This article was published by Forbes on 29 May 2019
“Mara Gordon is exactly what I thought of her, ambitious, someone with a smile on her face leading into her deeply intellectual side and then there is the plant. She sees cannabis as a medical product that has real healing. I would call it agility in the broader scope. Health and wellness needs a place to go within the cannabis dialect. It’s not only recreational cannabis that drives the market. There is real healing taking place here from real medical doctors who are not afraid to buck the tide and create real change away from traditional methods of healing.
I want to share with you someone who has some really fantastic ideas that have taken our collective energy to a higher place in the universe of healing. This is a person who sees a much broader picture in the term “medical cannabis.” Thus, without further delay, may I please introduce you to Mara Gordon.
WB=Warren Bobrow: Where are you from? Why cannabis? When did you first discover the plant? What was cannabis like when you were young? Quality level? Do you prefer outdoor or indoor grown?
MG=Mara Gordon: I was raised in Dallas, TX in a Jewish family. My two older sisters smoked cannabis, so I was exposed to it in the early 1970’s at age 13. It was locally referred to as ‘ditch weed’. There were no flowers – just shake, stems, and seeds. My first impression was not positive as it was harsh on my lungs and made me paranoid. Over the next 35+ years, I tried smoking cannabis a handful of times, and enjoyed it twice – once when a friend had Thai Stick, and another time, Acapulco Gold. The California cannabis of today bears little resemblance to this early weed. The numerous breeders here have resulted in cultivars that provide a myriad of uses. Some aid sleeping while others are energizing. Want to curb your appetite? There’s a cultivar for that. Need help with eating? Cannabis has you covered. It is true cannabis is a weed that can grow anywhere, but the best is grown in greenhouses. This offers protection from the elements and pesticide over-spray from neighboring farms, and the inclusion of light deprivation allows the grower to control the growth cycle increasing the per plant yields and time to harvest. Indoor growing is a necessity until cannabis can cross political borders – both domestic and international. Eventually, we will have the majority of crops grown in places such as the Emerald Triangle and Colombia – both with ideal growing conditions. Just as the iPhone is assembled in California, its parts are made globally. Cannabis products will be much the same. Consumers will benefit from an idealized supply chain and manufacturing that is forcing redundancies and inefficiencies today.
WB: Tell me about your company? Where do you see the business in six months? A year? What’s next on the horizon in cannabis as an industry?
MG: Aunt Zelda’s began as a mutual benefit nonprofit corporation (a collective) for patients under the guidelines established under the Compassionate Use Act of 1996. This allowed patients with a medical card from a doctor to receive products from us. They were not allowed to buy them, but instead made a donation to support the collective. Aunt Zelda’s provided medical cannabis products to thousands of patients seeking relief from many conditions, including chronic pain, insomnia, anxiety, and cancer. We were always focused on better understanding the plant and how best to dose it for different diseases and patients. To this end, we began collecting data in early 2011 following patients’ cannabis use and tracking the efficacy of their protocols. This data has continued to be of considerable value to the doctors seeing our patients, and for use in pre-clinical and clinical research. For example, our Insomnia formula was purchased by Zelda Therapeutics, and is now in Phase II clinical trial. With the passage of Prop 64 in November 2016 more changed than the White House for California. Adult sales were now allowed, and the collective model was phased out. This brought with it many changes in Aunt Zelda’s. The first and biggest was it converted to a brand name. Now, Aunt Zelda’s™ is trademarked in 14 countries, and is made by The Oil Plant, a fully licensed manufacturer in Sonoma County. I started The Oil Plant (TOP) as an alternative for brands. It is challenging and expensive to get a license, so white labeling and co-packing are the only option for many brands. Also, the legalized adult market has brought a flood of traditional investors and individuals with marketing degrees, but not a lot of botanists and chemists that understand whole plant medicine. This development was inevitable, so TOP was a chance for patients to still access the quality oil they need, and for select brands to have a competitive edge.
In mid 2018, TOP partnered with Canadian company, Gabriella’s Kitchen (GABY), to provide products across the wellness spectrum while maintaining our commitment to serious science and medicine. We continue to manufacture Aunt Zelda’s™ under a licensing agreement to TOP, and now make products for other brands, too, including Gaby. Industry reports showing recreational as the largest market segment are very misleading. The portion of the population that wants to use cannabis to get high now was already getting high before legalization. Most cannabis naïve that are becoming consumers are looking for cannabis to solve a problem, whether anxiety, sleep, or pain. They do not wish to go through the hassle and expense of getting a medical card, so select from the products on shelves at their local dispensary or delivery service. They are not looking to get high. They want to get well. The medical, or wellness consumer is loyal to a brand and product requiring quality, ease of use, consistency, and ease of access. The recreational user is more likely looking for the latest gadget, the newest product trend, or the prettiest flowers. They are between 20 and 30, and male, and a constant moving target. The only thing these two groups have in common is the products on the shelves. Too often the medical user is frustrated by the lack of product choices and availability. With 40 million people in California, the handful of brands devoted to health and wellness are having a hard time keeping up with consumer demand while the rec market offers more pre-rolls and sugary edibles. (ED Note: I’ve been asking this all along, why is everything sweet?)
Ideally, investors will begin to recognize the enormous potential of the medical market, and support wellness brands. This includes funding studies. These studies take time – sometimes years, so investors must recognize this reality. A clinical trial doesn’t align with quarterly share price. The pharmaceutical industry is hugely profitable, and these investors will need to see medical cannabis much the same way. Everyone has an endocannabinoid system, and everyone gets sick. Not everyone wants to get high. The economic opportunity is endless while helping humanity at the same time. I want Aunt Zelda’s™ available to every household. Our products are ideal for the consumer who wants something low dose and high quality, as well as the cancer patient looking for help with side effects of conventional treatments, as well as cell death. If someone has an endocannabinoid system, they can benefit from Aunt Zelda’s™.
WB: How would you change stigmas in the cannabis business? What business model do you follow for success? Did you go to B school?
MG: Much of my time is spent traveling the world educating medical professionals, investors, and patient groups on the best ways to use cannabis safely and effectively. The only way to achieve equal access is to change laws, and that can only happen when we change hearts and minds. I didn’t go to business school. However, my model is simple – make the best quality product at a competitive price with healthy profit margins to fuel expansion and fund R&D; create a supportive corporate culture where everyone is clear what we are doing and why; provide excellent consumer care that results in brand loyalty and support; and nurture trusted mutually beneficial relationships with vendors.
WB: Do you cook? If so who taught you? Do you have a favorite restaurant in NYC? Anyplace? If you had one food that you loved more than any other what would that be? From where?MG: Cooking is not my thing, except for Thanksgiving. I do love to bake, but rarely have time. My mother and I made challah on Thursday nights, and my father taught me how to make his famous cheesecake-on-a-stick keeping the color and moisture even throughout. Our company namesake was my Aunt Zelda. Her carrot cake recipe was our first product. My favorite restaurants are, sadly, no more. I loved Carnegie Deli and Stage Deli. There is little better than a plate of kasha varnishkas. This is followed by my love of black licorice from Finland.
WB: If you could be anywhere in the world right now, where would that be? Doing what? With whom?
MG: I would be lying on a lavender-scented table under an awning on a private beach in Baja California enjoying a massage. The temperature would be 75F, and the breeze would be just enough to carry the sound of waves breaking on the nearby rocks. My husband and best friend would be nearby helping to celebrate our being awarded a Novel Prize in medicine.
Weed the People on Netflix
Thank you, WB”
Original article can be found here