There’s no better time than now to enter the cannabis industry. With THC products predicted to surpass over $21.5 billion and CBD quickly integrating into the mainstream market, it may have some of you weighing your options. While the market is certainly growing by leaps and bounds, there’s still so much to consider when it comes to starting a cannabis business. So, before you sink your life savings into an emerging business, make sure you have a solid business plan and you can say you’ve considered these three key points.
Is this product market-ready and desired?
You’re going to need more than just a great idea in order to be successful, and although it seems that everyone can’t wait to get their hands on some weed or CBD flower, you have to ensure that the market wants what you’re bringing to the table. Do your research and allow that to answer the question of when, where, and how you should show up in the marketplace. Don’t be dismayed if your research tells you that the market is uninterested or not ready – simply shift to a more attractive product or service or continue your research to find the ideal target market.
Will I need partners?
While acquiring partners isn’t a must, it is important to keep in mind that you’ll need a host of collaborators and potential partners to help bring your vision to life. Keep in mind that your ideal partner will help you find and create new solutions.
Here are a few questions you’ll want to ask potential partners:
- What are your core values?
- Do you currently work with or have experience working with cannabis products?
- Do you have access to manufacturing?
- How many other clients are you working with?
- What are your greatest strengths and weaknesses?
How do I scale and sell?
Selling your products is ultimately how you remain in business, so it’s important to know how you plan to not only sell your products but grow your business at the same time.
Pricing: While you may have an idea of a comfortable retail price it’s critical that you know your production costs, retail markups, and the overall price to bring the product to the market.
Launching: Keep in mind that there are still several barriers to entry within this industry that revolve around legalization. From the earliest stages of product development, you should be clearing the pathway for a plan to get your products on the shelf.
Developing a THC or CBD product and bringing it to the retail market comes with challenges but, it’s far from impossible. Like any industry, it’s important to know what lies on the road ahead. With proper planning, building the right network, and choosing the right partners, there’s no doubt that you’ll make a mark in the cannabis industry.
Runtz Brings Its Iconic Strain to the Masses
Since 2017, the global phenomenon that is the Runtz strain has not abated. The brand has remained strong, but this year, newly independent, Runtz is relaunching as a top-tier luxury weed lifestyle brand, with all new Runtz genetics plus the classic strains available in multiple states. More people can finally say that they have smoked real Runtz.
The Runtz phenomenon started at Emerald Cup 2017 in Northern California. Ray Bama and Yung LB got hold of Runtz and started to market it online using social media. Grower Nick Corwin eventually met Ray Bama in the Bay Area through Friends. LB, Ray’s roommate, was an up-and-coming rapper and an informal weed ambassador for Cookies—aka one of the Cookie Boys. Nick discovered Runtz when he combined Zkittlez with Gelato 33, creating a dark purple flower with a distinct candy terp profile. They knew they had something, and they went with the Runtz name to capture that candy terp.
“When Runtz first came out it was the darkest thing and then when you opened the bag everyone would say candy,” Ray remembers. “At that point there wasn’t really a terp like that besides Zkittlez. But with Zkittlez, the exhale wasn’t quite as candy, as creamy,” Ray says. Nick says that the Gelato 33 upped the Zkittlez potency and added even more of a candy profile.
The three showed up at Emerald Cup with a little over 300 jars, along with 2,500 Runtz t-shirts to hand out and a group of models rocking the Runtz logo. They camped out in front of the Cookies booth (it was the year Cookies debuted London Pound Cake) where a line formed around them. They sold out in minutes, getting so much attention that Cookies asked them to leave. But Berner took notice, and Cookies would eventually become Runtz’s exclusive distributor.
“We made a whole appearance in letting people know who we are and we’re here. And that impacted the fuck out the culture,” LB remembers.
The same excitement and hype of that day kept its momentum over the next year. However, how the strain and brand (what LB calls a “strand”) became the phenomenon that it did, spreading all across the U.S. to hotspots like New York, Atlanta, and Miami, was not merely organic. Ray and LB worked out a sophisticated multi-pronged approach to branding the strain as a lifestyle. They went on tour, doing pop-ups city by city, everywhere drawing a crowd around this new thing from California called Exotics.
In particular, LB became the face of the brand, and he wove his identity as a weed mogul into his hip-hop singles and his social media. Meanwhile, Nick and Ray reached out to artists, creatives, people in fashion, and musicians, and built a network of culture-makers and content producers. Within a year, they saw Runtz take off. Everyone was talking about it. Everyone wanted it. Everyone claimed to have it.
“We weren’t trying to follow the trend. We weren’t too much caring about the politics behind weed,” LB said. He was trapping weed at the time and saw that the industry was expanding.
“It’s enough for everybody to eat off this plate. You’d be a fool not to capitalize,” LB said.
LB went hard at marketing and promoting Runtz as he toured with his music. As he went around the country, he put on events to raise the brand’s profile, despite the risks.
“These other weed brands, they weren’t doing the sessions and pop-ups that we were doing,” LB said. “We were taking a big risk doing that,” he said, considering most states still considered weed to be illegal.
“We brought that gorilla marketing to the corporate cannabis world,” LB said. “It had never been done before besides Berner. But Berner had a strategic classic high-end way to do it. We just kept this shit so urban, so close to the culture, it’s like one of them was doing it,” LB said.
Runtz became the phenomena that it is because, LB and Ray say, of the work they put into promoting and marketing the strain.
“We just love working. We ain’t better than nobody but we gonna hustle. I guarantee I’ll hustle a lot of these other people,” LB said. “We started getting that recognition.”
Are You Smoking Real Runtz?
Even as the hype built, Runtz was kept exclusive and relatively small-batch. The demand for Runtz in the country far outweighed its supply, and plenty of bootleggers stepped in to fill the lack with fake bags of fake Runtz. Meanwhile, growers that did get hold of Runtz genetics (which wasn’t hard—the guys made a point to spread the genetics far and wide) all too often renamed it and built their own following off of it.
Ray says getting bootlegged, copied, and ripped off was just part of the game.
“To this day if you go buy ten eighths from any dispensary or ten eighths from the street, nine of them are going to be Runtz. Runtz is the most renamed strain, the most bootlegged,” he said.
But to an extent, it was on purpose.
“We’ve constantly hunted and serviced the top one percent of the market and we’ve pigeonholed ourselves there because we never really expanded as far as we could,” Ray said. “We kept our releases very small.”
Ray, LB, and Nick were powerless to stop the brand from getting bootlegged. They saw ugly imitations of their iconic mylar bags for sale in smoke shops all over the U.S. and Europe. To handle their growth, they contracted with a much larger corporation in California to take on marketing and distribution, but found that they were even more hamstrung by not having full ownership of the brand.
“Just being on the road built Runtz so huge, that I didn’t know how big it was until I got to Atlanta in 2018-2019. Everywhere I went everybody said they had Runtz. But they didn’t get it from us,” LB said.
“I used to get mad and upset, but for what? It helped the brand out,” LB said.
The fact is, the guys couldn’t supply the demand for the strain. They developed other phenos to help make more product available, and partnered with regional growers to help suppy the rest of the country outside of California.
“The demand was so high it wasn’t enough,” he said.
For a time, everybody supposedly had Runtz and almost nobody smoked real Runtz. The guys had created a movement that they no longer were in control of. Still, they never stopped promoting Runtz, which had sprung a corresponding clothing and lifestyle brand. They continued to release Runtz phenos and crosses, each one cleverly marketed with stylish mylar bags plus whatever media LB cooked up.
Ray says that they tolerated people copying them. They understood that they were trendsetters.
“We never hated on anybody. People stole our sauce, they steal our sauce to this day, blatantly. And we’ll be like, as long as you’re feeding your family we don’t start shit with people,” Ray said.
“We actually do it for the culture,” he said.
Being copied just inspired them to be more innovative.
“The way we combated that bootlegging is by constantly releasing new products, new product identity, new IP, just always releasing new stuff and they can’t keep up with us,” Ray said.
In 2020, rumors of a strain called Obama Runtz circulated, and a video by a Atlanta trapper talking about it went viral. The team jumped on the viral moment and launched an Obama Runtz strain with a corresponding song and music video referencing the viral video. They later had another viral hit when they released Coochie Runtz in a die-cut mylar bag in the shape of a cropped photo of the midsection a big-bootied woman in a thong, one image of her front and one image of her back on either side of the bag. The photo was unrefined and unabashed and definitely attention-grabbing. Runtz marketing is often this mix of media savvy and a focus on the culture around weed instead of just the weed itself.
Courtesy of Ray Bama
They’ve spent years planning, growing, breeding, and making deals for the next phase of Runtz.
“We’ve been the disruptors of the industry,” Nick says. “We’ve done it multiple times and we’re going to continue to do it.”
They disrupt and they start trends. Even before Runtz, Ray invented the GlowTray, a rolling tray with a built-in light that was a phenomenon for years. He and Nick manufactured, marketed, and distributed the GlowTray themselves. Runtz kicked off the trend of using mylar bags instead of jars, which at the time everyone had preferred. Potato Runtz, a collab with designer Imran Potato, together they were the first to create a special shape die-cut mylar pouch (bags that are cut into a shape rather than square), which are now very trendy. They claim they were the first to do things like pop-ups and tours to promote their strain, which by now has become a common tactic in the industry for indie brands.
Their next disruption will take place in smoke shops across America with the launch of Runtz brand tobacco leaf blunt wraps. They noticed that everyone around them were rolling their high-end Runtz weed into crappy Backwoods leaves, half of which from each package had to be tossed for being unusable.
“We want to push the culture forward. We don’t want our people to go buy Backwoods and throw away half,” Ray said. “The weed is so good and expensive and you put it in the Backwoods and it rips or has two stems.”
They talked to some friends in the tobacco industry and ended up traveling to the Dominican Republic to survey tobacco farms. They sampled twenty varieties before going with the Broadleaf. They hand-selected the bales, which each undergo a 5-step sorting process for quality control. Each leaf is washed, trimmed, and pressed so that it’s perfect for rolling a blunt. They’ll launch next month in 4,500 shops across the country.
At the recent Hall of Flowers convention Runtz debuted its first new strains since last year’s Coochie Runts: Bootleg Runtz, Day Day Runtz, iRuntz, Super Runtz, a collab with indie brand Don Merfos Exotics, and FTP Runtz, a collab with the clothing brand. Early next year, they’ll introduce a Classics line, with their most popular strains made widely available at an affordable price, including strains that haven’t been available in a while like Divine Runtz, Pink Runtz, White Runtz, Real Runtz, Obama Runtz, and Runtz OG.
They’ve also been working hard to build a network of growers and dispensaries in states outside of California to grow and distribute actual Runtz flower. The plan is to be able to launch new drops simultaneously in California as well as states like Florida and Michigan. In California, they’re continuing to pheno hunt their own genetics by collaborating with top brands like Wizard Trees, Doja Pak, and Seed Junky Genetics. They’ll also be selling Runtz seeds in smoke shops.
For Nick, Ray, and LB, the Runtz relaunch is about solidifying their place as a high-fashion, high-art, luxury brand. They’re relaunching their streetwear clothing line with Pharrell’s Billionaire Boys Club, they’re looking into doing a Runtz restaurant, and they’re planning a Runtz festival for 2024.
“LB always told us, Nick, Ray, we’re the Louis Vuitton of cannabis,” Ray said. “They’re wearing Louis Vuitton and Gucci and they’re smoking Runtz.”
For LB, the fact that the brand has made such waves while still being relatively new to the scene is something he doesn’t take for granted.
“For us to have a seat at the table with a lot of these top-tier names is an honor,” LB said.
He’s learned that the art of selling weed in today’s market comes down to marketing a lifestyle. It’s what the Runtz brand does better than anyone.
“It’s not even about selling the flower. Just even knowing how to brand a product to a level where people want it so much to where it’s like we’ll buy the brand overall,” LB said.
“That’s crazy to me to be honest. And it’s amazing. Just to be one of the brands that’s top-tier as far as even being around the top, top people is just an honor. Runtz is new, we’ve been on the scene probably 4-5 years, so we’re literally new,” LB said.
SAFE Banking Act Left Out of Defense Spending Bill
A bid to include the SAFE Banking Act in a must-pass defense spending bill has failed, leaving advocates searching for a way to pass the legislation that would grant the legal cannabis industry access to banking services. Proponents of the measure had hoped to include provisions of the banking bill, known as the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act, in the National Defense Appropriations Act (NDAA), an annual spending bill that funds the military. But the latest version of the NDAA released on Tuesday did not include the cannabis banking language.
Under the SAFE Banking Act, federal banking regulators would be prohibited from penalizing banks that choose to serve cannabis firms doing business in accordance with state law. Under current regulations, banks are subject to penalties under federal money laundering and other laws for servicing such companies, leaving the cannabis industry to operate in a risky environment heavy in cash.
The legislation was initially introduced in the House in 2013 by Democratic Rep. Ed Perlmutter of Colorado, who has reintroduced the bill each subsequent congressional cycle. The bill has been passed seven times since 2019 by the House of Representatives, but each time the Senate has failed to bring the legislation to the floor for a vote.
Another amendment supported by cannabis policy reform advocates that would have given the states assistance with expunging past marijuana-related convictions also failed to make it to the final version of the defense spending bill. Before the latest text of the NDAA was released on Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York told reporters that he was still working on getting the cannabis banking measure passed.
“It’s a priority for me,” Schumer said. “I’d like to get it done. We’ll try and discuss the best way to get it done.”
Republicans Balk At Adding SAFE To Defense Bill
But later in the day, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky admonished Democrats for attempting to attach amendments not related to defense, including the SAFE Banking Act, to the spending bill.
“Even now, House and Senate Democrats are still obstructing efforts to close out the NDAA by trying to jam in unrelated items with no relationship to defense,” McConnell said on the Senate floor on Tuesday. “We’re talking about a grab bag of miscellaneous pet priorities — like making our financial system more sympathetic to illegal drugs, or the phony, partisan permitting-‘reform’-in-name-only language that already failed to pass the Senate this year.”
“If Democrats wanted these controversial items so badly, they had two years to move them across the floor. Heck, they could have scheduled those matters for votes this week. But no — we’re doing more mid-level nominations, while Democrats keep half-threatening to take our Armed Forces hostage over these extraneous matters,” said McConnell, adding “The Democrats’ failure to plan ahead for unrelated liberal pet priorities should not be creating uncertainty and confusion for the brave servicemembers who keep us safe. My colleagues across the aisle need to cut the unrelated hostage-taking and put a bipartisan NDAA on the floor.”
The failure to include the SAFE Banking Act in the NDAA leaves the prospect of passing the cannabis banking legislation before the current Congress adjourns in two weeks unsettled. Morgan Fox, the political director for the cannabis policy reform group the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, said that SAFE could be attached to a pending omnibus appropriations bill or perhaps be approved as standalone legislation.
“I’m glad that we still have other options,” Fox said Wednesday. “It’s pretty disappointing.”
“While there has been momentum and optimism around getting SAFE included in the National Defense Authorization Act, it has been known for some time that getting this through would be a challenge,” Sahar Ayinehsazian, partner at the cannabis law firm Vicente Sederberg LLP, wrote in an email to High Times. “The focus now is on the omnibus appropriations bill, which congress is currently negotiating. SAFE has growing support on both sides of the aisle and I, and many others in the industry close to this issue, think that there is a still a chance that movement can be made on SAFE via the omnibus bill during this session of Congress.”
The SAFE Banking Act is supported by a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers made up primarily of representatives and senators from states that have legalized medical marijuana or adult-use cannabis. The bill passed with overwhelming bipartisan support by a vote of 321-110 in the House last year, and senators from both parties are also in favor of passing the measure.
“The Senator is continuing to work every day to build consensus so we can pass “SAFE Banking” into law this year,” a spokesperson for Montana Republican Senator Steve Daines said in an email on Wednesday.
The senior senator from Montana, Senator Jon Tester, a Democrat, also said he “would like to see it pass this Congress.”
The banking bill is also supported by nearly two dozen governors in states that have liberalized marijuana policy. In a written statement, Conor Cahill, a spokesman for Democratic Colorado Governor Jared Polis, praised the work of Perlmutter and said he expects the legislation to pass this year.
“Governor Polis has long advocated for the passage of the SAFE Banking Act, and has repeatedly called upon Congress to pass this important legislation to protect cannabis-related businesses, support minority, women, and veteran-owned small businesses owners, create jobs, and strengthen public safety in Colorado communities and in the states,” Cahill wrote in a Tuesday email. “We hope and expect to see the final passage of his decade-long effort by the end of the lame-duck session.”
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Higher Profile: MDbio, Cannabinoid Products Created by Doctors
When California Head & Neck Surgeon Dr. Babak Larian of MDbio realized that some of his more fragile senior patients were sailing through radiation, and his 40-something buff males were having a hard time pushing past, he began asking some of his seemingly healthier patients what their secret was.
“Some of my patients would giggle and not answer me,” he shared. “Then one elderly woman finally admitted to me that her grandson was rolling her joints. She said it gave her an appetite; she was less anxious, used less narcotics, and wasn’t in pain or depressed.”
Dr. Larian began noticing this was a common thread that was happening more and more over the past 10 years, as cannabis became more accepted in the mainstream via legalization across the country.
One myth of legalization is that more people will become wasted, with crime on the rise—and what about the children? But the reality of legalization is that more people feel comfortable to experiment, and that edibles taken to get high for recreation become medical very quickly if a patient is experiencing illness or pain, with symptoms quelled and little to no negative side effects.
Board Certified, Self Educated on the eCS
Dr. Larian is a Board Certified Surgeon and the Chairman and Director of the Center for Advanced Head & Neck Surgery in Los Angeles. Earning academic and humanitarian distinctions from the UC Irvine School of Medicine, Dr. Larian completed a six-year residency in Otolaryngology and Head & Neck Surgery at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA).
Nationally renowned for his expertise in minimally invasive surgery techniques in the treatment of parathyroid disorders, Dr. Larian was the Clinical Chief of the Division of Otolaryngology at Cedars-Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles from 2009 to 2011.
“After repeatedly witnessing cannabis patients doing better than those who didn’t use the herb, I began to educate myself on the Endocannabinoid System, as there was no mention of it in medical school,” he explained. “No one even knew what it was, but more and more the common thread was, these patients were having an easier time during serious treatments.”
Dr. David Allen is a surgeon who educated himself on the Endocannabinoid System (eCS), stating that many of the surgeries over the past 30 years he performed may have been unnecessary.
“I took it upon myself to phone up medical schools, asking if they have the eCS in its curriculum,” he said. “Out of 157 schools queried, just 13% said they merely mention the system that works with plant compounds to keep us healthy.”
The eCS was discovered in 1992 by Lumir Hanus, a Czech analytical chemist working in famed cannabinoid researcher Raphael Mechoulam’s lab in Israel at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, with American pharmacologist, William Devane.
The two isolated the first known endocannabinoid in the human brain, naming it anandamide, after the Sanskrit word for joy or bliss. The discovery of these receptors resulted in the uncovering of naturally occurring neurotransmitters that are endocannabinoids.
Eastern Mentality in the Western World
“We didn’t evolve to take high doses of anything; we evolved with plants,” Dr. Larian continued. “In Guatemala, there’s a tree and its bark lowers blood pressure. They’ve been using it for thousands of years, passed down through generations.”
We evolved to eat plants, and Dr. Larian said that the compounds within them have myriad benefits to address many issues, helping to bring the body back into balance.
“That’s really what this is all about—balance,” he added. “The presumption that we need to take medications to treat everything is faulty, at best. Getting your body in balance with natural practices, such as healthy eating and exercise, that’s where you start.”
The daily stressors of life, Dr. Larian said, adds to our bevy of human illnesses–along with the toxins in our environment and empty foods that can cause inflammation and infection.
“The masses are under duress from many directions and its making us sick” he concluded. “We’ve gotten accustomed to plentifulness, and that’s not always good for us. We used to forage our meals with many plant compounds in our diet. We’d catch a fish, maybe a rabbit every once in a while. We didn’t evolve to eat as much meat as we do today.”
The doctors of MDbio are all schooled in the U.S., but hail from the Middle East, with Persian customs that include centuries of plant-based medicines.
“My family traditionally used plants as medicine,” Dr. Siamak Tabib said. “Remedies were passed down from grandparents to parents to children. I began realizing that cannabis has the whole conglomerate of beneficial compounds within it when Dr. Larian began telling us how many of his own patients were doing better clinically than those who weren’t using the plant during traditional treatments.”
Dr. Tabib is a graduate of the Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, completing his residency in Internal Medicine at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, and a fellowship in Gastroenterology and Hepatology at the combined UCLA/Cedars-Sinai medical program. A Board Certified Gastroenterologist and Hepatologist, Dr. Tabib has a private practice in Beverly Hills/West Los Angeles and also serves as Assistant Clinical Professor of Medicine at UCLA.
Dr. Tabib said he began looking into his patients’ use of cannabis, with surprising results.
“I gently brought up the topic to my patients and was surprised to find out that a good number of them were already using cannabinoid therapies, but were afraid to tell me about it,” he said. “They thought it might be an issue in my taking care of them—but what it did was inspire me to learn more.”
What he found was his own patients were silently and successfully treating colitis, Crohn’s Disease, inflammatory bowl disease and more—including quelling any negative side effects from the pharmaceuticals he was prescribing.
It’s long been known in the cannabis community that patients are already treating illnesses with cannabis and other plants, waiting for doctors and legislatures to catch up. When doctors listen to their patients, then get educated, it propels the entire movement forward, because the healing can’t be denied.
“I started attending lectures, going to cannabis conferences, and learning all I could about this plant and its many uses,” he said. “We all learned a lot, but then, where do we go from here? Once my patients trusted me to talk to me about it, I then needed to learn about dosing—how many milligrams for what ailment? I honestly didn’t know. How could I? I couldn’t say, just go smoke some weed.”
The doctors felt it was their duty to help their patients figure out how to most effectively use cannabis–not to necessarily replace pharmaceuticals, but help them navigate using the plant with the treatments they offered.
“I think there’s a role cannabis can play in replacing pharmaceuticals, but what we’ve witnessed first hand is the actual reduction of many pharmaceuticals, including addictive painkillers when using cannabis in tandem,” Tabib said. “We just needed to compile evidence at this point–not just to prove the efficacy of cannabis, but also to aid us in further developing formulations and dosing to help our patients who were already treating themselves.”
Trials and Tribulations
The board-certified doctors, who include a urological oncological surgeon, founder of the Comprehensive Urology Medical Group at Cedars-Sinai Medical Tower in Los Angeles; and foot and ankle surgeon Kamran Jamshidinia, resident training specialist, also at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, began looking at clinical trials, not just their own patient observations, and noted a correlation of advanced healing.
“We took more than three years to research and formulate what we felt was a good start,” Dr. Tabib said. “We’re still developing our formulations per our patient’s needs. It was a grueling process, but we needed the science to be right. All the while, our patients were asking, ‘Do you have something for us yet?’”
Important to note, these doctors aren’t just white-labeling a CBD product with their name on it. With MDbio’s own observational studies from their own patients—who initially taught them—they are now in the process of running clinical studies in order to keep improving the products.
So far, the brand includes four formulations using whole-plant CBD in gel capsules: MDcalm, MDsleep, MDimmune+, and MDrelief, targeting sleep, pain, anxiety, and prevention via immune system building.
There is not just full-spectrum Hemp CBD (hybridized cannabis cultivar high in cannabidiol) in each product, but a combination of healing herbs that actually increase the efficacy of the CBD for the issue at hand.
For instance, MDrelief includes white willow bark and frankincense in the mix. White willow bark’s active ingredient is salicin, the stuff German pharmaceutical company Bayer created Aspirin with to treat arthritis in 1899. Not just incense for the baby Jesus, frankincense is a medicinal compound said to reduce pain via anti-inflammatory properties. It is also said to improve gut function, aid in bronchial afflictions, and is said to be an antioxidant—or a compound that kills cancer cells.
“What we’ve found so far is remarkable efficacy from these products that we’ve held back long enough,” Dr. Tabib concluded. “While I don’t think cannabis can cure everything in the world, in conjunction with a lot of other therapies, the results have been stunning.”
For more information visit mdbiowellness.com.
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