Two of Denver's Early Cannabis Players Take on New Challenges

Now that more places are considering legalizing cannabis, some of Colorado's early pot players are moving on to new jobs. Among them are Dan Rowland and Joe Hodas, who both had prominent roles in the early days of Colorado legalization — but at different ends of the spectrum.

Rowland joined the City of Denver communications staff over five years ago, moving to the Denver Department of Excise and Licenses in 2014, the same year that recreational cannabis sales began in Colorado. Responsible for handling media requests, public information and community outreach for the first major city agency to oversee retail cannabis licenses in the world, Rowland had to dive right into the tangled world of cannabis regulation...and he hasn't looked backed since. Part of his path moving forward, however, will take him to Canada, where he'll consult cannabis clients about community relations as Canada becomes the first major country to regulate cannabis sales nationally.

"I had the best local government job you could have. It was a blast — I got to work on so many new, interesting challenges over the last five and a half years," Rowland says. "I saw an opportunity: Much like Denver is looked at by cities around the world as the first [to legalize cannabis], Canada is going to be looked at by nations around the world as a case study."

Dan Rowland worked for the City of Denver for nearly six years.
Dan Rowland worked for the City of Denver for nearly six years.
Courtesy of Dan Rowland

Hodas stepped into the world of recreational cannabis the same year that Rowland did, working for one of the larger companies that Rowland's agency had to oversee, Dixie Elixirs. He was in mainstream marketing when he went to work for Dixie in 2014, leaving behind a list of former clients that includes Frontier Airlines, Centura Health, Xcel Energy and Smashburger.

When he arrived at Dixie, it was already one of the more popular infused-drink manufacturers on the medical market, but the unknown retail landscape presented plenty of challenges that have since taken out many of the brands that were familiar in 2014. Changing consumer trends, potency regulations and packaging laws send infused-product companies to their graves every month, and Dixie saw itself tiptoeing that line in 2015 when it raced to meet a 4/20 deadline with new bottling rules from the state that rendered its automatic bottling system useless.

"This is an industry in constant evolution and chaos. Other industries have a more defined and clear path, but there's not as much opportunity — or chaos," Hodas says. "I wanted to explore some of these opportunities and explore some different paths in cannabis, and I felt like my time at Dixie had kind of run its course."

Two of Denver's Early Cannabis Players Take on New Challenges (3)
Curt Thompson

While he'll continue consulting for a few cannabis startups, Hodas is now COO for General Cannabis, a security, apparel, marketing and consulting service provider for direct cannabis businesses across the country. He'll focus on growing the company's market presence as more states legalize medical and retail pot. Considering that Dixie has expanded from just drinks in 2014 to producing mints, tinctures, chocolate bars, gummies, topical solutions and more, Hodas knows a thing or two about growth within the industry.

"It'd be hard to even encapsulate everything [I've learned], just understanding the industry and how it works from a regulatory perspective," he says. "Being involved in so much here locally in Colorado gives me some insight in how things will likely roll out in other markets, and what I'm hearing from California's recent rollout supports that theory."

Although both are moving on to new regions, neither Rowland nor Hodas thinks Colorado will fall into the shadows as more states and countries flirt with legalization. Both see Denver as an innovation mecca for the industry, and they expect to be working with clients and/or colleagues in the area in the near future. "I think Denver is always going to be a leader. There's just so much talent and ambition there," Rowland explains. "It was and will always be the first to do this. People talk about the spotlight coming off Colorado with California and Canada coming online, and to some extent that's true, but you'll always see people creating in this space."

Hodas believes that other markets will continue to look at Colorado for years to come, simply because this state was the first to deal with legalized cannabis. "Some of the learning curves that California is about to go through have already happened here. There's a good relationship between the regulators and industry, and everyone kind of knows their roles now," Hodas explains. "There's a knowledge base here that doesn't exist elsewhere. We have a microcosm of what other markets can expect, and they'll try to tap into that."

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