In America, a criminal record can make it much harder not just to get a job, but to launch a business. Social equity programs are working to change this, and have helped former felons and victims of Reagan-era drug policy to start innovative companies – sometimes in formerly criminalized industries.
Chris Ball is the founder of Ball Family Farms – a family-owned and operated business, and the first vertically integrated social equity brand in Los Angeles. They focus on unique form meticulous pheno-hunted genetics and offer a wide array of potent flower strains. He used a social equity program to build his cannabis business after being indicted, and is now using his company and his platform to advocate for change across the industry.
Today, Chris joins the podcast to share the story of his journey into the cannabis industry and the many hurdles he faced along the way. We talk about the value that traditional cannabis guys can bring to the adult-use market, the innovative technology Chris is using to create fascinating new cannabis products, and how brands can both court connoisseurs and advocate for change.
- How social equity programs allow people who were disenfranchised by the war on drugs to launch businesses.
- What does – and doesn’t – work when it comes to new product launches, and why Chris aims to make every Ball Family Farms release an event.
- What Chris is doing to get the attention of the important gatekeepers in the cannabis industry.
- How brands can cultivate authentic relationships with minority audiences – and why so many brands come across as phony when they try to do this.
- Why Chris thinks we’re 24 months away from federal legalization.
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Rick Kiley: Hello, everyone. Welcome back to The Green Repeal. I am, of course, one of your co-hosts, Rick Kiley. I am joined in 2021. Happy New Year, Jeffrey Boedges.
Jeffrey Boedges: Indeed. Happy New Year. On to bigger and better things, let’s hope.
Rick Kiley: Yeah, indeed. Indeed. We’re very excited to kick off this year. We’re going to be speaking to Chris Ball today, founder of Ball Family Farms, which is a family-owned and operated business and the first vertically integrated social equity brand in Los Angeles. That is awesome. Their brand focuses on unique cultivars from their meticulously pheno-hunted genetics, which offers an array of potent flower strains. We are going to talk about what that sentence means because that is sounding amazing.
Jeffrey Boedges: This is a vocabulary episode.
Rick Kiley: Yeah.
Jeffrey Boedges: There will be a test at the end so, please, make sure you’re taking notes.
Rick Kiley: Yeah. Chris is also the first entrepreneur I’ve seen who’s smart enough to build a brand that leverages the quality of the cult classic film, The Last Dragon. Who’s the master? A movie I probably watched at least a dozen times when I was younger. Chris, thank you so much for joining us today on The Green Repeal.
Chris Ball: Thanks, Rick. Thanks for having me, guys. What a great introduction. I mean, you guys make me sound a lot cooler than I am so thank you for that.
Jeffrey Boedges: We’ve made a life out of trying to make ourselves cooler so it’s easier for us to actually help people who have a modicum of cool.
Rick Kiley: Right. Absolutely.
Chris Ball: That was awesome.
Rick Kiley: Well, you bring a lot to the table, man, so it’s easy-peasy for us. We’ve given you a little intro here. We’re going to talk about a bunch of stuff but I think we should just start off by you filling us in on the path that led you to become part of the cannabis world and launch your company.
Chris Ball: Sure. So, I got introduced to cannabis when I was about 10 years old and how I recognized it was the funny-smelling cigarettes my dad used to roll up and smoke after dinner. So, we would eat and dad would go to the couch, pull his tray out from underneath the couch. He’d roll up that funny-smelling cigarette. My mom would sit down with her glass of wine and that’s how we enjoy time as a family. So, that’s when I first got wind of it and then I kept noticing dad’s funny-smelling cigarettes at Thanksgiving, at Christmas, at family barbecues. Grandma was smoking it, aunt was smoking it, cousins were smoking it. So, to me, it just was a culture thing. It was something that my family did. Growing up in the Reagan era, I grew up on the Just Say No campaign so, as a kid, you can only imagine how confusing that could have been when you go to school and you hear, “Just say no. Just say no,” but then all the people you love and admire and look up to are just saying yes.
Rick Kiley: When did you realize that funny-smelling cigarette was cannabis?
Chris Ball: Wasn’t a cigarette?
Rick Kiley: Yeah.
Chris Ball: Well, my mom actually smoked cigarettes. So, sometimes I’d be in the car with mom and she lights up her cigarette and it smelled completely different. So, dad’s cigarettes smelled funny. Mom’s didn’t smell funny. Dad smelled funny.
Rick Kiley: Notice how mom gets the normal one.
Chris Ball: Oh, yes.
Rick Kiley: And it’s dad who’s weird.
Chris Ball: Yeah. The irony of that. Right. So, fast forward to I turned 16 and my Cousin Earl was our neighborhood weed guy. He was the neighborhood weed pusher. So, my Cousin Earl, even though he was younger than me, I kind of admired him because he always had fresh shoes. He always had the new Jordans. He had him a little chain and his t-shirts were always white. I knew how he was getting it so I asked Cousin Earl, “Hey, man. Hook me up with an ounce of weed. I’m going to try to do this for myself.” Needless to say, I was terrible. I was an athlete growing up and going through high school. I wasn’t a hustler at that point. My hustler acumen hadn’t set in yet. So, I think I probably sold about half of that ounce and gave the other half away just to my friends so it didn’t really make anything of it then.
Jeffrey Boedges: We’ve all been there.
Chris Ball: Yeah.
Jeffrey Boedges: That’s the one you don’t want to actually sell on consignment though.
Chris Ball: Right.
Jeffrey Boedges: You’re like, “I owe you how much?”
Chris Ball: Yeah. My buddies never came back with that money. So, then, after I graduated from high school after Cousin Earl gave me that first one, I just kind of set it down. I was like, “I’m not really interested in this. I couldn’t buy any shoes. This didn’t work for me.” So, once I graduated, I left home and I was going to junior college and my parents couldn’t afford to send me to college growing up in the inner city. So, I called Cousin Earl back and I said, “Hey, man. I might need to try this again.” Now this time, I graduated from school. I wasn’t in 9th grade, 10th grade anymore. I had a little bit more business savvy to me and I understood that if I couldn’t find a way to put myself through junior college and continue to play football, I wasn’t going to go anywhere. I had aspirations of being a pro football player at the time. So, Cousin Earl hooked me up again, gave me another ounce, and this time, I made good with it. I was on a junior college campus where everybody seemed like all my fellow students and athletes smoked. So, I just became the guy with the weed so I sold that weed out of my backpack to put gas in my little car. I had a 1967 Volkswagen bug. I would put gas in my car. I was able to pay for my books, pay for my tuition, and that’s how I put myself through junior college until I got my scholarship to go to Berkeley on a full athletic football scholarship.
Jeffrey Boedges: One, congrats on that. That’s awesome. Did you play with Aaron Rodgers?
Chris Ball: Aaron came. So, I graduated in 2001 and Aaron came in 2002. So, we knew each other. We worked out in the offseason together but I didn’t actually get to play with Aaron.
Jeffrey Boedges: All right. So, here’s the question, man. Come on. Did you sell Aaron any weed?
Chris Ball: No. Absolutely not.
Jeffrey Boedges: Can we get this up before Super Bowl?
Chris Ball: No, not weed. Once I got to college, I put it down. I thought that once I got my scholarship, I didn’t need it anymore. I was on a full athletic scholarship.
Jeffrey Boedges: Yeah. You don’t want to mess with that either.
Chris Ball: No, I wasn’t going to toy around.
Rick Kiley: So, you were mostly on the business side. You weren’t consuming a ton yourself?
Chris Ball: No. I tried it that one time when I was in high school and funny enough, man, I tried it at lunchtime with some buddies of mine and got so wigged out that they had to call my mom to come get me from school because I thought I was dying.
Jeffrey Boedges: We’ve been there.
Rick Kiley: We’ve been there.
Jeffrey Boedges: Yeah. We’ve been there.
Rick Kiley: That happens. That’s like a rite of passage.
Jeffrey Boedges: Yeah. Rite of passage or just something that happened maybe a couple of years ago in a concert.
Chris Ball: Yeah. Either one. It’s happened since. Believe me, I’ve tried to smoke my sh*t and it’s happened again so it’s just not for me.
Jeffrey Boedges: Also, I think I want to point out at this moment, too, that it’s a proven fact that 90% of people who sold weed, drove Volkswagen bugs and usually ‘67.
Chris Ball: Yo, I love that. Add me to the list.
Rick Kiley: Sweet. So, one thing, because I was going to ask about this later but you brought it up now. I think we’re all, I mean, of the age where we’re a product of like the just say no generation and I’m curious about how you reconcile the differences. You said you’re getting those mixed messages. Was it being in the household where it was normalized? Was that much more powerful than what you were hearing from other places? Did you sort of like naturally kind of just get to start asking the question? Is this really as bad as I’m being told it is?
Chris Ball: Absolutely.
Rick Kiley: How did that switch go off for you?
Chris Ball: Yeah, absolutely. It 100% had to do with it being the norm because I looked up to my dad as a kid, obviously. My dad was one of my heroes and we had our own family business, and I would see when you’re learning that stuff, as a kid, it’s a gateway drug. They had the real popular commercial, “This is your brain. This is your brain on drugs.” You see all these commercials and you see people smoking weed, and they’re jumping off of cliffs, and they’re turning into heroin addicts, and all this stuff. And then you go home and I would see my dad get up every single morning and go to work at 7 AM and be at home every single afternoon at 5. Anything I ever needed, I got whether it was cleats for football, new clothes for school. He brought his check home to my mother every single Friday. He was a functioning guy. So, it just didn’t make sense to me. Of course, obviously, I’m going to lean towards more what I’m learning from my father and my family than what society is telling me on the outside.
Rick Kiley: Yeah. That makes sense.
Chris Ball: That was the first time I, actually at a young age, started questioning the messaging, the authority of our government and country.
Rick Kiley: Sure.
Jeffrey Boedges: Probably not the last time.
Chris Ball: No, absolutely not.
Rick Kiley: I hope not. We got to do it every day, right?
Chris Ball: Yeah. It’s going on daily now. So, I’m constantly changing the news. I don’t even watch the news in my home.
Jeffrey Boedges: It’s hard. Yeah.
Rick Kiley: Cool. One thing I want to talk about, I’m going to switch gears very quickly here. I think because you’re the first person who we can talk about this with. You have what’s referred to as this social equity license. Could you explain to the people who listen to this what is the social equity license? And how are you able to qualify to secure one?
Chris Ball: Absolutely. So, the social equity program was set up to kind of help rehabilitate people who have been disenfranchised by the war on drugs. Now, what that means in layman’s terms is it’s kind of like affirmative action. If you grew up in an area that was disenfranchised or had a really bad drug problem and they did it by zip codes, you grew up in that area, if somebody in your family, a mother, father, or a caretaker was arrested or convicted of a drug felony or anything like that, or if you yourself were convicted, then the City of Los Angeles and the State of California want to give you an opportunity to participate in a now-legal business. That felony does not withhold you from getting a license but it actually is what you need to qualify for one of these 100 social equity licenses that the city was giving out.
Jeffrey Boedges: It’s like becoming an Australian.
Chris Ball: Yeah.
Jeffrey Boedges: You have to have a criminal record.
Chris Ball: Yes.
Jeffrey Boedges: Sorry, Chris. I’m here for comic relief, man.
Chris Ball: Yeah. No, it’s all good. Well, I love it. So, that’s what the program was about. I think at the time, the City of LA had said that they were going to give out 300 licenses, and the first 100 that they were going to give out were to social equity applicants, meaning we want to take care of these people first, and give them an opportunity since they’ve been incarcerated or disenfranchised by it.
Rick Kiley: Well, one, that’s great and it’s great for LA and great for California to do that. Two, that’s great that you were able to get it. I’m glad that people are taking notice and making the changes required to help out those that were, as you said, disenfranchised because of the war on drugs. I think that’s spectacular.
Jeffrey Boedges: Can I ask kind of a corollary question to it, though? We had another guest, an earlier guest one-time saying that there was some social stigma in the minority communities for them to start cannabis-related businesses because for so long they’ve been trying to get out to basically purge those neighborhoods of these what they would call social ills or whatever. Did you get any blowback from family or friends about going into the business?
Chris Ball: No, not at all. I mean, like I said, it was a norm in my family and in my household. So, for me when I got the license, it was party time. It was a celebration. I had been doing it and family members of mine had been partaking in this business in the traditional or black market for so long, that when I told my family I could now legally do it, they were like, “Unbelievable.” It was party time. It was a celebration.
Rick Kiley: It probably was a good party.
Chris Ball: It was a great party.
Jeffrey Boedges: We should have done this call a while ago.
Chris Ball: It was a great party.
Rick Kiley: So, we’re going to keep going down this track, though. So, there was an interview of yours that I read in Forbes where you said it wasn’t easy to make the transition from the traditional market to the formal market. Now, clarify it for me. I’m assuming traditional is the same as legacy because that’s the term I heard a lot, which means the illicit market, right? And the formal market is our legal adult-use market, yes?
Chris Ball: Correct.
Rick Kiley: Okay, cool. So, can you just talk a little bit about why was that transition challenging for you?
Chris Ball: Yeah. So, for one, I think that the process was really, you know, and we kind of touched on this a little bit but I’ll just go a little bit deeper as far as the social equity program is concerned. That social equity program, although it is here and it passed and it’s giving people an opportunity, the system is broken. So, I make this parallel all the time. Had Berkeley allowed me, just allowed me admittance to the school but didn’t provide me with a scholarship check, didn’t provide me with housing, didn’t provide me with tutors, didn’t provide me with priority registration, I would have flunked out of school. Because although you allowed me to come to the school, you didn’t give me the resources to succeed at school. So, the social equity program was kind of set up the same way. They allow you to get the license, but there’s no governmental aid. There’s no mentorship program. There are no tutors. There are no consultants. There are none of these things for these applicants. So, if you’re social equity, that means you’re low income. That’s one of the qualifications. That means you probably have some sort of drug felony or somebody in your family does so there’s probably not a higher learning of education in the household. So, how are you supposed to navigate through this rigorous licensing program?
That licensing program to get the license, the terminology and the verbiage in that paperwork, I have a college degree from one of the most prestigious schools in the world and I couldn’t get through that verbiage. I had to literally bring someone in on my team that worked for the city that could help me navigate through what that license and what that paperwork was talking about. So, the reason why I say it was so difficult to make the transition was because in the black market or the illicit market, I could throw up my grows and I could call an electrician that I knew from down the street, I could call a plumber, I could call a general contractor who’s not licensed, but knows how to build and put my grow up and get my lights in and start making money. Well, when you do it legally, you got to go through MEP, I got to go get my MEP, I got to talk to an architect, I got to talk to an ADA compliant officer. I got to talk to OSHA, the environmental people, I have to know how to go down to the city and apply for and get my drawings and my plans approved, all that stuff. If I wasn’t smart enough to bring somebody in and give them a piece of my company for them to help me, I would have never gotten through it. I wouldn’t be sitting here talking to you guys today.
Jeffrey Boedges: What about the financial side? Because the financial out-of-pocket to start up is massive.
Chris Ball: Yeah. So, for me, fortunately for me, because I was such a big, traditional market guy, I had money put up. I wasn’t one of those guys who just spent all this money. I had what they call shoebox money. So, to go down to the city and pay them $36,000 for my licensing fees…
Jeffrey Boedges: Wait. The social equity license is $36,000?
Chris Ball: $36,000. It’s $11,000 per license.
Jeffrey Boedges: Sorry. You’re right. Your system is a little broken.
Chris Ball: Yeah. And there’s no financial aid. There’s no aid. You need to come up with this money and take it down to the city.
Rick Kiley: Right. Wow.
Chris Ball: So, for me, I had that money but what other social equity applicant has that? You wouldn’t be social equity if you had that.
Rick Kiley: Right. You don’t think that there are other folks that have a similar track as yourself that might have that shoebox money?
Chris Ball: Oh, 100%. There’s a thousand more Chris Balls out there.
Rick Kiley: Well, so then that leads me to my question. Are all the social equity licenses used like you mentioned, there were 300 and like 100 got out.
Chris Ball: Yeah, they’re gone.
Rick Kiley: They’re gone. So, the reason these other folks can’t make the transition is because there aren’t any more licenses?
Chris Ball: Yeah. The city isn’t offering anymore.
Jeffrey Boedges: What happens if those guys failed? So, one guy gets a license and he wasn’t able to navigate the process or didn’t know.
Chris Ball: Yeah. I think that license then either becomes for sale or that spot becomes available to another social equity applicant.
Jeffrey Boedges: Okay. Good.
Rick Kiley: Hopefully, that guy will sell it for like $37,000.
Chris Ball: Yeah, hopefully, but the numbers have been in the millions thus far.
Rick Kiley: Whoa.
Chris Ball: Yeah. The numbers have been in the millions right now. It’s crazy.
Rick Kiley: And the one thing we keep hearing about in California, in particular, is that this gray market, the traditional or legacy market still exists. We hear the reason for that is it’s very expensive to run a legal cannabis business with all the taxation and now you think about the cost of these licenses on top of that as well.
Chris Ball: Well, let’s not forget the cost for your plans, the $75,000 for an architect to go to your plans and sign off on them. You got to pay for the paper down at the city. It’s nuts.
Jeffrey Boedges: Yeah. Again, I’ve heard this before from other operators but not specific to California where they can’t get the license until they actually have the property set aside.
Chris Ball: Correct.
Jeffrey Boedges: You know people that are sitting on property waiting for rec to come really…
Chris Ball: Correct. And they’re paying rent and they can’t operate. They can’t get their license because the city is backed up and are slow. So, they’re consistently just paying rent every single month bleeding money.
Rick Kiley: All right. Well, you hear this new federal administration. Let’s try to move this along for everybody.
Chris Ball: Please do.
Rick Kiley: All right.
Chris Ball: Come on Kamala and Biden. Come on.
Rick Kiley: I know.
Chris Ball: We’re voting for you.
Rick Kiley: We are recording this the day before inauguration.
Chris Ball: That’s right. Inauguration. Get this right now. Fix this.
Rick Kiley: All right. Well, let’s switch gears. I want to talk about some stuff that’s more fun maybe. I mean, I think all this is super interesting and educational but I really enjoyed, I watched a recap video that you put out about this pop-up budtender event for a new product release of Reign, a new cookies dispensary. And so, this type of event, I liked it because this is a type of thing that Jeff and I and our company will often do to introduce new products to bartenders and mixologists for our alcohol beverage clients and so I really love it. I would love it if you would share your approach to events like these, what you have found is successful, and maybe what hasn’t worked out well.
Chris Ball: Sure. So, in the cannabis space, the consumers are very, very passionate about their medicine and about their weed. I know this from growing up in it and selling it since I was 16. So, for me, my approach is simply this. Whenever we’re going to drop a new strain, it’s always good to come out and make an event out of it and let the consumers come out and meet me, meet my team, meet the growers who actually put in the work to grow it, take some pictures, do it at a dispensary where the customers can get excited to come out and do something in the culture, because that’s what the cannabis culture is all about. When you think about the Rolling Loud festivals and you think about Reggae on the River, the cannabis community, people like to smoke and they like to be around one another and talk and laugh and eat. So, when you come from this culture, you understand those things. So, I didn’t want to be one of those brands who I just put out a new strain, pop it up on my socials, and then put it into dispensary. No. I want to make it an event. I want to make it so that my fans and our customers and consumers can come out and be excited about something and be the first ones to get that new flower and maybe take a picture with me or get a t-shirt or something just so that this industry is supposed to be fun. We’re supposed to be having a good time.
I think it’s the same with you guys in the beverage space, right? If I love to drink Blue Moon and Blue Moon is going to drop some seasonal flavor, and they’re going to do this event at some bar, I’m probably going to show up. You know what I mean? Just because I want the camaraderie. I want to be in there with the rest of the consumers and cheers-ing and drinking the new. It’s an event. Yeah. So, that’s my train of thought behind it, behind those events.
Rick Kiley: Cool. Do you think that the people who buy and use your products view you as with something like, celebrity is the wrong word, but like with some sort of VIP cache? Do people want to meet the people who are growing and making the weed that they consume?
Chris Ball: 1,000% they do. 1,000% they do.
Rick Kiley: The same thing happens in booze, meeting the winemaker, meeting the whiskey maker. So, that’s so cool that you’re able to tap into that.
Chris Ball: Yeah. They really do love it. It’s been an interesting transition for me because being a black market or traditional market guy, I’ve been taught to keep my identity away from everyone, low profile, nothing in my name, all that kind of stuff. So, now to do this complete 180 and now that I’ve kind of turned into a mini weed celebrity, which I hate using that word, but it’s true because people are reaching out to me on socials and walking up to me in the street and wanting to take a picture and telling me how much my brand influences them or my story has influenced them. That in itself is surreal to me so I kind of feel like now, the people who follow Ball Family Farms and our consumers, they know my story. They know I got street credit. They know I’ve served federal time. They know I actually come from this industry. So, for them to come out and be able to really touch me or meet me or have a conversation with me is I think is really, really special to them and I want to make sure that I’m always affording them that opportunity.
Rick Kiley: That’s great. You answered one of my questions I was going to ask because I was wondering if your relationship to the traditional market provides you some form of street credit. It feels like a little bit short out of the music industry like when the rap scene sort of blew up, that sort of that street credibility was important to the image.
Chris Ball: Yeah. It definitely is, man. It definitely is. Most of the big brands that you see, the ones that are out here and I don’t want to call them by name, but the really successful ones are all pretty much started by traditional guys because we understand. There’s a traditional guy somewhere behind these successful brands and this business has been around for 50 years. It’s just now getting legal but the business, we’ve already established this business. Guys like myself and some of these other guys, we already know this business. That’s why I was indicted. I was doing this back in 2010, successfully. That’s why the feds came for me. So, it’s not a business that we need to reinvent the wheel. It’s a business where you need to go get these traditional guys, and these bigger companies need to go locate them a traditional guy and follow what he says. He’ll lead you to the promised land.
Rick Kiley: Very cool.
Jeffrey Boedges: Is that the growers and the distribution chain or is there one that’s more?
Chris Ball: It’s both. It’s in all aspects. Whether it’s your cultivator, your manufacturer, your distributor, your retail guy who’s running your retail store, you got to get guys who have come from this industry and understand the culture. Those are the guys who are going to make you successful.
Jeffrey Boedges: And what about being locals? Is that also equally important? Because there aren’t that many nationally famous people who come from the traditional side. So, I would think…
Chris Ball: Right. Our biggest national celebrity is obviously Berner from cookies. He’s broken down barriers. He’s trailblazing this thing on a national level. And so, all of us other traditional guys are following his lead and he’s doing a great job. But it does make a difference if you’re local. It really does like even for myself in our expansion to Oklahoma. Everybody knows California has the best weed on the planet. So, if I’m going to go and start my business in Oklahoma, well, the Oklahoma consumer is aware that California is the Mecca. So, if they know, “Oh, well, Chris Ball just started a grow and brought the brand to Oklahoma, sh*t, I want to go over there and buy his product because I know that’s that Cali-grown stuff even though he’s growing it here.”
Jeffrey Boedges: Right. I like that, the Cali grown label. I think that’s like a new endorsement.
Rick Kiley: Hey, Jeff, I think we got to figure out a way to create like the Napa Valley sort of like Woody of the area.
Jeffrey Boedges: Well, the rose, forgive me and, Chris, you can straighten me out if I’ve got it wrong here but I know all of the rose industry that was decimated isn’t quite as big as it once was in California, that all those facilities, all those greenhouses, and whatnot, a lot of them had been bought and converted into cannabis production. Is that true or false?
Chris Ball: That is very true. Very true statement.
Jeffrey Boedges: So, whatever that is, whatever that valley is called, is your new Napa, Rick, right there.
Chris Ball: Yeah. Mendocino, Humboldt, those places. Those are the Meccas.
Rick Kiley: Humboldt has equity.
Jeffrey Boedges: Humboldt Fog, my favorite blue cheese and my favorite cannabis.
Chris Ball: Those are our Napa Valleys right now.
Rick Kiley: Nice. Cool. I want to come back to the budtenders for a second and that event. Because when we do events like this, the mixologist community, they are traditionally a very challenging group of people to capture their attention, get on your side, and help you build your brand yet they are important gatekeepers. I know that the budtenders that work in these retailers, especially in places like California, where vertical integration isn’t necessary are important. What do you find that is best to capture their attention and really secure their genuine advocacy for your brand, for your products, for your company?
Chris Ball: Yeah. Budtenders are obviously the first line of defense. So, if you’re a smart cultivator or brand, you’re going to make sure that – I have an R&D team of five guys, five individuals who test everything before it comes to market and they test for, you know, they’re going to tell me the big three, the look, the texture, and the taste. These are the big three when it comes to cannabis. So, once you get past your R&D team, you want to take it to the budtenders and you want to sample out some jars and give it to the budtenders of your shops because you want to get their feedback. You want them to tell you, “Nah,” or you want them to tell you, “This is fire.” Because the whole thing, the payola thing that other industries have, you can’t get away with that in cannabis and these budtenders are, most of the time most stores hire connoisseurs to be their budtenders because they have to teach not only do they have to know good and bad weed, good and bad product, but they also have to educate the new cannabis users and kind of lead them down the right path. So, the first thing you do is you give it to the budtenders and if the budtenders give you the thumbs up, well, they’re already now going to be passionate about your product because they like it.
So, if a customer comes in and ask them, “Hey, what’s the best stuff you guys have or what’s the medium stuff or what’s the light stuff?” they’re immediately going to go choose the things that they tasted and that the things that they know for a fact. That’s where a lot of brands make that mistake. They put their product in the store but they don’t give the budtenders any. So, the budtender really don’t know unless they’ve taken their money and bought it on their break out of curiosity. Why even do that? Give it to them.
Jeffrey Boedges: So, you can give budtenders the sample?
Chris Ball: Absolutely. You can sample out. You just eat the cost. As a company, we eat that cost.
Rick Kiley: Yeah. Obviously, that’s a well-placed investment. Cool. All right. I want to ask you something else and this is about I think you’re going to have a unique perspective. One thing working in the booze world for as long as we have, we’ve come across brands that are trying to reach a certain minority segment of consumers. They may be black, they may be Latinx, they may be LGBTQ but what will often happen is that their brands will make an investment for a short period of time, maybe like half a year, six months. They’ll put together promotional programs, incentives, events, etcetera, geared and targeted to that group but then they’ll like pack up their bags and move on sometimes. And what happens is that relationship-building is lost and because it’s deemed phony like when the brands like their commitment. I’m wondering if that’s happening in your world, in the cannabis world. Not saying with you personally but is that happening with retailers?
Jeffrey Boedges: Is it something you see other brands doing?
Chris Ball: Yeah, of course. Of course, you see these brands come in and they run their little marketing campaigns, whether it’s at a dispensary or if they’re trying to reach a certain demographic but here’s what everybody’s learning the hard way in the cannabis space is that the cannabis consumer, you can’t fool them. They can’t be fooled. It’s not like any other business. Good weed is good weed. I don’t care how great the packaging is. I don’t care how pretty it is. I don’t care how much money you spent on this marketing campaign. You may get the first buy from the consumer. You may get the first one out of curiosity but if the product that they smoke or that they take or if it’s an edible or whatever doesn’t do what it’s supposed to do, they’re never going to come back. And if you’re not authentic, most connoisseurs and most cannabis users, they do research on the product that they’re smoking. They’re not just walking into the dispensary and saying, “Just give me anything.” They have identified the brands that they know that they want to follow because what do you do when you get stoned, right? You may laugh, you may go down the rabbit hole on your computer. If you smoke a brand that you like, you may go in their IG and crawl up that IG with a fucking magnifying glass and figure out whose weed am I smoking? How has it grown? Why is it making me feel like this? So, they’ll quickly be able to identify if your marketing campaign or your strategy is bullsh*t. And once they figure that out, they’re off you.
Rick Kiley: Yeah. You make a good point. Like with booze, there is some value in having the beautiful bottle on your back bar but that doesn’t happen in this. No one’s putting up their weed in a container.
Jeffrey Boedges: It’s actually closer to food.
Rick Kiley: Yeah.
Jeffrey Boedges: Where people right now want to know where their green beans came from. They want to know was this cow raised humanely before you…
Chris Ball: Yeah. I mean, the true cannabis user wants to know what are you growing this in? Is this rock wool? Is this soil? Is this cocoa? What type of pesticides are you using? We’re not even supposed to use them but, obviously, with testing, there may be a little bit of something in there as long as it’s not at the percentage to make you fail. They want to know all that stuff.
Jeffrey Boedges: What about worker treatment? Because I mean, obviously, we’re not importing from other countries so there’s no fair trade per se but there must be an equivalent for domestically produced agricultural products, right?
Chris Ball: I mean, for the most part when it comes to that, it just depends. If you’re an indoor grower, all those things come into play when you start talking about the employees and the workers because it’s such a different ballgame. If you’re an outdoor grower, you probably have about 40 or 50 employees where I only have 20. I only got 20 that I need to take care of, so those type of things. Most brands don’t even tell you who they’re hiring. We’re doing a, well, I’m trying to do a fantastic job of letting the people see my stash and getting some background in history on my master grower, on my head of genetics.
Jeffrey Boedges: Yeah. I think that’s super smart, though.
Chris Ball: All that stuff it’s important.
Jeffrey Boedges: Well, I mean, you’re right and I think, again, because if you look at the way people are looking at food now and any kind of product that can be consumed, I think people are really kind of concerned, how these things were made, where they made humanely, and where they made helpful.
Rick Kiley: Well, cool. We get to segue right into the nerdy stuff right now.
Jeffrey Boedges: Yeah.
Rick Kiley: It’s a perfect time.
Chris Ball: Here’s where my Berkley degree will come in handy. Let’s go.
Rick Kiley: Pheno-hunting. Please explain pheno-hunting. Why is it important? Why do I care? It’s a cool phrase that I want to know.
Jeffrey Boedges: It’s also a Jeopardy category, pretty sure.
Rick Kiley: I’ll take pheno-hunting for 800. All right.
Chris Ball: So, pheno-hunting is when you are let’s say you pop a bag of seeds, right? You’re popping a bag of seeds of one particular strain and you’re trying to find the best girl. That girl is called your best pheno. All the girls are called your phenos. Right? So, I explained this to people who don’t understand the concept of growing and how it works. So, here’s how it works. I have a male plant. The male plant has little seeds. This male plant has these little ball sacks, these seeds. The female plants have these little shoots, their openings. You put the male plant inside the room with the female plant and what happens? The same thing that would happen if you put a man and a woman inside of a room who liked each other.
Jeffrey Boedges: Take a nap.
Chris Ball: Yeah, that part. After. You take a nap after.
Jeffrey Boedges: I’m getting old. We covered that, though.
Chris Ball: Yeah. So, the male plant will then his little pods or his little seed sacks will explode. The pollination will fly through the air and land on the woman plant and now the woman plant is pregnant. That woman plant will then turn into a hermaphrodite. Well, now she gets pregnant with maybe 500 babies. We pull those babies off of her and those are all the phenos. Those are their children. So, now, it’s just like your mom and dad had 100 kids, all of you guys come from the same genetic and DNA pool, but you’re all going to look different unless you’re 100 twins, which is very, very rare. All the brothers and sisters are going to resemble the parents but they’re all going to be different in their own way. These are called…
Jeffrey Boedges: Special in their own way.
Chris Ball: Yeah. These are called phenos. So, when you’re pheno-hunting, you’re hunting for the best-looking sister of the group, of the siblings.
Rick Kiley: Fair enough.
Chris Ball: Once you find the best-looking sister, you grab her out and now you have pheno-hunted your winner, your leading lady. Now, you grow her up and you start taking clones off of her because she gave you the best expressions and now all of her children will be identical to her.
Rick Kiley: It sounds a little bit like horse breeding like when you have a horse that’s running on the Kentucky Derby, they come out to stud because they’ll produce another winning racehorse theory.
Chris Ball: 100%. That’s it.
Rick Kiley: Good. All right.
Jeffrey Boedges: But you couldn’t crossbreed your best-looking sister with another male and hope to getting close to it.
Rick Kiley: Yes. So, that’s what crossbreeding is. So, like if I want to crossbreed, let’s say, with cookies and they have a great Gelato strain. Most of the time, they’ll have the male because they found that Gelato strain from popping the seeds so they were brothers and sisters. Well, once you pull the brother out so that you have the male, now I bring my special pheno lady and we sit them both in a room. So now, their Gelato stud is going to mate with my pheno woman.
Rick Kiley: Cool. Well, I think we know where the rest…
Jeffrey Boedges: I think I know the next t-shirt I’m getting. Gelato stud.
Rick Kiley: Gelato stud. It could mean so many things. I’m just curious. Is incest okay? Like, can you crossbreed with your brother or is that bad?
Chris Ball: We’ve never done that. I’m assuming since this is so close to humanism that I don’t think we want to do that. I think if something that would happen if you cross-breed a brother and sister, I think we probably have the same…
Rick Kiley: Too many hemophiliacs.
Chris Ball: Yeah.
Jeffrey Boedges: Big teeth, kind of cross-eyes. Things like that.
Chris Ball: The plant may come out very, very weird. I don’t want to go there.
Rick Kiley: Oh, man. So, that’s cool. Thank you. It’s a great explanation. Obviously, it’s not the first time you’ve been asked so thank you for having that at the ready, and a lot more entertaining than I actually thought it was going to be so well done.
Jeffrey Boedges: Well, because we kind of made it dirty. This is the show’s Rated R, this one.
Chris Ball: I did that on purpose. That’s the reason why I choose to explain it that way. It gets everybody’s juices flowing a little bit.
Rick Kiley: That’s fine.
Jeffrey Boedges: Put some better music on for next time.
Rick Kiley: So, beyond working through the specialized genetics and the pheno-hunting, are you using any other sort of specialized growing methods? Or are you sort of in line with what, I mean, I guess with what we call the standards in the industry? Are there other production points of difference, I guess?
Chris Ball: Yeah. I’m definitely going to say that we’re using the industry standards, but I’m going to wink at you twice. The industry is still so very competitive, and because it hasn’t matured all the way out yet and because there are not ways to protect their IP and they still haven’t developed ways for us to patent certain things and to protect our intellectual property, I’m just going to say that, yeah, we grow the industry standards, but I’m winking at you twice.
Rick Kiley: Alright, cool. But better.
Chris Ball: But better.
Rick Kiley: That’s what he’s saying. I just hear that it’s better.
Chris Ball: Yes. 100%.
Rick Kiley: All right. Cool. So, then explain to me because I don’t have your product in front of me, which just seems like a big miss on my part, how does a consumer realize the benefit of these better genetics? Is it more potent? Is it a different buzz? Is it like a longer duration? I’m just curious like how does the benefit manifest?
Chris Ball: Okay. So, I’m going to give this to you in an explanation that you guys will understand completely. What’s your favorite alcohol?
Jeffrey Boedges: Rum.
Rick Kiley: Sorry. You were thinking you were going to get a straight answer?
Chris Ball: I knew I wasn’t but, yeah, I was prepared.
Jeffrey Boedges: He’s a whiskey guy. I’m a cognac guy.
Rick Kiley: So, we’ll probably only…
Chris Ball: All right. I’m going to go because I’m a cognac guy, I’m going to go the cognac route.
Rick Kiley: Cool.
Chris Ball: So, let’s say someone gave you a glass of Louis XIII and then somebody gave you a glass of Martell or E&J. Would you know the difference right away?
Rick Kiley: Yeah.
Jeffrey Boedges: Yeah. I could probably do it from across the room.
Chris Ball: Okay. There you go. Now, if we go whiskey, if someone poured you some Jameson and then they poured you a nice, aged bottle of Macallan, poured you a glass of that, you’d know the difference right away, right?
Rick Kiley: Indeed.
Chris Ball: Same exact thing in cannabis. The user knows as soon as they open the bag and they look at the product, they know.
Rick Kiley: Yeah. On the nose too, right?
Chris Ball: Yeah. On the smell, on the nose, and then they break it apart. And then the final straw is when they smoke, the high, the smoothness, how it makes them feel. They know right away because this is what they do. This is what they consume. So, that’s the difference in the genetics and the growing methods and all of those things. If your brand is going to stick around, you got to put some tender, loving, care into your process and you got to have really great genetics and you got to spend the time looking for those great genetics and pheno-hunting for them.
Rick Kiley: Pheno-hunting. That’s another t-shirt. Pheno-hunters.
Chris Ball: There you go.
Rick Kiley: It’ll be a TV show. We should pitch that idea.
Chris Ball: It should be.
Rick Kiley: Yeah. HBO Max will buy that probably right now. Everybody needs content.
Chris Ball: Everybody needs content.
Rick Kiley: Yeah. All right. I want to talk about your brand because I do love it and Jeff and I have been talking with a number of people on this podcast about that, a lot of cannabis companies are not doing what we feel is a good job building what we call lifestyle brands. And I think you’re doing a pretty good job of it so far from what I can tell and I’m just wondering if you could just tell us the story about how you launched the brand. Did you kind of launch the whole range of strains at once? I mean, I know this last one’s a new release. What was the story that connected you with this approach to your packaging?
Jeffrey Boedges: And your naming conventions, I think, are by far the best.
Chris Ball: Thank you, guys. Thank you. Thank you very much. What led me to do that is simply this. I’m an outlier, right? So, I’m one of those guys who if you tell me I can’t do something, I’m going to spend most of my time trying to figure out a way that I can and prove you wrong because that’s just how I was raised. That’s just what I’ve been taught. So, when I first came into the industry, everyone told me when I first found out I could get the social equity license, everyone told me, “Oh, you probably won’t get it.” So, I said, “Okay. I’m going to get it,” and I got it. I had one strain when we first launched, one, my Daniel LaRusso. Everyone told me, “You can’t. You can’t. Just come out with one strain. You’re a new brand. No one’s going to buy it, blah, blah, blah, blah.” I said, “Okay. You don’t know what you’re talking about. I don’t need to have four or five different strains. Louis Vuitton doesn’t. Chanel doesn’t. They have one brand.”
Rick Kiley: Steve Jobs built Apple on like four things.
Chris Ball: Steve Jobs built Apple on an iPhone and a computer. So, I’m going, “Okay. All right. We’ll see. We’ll see about that.” “You can’t name your strain Daniel Russo. No one’s going to understand that. These kids are millennials. You’re only marketing to yourself.” “Okay. All right. I’ll show you again that I can.” And so, all it was, man, is that because I grew up in this industry, I knew the most popular weed ever since I can remember has been OG. Ocean Grown, OG. Everybody wants to smoke OG. So, when they’re telling me this, “You need an indica, a hybrid, and a sativa. You can’t just drop dah, dah, dah.” I’m saying, “Well, that’s not what the traditional market is saying because everyone in the traditional market is pretty much smoking the same strain. It’s just being grown different and being called different names.” I said, “I got a special strain here. Why can’t I just sell this one strain and do it really well and sell it all over the place?” So, that was my train of thought. I was like, “Okay. I’m going to show them that I can do this and that their concept of how this works is off.” Why Daniel Russo? I’m an 80s baby and I always want to go against the grain. Everyone’s name and their strain is food and fruit and something that has to do with you eating. I said, “I don’t want to be like everyone else. I want to be different. I want to do something that no one’s done.”
So, I started thinking and The Karate Kid just so happened to be one of my favorite movies as a kid. When I started thinking more, getting more, thinking more deeply into the movie and the messaging behind the movie, it started to relate to me. Daniel was the underdog. He was the underdog against the Cobra Kai. They were the big fishes and he was this kid from Newark, New Jersey moving down to Reseda and getting his ass kicked. He had all the odds stacked up against him. Well, so did I. I’m a black social equity applicant. I’m a black cultivator, which is rare. I got this one strain when everyone else has five or six. I’m the underdog in the industry. So, I said, “You know what, I’m going to name my first strain Daniel Russo,” and the people who know it, they’ll get it. My generation, they’ll get it right away. They’ll know exactly who I’m talking about. And for the millennials that don’t, well, then they need to know who Daniel Russo is because that movie is a Hall of Fame in movie history. So, why don’t we teach them who Daniel is?
Jeffrey Boedges: A new impression because Cobra Kai, my kids eat that thing like it’s breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Chris Ball: And then the universe did that.
Rick Kiley: Product placement, I’m just saying you got to get on the show somehow with that.
Chris Ball: Let me tell you something. My boy, ironically, one of my friends, his name is
Dougie Cash. He’s a producer on that show. And shout out to Dougie, shout out to Caleeb Pinkett who’s Jada Pinkett’s brother. He’s an executive producer on the show. These guys are some of my brand ambassadors. So, I send them product and merch and they love it. They absolutely adore the name. They love the product. They love me being a social equity applicant. They’ve even told me some secrets about Season 3 in case I wanted to name another strain after something that the world’s going to see in Season 3 of Cobra Kai.
Jeffrey Boedges: Is Elizabeth Shue coming back because that’s the one thing I kind of thought.
Chris Ball: She sure is.
Rick Kiley: She is.
Jeffrey Boedges: Is she? Oh, that’s awesome.
Chris Ball: Ali is back.
Rick Kiley: She’s not in The Boys anymore. So, she’s…
Chris Ball: Ali is back.
Jeffrey Boedges: All right.
Chris Ball: It’s going down. That’s going down.
Rick Kiley: That’s exciting. I think the lesson for everybody in the world trying to build a brand, that one thing I just want to sort of latch on to here is like you’re not trying to make a brand for everybody, right? Like no one can make something that everyone’s going to love and whenever you do that, you create something that nobody loves. And then just saying, “I’m going to be this. It’s not going to be for everyone that people connect with it,” and you said, “People who get it, get it,” and that’s the way you build a brand and I think that’s spectacular. Then you go and shake this cult classic movie that I love, The Last Dragon. Who’s the master? Sho’nuff. Who’s the master? Sho’nuff. Like that was like a quotable for many years in my youth. And some people just don’t know this movie because it’s…
Chris Ball: Because it’s not for them. That’s not who we’re marketing to.
Rick Kiley: It wasn’t super mainstream either.
Chris Ball: No, it wasn’t.
Rick Kiley: But like I saw these characters on your package and I just died because, first of all, I haven’t thought about the movie in probably 20 years or 40 years now but it captures such a moment in time.
Chris Ball: And how did it make you feel? When you saw that, what did it make you feel?
Rick Kiley: Happy. So happy. I love those characters. Sho’nuff was this larger-than-life of a villain comic.
Chris Ball: Man, that guy, oh my God, when he passed away a few years ago…
Rick Kiley: He did. He passed away.
Chris Ball: I mean, me and my buddies, we were hurt. We actually all got together. We put on our Converse and got together, and just had a few drinks, man, and just watched that movie because he was bigger than life.
Jeffrey Boedges: You memorialized Sho’nuff.
Chris Ball: Oh, we absolutely did. We absolutely did.
Rick Kiley: Well, the story of this guy, this kid, he doesn’t know that he is actually the master.
Chris Ball: He’s the master.
Rick Kiley: And this whole movie being, you know…
Chris Ball: Trying to find the master.
Rick Kiley: …bullied and trying to be the master and he realizes finally at the end it’s himself. But the best is like the guy who kidnaps the girl who was like…
Chris Ball: Eddie Arkadian.
Rick Kiley: Yeah. And he’s got that line was like, “.357 Magnum will put an end to all this kung fu crap,” and he shoots it.
Chris Ball: And he catches the bullet with his teeth. I’m going, “Man, these millennials need to know about this stuff.”
Rick Kiley: It’s the best.
Chris Ball: They need to know this sh*t, man. For any of you listeners who haven’t seen The Last Dragon, it is on Amazon. Go on there. Type it in and sit down for 90 minutes and get educated.
Rick Kiley: It’s great. And you know what, when movie theaters open up again, man, I’ll help you with this. We will put together an event, a screening, some…
Chris Ball: I had already planned for it. Let’s do it. I had already planned for it.
Rick Kiley: So much fun.
Jeffrey Boedges: We don’t have to wait, Rick. We could do the drive-in.
Rick Kiley: Well, drive-in token.
Chris Ball: It’s not the same.
Rick Kiley: Drive-in and token and also, it’s a little…
Chris Ball: We want everybody in the theater sitting next to each other. We want that.
Jeffrey Boedges: Okay. Good point.
Rick Kiley: You’re going to be howling.
Chris Ball: We want you guys in there illegally smoking some Laura Charles, some Last Dragon hot box in the theater. We want it just like that. That’s what we want.
Jeffrey Boedges: Yeah.
Rick Kiley: It sounds fun. All right.
Jeffrey Boedges: We’ve been there.
Rick Kiley: Cool. All right. I have a few more things but I don’t know how we’re going to like reel it back in here before we go. But one thing I just wanted to know it seems you’re producing flower exclusively, right?
Chris Ball: Yes.
Rick Kiley: Is that a conscious decision? Do you have any thoughts about going beyond that intake?
Chris Ball: No, not at the moment. Right now, we want to keep BFF products, Ball Family products, and keep our genetics completely in-house and proprietary. We will do collaborations. We just did one with Al Harrington and Viola. I got one coming up here with Nipsey Hussle’s family. We got two strains. One called Crenshaw and one called Slauson and that I’m actively pheno-hunting now and have been in some talks with Emory Jones and D’Angelo over at Monogram, Jay Z’s people. So, we will do collabs but we will not whitelabel.
Jeffrey Boedges: Cool. Good for you. Again, I think that seems to jive very well with what you were talking about from how you started the brand, which is not trying to be everything to everyone. It’s being who you are. And if people don’t like you, go someplace else. But be who you are. I think that’s great.
Chris Ball: Yep.
Rick Kiley: That is cool. Man. I’m excited. You got an exciting brand going on. It’s very cool.
Chris Ball: Thank you.
Rick Kiley: It’s fun talking to you. So, we have like just one question left which is, of course, the question we end with everybody on this podcast, and we do have a new administration coming in. We asked everybody to look into their crystal ball and see how they’re feeling about federal legalization. Do you think it’s coming? And if so, when? What’s your bet?
Chris Ball: My bet is that we will be federally legal within 24 months. That’s my bet.
Rick Kiley: Whew.
Jeffrey Boedges: Wow.
Rick Kiley: Boom.
Chris Ball: Within 24 months. That’s what I got on the board. I’m on the board for 24 months.
Rick Kiley: All right. Is it just a gut feel? Or you got some inside scoop?
Chris Ball: I mean, I got a little bit of inside stuff but not more than someone who’s actively seeking for the information. And the reason why I’m saying this is because California like we’re now in the process of being able to acquire a bank. The fees are outrageous, of course, but we are thought to be able to acquire a bank. So, when I see stuff like that starting to happen, then I know, okay, we’re on our way. The decriminalization, now I could be driving down the street in California with 1,000 pounds in my car and it’s a misdemeanor. It’s coming. We’re on our way. So, I think over the next two years, they’re going to figure out a way to set up a blockchain with these banks to be able to track this money from seed to sale. And I think a lot of these other states who can largely benefit from the tax dollars that the cannabis industry brings in, a lot more of these red states and conservative states are going to start coming to the table because they don’t want to miss out on that money, and I think you’re going to see some help in here in the next two years.
Jeffrey Boedges: Yeah. Plus, the fact that they still have probably a very similar proportion of the population that is buying off the black market anyway, so might as well embrace it.
Chris Ball: 100%. Yeah. You ain’t going to stop it.
Rick Kiley: Well, the Biden administration has said that decriminalization federally is definitely near and I think that there’s legislation getting to floor to make that happen and the states needing as much money as they need right now, given the state of the economy, like it seems to be natural.
Chris Ball: Yeah. Economy is certain. Yeah.
Rick Kiley: Awesome.
Jeffrey Boedges: Yeah. The winner, whoever gets the closest of all of our guests gets a new VHS with a complete supply of 80s greatest hits. It’s going to be great.
Chris Ball: Oh, my God. That’s got to be me. Make sure you guys keep me on the damn board. I’m going to definitely need that.
Rick Kiley: Awesome. Well, Chris, it has been spectacular talking to you today. Before we go, if people want to learn about Ball Family Farms, if they want to find your products, where should they look?
Chris Ball: Yeah. You can find both family farms on the web at www.BallFamilyFarms.com. You can go into the locations that are carrying Ball Family Farms. All the stores will pop up on our website. If you’re on Instagram, we are simply @BallFamilyFarms on IG. So, you can follow us there and you can follow me personally @ChrisBall45.
Rick Kiley: Awesome. Well, Chris, thanks for joining us. Good luck in all your future endeavors. I hope we stay in touch and I hope we get to at least do that movie screening thing because I’m there.
Chris Ball: Absolutely. Thank you, guys. Really thank you, guys, for giving me this platform to tell my story. I’m humbled by it. I appreciate all the compliments and let’s keep this marijuana time continue.
Rick Kiley: Cool, man.
Jeffrey Boedges: Amen. Amen.
Chris Ball: All right, brothers.
Rick Kiley: Cheers.
Chris Ball: Talk to you, guys. See you.
Jeffrey Boedges: Peace.