Monday, January 1, 2018

The Next Episode

If you've landed here, you are someone who has either helped me along my professional journey (and I cant name you all as there are too many, and likely some I would forget to mention); are a friend or colleague with at least a passing interest in my professional endeavors; or you thought you were clicking a link to the Dre/Snoop song.  So, if the latter, I linked it for you, and my apologies.

But if you fall into the prior two categories...I am making some changes. If you don't feel like reading my prose, you can skip about half way down to get to the real skinny (where it says THE REAL SKINNY). But if you care to indulge me...I began with Dixie Brands, Inc. almost four years ago to the day, throwing corporate caution to the wind as I knew in my gut that legalization was not only the right thing to do, but also held tremendous opportunity for those willing to take risks early. And for the record--I say early in the context of a life-long corporate guy like me. There are MANY who risked far greater, far earlier than me to move Cannabis ahead. I am grateful to those who took the risk so that I could find a home.

But back to Dixie and my jump to the green side. I knew that it would be a wild ride, filled with new adventures, new friends, new opportunities, a lot of firsts, a lot of uncertainty and a lot of personal/professional growth. Turns out, I might have underestimated. It was crazier than I anticipated. We built and launched multiple new brands (Aceso and Therabis); new products (chocolates, gummies, etc.); and new markets (CA, AZ, MD, NV and even OR for about a month).  I helped shape legislation in multiple markets. I saw more "opportunities" come and go than I can even remember (this industry has ADHD like none other). I met hundreds of new colleagues who I now call good friends, having been in trenches with them unique to this industry alone. And I saw the good, bad and ugly of how to run/grow a start-up business in a start up industry. The good news for me is that there are precious few of those experiences that I would have traded because all of it has given me a perspective and clarity that I might not have had five years ago, and certainly not ten years ago. It also led me to this next adventure, which I call CXjoe.

As I began thinking that my time at Dixie had run its course, I started to put out some feelers to see what was out there. Three things became clear to me:
1) There is a LOT going on outside of Colorado as I spoke with some amazing, strong, profitable and innovative companies in IL, MA and CA.  Colorado likes to "think" it's the center of the cannabis universe, but that kind of thinking will end up leaving this state behind, not ahead, as legalized cannabis grows.
2) The next wave of innovation for the Cannabis industry is not, in my mind, the next greatest gummy flavor. In fact, I firmly believe that only the strongest of single vertical companies (edibles or otherwise) will survive in the long term. Rather, I believe the next wave is coming back full circle to bridging medical and "recreational" use by dialing in dosing, effect and results backed by data. There are some really exciting companies working hard to create "recreational" products that provide consumers/patients with the ability to leverage very specific cannabinoids, delivery systems and dosing regimens to achieve successful health outcomes with cannabis. That's not to say that there's not still a huge market for people who just want to "get high" (and there's plenty out there), but those products might become commoditized in a race to the bottom for pricing, dominated by a few larger brands. The "growth" will occur within new users (the proverbial soccer moms and seniors) who want to know what they are getting, why and how to use it.
3) We are still lacking a certain maturity as an industry and even the exciting companies still aren't quite ready for a full time team of executives. Or they are in constant fund raising/flux mode and can't quite afford someone with over 20 years of experience. Which is how I got to CXjoe.

THE REAL SKINNY. I formed CXjoe, LLC in an effort to create a "shared executive" program with several of these exciting, growth stage companies. Specifically, in addition to on-going consulting with Dixie, I started working with the following companies in varying capacities from marketing to business development and operations this past December:
-GoFire: Check them out at An amazing team of young, talented and passionate professionals who are creating a first of its kind, dosable vaporization platform driven by "Internet of Things" (IOT) smart technology in the proprietary cartridges and device.  The wisdom and natural leadership I see from Peter Calfee, the CEO of GoFire, far exceeds the years of experience in this team and I love just being in the office with all of them.
-MedPharm: Led by Albert Gutierrez, MedPharm just completed a state of the art, next-level, integrated facility with cultivation, lab, ISO clean room, extraction and production all in one. This team, backed by leaders in chemistry and compound pharmaceuticals, will leverage this one-of-a-kind facility to produce not only the highest quality recreational extracts (some of which are custom formulated, such as "become" which is a line of vape concentrates formulated by women and for women), but also proprietary formulations which will be licensed in legal markets around the country and around the world. www.
-Cannabrand: If you've been around PR and marketing in the cannabis industry, you have likely heard of Olivia Mannix and Cannabrands. They have led the way with Cannabis specific branding, PR and marketing since 2014.  There is a great team of young professionals at Cannabrand and I am proud to be working with them on providing some additional strategy and tools for their stellar list of clients, as well as helping to shape some of their growth moving forward.

In addition to working with a tremendous line up of start-ups in the Cannabis space, I am also adding "professor" to my list of experiences. I will be teaching a marketing strategy MBA course at DU this Winter. While my wife likes to remind me that I am just an adjunct and not a real "professor" --that wont stop me from milking that title for all I can. And from potentially getting a jacket with leather elbow patches. Hat tip to my friend Lowell Miller for connecting me with this opportunity. My relationship with Lowell is a great reminder for anyone reading this that networks, and staying in touch with people over the years is critical to finding growth and opportunities.

I try not to indulge in public self-reflection too often, so if you've read this whole thing...thank you. It was about three years in the making since my last blog post, so I had a lot to get out. I hope you have a great 2018, and if you're interested in how this "shared executive" thing turns out, let me know and I would be happy to keep you updated. Of course, if you have opportunities to discuss (either for CXjoe or any of the companies I am working with), I would love to hear that as well.  The best email for me moving forward is

Finally, and most importantly, if you are one of those who has lent me multiple ears and helped me make these important decisions along the way--thank you. I dont know how people make big decisions without the kind of support I have from my friends, colleagues and family. And thank you to my Dixie peeps for the opportunities and challenges that have brought me here.

Feels good to get this all off my chest and official. Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Wait a minute....wasnt it just yesterday?

(EDITORS NOTE: I started this blog post two weeks ago and just finalized/posted today).

Wow.  Has it really been six months since my last entry? As I rapidly approached the one year mark of my new adventure in cannabis marketing, I became more and more intimidated by the thought of trying to encapsulate all that has taken place in order to get myself “caught up” on this blog. 

Everything from the two tragedies and the famous Dowd incident that it seemed would define my new business,  to the surreal experience of 420/Cannabis cup events, completing construction of our new building, participating in countless meetings about packaging and dosing, launching one of the first “low dose” products in the industry after being told by budtenders and dispensaries that it would never work (it did…).  The list could be about as long as the stacks of cash my company is forced to deposit into ATMs because the industry still has no banking—an issue we are pushing to be at the forefront of. But as I said, that seemed a bit intimidating and not likely to make for good reading as a blog post. But as I sit on a flight on the way back from Seattle and a visit with Leafly (more to come on them), this seemed like as good a week as any to just jump in and provide a snapshot of this interesting ride Ive taken.

This is not a special week. Or a different week. This is just the a-typical typical week. It began with quite a bit of follow up from the prior week’s events in Las Vegas for the National Marijuana Business conference where our CEO spoke (twice actually) to an audience of over 1,000 about both the future of cannabis and some best practices for expanding into other markets. This year’s event was sold out and included over 2800 attendees. To put that in context, this is the third year of the event. I heard that the first one, which barely made it into existence, drew a few hundred…maybe. Sufficed to say, we spent a tornadic four days in Vegas talking to hundreds of people about Dixie, entertaining offers/requests to carry our products, appearing on CNBC, talking to Fast Company, looking at possible packaging partners, eyeing potential competitors (and somewhat scoffing at a few who just had no clue what it meant to be in the business of large scale infused products production), and realizing that in a short ten months I have gotten to know the “who’s who” of the burgeoning cannabis industry. These are people who are colleagues but also people I now look forward to seeing and call friends. We hosted a party at Chateau nightclub that, in my humble opinion, became the most sought after ticket of the event, with lines to get in, tickets being forged and even a visit/performance by Jaberwokeez.  Though note to self…if you are going to host an MJ industry event, perhaps do it at a place that doesn’t have an issue with marijuana consumption.

But on to the week that followed. This week actually began on Sunday evening as we found out the Colorado Dept. of Public Health (CDPHE) was going to make a recommendation at the HB 1366 meeting the following day in regards to setting up a committee to “approve” all edibles products. CBS4 called and asked if was willing to do an interview Sunday night. Exhausted from Vegas, I wasn’t in the mood to…until he told me that they had interviewed one of the SMART Moms, who have become my arch nemesis. As a rational parent of three, I can say with confidence that their goal is to spread misinformation and fear under the guise of “but its for the children!” The “rumor” is that they are funded by big Pharma. Not sure. But makes for great conspiracy theory fodder.  Then, on Monday it was four mind numbing hours of discussion at the HB 1366 meeting. Our marketing director represented the industry well in a group debate that included the aforementioned SMART Moms, as well as the Marijuana Enforcement Division (MED), Childrens Hospital, poison control, CDPHE, law enforcement and legislators.  No consensus was to be had. I wont go into the details as to the specifics of HB 1366 but if you're interested, click here.

The highlight of the next day was participating as a member of a committee chosen by the CDPHE to help roll out the State’s $4M+ general education/youth prevention campaign. This is a very tangible confirmation to me that  I made the right decision. I have been begging everyone I know in government to let me/Dixie/the industry have a voice in how we roll out this critical piece of the experimental puzzle. The RFP process for an agency took place a few months ago and my former agency submitted, but didn’t win. I mention that not for their lack of a win…that happens in agencies. I mention it because one of the reasons I got into this business was a feeling that I could either sit on the outside and armchair quarterback what was taking place, or I could help affect changes from the inside out. Ten months later, I find myself fulfilling on that goal by serving on the committee that will have direct influence over the implementation of the program vs. lamenting that my agency didn’t win the bid for whatever reason.

Then there was 60 Minutes. Yep. In the past two weeks, 60 Minutes was in the house with host Bill Whitaker as was CNBC and Harry Smith. We were asked to participate on behalf of the governor’s office, so we gladly hosted the Governors Drug Czar, a great young bureaucrat named Andrew Freedman, as well as Bill and about a half dozen camera guys. This came on the heels of an hour long interview with Harry Smith of CNBC just a few weeks prior. And this coming week we will be on CNBC again as well as MSNBC, as teasers for the upcoming 6 part docu-series, “Pot Barons” that has been filming with us for the past six months.(NOTE: Pot Barons launched this week!)

Did I mention that we launched a new product into the market this week—our awakening and relaxing mints. New packaging, low dose5MG mints that meet all of the new requirements for packaging and product dosage. This is the first in a series of new products we will roll out over the coming months to meet the State's new requirements by Feb. 1. We had to completely re-engineer all of our packaging and rethink all of our products--in six months.

Next, I was on a plane to Seattle where Leafly (mentioned earlier) had invited me to participate in a day long marketing summit (they picked up the tab for flight, hotel etc.). Leafly is this amazing tech company that is the self-described "Yelp of Marijuana." Incredible young and passionate talent from places like Microsoft, Kelly Blue Book, AT&T..and they have the same vision for legitimizing this industry as Dixie does. In fact, they were the first and so far only MJ company to buy a full page ad in the NY Times. Made quite a splash. The marketing summit was amazing. To be at a table with thought leaders from around the country (CO, CA, AZ, WA) discussing the marketing and industry challenges we all face--it was a tremendous day of relationship and knowledge building, followed by a great dinner and some fun.

And finally, back to the office on a 530 AM flight out of Washington so I could make it back in time for a 1030 offsite session at Dixie where we hammered out a Mission, Vision and Values session. We gathered about a dozen folks from different departments and really came together around where we want this company to go and what we stand for. While we have been around for 5 yrs, and we are moving at the speed of light, we have never had this foundation to hang on to. It was a great day, with people who were passionate about the company and the industry and our future.

And if you are still reading this blog likely feel about as tired and dizzy as I do at the end of every day. But, this pretty much captures the feeling of being on the inside.  Thanks for reading...and I would welcome any thoughts or questions you have. And I hope to get back to posting more regularly so I dont barf out another post this long. But I just couldn't help myself because there is just so much to share. And believe me--I was just scratching the surface.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

The Debate Rages On

First, for anyone who happens to have an interest in this blog, my apologies for letting you down. I had visions of posting weekly...but I dont think that's gonna happen. Who knew selling weed would be so time consuming?

That said, this is an easy post because it has already been written. The background is day an old friend who I have known since my summer camp days, alerted to me to a somewhat negative post about Dixie products, written by a fairly reputable, yet conservative author/journalist named David Frum.  Hat tip to @fisherqt for the twit-tip...and on a unrelated sidenote, it was this tweet that allowed me to enjoy reconnecting with an old friend.

Anywho--I reached out to him to ask if he was interested in discussing his views with me. Turns out, he was. Below is a rather prolific email exchange between Frum and me that I felt was a great summary of many sides of this issue-as told by someone who favored legalization and is living it and someone who fears it is simply the next step toward the end of times. Truthfully, I was honored to have had so much of his time and thoughts--when I began the discussion with him I didnt realize exactly who he was. Turns out..he's kind of a big deal. The bones of our discussion were very much related to a subsequent article for Commentary Magazine which had begun to write before we began our exchange. I emailed him after it posted, and I told him I that while I disagreed with most of it, I felt it was pretty eloquent.

So, it's long...but take a look at the below thread and let me know your thoughts. I dont believe there is a "winner" in this debate necessarily, but these are the some of the issues. Read it from the bottom up of course.

A few quick things:
1     I just wanted to thank you for your passionate and articulate responses. I completely understand your position, I respect it, and I thank you for taking the time to share it with me. I know how busy you are…and the respect you command within the world of the written word.
2     How would you feel if I was to take this email thread, wholesale, and post it to my blog? I just think its an interesting examination of the debate and I think you have some great points. If you’d rather not-I completely understand.
    I apologize in advance for the length of the below…

Now, per the below…I think we are at the point to agree to disagree.  I think what lies at the crux is the fact that you are operating from preconceived notions, prejudices and assumptions. I agree with your first point—but I don’t see us working to fix the issues. As a country, as a community, as a global economy…the system is broken irreparably. Now, that’s not to say it is a reason for chaos and anarchy, or that I want to contribute to the demise. But it IS to say that if we were working on the real issues (inequality of pay, education, etc.), legalization would seem much less threatening to you is my guess. And again-that’s where there is a bit of a redistribution in that we are taking these tax dollars and applying them to schools. Which, IMHO, is very germane to the social issues you mention below.

But, as for your later points… I want to take a few of them individually for response:
·         We have a legal market for prescription drugs AND an illegal market for them

      This is true. However, I cant walk into a store to purchase Vicodin. I have to have a drs.                 Prescription. Thus, the black market can continue to thrive because there is limited access.             Additionally, its important to note that most physicians (and society in general) would agree that       opiates are far more addictive and harmful than marijuana.  Are you suggesting that we should         eliminate prescription medications that have the potential for abuse?

·         The under-18s you wish to keep marijuana away from (neurologically, the cut-off age should be 25) are getting their marijuana from the over-18s legally permitted to buy.
Agree that it should be at least under 21 (with the exception of legitimate and documented medical purposes)…and guess what? That is the law. I am not in the business of enforcing the law, but I can tell you that if someone over the age of 21 sells or gives marijuana to someone under the age of 21 (and yes, I know the neurological studies you refer to about the development of the brain, esp. in males, until 25), then they should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. So, we cant have it both ways. We cant say that the war on drugs should continue, but then argue that we cant keep it out of the hands of the under-21 crowd.  Im also not sure what you mean by a surplus due to the higher potency? There are basic economics of supply and demand at play, regardless of potency.

·         For years, advocates of legal marijuana denied that pot was a “gateway” drug. Yet here you are arguing just the opposite
This point somewhat confounded me. Im not sure how I was arguing that it IS indeed a gateway drug. My point was simply that a drug dealer is going to push other more addictive, higher value drugs on a young person whereas a legal, regulated store will not. The truth is that alcohol is more a gateway drug than anything else. Its not the drug that becomes the gateway. There is NO evidence that people who consume marijuana are more/less likely than anyone else to go on to harder drugs. The idea that the marijuana consumer is always looking for a bigger, better, different high simply isn’t true. Unless we say its like the beer drinker who eventually learns that he/she likes wine and then vodka. I know plenty of MJ consumers who would never dream of consuming meth or heroin.

The rest of your points I will simply address on the whole—which is that your information and perceptions are outdated. IT is not simply a drug for those under 30. A significant part of our target, and future markets skew much older (35+)and the baby boomer generation is one of the faster growing segments. You also seem to have the perspective that one automatically becomes “addicted” to marijuana with its use. The younger they start, the more they consume.  I can tell you that there are many recreational users (myself included) who use it on an occasional basis as it can be pretty fun and relaxing. I first tried it in college, like most people—many of whom either never use it later in life or who use it occasionally. There simply is no evidence to support your claim (NOTE: My social worker wife did point out that earlier use increases the chance for addiction after reading my note to Frum. Score one for Robyn).  Which leads to the next point—not sure why you assume that people who use MJ are likely to drink more. Please share that data with me because my (mostly anecdotal) evidence points to the fact that more frequent MJ users are actually less likely to use/abuse alcohol.
You also note this all as being “my harms” that will be incurred. I/we don’t force people to enjoy our product. And just like the pervasive alcohol companies, we encourage safety and moderation. Idiots will be idiots. Unsafe drivers who make poor decisions will be unsafe drivers who make poor decisions. Its not the MJ that creates that scenario.  There are plenty of people who use this product responsibly. Plenty. I think all of your prejudice is grounded in a bit of a reefer madness assumption about the downfall of society. This plant has redeeming medicinal qualities, it can be used recreationally and enjoyably. It is less addictive than alcohol. I could go on and on. But I have yet to see any proof that shows it to be the case that Colorado is falling apart as a result of legalization. If anything, we are thriving. We are creating jobs. We are developing a great tax base for education. We don’t have stoned zombies walking the streets.

I urge you to shrug off you antiquated assumptions and take a hard look at the evidence.  You suffer from the delusion that MJ is a Schedule I drug, more harmful than cocaine, meth, heroin etc. and it simply isn’t true. And again, its important to remind you that we didn’t invent MJ. It has existed for a looong time.

But again—this simply might be where we have to agree to disagree.

From: DavidFrum
Sent: Tuesday, March 18, 2014 6:59 AM
To: Joe Hodas
Subject: Re: Dixie Follow Up

I don’t know how much you want to hear from me about all this, but 2 points:

1) Yes, marijuana abuse is only a symptom of larger social problems. So are credit card abuse, gun homicides, obesity, and so on. If we knew how to treat the underlying social problems of poverty, racism and its after-effects, the decline of the two parent family, deindustrialization, the anomie of the suburbs, the loss of personal meaning in a secularizing society, etc etc etc we’d surely do that. But just as doctors successfully treated infection before they knew the causes of infection, so we don’t have to wait to fix our daunting social problems to mitigate their effects. If we can’t teach everyone financial literacy, at least we can halt the marketing of predatory mortgages. We may be stumped by the family breakdown caused by declining wages of less-skilled men, but at least we can deny guns to wife-batterers.

Same goes w marijuana. Perhaps if we achieved some heroic and as yet unspecified social overhaul, it might be less dangerous to allow the marketing of mind-altering and dependency-inducing drugs. In the meantime, given the society we actually happen to have, the marketing of such drugs is a formula for nothing but trouble. 

2) The argument that legalization somehow erects a higher wall against illegal drugs is belied by experience. We have a legal market for prescription drugs AND an illegal market for them, and the legal market is the illegal market’s most important source of supply. So it is for legal marijuana, as we’re already seeing in Colorado. The under-18s you wish to keep marijuana away from (neurologically, the cut-off age should be 25) are getting their marijuana from the over-18s legally permitted to buy. And by the way the new high-intensity products your company markets creates a much greater psychoactive surplus for sale to minors. Your own website talks about the ability of vapor pens to get people high instantly and keep them high for hours on a very small quantity of product. Meanwhile, the drug cartels will continue to exist until such time as heroin, cocaine, and meth are legalized. 

Final grimly humorous note: For years, advocates of legal marijuana denied that pot was a “gateway” drug. Yet here you are arguing just the opposite: that precisely because pot is a gateway, legalization will somehow quarantine the pot market from the market for harder drugs. We already know however that marijuana and alcohol aren’t substitutes for each other: people who smoke more also drink more. And I fear we will discover, as legalization expands the population of marijuana-dependent teens and 20-somethings, that legalization has increased the target market for harder drugs proportionally. 

As your own market research surely shows you, marijuana is a drug for the young: half of people who ever try marijuana quit by age 30. The earlier they start, the more they use. I don’t doubt that marijuana will be a lucrative business if allowed. So were cigarettes in their day. But the social harms are very large, and the money your company earns is taken, in great measure, from the taxpayers who must bear the costs your harms incur: more car accidents, lower graduation rates, reduced incomes, more drug treatment costs, and so on. 

The $40 m taxes your industry pays the state of Colorado will not begin to cover those costs, as the governor has indicated. 

You may say that it’s a better deal than putting people in prison. I’ll agree with that. But to veer from mass incarceration to mass marketing is an over-correction even worse than the original bad policy.

On Mar 17, 2014, at 5:59 PM, Joe Hodas <> wrote:

Well, I cant argue that its more powerful (compared to 20 yrs ago at least...). But, in terms of profiting from those most likely to succumb… I have to take exception there. And you are not likely to buy these augments but….I think that we, once again, are looking for a scapegoat (Ie-marijuana) for what ails our country. MJ might be a symptom, but the societal challenges you refer to would (and do) exist with or without legal marijuana. Now, against that backdrop, consider this--$40M in tax revenue will go straight to education, no ifs ands or buts. New schools. Better equipment, enrichment courses, etc. And that will benefit those who you refer to as “at risk” below. Secondly—that 18 yr old kid, in a state where MJ is illegal, likely will still get his/her hands on it, but will also end up serving a prison sentence for possession—taking him/her WAY off course. More so than in a state where it is legal and more easily accessed. And of course, I don’t have to tell you that incarceration is disproportionately affecting men of color.  Finally—when these products are retailing at $50 or so, Im not saying at risk kids wont access it, but, these products are priced for those with disposable income.
Last soap box piece—if someone gets a professionally manufactured product, from a licensed, tracked store—they aren’t then likely to get “sold” on crack, meth etc. that a drug dealer likely would. Thereby getting them into much more damaging, and addictive drugs. And we (state and industry), are working hard on the tracking system so that we can track all they way back to the store and possibly the purchaser.

From: DavidFrum
Sent: Monday, March 17, 2014 3:34 PM
To: Joe Hodas
Subject: Re: Dixie Follow Up

But now it’s more chemically powerful, more readily accessible, & more attractively marketed.
Parenting matters a lot, I agree. Your kids will be fine, thanks to the love and care of their two highly educated, affluent, & committed parents. If they make mistakes along the way, you’ll be there to cushion the consequences and set them on the right path. That does not describe everybody’s kids. And from subprime mortgages to junk food to the new marijuana industry, it just seems a shame that so many in the American upper class gain their economic security by putting snares in the path of those most likely to succumb and least likely to recover.

On Mar 17, 2014, at 5:28 PM, Joe Hodas <> wrote:

But david—we didn’t invent marijuana. It existed before. And adolescents used it before. Parenting and prevention is still parenting and prevention.

From: DavidFrum
Sent: Monday, March 17, 2014 3:27 PM
To: Joe Hodas
Subject: Re: Dixie Follow Up

Yes, I write a lot about this subject. 
I heard about the vapor pens from Colorado high school principals who have suddenly begun confiscating a lot of them.
I read your personal story on your blog, and I appreciate that you are wrestling with your conscience about your industry. Childproofing won’t deter adolescents, unfortunately.
David Frum

On Mar 17, 2014, at 5:13 PM, Joe Hodas <> wrote:

Hi David-
Thanks for the note. A buddy of mine forwarded me your tweet…and I felt compelled to reach out. To be honest—vape pens are really not what we do. We are actually an edibles company. Granted, that probably doesn’t change the conversation much. But, as a father of three kids (5, 10, 12) I feel really strongly about this issue. In fact, I just attended a press conf. from the Governor today talking about childproof packaging etc. 

If you ever have a desire to hear about things from the inside of the industry, I would be happy to chat. 

Thanks David. Appreciate it.


Monday, February 10, 2014

But what about the children!?

First off--if you are kind enough to follow my blog...I apologize that I have been delayed in writing this post. Im sure there are thousands, if not millions of you, anxiously awaiting each and every post :).
But, truth is--I have been drinking from the proverbial firehose. Ive described being in this business as a little like being stoned--nothing is linear. There are a million thoughts, ideas, opportunities swirling around in your head all day long. And it makes me want to put my head on a pillow and go to sleep by the time Im done with the day.

But, that's not what THIS post is about. No, this post is about the kids. I mentioned in my first update that this move was a difficult decision. And it was made worse by the discussion with my two boys (I didnt share it with daughter who is five). Im here to tell you that our schools/public education systems must be doing a good job because when I finally broached the subject of my job change with the kids, they responded with tears. Actual tears. No doubt about it in their minds..drugs are bad, m'kay? They were so upset that I was actually going to be doing something so horrible. They were fearful for me, and the stigma around how people might treat me. And they also had some slightly irrational fears--would I contaminate them by bringing drugs into our house? Would I become a drug addict? Would I smell like it? And of course, fears for themselves--what would the kids at school say? My 12 yr old went so far as to tell me he used to be proud to say to his friends that his Dad's company did X, Y or Z ad campaign or billboard. And that now he would be ashamed. Yeah. It was that bad.

But, as I felt the pangs of guilt, and questioned my decision based on my two crying boys who I love dearly...I had a vision of the conversation I would have with my older boy when he was 21, marijuana is federally legal and is huge business and I say to him "yeah..I almost got in on the ground floor of that industry, but you guys said not to, so I didnt." And he would look at me with even greater incredulity than when I told him I was going into the business and he would say to me "What the hell is the matter with you? Why would you take career advice from a 12 yr old??"  

Thus, I came to my decision despite their objections. But here's the good news--they know that drugs are bad and not for them. And yes, actions speak much louder than words. Which got me to thinking about the messages we send our kids about not just marijuana, but alcohol as well. That my wife and I dont give it a second thought to bring them into the liquor store, to open a bottle of wine with dinner, to drink a few glasses of bourbon or vodka over the weekend (ok..not every weekend mind you). I began to notice how bomarded they are with commercials, sports sponsorships, billboards, etc. advertising the glory of alcohol. Suddenly, not only was I hyper aware of my own behavior, but I also felt compelled to shield them from everything else they are exposed to.

The bottom line is this. While Nancy Grace, and the awesome SNL parody that followed were both a little over the top in regards to kids and marijuana--it is a real concern. And one that I share as a parent of three. Whats ironic is just how many other parents with young children I have met in the industry--most of whom are responsible, loving parents (so far as I can tell). Being in the business now actually forced me to have a dialogue with my kids about marijuana. A good conversation that we continue to dialogue about as they see things about the NFL looking at it as potential replacement for opiates; or they hear/see more and more stories on the news (some of which now star daddy...:).

The point is this--Dixie Elixirs, and Joe Hodas, are both very much for public education, for proper packaging and safety precautions related to kids, and for a hard-line approach to "adult use only" for those 21 and over. However, with personal freedom comes personal responsibility. Each of us, whether we are marijuana consumers or not, should be keenly aware of the messages we are sending our kids either through active behavior or the sin of omission.

We as individuals, together with government, companies and marketing/advertising...are ultimately responsible for our children and our communities. Together, we should work towards public awareness and education. But I also urge you to get personally informed, think about the messages you send your kids and engage in a healthy dialogue about marijuana, alcohol, other drug use--really anything that might derail their fragile trajectories. And for my end of things, I promise that I will do all within my power and that of my new company to support as much education and collaboration as possible so that we can all enjoy the fruits of additional tax revenues that will lead to new schools, better roads, etc--with as minimal collateral damage as possible.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Talk about a crazy first week

I want to start with the word "WOW!" but it just feels so insufficient to express what my first week was like. I really do want this blog to be on-going, so, I feel inclined to stretch out my stories rather than indulging my instinct to cram everything I experienced into each and every blog.  And since this is really meant to be a peek not only into the industry, but into marketing for the industry, I thought I would start with a few of this past week's observations about audiences and public opinion. I will simply gloss over the fact that the marijuana industry is a PR feeding frenzy right now. That in the span of a week I have been in contact with or conducted interviews with major local, national and international media that includes the likes of HBO, German national television, NYTimes, etc. That seems par for the course.

But back to audiences and public opinion. One thing that has been a topic at the forefront of my mind and that I have seen reinforced by my experiences this past week is--who is the audience and for which products? I have learned, quickly, that its not simply a matter of smoking it or eating it. This industry has grown immensely and continues to evolve rapidly. The variety of edibles (Dixie of course leading that space) is immense, but you also have variations of THC products I had never even heard of--dabs, vapes, concentrates, shatter, bubble hash, dust..and the list goes on. All derived from THC, but all offering a different user experience and therefore appealing to different audiences.

And then there are the dispensaries themselves. I visited two in my first week--and they couldnt have been more different. One was much more urban with a guy at the door with a gun, checking IDs. The budtenders (thats the term) were, lets just say, highly expert at their craft. I watched customers come and go...mostly male.. and I spoke to the guys behind the counter who told me that their customers gravitated toward the product that provided the most bang for their buck. No thought about brand, or value or quality, or consistency. In contrast, I then went to Lodo Wellness Center  and it was the opposite end of the spectrum. No gun. It felt like I was in a pottery barn catalog. Couches. Hardwood tables. Nice accents everywhere. It is owned by a super nice husband/wife and also run with their daughter. And again, I watched the crowd...which was constant (the door rings every time someone walks in, and it didnt stop ringing for more than 2-3 seconds at a time). There was this great mix of suits, younger people, older people, men, women, hippies, professionals, athletes, stoners...It was fascinating to watch.

Which leads me back to audience and public opinion. It has long been my belief that there are many who have had a relationship with this product long before it was legal, and now they feel slightly more emboldened to come out of the shadows. But, there is still a stigma attached. People still whisper about it. Stoner jokes and references are still made. Its incongruous with all the activity taking place. So, I have become very cognizant about how we, as a brand, must walk the line between appealing to the "core" while still being inviting and accessible to those who arent quite ready to come out of the shadows, or who are curious but havent ratcheted up the courage to go into a dispensary (which is our only direct interaction with the consumer as we wholesale to dispensaries).

So, just curious then--what are your thoughts? Intimidating? Not interested at all? Proud frequenter of all things marijuana? What turns you off or turns you on about what you are seeing out there right now and where do you think stigma, and audience segmentation, is heading? As a marketer with limited means to reach people (due to heavy regulation), this is important stuff.

Next week I think my plan is to focus on the kids--how do we get the right message across and what was the experience I went through sharing my new job with my own kids. I will tell you something...Ive become a lot more cognizant of the messages we send around alcohol, since I began to more closely consider the messages about cannabis.  So, stay tuned...And thanks for letting me share this amazing experience.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

The Dawn of a New Adventure (and a long, long, blog post)

So, if you have landed here…its 99% likely that its due to either a post on one of my social channels, or directly from an email I sent. Which means there is a good chance you are a friend, colleague, acquaintance or family member and I somehow managed to entice you into finding out what my grand new adventure is. Well, here’s the payoff—starting tomorrow (Monday, Jan. 13), I will become the Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) of Dixie Elixirs.

Your next question might be—what is an elixir? Or for that matter, why should I care? Well, Dixie is the future of cannabis, and we make cannabis infused edible products. Because guess what? Its legal in Colorado, will soon be recreationally available in Washington, and is medically legal in about 19 other states.
A blog post may seem a little self important, but, there was so much I wanted to share about this new direction I am taking, and so much that went into the decision making process, that I felt it was ok to indulge myself a little. I couldn't fit it all into 140 characters. If you don't want to read it all, please feel free to jump to the end and post a comment because I would love to hear what you think.
This was not a decision I entered into on a whim. I have known the folks at Dixie for almost four years. They came to my former agency, Vladimir Jones, because they were looking for both research on the medical marijuana space (who is the customer, what motivates them, etc.) as well as some new branding…which became the iconic Dixie logo below..

That initial introduction to the Company shoved this newly forming industry to the forefront of my consciousness. Don’t get me wrong—marijuana had always been there—whether through my own personal experiences, or friends, or my fondness for stoner flicks (and yes, it still feels a little odd to admit, on a blog post, that I have indulged). But I began to see how exciting it can/would be, as a marketer, to be involved in developing a brand for a market that didn't really exist five years ago (at least above ground), and that is now being touted in terms of multi-billions of dollars.
As I kept in touch with the charismatic CEO of the Company, Tripp Keber and got to know his incredibly smart business partner Chuck Smith (it's never too early to kiss ass, right?), it became clear that this wasn't just a novel product they were producing for short term gains. They were smart businessmen and they had a vision for where Dixie and the industry could go.
Fast forward a few years and adult use legalization was passed with Amendment 64 here in Colorado; a gallup poll showed that 58% (that's a majority for those of use who aren't strong in math) of Americans favor legalization;  and among many other developments far too numerous to mention….the future of cannabis was becoming a reality. 
But there was so much to consider. How do you measure a risk/reward scenario when the product is still federally illegal? What about my family (I plan to write a later blog post on my kids’ reaction)? How do I feel about it ethically? What about the stigma (which is rapidly fading here in CO)? What do i answer at a cocktail party when Dr. Goldenbergerstein says to me “So Joe…what do you do?” How do i market a product that has incredibly unfair, yet very real restrictions on how, when, where and to whom you can market the product?

All of these questions, and many more, rolled through my mind non-stop as I also weighed all the good stuff. The opportunity to actually create a market that doesn’t exist. The number of “firsts” that can be accomplished. The challenge of building a national brand. The fact that there are a bunch of 21 year olds around the world, right now, thinking that a job marketing weed would be the coolest job ever. Going to work for a company with a strong vision and partnering with guys who are smart enough to create what could become the first nationally recognized cannabis brand.  Just to name a few.
And so, here I am, on the precipice of what will undoubtedly be the wildest ride of my career. I plan to document everything that takes place via this blog on going, so check back here if you want to see the latest and greatest on the development of marketing on the “other” green side. But in the meantime, I ask two final things of you (if you have made it this far along and are actually still reading). 1) Share with me your comments/thoughts on this move, on Dixie, on the industry. I would love to hear what you think. 2) If you are one of a number of very special people who helped me in this process, please know how much I appreciate all the calls, discussions, hand-wringing etc. that it took to get me here. I got tired of hearing myself talk about it, and Im sure you did too! Hopefully, I've already thanked you. But if not:
Thanks for reading my post. Again—would love to hear your thoughts. I look forward to some lively dialogue. Never would have seen this one coming….