The War on Drugs in America disproportionately affected people of color. So many potential entrepreneurs and their families have had their lives ruined by drug laws and racial profiling. Meanwhile, white male entrepreneurs have had no trouble reaping massive profits from the legal cannabis industry.
Today’s guest, Jesce Horton, knows this well. He left the world of industrial engineering to join the cannabis industry and co-founded LOWD in 2019. He works to produce some of Oregon’s most sought-after craft flower and reclaim economic opportunities for communities devastated by the War on Drugs.
He’s an active leader in the cannabis industry and serves as part of the Minority Cannabis Business Association and Nu Project, which have given $1 million in grants and 0% interest loans to minority cannabis entrepreneurs.
In this episode, you’ll learn how Jesce used his skills as an industrial engineer to pivot into cannabis, how he’s helping to create opportunities for people like himself, and the unique challenges that Black entrepreneurs face as they break into the world of legal cannabis.
- How Jesce started growing cannabis after he moved to Portland–and how this eventually led him into the industry.
- What happened when Jesce was arrested for possession of a single seed.
- Why so many of the best growers, and especially growers of color, struggle to find success in the legal market.
- How LOWD develops strains to meet their consumers’ specific needs.
- Why Jesce thinks we could see full federal legalization 3-5 years from now.
- “The smaller that room is, the better that cannabis is usually going to be if all the other factors are the same.” – Jesce Horton
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Rick Kiley: All right. Hello, everyone, and welcome to another episode of The Green Repeal. I’m Rick Kiley. I’m one of your co-hosts. I’m joined, as always, by Jeffrey Boedges. How are you doing, Jeff?
Jeffrey Boedges: Very good, guys. Very good. It’s good to be here. I’m on the right side of the dirt.
Rick Kiley: Yeah. I’m a little upset. I did some gardening this weekend and then it got really cold suddenly and it’s below zero. And I’m afraid everything I planted might die this week.
Jeffrey Boedges: Below freezing is not below zero, but yeah, it was 22 degrees this morning here in the beautiful Northeast.
Rick Kiley: That’s not spring.
Jeffrey Boedges: No, not so much. In fact, it was snowing pretty hard here yesterday.
Rick Kiley: That is weird. That’s unfortunate timing. I’m ready for the warm weather. Well, look, we’ve got a great interview set up for you today. Today, we are welcoming Jesce Horton, who’s the CEO and co-founder of LOWD. It is spelled L-O-W-D. It is also an award-winning cannabis company selling some of Oregon’s most sought-after craft flower. Jesce co-founded LOWD in 2019 with a mission to reclaim the economic opportunity for communities who have been hurt by the War on Drugs in America. And since then, Jesce has become an active leader in the cannabis industry serving on numerous federal, state, and local cannabis regulatory advisory committees to help shape the legal cannabis markets in both Oregon and California. I think I almost said shake instead of shape, so apologies there. Devoted to paying it forward, he has started two nonprofits focusing on cannabis reform, including the NuLeaf Project, which is partnered with Ben Cohen of Ben & Jerry’s and his new cannabis venture, Ben’s Best, Scotts Miracle-Gro, and the City of Portland. Together, they have given $1 million in grants and 0% interest loans to Black and Brown entrepreneurs running cannabis companies.
Rick Kiley: Jesce, welcome to The Green Repeal.
Jesce Horton: Hey, thank you very much. I appreciate being there. Definitely.
Rick Kiley: Well, it sounds like you’re just doing a lot of tremendous work and we’re really excited to have you on the program. Well, I’m sure we’ll go run through a lot of different topics, but just the thing that jumped out at me is you went to school for industrial engineering. And then I’m just curious how that connection came from industrial engineering into working in the cannabis industry.
Jesce Horton: Wow. You know, there’s definitely a lot of things in between there but really, I came to realize that industrial engineering was a perfect fit for cannabis cultivation. You know, the movement or product efficiency, all these different things really come into play in the cannabis with so many variables and so many different things moving and happening with so many opportunities to optimize that process and make it better. So, I never thought about jumping into cannabis when I got my industrial engineering degree. But through the process of going to corporate and really hating that and lucky enough to jump in the cannabis industry, I’m not.
Jeffrey Boedges: Which industries did you work in that you didn’t like? You don’t have to name any companies, but the industries.
Jesce Horton: Well, I only worked with one company, and that was Siemens. It’s a German engineering company.
Jeffrey Boedges: Oh, yeah. Yeah.
Rick Kiley: Sure.
Jesce Horton: I’m working for them right out of college in a leadership development program and one of my last positions was over in Munich, Germany, where I was there at headquarters for about a year-and-a-half, doing a lot of strategy stuff. But the interesting thing about Siemens was that, and one of my biggest positions was energy and environmental efficiency, like a business unit where we went around to all these different verticals, manufacturing, pulp and paper. It could be food and beverage, all these different things, right? And, man, I hated each and every one of them.
Rick Kiley: Every single one? Wow.
Jesce Horton: Every one. I’m like, man, I woke up and – I went to a BMW factory. So, that was cool but still every day I woke up like, “I hate this sh*t.” Excuse me. Lack of a better term.
Jeffrey Boedges: No, no. It’s okay. Cussing is encouraged.
Rick Kiley: We got the explicit rating. Go for it. Go nuts.
Jesce Horton: Good. But I woke up hating them. But when it really came to a head, I was going to a coat chicken factory and I’m trying to figure out a way to reduce their energy use and get better product. And this actual factory was a chicken processing factory.
Jeffrey Boedges: I’ve been to a couple. That’s a gnarly visit, dude.
Jesce Horton: Exactly. So, I’m spending a month in there.
Jeffrey Boedges: Now, I spent an hour in there and it felt like six months. So, I don’t know what the hell one month would feel like.
Jesce Horton: It was horrible, man, and I almost had a tear coming to my eye because my project was like, “Jesce, we want you to sit in this room for two weeks,” and there was a place where they cut off the chicken heads. Essentially, the job was how can we cut more chicken heads with less energy? So, I’m just sitting there studying this whole process, and I’m like, “Man, I got to get out of this sh*t.”
Rick Kiley: Oh, man.
Jeffrey Boedges: Yeah. I can see. Maybe if they combined it with, like, say, a driving range. All right. Sorry. We’ll cut that out later. That’s too brutal.
Rick Kiley: Well, it is. I mean, you’ve covered some new ground for us. You’re the first person who’s been in a chicken decapitation room, so that’s pretty good, who we’ve had on the show. Well, that is amazing. I always loved asking this question because Jeff and I, we started an event marketing company together, and I always say I went to college, I studied math and theater but I learned how to throw a party. So, that’s what I do now. So, I’m always curious how people like take what they learned in school and then what they end up doing with it in real life.
Jeffrey Boedges: Yeah. But it’s funny to hear yours because there’s this, you know, a lot of people react positively towards an experience and say, “I’m going towards that.” And then some people also can say, “I don’t want any more of that,” which I actually can relate to, Jesce, where I would see – I actually was just talking to somebody. I’m like, “Some lessons are inspirational and some are cautionary tales.” I would say seeing chickens like that is probably about as potent a cautionary tale as I can imagine.
Jesce Horton: Yeah.
Rick Kiley: Yeah. Are you vegetarian now?
Jesce Horton: You know what, I think for a while I didn’t eat chicken.
Rick Kiley: Yeah. Okay.
Jeffrey Boedges: You live in Oregon. I don’t think that’s – you can’t even come into Oregon if you’re not a vegetarian.
Jesce Horton: You would think so.
Rick Kiley: Yeah. Well, speaking of Oregon, what drew you to the Portland area that made you want to start your business there? What drew you to the space?
Jesce Horton: Man, the universe. That’s what pulled me here. When they offered me a position to come back to the U.S., it was New York or Oregon. And honestly, I couldn’t even point out Oregon on the map at that point. I promise, there was no way I was going to be able to point it out but I had heard of Portland, the Trail Blazers, big Rasheed Wallace fan, UNCs.
Jeffrey Boedges: Mostly, Clyde the Glide was originally an Oregon man.
Rick Kiley: Yeah, yeah.
Jesce Horton: Exactly, exactly. So, that’s what made me think about it, and I came out here to visit and I fell in love with it. You know, after seeing Mt. Hood and all those kind of beautiful nature, a lot of the Alps in Germany. So, I definitely kind of gravitated towards Portland versus New York. Plus New York was a consulting job, and my girlfriend at the time was like, “You’re not going to be spending four days out of every week in some other state.” So, that made that an easier choice for me because, honestly, I probably would have chosen New York, but I’m glad I didn’t.
Rick Kiley: All right.
Jeffrey Boedges: Where are you from originally?
Jesce Horton: I’m originally from the Southeastern U.S. so like Virginia, Florida, Georgia.
Jeffrey Boedges: Got it. Got it.
Rick Kiley: All right, cool. So, then talk to us a little bit about the early parts of your cannabis career here. I read this sentence about how you started with a one-room basement grow operation, which of course makes me think of Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak starting Apple Computer in their garage. So, that’s what I’m hoping for you. I’m putting that out there for your future, but I’m just…
Jeffrey Boedges: It made me think of college. I had a buddy that also had a one-room grow.
Rick Kiley: See, we’re thinking different ways. That’s good. But I’m just curious what went into setting that up at home? Was it all by yourself? Did you have partners and how did you…? Because you started within the legal framework, I believe. Correct me if I’m wrong. Like, you were doing a medical grow operation back to that time. How did you get started with that one-room operation?
Jesce Horton: Yeah, man. So, I was just so enamored by cannabis legalization. When I was in the U.S., previously, I didn’t come to the West Coast at all. So, I was really more so getting arrested for cannabis and dealing with the negative sides of it. Didn’t even understand what was happening on the West Coast with legalization even at that time. So, that’s why I actually spent a lot of time in Amsterdam when I was in Germany. And even before right after college, I went and spent some time in Amsterdam and fell in love with just that feeling of cannabis being legal which was completely foreign to me, you know, it’s accepted. And I just got to Portland and then I kind of got a dose of that again. It wasn’t quite as open as it was in Amsterdam but you would see the dispensaries. And they were little seedy spots where you couldn’t kind of see inside so you had to actually be brave enough to go in and ask them what it was all about. And they talk about the medical program. So, at that point, I went and got my medical card, probably two months after I got to Portland. About a month later, they sold the clones in the dispensary.
So, I’m like, man, like I was so used to seeing High Times Magazine and being like, “Wow. That weed doesn’t even look real based on what the Mexican weed we were getting and all the trash we were getting in the South.” So, this whole idea of how could you create something that beautiful was just in the back of my mind. So, I’m like, “Wow. I get a chance to actually grow the plant.” So, probably my second time going to a dispensary, I grabbed some clones, and put them in the pot. I actually started in my backyard and my neighbor complained so then I moved into my basement.
Rick Kiley: Neighbors. All right. Well, that’s a cool start story.
Jeffrey Boedges: Yeah. But these were legal clones, right? So, what was he complaining about?
Jesce Horton: Okay. So, it wasn’t a police complaint, right, which I was happy about. It was, “Hey, I saw you growing some pot back there and my kids are blah, blah, blah.” So, it’s one of those passive-aggressive like Oregon or Portland-type of complaints where they tell you.
Rick Kiley: Sure.
Jesce Horton: And finally, they circle around it a little bit and hope that you get there, and then they’re upset if you don’t.
Jeffrey Boedges: A Portland kind of complaint. That’s just brilliant.
Rick Kiley: You’re sipping on like a $6 cup of coffee and eating your own like handmade granola I think at the same time. Something like that?
Jesce Horton: Yeah.
Rick Kiley: Cool. All right. So, I’m glad you opened up with it. So, you mentioned this, the getting arrested and you have this idea being mission-driven really connected to your company. I read in another article about you, the story about your father. And I’m just curious, was this idea being mission-driven about trying to help support the communities that were hurt by the war on drugs? Was that really just part of the business plan that model from the beginning? Was that really, “I’m going to do this and with this in mind,” or did that sort of happen after the fact? I’m just curious how that evolved.
Jesce Horton: You know what? I don’t really connect it to my business and that’s why I always started nonprofits because I didn’t want people to see my business as this do the right thing type of business or we’re in here with this moral mission. I mean, all that stuff is cool but I want people to see my business for one that has some of the best weed. Like, that’s all I was thinking about. When they think about our company or they hear about the other things, that’s great but I don’t lead with that. I think that’s why I’ve always kind of done this nonprofit thing. It’s a completely separate thing all for these purposes. And we’re starting the Minority Cannabis Business Association and then Nu Project that we work with more recently with a number of different companies in addition to Ben’s Best, Ben Cohen’s venture. There are just so many different things there. The fact that my dad was arrested, I was arrested, I felt the depression, the fact that my life, I had ruined it because of cannabis. I also went through a lot of things through college, where my fraternity was such an uplifting opportunity and changed the trajectory of my life.
You know, programs like INROADS, which is an internship program, changed the trajectory of my life. So, it’s just like, man, I’m like, “Wow. That to me is reaching my full potential. I know I’m going to make a lot of money. I know I’m going to win. I know I’m going to do all these things.” I feel that firmly but reaching my full potential is also what can I do to help other people. So, I feel like cannabis, I’ve been lucky enough to be here where it’s not a lot of extra work. It’s not a big lift to do some good in this industry, which I’m lucky to be doing that.
Rick Kiley: That’s great. That’s great. And I think that makes sense. Focusing on making the best product is probably always a good business plan.
Jeffrey Boedges: I think you might be the first person.
Rick Kiley: No, no.
Jeffrey Boedges: I’m just saying we’ve met a lot of people on the show.
Jesce Horton: There’s a lot of people that don’t. Yeah, they don’t care. And that’s what I, you know, I’ve seen that, man. A lot of people are really clung to that during the time when we launched was around George Floyd where it was really hip to be the Black-owned company, right?
Jeffrey Boedges: Right.
Rick Kiley: Everyone wanted to talk about it and all these businesses wanted to shop with you because you’re the Black-owned company. So, it was very easy for us to kind of push in that direction. And we almost had to go against that I think a little bit just because I know the pendulum swings, man, and it’s like that stuff, you can’t hang on to that. You know what I mean? That stuff happening, that’s the temperature of the world right now. Our weed, as we all know and what I’ve known, is going to sell no matter what’s happening, no matter what’s going on, no matter how people feel. Fireweed is it. So, that’s always what we’ve wanted to always kind of reposition people more towards that.
Rick Kiley: Okay.
Jeffrey Boedges: Yeah. I couldn’t agree with you more, Jesce. I think that’s super important for people to realize is that you need a good engine in order to be able to do positive things later. And we work with numbers, not for profits all the time, and sometimes you kind of look at each other and go, “Well, I understand why it’s not-for-profit.” You know, it’s difficult, right? Sometimes. But there are wonderful not-for-profits out there. And then there are some that you’re just like, “Well, right, we need to help you guys kind of get a little bit more sophisticated here.” So, I like what you said. I think it’s really important for people to understand that piece.
Jesce Horton: Yeah. And that’s the thing about cannabis like one maximizes the other. Like this whole thing of equity and diversity is not a moral, I mean, yeah, we all understand the moral aspect of it, right? People have been in prison, without a doubt, but to me, the biggest thing is the economic opportunity as it relates, right? The black market is always going to be there. People are always going to. They don’t see a place for themselves in that dispensary, in that brand that’s out there, that draws them to spend their dollars there to support that brand, then they’re going to go to the cheaper route, the sometimes more convenient route where they’re just not going to be involved in the way that they could from an innovative standpoint, creating businesses, creating brands. So, it’s a two-pronged thing that I think, like you say, if you don’t have that engine that’s focused on the economic opportunity, you can’t do as much good. But if you aren’t focused on doing good and caring about those things, then because we’re in this industry that’s so grassroots-oriented, that’s so activism-oriented, you won’t be able to grab the people and move the hearts without them knowing that you at least care about those things.
Rick Kiley: Got it. I mean, I’m just curious. So, you do have this background story with the illicit cannabis world. I believe there’s a story where you used to… Is it true that you were arrested for having one seed on you?
Jesce Horton: Yeah, literally. Yeah, without a doubt. I was at an event. It was kind of a party type of event. I can’t remember. It was a football game, I think, in Atlanta, and cops stopped. There was no stop and frisk but for some reason, they stopped us and started searching us, went inside my jacket pocket. I don’t know if we smelled like weed, nothing. They were hoping that we had weed. I think they were probably sure that we did when they smelled it inside my jacket pocket, found the seed, and they’re like, “No, we’re going to take you for this.”
Jeffrey Boedges: They had their own parties to go to later. They’re looking for it.
Rick Kiley: Yeah. So, I’m curious, though, as you’ve built your brand, have you found that I think your sort of authentic connection to what I’ll call the traditional or legacy market? Do you think that the people who buy your brand, who purchased your brand connect with that story and that’s part of what makes LOWD unique? Is your personal story woven into it? I’m just curious as to how that works or how aware people are.
Jeffrey Boedges: I’ve got the name for your book, Jesce. It’s The Seed of Innovation. So, basically, we spin that story as being the seminal moment when you decide to become a cannabis entrepreneur and it’s that one seed. All right. Look, you can just send me 5%.
Rick Kiley: We’re already casting the movie in our head.
Jeffrey Boedges: For sure.
Jesce Horton: I have written about that actually. I’m sorry. What was the question?
Rick Kiley: No, I was curious as to how you feel like the authentic sort of history that you and your family have had with the traditional market. Is that part of your brand story? Is that part of the brand personality? And do people connect with LOWD over that? Like, have you found that that’s happened?
Jesce Horton: It is. And that’s part of the reason why we’re here. That’s part of our visuals, our marketing, our focus. The strains that we grow are all targeted for these consumers, right? And I know these consumers because I am one of them who have been smoking for years sometimes even decades that are highly discerning. They’ve seen a lot of weed, they’ve seen a lot of strains, they’ve smelled a lot of weed, and they know what they want. They know the bud structures, the flavors. They know what’s new and they know what’s trendy. And these are the people who are smoking every day, right? So, without a doubt, the fact that that’s where I come from, the fact that we come from the basement, the fact that we want to represent that legacy market and not see it as taboo but hold it on a pedestal, I think definitely helps us to connect with those consumers who see that the industry is changing quickly. And a lot of the things that we connected with that we feel comfortable with, a lot of companies are moving away from it for a number of different reasons.
And a lot of those people that we know and we support are not successful in this new market as we feel like they should be. A lot of those other basement growers that have way more talent, better strains than me, a lot of them aren’t around right now for a number of different reasons. So, we want to represent them and without a doubt, we hope that our clientele sees that and we hope that they connect with it and we believe that they do.
Rick Kiley: Yeah, that’s great. And staying grow what you know. I mean, I was trying to say you write what you know, grow what you know. I’m trying to give you a little like another phrase to include in the book there.
Jeffrey Boedges: Or it’s the second book. Yeah.
Rick Kiley: Yeah. That’s the sequel. And so, just you talked about some people being more successful than others and having challenges. I’m curious as a Black entrepreneur in this space, and I think I know one answer, but what have been your biggest challenges in building the brand from the outset? I think I read something about raising money probably was the biggest barrier to starting up but I’m curious if you could give a little insight into that.
Jesce Horton: You know, I think the biggest barriers for myself the first one being like overcoming the fear or the perception of getting into the cannabis industry, right, because of the fact that my days of drug testing when I came home from high school because they wanted to make sure that I wasn’t smoking.
Rick Kiley: Wow.
Jesce Horton: I went down that road that he went to and going to prison right before going to college, and it changes his life. So, I think within our communities because there aren’t a lot of us who have been able to overcome and be successful through some of these different barriers, not just within cannabis, but barriers in general, homeownership, business ownership, blah, blah, blah, right? When we have the opportunity, when we have the situation, there is an extra burden that’s kind of placed on us to make it, to not fall down into the path, to help to elevate those that come after you with such a big responsibility for people that are in these communities that have traditionally been disadvantaged. So, the idea for me to go and tell my family that I’m going to leave my engineering position and go get into cannabis was very difficult, right? And to the last time the fact that I hated my job, that really made me do it. The fact that I was miserable or if I was in a job that was decent or I was okay with, I may have just stayed with that job and kind of denied that. So, I think that’s the biggest thing in addition to, of course, the time that it takes to not necessarily to raise money but the time that it takes to raise the money and to get the people to believe in you and to build that proof of concept when you have other chips stacked against you. I think it makes it a lot more difficult but I think at the same time, it makes it a lot more meaningful.
Jeffrey Boedges: Can I ask you just specifically, though, how much more difficult is it for a Black entrepreneur these days to get started in weed than it is for other segments? Again, I’m not looking for numerics. I just want to know was like we’ve heard some crazy stories from women, especially who are getting into the space, and they’ll say some things when they go in to do fundraisers and things like that and the kind of crazy sh*t people say to them. I’m just kind of curious, have you seen the same kind of thing?
Jesce Horton: It depends on who the gatekeepers are, right, where you are. It’s such a regional thing. You know, in Oregon, because there are low barriers of entry, there weren’t a lot of people that I had to schmooze to in order to get my shot. There were other people I had to get to believe in me and schmooze it to raise money but to actually get this shot and to see that it’s tangible, there weren’t a lot of real barriers that I had to go through that made it attainable or at least seem attainable to me unlike other states where you have to have political favor, you have to raise millions in order to even get your license opportunity in order to submit. There’s a lot of things in other places where there’s barriers before you even think that it’s a real opportunity. So, I think in a place like Oregon, I think it is more difficult because maybe the fundraising you got to get people to believe in you. You’ve got to get people to rent you a space when they’ve got a bunch of people calling them every day wanting to rent their space and you’re the Black guy who’s calling, right?
It’s like it’s a white woman. “I got a thousand people like maybe I don’t go with the Black guy, right? Just because I don’t know him. I don’t connect with him.” So, there’s a lot of that, right, that is there that makes it more difficult. And so, I think it’s definitely more difficult but depending on where you are, it can be astronomically more difficult.
Jeffrey Boedges: Do you feel now, though, having done it in Oregon that when you decide to open up your New Jersey grow or your New York grow or one of the East Coast, so you got some way to get back and see your friends and family in Virginia that get you in a better position to do that with the experience that you’ve got and with the capital that you’ve been able to raise. Will having started in Oregon make it easier for you to expand later?
Jesce Horton: Oh, hell yeah, without a doubt. Man, I feel supremely confident. I think in a time where you have to be as a grower, especially, you got to be very humble. You’ve got to always check yourself. You’ve got to always make sure you’re not getting confident really because there are so many variables where it’s like something’s going to screw you and you know it so it’s hard to be confident. I think right now I’m the most confident that I’ve ever been because I know the market, I know the process, I know the branding, I know my clients, I know what’s happening. I’ve got a network. I believe it’s possible. I’ve got the ability to raise money. So, without a doubt, I’m supremely confident in my ability to expand, to go to other states, to reach other markets, and, yeah, without a doubt. So, I feel like we are in a beautiful position, even though we’ve always got to stay on our toes.
Jeffrey Boedges: Right. Yeah. Is that on the road map, some other states you’re thinking or right now just kind of comfortable conquering Oregon?
Jesce Horton: You know, honestly, right now, I am just comfortable conquering Oregon. That’s what our focus is. We’ve got a new facility that’s vertically integrated that we’ve just purchased. So, we purchased the real estate, which is very, very difficult and not coming from a cannabis company standpoint, especially a small business. Right in the city, 3 acres, we’ve got all licenses, retail production, processing, already stamped, and we’re going through development with a couple of different partners right now. So, honestly, that’s my dream facility. I know that people are getting more money in other states. I know that there are shiny objects in other states but really, man, we just want to grow Fireweed in a place where we’ve got a water surplus, we’ve got low overhead. We control our own destiny in a lot of places. Even though it’s very saturated, we’re doing very well and we’re confident in our ability to grow in Oregon and maybe at some point export if that opportunity ever comes but right now, we’re focused.
Rick Kiley: Cool. Well, I want to talk about Fireweed because you keep saying that and it sounds good. And there’s also a term here, Craft Flower has been used and Craft Cannabis has been a term that’s been around a little bit. I’m curious if that’s a term that you use, like to use, and if you do like to use it, what it means to you because people seem to have different answers.
Jesce Horton: Yeah. You know what, the Craft Brewers Alliance came together and they put together a term on what craft brew really is. And I think there’s a lot of similarities right now about craft cannabis and how they… So, one is being owner-operated to a certain degree, right? Because with this owner operation in cannabis, without a doubt, you’re going to get a better product that that owner really connects to their product and he’s there or that original grower. When you hire somebody, there are corners that will inevitably be cut, and if you cut any corners in the grow room, it will show in your product. So, I think owner-operated is a really key one. I think small-batch without a doubt is another one. When you’re growing 100 light rooms, no doubt you’re going to miss more variables. The smaller that room is, the better that cannabis usually is going to be if all these other factors are the same, the grower, the staff, all these things are the same, right? The smaller the rooms, the smaller the facility, the better it’s going to get. So, I think small-batch, owner-operated, and some of the other things that I like and I think about are the inputs, right?
Of course, are they using chemical pesticides? Are they utilizing any organic practices? We actually use both hydroponic and organic principles in what we do, but usually, when people do some level of organics, they are really focused on the inputs or they’re growing really clean hydroponics. So, I think either one, right, the inputs, the energy, the sustainability, the water, all these things that go into it, are these things thoughtful, are they strategized, are they conservative on how they’re approaching it, I think is definitely the things that I would look at when I classify craft cannabis.
Jeffrey Boedges: You know, somebody recently mentioned this also, grow time, especially in the different grow times between Sativa and Indica is in about how much, you know, some of them just take longer in the grow.
Jesce Horton: Well, honestly, I think there’s something to that because a lot of times people will have a system where they are harvesting on this certain day at week nine, no matter what. And that’s because the majority of the cultivars are already at week nine, even though maybe some of them could go week 10, 10.5 if you’re really trying to get the best out of it. So, without a doubt, I think that plays into it, Jeff, is are they really growing these cultivars the right amount of time to reach that peak performance versus just kind of fitting them into a machine?
Jeffrey Boedges: Yeah. That’s like the wine way. You know, you would never see a wine grower talking about, “Well, you know what? I’ll make a few more bucks if I harvest a week-and-a-half early.”
Jesce Horton: Yeah, right.
Jeffrey Boedges: No way.
Jesce Horton: Yeah, that’s true.
Rick Kiley: All right. So, then let’s just talk about your weed then. What’s your without divulging, of course, secrets?
Jeffrey Boedges: Can you give us the entire recipe in the sense of clones?
Rick Kiley: Send the genetics over. But when you talk about why your product is great or what the unique characteristics are or when you’re talking to your customers, how do you describe what makes LOWD flower amazing?
Jesce Horton: So, I try to never say it, and hopefully, you didn’t see any interviews where I say LOWD flower is great.
Rick Kiley: Nope. No.
Jesce Horton: Just because, honestly, I think that’s one of the most important things to good growers, right? You’ll see a good grower and my partner is the best grower I’ve ever met. And when I said I wanted to partner with him or when I really got close to him was when he showed me some flower and I’m like, “Man, this is, to me, this is the best thing I’ve ever seen in my life.” Smoking it, it’s just amazing. And his response is, “Yeah. It’s like a B-minus. Maybe like a C-plus stuff. This happened and that happened.” He does not accept any compliments on that flower and that’s what it takes because there are so many areas to miss that if you’re confident, you’re just going to miss something. So, we try to focus on how we talk about LOWD on things like the selection of the genetics. That’s a real process and not just going to get some Gelato 41 from somebody who have clones like I did when I started, right? Getting a clone, we go through really curated hunts and selecting genetics, going through deep dives. Instead of popping 10 seeds, we pop 50 or 100 of that one genetic hoping to find something special.
And we go through a thousand seeds, at least in a year and maybe we’ll find two or three cultivars that we think are worthy kind of to go forward. So, that’s a lot of money. If I do the math on that, if I had investors, we probably wouldn’t be doing that because we lose so much money to have by doing that but we’re also gaining a lot of competitive advantage by finding cultivars that are unique that no one else has and that we think will connect to people because of bud structures, smell, potency, all these different things that kind of make up a great flower. So, we also talk about with what we do with LOWD is the fact that my industrial engineering background without a doubt helps us to miss less variables. We have, I think, I believe, the world’s first ergonomically designed trim room. Typically, you walk into a trim room and you see people with bins on their laps. They’re hunched over. They’re uncomfortable. There’s a lot of waste that’s happening. There’s a lot of people getting up to go get this and that. There’s a lot of inefficiencies that happen in trim rooms. And ultimately, what happens is you lose a lot of residual product, you lose a lot of quality, and what ultimately gets to the customer, you lose a lot of quality control.
So, we’ve developed that to where my background ergonomics is like this study of how movement happens and time studies and how do you make people more comfortable and how does that equal better results. So, I’ve taken that knowledge to our trim room and completely redesigned it to help that. I’ve taken that knowledge to our curing room and set up this functional setup that allows us to cure in only glass and allows us to burp our jars and help to find those extra quality opportunities within what we do. So, I think we talk about the genetic selection, we talk about the process, right, and being very meticulous and clean. And we also talk about making sure that we strategize and we don’t leave many stones unturned when we look at how we develop our process and how we operate our rooms. And that ultimately helps us to have better consistency and to have better products over time.
Rick Kiley: That sounds like a big investment until we…
Jeffrey Boedges: It seems like a lot more fun than looking at chicken heads.
Rick Kiley: No. It sounds great.
Jesce Horton: Exactly right. It’s exactly why I’m here.
Rick Kiley: Well, what if you had like…
Jesce Horton: It is more fun than dealing with that sh*t.
Rick Kiley: But, Jeff, what about an ergonomic guillotine?
Jeffrey Boedges: Yeah.
Rick Kiley: There might be something to that.
Jesce Horton: Here’s the thing about it.
Jeffrey Boedges: That’s an oxymoron right there.
Jesce Horton: So, in that facility, there’s already been 10 engineers in there designing the machines. Like that stuff has been developed over decades. In the cannabis industry, I’m not the smartest engineer but I can come in here and think about it like, “Oh, we could do this. Oh, that can be done. That can be done.” Amazing opportunity is lurking everywhere.
Jeffrey Boedges: It’s a clean slate, right? So, you’re coming into a place where little I would say you’re definitely the first person to ever mention ergonomic design to us, in any part of the seed-to-sale process.
Rick Kiley: Two firsts. We got chicken decapitation and we got ergonomic seeds, man. It’s good.
Jesce Horton: High ranking episode.
Rick Kiley: Nothing but the best. So, I’m curious, you mentioned earlier that you know your customers very well and what they are specifically looking for. When you’re going through these hunts to try to find the genetics to produce the flower that you want, are you doing that with something specific in mind for your target consumer that might be different than, I don’t know, what a mainstream consumer is but like general medical cannabis consumer?
Jeffrey Boedges: Who’s your panel? Like who comes in?
Jesce Horton: Yeah. No, we do now because there are so many genetics, there’s a couple of things. So, one, we try to first understand like this whole taste palette, this menu of what’s happening in genetics, right? You’ve got really important terpene and flavor profiles that are out there, right, like the purple punches, the GMOs, the OG, the gas, the funk where you got all these different things out there that kind of people gravitate towards. So, some people who like the lemon, they like the lemon. Some people like the fruity. Right?
Jeffrey Boedges: I feel like lemon is everywhere now. It’s like freaking Pledge everywhere.
Jesce Horton: I don’t like lemons. We actually don’t have a lemon strain. We probably should, right? So, first, we look at that, and then we can’t have something in everything so we try to zero in on the areas that we like the most, that we smoke, what we’re reaching for, and that’s how we judge. We have jars everywhere. Me and my partners, right, guys that I’ve known been in the market, other markets for a long time, these are guys that I trust and we’ll just go in as like, “We got all these jars. What are we reaching for every day? You know, what do you want to smoke? What do you want to smoke? Oh, that. Oh, that.” So, that lets us know that there’s something to that. But typically, it ends up being gas. It ends up being really nice, dense profiles. You’ve got to have some color in there nowadays, kind of cross that exotic type of checkmark. So, there are definitely some things in there that we gravitate towards. And that’s kind of what kind of encompasses most of our menu but as our overarching thing, we try to look at all these different profiles and kind of curate a menu that kind of speaks towards what’s happening in the industry right now and what’s trendy.
Jeffrey Boedges: How do you get the word out? So, you’ve got these great brands out there that you’ve paid a billion hours of energy and time and precision with. How are you reaching the customer to let them know? And who’s gravitating?
Jesce Horton: You know, one thing that we’ve always stood on, first and foremost, is that in so many ways, your weed has to sell itself. These consumers out here, they’re so highly discerning and as weed heads were so skeptical of this next thing, “What’s that?” You know what I mean? Or what’s hot? You know, it’s like it almost pushes you away, at least in the Portland market. The Portland and the Oregon market where it’s small business. It’s not about hype. It’s not about what’s trendy. You’ve got to have that word of mouth type of feel. So, that’s what we kind of focus on is trying to put things out that people are going to want to talk about, that people are going to want to review. But then at the same time, we do focus on our branding I think as an aside to make sure that we’re as much as you can brand and market. We’re on Instagram, right? We’re out there. We’re taking our LOWD truck and showing up at retail facilities where we’re sitting out there, we’re playing our music, we’re showing up in the community. We’re trying to bring people to the retailers and trying to be of value to them versus just saying, “We’re going to just sell you weed and then see you later. Call me when you need more.” So, that’s kind of how we try to get out into the community as much as possible.
Jeffrey Boedges: Where did that insight come from? They don’t teach that in engineering school. So, which one of your partner is the marketer?
Jesce Horton: So, you know what, my last job when I moved to Portland, my job was a sales engineer. So, I went through all of those things. I value selling strategy and being a partner because we’re selling million-dollar solutions, right, millions and millions of dollars really got to have that sh*t in sync with people who are going to spend that with you versus somewhere else. So, those strategies taught me a lot about identifying ways that I can be of value to the retailers, of value to the consumer. So, where they’re saying, “Hey, Jesce is not just showing up to sell me some weed. He wants to make my business better.” I see how he’s making it easier for me to sell weed. So, I learned a lot of that. I learned a lot of that in those value selling but I’ve got when you look at my brand and my visuals, I got the best marketing team in the industry, period. I don’t give a damn if you talk about who were the biggest guys, Curaleaf, Columbia Care. I don’t give a damn. None of those guys can touch my marketing team. I got the best visual design guy.
And these are all my friends. My visual design artist who does all of our visuals is my old college roommate. We used to sit in the shotgun apartment and like pass weed. I’m sitting in my office or in my room doing my engineering calculus and I’m done with the blunt and I knock on his door and pass him the blunt. And he’s doing his graphic design, right? And my other partner who’s kind of in the middle, I don’t know, he wasn’t doing a lot but we carry that…
Jeffrey Boedges: Yeah. Because he’s got it going both ways. What else could he do?
Jesce Horton: He would pass all the time. Right.
Rick Kiley: And you’re like the second person I’ve interviewed who’s somehow been able to do weed and calculus. I was a math major and that was like the one thing I couldn’t do.
Jesce Horton: Really, that was the only thing that helped me.
Rick Kiley: Oh, alright.
Jesce Horton: I was a horrible student. I was horrible at math. I started smoking where I was like, “Oh, okay, let me settle down and I can do this.” But lastly, my cousin is one of the most talented ad executives along with his partner Pedro in the nation, period. He’s a Black, of course, my cousin, full cousin, I’ll say, one of the most talented black ad executives in the nation. He works with Hulu, Apple, some of the top ad executives or some of the top ad agencies. He’s our creative director. So, we’ve got a team of creatives that I think will stack up with anyone out there.
Jeffrey Boedges: You live in a good area for it. I mean, there are plenty of world-class organizations up that way.
Rick Kiley: And it seems like you’re living I don’t know if “the dream” but “a dream” being able to like create a great business with a lot of people that you love and be successful at. That just sounds amazing. So, just congrats on finding that. That’s so cool.
Jesce Horton: Thank you.
Rick Kiley: I did want to ask one thing. One of the things that I want to ask you specifically, something else we found online somewhere, when a lot of conversations that we have about folks in the industry, there’s talk about a need or desire, not a need, a desire to destigmatize the stoner culture, what sort of exists out there. And it seems like you might have a different approach to that, not de-stigmatization but perhaps elevating.
Jeffrey Boedges: This is where I wish we did have a little bit of video.
Rick Kiley: Yeah. No, I think you have a different approach or insight around this, and I just wanted to talk about what it means to elevate stoner culture.
Jesce Horton: Oh, yes, without a doubt. I mean, you see people moving away from stoner culture, right? It seemed like for a while everything was green, everything cannabis in the name, everything they have weed in your face. And then these companies came along and I guess had a better idea of wanted to appeal to people who weren’t connected, where I understand.
Jeffrey Boedges: And they turn it into Diet Coke. Yep.
Jesce Horton: Yeah. Is that right? There’s a lot of people out there who they’re like, “Let’s go after all those people. That’s an untapped market.” But without a doubt, we are stoners. That’s all we know. I don’t know how to market to non-stoners like I’ll be sitting at a desk trying to hire people. You know what I mean? So, I can’t do that as a small business. I know how to market to stoners because that’s who I am. We elevate that culture by we put weed in your face. Our name, LOWD, is very connected from a historical kind of hood or cultural standpoint of LOWD being a really great weed but it’s really an acronym that stands for Love Our Weed Daily or people who smoke every day. So, we have that all ingrained in our name, green and these LOWD colors are vibrantly part of what we do and who we are. So, the way we talk about weed is really, from our standpoint, stoner culture, right? The way that we represent our consumers, our stoners are out there. We show them love. We want to be connected to them. We do everything we can to connect to them. So, there are so many different ways that we try our hardest to wave the flag for stoner culture and to kind of be right at the forefront of it when a lot of people are moving away.
Jeffrey Boedges: And you mentioned the truck earlier. So, I’m more of that guy. So, just kind of curious like are you leaning into that a bit more, especially as you’re trying to reach these customers on their own turf?
Jesce Horton: Man, wish you can see our LOWD truck. We got something that no other people are doing that I haven’t seen in the cannabis industry. We’ve got a really dope moving truck. It’s wrapped. We’ve got kind of the shelving that emulates our curing room. We really invested a lot in our trucks so that we can go around and show people kind of about our culture, what we do. You know, a lot of things are invested there. So, we do. We use it a lot. We get out there and we post up at as many places as possible.
Rick Kiley: That’s great.
Jeffrey Boedges: You’re definitely the first guest I think also that’s talked about their own weed mobile that’s produced and out there functioning. I think people have fantasized about it but I think you might be the only one that actually got one.
Rick Kiley: That’s great. I mean, we need to educate people. I mean, that’s really where we’re at that the industry is so nascent. And if you’re able to create, I guess, the mobile vehicle lets people learn a little bit about your process, about your brand, and that sort of thing.
Jesce Horton: That’s right. Exactly. We get out there. We sell merch. We have video inside that plays some of our – maybe go to LOWD.com, you’ll see our mood film. We’ve got a lot of pictures and videos. We talk about the process. So, we use that as kind of like a party situation but a lot as like letting people know what our brand is and who we are. I used to hate Quick Store. I used to hate Coca-Cola. I never understood why people went to McDonald’s when I was a kid and the first thing they say, or you hear a movie is like, “Let me get a number 5 with a Coke.” Or it’s like with a Coke is always what you hear, everyone gravitates. But I hated Coke. I didn’t understand why. I’m like it’s like not really that good. It’s not fruity. You know what I mean? It’s like this taste like – sorry.
Jeffrey Boedges: Well, there goes our Coca-Cola sponsorship.
Jesce Horton: But I went to the world of Coca-Cola. I had to be like old enough to be able to make decisions. I was like 21. So, it’s not like I was a teenager going in but I was like 21 that went to the world of Coca-Cola, where they’re talking about their brand. They’re talking about the history of their brand. They called it the Happiness Factory. That’s what it’s about, right? What they want you to feel when you have their soda. And man, I swear when I go into a restaurant and kind of the go-to now for me is a Coke and they completely rewired my – not that they went out there and like rewire people’s brains but it helps me understand how talking to people about why you exist and what your tree is about and who you are and how it connects with them and how you should feel when you, you know, it really matters as we’re out here trying to create a brand. So, I think that has helped us a lot since we launched to really catch fire.
Rick Kiley: Now, you’re right on the money and it’s a great approach. I mean, Jeff and I work a lot in the alcohol beverage industry, and we’ve created these like deep immersive educational programs similar to exactly what you’re describing for spirits brands, for whiskey brands, in particular.
Jeffrey Boedges: Beer brands.
Rick Kiley: And when you can give people that look under the hood and give them the answer to the question, “Why should I be choosing this or why is it made this way? Why is it important?” they feel good knowing that. And they will go out and they’ll buy it so that their friend asks them, “Well, why did you choose that?” And then they have the good answer, and they look smart and they look like they’re in the know. And that’s what that does, and you’re going to create that great cycle. It’s a great recipe for success and you’re already way ahead of the game. So, good on you.
Jeffrey Boedges: Quick sort of side question to that. Are you guys using that as a recruitment vehicle for new people? You know, because it kind of ties into your not-for-profits and that’s about being able to bring people into this nascent industry because there’s going to be the way the wine industry is in California and Oregon and Washington for that matter, where there’s a whole new industry that didn’t even exist 20 years ago. And so, there’s got to be people who know what they’re doing to fill those jobs. Are you guys using this as sort of a recruitment vehicle for young professionals trying to figure out what they want to do?
Jesce Horton: You know, I think kind of not directly connected, right? I think the fact that I’m successful in business and I built this brand with such a dope team of people, it helps to legitimize anything that I do in the nonprofit arena. You know what I mean? I try to not connect them other than my business donating to my nonprofit, the fact that I funded the non-profits myself for a long time. Other than that kind of dotted line connection, I think the only other connection is that I helped to legitimize the non-profits, and I bring a lot of the knowledge that I’ve gained in business to these nonprofits and helping people because that’s what the nonprofits do. The MCBA was all about opening up space for more people like me to get into the cannabis industry to benefit from the cannabis industry. My nonprofit Nu Project is similar. It’s more focused on business owners and helping them and professionals to find opportunity for them.
We have a small team of like 10 to 14 people. We don’t do a lot of recruiting ourselves, but without a doubt, from a nonprofit standpoint, a lot of these things that I’m gaining help to make them a little more special and have a competitive advantage for those nonprofits, not really to make money but a competitive advantage, in a sense, competing with the growth of the industry. As you mentioned, a fast-growing industry competing with it in a way that opens up opportunity, right, and no matter if it doesn’t go too fast for people to really get a hold and to benefit.
Jeffrey Boedges: I only ask because I’m looking for a job in the grow.
Jesce Horton: That’s what I’m saying. We’re not hiring.
Rick Kiley: But he’s cheap. It’s going to be one of those retirement jobs.
Jeffrey Boedges: For sure. Yeah. I’m doing it for the fringe benefits.
Rick Kiley: So, 12 hours a week, just Thursdays. Yeah. Well, I’m glad you brought the nonprofits because we’re running out of time and I did want to ask you about them. So, you’re the first person I met who was sort of part of a granting organization, and I was really curious about the venture that’s giving out grants and loans to entrepreneurs who are starting up and how that works, in particular, because I think that’s super important. Obviously, getting started with any business is really effing hard and in the cannabis industry, even harder. So, it’s really good work and I’m just curious as to how that’s going so far.
Jesce Horton: Yeah. It’s going fantastic. It’s definitely grown beyond what I thought it was so fast. I think it’s because it’s identifying that mission and what we do with Nu Project is that we said it’s kind of a model of what we like to say is a better industry to where we work with this, the public partnership. We have a partnership with the City of Portland to where they give us a portion of the cannabis tax and allow us to then grant that to Black and Brown and businesses owned by people who’ve been hurt and harmed by cannabis prohibition enforcement. So, the partnership with the City of Portland is really important, not just because it’s a good amount of money that helps us to increase opportunities for these businesses but also symbolically. It helps to legitimize us to these other private companies, right?
Rick Kiley: Yeah.
Jesce Horton: And they’ve got all these different things. Everyone wants to do something good and there’s all these different things out there for them to do. But we make it easy for them because we’ve got a really solid model that by working with public and private and then community organizations, which Nu Project is made up of a board of a lot of community members, in addition to myself and Jeannette, who runs the organization as the executive director, we are able to create something bigger than the sum of its parts. It really shows that we can do something special, like you said, getting to a million dollars and helping to create a lot of dope stories. We can do that but it is definitely maximized by all these different pieces coming together and just by one working on it alone, kind of similar to the economic versus the moral progression of the cannabis industry, you got to do it together, and I think that will without a doubt help us to compete with the acceleration of this industry.
Rick Kiley: Yeah. That’s great. It’s important work. Glad you’re doing it. Cool. Well, look, we are about out of time. We call this podcast The Green Repeal because when we started off, we thought we were going to be having a lot of conversations around the move towards federal legalization. And it seemed to have just been plodding along and not a lot of progress being made. But we do ask everybody we interview, if they have a thought about when weed will be federally legal, curious if you have any insight about that?
Jesce Horton: Wow. You know, I used to have what I thought was great insight. Congressman Earl Blumenauer, he has great insight but he ran the Cannabis Caucus, the House of Representatives over in D.C. and he used to have a regular roundtable. He’s the Oregon representative for the House of Representatives, where at one point I think before Trump was elected, he thought it would be two to three years and he was really serious about it. He felt really, really good about it. And then Trump was elected, and then he said that was pushed back completely because no one wanted to do anything other than Trump stuff. No one wanted to do anything new. They just wanted to get focused on either getting Trump out or whatever it may be, right? So, at that point, it pushed back, and I haven’t talked to Earl since then. He’s not running for reelection. So, I’m kind of in a little bit in the blue. I would estimate just based on my own insight, not really any insider knowledge of probably somewhere between three to five years would be a great window for us to move on.
Jeffrey Boedges: That’s the trending hot answer right now, four years, really. I think everybody that wants to kick it down another cycle. Yeah, four years. By the time the next Olympics is around, we are going to be high as a kite feather.
Rick Kiley: Yeah. Anyway, alright. Well, Jesce, look, it has been frankly a great conversation for me. Really insightful. Wonderful to learn about your business. It seems like you built an awesome company with a really great team. We wish you the very best of luck and thank you so much for joining us and giving us your insight today.
Jesce Horton: Hey, thank you so much, Rick and Jeff. I appreciate the opportunity to jump in and talk to you and talk to your audience. Thank you.
Jeffrey Boedges: Let us know when you come to New York, man. You’re hanging out with us.
Rick Kiley: All right. Cheers, everyone.