of Martin Scorsese’s “Casino,” you’ve seen Robert De Niro wearing the prescription version, a fact Pinksy points out.

“Same frames as De Niro, but my custom tints and prescription,” he says. “They were also worn by Darryl Mac from Run DMC and also Lou Wasserman, who started a small company called Universal.”

 

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the @weedevangelist. spreading the gospel of cannabis, one terp at a time.

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Pinsky’s suite bar is decorated with various vape pens and cartridges, as well as a few jars of top-shelf cannabis, which we roll and smoke during our interview. He’s squeezing the conversation in right before he ascends into the night sky on a helicopter. This seems absolutely suicidal given the aggressive winds, but if he’s nervous it doesn’t show.

As we talk about his career and his future projects, Pinsky radiates self-assured chill through near-ceaseless technical complexity. Emerging from nearly everything we discuss is the unifying concept of the Pinsky Triangle.

“You’ll hear me use the term ‘The Pinsky Triangle,’ which started as the culmination of three points in my life. One point was my career, it was technology and was how I made my living — that was at the apex of the triangle, with music and weed forming the other points,” Pinsky says. “The music culture for me was the Grateful Dead, man. And through that I started meeting people that grew weed; there were legendary strains that came from that whole scene.”

His tech career started early, as he and his brother wrote software for their father’s leather belt manufacturing business. By 1994, they were running a company that handled tech solutions for the fashion industry.

“So by day, I crushed it in the software business and by night and I went and saw a few friends — you had to be a friend to get my weed because I wasn’t trying to sell weed. I was trying to just get enough weed to pay for my weed and hook up my friends,” says Pinsky. “My crew brought Chem Dawg into existence in ’91, Sour Diesel in ’95.”

For years, cannabis remained a lesser priority for Pinsky, with music and technology driving most of his professional momentum during this part of his career, as he served as chief technology officer for multiple tech and music firms. But Pinsky says he grew disillusioned and bored with the tech industry by the early ’00s.

“In 2010, the tech industry was not what it was years earlier and I kind of lost the passion for it,” he says. “When weed became legal in Colorado and Washington in 2012, that was when I decided I needed to rotate the Pinsky Triangle and put weed on top.”


Part of this decision stemmed from a serious spine injury in late 2000, when Pinsky was prescribed Oxycontin. For the next 13 years, he says he was trapped in what he called a “prison” of opioid dependency. Cannabis would prove to be a crucial tool in his escape.

His early interest and aptitude with concentrates led to judging them in every High Times Cannabis Cup held in 2014 — he says he earned a reputation as the “Simon Cowell” of concentrates — but the opportunity also served his recovery.

“Judging every cup while I was tapering off the pain meds gave me access to medication, which was important,” he says.

Pinsky also took an active role in bringing medical cannabis laws to New York, and spent 2014 heavily involved in ultimately successful lobbying efforts.

At this point in Pinsky’s journey, cannabis cuisine became a new aspect to his career.

“In 2016, I was hosting some underground dinner parties in NYC — these infused, invite-only dinners,” he says. “The Vice guys came and one of their producers was trying to do a story on the industry in NY. And I was like, ‘Let me help you out.’”

Pinsky ended up becoming the cannabis producer for Viceland’s “Bong Appétit,” where he sees it as his role to push cannabis further into the mainstream. “We’re the only show on TV that actually uses real weed,” he says.

 

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the force is strong with this one… . #Repost @eugeniocannabisnow ・・・ @jasonpinsky is a force to be reckoned with.

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Pinsky pulled this same trick — carving out his own lane — at Eaze, where he created the position of cannabis advisor.

“Eaze called me up asking to help them [curate their menu] and my response was, ‘I’d love to help you… but really you guys need a chief cannabis evangelist who’s leading the vision, strategy and relationships,’” he says. “So I came in for my first meeting at three in the afternoon and I left at three in the morning. I basically came and never left.”

For now, it appears that Pinsky is content with his current career path. But if another evolution lies in his near future, his triangle’s logic will mostly likely remain the overarching philosophy: balance, strength and a large dose of versatility.

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Aficionados

Toke Talk: 5 Minutes with Cannabis PR Guru Corey Herscu

Cannabis PR Guru Corey Herscu and his company RNMKR were creating a narrative when recreational cannabis was illegal in Canada.

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Corey Herscu
PHOTO | Supplied

Corey Herscu is the founder and CEO of Toronto-based publicity firm RNMKR PR who s been very public with his relationship with cannabis to help his ADHD symptoms. We caught up with Herscu to talk about legalization in Canada, CBD and working with cannabis.

Cannabis Aficionado: Tell us about your personal relationship with cannabis and how it helps you.

Corey Herscu: Cannabis is the only medication that effectively helps me in dealing with my ADHD and anxiety without adverse side effects. It helps me make calmer, clearer, more rational decisions in times of perceived turmoil.

What have been some the biggest challenges you’ve faced and overcome as a cannabis PR agency?

Forcing the media to take us — and our stories — seriously. Cannabis has been a taboo subject to the media for a long time, still kind of is and we got in super early when it was ALL grey area. We’ve navigated it and established relationships with key industry writers.

You were creating a narrative when recreational cannabis was illegal in Canada. Has that narrative changed with rec cannabis becoming legal?

Not really, it’s fickle to promote anything cannabis-related in Canada. I’d say it’s harder now because the government is watching thing more closely — before things slipped through cracks because not everyone was so concentrated on it. Our focus has always been consumer education and positive social impact.

In your opinion, what’s the most important thing that needs to be addressed when talking about cannabis and cannabis products?

People should start slowly and do their research; no two people experience cannabis the same.  Understanding the differences between sativa, indica and hybrids and proper dosages with edibles and concentrates.

What do you see as the social impact of legalization?

Parents are more accepting of responsible usage. The stigmas are slowly going away.

There have been some quite public problems with legalization rollout in Canada. What are your thoughts on this?

Delaying the legalization of oils and edibles was foolish. It all should have been legalized at the same time.

What trends have you seen emerge as the cannabis industry evolves?

People don’t quite understand CBD, they just think it’s this magical medicine. There is miseducation around it “not getting you high” when it does; it doesn’t intoxicate you.

What’s your favorite thing about your job?

Sharing great stories.

Any advice for people looking to get into the cannabis industry?

Do your research, determine your X-factor, understand your market.

Anything else you want us to know?

Experiencing the end of prohibition is a once in a lifetime opportunity to experience and RNMKR is proud to be part of it.

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