If America's legal cannabis movement is going to be successful, it needs support from both of the major political parties and from people like Dan Anglin, a former U.S. Marine turned Republican lobbyist turned edibles entrepreneur. A veteran of Desert Storm as well as the early days of cannabis legalization in Colorado, Anglin has seen — and helped usher in — significant changes to laws and regulations surrounding cannabis edibles, while also starting a national brand of his own.
We chatted with Anglin about the early days of pot edibles, expanding his CannAmerica edibles into new states, and the political climate surrounding cannabis.
Westword: You served in the military and worked as a lobbyist for conservative business issues. How did you find yourself going from weapons systems to owning an edibles company?
Dan Anglin: It all ties to my background in state government and policy-making. As a lobbyist, I ran my own firm and was recommended to EdiPure (an infused-product manufacturer) for assistance on a bill that would have banned edibles prior to full legalization of recreational cannabis [in Colorado]. My specialty was killing bills, and at the time, I had been defending weapons magazine manufacturers from having their most popular product and main line of business banned. Even though that was unsuccessful, my history with business issues in many areas of policy provided me with a legitimate relationship with both sides of the aisle, but I was known as a conservative lobbyist.
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I brought that reputation and my knowledge of conservative principles to the argument surrounding the constitutional rights of cannabis consumption, possession, manufacturing and distributing to argue that the same concerns that conservatives held dear for gun rights had to be applied to cannabis rights, because the voters placed these rights in the Colorado Constitution. I was successful in preventing an unconstitutional ban on cannabis products, and the founder of EdiPure offered me an ownership position in the company, and I haven’t looked back. I was concerned for my future when I accepted the offer, but as a lifelong consumer of cannabis, I finally found something to give my work meaning. It was, personally, the most frightening leap I’ve ever taken, and I regret nothing.
I’ve had fun, I’ve learned a lot, I’ve failed — and out of those failures brought success. It’s been a ride I could not have predicted ten years ago. I run a publicly traded company that is federally illegal. I still find myself in disbelief with everything that’s happened, but as a U.S. Marine, our guiding principle is “adapt and overcome,” and I’ve applied that to my daily life and my business, which helps me pick up the pieces when something doesn’t go as planned or keeps me grounded when things are better than expected. I think the hardest thing in cannabis is how long things take to accomplish, and for a Type A personality like myself, it can be harder to manage my own expectations of our progress than the struggles of a new, heavily regulated industry.
How has being a conservative been an advantage for you during this fight for legalization?
Conservatives thought they couldn’t support cannabis because of the history of the drug war. The genius of legalization of adult use was putting cannabis in the state’s constitution, which conservatives hold dear. That was the case in Colorado, and my history as a conservative business advocate gave me an edge and set me apart from other lobbyists and advocates for legalization: I was someone the conservative legislators had listened to in the past, so it was a shock to them to have me in their office, explaining why cannabis statutes and regulations could be viewed as no different than gun rights or any other business they have supported in the past.
I think Democrats were leery of my participation until I became part of the industry and a loud voice on behalf of the industry. I’ve since personally become more Libertarian in my political viewpoint, and am just plain tired of politicians dragging out the process with unnecessary roadblocks through regulations that have zero basis in facts and are still emotionally charged. It’s been over five years since recreational cannabis sales began, and the facts are that Colorado is the same place it was before adult-use sales — except there’s more commerce in the state due to the creation of this industry. Either side can make statistics say whatever supports their arguments, but the truth is that Colorado is business as usual in every way, with more jobs for people who want them and more personal freedoms than 70 percent of the rest of the country.
How have political powers — both left and right — come around on cannabis legalization and commercialization efforts in the past five years?
Good question. Lots of lip service, but no actual development of federal policies that protect people engaged in cannabis businesses or consumers. We still have serious banking issues as businesses and citizens — there’s been no meaningful fix that provides solutions, just talk. Veterans in legal states, like myself, are still risking their earned benefits and still unable to count their income in the industry for home loans, so, effectively, we are prevented from using our earned benefits, because Congress is too scared of a perceived backlash from their base to just treat cannabis as medicine as commerce, and as an individual right. I find most politicians to be all talk and no action on what is the single-most-popular issue in America: decriminalization and full-scale legalization of cannabis.
No schedule change will fix this issue except removal. I have yet to believe that there’s any meaningful effort on the part of any federal politician to move in that direction. They say they are, but then distractions of positions of “We have to be careful” get in the way. Really? Since the nineteenth century, people have been consuming cannabis in all the same ways that the industry is “creating,” but politicians have to act like this is some brand-new thing that no one knows anything about, so we have to take years to think about it? Teenagers can buy cannabis from strangers in a parking lot, and have done so since before I was a teenager in the ’80s. Let’s get real here and stop pretending like this is some brand-new thing. Ensure that there are measures for product testing and consumer safety (think alcohol), and stop pretending. Almost 70 percent of Americans now believe that what I just said should be the next step for America, so stop talking and start doing.
How have edibles changed since the early days of legalization, when you could find Hershey's knockoffs at dispensaries and stories of overeating were common?
It was a free-for-all in the beginning. No one understood trademark law, no one understood packaging standards, there were no dosing limitations, no testing of the cannabis and the food ingredients, and no real science being applied to the product development. Getting the most THC into a product was the goal eight to ten years ago in Colorado. Now, actual food science is part of the development; advanced packaging solutions are being utilized and created for the cannabis industry specifically; actual data about product demand and consumer trends are being applied. There are so many new brands coming to each market that competition has grown, which by nature means that companies have to compete based on price, quality and consumer confidence.
As in any other line of business, this has created great choices for consumers. The real issue is that consumers demand the highest quality at the cheapest price, which is unrealistic in any commodity. You can’t buy a Cadillac for the same price as a Chevy for a reason, and I believe there’s going to be a trend toward quality and brand confidence over lowest price.
As the market matures, it’s inevitable that companies will focus on scale, quality and brand confidence, just like what’s been happening in Colorado for the last three years. Additionally, the marketing has matured just like the consumer base. I’m convinced that a cannabis company can still be fun and activate consumer interest without sexualizing the product or overgeneralizing the consumer. We need to be able to have creative freedom for marketing our product to the consumer base better. The biggest new demographic is older adults, and the industry needs some freedom to connect with that demographic to encourage them to come to dispensaries, and arm them with information about the products they are seeking. It’s very difficult to do that with the current advertising restrictions across all the legal cannabis markets. Politicians and regulators have this unfounded belief that seeing the product in marketing increases use by non-adults, but pointed marketing to an older generation will not do that, and any advertising firm can tell you that seeing Viagra ads on TV doesn’t make teenagers go take Viagra. There’s no common sense in these regulations, and that’s the frustrating part. Cannabis could be a trillion-dollar industry if we were actually allowed to market to the older Americans who have been brainwashed for the last forty years that it’s bad for you.
Do cannabis regulations keep up with industry innovation and consumer trends?
No way. I asked the Colorado State Legislature to allow publicly traded companies in 2015, because cannabis companies couldn’t traditionally borrow money for expansion from banks. That effort failed because the regulators came up with arguments that they couldn’t vet everyone in a publicly traded company, creating false fears that criminal enterprises would somehow be involved in our industry. CannAmerica Brands has since gone public on the Canadian Stock Exchange and OTC [over the counter], and I can tell you there’s no other vetting quite like being public, so that was a specious and false argument then.
Governor Jared Polis just signed the bill allowing publicly traded companies to have ownership in Colorado cannabis companies, which is great, but four years behind the trend. It will have a positive impact, but government is the slowest animal there is, and keeping up with innovation and trends is not something government is known for, in any industry. As a business advocate and owner, I can tell you that often, government is the biggest hurdle to getting new products into the hands of consumers, which is exactly the reason for a black market in any industry. That will never change.
What are the challenges and advantages of positioning a cannabis company in multiple states with different regulations instead of just one?
Challenges are: funding; brand awareness; variances in regulations; demographics of each market; and product demand. Advantages are: each new market is a brand-new set of consumers, so it’s much easier to introduce a brand that they have seen while on vacation in Colorado or Nevada or other places where it’s legal, so they are immediate customers, and excited that you’ve arrived in their home state.
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You've been around cannabis for a while — why gummies? Why do they stand the test of time?
I LOVE GUMMIES. I’ve been working for years to create the right recipe for the best-tasting gummies, and I think we’ve finally hit a grand slam with our new recipe and packaging that launched in early June in Nevada and is launching in Colorado just in time for Independence Day — the holiday that fits our brand and our vision and has always been a focus for CannAmerica. Gummies are so popular because it’s so easy to understand the serving: One piece is one dose. Plus, they are delicious! They also don’t melt as easily as other food items and have a long shelf life, so if you don’t eat them all right away, they're still good to eat if you’ve stored them right. Edibles are a huge sector of the market, and I’m a gummy guy. We make other things in other markets, but gummies are my passion, so that’s our flagship product.
What can we expect to see from edibles in the future? How will you keep pushing the bar?
Microdosing (more pieces of food for a standard serving of THC), more food offerings (hardest part is shelf life and portability), higher-quality offerings for consumer demand, and hopefully some more fun. Gummies are a fun and delicious way to medicate or consume, and I’d like some freedom to make more fun shapes for adult use, but for now, we are focusing on new offerings in edibles and beverages that allow consumers to have more choices when looking for a CannAmerica product. We are focusing on many verticals to meet consumer demand besides edibles, but for me personally, edibles is our foundation.