"Someone is sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree a long time ago" Warren Buffett
Once upon a time, not so long ago, entrepreneurs talking about making big bucks from weed would have been held in whispers. In the USA today, these conversations are being shouted about and everyone is
According to the ArcView Group, a Californian firm that specializes in cannabis industry investment and research, legal cannabis is the fastest growing industry in the United States in 2015. Since Colorado and Washington became the first states to go legal last year, the market for legal cannabis in the USA has boomed to the tune of $2.7 billion.
Give credit where credit’s due, the Americans are pragmatic. In a blink of an eye, it seems, the United States has shrugged off the 40 year war on drugs (at least as far as cannabis is concerned) that led to mass incarceration and an environment in which it was acceptable for a Los Angeles police chief to declare that “casual drug users ought to be taken out and shot.” A new generation of canna-entrepreneurs are forging this boom following business practices that have more of a whiff of Silicon Valley than Super Skunk about them.
One of these companies is O.PenVAPE. Their product is described as a ‘stylish, discreet pen you can put in your pocket or purse and take everywhere you want to go.’ It looks like just another E cigarette model but that’s where the similarity ends. You can puff away on the O.PenVAPE almost anywhere, but instead of receiving a Nicotine hit this handy little gizmo supplies an instant shot of THC from a cartridge containing 125 – 250 hits of cannabis oil (with a potency of 25 – 30%). In Oregon, you can buy an O.PenVAPE for $30… cartridge included.
The bad news for consumers in the UK and Europe is that this product is only available in the USA for the time being. However, if the guys and girls from O.PenVAPE have their way, products like these will change the way the world perceives and consumes cannabis for good.
A Weediquette report on Vice entitled ‘Stoned Moms’ makes a point about the great American Green Rush. It highlights a Colorado Department of Revenue report from 2014 that draws attention to the fact that 70% of demand for weed is coming from heavy marijuana users. While there are many more ‘regular’ users (those who consume once a month), this only accounts for 1% of demand. It doesn’t take an economist
to deduce that if the industry is going to boom in the same way as computers did in the 1980s (a comparison that is frequently bandied around by Green Rush advocates) then it’s going to have to start getting more part timers to partake.
This is a market where O.PenVAPE is hoping to make a dent. “Think of us like the Google of cannabis,” says Chris, when Weed World meets up with him at Spannabis. “Visit our offices and you would think you were visiting a tech company. We are all about chrome, glass walls and LED screens.”
“And I presume you’re not showing Cheech and Chong movies on those LED screens?” the Weed World reporter asks.
Chris cracks a chuckle. “You would presume right.”
In its promotional material the company boasts that its product line sells ‘four units, every minute, 24 hours a day.’ It’s USP, according to Chris Driesson, Executive Vice President of Sales and Marketing, is “discretion, the consistency of dosage (approx 2mg of cannabis oil) and a repeatability of experience that you can trust.”
He explains that O.PenVAPE was dreamed up in 2012 when founders Ralph and Heidi Morgan opened the Evergreen Apothecary, a medical marijuana dispensary in Colorado. The two had a background in selling
medical and pharmaceutical supplies and therefore when it was noticed that every Friday morning a group of old ladies came by the dispensary to buy hash to take back to the nursing home to vape with other little old ladies, they saw an opportunity for a healthier way to consume.
Three years on, O.penVAPE is the largest cannabis company in the United States with 140 employees and operations in 9 states and selling to over 1000 dispensaries. Let’s talk demographics. “We market to the 21 – 34 year old male of course,” says Chris, “but 25% of our market is over 35 – people who used to smoke a lot more but now have families and kids. They still like getting high, they just don’t want do it in
the same way as they used to. We also have many medical users who like the product because of its ease of use. If you are 70 years old, may not know how to roll a joint, but you sure as hell know how to press a button!”
Particularly pertinent to the Vice report, Chris adds that 37% of O.penVAPE users are women. “Women like it because it’s convenient and discreet. We have a lot of Soccer Moms who consume our product in the same way that they might have a glass of wine.”
And why not? There’s nothing seedy about the O.penVAPE – no stinky bag of weed to smell out the Soccer Mom’s handbag, no loose rizla or ripped up pieces of cardboard, no paranoia
inducing smoky fug to have to dissipate, no need for half a can of Febreeze and a packet of Polos to neck before the kids get back in the car from soccer practice. Just the faint linger of lemon, not unlike
the smell of a Magic Tree car freshener a month after wrapping. This little vape pen is the perfect Soccer Mom’s delight (or Soccer Mom’s ruin if you’re a prohibitionist!) – you can even detach the cartridges so there’s no fear of those pesky Soccer Kids getting their hands on it by mistake.
A weed product for the mass market O.penVAPE is as consumer friendly, in looks and function and safety, as a cannabis product is likely to get. “Quality is one of our core values,” says Chris, “in everything we do – from the raw material that we source to the laboratory equipment we use to refine (the cannabis oil). We take our corporate responsibility very seriously too, from sustainability (the company’s packaging is produced using wind power) to safety standards and legal responsibilities. We are more conservative than some companies in the industry and we always comply to the letter of the law.”
The company presently has operations in Colorado, California, Arizona, Oregon, Washington, Nevada, Connecticut, Massachusetts and Maine, with production, extraction facilities (run by their affiliate Organa Labs) and distribution networks in each state. This is significant. States that have voted to legalize cannabis, in medical or recreational form, are doing so in breach of the 1970 Controlled Substances Act which is written into Federal law. For now, the Federal government is respecting their rights to set the new legalization laws, however it means O.penVAPE cannot transport products across state borders.
This system of using semi- autonomous operations, provides a blueprint for the company’s plans to expand into the European market, where different countries have different laws. In the next few months the company will be working with distributors to get the O.penVAPE hardware into outlets in countries including Spain, Holland, Czech Republic and even the UK. From there it will look to set up operations in
cannabis friendly countries, with a belief that in the long term, just like the USA, cannabis will be decriminalized in more European countries. But Chris is keen to stress that the company will be doing
everything by the book.
In light of the chrome, the glass and the Google analogy, I ask Chris to describe a typical day at O.penVAPE. “We start at 8.30am with a morning sales meeting: going over numbers, successes, challenges and high level directive. From there the teams head to the lab to pick up orders, sales and marketing literature and make the rounds to our customers. The afternoons are typically filled with onsite events at dispensaries promoting and demonstrating the products to our end users.
Every Friday morning we do what we call ‘the cinnamon roll’ in homage to the swirl pastry – which is a kind of group hug that rotates around the middle and share our thankfulness for each other and the
industry we are honored to work in.” “And what’s company policy regarding smoking?” I ask, wondering just how corporate the future of weed could get in the hands of companies like O.penVAPE. “We have a strict no smoking (or consumption of any kind) at work policy. Purely from a safety and liability standpoint it makes sense…However, we absolutely condone the use of cannabis outside of work. In fact we very actively encourage it!”
For the citizens of Colorado and the other states O.penVAPE operates in, the future of weed is now. Weed is just another consumer product on the shelves, the market is established and regulated and the tax revenues raised from the industry ($60 million in Colorado alone in 2014) are swelling state coffers. It’s normal. In Chris’s neighborhood, a law abiding Soccer Mom can pop down to her local dispensary (of which,
in Denver there are more than the number of Starbucks) and purchase an O.penVAPE pen which will deliver her a 2mg hit of safety assured, lab extracted, THC.
Companies like O.penVAPE are showing America how to consume responsibly. It’s no longer about having the strongest weed to give the consumer bang for their buck. It’s about choice. How long before the UK policy makers come round to thinking about how a legalized market may actually have some benefits to society at large? Cuts to police costs and raising tax revenue to prevent the closure of public services
such as libraries would be a good start. Allowing products that regulate dosage and deliver a consistent consumer experience would probably put a dent in ‘skunk psychosis’ stories in the national
press too. Policy makers may not be able to roll a joint, but they could sure as hell try pressing a button and take a peek at what the future could be if they stopped evading the question.
By Che Capri
Originally published in Weed World Magazine issue 117