The nascent cannabis industry still has a long way to grow. In many ways, it hasn’t successfully given back to the people hurt the most from the war on drugs, empowered marginalized entrepreneurs, or created opportunities for more than a small number of people–many of whom are men–with access to capital.
Today, we’re talking to Charlotte Hanna and Geraldine Hessler. They’re the founder and CMO of Rebelle, one of a small handful of women and minority-owned vertically integrated cannabis and lifestyle companies in Massachusetts. Their mission is to empower people who have been marginalized by the criminalization of cannabis while championing its benefits as part of a healthy, positive lifestyle.
In this episode, you’ll learn how they created a unique brand that filled a clear void in the marketplace, the challenges facing women in this field, and how changing cannabis laws in New York will affect other parts of the country.
- What led Charlotte and Geraldine to develop and launch the Rebelle brand.
- How Rebelle cultivated its concepts and visual identity–and why branding consultants are probably too worried about pissing off men when trying to appeal to women.
- How Rebelle is working to do business in the most equitable and just way possible–and how they’re creating jobs and careers for people coming out of jail.
- How Charlotte and Geraldine talk to their kids about their work–and how schools are starting to discuss cannabis.
- Why Geraldine believes it’s going to be a while before we see cannabis menus alongside wine lists at restaurants.
- “I don’t think there can possibly be a product besides something that’s FDA-approved that you get in the pharmacy that is more tested and regulated than this industry.” – Charlotte Hanna
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Rick Kiley: Hello, everyone, and welcome to another episode of The Green Repeal. I am one of your co-hosts, Rick Kiley. I’m here as usual with Jeffrey Boedges. What’s up, Jeff?
Jeffrey Boedges: How’s it going, gang? It’s good to be here.
Rick Kiley: Yeah. I’m in my daughter’s bedroom today because there’s construction going out back. And it’s just like one of those like drill days. I don’t know what’s going on. It’s pretty tough.
Jeffrey Boedges: I thought the pink bonbon thing was yours. Looks good on you.
Rick Kiley: I gave it to her, though. We are excited about our episode today. Today, we are welcoming Charlotte Hanna and Geraldine Hessler, two women who are changing the game for the cannabis industry in the Northeast. Charlotte is the founder of the cannabis brand, Rebelle, and its parent company Community Growth Partners, which is one of only a handful of women and minority-owned, vertically integrated cannabis companies in Massachusetts. I actually practiced that sentence. That is a tough one to say but that’s awesome. Their mission is to lift up people who have been marginalized by the criminalization of the plant while offering it up as part of a positive lifestyle, which is lovely. As thought leaders championing the cannabis industry, Charlotte and Geraldine come to us with a wealth of knowledge about marketing challenges in the space. They have strong creative chops and they have a very deep understanding why brands need to focus on lifting up underserved communities.
Rick Kiley: Welcome to The Green Repeal, Charlotte and Geraldine. How are you doing?
Charlotte Hanna: Hi. Thank you so much for having us.
Geraldine Hessler: Great to be here. Yes. Thank you.
Rick Kiley: Cool. Can you guys just start off by telling us how you both became involved in the cannabis industry, how you got connected? What was your road in?
Charlotte Hanna: I’m sorry, yeah.
Rick Kiley: Who wants to go first? For the listening audience at home, it was like a stare.
Jeffrey Boedges: Yeah. They were rock, paper, scissoring. You couldn’t hear it.
Charlotte Hanna: Well, I live in New York City and I was watching all of the legalization movement come east and thought I need to be a part of this. I like cannabis. I’ve been a consumer since I was a teenager and never really understood why we made the plant illegal and a plant that grows naturally and has so many beneficial properties that I love. And so, I just thought it was just this open green field where you could just do anything and create and just seemed very exciting to me. And as a woman and a mother, I thought that I could have a special place in changing people’s hearts and minds about the plant. And so, I decided to go up to Massachusetts, the closest place to my hometown that had recently legalized cannabis and tried to start the business up there. And that’s how it all got started. Geraldine, you want to talk about how we got connected?
Geraldine Hessler: Yeah. Yeah, sure. Well, so Charlotte and I have known each other for a long time. We met because we’re both competitive athletes. And I’ve always admired Charlotte and she approached me, asked me if I could recommend somebody to help her out with some branding and identity work. And I said, “Oh, well, that’s actually what I do,” and we started the conversation and basically the rest has been history ever since.
Jeffrey Boedges: We got to know what sport you guys competed in, and I think that’s something I got to know.
Geraldine Hessler: Yeah. We play tennis, a lot of tennis. We play USTA tennis.
Rick Kiley: USTA tennis.
Jeffrey Boedges: A couple of former tennis geeks too.
Rick Kiley: I was on a county championship tennis team in New Jersey, in Morris County, in the early 90s.
Jeffrey Boedges: I was a powerhouse for the ALTA down in Atlanta for about six months and, well, actually, I wasn’t that good.
Rick Kiley: That’s great. Actually, I really love speaking to other people who are parents who are involved in the industry. Jeff and I both are dads of kids, and we keep maybe we’ll even get back to it but we’re nowadays having the conversation of like, “How do you talk to kids about cannabis?” quite a bit. And I’m definitely going to circle back and ask for your perspective on that. But let’s get some of the good business stuff out of the way. First, what led you to the launch of Rebelle? How did the brand come about and walk us through that story? I think that’s why we’re here.
Charlotte Hanna: Yeah. So, Rebelle is our retail store. We’re vertically integrated, so that means that we make and produce our products, and then we also distribute them, and soon we’ll be delivering them direct to consumers as well. So, we wanted to have our hand in every part of the business that we could because that is an option in Massachusetts. And so, I thought, let’s start with the consumer first, and let’s open the retail store first. It was the path of least resistance from a capital and construction and complication perspective so it’s an obvious place to start. And it’s been really an important part of having all this customer data that we have has been very informative to us as we have started working on product development as well. And we’re using consumer data and consumer buying behavior to inform what we’re going to make in our manufacturing operation. So, Rebelle, as you know, we developed the brand, Geraldine and I together, and we decided that we don’t want to go through the traditional branding exercise in a room with flip charts and a consultant. We just were like, “Let’s smoke some weed and let it come to us the way that it should organically.”
Rick Kiley: The way almost every good business idea has started.
Geraldine Hessler: Exactly. What we want. We’re like, “What’s missing?” And I think Charlotte had this incredible vision. And when she first told me about it, it just blew me away. And so, just being able to kind of sit down and talk about it and come up with this brand that really was missing in the marketplace. There was a big void of what people were doing. And everything felt so repetitive and the same. And so, I think Charlotte had this vision of creating something really unique and different, and it’s really exciting.
Charlotte Hanna: Well, it is so interesting because I have all these words that I come up with to describe what I wanted the brand to be. And then I remember one day Geraldine and I were sitting on the roof of DUMBO house sitting outside, and I’m explaining her the idea and the values that I wanted the brand to stand for and one of the words used a lot and I still use today is “approachable.” Because this is a new thing for so many people, I wanted it to feel approachable and I remembered Geraldine going, “Well, I think you should all have lowercase letters and grounded. These are things that are very approachable,” and that’s how it started coming together. That makes a lot of sense. I like that.
Rick Kiley: It’s true. Capital letters are intimidating. You really have to know what you’re talking about. I like it.
Jeffrey Boedges: One of our ECD actually came in and looked at our logo and was like, “No, we’re going.” She’s like, “Drop the caps.”
Rick Kiley: Lowercase letters. That’s really great. And so, talk to us a little bit about what’s different. I mean, the thing that I want to ask about so hopefully you’ll cover this but in researching, you’re not just selling your cannabis products. You have a line of lifestyle goods, right? So, we’re talking about other things such as apparel and other accessories. I mean, was that a purposeful approach with the brand launch that you were trying to create this unique aesthetic or lifestyle associated with it? Talk to me about that.
Charlotte Hanna: Yeah, absolutely. You know, a lot of people say brands are the future in cannabis and lifestyle. People use the word lifestyle a lot. But what does that mean exactly? So, we wanted to be able to translate that idea into the way we represent the brand to customers but also in the actual lifestyle. When I think about entertaining at my house and I have a bar and I have cool things that I put out of my bar. And so, I wanted to present a lifestyle that seemed approachable and accessible to people in a way that they understood, retaining, for example. So, why not create accessories that complement that lifestyle? And also, I always love when someone I have a few things when I go to California and buy cannabis doses, for example. When I brought doses back east to friends years ago, we’re like, “What is that?” We wanted to create some things that had that, “What is that factor?” And you’re hard with paying someone so that would get people’s attention as well.
Rick Kiley: Got it. So, what’s the most popular non-cannabis item that people want that you offer?
Jeffrey Boedges: Or it could be an intake. I mean, you guys are talking about what you brought back from California like what kind of cool things. It doesn’t have to be like a shirt.
Rick Kiley: I’m just asking.
Geraldine Hessler: Yeah. I think the most popular things recently, people love our branded grinders. They’re just like perfect size. Really good. And everybody loves our logo and we have two logos. We have the Rebelle logo and then we also have the R with the arrow through it. So, we use both of them but I would say the thing that people are loving right now is that pre-roll holder.
Charlotte Hanna: Right. Yeah.
Geraldine Hessler: We have multiple colors and it’s just so easy. You put your pre-roll in there, you throw it in your bag, you put it in your pocket, and you’re just ready to go. And so, it’s smell-proof, it’s easy and…
Jeffrey Boedges: Smell proof?
Geraldine Hessler: Smell proof. Yeah.
Jeffrey Boedges: It’s an accessory. It’s different colors, so you have to have one that matches your bag and matches your shoes, right?
Geraldine Hessler: Exactly. Or you color-code your hybrid, your Indica, your Sativa, different colors for each.
Rick Kiley: I think you had me at odor-proof because I just want to walk around not smelling like that delivery guy.
Jeffrey Boedges: That’s a man thing to say, “I don’t want to smell like…”
Charlotte Hanna: I think that is a pre-roll. I mean, I’m probably one of the bigger lightweights in the industry. I can’t finish an entire pre-roll myself. And so, where do you put it when you’re done? And I think a lot of people have that issue. So, you just put in this little container. Put that in your bag and it doesn’t stink because I think actually like after you light it and then put it away, that’s where the odor comes from.
Jeffrey Boedges: You get that ashy smell.
Charlotte Hanna: Exactly. Or if you’re going to a party you can put a couple mini dog walkers in there and then everybody has their own and you just, you know. It’s a very COVID-friendly way to consume.
Rick Kiley: Yeah. That’s the boxer dog, right? Like the tiny one? Are there different grades of dog walkers like the mini dog walker?
Jeffrey Boedges: If you walk around like a Saint Bernard or maybe like something really active, like an Australian shepherd, you need a much bigger joint.
Charlotte Hanna: Yeah. Exactly.
Rick Kiley: Cool. So, when you started, was it just the two of you? You brought some others in to the beginning of the operation? Who was the crew that you had to launch with? And how is the team kind of grown since inception?
Charlotte Hanna: Yeah. I mean, the original Rebelle OGs we’re all still together. And so, the very first person that I met, Geraldine’s the very first person that I met that’s on the team because she and I have known each other for a long time. But when I decided to get into the industry, I said, “I don’t know how to grow this. I know how to consume it, that’s for sure. So, let me find a grower, okay?” And I had this guy who was working for me, a master carpenter that had an assistant who would just disappear in October every year to go out for harvest in California. So, I called Bruce and said, “Bruce, where does Nick go? And tell Nick I want to talk to the guy that he goes to harvest with.” And so, Ronnie is the name of our head of cultivation. And he and I just flew out to New York and said, “Do you want to leave California? Do you want to come to the East Coast and grow cannabis and start this company with me?” And he did. And he’s the very person that I talked to along the way. So, Mike is our head of cultivation. Marcus Williams, the second person that I met. He’s a technology guru. Genius. We are very tech-centric in our business. He’s based in Massachusetts. He joined the founding leadership team in 2019, and then Penelope Nam-Stephen. We met Penelope, Marcus, Mike, and I in Boston. Someone introduced us and we just knew immediately like she sort of lives and breathes the culture that we want to be.
Rick Kiley: Okay. That’s awesome. And how big is the team now?
Charlotte Hanna: We have about 40 people working for us and we’re growing to probably 100 this year because we are approaching some new businesses in Massachusetts in May. The group will probably hire about 20 more people in May and then we’ll be at about 100 by end of the year.
Jeffrey Boedges: All those jobs are in Massachusetts or New York, or are they national? All our listeners out there who want to apply, want to make sure that they have good resumes here.
Charlotte Hanna: Most of them are in Massachusetts but the marketing jobs, corporate-level jobs, we’re based in – our headquarters is New York City.
Rick Kiley: Oh, wow. That’s really cool. So, then plans to expand throughout the northeast? New York is legal now. Oh yeah, she’s just nodding even while I’m saying the question. She knows it. All right. Cool. Awesome. That’s great.
Charlotte Hanna: Massachusetts is practice for New York to get ready.
Rick Kiley: Massachusetts is practice.
Charlotte Hanna: Yeah. Basically, that’s what we’re doing.
Rick Kiley: I pretty much told all my Massachusetts friends that when I was earlier in life, Massachusetts is just practice for New York
Charlotte Hanna: We know that New York is going to be a massive, massive market and I just want to start. I knew it was going to happen eventually but I didn’t want to start with no experience, and it’s actually very competitive.
Rick Kiley: Yeah.
Jeffrey Boedges: It is very competitive. Can I ask, was it difficult to get the permitting and stuff in Massachusetts when you were not in-state? Would they rake you over the coals about that?
Charlotte Hanna: Yeah, definitely. In New York or, I mean, it just wasn’t necessarily difficult because I was from Massachusetts. It was more difficult because I was one of the first to do it. And just helping people understand that the world isn’t going to end because of retail dispensaries opening up down the street that there weren’t going to be derelicts and drug addicts sleeping on the steps of your house. That’s the kind of stuff people really were worried about.
Jeffrey Boedges: Well, there’s a lot of people out there telling that narrative. I mean, I’ve heard it from people around me like, “Not in my state.” I’m like, “It’s going to come to your state. You’ve got to get your mind around it.”
Geraldine Hessler: Have the tax dollars.
Charlotte Hanna: Yeah. Exactly.
Jeffrey Boedges: Yeah, yeah. And, Geraldine, I sort of cut you off there. I’m sorry. You want to say something.
Geraldine Hessler: I don’t remember what it was.
Jeffrey Boedges: Sorry. Yeah. That’s the effect I have on conversation. As Rick said, I take it off the rails.
Rick Kiley: Well done, Jeffrey. Well done.
Jeffrey Boedges: Yeah. That’s what I’m here for.
Rick Kiley: I’ll get us back on track here. So, one thing, you talked a little bit about how you met but I want to go into this. Were you playing each other in a tournament like when you first met? Did you come up? Were you the one and two seats? You meet in the finals? Like, please tell me the story.
Jeffrey Boedges: Did you have a cannabis leaf on your racquet instead of like a Princeton head?
Rick Kiley: Were you both getting treatments for some sort of injury where you realized that you were both smoking blunts to deal with it? Like how did it go down?
Geraldine Hessler: No. I think I was lucky enough that Charlotte and I were on the same team and we were partners. And because, yeah, she’s a force like you don’t want to go off against her,
Rick Kiley: Alright
Jeffrey Boedges: Good to know.
Geraldine Hessler: I think that mentality definitely brings itself into every aspect and definitely into Rebelle.
Jeffrey Boedges: Geraldine, you’re on my team when it comes time for the annual Soho tennis tournament to say.
Geraldine Hessler: Okay.
Rick Kiley: Man, so, alright. Cool. Jeff’s always trying to stack the deck in his favor. So, one thing, I mean, we mentioned it in the upfront, you are a women-owned company which we think is spectacular. We know that this industry is still skewing a little bit male-dominated. I’m going to segue into questions about being parents and with kids. But I just first want to start with like, were there any challenges you felt in starting your company that were specific to being women in the industry?” And I’m just curious about that or not. Maybe I would assume yes but I don’t want to assume.
Charlotte Hanna: I’ll take the fundraising part because that was hard. I think 3% or 7%, something under 10% amount of venture capital goes to women-owned businesses.
Jeffrey Boedges: In general or in cannabis?
Charlotte Hanna: In general. Yeah.
Rick Kiley: What the f*ck, people? Sorry.
Jeffrey Boedges: And your money is much better spent with women, dude.
Rick Kiley: So, wait, you said 3 to 7?
Charlotte Hanna: Yeah. Oh, yeah.
Rick Kiley: I am ashamed of not knowing that fact off the top of my head. All right. Go on.
Charlotte Hanna: Yeah. So, what I was told as I was preparing to go out and raise the first round, which is the hardest round anyway because you have improvement. I have raised subsequent rounds and it’s much less difficult. But, in general, I was always trained to like under-promise, overdeliver. I spent a decade at Goldman Sachs that was like they drill that into you. And so, when you’re like doing your projections and telling prospective funding…
Jeffrey Boedges: Investors. Yeah.
Charlotte Hanna: I was like moderate, not projections. And so, that’s going to lead to your valuation. And I just wanted to have projections that I thought were realistic, and I think women tend to be that way. And then I just felt like I had to defend everything I was saying much more than probably a man. I mean, I know a man who’s throwing out great money at the same time that I was, had no experience and I saw his debt and I’m like, “I cannot believe he’s putting these numbers out here. I know that he will never achieve those,” but he was able to raise an incredible multiple. God knows how happy his investors are now because, in a way, he hit those numbers. So, I mean, I just felt that that was one thing that was harder. And then the other thing in terms of the way we were designing, everyone assumed that we were doing something it was for women because we were women. You know, as a brand really it’s intended to speak to everyone. But you want to talk about that?
Geraldine Hessler: Yeah. I mean, just like going back to the lowercase letters, I think that we developed this whole brand and had a very thought-out vision of what the brand is and what it was going to look like. And there were so many comments in the beginning that, “Oh, this is way too feminine. You’re going to alienate 50% of your customer base. You’re going to turn people off. It’s not going to be successful. Men won’t like it because it feels too feminine.” And I think that through Charlotte’s conviction, she was like, “No, this is what I want and this is what I believe in.” And I think pushing that through and kind of believing in the brand and believing that, “Okay. This is something that is good and I stand behind it,” that comes through. And cut to now, men and women equally love it. Nobody feels like it’s too feminine. They feel like it’s an amazing shopping experience in the store. They love the logo. And I think that in terms of being approachable people, they like to identify with brands they feel represent themselves and I think that a lot of people can relate about our brand.
Jeffrey Boedges: Do you feel like that some of that I would call it this baggage that where people think things are femininely branded comes from where the category came from. And when you look at cannabis, the early category was very California-centric, I’ll use a couple of just sort of generic terms but I would say surfer-ish or Grateful Dead-ish. There was this sort of more of a hippie culture around it, which isn’t always about luxury branding. Do you feel like that helped to sort of create that idea that some of these brands were feminine?
Charlotte Hanna: Yes.
Jeffrey Boedges: Does that make sense? Does that question make sense?
Charlotte Hanna: No, I get it, totally. One of the things that was important to us, too, is that because we were introducing a new idea, at least on the East Coast of what a luxury cannabis brand might look like. But the other thing that was interesting was that we hadn’t really talked about our social purpose and being able to blend together this idea of doing something, having a higher social purpose, and also having a beautiful visual identity. The hippie I always think of like there’s lots of brands out there that are doing that have a very strong sense of purpose that have leaned into like a more hippie kind of vibe which I love, identify with, that doesn’t speak to me in my life right now. And I thought like those two things can go together and support each other in a way. And I feel like we’re translating that and speaking that to our customers effectively.
Geraldine Hessler: Yeah.
Jeffrey Boedges: Yeah. I think that’s well put.
Rick Kiley: Yeah. Well, one question follow-up. Just as we worked in the alcohol beverage industry a lot and a lot of spirits categories, in particular, tend to be heavily male-dominated just in terms of who’s purchasing. So, we would often the opportunity has come up and saying like, “Hey, do we want to craft and create this program that’s aimed at women?” and the brand owners or the people who are on the brand side of the marketing team were always afraid that if they did that, it was going to piss off the male consumers. And I think they were worried because of the purchasing power being so dramatically different in that. And I’m curious, it’s just leading me to like, “Do you have a balanced split of male-female customers for your products?” And so, do you not worry about that at all?
Charlotte Hanna: Well, it’s interesting. We actually have 60% of our customers are men. And I think that like the younger generation’s sense of gender identity, that is really different than…
Jeffrey Boedges: Sure. It’s much more flexible. Yeah.
Rick Kiley: Yeah.
Charlotte Hanna: So, I think we have to just sort of rethink everything and things that the Gen Z generation, for example, would really be upsetting to me as to even talking about gender and what gender we’re trying to appeal to with the way that we brand.
Rick Kiley: Yeah.
Geraldine Hessler: And so, it’s just way more fluid now and I think that it’s more about the customer experience. I think that there’s a reason why we’re the top-rated dispensary in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. People enjoy coming to us. They enjoy the shopping experience and they also enjoy the wealth of knowledge that everybody has. Our budtenders are amazing and they can answer any single question you have.
Jeffrey Boedges: Yeah. And you have done a lot of work around the design of the experience in-store, which is something near and dear to our hearts. But you want to just give us like because I know you guys mentioned light and things like that that maybe sometimes people aren’t used to in the dispensary experience?
Charlotte Hanna: Oh, yeah. Well, I love the Danish design sensibility. I never say completely Hygge, which you design a space to create a feeling of coziness and comfort. I mean, the Danish will live in darkness half of the year but they’re the happiest people, and they attribute a lot of that to this idea of creating a cozy, warm, inviting, approachable feeling in the places they live in. And so, I wanted to use that principle in designing our retail space because, again, it’s new to people. And so, this is all part of making this an approachable, comfortable shopping experience for that to be similar.
Jeffrey Boedges: That’s cool.
Rick Kiley: That’s great. And people will want to stay rather than leave, right? If it’s cozy, I want to hang out there.
Charlotte Hanna: Exactly.
Geraldine Hessler: Yeah, absolutely. Because if dispensary experience is such a new thing on the East Coast that so many people who come in or they’ll travel quite a distance, come in and visit us, it’s their first time in a dispensary. And so, they leave feeling incredibly happy and they’ll come in and say, “Look, I’ve never done this before,” and we are demystifying the process, taking away the stigma. It’s about lifestyle and it’s about bringing people happiness.
Charlotte Hanna: You know, it’s funny that you say that. I’ll never forget bringing my parents to the store for the first time after it opened and my dad going…
Jeffrey Boedges: You’re grounded. I’m just projecting again. I’m projecting. Sorry. Go ahead.
Charlotte Hanna: There’s that thing, so yeah, how the world works. It’s funny. But I remember him going, “God, I can see why you love this business like everyone’s so happy. Customers are always so happy leaving or coming into the store because they get to do something that they’ve been doing secretly for so long.”
Rick Kiley: Yeah. And I think in the Northeast, the experience in the dispensary for most people is medical and it’s not warm and cozy. It’s kind of transactional and I think what you’re describing sounds great. And I hope we can come up and visit sometime in the not too distant future.
Jeffrey Boedges: Yeah. And can we send Putin some weed, just get that done for like this weekend?
Rick Kiley: Wow.
Jeffrey Boedges: That’s my whole new thing. Send Putin…
Rick Kiley: It might work. It might work. All right. Well, let’s…
Jeffrey Boedges: Yeah, we’ve got to get into the fun stuff.
Rick Kiley: No, no, no. And so, I know that you want to talk about this. Let’s shift because I know you’re very mission-based and let’s talk about Community Growth Partners, what the mission is of Community Growth Partners and how that ties in with Rebelle so we can get to some of that great, great, great work that you’re doing.
Charlotte Hanna: Right. Yeah. So, one of the things that brought me to the industry was also in my twenties, let me just go back in time just a little bit. I did a lot of work on social justice issues. That was my career actually. I worked on, I mean, I did home outreach to homeless people on the street. You know, that’s what I built. I built a daycare center for homeless children, the first head start for homeless children in the country actually. And I started farms in San Francisco training women to farm. And so, I did a lot of work on hunger relief and homelessness. And then I went to work on Wall Street. And so, I sort of trying to figure out like how do I make sense of all these disparate career experiences that I had and try to build what I call like a just and equitable form of capitalism so capitalism can be used as a system that can create good? Despite what you do business as opposed to having like a separate corporate responsibility side hustle, let’s do, let’s really try to solve. And I thought that the cannabis industry was the perfect industry to try to do this because it’s newly legal and so much harm has been done with the war on drugs with people of color and communities of color.
So, I wanted to make sure that we were recruiting and hiring people that were from communities disproportionately impacted by the war on drugs and then also work with people coming out of jail and give them an opportunity to come work for us and have a job and a career. And then also, we have a very big stock incentive plan so every single person including part-time people can earn equity in our company. So, the hope is that and this hasn’t happened yet because I’ll tell you the people, that the hardest group to retain on a long-term basis is the young people coming out of jail. That has been really hard. And it’s a long – I’m trying to bring one particular person back who had a recidivism problem. And so, that’s the goal is to help lift people up with us. And just by the way we do business by adding certain talent pipelines that I like to say that we go to recruit and just giving that opportunity to earn equity and hopefully wealth and build capital in communities that really don’t have a lot of access to it.
Rick Kiley: That’s great. That’s spectacular work. I actually haven’t spoken to anybody that I don’t think we have, Jeff, correct me if I’m wrong, anyway, who’s been hiring folks who have been released from prison.
Jeffrey Boedges: No. We’ve talked to The Last Prisoner Project and we’ve talked to a lot of people who are committed to basically reverse some of the damage that’s been done by just saying, “In three strikes, you’re out.” But I think you guys are the first group we’ve spoken to that actually has a business plan that’s sort of built around that. I mean, I do think other companies are out there doing similar types of things. I mean, you make me think of Warby Parker, Obama Socks, and things like that, it’s, “Look straight up, that’s what we do. You buy glasses, we give a pair. You buy socks, we give two pairs.” And I think that, obviously, you guys aren’t giving joints to people but I’d like the idea of giving back to the community.
Rick Kiley: It’s a possibility. We could do that, right?
Jeffrey Boedges: Every joint you buy, we give one to someone who can’t afford it.
Rick Kiley: I did see there was a guy in, so we’re in New York City but in Union Square last April 20th, last 4-20, he was just hand-rolling joints for people and handing them out. And I was just like…
Charlotte Hanna: Wow.
Geraldine Hessler: I went to Times Square and handed out free joints.
Rick Kiley: There you go.
Geraldine Hessler: About 50 to 60 or so.
Charlotte Hanna: Yeah.
Jeffrey Boedges: That’s great. We should combine that with the free poetry.
Geraldine Hessler: Literally, the Canterbury in the middle of Times Square at 4-20 and it was quite amazing because, obviously, it’s legal in New York and you can’t sell it without a license but…
Jeffrey Boedges: One of us is dressing like the canna fairy.
Rick Kiley: Yeah. How many of the people you gave them out to that were dressed up as Elmo or Cookie Monster, though? That’s my question.
Geraldine Hessler: Zero. We basically ran out there.
Rick Kiley: Good. I don’t want to…
Jeffrey Boedges: We can’t attract kids. I mean, that’s like dressing up like Joe Camel and going around and handing out cigarettes.
Rick Kiley: Yeah. I do want to ask about the kids. Sorry. I totally forgot. You both have kids. Yes?
Charlotte Hanna: Correct.
Geraldine Hessler: Yes.
Rick Kiley: So, I’m curious. Like, what do the kids think of what mom is doing for a living? And how do you talk to them about it?
Charlotte Hanna: Well, I will say that I struggled with this in the beginning, and so much so, mom as far as my kids were concerned, mom was doing a top-secret project that required her to travel a lot. I mean, I was a stay-at-home mom for a number of years before I went back to work. They were used to me being around all the time. So, they kept saying, “Mom, what are you doing? Why are you going to Massachusetts all the time?” And I said, “When it’s real, I will tell you.” And so, finally, because so I thought, “You know what, if I can explain this business to my teenage boys and my Greek mother-in-law from Astoria and they get it, then I can like talk to anybody about it.” And so, I come down. I told them what I was doing and they said, “But, mom, they told us in school that we shouldn’t be doing this.” And I said, “Well, I agree. You know, young people should not be doing this. But if you’re 21 and you choose to smoke a joint as opposed to have a beer, that’s totally okay with me because I do.” That sort of opened up the whole conversation about me being transparent with them about consuming, and I do. Mom and dad do. I don’t consume in front of them. I’m not there yet but they know that I do, and in-house.
And so, the other thing is I have a son who’s 17 and he’s out and about in New York City all the time. My son is a skater. He’s in that whole skateboard crowd so there’s a lot of marijuana in that crowd. I remember when he was younger and I would take him to Chelsea Piers and I’d be sitting there keeping an eye on him and his friends. And this is before marijuana was legal. It just reeked. And I’m like, “James, there’s marijuana here.” He’s like, “I know, mom. We don’t do it.” And I just said, “Okay.” But recently I said to him, I said, “Look, James, you’re getting to be the age where it’s going to be around. Probably your friends are going to be smoking or drinking, and I don’t want you to get anything off the street. That’s scary to me. Someday, I want you to go to the legal industry when you’re allowed to buy it and you’re old enough to buy it, buy it in a dispensary. Don’t buy it on the street because everything is tested. There’s no product, I don’t think there can possibly be a product besides something that’s FDA-approved that you get in the pharmacy that is more tested and regulated than this industry. So, you can be assured that you’re buying it in a dispensary when you’re old enough is safe. Don’t ever buy it on the street.”
That’s the thing that scares me the most because it’s not like it’s any more accessible today to young people than it was 20 years ago. It’s always right out there on the street. But I’m much more comfortable with a safe, tested product that is coming from a legal dispensary.
Jeffrey Boedges: Do you see a time when what’s being taught in schools, primary, secondary schools is going to be more closely related to how they handle alcohol? Because like for me, like my kids hear me on this podcast and they’re asking the same questions and I just say, “Well, when you’re old enough, you’re good.” But I don’t feel like they’ve been taught much about it because they don’t seem to have any stigma about it. They seem to have kind of a clean slate, and because they have a clean slate, they’re less likely to be like, “Oh my gosh, what are you doing?” So, I guess I wonder how much that’s going to, long-term, what that impact is going to look like at the primary and secondary education level.
Charlotte Hanna: Well, I do know that it is changing now in New York because it’s legal. And so, they have a health class at school and my older son did tell me that they are changing the way that they’re talking about marijuana in school now.
Rick Kiley: That’s great. That’s great. That’s the first I’ve heard that.
Geraldine Hessler: Villainized. Yeah. And I also have two sons, 18 and 15, and I think that’s also part of this journey is breaking the stigmas of it for them and as mothers and parents when the time is right. But it’s all about having that open conversation and that trust between parent and child to be able to talk about it, you know?
Rick Kiley: Yeah. I feel like the conversations are happening but, like you mentioned, I think the freedom, the way you would pour yourself a glass of wine with dinner and sort of consume openly in front of your kids like it doesn’t – it’s hard for me. And I know that I’m not alone, obviously. I think it’s hard for everyone. I think like that seems to be the place where we need to get to for it to feel like really easy and normal and accepted across the board when you don’t feel like you have to do something on the DL for anybody.
Jeffrey Boedges: Isn’t it ironic, though, like 20 years ago we were looking over our shoulder for mom and dad and now we’re looking over our shoulder for our kids, you know?
Rick Kiley: Well, that’s why those edible products help with the discreet nature for some of us.
Charlotte Hanna: Actually, the beverages are the best thing because I do drink cannabis beverages in front of my kids.
Geraldine Hessler: So do I.
Rick Kiley: Oh, interesting. Do you have beverages in your line, in your product line?
Charlotte Hanna: We are going to launch – not a beverage. I’ll say the first thing that we have our own product line that we’re launching is… something.
Jeffrey Boedges: That’s something top secret.
Charlotte Hanna: Something beverage-like we’re launching in May.
Rick Kiley: Okay. So, they don’t want to tell us. So, we’ll just guess.
Charlotte Hanna: Well, it’s a discrete fast-acting. The beverages are water-soluble. So, the nanotechnology effects within five minutes so we’re launching something in that category that’s fast-acting and discreet. Everything that we’re developing, of course, we’re going to have flower because we have to have flower.
Rick Kiley: It’s popular.
Charlotte Hanna: But a lot of the other manufacturing products that we’re going to be launching and introducing are really all about discrete, I think, consumption methods that are socially acceptable. They’re for the consumer. I think that’s for the future.
Rick Kiley: Got it.
Geraldine Hessler: And the things that we love too.
Charlotte Hanna: Yeah. I mean, I love this new product. It’s amazing.
Geraldine Hessler: It’s amazing.
Rick Kiley: I’m just imagining it and it’s spectacular. That dinosaur-shaped thing that you peel the head off and you pour it into your grape soda. I mean, it’s magic.
Jeffrey Boedges: You keep coming up with these kid-friendly products.
Rick Kiley: I don’t know.
Jeffrey Boedges: Dinosaurs and grapes.
Rick Kiley: Look, the first thing – I’m in my daughter’s room. I literally looked.
Jeffrey Boedges: That’s what it is.
Rick Kiley: I mean, I just like, I go. This is now the improv work. You work with what’s around you. I could have said rainbow rock. Cool. So, wait, let’s then…
Jeffrey Boedges: Yeah. We should get back to that.
Rick Kiley: So, I saw it through Community Growth Partners you have a program called CGP Cares. So, this is very cool. So, not just the good work that you’re doing with the individuals who have been hurt by the war on drugs but at least I think it was just this past month you’ve been raising money for Leukemia and the Lymphoma Society, and you’re planning to do a partnership each month. Can you talk to us about how that idea came about and who’s choosing? How do you decide who’s directed the support and what have you?
Charlotte Hanna: Yeah. I mean, it’s similar to what a lot of like when you go to check out CVS or Petco, they say, “Hey, you want to round up for _____ charity?” So, we’re doing the same thing with our customers and it’s employee-driven charities that we all care about. And so, I think the first campaign that we did was in September. And for our next-door neighbor volunteerism that is set in the Berkshires, the great nonprofit that provides free health care to anybody. No questions asked and no documentation needed. It’s amazing, all volunteer-run by volunteer doctors. So, customers were really engaged and I think we have thousands of customers donate in a month period. So, we thought, “Oh, well, that’s successful. Let’s launch this formal program and then we’ll match, the company will match the customer’s donation.”
Rick Kiley: That’s great.
Jeffrey Boedges: That’s cool.
Rick Kiley: That’s really good work.
Jeffrey Boedges: And can you tell me about ROCA? I see that mentioned on your website, and I’m not really 100% sure what it means.
Charlotte Hanna: ROCA is that nonprofit that works with young people coming out of jail.
Rick Kiley: Oh, okay.
Charlotte Hanna: It’s incredible. It’s a behavior change model. They work with these young people for years and, actually, before they come and work for us, they go through this internship program working for ROCA and we actually hired ROCA to do construction for us, both at our grow operation and in our retail store. So, it’s sort of on-the-job training where they’re learning basic professionalism, basic workplace skills. And once they graduate from that program, then they come and work for us in an internship.
Jeffrey Boedges: I love that. That’s great.
Rick Kiley: All right. Awesome. And this note that I have here, is this true? Is your dispensary currently the closest to New York City that’s a recreational dispensary?
Geraldine Hessler: That is 100% accurate.
Rick Kiley: All right. We’re in New York, all of our New York-based folks, road trip.
Jeffrey Boedges: Road trip. We’ve been hanging out too long. Yeah.
Rick Kiley: We said it at the same exact time. So, I mean, do you market actively to New Yorkers to come up? Is that something that you do?
Jeffrey Boedges: And how do you do it? Because I think it’s probably totally on the up and up.
Rick Kiley: It’s not street legal. Do you have a guy that they send a beeper, they beep, and then you get an ad and invitation with like GPS instructions?
Geraldine Hessler: Exactly.
Jeffrey Boedges: I’ve been wanting to build the largest inflatable joint ever and just have it float down the Hudson.
Geraldine Hessler: Oh, that sounds good. I love that.
Jeffrey Boedges: We have usually one or two marketable ideas per thing. That’s my today’s one.
Rick Kiley: All right. Very cool. Awesome. So, I think it’s exciting. So, exactly then if I’m at Grand Central Station, how long does it take me to get to your dispensary? I really want to just clarify this for everyone.
Geraldine Hessler: Two-and-a-half hours.
Charlotte Hanna: Well, from Grand Central?
Geraldine Hessler: From Grand Central.
Charlotte Hanna: Yeah, probably two hours.
Rick Kiley: Can I get there by train?
Charlotte Hanna: You have to go to Wassaic. And then Metro-North, yeah, you got to go to Metro-North and it’s not so accessible.
Geraldine Hessler: Yeah. Compared to Wassaic.
Rick Kiley: Yeah. I’m just trying to let people not have to drive the two hours back home.
Jeffrey Boedges: And you run shuttles from the closest station, I think, is Rick’s question.
Rick Kiley: Yeah. That’s a good marketing program, too.
Geraldine Hessler: Yeah. That’s actually something we were looking into to make it more accessible
Jeffrey Boedges: Could we design a vehicle for you because I would love to design that vehicle.
Geraldine Hessler: I know people love making the trip up. It’s a beautiful drive. People come up for the weekend, come visit us multiple times, and some people just come up for the day. It’s a beautiful day trip, have lunch, and then shop with us and then they’re at home for dinner.
Rick Kiley: Yeah. All right. Cool. I like it. One of the things – go ahead, Jeff.
Jeffrey Boedges: No, I was just going to say, I keep waiting for somebody to do. In the Northeast, we like to go pick our own apples. I want to go pick my own weed.
Rick Kiley: Dude, that’s our idea. Don’t give that away.
Jeffrey Boedges: Oh, sorry. All right.
Geraldine Hessler: Mike wouldn’t like anybody going in his program.
Jeffrey Boedges: But in the fall, all leaf peepers, that’s got to be something to take advantage of.
Charlotte Hanna: Probably an alcohol farm might be easier but, yes, security, we have to deal with that.
Rick Kiley: It has to be very like escorted situation. You know, I think it can be done. I just like, get your blueberries, get your weed. All right. So, one little piece of business. Timeline on opening a location in New York City. I’m curious about that. Because I actually don’t even fully understand the timing of New York City’s permitting process right now. All I know is I’m supposed to be able to grow six plants today in my backyard as a medical card person, which is exciting but I’m just curious as to what your timing is on the expansion plans.
Charlotte Hanna: Well, I would say it seems there’s a lot of momentum since Hochul took over and I do believe that provisional licenses for hemp growers will be available here in the next few weeks. So, I think the state is most concerned about making sure that there’s adequate supply in the market. And so, they’re really focused on cultivation first. I think that sometime in 2023, it’s very likely that we’ll be open in Manhattan.
Rick Kiley: That’s super exciting and awesome.
Jeffrey Boedges: If you could have it downtown, I’m just going to throw out some neighborhoods like Soho that you might want to put in.
Rick Kiley: It’s a good neighborhood. People like it. Tribeca.
Charlotte Hanna: Which one? Where is it? Tribeca?
Geraldine Hessler: Yes.
Rick Kiley: Tribeca, Soho.
Jeffrey Boedges: Tribeca and Soho, where it’s all good.
Rick Kiley: Something nearby.
Charlotte Hanna: I don’t know. We might get in the works. Yeah. We are working on something.
Rick Kiley: All right. Well, if you need any local intelligence, you let us know.
Jeffrey Boedges: So, we have some friends we can introduce you to. Sorry. I’m making fun of myself. All right. Keep going.
Rick Kiley: No. So, actually, we’re coming to the end of our time. There’s one thing I want to ask about because we’re talking about a lot with our guests this year is the future of on-premise consumption. So, I’m curious is if Massachusetts law allows you to create a consumption lounge either adjacent to or as part of your license process and if that’s ever something that you’ve thought about. And if you haven’t, what would your brainstorming be for like the perfect environment? It sounds like you’re already cultivating it in your retailer, so it seems like a natural evolution.
Geraldine Hessler: Yeah. I mean, they haven’t licensed or even written the regs around social consumption yet in Massachusetts. So, there aren’t many states that have really figured it out so I’m really excited about New York and the kind of innovation that we could potentially have around nightlife and social consumption and dining. If I were to look into the future and I’m going way far out into the future because government regulators need to catch up because I just think it’s going to take time. But wouldn’t it be great if you go to a restaurant and have the wine menu and the weed menu and then be able to pick and have those things? It’s not going to be – they’re not going to let us co-locate alcohol and cannabis but certainly it’s always been co-located in my life, in my house.
Rick Kiley: This is what I’m saying.
Charlotte Hanna: Yeah.
Rick Kiley: No. But I think the advent of the cannabis menu with some food offerings sounds great to me. I’d like to see that happen. Well, so then, Jeff, we can reframe our last question. What do you think is going to come first? We always close with the same interview question about when our guests think that cannabis will be federally legal. But I’m just going to say, what do you think is going to come first? Federal legalization of cannabis or widespread on-premise consumption license in Massachusetts?
Charlotte Hanna: Or flying cars?
Rick Kiley: Yeah. Or flying cars.
Charlotte Hanna: Yeah. Flying cars. No, I think Massachusetts consumption lounges, I think the federal government is having a hard time getting anything done, unfortunately. So, I think and certainly not in the Biden administration. I don’t see it happening. He doesn’t seem very gung ho. And there’s too, I mean, we can’t even get banking passed. People just get their politics too wrapped up in any kind of progress. And so, I wish that Schumer and Booker and others would get behind it at least just saying, “You know what, we don’t have to put our name all over legalization. Let’s just pass say banking and do it in phases.” They can’t even get that done. I’m frustrated. You’re catching me on a frustrated day. The federal government, in terms of public opinion, tends to lag behind by a decade almost. So, hopefully, over the next five years but I see social consumption in Massachusetts happening before that.
Rick Kiley: All right.
Jeffrey Boedges: Stuff on the state level is just easier.
Charlotte Hanna: Yeah.
Rick Kiley: Well, even if the federal government just said, “Cool, just leave it up to the states. Do what you want to do,” they won’t even do that.
Jeffrey Boedges: Yeah. They just need to take it off Schedule 1, for sure. That makes safe thinking. Agreed.
Rick Kiley: Cool. Well, that’s awesome. Listen, we’re at the end of our time. Charlotte and Geraldine, it’s been spectacular talking to you. I’m really happy you joined us today and I hope we can come up and see you soon. I think, Jeff, it’s just two hours, right?
Jeffrey Boedges: That one’s easy.
Rick Kiley: Let’s get that shuttle program going and we’ll be there.
Geraldine Hessler: Absolutely. Yeah. You must come and see us. It’s a must.
Rick Kiley: Awesome.
Jeffrey Boedges: We can go to the New York office. Hell, we can be there on Tuesday. In fact, you guys might not want to tell us where it is.
Rick Kiley: We’ll see you guys in 10 minutes. Alright, cool. Well, thank you so much for joining us today. Thanks so much. Talk to you soon.
Charlotte Hanna: Alright. Thank you.
Geraldine Hessler: Thanks so much.