Cannabis as a product has transmogrified from its druggy history a couple of decades ago, when consumers inhaled black-market weed from finger-staining joints or amber-drenched bongs, and gobbled crunchy brownies laced with Mary Jane. The illicit market exuded a seedy, unsavory haze. Police, seeking to enforce cannabis-banning laws, threatened to arrest and jail anyone involved in the business of pot.
Contrast those products with cannabis of today, such as edible morsels made by Santa Rosa startup Garden Society, which creates cannabinoid-graced milk chocolate squares that resemble boxed candies, and gelée cubes infused with strawberry, basil, passion fruit — and 5 milligrams of THC from sativa. The company launched operations in January, a couple of months after voters approved legalization of pot in California for adult use.
Two women at the heart of the enterprise, founder Erin Gore and marketing luminary Karli Warner, are hip, bright and savvy to a fast-shifting cannabis marketplace. They plan to sell cannabis edibles directly to women at social gatherings in customers’ homes, a marketing approach associated with high-end Scandinavian beauty lotions and similar products. Garden Society’s business branding is clean and fresh.
“We are working with women in their homes,” Gore said, “doing education-focused parties” managed by a brand ambassador. “Women love a sense of community. They’re curious. They want to learn and talk about it. We are creating an avenue for them to get educated, feel comfortable then start to buy product directly from us.”
She researched sale of other products to women through similar channels. “Women worry about the stigma — if someone sees them walk into a dispensary,” Gore said. They might be concerned how cannabis will react with other medications, or “what happens with children — if they find it. They have private questions. This provides a forum for them to feel confidential and safe. They also have fun together with girlfriends. It takes that fear away. Once they are comfortable with cannabis, they are going to explore” dispensaries.
“That’s the best way to reach women,” Warner said of private parties. She worked five years in marketing for Constellation Brands, a publicly traded wine company based in New York with revenue near $6 billion. Gore’s husband runs Tom Gore Vineyards that produces nearly 150,000 cases for Constellation.
Gore’s business model has three channels: wholesale through distributors; direct to dispensaries and delivery services; and sales with private parties in homes.
California voters passed Prop. 64 in November, making it legal to possess, smoke, eat and grow cannabis for folks over 21 — for medicinal or recreational use. In January 2018, adult-use cannabis can be legally sold in California, opening a vast new market that in a few years could rival the wine industry. Last year, California wineries pumped 238 million cases worth an estimated $34 billion into the U.S. market. As the adult-use cannabis blooms, stigma surrounding pot will dissipate.
Healdsburg, where Gore and Warner live, allows no cannabis enterprise. The entrepreneurs situated Garden Society in Santa Rosa, where more than two dozen cannabis-commerce companies applied for permits — a fast-emerging CannaCom Valley that will command huge revenue.
The timing of Garden Society’s January 2017 launch with medical-cannabis sales sets up the company to push into the adult-use market in January 2018.
Gore, a chemical engineer, worked for Henkel Corp., a Dusseldorf-based multinational company that makes adhesives including Loctite superglue, beauty-care and shampoo items, and laundry products. She did product development and sales in the adhesives division.
Read more coverage of North Coast cannabis commerce: nbbj.news/cannabis