I had the pleasure of interviewing Aundre Speciale, a director at Cannabis Buyers Club of Berkeley (CBCB). She’s had a lifelong love and dedication to cannabis reform. Aundre has been involved in countless cannabis campaigns and projects, including being a founding member of Americans for Safe Access and serving on the board of the Marijuana Policy Project. Her model for dispensing medical cannabis includes opening community centers that provide hundreds of classes and services per month free of charge to both patients and the entire local community, working closely with community service providers and city government to create enlightened cannabis policy, and funding major cannabis research and reform projects. She currently shares her vast operational experience by sitting on the boards of a number of licensed dispensaries throughout California.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”? How did you first get into this business or get interested in the business?
I’m so lucky. I feel like I was struck by lightning in the form of Jack Herer, who was my neighbor back in the day in Venice Beach. Shortly after we met, Jack told me that he was starting a “hemp booth” and he was looking for help. I didn’t even know what that was, but the light bulb went off when he asked if I liked smoking weed. Of course, I said that I did. That’s when he told me that he was a cannabis activist and that he could teach me everything he knew about this wonderful plant and its uses for “food, fuel, fiber, fun and medicine.” I responded to that with an excited, “Hell yeah!” His inspiration has motivated me to excel in cannabis ever since.
Another person who helped me is Bill Pearce. He served as both a mentor and as an adviser to me and so many others. He died of cancer about five years ago, but left a lasting legacy on those he imparted his knowledge to. His influence can still be felt in me and my stores today.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you started your company?
I opened my first dispensary in 2004. I did so because I couldn’t find any dispensaries that made me feel comfortable as both a woman and a mother. So, I started in Sacramento, and built a dispensary that focused more on wonderful services and a real sense of community.
I never will forget, my office was called “the pillow room” because it was covered wall-to-wall in silk pillows. People who wanted to come and participate in the collective’s activities by contributing products or services had to first take off their shoes and sit down on the pillows. I often handed them a cup of herbal tea before we talked business. It was hysterical to see big mountain men sitting on pillows, shoes off, and sipping tea! The conversation usually started with a discussion about our current community projects and explaining that we were unique because of our objectives to say, fund a homeless preschool or donate toys to Shriners Children’s Hospitals. I required that they participate in these projects if they wanted to work with us. For the most part they did, but this policy weeded out the people who didn’t share our values.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
I have always been a dreamer, and my motto has always been to ‘choose love’. So, it is important to me that we dream, explore and innovate new ways to spread the love. From our past community projects to our current agenda, we are motivated by what “could be” rather than what “is”. We ask “what if” rather than being content with “what was.” From helping the homeless to developing safer medicines, we have always chosen to do the right thing. Recently, we teamed up with some cool scientists who look at cannabis in an entirely new way. We did this to make products available to our customers that combine awesome physical and mental experiences with safety.
Tons of people, more so since recreational hit, don’t enjoy getting too high and really dislike some of the side effects of cannabis. These include paranoia to anxiety to heart palpitations to loss of appetite or even increased appetite, but most consumers have traditionally accepted these side effects as just a necessary part of the ride. However, my team of scientists has proven to me that we can improve an already wonderful plant. I like to think of it like they are breeding the love back into what has become a commercially driven plant — the focus of the industry has shifted to money instead of people. That’s why we carry novel cannabis that are better for you and filled with love and innovation. Holy Crunch and OG Citron get you high without the negative side effects; these flowers are more like the way it used to feel when we were young, full of fun, love, and without the worry or anything negative at all. Love innovates.
We are incredibly excited and proud to exclusively offer the December 2017 Emerald Cup winning cultivar “Lemon Crush”’ from Molecular Farms out of Monterey and are working on incorporating this amazing flower into our “Speciale” line of high end products. Early marketplace interest and support has been overwhelming.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
Whether it is trying to find innovative ways to help your local community or find safer and better products for the consumer, it is all about innovation and doing things that protect you and won’t hurt others.
We partnered with leading scientists from Napro research who helped us understand that there is a lot more in cannabis than just THC. Not only did they help us visualize the chemistry in the plant, but they also educated us on how to educate the consumer about those chemistries.
Then we worked with Steve Haba from Molecular Farms and developed new and novel safer cannabis that still gets you a wonderful experience while mitigating any anxiety and adverse effects. Not only did that group of scientists help us do that, but they also helped us and Steve, produce organically grown cannabis that tastes like heaven and feels like it too.
While I could not have done this by myself, it was great to find a great group of scientists and aficionados who are like minded, and care about the environment and care about the plant.
These new products also helped us innovate at the dispensary level by educating the patient that more THC isn’t always better. Instead, high essential oils and specified ratios of cannabinoids create a safer product and also create a much more enjoyable experience.
Are you working on any exciting projects now?
I’m always moved by our patients in our compassion program, whose stories are constantly inspiring. Our community outreach programs with local schools, churches, neighborhood groups and youth allow us to support such valuable organizations.
Things like this excite me as does moving from the safe access advocacy that was the political mantra of the last decade, to an agenda characterized and driven by expanded access. The term “safe access” became a tag-line of the medical cannabis movement and I always believed that safe access meant nothing unless it included safe access to safe products in safe environments, which is why I required product testing and labeling before it was mandated by any US municipality and state. “Expanded access” is the next step, and describes the goal of creating products and opportunities for those who do not use cannabis to enhance their lives to join the ranks of those who do. Someone recently noted that the largest cannabis market segment is comprised of those who have not yet tried cannabis. Expanding the universe of those who can be bettered by cannabis is very exciting to me.
Can you share 3 things that most excite you about the Cannabis industry? Can you share 3 things that most concern you?
I am gravely concerned that newly passed laws and newly adopted rules to regulate the cannabis industry may be stifling our ability to help the community as well as stifling innovation.
Taxation today is crazy everywhere on many levels. For example, cultivation taxes are based on square footage rather than the production stream, discouraging farmers from experimenting and innovating new breeds and this drives them to grow high yielding garbage.
Helping the community, experimentation and innovation have all become too expensive in addition to paying all the taxes. This again shifts the conversation away people and love and directs it toward money and solvency, which leads to crops monetized in the marketplace instead of creating something new, wonderful, and packed full of love. I feel like all the taxes are taking the love out of our beloved business.
Can you share your top “5 things you need to know in order to succeed in the Cannabis industry”? Please share a story or example for each.
1. Choose Love and truly believe in what you do
2. Get involved in local politics. For example, we had to help write and campaign for a cannabis initiative in Berkeley that ultimately helped provide expanded access to cannabis patients. It also allowed CBCB to move to its current location.
3. Bring in expertise to help
4. Treat this like any other business and follow the rules.
5. Give back to patients in need and your community. When our dispensary funded a homeless preschool and opened a local community center, we let our patients know that they helped to fund them. By operating as a not for profit, a portion of their dollars were going to provide free meds for the terminally ill and fund local community projects. Our meds still cost the same as other dispensaries, but everyone wanted to participate in the community programs by frequenting our cannabis dispensary which taught me that love is the best business model.
In our experience when people are passionate about what they do they are more successful. Where does you cannabis passion come from?
My cannabis passion comes from belief in the plant being helpful as food, fiber, fuel, and medicine. It is a human connector that transcends gender, age, religion, race, etc.
Where do you see your business going in the next 5 years? Where do you see the cannabis industry going in the next 5 years?
5 year goals — That cannabis is mainstream, widely accepted in the way post prohibition alcohol is now.
Are you able to identify any rising stars at your company or in your industry that people need to keep an eye on?
· Rising stars in the industry are Dr. Mark Lewis at Napro, Steve at Molecular Farms and Adrian at Phytologie.
· As always, Valerie Corral continues to inspire with WAMM and her cannabis politics and compassion.
What growth sectors should most people be paying attention to that they might not be currently?
Innovation and technology are sometimes overlooked, but they guide us in our everyday work.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. :-)
Donald Trump. That’s right… I would like to educate him that cannabis is not just THC. Marinol already exists and is just THC and it doesn’t work for many patients. Also to convince him to legalize cannabis that contains both THC and CBD as a buffer. That buffer makes cannabis safer for everyone and that should be the number one priority in ending prohibition.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!