Ricardo Baca is the CEO & Founder of Grasslands, a journalism-minded PR agency. He is also a veteran journalist with 20-years of experience. For today’s show, we talk about the cannabis industry’s current state straight from a man working on the front lines of journalism.
Ricardo Baca is a 20-year veteran journalist, keynote speaker, TEDx veteran and thought leader in modern media and drug-policy circles. He served as The Denver Post’s first-ever marijuana editor and founded news vertical The Cannabist, where he extensively covered the advent of adult-use cannabis and related issues across the country and around the world, as seen in the feature documentary Rolling Papers (Netflix).
In 2016, Ricardo launched Grasslands: A Journalism-Minded Agency to work directly with business leaders in highly regulated industries, including cannabis, energy, and traditional healthcare. Named Marketer of the Year by AdCann in 2019, Ricardo has received numerous accolades for his trailblazing work covering drug policy, cannabis business, and culture, and continues to columnize and host podcasts for a number of top publications.
You can shoot Ricardo an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow Grasslands on Instagram.
Shayda Torabi has been called one of the most influential Women in WordPress and now she’s one of the women leading the cannabis reformation conversation building one of Texas’ premier CBD brands. She’s currently the CEO and Co-Founder of RESTART CBD, a female-run education first CBD wellness brand. And has formerly held marketing positions at WP Engine and WebDevStudios. Shayda is the host of a podcast for cannabis marketers called To Be Blunt, where she interviews top cannabis brands on their most successful marketing initiatives. When Shayda’s not building her cannabiz in Texas, you can find her on the road exploring the best hikes and spots for vegan ice cream. Follow Shayda at @withshayda.
“If you know anything about journalism, you know that, really, journalists are there to communicate as unbiased as possible.” – Ricardo Baca
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Ricardo Baca 0:00
I felt nothing. And I had had 20 milligrams, even though 2.5 was my dose. And so I just looked at the wrapper and I was like, something’s wrong with this product, put it in a Ziploc bag. When I got back home, I put it in the refrigerator, where it sat for the next month and a half. Next thing you know, I get a call in march from a dispensary owner in a Denver suburb. And she says, Hey, I don’t know if there’s anything you can do. But I’ve had 400 customers return the same brand product. And I said, What brand product? Is it thinking about the candy bar in my refrigerator at that moment made by Dr. J’s? And she said, Well, the brand is Dr. J’s and, and instantly, I was like, Hey, can I come out there today? I would love to have a conversation.
You’re listening To To be blunt, be podcast for cannabis marketers. Where your host Shayda Torabi and her guests are trailblazing the path to marketing educating and professionalizing cannabis. Light one up and listen up. Here’s your host Shayda Torabi.
Shayda Torabi 1:18
Hello, what’s up you guys? I am Shayda Torabi, I’m your host of this
super awesome podcast
To be blunt. And I’m really really, really, really really really, really, really excited. So that was a lot of really, really excited to welcome today’s guest His name is Ricardo Baka, and he is the CEO and founder of grasslands, a journalism minded PR agency. But prior to that, he he’s been a 20 year veteran journalists and most notably, he was the marijuana editor for the Denver Post. Now it’s notable because the Denver Post is the first national publication to dedicate a public part of their, their newspaper to talking exclusively about this plant and back in 2014, when Denver was going from medicinal to recreational, the Denver Post was positioned to help cover and tell that story. So Ricardo was a key player in helping navigate that and educate and raise awareness and showcase the good, the bad and the ugly of what is unfolding in this industry. And he continues to do so. So again, thanks to Ricardo for being on the show. This conversation is a good one. So let’s dive right in. Let’s welcome Ricardo.
Ricardo Baca 2:40
Yeah, my name is Ricardo Baka. And I am currently the CEO and founder of grasslands, which is a journalism minded agency practicing public relations, content marketing, social media marketing, as well as thought leadership work in highly regulated industries. We do a lot of work in the cannabis and hemp. Also technology, real estate, health care, you know, lots of fun in the other spaces but about 90% of our clients are in cannabis. Cannabis, including marijuana and hemp, of course. And how I got here is a very strange roundabout story. But after a lifetime in journalism, including more than 20 years at daily newspapers, I ended up having a very unexpected conversation in November of 2013, when the editor in chief of the Denver Post told me that he wanted me to be the newspapers first ever weed editor. Of course, we called it marijuana editor at the time. And, of course, Colorado was prepping to become the first state in the world, the first place in the world to ever offer adult use sales. And so that’s what I did, and I ended up doing that for more than three years at the Denver Post, I started a website called the cannabis where we reported on the news, the features, the fun, the recipes, the investigative reporting of this very nascent industry, holding everybody accountable from the power brokers in cannabis to the most powerful regulators and state and national government. And that was a tremendous experience. I really introduced me to cannabis, the substance and cannabis the plant opened my eyes to a lot, including the fact that I had been lied to my entire lifetime about this complicated plan and, and ultimately opened up some doors for me, and if you know anything about journalism, you know that, that really journalists are there to communicate as unbiased as possible and so you’re, you’re you’re representing what the prohibitionists are saying over here Because they don’t want this plant legalized. And you’re also representing what the advocates and activists are saying on this other side, because they do want this plant legalized and they want to spread the knowledge of this plant, especially because 80 years of misinformation via prohibition has brainwashed us all, you know, and most of us were dead wrong five, six years ago, as it related to this substance. And, you know, I always told people, I’m not an activist one way or the other. I am an advocate for the truth. And through that, it just brought me to a place where I actually became an advocate for the plant unintentionally. And I recognized my time and journalism had run its course, over 20 plus years that daily newspapers, including down there in Corpus Christi, Texas, represent the color times and it was time to move on and I’d always known that I was going to start a different kind of PR And marketing agency, and that is what grasslands has become. You know, I started grasslands almost four years ago, December of 2016. We just bought a building last year, and we’re moving in next month. Very exciting. And we’ve grown the agency into about 13 full timers. And I’m really proud of what we’ve done because it really is exactly what I set out to do. And that is practice a different kind of PR and marketing. And that is a journalism minded type approach to comms and I feel very fortunate that we’re able to work in the industries that we do very much including cannabis, those other ones I mentioned, and, you know, some potential clients in the psilocybin space as well because as far as the misunderstood plants category goes, psilocybin is also at the top of that list.
Shayda Torabi 6:54
That’s right and Denver is one of the cities in Colorado is one of the states right leading some of that work as well.
Ricardo Baca 7:00
We are Yeah, yeah, last May so may 2009, the city and county of Denver voters here voted to decriminalize psilocybin mushrooms. And of course, for those not in the know that is magic mushrooms. We were the first municipality in the world to ever decriminalized that I wrote a front page op ed for the Denver Post my old newspaper that ran on the Sunday before the election, and it narrowly narrowly passed, we didn’t even know for 48 hours after the election if it passed or failed. And I was thrilled that, you know, my neighbors saw the light and understood that they need to throw away everything we’ve been told about drugs and drug policy in this country because not only have we screwed up drug policy for ourselves, but because the US is the single most powerful country in the world. We have also screwed up drug policy throughout the world via The UN and via bully tactics and so it is great to see logic and science prevail as it relates to both cannabis and psilocybin and ketamine and MDMA and LSD and so many other things that have been shunned for years because of a very successful propaganda campaign led by the US federal government, and how great is it to finally emerge from the shadows? I know, I know, you’re really passionate about this as well. So I think it’s just great. I think
Shayda Torabi 8:35
you touched on what I was going to ask next and dive into is this whole position that we’re in when it comes to being a consumer who’s observing the media, you mentioned, you know, the media has two sides that it should abide by, there’s the truth and sometimes, you know, cutting through the truth, makes people pick a side however, I think when you look at what, from what my understanding is, The original piece of propaganda that really put cannabis in this position is reefer madness. And so to go from something like reefer madness, which obviously painted in a very negative light, but was so popularized that people believed it because it was coming from, you know, the people that they trusted or the media or top resources, kind of have that experience transitioning all the way through. I’m going to use your role with the Denver Post being a very high profile, nationally known publication that is now coming forward and trying to eloquently talk about I mean, I have to believe that the Denver Post wasn’t like let’s launch this section and slam cannabis. It was really intended to be a truth teller for both sides, but hopefully, you know, provide a more positive light for the plant.
Ricardo Baca 9:50
Right. So you’re close for sure. And you know, if we do Delve back into the 30s, where this is generally stems from certain The government led a successful propaganda campaign reefer madness. The film was undoubtedly a part of that. And there are infinite, more examples of them spreading misinformation. And part of their successful strategy was using the media to spread that information. And so that really is part of why the work that my colleagues and I did back in the day at the Denver Post was so groundbreaking, because the media had fallen into this very broken construct of trusting authority. And of course, that’s what media should be doing. It should be talking to the most authoritative subjects on any matter. But the problem in this matter was that those authoritative subjects had an agenda. And that agenda was to mislead the media, which was then misleading the masses. And so you know, I do remember when, like, for example, the Brookings Institution back in 2014, or 15, they called me One of the most important people to follow on drug policy reform and I was on this list with the US Surgeon General at the time, you know, presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, Senator Rand Paul, and this was kind of something that made me laugh when I first saw it, because I’m like, why is my picture next to Hillary is because I’m fairly certain she has a lot more power than me when it comes to this conversation. What I didn’t realize was, even though I was just doing my job at the time, I was also writing to a very large audience, and rephrasing how we see cannabis and how the media discusses cannabis, because we kind of pushed the reset button, and to what you were saying, you know, the Denver Post had no interest. I wasn’t there to write about good things about the plants or the industry that was far from what my job was, but because so many good things things were happening with the plant and the industry. That’s what inevitably happened. And there were some bad things to, you know, some people over ingesting edibles and having too much and being thrown into a negative mental space and doing things that were harmful to themselves or other people, you know, and we reported on those as much as we reported on the good news. Our goal was to really change the conversation, from a perspective that this is legal, like beer, there is no difference now. And so what that means is, we can talk about weed, like we talked about beer, and we’ve a beer blog where we review local breweries and talk about the breaking news. And of course, we have a weed blog and the weed blog, aka the cannabis just took off. And next thing you knew, we had seven full time employees working on that alone under me and with me, and we also were driving the kind of traffic that could sustain me In full revenue and growth, and at some point we were beating High Times calm and marijuana.com, aka weedmaps. And that was tremendous because we were the new startup and High Times have been doing this for 40 years. But of course, High Times is an activist publication, and they will always be, we were bringing real journalism to the conversation. It just so happened to be that a lot of the news was good news. And that ended up being kind of an aha moment. For me that was like more of a dull moment for a lot of other people who were a lot more familiar with the plant and had been consuming it for longer than I had.
Shayda Torabi 13:39
Sure. And I appreciate that clarification around what High Times was versus what the Denver Post was, because I think when you’re approaching it from the culture of cannabis, it’s painted a certain way. And I think what High Times has done is very institutional is incredible. And we need it and I love high times they should keep going. However, I think when public Like the Denver Post did what they did, which was incredible, right? Especially from my perspective coming from a state like Texas where we’re obviously familiar with cannabis, it’s becoming more normal. That’s part of the point of my podcast is to help further normalize that, especially as a marketer, I love marketing and, and kind of to your perspective to, you know, if I can market you know, a Coca Cola can, why can’t I also market this beautiful plants that also makes you feel good, and maybe you know, appeases your appetite or whatever feeling you’re trying to look for. I remember watching rolling paper, so you were in this documentary, it’s on Netflix, if anybody wants to watch it was incredible. It actually covered your position at the Denver Post and it covered when recreational cannabis was officially you know, the light switch was turned on and what that hype was like and how it was like covering it at the Denver Post. And I remember that there was this woman she was a columnist and she was a mother and there was a piece in the show. Where she kind of is butting up against some feedback, you know, hey, you’re a mother, you’re now coming out and saying that you do and use cannabis. Obviously, there’s some concerns with child protective services. And I think this mirrors a conversation that I’ve heard you have multiple times to where it’s, it’s legal in my state, but because of my employer, because of my position, or because of X, Y, or Z, I have to be cautious about what I put in my body. I don’t think those two have matched up. And then I recently saw your TED talk from 2019, where you talk about the marine Mom, you know, the the marketing of who this consumer is now it’s kind of being painted as this successful mom. And so I’m just curious from, you know, 2014 2015, when you’re kind of embarking on this as a very reputable respectable news outlet, saying, Hey, we’re going to talk about this from all these different facets to now very much brands are marketing to the mom. How do we get there and what does that look like from your perspective?
Ricardo Baca 16:00
You know, this story that you’ve painted this narrative arc that you’ve kind of drawn the lines between really tells the story of normalization. Because in 2014, when I was talking with my columnist at the time Brittany driver who now lives in Austin, she was a mom of a young child. And she I remember her telling me how being a cannabis consumer made her a better mom. And now in 2020, that’s not regulatory. A lot of people have said that a lot of famous people have said that that cannabis makes them better parents, but in 2014 this was immensely complicated and tied up in complexities and illegalities that could potentially lead to your child being taken away from you and your rights. Some of those issues were covered in in the film, which is a fascinating part of it. And then fast forward just a couple years because here we are. Recognizing that every brand in the country is marketing toward that suburban mom towards that fluent mom. Because for some of the reasons that I laid out in that TEDx talk, you know that they are the decision makers, they are making purchasing decisions. They’re doing a majority of the shopping. And so that is why Procter and Gamble is targeting that mom. And that is why, you know, some of the largest cannabis businesses in the world are also targeting that same exact mom. And it just speaks to how far we’ve come in this conversation, which was inevitable, because I even told my colleagues at the time in 2014, when we were riding high on the cannabis and things were going well and traffic was great. I told them, this is short lived. We don’t need a standalone website covering cannabis news and culture, because eventually these things should be covered in the context of The rest of the paper, our agriculture reporter should be covering the cultivation industry. Our government reporters at City Hall and the state legislature should be covering that progress and those controversies in City Hall at the state ledge. I always knew it was going to go that direction. And it will always go that direction in every locality. And it makes sense because we saw this boom of cannabis media in Canada, right around federal legalization a couple of years ago. And now look at that market and it has thinned out significantly. Still, there are a couple great publications, but not nearly as many and that is because it’s normal. It’s and what is normal is no longer news. And so, you know, Surely there’s still tons of news coming out of the Canadian cannabis market and the Colorado cannabis market for that matter, but so much of what was so interesting at that time Like a mom of a young toddler consuming cannabis to be a better parent, and to help her deal with everything that was plaguing her, you know, that’s no longer newsworthy, because lots of moms and dads do that. And so yeah, I think it’s a beautiful thru line that tells the story of normalization that’s happening. And something that’s important to recognize, too, is that we live in bubbles and your bubble is, is regressive from my bubble, because my bubble has been legal for six years. And your bubble is not yet really illegal, especially on the adult use side. And so what is not news in Denver is still news in Austin. And it’s something that we have to practice daily as marketers and as publicists, because when we’re working with our clients in Austin, or Boston, or even, you know, a newer market like Chicago, and Detroit, I mean, those are still brand new. New booming markets with interesting things happening in those spaces, whether they’re medical or recreational. And in Colorado, this is old hat. And in California, it’s a non issue because they have the world’s oldest medical system. So I find that part fascinating, even though the rest of this state by state infrastructure is infuriating and so difficult for all the things that we understand why,
Shayda Torabi 20:28
oh, I appreciated that kind of additional perspective, too, because I do think that obviously, every state is kind of operating in its own silo, and for people to just understand to what’s comfortable for them. And so I think from my perspective, especially operating a retail store in this space, we’re seeing people who are in our district community and their perspectives are changing and it’s, it’s definitely influenced by the media, but it’s also further being influenced from person to person relationship. So it’s, you know, hey, I came into this store I started researching CBD or cannabis or I’m trying to look for this product because I had a friend who started taking this product and now I’m more comfortable. And so I think the more normal we can personally feel about cannabis ourselves, the more we can project that comfort, safety, education and normalcy to consumers. Mm hmm. So I think you also touched on something that I’ll transition to as well, you know, you come from the traditional publication journalism world, and now you’re operating a journalism minded agency, but it’s for PR, so public relations. I have a minor in public relations. So I know there’s many facets to public relations. But I do think where the interest for my question really lies is, you know, as a brand who’s trying to leverage the media to help tell their story to help create some sort of differentiation. How do you kind of coach your clients to navigate that when there is still so much discrepancy on? You know, who’s talking about what maybe there’s too much noise in certain markets. So like, how would you maybe coach somebody on an approaching that if they came to you?
Ricardo Baca 22:17
Yeah. Know, without a doubt, first of all that connection between going from journalism into comms, you know, I’m far from the first journalist to go into comms or PR or marketing. In fact, thank goodness for marketing and comms, because it’s given us a second life to so many journalists who gave so much to their newspapers and their TV stations, their communities, you know, I think at the core of PR, and I’d be curious if you agree, but the core of PR, I believe, is storytelling. It’s creating a narrative. It’s telling a story, and it’s convincing somebody else the worth of that story. And so I really think when you talk about differentiation In a market, especially because you exist in a hemp derived CBD market, and therefore you know how crowded that space is, it might not be crowded where you live. But when you go into the online marketplace and the marketplace of ideas, it’s immensely crowded. And even back when I was a full time journalist, I was getting emails about new hemp derived CBD companies, weekly, if not daily, sometimes. And so you are nothing without that differentiation. And I believe that we find differentiation through narrative and through story and through history and through our unique capability to tell that story to make sure that we’re reaching these target audiences to make sure that they know that you are in fact different than what they’ve been buying on Amazon than what they’ve heard about in some other magazine. And of course, I think PR is an immensely valuable tool for that because you know, very Well, I mean, throughout this media paradigm, nothing is more trustworthy than earned media. And so when you can tell a story to a journalist or blogger and podcaster and help them see that value, that uniqueness and differentiation of that story so much so that they help you share that story on their blog, their podcasts, their newspaper or television report, that is immense because at that point, you are connecting with the legitimacy and trust of that media outlet, who is ultimately verifying for you that you are what you say you are, because if we’re looking at other media channels like owned and paid, the modern consumer is savvy they know you can say whatever you want in those channels, but you can’t say whatever you want in an earned media hit and so that I really think is the power of PR to help cannabis and hemp brands really differentiate themselves. In an increasingly crowded market, and of course, I very much believe that that also applies to the THC space because that is becoming a very crowded market, especially in some of these. Some of these states with more lacks regulations. We see a very, very crowded market in both THC and CBD here in Colorado, very much in California where I spend a lot of time at. And I think we still can open a newspaper and we can still open Instagram and see the brands that stick out. And that is because of savvy differentiation via marketing via PR, and via all of the related channels that fall within that kind of comms strategy.
Shayda Torabi 25:46
So to further pick at that, what is your sentiment or thought around social media and to further elaborate on that, obviously, social media has put the power of information sharing in the hands of the consumer, which is everything Everybody now has a smartphone. Everybody has access to information at the touch of their fingertips going from a very, you know, established structured mindset coming from something like the Denver Post, you know, to now where you’re seeing cannabis, really anybody can put anything they want on the internet. From a consumer perspective, it’s a little scary. It’s scary that I can go on social media and have all these resources and because the industry isn’t properly I don’t want to say it’s not properly researched. It’s definitely becoming more research. But I always refer to it as cannabis isn’t an infant stage still, we’re very mature market compared to other industries, of course in the United States, and infant compared to other countries, perhaps like Canada. And so layering social media were one I do think it’s fuel to the fire. It’s helping this information spread very rapidly, which is great. It’s it’s helping further normalize cancer. But then I also see this very dark side of bad information getting shared and ultimately harming or potentially harming the consumer. And just wondering what your thoughts are around that power that we now all have in our hands.
Ricardo Baca 27:16
Yeah, I mean, what you’re speaking to is ultimately media literacy, right? Because social media is still a media. I’ve written actually a couple of columns on this because I’ve called out pro cannabis activists and advocates for spreading misinformation. You know, and to me misinformation that speaks to the plants potential use is as evil and wrong as the misinformation that the federal government has been spreading for 80 years. Because if you’re telling somebody if you’re publishing that cannabis cures cancer, and certainly we have seen cannabis have a positive effect on some cancer patients. Both With their actual cancer and some of the byproducts of their various cancers, but if you’re just straight up telling people on your social channels that it cures cancer, that is immensely wildly irresponsible, and I think you should be shut down. You’re basically the same as john Ehrlichman and Richard Nixon, you’re the same as anslinger. Back in the 30s. We need to be media literate, in both what we read, what we follow and what we share. And, of course, the sharing part is where social comes in. And in that media paradigm, social media, of course falls under owned media, we can say whatever we want on our owned media channels. And without a doubt that can be really terrifying because even legitimate brands are out there spreading misinformation, and it’s absolutely unacceptable. And it’s not helping the cause either. And I guess one more thing, On social though, because you can’t discount the importance of social from a modern marketing perspective. Of course, you know we need to meet the consumers where they are. And we’re in this unique place with the cannabis and hemp industries right now because we are seeing this massive rush to everything digital. I just wrote about this the other day. Of course, it makes sense that we’re seeing this rush to the digital space, both for hemp and marijuana because of COVID because of lockdowns and shutdowns and limited hours, thankfully we have seen cannabis dispensaries be declared as essential businesses in Colorado, California, Oregon, Pennsylvania, other markets. That said it’s not like you were able to walk into a cannabis dispensary anywhere in the country in April, because you weren’t and these state governments in order to keep these essential Businesses open had to create emergency rules and regulations to allow for curbside pickup and even online ordering and expanded delivery systems. And so that rushed to digital only makes social media a more important component of what a cannabis or hemp brand does. And it also kind of puts more of a responsibility on these brands to do it. Right. And, you know, as well as I do that a lot of people think, Oh, I have my own Facebook profile. I can do Facebook for this brand. No, you can’t. Because it’s immensely more complicated than that. And unless you’re aware, with some of the moves that the FDA has taken with hemp derived brands recently, and some of the moves that straight up channels like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter have taken against some of these brands because they are making claims because they are targeting under age audiences or spreading a message information. You know, not everybody is capable of running a successful social media marketing program in this space. And at the very least, you just need some hand holding by professionals who have been there and done that, because this isn’t going anywhere it’s more important than it’s ever been. Because as we continue to meet our customers where they are, this is exactly where they are they are on Instagram and if you’re not there pushing out good information and making it look pretty then then you’re not doing your job right.
Shayda Torabi 31:32
Yeah, I can just i plus one everything you just said retweet. I definitely come from a background of being more familiar with digital and social and so it’s more comfortable for me as a marketer. Surely I know not every marketer does have that comfortability with social but I agree with you. I think it’s something that whether we can fully play in that space or not, especially things like Facebook and Instagram where they make it kind of difficult for us to to Truly maximize, you know, the full breadth of tools that those platforms offer. It still is something that you have to be mindful of. And it’s funny though, because I just got a consulting kind of call the other day somebody asked me, Hey, you do a really good job on social media, you know, how do you not get your post taken down? And I’m like, they they do I do get posts taken down. It’s kind of you know, like, the battle wins. You just have to accept it and move forward as you’re trying to hopefully help push it forward. Like I know not everything I publish will get taken down because I try to learn and play by the rules and follow you know, regulations and guidelines on what I can and can’t say, but then there’s some things I’m like, okay, prior to Texas, outlawing smokable hemp smokable hemp is federally legal, and it while it looks like marijuana, it’s not and I would make you know videos with it and I would smoke it on camera and I would hold it up and you know, little pictures and stuff and Instagram and say this is flagged, this is inappropriate. And that’s a hard Right. I think if you’re a new brand or new marketer, you’re like, why is my content getting taken down, but it’s also trying to push these platforms to recognize the legality that is here and is further coming. So this is a very interesting dynamic that we find ourselves in. And then I guess to add on top of that, too, you’re talking about COVID. I think COVID has really forced our industry for the better into more digital adoption, I think it’s catching a lot of brands off guard because they aren’t, again, kind of for everything that you and I are really outlining, it’s, you can be online, but you’ve got to find the right people who will allow you to be online, you know, you gotta find the right platform, the right payment processor and things like that. But I didn’t know this until recently, Colorado doesn’t have delivery service. And I know that it’s coming in the next I think legislative session. I’m not quite sure what the timing is but you’re talking about, it’s not federally legal, but you have certain states that because of the pandemic have now marked it as essential they’ve gone through these, you know, Really quick policy regulation changes to accommodate this industry to further allow it to be accessible. And so I don’t know if there’s anything that you’ve observed either from the good or the bad of COVID. But pushing brands into digital to ultimately think we’re gonna lose some people and lose some brands along the way as we’re pushing, but I think it’s ultimately going to be a benefit to the industry.
Ricardo Baca 34:25
Yeah, I agree in the long term, it will be a benefit to the industry. And yet Colorado actually does have delivery. One medical dispensary in Boulder can deliver in the entire state and that is it so it’s not the most robust delivery platform but we do have it and you’re right January 1 recreational businesses can apply for those licenses and they definitely will and I can’t wait because we’ve seen delivery work without issue in California. For you years of unregulated purchases and now four years of regulated purchases. Hell, I mean, in Canada, the medical marijuana program is still distributing product through the mail. And, you know, sending cannabis through the mail is still such a no no here because of this resoundingly resounding lingering effect of that prohibition. And how dangerous is that? We think we can’t have cannabis delivered because of the potential crime against these delivery drivers. And it’s like, well, look at what’s been happening in California. It’s been working fine. Oh, we can’t put it in the mail. Well, look, what’s been happening in Canada for years. It’s the Canada Post. It’s the government post office that is handling they are ultimately the biggest weed dealer in the country. And here we have our puritanical views still lingering of, Oh, well, what about these delivery drivers carrying around these pricey edibles and it’s like, we Have drizzly and all of these other services that allow us to, you know, deliver pricey alcohol, big bottles, pricey bottles. So the stigma is still there. prohibition is very much still here, even in the most legally entrenched markets. It’s going to take a long time to get past that. But you know, we’re doing the work. And as we were talking about earlier, normalization is settling in. But we are far from done, there is an immense amount of work ahead. And it’s fun for me to be on this side. Because for my entire life, I have been that unbiased journalist who can’t even put a campaign sticker on my car, or a campaign sign in my door, or in my yard. And that was hard being a passionate adults who is passionate about the things happening in my community, in my cities, county state country, and I couldn’t have a voice. Well, now I can have a voice and I’m using that voice. dedicating the rest of my life to help push forward progressive drug policy reform.
Shayda Torabi 37:05
Yeah, I love that. I think that some that I resonate with so much because everybody listening comes from a different cloth, different geographical location, different history, different skills, different gifts and your gift is very clear. You mentioned you know, the the foundation of PR storytelling. And I would agree with that, I think a really good, you know, observation about yourself Is that not only are you a good journalist, but you’re really good storyteller. And it’s very fun for me to get to hear you speak throughout the years and then ultimately to have this conversation with you because I think that you have been very dedicated to the cause in a very unbiased way. But in a very, you’ve helped normalize it. I mean, we’ve been talking about it, but you really have helped normalize it in a public way. And I think that consumers have appreciated that and have resonated with you and I think that’s where fellow journalists, marketers brands can learn something. It’s how to use Step out into your truth. How do you help normalize it in your everyday life? How do you find the right resources, you know, read 10 different articles about the same subject, they’ll probably all talk about that plant or that particular cannabinoid differently. I know right now Delta eight is a very hot topic and I’m trying to educate myself on it. And so I’m reading everything there is on the internet. And so I just share that to say, we’re doing the work right and this is figuring out what is comfortable for me to step out. Again, for me, this podcast is my way of stepping out saying hey, let’s talk about cannabis. Let’s normalize it Let’s learn from each other. Let’s push it forward in the best way that we can and and so you’re obviously doing that.
quick break to say thank you to restart CBD for sponsoring this podcast. Restart. CBD is a brand my sisters and I founded in our hometown in Austin, Texas. We operate retail location as well as an e commerce store and you can browse our wide range of CBD products at restart CBD calm. Again, thank you to restart for allowing me the time and resources to put on to be blunt. I hope you’ll check them out for your CBD needs. Let’s go back to the episode. I want to ask you one final question before we wrap up this wonderful interview. You’ve written so many stories you’ve talked to so many people Surely there’s one that stands out as I’m gonna let you decide craziest, most shocking, most surprising cannabis story that you’ve ever covered.
Ricardo Baca 39:40
The most surprising or shocking cannabis story. So that’s tough. Yeah, was a lot. So I did write about cannabis for three and a half years full time. So that was my full time job. I only wrote about weed. And what was fun about that was sometimes I was writing a quick hit on Something that was breaking at that moment breaking news. Other times I was writing a big feature story like a reported feature. Other times I was aggregating the reporting of other people or something funny that Fallon said the previous night. And other times, I was spending 16 months on an investigative project looking at the presence of illegal pesticides and cannabis products. And so I guess, the pesticide stuff was fascinating, but I kind of knew that I was going to find that because the industry wasn’t fully buttoned up at the time. And there was a significant flaw in the supply chain that has semi been remedied. So, but I’ll go back a couple years beyond that to a story that was actually covered in the film. So in January of 2014, I’ve been on this be at this point for about three, four months, been writing about cannabis. I’m learning about it myself. And I’m also a relatively new consumer because I do Just started consuming on a regular basis in early 2013. Because I don’t smoke anything successfully, and I never have. And so for that reason, I always thought cannabis wasn’t my jam. You know, until in early 2013, I was at a house party kept passing the joint passing the joint, and my buddy who was hosting recognize that and asked me Do you not consume? And I said, No, you know, I just it’s not my thing. I don’t smoke. And he said, Well, what about edibles? And I said, they always throw me for a loop. You never know what they’re going to do. And he’s like, Oh, well, you know, if you buy him from a state store, it actually tells you how many milligrams of activated THC are in there. And the idea was very novel to me back then, in early 2013. Long story short, he gave me some I woke up the next day, cannabis is my jam. And in fact, I enjoy it more than alcohol. And ever since then, I’ve been consuming it more regularly and so I was on the Medical patient January 1 14 hits. And I remember making my first recreational purchase in the middle of the month driving up to the mountains to celebrate a friend’s birthday, that recreational purchase, you know, January 2014. The store shelves were empty, especially because of edibles. Because of this one time transfer that brands had of medical products to recreational product. It was a really clumsy transfer it is in every market. We just saw this happen in Illinois and Michigan shortages. So I bought that product and I knew that my dose at the time was 2.5 milligrams of activated THC. That was good and an edible for me. So once we got to my friend’s place, I had my normal amount I cut up that 10 milligram piece and roughly four pieces had it and everybody else’s smoking and vaping around me. And next thing you know, I’m not feeling anything and of course edibles take a while so they’re feeling good. I have a little bit more, but I’m trying to be really responsible because everything is an experiment at this point. And of course, all eyes are on me at that point I’d already been on, you know, the view and George Stephanopoulos and, and the Colbert Report. And all these places had held me up as this thoughtful person at who understood cannabis and I didn’t want to over consume and make an ass out of myself like Maureen Dowd would later do. And so I had another little bit and another little bit and at the end of the day, I felt nothing. And I had had 20 milligrams, even though 2.5 was my dose. And so I just looked at the wrapper and I was like, something’s wrong with this product, put it in a Ziploc bag. When I got back home, I put it in the refrigerator, where it sat for the next month and a half. Next thing you know, I get a call in march from a dispensary owner in a Denver suburb. And she says, Hey, I don’t know if there’s anything you can do, but I’ve had 400 customers return the same Brand product. And I said what brand product? Is it thinking about the candy bar in my refrigerator at that moment made by Dr. J’s? And she said, Well, the brand is Dr. J’s and, and instantly I was like, Hey, can I come out there today? I would love to have a conversation. And I did all of the reporting that day with her that first day. And at the end, I told her about my experience two months previous and I said, cool, there is definitely something there. I’ve experienced this myself. I did the research, I recognized that the state of Colorado had already approved a couple various labs to test cannabis for certain things like potency and microbials and residual solvents and heavy metals. And so I took that edible package from my refrigerator as well as a bunch of others that I got from her and other dispensaries and found that sure enough, this company was ripping everybody off, and it was appalling to me to think that Granted, they were poised to make a ton of money, but they were also poised to ruin their brand and ruin their consumer trust by ripping people off. And granted, they didn’t expect me to write a big story where I tested 10 separate brands of edibles, including four different brands of theirs, and publish the results on the front page of the Sunday newspaper, where it ultimately showed that most people were pretty good at dosing their products. Some people were giving us too much, and a couple people were pretty low. Meanwhile, this one brand, Dr. James was infinitely low. I believe one of the candy bar that had the most THC in it had point two milligrams of THC, which is to say, one 500th of what that product was supposed to have. It was supposed to have 100 milligrams of activated THC so that story was pretty groundbreaking. It was emulated and replicated all over the country, including by the Oregon In NBC outlets on both coasts, they recognize this is low hanging fruit. They recognize that this is an issue of consumer safety and trust. And this is the kind of things journalists should be doing. And ideally, regulators should be doing it. But they were behind schedule for understandable reasons at the time. This report publishes in March of 2014. And by May, the marijuana enforcement division here in Denver, in Colorado had pushed forward regulations, mandating mandatory testing for potency for all recreational products. And that was just the first of many stories that my colleagues and I did that led to real change, making sure that the industry was being more accountable, making sure that we were protecting consumers and our readers, and making sure also that we were holding regulators accountable because of course, this brand was being wildly irresponsible in terms of Putting products out there that had nothing, they were also ripping us off. And the regulators were not forcing them to test every product or every batch, which they ultimately started to do a couple months later because of our reporting. So when you talk about shocking results, when that result came back, and I was like, Am I reading this correct scientists that this is one 500 of the amount of THC that were promised on the label? And he’s like, yep, I was pretty shocked. And and that was really encouraging. Because I think journalists hold the powerful accountable. This is one of the many things they do. This is why, you know, you know, this is one of the many reasons we need the many contributions of journalists right now. And this is just a small thing that my team and I did that really shocked us and surprised the hell out of so many other people. And ultimately, that business was out of business less than six months later, and you know what, they deserve it. You’re fucking over. Your customers and if you’re fucking over your customers, you don’t care. I mean, in the CBD space, the Journal of the American Medical Association later replicated that study to similar effects and showed that a lot of the CBD brands out there were not putting the amounts of CBD in there, that they were promising consumers, which is, it’s just too bad and it’s a growing pain as this industry kind of continues to legitimize itself and find its way
Shayda Torabi 48:26
that is such a powerful story experience, obviously to be able to publish that and help influence not only, you know, the replication of that through other county cities, states products, but to ultimately see that be helpful and influence how the regulators and policymakers and lawmakers are looking at how to actually manage and control cannabis as it does get out into the consumers hands because that is the ultimate deliverance from a brand you know, sell what is on your product and your label, what is your brand delivering and are you selling that to the consumer and so on. Thank you for sharing that story and for having this conversation with us and our listeners today. It’s just been super, super fascinating and helpful. And thank you for being here.
Ricardo Baca 49:10
Appreciate you for having me on and for doing what you’re doing. It’s a, you know, it kind of ties back to how we started talking about this. But really, in the new industry, in a nascent industry like hemp and cannabis, you can differentiate yourself by doing your fucking job. And by delivering what you’re saying that you’re going to deliver. It’s a relatively low bar now, but it’s not always going to be that way. And so I think the people who will still be here and those brands that will become the Coca Cola of cannabis in the coming years, they are the ones who did their job, who delivered what they said they would, and eventually went above and beyond that delivering exceptional experiences.
Shayda Torabi 49:51
I agree. I think that’s what every brand in this space is facing and should welcome with open arms. We certainly at restarted practice self regulation. since our inception, and there’s obviously a lot more to learn as this industry continues to mature, both in Texas and nationally, but I think brands should take to heart the power that they have when marketing this product. And don’t take it lightly because they really have the potential to help. You know, in your case, you took this edible experience and maybe you didn’t have the effect that you wanted and maybe you never went back to cannabis.
Mm hmm. Exactly.
And I think that that’s such a shame when so much of my Why is ultimately legality and access for everybody to have experienced this plant and so yes, I look at my life and my opportunity as okay I sell CBD products. I have a retail, I have an e commerce, whatever I care about Mr. Mrs. Customer one. You’re a voter. You’re a mom, you’re a daughter, you’re a son, you’re a friend. You’re a grandpa, whatever. You know you’re somebody to somebody and your experience. This plant can have ripple effects. And as a brand, it’s my job to hopefully help you have the best experience possible to educate you make you feel safe, make you feel comfortable. And so your story really resonates. Because those of us who have experienced cannabis, I think we’ve all been there where a product did not deliver on what it said it was going to. And I think, you know, the people that stick around or continue pursuing those products is not as many as who walked in to start with it. So thanks for sharing that.
Ricardo Baca 51:30
Oh, of course. I mean, we know from CPG that the secret to success is delivering consistent, reliable experiences. It’s why Starbucks is Starbucks. So so that is where we have to aim as CBD and THC brands. And I’m glad that you and your colleagues get that especially being in such a such an early bubble.
Shayda Torabi 51:53
Yes, Texas, an early bubble. And just to riff on that point. I tell everybody, as a marketer, you don’t have to recreate the wheel. Understand your points, you know, try to be as honest about what you can and can’t say from a regulatory perspective. But just stick to a script, you know, you don’t have to over create, you don’t have to overcomplicate it, you really can just tell people what it is and be very straightforward and hopefully, you know, tell your story in a really meaningful way that resonates. And I think that that’s, it’s a simple concept, but obviously, an execution is not easy for everyone. But really simply, I mean, you said it, you know, just do your fucking job, do a good job, sell a good product, you know, speak honestly about it, and then the proof is in the pudding. So I relate with that so much. So thanks for being on the show. Let our listeners know where they can find you online, how they can connect with you or your agency.
Ricardo Baca 52:46
Of course, you can find us at my grasslands calm or at grasslands agency on Insta.
Shayda Torabi 52:53
And then I do ask all my guests you can pick to answer this whether you have a favorite dispenser. That you enjoy supporting or if there’s a particular product or brand that you think is doing a really great job that you’d like to highlight.
Ricardo Baca 53:07
Of course, you know, we work with a great brand who I’ve long been a fan of, kind of a part of this emerging luxury cannabis market. And they are coda signature available in Colorado and California, a rare brand that actually makes all three categories. So they do make exceptional edibles as well as topicals. These amazing bath bombs and extracts. So cut a signature, definitely check them out. They’re doing high level work.
Shayda Torabi 53:39
Damn, that last story that Ricardo told is so legendary. That really is like a testimony to I think his work his role, the piece he played and helping to bring factual, intelligent and professional conversations about cannabis to not only the Denver public but really everybody in the cannabis community who was watching with the Denver Post was doing and ultimately what Ricardo and his team were doing. So I am so so so glad we were able to have that conversation and really encourage you if you have Netflix and you haven’t seen Rolling Papers, to go listen and watch because it is a really great account of how cannabis did go legal in America and how Denver was at the epicenter of that conversation. So hope you enjoyed today’s episode. I had so much fun interviewing Ricardo. Thanks for tuning in, and always appreciate a like or subscribe, you can head straight to iTunes that’s where it honestly matters the most. Please take less than five minutes to just go drop in the app hit the subscribe button hit the like button. Be on your way. I appreciate you and new episodes will drop every Monday so stay tuned for more fun conversations on to be blind. Thanks and hope you’re doing well and take care. Bye.
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