The marijuana industry is growing at a mind-boggling rate, with California’s recreational marijuana market alone expected to generate $7.7 billion in revenue by 2020. The state’s medicinal marijuana market, which has been in place since 1996, is generating $2.8 billion a year. That market will also boom when California’s recreational market kicks off, but in the meantime, the medical industry is still growing, as highlighted in a recent report by Arcview Market Research and BDS Analytics. The report predicts that the medical marijuana industry will expand at a compound annual growth rate of 29 percent through 2021, reaching $13.3 billion that year.
One of the interesting aspects of writing these Flower-Side Chats is that now that cannabis is becoming more mainstream, and people are starting to realize its potential, I’m getting to sit down with some of the most forward-thinking and important people in the industry. (Of course, I don’t always get to choose who I interview, but I’m always excited to have the opportunity to speak with anyone working to make the world a better place.)
Bloom remains the dominant product category in cannabis sales in the United States. In this series of Flower-Side Chats, Green talks to integrated cannabis companies and flower brands that are bringing unique business models to the industry. Particular attention will be paid to how these companies navigate the rapidly changing landscape of regulations, supply chains and consumer demands.
Canndescent is a vertically integrated floral brand based in Santa Barbara, California, with an expanding operation in Desert Hot Springs. With the opening of the first City of California approved cultivation facility, Canndescent has pioneered luxury cannabis brands with an emphasis on ease of use. They were the first to market cannabis with effects like Calm, Cruise Create, Connect and Charge instead of the name of the strain. Canndescent also recently launched the Justice Joints social justice brand, with 100% of proceeds going to cannabis-related criminal justice and rehabilitation programs.
We spoke with Adrian Sedlin, CEO and founder of Canndescent, to learn more about his move from technology to cannabis, his ideas on product positioning, and why the company got into the Justice Joint business. Adrian founded Canndescent in 2015 after being approached by his brother-in-law who ran a farm with heirloom crops. Before Canndescent, Adrian was an entrepreneur and worked at startups.
Aaron Green: How did you get into the cannabis industry?
Adrian Sedlin: In 2015, I started researching the industry from a professional perspective. After understanding how cannabis affects the endocannabinoid system, I was absolutely intrigued by the possibility of creating a world-class cannabis company that would put the consumer first. I was particularly interested in the adult market because I see cannabis as a car versus the horse and carriage of alcohol. From a health and social point of view, cannabis is the best solution for adults, but at the time, the position of the entire industry was sloppy, uninspired and unaffordable. The basic idea of Canndescent was to go against the existing paradigm and offer cannabis in a beautiful way. To make the power of the plant accessible to more people, we had to reposition the category and simplify the purchasing process. In addition, there were too many unresolved consumer issues. For example, in 2015 cannabis was called a commodity, but every smoker knows it has as many aspects as wine. The opportunity to provide consumer solutions in an emerging industry that desperately needed advocates while making the world a better place was reason enough for me to retire.
Green: Just out of curiosity, what was your background for cannabis?
Adrian Sedlin, CEO and founder of Canndescent
Sedlin: I’m an entrepreneur for life. I started my first business while I was still in college. After graduation, I ran the company for four and a half years, sold it, went back to business school and got my MBA. After Harvard, I spent most of my career in young growth companies, turnarounds and pivots. If someone invested $10 million in a company or if their company wasn’t growing at the rate they wanted, I would make a phone call.
I have been fortunate enough to mentor a number of companies several times for their successful exit. In my professional career, I took a year and a half break from 2004 to 2006, and then, for cannabis, in 2015, I took a three-year break, and then it started to itch a little bit. I didn’t think I was going to retire forever. I was just waiting to see what would happen. And cannabis was absolutely the first time in my life that I can say that I finally understood what I was created for on planet Earth.
Green: As far as I know, Canndescent was the first municipal licensed grower to open in California?
Sedlin: Desert Hot Springs was the first city to legalize the crop, and we were the first to work on it.
Green: How did this happen?
Sedlin: The city has issued conditional use permits, but many people have tried to build from scratch. We decided to modernise the existing factory. So we were the first to get legal approval and started growing under MCRSRA, which eventually became MAUCRSA.
It required a high tolerance for ambiguity and incredible patience. That is such an offensive term: The Pioneers take the Arrows. Well, we made a lot of arrows along the way. Case in point: In the first year of operation, the fire department sent us five letters to stop using CO2. Not because we did anything wrong, but because they changed their rules and wanted us to implement them immediately instead of allowing us a transition period. You just have to learn to deal with it. I would say that all those of us who entered the regulated cannabis market early – and there are still many – are learning to deal with it, be patient, and still put unbridled energy and passion into the process.
Green: Did you know you wanted to live in Desert Hot Springs? Or was it just the easiest permit to get?
Sedlin: For us, it was a binary choice. The easy choice for Desert Hot Springs was that it was the only choice. We did a professional job. We were accepting investment dollars, and I could make no mistake that we were in the gray market. This was before California’s adult use law was passed, so we were operating under California’s Medical Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act (MCRSA). At the time, the only way to comply with the MCRSA and grow medical cannabis was to get a permit from a city or county, and the first area to allow this was Desert Hot Springs. From the point of view of our team, who wanted to build a truly compliant company from day one, this was the only choice.
Green: I understand your systems are solar powered?
Sedlin: We have several facilities. One of them is a conservatory to which a light has been added. We have an indoor solar system. When we opened the plant, there was no solar energy project. After opening, about a year and a half later, we did a complete solar renovation. We found that the solar panels offset 38% of our energy use.
Green: The marketing of your product is effect-oriented. How did you find this brand and product positioning?
Sedlin : The intention is to make life easier for consumers and to avoid having to sort through 6,000 different variety names that are inconsistent from manufacturer to manufacturer. Before Apple popularized the graphical user interface for computers, the orthodox view among engineers at the time was that everyone should learn to write code. Anyone who wanted to use a computer had to go through the laborious process of MS-DOS. But computers haven’t evolved like that. The genius of Apple is that it created technology to serve people with a graphical interface, not people to serve technology. You also don’t have to research 6000 strains, 100+ terpenes and 100+ cannabinoids to make your first purchase. Our aim has always been to make cannabis work for the user, not the user for cannabis.
Let’s get one thing straight: Apple doesn’t mute it. Apple makes things easier so more people can adopt them, so those things can then get better. And that’s how we’ve always seen it. Finally, I’m not sure consumers need to know they like the AK-47 if they can understand it in general: How do I want to feel? Am I trying to relax? What am I trying to accomplish? The problem is the priority of the consumer over the engineer, or in this case the grower or nurseryman, who covets the appellation rights. We work according to a customer-oriented philosophy and our company is at their service.
Green: They have a brand of social capital called Justice Joints. What was your motivation for this line?
Sedlin: We have the luxury and privilege of participating in the legal cannabis industry, but many people have not had that choice and have suffered serious losses. That’s why we need to put our money and energy into helping the communities most affected and marginalized by the war on drugs, and do our part to repair some of the damage. Justice Joints (JJ), our brand whose 100% of proceeds go to cannabis-related social justice and liberation programs, invites the cannabis community, dispensaries and consumers to vote with their dollars for a better world. Here’s a vehicle where 100% of the profits go to cannabis-related social justice projects. Are you with me? Or did you faint? This gives consumers the opportunity to use their money to participate in positive change. That’s the problem with the plant.
JJ was the right answer for Canndescent because we wanted to create a self-sustaining economic engine for social justice. We market premium cannabis brands. So creating a social justice brand was the right decision for us and gave our 250 employees a chance to give back and feel proud every day. Justice Joints is not a side project; it is firmly embedded in Canndescent’s daily operations and will hopefully grow into a supportive platform for the entire industry.
Green: What do you want to change in the world or what inspires you most?
Sedlin: Professionally, I am most interested in promoting gratitude in broad professional and social circles. Canndescent is the first company I know of to include gratitude in its core values. We do this because we believe happiness is a state of mind and a choice, not a result. It’s not about how many likes you get on social media or how much money you make. It’s how you view your experience that makes you happy.
On any given day, there are a hundred things I could whine about, but that would just turn me into an itchy poison ivy, and that would make me angry, frustrated, and exhausted. By living and acting gratefully, we can bring our minds to a peaceful and productive place, where we are in control and can give our best to those around us. For example, I just lost my father on Thursday, but I focus on gratitude, not grief. My father was an extraordinary man, he died peacefully at the age of 89, he was married for 60 years, he loved and gave love. Sure, there is sadness, but instead of wallowing in it, I focus on His blessings and think of the good things. Working from a happy place frees me psychologically to be with my mother, sister, wife, children, employees and investors.
So that’s what I’m passionate about. It’s not so much what I want to learn, but what I want to cultivate in the world. There would simply be more happiness in the world if humanity would practice the muscles of gratitude in perspective. This is the best time in human history to be alive. To listen to the world around us, it is natural to forget it. But I prefer Covid-19 to the Black Death and Spanish Flu. Yes, it happens, but are you the one talking and complaining, or the one telling : Let’s get this place in order. It’s a choice. Canndescent aims to project light and create a world of gratitude.
Green: That concludes the interview, thanks Adrian!
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