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Industry Innovators

Ricky Williams: His Journey from Pro Footballer to Pro Healer

Cannabis Aficionado spoke exclusively to Ricky Williams about his Real Wellness range, being a healer and his role as a cannabis advocate.

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Ricky Williams
PHOTO | Courtesy Ricky Williams
Rocket Seeds

Since leaving the NFL, Ricky Williams has studied herbalism and alternative holistic therapies. Williams was suspended multiple times during his NFL career for his cannabis use but has spoken repeatedly about the benefits and effects of the plant.

Former running back Williams, who won a Heisman Trophy at Texas before spending more than a decade in the NFL with the Miami Dolphins and New Orleans Saints, has founded Real Wellness by Ricky Williamsa new line of cannabis-based products that also feature herbal extracts like lavender and turmeric.

 We spoke to Williams about Real Wellness, his role as a cannabis advocate, and his new path as a healer.

Cannabis Aficionado: You’ve gone from being ostracized for your cannabis use, to being applauded for your advocacy. Now, you’ve redefined yourself again by helping shape the industry. How does it feel to be in the situation you are now compared to five years?

Ricky Williams: It’s definitely more stressful. I think to put your name and your passion behind something, especially something as controversial as cannabis, is risky. But it’s rewarding, you know? I feel like what I’m doing is meaningful and is changing people’s lives for the better. It’s a really good feeling. I find my purpose more in the healing work that I do.

My vision for cannabis is way beyond where I am right now. I’ve just realized that the steps I’m taking now feel like what’s required to get to where I’d like to get to in my advocacy. But it’s that tension between where we’re headed and where we are and I think that’s why we need people to advocate to help us move in that direction.

One of the most important things I’ve done in my advocacy is being honest about my experiences. As more people come out and be honest the stigma will naturally start to erode. The fact that people kept their cannabis consumption a secret, I know people that give me a hard time in the media that are consumers themselves.

I did a paper in school a couple of years ago about the effect of cannabis use on the relationship between parents and adolescents and it was mindblowing how many parents and kid relationships are torn apart because of the stigma [around cannabis].

The first time I spoke publically, I was shocked by how many people came up to me afterward and told me how touched they were not only by my words but my story, and how it gave them the courage to be honest about their journey and not be ashamed, and advocate for their rights to feel better.

It just shows you that anything is possible. If you believe in yourself and stick with it. Things are always changing.

Since leaving the NFL, you’ve become a certified holistic healer. Have you always been interested in alternative therapies?

I started by becoming a licensed massage therapist and other healing work I did while I was still playing football. I’ve just had more time and energy to devote to it now. It’s become pretty much the sole focus of what I’m doing — I’m still studying Chinese Medicine!

Playing football, being in a lot of pain and having injuries… I tried pretty much everything and certain things worked and I stuck with them, became curious and it took me down a path where I started to become a practitioner. Because I realized football is tough! So, you know for me, anything that can help me with this can have some use for a lot of other people as well.


What made you start your own line of cannabis products? Was it for healing and what you were doing with the herbs?

Yeah, that’s exactly what it was. I retired for the first time in 2004 and started traveling and that’s when I found Ayurveda. I went back to the states and I started studying Ayurveda in school. It was in California where medicinal marijuana was legal at a state level. And so I got my prescription recommendation and at the same time I was learning about Ayurvedic herbs and it just clicked. I started playing around in my kitchen putting together herbal formulas and combining cannabis. That was almost 15 years ago.

When I returned to play football in the NFL for another five or six years, instead of going to doctors when I got banged up I would go to my acupuncturist, I’d go to my herbal product store. You know, I’d just take care of myself. So, when I started thinking about doing something in a cannabis space, I looked around and realized people are talking about medicinal marijuana but you’d go to a dispensary and it’s just THC and CBD and there are no herbs in there. When they are combined, their synergistic effects they can be more powerful and more specific. I realized there’s a void in the market for truly medicinal herbal supplements with cannabis. So, let’s see if we can fill this void and that’s how we started.

Why do you there think there was a gap?

I think there was a big gap because of the stigma around cannabis, you know? Most people stay away from it because of the legal implications. With my background and the resources that I have access to, I was in a unique position to be able to start this conversation and start to bring products to the market that can serve as alternatives to the pharmaceuticals.

I started [playing football] early, in high school taking pain pills so I would be good to play sports. And by 18 years I had my first ulcer from taking too many pain pills. When I got into the NFL I had further difficulties taking pharmaceuticals. And so I started looking to find alternative ways to take care of myself that would serve me in the long run. And you know, in that same vein I found yoga, tai chi, and herbal medicine. I found a lot of different ways to take care of myself in ways that were kinder and gentler on my body.

You were able to turn your experience into a product that is able to help so many people.

And we’re working on it, you know. In my mind, I’ve really been benefitted by Chinese herbalism, you know? The Chinese have formulas for pretty much everything. And so in my mind, I have all these ideas of things I want to create. And on the other side of it, I’m working with my wife who handles the business side of it. That’s the other side of it and so, working together to find a way, especially with all the regulations in different states and finding other partners that match our philosophy and have the same commitment to quality and finding ways to get people interested in this.

There’s still a big stigma, you know? I mean people are more open now to CBD but my bigger mission is to point out to people that true healing doesn’t occur from taking a substance like a pharmaceutical. It comes from a changing consciousness a change in the way you see things and the way you handle your life. And one of the things about THC in altered states is that consciously, it has the ability to change our lives on a deeper level. And when you mix that with the herbs and the chemicals that work with our body, it becomes a powerful medicine that has lasting change and lasting healing.

That’s been my personal experience. The person I was before I retired from football for the first time and went on this healing journey was very different from who I am today. I look at all the change I’ve been through, the healing and growth and it’s really been quite remarkable.

I feel really good about my journey and I feel like I’m onto something and if I can find a way to share this message and get it out to the world, I can offer that same kind of healing and change and happiness for a larger group of people.

Being able to offer something that can offer relief to people that are suffering and using your power for good.

Yeah, like when I was a kid and I thought about wanting to be a football player it wasn’t so much about the fame for me it was about realizing that it would give me a platform. And as a kid, I didn’t know what I would use that platform for but I’ve always had a gentle heart. Always had a lot of compassion for people, and in my own life, I’ve suffered a lot. And learning about herbs, you know… simple things that tortured me as a kid. I realized there are simple remedies available that I just didn’t have access to. So, if I can stop people from suffering as much as… as I did.  You can use that energy for more growth instead of having to recover or suffer.

If you remove the bad stuff you’re left with a focus for the good things.

Yeah, and even the good things are still challenging but at least the challenge puts your further on your path and you’re not just going back to feeling decent, you know? The first part of my life, I spent my energy just trying to feel ok. Since I’ve learned and grown, I use my energy to feel better. I feel like my cup is running over, and I feel like I have excess resources, excess time, excess energy to be able to share with other people.

I feel like I’ve been fortunate to have a lot of personal success at a young age and so I kinda checked that off my list and I truly only get happiness or benefit from sharing what I know and sharing what I’ve learned and also being touched by people who’ve been willing to share things about themselves and about their journey.

How have the Real Wellness products been received?

They’ve been received really well. We have a topical that people seem to really love. We think our most interesting product, we call it the Optimized Tonic and it’s an herbal formula I got from one of my herbalist teachers. My herbalist has a story with it and says the monks who practice martial arts, the Daoist monks, they studied herbs and acupuncture and so they started creating formulas for their training processes. So, Optimized Tonic is an herbal formula that is used to increase flexibility.

What I love about it is the Daoist and the Chinese didn’t separate the body from the mind. They realized herbs that improved flexibility in the body also improved the flexibility of the mind. So this formula is really great for anyone who feels stuck, whether it’s physically stuck like arthritis or stiff joints or whether they feel emotionally stuck, you know it’s the herbs really get the energy moving and the CBD helps the body hold on to and return to homeostasis. Its really powerful medicine and people are having really positive effects.

I think what’s been the most pleasantly surprising experience is what I see reflected in other people. The first time I took an herb to help myself, I’d broke my arm while playing football.  they gave me morphine after surgery to repair my arm and it made me kind of sick. My neighbor told me about arnica. I took a little bit, not that much, and I literally was pain-free a few days after surgery. It dawned on me how powerful herbs can be. As CBD becomes more popular and people who have experiences with herbs are having the same realization, and people who have used our products are surprised how effective herbs can be in making them feel better.

Any plans to extend the product line?

It’s something we talk about on a daily basis. In the US right now, we have a big opioid epidemic so first on our priority list is creating pain capsules that will give people an alternative to opioids. Also, I was at an event in Toronto a couple of years ago and I met these women, sisters who were suffering from eczema. They had tried everything and I made a promise to them that we would come up with a topical that would help [with their eczema], so that’s something else on my list. another thing people are really struggling with is sleep, and the Chinese have some amazing formulas that will calm their mushin and calm their mind and help them get to sleep.

We’re also currently in talks with different manufacturing partners in different states to have our THC products available in other states.

You’ve probably sampled everything that cannabis has to offer. What’s your preferred method of consumption?

I’m old fashioned, I still like to inhale, I like to smoke. There’s something about the raw herb that feels very natural and deep.

When it comes to the NFL’s current stance on cannabis, do you see it changing anytime soon?

The NFL gets a hard time but they test players once a year in the offseason and players are free to do what they want as long as they pass that test, they’re pretty lax.

It would be nice if they were more advocating for player wellness but at least they don’t give players too hard of a time.

Have any current or past NFL players reached out to you for advice on cannabis or using your products?

I’ve had a player reach out and ask about his mother who was looking for an alternative to alcohol for relaxing and her anxiety, so we sent her a care package and she says it’s going well.

To access THC, although there are delivery services, most people have to visit a dispensary, which people can be uncomfortable with. So we’re trying to find creative ways to make the whole experience less intimidating.

As a health advocate, how would you convince the average person to accept and try your products and cannabis-based medicine?

I think about this a lot. I go straight for the mind-altering effects and I say we have a vape cartridge called Serenity. it’s 3:1 CBD/THD and infused with six other herbs that are known for working in partnership with the nervous system. I would say think about an issue in your life that’s been causing you issues. Take a puff of Serenity and sit there and allow yourself to start brainstorming about possible solutions. It’s cliche but its true; when you can relax and let go of preconceived issues you can find creative ways to look at things and deal with them.

So you want your products to give people hope?

Yeah, hope is extremely important and sometimes just a ray of hope is enough, it supports our perseverance.

Real Wellness from Ricky Williams is available in dispensaries across California. The CBD only products are available online.

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Brett Stevens: Lighting the Way for Indoor Cultivators

Brett Stevens of Fohse is on a mission to make his company’s name synonymous with hi-tech LED grow lights for the cannabis industry.

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Indoor Cannabis Cultivators
PHOTO | Brett Stevens, CEO of Fohse

At Fohse, meeting the challenges faced by indoor cannabis cultivators with superior lighting solutions is the prime directive. It’s a niche that co-founder and CEO Brett Stevens says is rife with opportunity for those with the talent to innovate. A serial entrepreneur with several successful exits in new and emerging markets under his belt, Stevens is now firmly focused on the cannabis industry.

“I originally got into the farming side of it, and I could definitely see where at that time, five or six years ago, there were so many holes that needed to be filled. It was kind of like, pick a side and go with it,” Stevens told Cannabis Aficionado.

The sector he believed had the most potential to impact the cannabis industry was engineering, and Stevens had kept his ear to the ground for tech opportunities, specifically for cannabis. So, when an engineer friend shared his design for advanced LED lighting, he saw a chance to bring value to a nascent industry.

Unapologetically Pro-Cannabis

For Las Vegas-based Fohse, the vision is to continually expand the tech in the cannabis industry, and Stevens is proud and unapologetic about the company’s focus.

“We’ve pigeonholed ourselves into the cannabis industry. We didn’t create the light for any other plant,” he explained. “We are sold on the plant. We’re sold on the medical purposes of the plant, and we really want to be there as the plant is more readily explored.” 

In order to be true innovators, Fohse doesn’t settle for the services of outside engineers. Instead, the company has its own in-house engineering team creating cannabis lighting solutions from the ground up. Stevens touched on SolidWorks, a 3D computer-aided design (CAD) program, that Fohse’s engineering team uses for their technical drawings. 

“We do all our material science, and we do all of our material engineering to make sure that the materials we’re using to dissipate heat or to project that photon where it needs to go [are sound]. We’re doing all that in-house.” he explained.

A Company Driven by the Question, “What If?”

Stevens noted that he’s not one to micromanage his executive team though. Instead, he said that his leadership style is to assemble a solid corps of professionals and let them go to work. And as inspiration, he encourages his engineers to continuously ask, “What if?”

“What if we could do ten pounds a light?” he wondered aloud. “What if we could do four micromoles per joule? How would we do that?” 

“We’re consistently thinking, ‘How can we be more efficient, and more powerful?’ And I think that’s what drives me,” he added.

According to Stevens, the combined talent and drive at Fohse are producing the most advanced LED lights available to cannabis cultivators. And that’s not just an assertion. It’s a claim that is backed by the company’s research.

“We are literally the most powerful and the most efficient light in the world right now,” Stevens said, adding that Fohse has done grow ops where they have bought and tested every single competitor’s light.

“There’s no question,” Stevens states confidently. “We will outgrow anything on the market.”

Creating an Industry Standard for Indoor Cannabis Cultivators

When his company entered the business, Stevens says the light manufacturing industry was racing to the bottom, with everyone trying to produce the cheapest lamps that would still grow cannabis. But Fohse took a different approach altogether.

“We looked at it more like, ‘What if we put massive power supplies and 5,000 diodes in a light?’ and ‘What if we could replicate indoor sunlight?’” he explained, adding that they focused closely on grams per square foot. 

“Because in the end, that’s what it comes down to, right?” he asked. “If you have a finite amount of space, the more you can grow in that area, the more productive and the more successful you’ll be.”

Constantly striving to increase productivity and efficiency for indoor cannabis cultivators is what the team at Fohse is all about. And that drive, Stevens says, will become increasingly evident when the company’s products are known as the industry standard.

“I think that we’re hungry, that we’re always advancing. We will not stop until we will reach the absolute pinnacle,” he pledged.

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Michael Trzecieski: The ‘World’s Coolest Bong’ Design Director

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Michael Trzecieski Stüdenglass

 Every now and then, a game-changing product comes along that tempts us to throw all other gadgets and glass out the window. The Stüdenglass gravity bong is one such product. Chances are you know of the bong through the viral video showing contemporary stoner icon Seth Rogen gripped by a coughing fit after one hit — cementing the bong’s place in counterculture legend.

The original product was conceived by ex-Apple alumni Tracey Huston, who filed the patent back in 2016. Recently, Stüdenglass was acquired by one of the most innovative — and coolest — cannabis companies, Grenco Science. Shortly after, Michael Trzecieski, founder of Vapium and tech-designer extraordinaire, took up the challenge of refining the state-of-the-art mounted gravity bong for top-shelf aficionados.

Cannabis Aficionado caught up with Trzecieski to talk about the synergies between weed and tech, how the Stüdenglass has improved, and, of course, that Seth Rogen video.

Cannabis Aficionado: Tell us about your journey through entrepreneurship and how you found your way to cannabis.

Michael Trzecieski: Growing up in Canada has afforded me many opportunities but there are two that have been the most formative — the first was becoming a Roboticist and the second was to witness and experience a country who showed true compassion toward cannabis as medicine. I was allowed to see the power of the plant without shame or indignity.

My journey as a Roboticist started in fibre optics, engineering micro-robotic toys. At the same time, Canada was making enormous strides towards full legalization. The timing, coupled with my desire to support the medical cannabis consumer, allowed me to shift my focus and passion — making a different kind of robot to support the people who needed it most. With this goal in mind, I took my years of experience in safety and controls (from toys being so heavily regulated) and applied this to making our first haptic vaporizer back in 2012.

Can you share your thoughts around the synergy between tech and cannabis?

Tech allows users to titrate their cannabis experience so they can choose to consume at various levels.​ ​Traditional methods of consumption are not always effective for all patients, and innovation is paramount for harm reduction and efficiencies. It is essential to have clean air intake, temperature stabilization. Temperature stabilization allows the vaporizing device to toast the leaf material instead of combusint it using a closed-loop temperature stabilization feedback system. At lower temperatures consumers can experience improved terpene profiles while at higher temperatures they may enjoy stronger effects.

What were the things you set out to achieve when designing the Stündenglass gravity bong?

The new Stündenglass glass gravity bong was designed for aesthetics, precision machining and cleaner vapor.​ ​We also wanted to provide a more comfortable user experience. Through the kinetic motion activation, vapours are sucked into an upper chamber and as water rushes from the upper chamber to lower chamber, the vapor percolates through the flowing water stream and offers vapour filtration as well as vapor cooling.

Tell us about the materials and why you chose them.

The materials chosen for the Stündenglass were predominantly glass and metal.

Glass offers a supreme taste, it is easy to clean, and it does not attract vapor and oil particles.

Stainless steel was also chosen as one of the core elements in the device because of its cleanliness as well as its ability to be precision-machined and for its high wearability in the valve portion of the device.

Anodized aluminium was also utilized for its durability and longevity.

What’s your favorite thing about the Stündenglass gravity bong?

It’s magical. The kinetic motion activation allows the device to both suck vapour as well as expel vapor at the same time, and provides percolation and water vapor filtration. There are also many magnetic components because magnets are also kind of magical.

Stündenglass was recently acquired by Grenco Science. Can you tell us details of how this exciting acquisition came about?

We first got to know Tracey Huston, and it was immediately apparent that there was a synergy between the brands, with a shared goal of innovation and improving upon the user experience. We recognized the ingenuity behind Stündenglass and understood how we could help by bringing this product into Grenco Science’s global expansion plan. From there it was a natural next step to bring Stündenglass into the Grenco Science umbrella.

How has the device evolved since its initial prototype?

The initial prototype was a very functional and utilitarian type unit. The design was since improved for its aesthetics, robustness, as well as the modularity. Furthermore, the percolation was an added feature and an improvement over the first model.

Subsequent models have allowed for modularity. The modules may be removed and taken apart, cleaned and accessorized, as well as replaced with other future potential attachments and improvements. A wall mount was also provided.

The viral video of Seth Rogen with his Stündenglass put the gravity bong on the wish-list of every aficionado, cementing its place in cannabis culture legend. How did it come about?

It was very organic. An early prototype was given to someone in Seth Rogen’s family, who then gave it to him. It was his own idea to create the video and share the experience online.

What tech trends do you predict for the cannabis industry over the next five years?

The bigger tech trends in the cannabis industry include dosing and data. Many customers want to be able to monitor their dosages as well as have data associated with their consumption, like what a Fitbit tracker does for fitness. This will allow producers to develop more meaningful formulations for their consumers as the data and dosing science evolves.

How do your products help shift the stigma about cannabis?

Our products help the ship the stigma on cannabis by bringing technology to the industry. This tech comes in the form of improved heating technologies, industrial design, safer material choices and temperature stabilized heating control loops.

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

That cannabis is a medicine. We are only beginning to uncover its real potential as legalization around the world grows.

How do you think the cannabis industry as a whole can be better?

Accountability. One of the major issues in the industry at the moment is a lack of accountability and a lack of safety and testing standards. There are still some operators that are looking to make a quick buck from unassuming consumers, and last year’s vape crisis was a direct result of that.

The cannabis industry is just in its beginning stages and needs to evolve. With this evolution there will be added accountability and more rules and regulations to ensure it’s safer for all.

What do you wish you knew when you started out in cannabis entrepreneurship?

I wish I knew that it was not going to be easy, and this holds true for any entrepreneurship. Finding the right people and putting together the right team is really important. It took us years to finally find the right partners and the right people to work with. This allowed us to evolve from a smaller operation to a larger entity.

Finally, what are three things it takes to be a cannabis entrepreneur?

I would say the first thing is creativity. You have to be full of ideas; you have to understand how to change the game; and how to make a difference, not just fit in. As the industry quickly evolves with ever changing rules and regulations, you need to keep your head in the game. It’s an industry for sharp minded entrepreneurs who know they can make a difference.

You’ve got to be tenacious, never take no for an answer, and keep on pushing for what you want to achieve going forward. No one’s going to do it for you. You need to drive your creativity home to others and have them believe in you.

You need to show up and be present in order to know what the industry is about. You need to be present at trade shows, events and gatherings where you can meet the right people in order to develop the right relationships.

Follow Michael Trzecieski on Linkedin.

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Bill Shevlin: Cultivating Carbon-Neutral Cannabis at 3 Bros Grow

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Bill Shevlin 3 Bros
Bill Shevlin | PHOTOS 3 Bros Grow

It’s no secret that indoor cannabis cultivation techniques leave a substantial carbon footprint. The immense amounts of water and energy required will make the model unsustainable if it continues unchallenged. Fortunately, by implementing cutting-edge technology and the best production practices, it is possible to grow top-shelf cannabis in a way that’s sustainable for both businesses and the environment. That’s the vision of 3 Bros Grow, a vertically integrated cannabis company in Santa Cruz, California, dedicated to growing the very best cannabis using environmentally friendly processes.

Cannabis Aficionado spoke to CEO Bill Shevlin about the 3 Bros Grow mission, their revolutionary cultivation practices and the importance of giving back to the community.

Cannabis Aficionado: Tell us about your journey through entrepreneurship and how you found your way to cannabis.

Bill Shevlin: I grew up in the Santa Cruz area, and if you grew up in this part of the country, cannabis was always around. When I was in high school, I took an outdoor ed program and learned how to read topography maps. My friends and I picked some locations that were back in the woods, in the canyons, planted there and grew. After school, I ended up getting into real estate development and management. For the last 15 years, I have advised technology and vertical ag companies while working in large-scale commercial construction and renewable energy.

In 2017, I started looking at energy usage in the cannabis and hemp space, as I knew cannabis was super energy-intensive. I worked with a few different companies in the industry — some were small, some were large — and I saw all sorts of issues from the infrastructure requirements but also on the corporate side. Due to my background in vertical ag, I knew you could cultivate and deliver food crops into local markets sustainably.  I knew there was value in being able to do the same thing in cannabis.

I met the founders of 3 Bros Grow — Tyler Smith, ‘CEBrO’; Mark Taylor, COO, and Russell Smith, CMO — at the end of 2019, and formally joined them as CEO in January of 2020. They have a really cool mission to be a sustainable company from day one and had some interesting things they were doing.

Grease Monkey

Tell me more about the 3 Bros Grow mission.

We believe it is our responsibility to offer only the highest quality cannabis products at an approachable price and in a sustainable manner. Cannabis is medicine, but we plan to use it to heal more than just people. From climate-positive business practices to community care initiatives, we strive to assist in the healing of our planet.  Unfortunately, the cannabis industry is far from green. There is a lot of waste and a lot of pollution. 3 Bros is committed to leaving this planet more beautiful than when we arrived and vow to put forward our greatest effort in sustainable and community-centred operations. That’s where my background in renewable energy comes into play.

Why is creating a zero-carbon footprint cultivation model so important to 3 Bros Grow?

From day one, 3 Bros Grow has been about sustainability — the founders were pushing the sustainability message in cannabis even before I was around. They grew up in the surf industry and were professional surfers, so they’re very conscious of the environment. When I joined, it was really because we were having conversations around using renewable energy and sustainable energy for indoor cannabis, which is really energy-intensive. Sustainability has always been part of the core culture of 3 Bros Grow. We’re doing some really cutting-edge stuff around sustainability.

What are the sustainable ‘green’ initiatives at your new facility?

We’re creating a climate-positive impact at our revolutionary new vertically integrated facility in Santa Cruz. It allows us to offer truly green practices across cultivation, manufacturing, processing, and distribution.

Our COO, Mark, figured out a way to not use any outside water in his cultivation operations. The 3 Bros proprietary systems and technologies don’t use any outside water for cultivation, which creates a lower cost of operation, and it also has a positive impact on the environment. If you look at what the industry standards are, for water there is, unfortunately, a lot of waste. It’s a problem that needs to be fixed, and we are fixing it.

We’re also implementing a carbon-negative microgrid that generates power onsite, allowing us to lower the cost of operation, and create a climate-positive impact. Again, cannabis is an energy-intensive industry. So even though a lot of people associate it with being “natural” and “clean,” the reality is that there are a lot of fossil fuels that are used to grow most commercially available cannabis.

Thirdly, using our proprietary Direct Air Capture technology allows us to sequester CO2 in our cultivation and manufacturing processes, which we’ll inject back into our grow environment. So, we’re actually pulling CO2 out of the air at a larger scale than we normally would, because we’re not supplementing with standard C02. We’re just supplementing with CO2 that we’ve captured from the air.

Mark Taylor in the 3 Bros grow room

The facility is being brought online in phases and will have a cultivation capacity of 10,000 pounds of top-shelf indoor cannabis. The interesting thing is that our environmental impact is positive, costs of operations are lower and our efficiencies are higher. Lowering the cost of operations is critical but doing them in an environmentally friendly way is even more critical. It really is the best of both worlds.

I believe sustainability should be taking place across all aspects of cannabis. In California, the Bureau of Cannabis Control requires certified hauliers to remove any cannabis waste — like stems and miscellaneous biomass — in a locked drum or container. It’s fairly expensive and very wasteful. We want to be able to take our waste and turn it back into something useful, not just bury it in the ground because the BCC considers it a hazard. So, we’re in the processes of obtaining authorization from the local county government to be able to take our waste and send it to our nursery site. This zero-waste program essentially creates a circular economy, not to mention a healthier soil program for our own growing.

We work with a company who has a soils program, the founder used to be with the Rodale Institute.  They are creating a compost program and implementing regenerative agriculture practices, which has multiple benefits: the crops produce more; the soils are healthier; the local climate is healthier, and those products are typically consumed in the local market and can fetch a higher price point.

Sustainable cannabis growing is all about reducing the negative impact on the environment. 3 Bros Grow demonstrates that sustainability in vertical agriculture can be achieved, that is profitable, and it is good for the planet and good for people.

How does the packaging that’s required for the sale of regulated products work into your sustainability model?

All 3 Bros Grow products are packaged using the most sustainable and environmentally conscious packaging available, like soy-based inks, recycled ocean-based plastics and bio-based plastic or hemp-based plastics. We’re talking to companies that are emerging that are using hemp fibers in this space.

I hate plastic. The amount of excess plastic and packaging used in the cannabis industry is a nightmare. The world’s starting to realize that plastic is going to kill us, and we’ve got to be able to find alternative packaging materials to be able to do it.

I think that as an industry, we need to insure everyone uses sustainable solutions. Right now, it is a little bit more expensive to use sustainable packaging. But in our opinion, it’s worth it to not pollute the planet and delay that cost into some future generation. Plus, I think we should be supporting our own industry to help it evolve — even if it costs a little bit more in the packaging up front for hemp fiber and plastic to come to market. From my perspective, it’s the right thing to do. 

What are the benefits of sustainable growing techniques?

You create a healthier, cleaner and consistent product. You also lower or remove your carbon footprint. And you lower your costs of operation. All three of these are important from a business perspective. You always have to have the lowest cost of business operations possible, so you can have a margin and continue to grow, expand and do what you need to in the marketplace. But from an environmental perspective, you have to do what’s right up front and every day.  

Can you tell me about your community programs, like the compassionate program 3 Bros Grow started during the pandemic?

We want to support the community that’s supported us. Any company can make money, but it is important to give to the community that supports us. We take a portion of our proceeds during a month and give that to a local nonprofit.

When COVID-19 came around, we decided to start a compassion program for people who were struggling. We reached out to a lot of the vendors we work with and we had an overwhelming response; they donated products to us, and we donated it to our less-fortunate customers. Not just cannabis products — we donated large amounts of food to the community, too. We did the same thing when the fires came; we reached out to a lot of our vendors and created a compassion program.

3 Bros grow is committed to supporting the community.

We also support minority-owned companies and local brands that are trying to get in the market. We’ll bring their product in, give them some shelf space, get them some attention through our social media platforms and, most importantly, try to give them additional margin on their products. We truly believe that it’s not just about growing our business – it’s about supporting the industry. It’s about making the industry better.

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

Educating people that cannabis is not a harmful thing – it’s really a helpful thing. I have friends who are veterans who treat themselves for PTSD with cannabis. I have friends who are senior citizens that treat themselves with cannabis for pain. I have friends who treat themselves for anxiety. I have friends that have weaned themselves off major opiates and other addictions by using cannabis and other cannabinoid products.

Cannabis is a crop you can grow in a really sustainable manner and deliver it into local markets where it creates local jobs. It helps people. It’s a healthy product. That Reefer Madness type of mentality has really been politically driven in the past and comes from corporations and the government — they want to keep this plant out of the people’s hands, unfortunately.

How do you think the cannabis industry as a whole can be better?

One thing the industry doesn’t do very effectively as a collective group is get together to push legislation that actually supports our industry. As a united industry, we should be reaching out to the political parties, to demand the legislation that we need that will allow us to continue to thrive and scale. There are still too many people who are focused on their own operations and aren’t spending time thinking about the big picture.

Cities, Counties and States want the sales tax revenues, but they don’t want to create the banking and infrastructure support that’s required for the industry to evolve. You can’t bleed tax money from the cannabis industry but also not have the legislation that supports it. It’s counterintuitive and counterproductive.

The cannabis industry pays a lot in tax, and at the same time think about the job creation that it brings to the community. It’s huge. Somewhere between 250-350,000 jobs have been created in the last few years. The only other industry that’s been on par with that has been the renewable energy industry. But unlike other verticals, we’re not supported, and we don’t have a united voice from the political perspective that will push the legislation that should be in place.

The amount of compliance we have to go through on the banking side means spending several thousand dollars a month in banking fees, cash pickup fees, and everything else. We’re fortunate that we actually have a bank account. Just recently, we’ve been able to start taking electronic payments. But in order to do that, we get charged a 3.5 percent transaction fee that we have to pass on to the consumer. In any other industry, you’d have a normal credit card system that would be half a percent, or one percent — maybe 50 cents. But there’s hardly anyone in electronic payments that wants to deal with you. We’re in the middle of expansion, so we’re talking to multiple different finance groups and capital groups. If this were any other industry, we could go out and get a regular credit line, pay a couple of percent and get a credit line of a couple of million dollars, no problem. In this industry, that doesn’t exist.

What’s next for 3 Bros Grow?

We’re continuing to expand. We’re doing some collaborations with some large brands. We just signed an agreement with Sherbinski to cultivate and manufacture some product for them using our environmental approach.  We are working with a couple of their genetics and bringing them to the products to the market that shows the climate-positive impact. We’re also working with some other brands to make create new products that come into the market in a sustainable manner.

Finally, what are three things it takes to be a cannabis entrepreneur?

You have to be able to tolerate pain; you have to be able to jump through hoops, and you have to be compassionate and, in our opinion, serve the community.

If you’re in Santa Cruz, be sure to swing by the 3 Bros Grow dispensary.

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