The edibles game can be a screwy one for the legal cannabis industry, with a roulette of changing regulations and constantly evolving market demand. New government rules on dosing and packaging can end a company overnight; if those don't do it, then ever-changing extraction technology and consumer habits just might, with new forms of consumption popping up more often than expected. That's not even counting the financing and expansion issues faced by American cannabis brands now that our neighbors to the north have legalized the plant federally.
Despite all of these obstacles, Colorado-based pot companies continue to thrive nationally, and Boulder's Wana Brands is no exception. The infused-products company, known for its gummies, has branched out with vaporizing, CBD and capsule products on its way to becoming one of the state's largest cannabis brands, with continued expansion into other states. To learn more about surviving in such a tough market, we caught up with Wana founder and CEO Nancy Whiteman.
Westword: How did you get involved in legal cannabis?
Nancy Whiteman: I always say that I need to have a better origin story, but I got into the cannabis industry because of opportunity. At the time, I owned a marketing consultancy, and I was looking for a business that wasn’t contingent specifically on my billable hours. I was looking for a product-based business when I started chatting with a neighbor. He mentioned that he was launching a cannabis beverage company, so we decided to share a kitchen.
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My neighbor and I have since parted ways and no longer share a kitchen, but Wana continued to grow into the company it is today. And what began as a search for the perfect widget to produce infused products has grown into deep respect and love for the plant. We regularly receive correspondence from our customers about the difference that Wana products have made in their lives. That feedback kept me going in the early days when the business was very challenging.
With so many options available nowadays for edibles consumers, why do you think people still like gummies and candy so much?
When we first started, people were experimenting with everything from infused pizza to barbecue sauce. But ultimately, I think we found that people don’t really want to consume major amounts of food that has THC in it. They just want something small, simple and enjoyable to eat, and then get a delicious pizza without THC! Enter gummies. Additionally, many consumers already take gummies for various vitamins and medicines, from vitamin C to melatonin, so people are used to them as a delivery method. Gummies are easy, convenient and discreet — and Wana gummies are delicious, so it makes eating them a treat.
How far has cannabis extraction and infusion come in the past five or ten years?
Thanks to new cannabis extraction technologies, we are now able to isolate specific cannabinoids [THC, CBD, etc.] and terpenes [compounds in cannabis and other plants that are responsible for aromas and flavors] that allow for development of new and novel products. That sets up the possibility of recombining plant components in specific ways to address various needs and creating specific experiences.
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What are some areas of infusion or product development that you are excited to explore more?
The entire cannabis industry has just scratched the surface on how to combine cannabinoids and terpenes to achieve desired effects that go beyond superficial marketing claims and placebo effects. At Wana, we're very interested in exploring this potential further. These exact combinations of terpenes and cannabinoids will help the industry achieve more precision in its products.
What does Wana Brands have planned for Colorado in the future? What about the rest of the world?
In Colorado, Wana is working on new product development, much of which is too premature to discuss. But we can mention that we’re expanding our new and popular vaporizer line, and we’re looking forward to unveiling other brand extensions. Domestically, Wana is currently in four states — Colorado, Nevada, Arizona and Oregon — and we are currently on-boarding in three more, including Michigan, Illinois and Florida. In 2019, we expect to be in an additional four to six states, including California, and we are in active discussions with potential partners in Canada.