Tiffany Chin is a name in cannabis to know and best not forget. She is the CEO of Death Row Cannabis. Chin, who studied business at the University of Pennsylvania and Wharton, led over $50 million in annual sales for Snoop Dogg’s previous cannabis company, Leafs by Snoop (LBS), and has closed major licensing deals throughout her career.
She’s worn many hats in the industry and her list of accomplishments is extensive, including managing Doggy Style Records. When Snoop Dogg wanted to move forward with more ventures in cannabis and take Death Row Cannabis to another level, he called Chin to help him do it.
The prestigious stoner started out in the gray market, thanks to an inspiring encounter with a pot dealer. It’s a long story she recently shared with High Times in an interview about Death Row Cannabis, her collaboration with Snoop Dogg, and how she went from intern to CEO in less than a decade.
High Times: You started in the gray market, right? How’d you get your start?
Tiffany Chin: I first started with Snoop as an intern. Like most interns do, they clean and make things presentable. Snoop would be in the office every week or so shooting his YouTube show called GGN. He would have cool guests on and smoke weed with them. This man didn’t really use rolling trays. When he did, there was enough there for me as a new California resident to put it in my pocket, take it home, and smoke it.
Snoop went on his summer tour a couple of months later after I started interning. I was naive or paranoid and didn’t want to get a [medical] card and be in the system. A coworker of mine told me, “I know a guy who grows in the gray market and sells by the pound to dispensaries.” As these drug deals normally go, he rolls up in his car and I get in the passenger seat. I’m thinking, “This guy’s really cute.” I have no makeup on, my teeth are not brushed, and my hair’s not brushed. Here’s your money and bye, right? Two months later, I asked him, “Hey, can we do this again? We’ll do the exchange and everything. Also, I don’t know if you remember what I look like, but would you like to go out for a drink sometime?” Eleven years later, we’re married.
Oh, congratulations. That’s a lovely story.
Thank you. He’s not growing weed anymore. He’s now a biologist and botanist at a nonprofit called TreePeople. Anyway, that’s how I originally got into cannabis and experienced a small grow. I got to understand nutrient ratios and levels, the PPMs, what temperature and what humidity levels are needed, all of that.
I am not a grower, but I know enough when I visit facilities. I’ve been to so many growers around the world to be like, “This is how it should look. This looks right.” I can see what technologies they’re using and how they’re able to automate certain things.
So, how’d you go from interning to the business side of Snoop’s cannabis business?
I was originally interning at a management company. Snoop hired the CEO of the management company, Ted Chung, to be his manager. Basically, we had a whole machine and team doing all these things for Snoop. At the time, it was when Colorado and Washington legalized, and we were like, “What’s our strategy? We have the biggest dude in cannabis, and we want to talk with him about his ideas.”
Ted was looking at his employee list and asked, “Who on our team could fit this role? There’s no one else in the building out of these 60 people who smoke weed every day and also have enough business sense.” I don’t even want to say business acumen, because my biggest thing is that you don’t know business until you are in it.
Anyway, Ted was like, “Tiffany, do you want this role? You should do this.” Initially, I was a little concerned I might get pigeonholed into an industry that, and I feel silly saying it now, maybe doesn’t have a future. At the same time, this is a big opportunity, right? Also, you wouldn’t expect someone who looks like me to be representing Snoop on the cannabis side. I think that throws a lot of people off. People don’t realize that I know a lot more than maybe I let on.
How does that play out?
When I’m touring a facility with the CEO or the marketing director and I ask these more technical questions, they’re like, “Oh, I should get my grower over here.” And I’m like, “You should have had your grower with us the entire time. You’re not the right representative right now. When we talk about deal terms and business stuff, yes, but I need to see that your product is good.”
Once you started working on the cannabis side for Snoop, what were some early successes?
I found and identified Canopy. I literally cold-emailed them. Mark Zekulin, who was the president at the time, was like, “This can’t be real.” They looked up the management company, and he was like, “Oh, maybe it is real. We’re in Ottawa. Do you wanna come up and check us out?”
I went up there when they had a handful of plants, maybe five or 10 plants in the ground. By in the ground, I mean in a five-gallon pot behind these screens and everything. We recognized both of us were the real deal, which snowballed into the larger deal we had throughout all of Canada back in 2015 until 2017. The product was actually still in the market all the way up until 2020.
How else did you expand business from there?
LivWell, who we worked with in Colorado, is another great partner. We launched a huge line of products with flowers, concentrates, and edibles. This was for the old brand, Leafs by Snoop. The people at LivWell asked, “How do we create a line of edibles that’s true to Snoop? Everyone knows he doesn’t do edibles.” I asked, “What about his rider?”
I remember touring with him and sending his rider to promoters in different cities. There’s chocolate bars, Reese’s peanut butter cups, peach gummies, and Starburst. I said, “That’s what we should do. People feel as though they’re in the same room hanging out with Snoop Dogg before he hits the stage.” Snoop said, “Let’s do that. At least you can gimme samples without weed in them, and I can try them out. Put weed in them and then I can give them out to my friends.”
It worked out great, because of the production process, we expanded into around 500 stores with those products. Flower was more difficult because Snoop ended up picking a low yield, because he liked the terpenes, the flavors, and how it smoked. Since it was such a low yield, we weren’t able to produce enough to expand further than LivWell’s 14 stores at time.
I wanted to circle back. As you said, people often underestimate you. In business, can you ever use that to your advantage?
I’m often underestimated because people are like, “Oh, you’re Asian and you’re a woman. You must not smoke. You must not understand the culture.” With certain people, I will be forthcoming about what I do know, because I can immediately tell that this is a relationship that I want to advance and let’s do business together.
Other times, it’s funny… There was a group we didn’t go with in Canada and internationally. Out of all the days they could have emailed me and acted upset, he berated me on International Women’s Day. I was like, “There are other groups that have corroborated our selection. We went with the best group.” I even talked to Snoop about it, and he said, “It’s business, not personal. This one group doesn’t have enough flower for us. We gotta go with a group that has good flower and also does good business.”
I don’t want to always say that it’s men in these situations ‘cause that’s reductive, but it is a male-dominated industry. I don’t think they give the respect to women in this space to really demonstrate her abilities. I’ve seen it, and I’ve been a victim of it.
There are specific ways in which you can pepper in certain facts or things that can indicate to the opposite party, like, tread carefully because you’re about to get into a topic or conversation you might not want to broach. If you think the person’s smart enough to pick up on what you’re putting down, then you only need to do a little breadcrumb, right? Other people who might not be as aware of the vibes in the room, you might have to throw down a whole loaf of bread for them (Laughs).
(Laughs) You’ve closed some lucrative deals throughout your career. How does one stay cool in those situations with all that pressure?
There’s a lot of pressure. Anxiety is something that I work on, and I started going to therapy in June of last year.
That’s great. Good for you.
Thank you. I am very open about it. I think everyone should go to therapy, even if it’s only once a year. I started going to therapy because of some anxiety around another individual on Snoop’s team who was trying to close these deals for him. Snoop wanted to bring me back on to run the cannabis and hemp initiatives.
This other fellow, I think, felt threatened and tried to insert himself between Snoop and myself. At the time, I had a lot of anxiety about bringing deals to the table and making sure that Snoop saw I am working hard for him, right? It was the pandemic, so I was working from home. Anyway, there’s a lot of anxiety.
But clearly, a lot of trust between the two of you. How else do you protect his interests?
There are situations I have asked him about, like, “Hey, did you know this was happening?” At the end of the day, he is my client and I need to protect his interests. For example, somebody was trying to get his IP owned by another entity as opposed to by him. The entity was not 100% owned by him. If the entity was owned 100% by him, by proxy, he owns that IP. Whether it’s a statement of the procedure or the name Snoop Doggy Dog, right? Calvin Broadus, as an individual, should own those, or at the very least, a company of which he holds 100% and will never have any type of contestation.
When those things are occurring, I’m like, “Is this right? Is he aware of this?” When I’ve talked to him about it, he’s like, “I was not aware of this. Thank you for bringing this to me.” Even the amount of trust that he has in me, that’s also nerve-wracking, right? He’s like, “I’m not just paying you to do a job. I want you to advise me. I want you to tell me what is appropriate and what I can’t expect.”
What are some changes in the cannabis industry you’d like to see in the future?
With any new industry, there’s always too much governmental regulation. As the years go on, it might take decades, but then deregulation occurs because the business or the industry is able to operate on its own. We have a lot of overregulation right now whether it comes from packaging or licensing or the ability to apply for certain things, given your background, right? I’m talking about felons. They can’t apply for these things, right? They are probably the people who have been most maligned by the policies in the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s. I’d like to see a lot more deregulation occur much faster than is normal for new industries.
In California, a lot of brands, operators, and retailers are having a tough time right now. No one in California is really making money. A lot of brands are doing what’s called “backdooring” by going under the table and selling to the homie in Ohio or New York and then having them resold at a bodega or wherever. That’s how a lot of brands are staying afloat. You gotta do what you gotta do, but I know that the crackdown came recently with UPS and FedEx.
What’s also happening is the tax structure. They’re adjusting it now, thank goodness, but the distributor used to have to pay the taxes upon delivery of the product, but then the retailer didn’t have to pay the taxes until after the product was sold. The incongruence of when the taxes were collected and then paid resulted in distributors and processors unable to continue operating on less than a 90-day float. And so, if you’re dependent on the money from an order to continue your operations for the next three months, you can’t continue operating without either an infusion of cash, debt financing, or knocking on doors to get money.
I’m glad they’re changing where the taxes are taken as well. They’re adjusting the percentage a bit. I understand the taxes need to be there, but I wish they would be a little lower because it’s become a little too much for people to purchase good cannabis. I’m seeing eighths now for 70 bucks. I’m not trying to plug our brand, but—
Please, feel free.
Our products retail for $35 to $45 for an eighth. Hopefully, you’re not walking out the door out for more than 50 bucks for a quality product. We want people to get good shit for good prices, because that’s who Snoop is. He’s not the guy that collaborates with Adidas and charges $350 for shoes. He works with Adidas and marks up the price by maybe $10.
Do you have any particularly favorite days on the job? What immediately comes to mind?
I will tell you this one. We were on set for Martha & Snoop’s Potluck Dinner [Party]. Martha, who lives in Vermont, flew out to LA to do the show. One time she was like, “I want to bring some seeds back. I like to garden, and I want to grow this in my yard.” No one else on the management team, like, how is it that no one on Snoop’s management team knows how to grow weed?
Basically, someone said, “Call Tiffany. She’ll know what to do.” I buy feminized seeds, and I explain to Martha Stewart these are seeds that are confirmed to be flowering seeds. She’s like, “What does that mean?” I’m explaining all these things to her, like, “It’s September and you’re in Vermont, so you don’t wanna plant these until maybe like March or April.” I’m going through all that stuff about the one crop harvest versus the indoor model of eight, nine, 10 weeks.
She asks me, “What did you go to school for? Was it for farming? Do you have experience in growing plants?” And I say, “No, I went to school for business.” She’s like, “How did you fall into this?” I told her what I told you, which is like, “I smoke weed, but I also know how to do stuff.”
I later found out she was telling everyone about how this Asian woman was telling her how to grow weed, so now I am that person to her. It’s cool to educate people you think might know a lot about cannabis, but don’t know as much as you do. I don’t know everything, so I’m always interested to hear what other people have to say that know more and have deeper knowledge than I do.
You started as an intern just over 10 years ago. Thinking about the next 10 years, where do you want to go? What do you want to achieve for Death Row Cannabis as well as for yourself?
I love what I do and I love working with Snoop. I will say, I’m only getting started, but Snoop is only getting started, too. We tried something in the 2010s and it did really well. We are pivoting now to a more Snoop-centric and focused branding and line of products. All of these strains he smokes, and I cannot say the same about past products. Previously, as long as there’s one strain in there that he likes, that was good enough, right?
Internationally, we’ve only got four countries. How many member nations are there of the UN? 192? Obviously, they’re not all legal (Laughs). I would one day like to get into as many countries as possible, because Snoop is an international icon. It’s the same deal with the United States. We’re close to closing several states and working with some of the best growers and operators out there.
I do think that the Death Row brand is going to be much more than just Snoop. There are so many great artists, engineers, mixers, A&R people, management, all these great people under the Death Row Records umbrella. I’m thinking about obvious names, like Dre and Pac, right? Eventually, if we’re able to, we would love to figure out how we can work with the Tupac estate or Dr. Dre and his entire team.
There’s new music coming out soon. I’m not on the music side, but Frankie [Vasquez], who’s the most amazing A&R guy, is telling me, “We got two new artists coming out.” There are so many projects in the pipeline around Death Row Records. A lot of these branch-offs, like Death Row Cannabis and Death Row Vapes, we’re just capitalizing on an amazing machine already. I truly believe with the trajectory of hip hop and how it’s become so popular, I would credit a lot of that to Death Row Records.
I think a lot of people would agree.
When I say that out loud sometimes, it’s hard to realize I’m a part of this, and it’s awesome.