Dad Grass | Why Quit When you Can Still Get Lit?
![Alt Text](https://images.squarespace-cdn.com/content/v1/56c346b607eaa09d9189a870/1617231646121-OQAX6KENK8JYTOIE8ZKQ/DadGrass_5Pack_3_FLAUNT.jpg) I remember listening to the iconic self-titled Sublime album in the mid 90s and pondering an anchoring lyric in the single, “What I Got”. I got a Dalmatian / I can still get high / I can play the guitar like a muthafuckin’ riot. Maybe you know this one too? At the time, of course, I was inspired to keep focus on what mattered, because here was this older, cooler dude telling me that as he aged, the key things in life still worked, the likes of which included the unequivocal and mystical marijuana plant. Here’s the catch, though: when I got to be as old as Sublime’s late frontman, Bradley Nowell—a process frankly welcomed given the tenor of his tune—I could certainly still get high. That hadn’t changed after years of tomfoolery and all manner of contexts. But did I like it? Why was the historically emancipatory and silly medium now wrought with weird, itchy… paranoia? I would historically scoff when people used that word to describe weed’s influence on them and why they stayed clear. I quietly assumed they had a shit ton of ghosts in the closet that stirred when said ghosts smelled the miracle flower down the hallway. Turns out that most folks in their late 20s, and without a doubt those in their 30s, have collected ghosts, or life experiences, or stresses, or perhaps even had their biological makeup reordered over time… to a point where weed is just undesirable. I found this realization rather sad. And then I found Dad Grass, a pure CBD hemp brand that offers joint-like experiences with a psychotropic hue, that don’t leave you steamrolled by the increased proliferation of ubiquitously powerful marijuana strains. Packaged with care, organic, and tasty as the day is long, the Dad Grass brand also connotes a sort of playfulness, something increasingly diminished in the marketplace by the hurry up and sell sell sell nature of modern consumerism. Here’s a fun product, legal in all 50 states, with a bevy of collabs under its belt and growing, that I could enjoy with my Dalmation or guitar and still feel somewhat deviant and divergent with its participation in my day to day. I had the privilege of chatting with the Dad Grass entrepreneurs and Founders—Ben Starmer and Joshua Katz, both of whom met while working at Levi’s HQ in San Francisco back in the day—about the genesis of the brand, its nationwide inclusivity and aims, and the importance of letting the simple and fun things remain simple and fun, despite the mechanistic vice grip of contemporary start-up culture and a new product to consider every damned new day. So crank up the Sublime and remember simpler times.
Tell me about the journey from launch to now and what are some takeaways? What are some lessons about this process and the creation of this product? Starmer: I think the impetus to this—and we don't need to go all the way back—was always this idea that today's weed gets you too damn high. In the late 70s, the average THC was about two and a half percent. And now you go into a dispensary and it's 22 to 32%, which is just astronomical. About 10ish years ago, when Josh and I were living in San Francisco, you could go into a dispensary and talk to this expert bud tender for 20 or 30 minutes, and tell them exactly what experience you wanted. You’re going to go to a concert, or a party, or just out to the park. No matter what, I would always leave the dispensary feeling really confident in whatever I decided to pick up. But then it was always this crazy roll of the dice on the actual experience that I was going to have when I lit up. Was I gonna make it through the concert? Was I going to have to leave the party? Was the park experience going to turn into an anxiety tale? So we started talking about trying to find a way to bring a very high quality, but lower potency, THC-forward product to the market. At the end of last year, in November, we were turned on to this new legal CBD hemp. For me, hemp was puka shells, braided necklaces, in seventh grade—I was pretty skeptical. But thanks to the 2018 Farm Bill, which federally legalized hemp, 2019 was the first growing season, and what happened was a lot of these growers that were making this amazing THC product kind of turned their attention to the hemp plant, which naturally has lower THC and really high CBD. Come November, we get the first harvest of this new crop that smells like weed and smokes like weed. The effects are perfect. I remember Josh saying, “Wow, I don't necessarily feel high, but I don't necessarily feel not high.” And then Dad Grass was born. Katz: We actually did spend almost two years putting together Dad Grass initially as a recreational THC cannabis brand in California. We were exploring a bunch of different ways of doing that with the same mission. How do you bring high quality but low potency cannabis products to people? This also kind of conjoined with the idea of it's not just that today's weed gets you too high, but weed’s gotten way too serious these days. If you can't have fun, either buying, smoking, talking about or making weed, that's kind of problematic. When we stumbled onto this first generation high CBD “hemp flower”, that was like the light bulb. Prior to that, we’d been playing around with amazing sun-grown flower. That was maybe lower potency, but still, gave us a lot of the negative effects we started to feel as we got later into our 20s and certainly into our mid 30s. Which was paranoia. You know, even like, I started getting weed hangovers. And that was the whole reason I smoke weed: so I don't get a hangover or to get rid of my hangover. Now I'm getting a weed hangover. And surprisingly, there's a lot of people who relate to that. So anyway, it was interesting, because we'd spent a lot of time with Dad Grass as the brand had been germinating and developing. And the great thing about it was being able to discard a lot of the trappings and complexity and the business—the traditional, regulated THC dispensary and cannabis world—and we're able to do it more ourselves: no lawyers, no investors, none of that stuff, which was really amazing for us. It's a sort of version of the old garage narrative, but we definitely pulled down like five pounds of hemp from our friends up in Oregon who had just harvested it, borrowed a friend's rolling machine, and just started testing it out and figuring out how to build the product. Most brands don't have a lot of contact with actual products that they're making.
Talk a bit about the Farm Bill, because what's special about the product is it's not this kind of product that only for the “coastal elite”, right? It's something you could enjoy in Oklahoma or Nebraska or Arizona, these places that, despite the expansion of recreational cannabis across the country, have totally tough laws?
Katz: When we launched the brand it was pretty DIY, back at the end of February 2020, and into the first couple weeks of March—it was perhaps not the easiest time to be launching a new business. Because all of a sudden, everything was locked down. You know, people were losing jobs, and still are. But what was really amazing with this: unlike traditional THC cannabis, we can actually ship via USPS to 50 states. In that really early time period, we actually put an open offer out to friends and friends of friends, just on our Instagram saying, “Hey, you know, if anyone's been furloughed or laid off, or you’re a front line worker, and you just need to take the edge off, we'll send you a free joint”—obviously not recommending that they necessarily smoke on or before their job. Right away, the people that were taking us up on it, were in, you know, places that we've even rarely traveled to, across the United States, particularly a lot of the places where they don't have access to recreational marijuana. It turned out High CBD cannabis could be a pretty nice treat for a lot of people, right in those early days when they needed it most. It's continued to give access to people that otherwise don't have access. With us you can go right to dadgrass.com. You can order like any other product, and it gets delivered to your door. As a brand, it also has made us not super narrowly focused on our own geographic and cultural experience. We're both from LA, and I think a lot of times when brands start up, they only think about LA, for better or for worse. That's their first audience and what they cater to a lot. For us, from the very beginning, it was like, “Oh, wait, you know, we've got people in West Virginia, we got people in Alaska, you know, we’ve got people all over that really dig it.” Starmer: There's three different demographics that we primarily see. The first is someone that has experienced what we were all talking about in the beginning of the call. Smoked dope, kind of moved away from it because they were having adverse effects. Then there's a really big community of the curious segment. They continually hear on all these blogs and social that cannabis is medicine, and they haven't been able to take that step for fear of getting too high or intoxicated from the plant. We are providing a way to experience the plant, experience some of the medicinal benefits without getting stoned to the bone. The third one is actually the avid users. Folks that are smoking a ton at night, but during the day, they can't be blazing a 32% Snoop Dogg joint, but want that kind of comforting smokeable experience that relaxes their body and relaxes their mind without getting really stoned. It's democratic, not only in geography, but also kind of all these different segments that we can tap into. Katz: One thing atop that: it's called Dad Grass. We definitely have as many female followers, customers, fans, friends, as we do male. Actually more, depending on how you look at it, which has also been really cool. I think Ben and I were both a little bit worried before launching that we might pigeonhole ourselves where people would see us as masculine. It's kind of nostalgic for the easier times, but it's not pinned to geography or dad or a mom or anything like that.
Talk to me about the retail world, which is very upended—there are a lot of question marks around what the consumer experience looks like, even post COVID. What are the ambitions? Is there sort of an ideal venue that hosts your products? Do you know what you foresee down the pipeline? Starmer: Once the world started opening back up, we found that we were able to get the product into very distinct channels, places you wouldn't typically find CBD hemp in. We're in high end clothing stores, such as Mohawk General Store, to high end kind of gift boutiques, like Midland, or Prelude to Dawn, all the way to coffee shops in West Virginia, to gourmet grocers in Chicago and Dallas, and skate shops in the South Bay. We’re not trying to compete with the head shop model. Most of the folks that are finding Dad Grass have never heard of smokeable, CBD hemp before. They get the spiel, and they pick up a pack, and thankfully, really enjoy it. So that's one of the really interesting things and really exciting things for 2021 and 22—growing these channels and finding folks, where they're shopping, and not necessarily having them have to seek us out. Katz: I think it's something that comes again from my background and Ben’s, particularly in the apparel world. I think particularly in the higher end segments of brands like Levi’s—these types of multi brand, multi category stores have always been things that we liked and people that we dealt with. It's been really nice to be able to bring our product in, and not just be trying to sell them another pair of jeans that they probably don't need. Legalization, at least in California, made cannabis pretty uncool—the sanctioning and categorization took a little bit of a mojo out of the marijuana space. Would you agree? Starmer: Well, also on top of that, I think it's also just the business of big cannabis inevitably happens like in any industry. Through the process of venture and consolidation and public markets… all of these things circling around emerging industries might be good for furthering the business itself, or the industry itself, but oftentimes, what gets left behind is some of like the humaneness—and dare I say, authenticity—that was probably core to these businesses or cultures before all the suits and the money got involved. I'm not going to say that it's all bad, but it becomes a lot harder for brands—similar to the fashion space where it's hard for many brands that are trying to make money to take risks, because there's slim margins. It's tough competition, and it's expensive. If you fuck up, when you take a risk in fashion, it could be a big loss. It's really hard to do cool shit in a lot of industries. It's becoming that way in cannabis. You have to have so much money to be able to show up and you have to be able to pay off your dispensary, you have to do all of this stuff. By the time all that's done, who has the time to do fun shit? I think for us, we want to make sure we're doing stuff that makes us happy and hopefully makes others happy first.
To that tune, you mentioned at the outset, the sort of importance of keeping things light-hearted. Why do we need lightheartedness in our sort of day to day consumer life? Starmer: I think one of the things that we always say is: if you can't have fun in the weed business, you're doing something really wrong. I think that if you took a couple of steps back: there's a lot of really serious stuff going on in our world. And it's very hard not to just be caught up in this kind of perpetual state of urgency and fear. Businesses that make products that are designed to take the edge off have a huge opportunity, a role, and responsibility. A lot of stuff that's happened within the cannabis industry—but also let's say in the wellness industry—is a focus on curing something that ails you. It presupposes that there's something wrong with people. That might be the case, in a lot of situations. We want to start at that point, but we also want to assert that certain experiences can be made better or different by sharing a joint with your friends.
Katz: I think the other side is that over the last 10 years, we have seem the rise of the formulaic Direct To Consumer brand produt— both business model and aesthetic—you just start to see the same thing because it's all built off the same formula. That same formula is optimized for business success, particularly the type that's very much growth and venture related. I think that oftentimes dilutes things down. You're to focus on following the formula—nothing personal. Out of that world have been born great products and solutions that we all benefit from. But none of them are making me feel anything in the same way that independent fashion, or art or music, or even social entrepreneurship does. I think, in some ways, it's kind of sad to see what's going on, but I do see this moment in time as being kind of mid-paradigm shift, hopefully. Starmer: I think we've all experienced—I know Josh and I have talked about it a lot—we've lived in this world of like, all this referential, self-seriousness—whether it's content brand videos—that are trying to put this importance on a pair of khakis or whatever it might be, and it's just like, “Oh, my God.” Katz: Which, by the way, we're guilty. We're guilty of having done that. Starmer: Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. Definitely. And so this is this, “Oh, okay, we don't have to do that.” We don't have to have every piece of content try to put this false importance on the product, and check all these boxes—let's have a little bit of fun. We're talking about joints here.