Drew Martin’s presence in the cannabis business began as a passion for herbal medicine and has grown into something that transcends the parameters of industry, surpasses getting stoned. He fuses together age-old traditions of herbal practice with the inherent human need for social ritual and community and has found the end result of that fusion to be an outlier in an otherwise over-saturated, over-industrialized capitalization of weed.
As the founder of his own line of botanically blended, hand-crafted pre-rolls, Drew Martin initially launched his product in Los Angeles, expanding to New York’s market this past spring. His product is informed by years of travel and cultural exploration, studies in plant medicine, and mixology, which he won a James Beard award for.
By infusing Emerald-Triangle sourced, Sun and Earth Certified organic pre-rolls with a careful selection of unexpected botanicals like fragrant rose petals, sweet chamomile, ginger, and lavender, Drew creates an exceptionally smooth and enjoyable experience that frequent smokers may find unique in comparison to their past encounters with cannabis.
FLAUNT spoke with the man on the cutting edge of cannabis culture about his beginnings, his intentions with his product in relation to society’s understanding of weed, and how detailed creation can result in a beautifully unique, impactful experience.
Are you originally from LA?
No, I was born in Seattle–so cold and rainy–but I left when I was very young and a teenager. We actually came out here to start this company.
So you conceived this idea in Seattle?
Not in Seattle. I was living in New Orleans previously and that's where Andrew and I actually met each other. The idea was really conceived and developed there and then we came out to sunny California where it was legal because it couldn't be done in Louisiana. Adult usage had just started opening up here, so we wanted to get out and start doing it on a more formal level instead of in New Orleans.
What is the legality like? I do know that even in California, it seems like the legal processes can sometimes keep companies tied up.
It's nuts. The regulation is really crazy, as you know. Essentially, it’s all state by state. What that immediately does is create a different regulatory system and a different set of laws in every single state, and you can never cross between states. So any cannabis that is made in California, or grown in California, stays in California.
If you're looking at expanding into new states, you're either setting up an entirely new operation in a new state, with an entirely different supply chain, and an entirely different legal system. Or, you're licensing your IP and letting somebody else manage that for you. It makes things really difficult because you can only speak to whichever state.
California's trickier, because California took a further step and said that every municipality has its own control. So the laws in Los Angeles are different from the laws in West Hollywood, which are different from the laws in Culver City. Frankly, if you're looking geography-wise, over 50% of the state has an outright ban on cannabis commerce. Beverly Hills will not allow any type of cannabis business at all. So it's very piecemeal.
How has Drew Martin evolved since your expansion to New York? What's it like operating in New York versus California?
New York has been a blast. The way legalization has rolled out in New York has been very focused on social equity businesses, so the vibe is very community focused. The biggest difference for us is that in California our more chill Indica and lavender blend is the top-seller, while in New York, we can’t keep our energetic Sativa and ginger blend stocked on shelves. I guess the stereotypes are true.
What was your initial inspiration behind the brand?
For me, it was really exciting and interesting. It felt like what I had been doing in my life previously for the last decade all sort of culminated in this. I guess it's kind of primarily three big facets of my life. One was that I spent all of my twenties living pretty nomadically around the world. I moved around between Hawaii, I lived in India, I lived in Brazil, and I lived in rural Tennessee in an off-the-grid commune for a year. I spent some time in San Francisco, eventually landing in New Orleans. [I was] doing a lot of traveling and backpacking through my twenties where I'd spend months on end bouncing between countries and being so fascinated around plants and the place that they hold in between cultures–not only from a medicinal aspect, which I do find very interesting.
I eventually came back to the US and studied herbalism and plant medicine informally, but prior to that, it was just really a passion of what is the flora. The flora changes between each geography and [I was interested in] what the practices looked like around cultures utilizing what was available.
I think equally as important to me are the rituals and the cultural practices that were built around plants and plant magic. A lot of that led me to where I was when I finally landed in New Orleans and I studied more of the medicinal side formally and started my own practice where I saw patients. I had a little atelier and saw patients during the day and I formulated herbal remedies for them. One thing that I always found really powerful and that I always worked with was incorporating cannabis as one of the medicines in my pharmacopeia, which interestingly and I think insanely, is not done very often.
Traditional plant medicine practitioners are not combining cannabis with other plants. We see that formulations happen and you can create this all based on pulling different plants together. For me, it didn't make sense not to include cannabis, so eventually my practice really centered around using different types of cannabis to treat people, but including other supplemental and supporting herbs and actives that would help further increase that. I did that during the day and then by night I worked in spirits in mixology and of course it was New Orleans, it was a really, really good place to do that.
This sounds like a fabulous life. I was like, ‘Why'd you come here?’ You're doing amazing work. That sounds like so much fun.
It was a lot of fun. I certainly miss that. I mean, I love what it's morphed into, but I'm so impassioned with alcohol and spirits as well. I think there's such incredible overlap between that and plant medicine–you know, alcohol is made out of plants. So kind of understanding the qualities of different botanicals and herbs and seeing how they impact and shape what alcohol is.
Also, the social ritual around drinking and creating an experience around a beverage. Creating a beautiful cocktail isn't just about pouring different alcohols together to get you drunk. It's about creating a sensory experience and peaking these different parts of the palette and the olfactive–how does that shape up to be? And then you place that in front of somebody and a whole new experience starts, where they're sharing with the community that they're with, and you sort of create the space for practice and for ritual.
Drew Martin really is pulling all of those together. I wanted to think about cannabis as an experience, and something that's not just a means to an end. The end being, getting stoned. In the same way that we don't drink alcohol or engage with other plant medicine, just as a means to an end, I think there's this big space in between while you're consuming or imbibing that–that's really important. Passing a joint around with a group of friends is a really intimate and beautiful experience, and I wanted to really kind of focus on that side of it.
How do you choose each herbal blend?
In my mind, there are two sides to it. I think there's the function side, which is leaning more into the qualities and the attributes of the plants and the chemical constituents within them. Then, there's also the sensory side. I really wanted to consider both of those. I wanted to lean into my experience with understanding flavor and composition and mouth feel…to create that really beautiful taste, something that smells really beautiful as you engage with it, but also stays within a selection of botanicals that have active effects, and pair those specifically to different types of cannabis.
So, terpenes is a word that everybody's becoming familiar with. We hear it a lot in cannabis as terpenes are–they're really the chemicals that are giving the smell and the taste of the plant. We know that those can guide the different directions of how you feel when you're using cannabis. Terpenes are present in every plant. The same terpenes that are in cannabis are also in peppermint, rose petal, and lavender. For me, a lot of that was an exercise in figuring out how to combine the different terpene profiles and augment some of those terpenes that are already present in the cannabis, in a way that both makes it taste better and makes it more driven towards a specific effect.
Does it always change, the cannabis that you're sourcing? Does it change according to climate, or environments changing with the seasons?
To season, it does change, and I'll switch different cultivars at times as well. But it’s within sort of a guideline, I’ll think of the profiles I'm looking for. We are really privileged and we've worked really hard to cultivate incredible partnerships with growers. We're also really lucky that we live in California, which in the Western world, is the capital of cannabis, and it has such a deep history. So we work specifically with one farm right now, called Moon Made Farms up in Humboldt run by an incredible woman named Tina Gordon, who is crucial for us.
I love that you work with a female farmer.
That whole side of it–I could talk forever about. Those sorts of decisions are very much baked into how we think about this. Her farm is called Moon Made Farms because everything is done by the lunar cycle. So, from the point that seeds are going into the ground all the way through the vegetation and through harvest, Tina's looking at lunar cycles and where the New Moon and full moons are. It's all about working to not fight the earth, but to work in tandem with it–with the earth and with the ecosystem in a way that's very sustainable and conscious. That’s something we respect, that I respect so deeply and is, you know, imperative in putting the product together. It’s the same way on the botanical side too, we work directly with farmers. That way we can know the energy that's going into growing and curating these plants as they come up.
Most of our herbs are grown for us in Washington state, so not too far away, but there's a regenerative farmer that's off the grid up there who does a lot of that. Some of them are trickier because they're not amenable to growing here–for example, the rose pedals weirdly. You can't find culinary-grade rose petals in the US because they're all sprayed with pesticides, which is depressing. But, I found this incredible woman-owned co-op in India that raises roses, harvests them by hand, and dries them in the sun. They have the most beautiful, exquisite flavor to them because they're all done consciously and by hand. Those are the things that make a big difference when putting the product together.
I'm sure it wasn't easy to find all of these different farmers in particular. It’s not like you just Google regenerative farmer in India owned by a woman.
It took a better part of a year to really hone in on finding some of these partners, and God is willing. We're hopefully going to be able to continue the partnerships for years to come as well.
Do you still practice herbal medicine at all?
I don't, this keeps me pretty busy. It's beautiful to be able to still interact with different plants. I'm not seeing patients, obviously, you know, this product is less of a medical product and more of a social product. There are obviously active directions that we're pushing people with each of these blends. You know, there's a lavender and passionflower blend, and that's paired with an indica. Lavender is notoriously extremely high in linalool, the terpene, which is part of the reason that when you look at it from an aroma-therapeutic perspective and such, lavender's always been utilized as this very calming and relaxing plant.
Interestingly, indica cultivars are known for being really high in linalool as well, which is part of the reason that indica’s are relaxed and depressed a bit. The passion flower is a vine from Central America, that’s where it’s native to, the subtropics. It’s been used for thousands of years as well as–most often, I would say, in tea to help with insomnia, to help keep anxious minds, and for resting and sleeping. This combination is definitely pulling all of these aspects of relaxation and sleep, if you will, together. But it's also a game in flavor.
Balancing lavender is really difficult to work with because oftentimes it can taste like a bar of soap that's been stuck in your mouth. So, how do you balance that? And passion flower traditionally doesn't have an incredibly great flavor. It's super grassy. It tastes a lot like wet hay. But putting those together in the right combination, they can neutralize each other's negative aromas and taste profiles and end up being something really beautiful that's not too soapy and not too lavender-forward, because that grassy earthiness can counterbalance that and vice versa.
In a sense, I feel that I'm still able to practice some amount of plant medicine, but just sort of wrapping it up into something that you can present to somebody as more of a ritual, and less as a direct medication, if you will.
So when we set out to think about the design and the packaging, I knew it was going to be very, very important to me. That starts with the visuals. I wanted that to continue all the way through the smell of the smoke, like incense burning around you and of course, the psychoactive and the active effects on your body. So, what you look at is going to be your first experience with the product and with the brand. We wanted to be very intentional about that.
The other half is that we know that this product isn't explicitly targeted toward people who are super familiar with cannabis or have come from that deeply entrenched legacy of cannabis culture. Part of the problem is that in trying to introduce this plant to new people, it's that it often feels intimidating or over-masculinized. Aesthetics aren't often prioritized in a lot of traditional cannabis products or cultures. As a means of making people feel like this was more accessible, I wanted to create something that felt interesting, like you wanted to keep it on your coffee table, whereas you maybe wouldn't keep a dirty bong on your coffee table.
Even the pattern reads almost like a fashion accessory.
Yeah, because if you're looking at a mother, or a woman in her forties is going to feel very comfortable pulling something like this out of her purse, whereas probably not some of those disgusting black bags. It’s a creative expression. We really loved getting into the gritty details regarding the illustrations, which I couldn't be more pleased with and excited about.
I found an artist who's based in Germany, online actually. I just fell in love with her portfolio and all the graphic work that she did. We reached out and worked with her to develop all the illustrations. Her name is Sasha Ignatiadou, she's actually from Russia but lives in Germany. We sat down with her and discussed each of these different blends that I put together and what were the flora and what is the fauna, and what are the geographical cues around these different botanicals, and let her take all of that and weave it together into each of these illustrations. You'll see nods and elements from the different places where a lot of these plants are native. All kinds are wrapped together into the imagery, which I think is sort of the perfect thing to house the pre-rolls inside.
You recently held a class where you shared your knowledge of herbalism while people made their own herb and cannabis mixtures. What was it like to share with the community & do you have further plans to continue events like this?
Sharing plant magic is my greatest passion. I want this knowledge to be available to all. We forget that there are special synergies between cannabis and other beneficial herbs, so these classes have been an incredible tool to illuminate that.
Being able to share my experience– and a little weed– is super satisfying. We’ll be doing a lot more of these. We’re stoked to have partners like Soho House who share the vision with us.
How did your collaborations with Angel Therapy come about? Given your very careful curation and decision-making, how did you decide they would be a good cannabis company to work with?
My number one priority is to de-stigmatize the plant, and share its magic with as many people as possible. The partners we find to help spread this gospel with us are like kindred spirits– and we always find our way to each other organically.
We met Marta through mutual friends and loved the ethos she built with Angel Therapy around using cannabis as a tool to connect more deeply with yourself.
Our collaboration with Heretic Parfum started with my interest in fragrance. Our friend Kudzi Chikumbu, aka Sir Candle Man, introduced us to Douglas (Little, founder of Heretic) and we sent him a gift. Within a month Douglas and I were in the lab crafting The Herbalist– the world’s first and only fragrance that actually includes cannabis. It can only be sold in dispensaries!
We just released a limited-edition collaboration with Sackville & Co.–who consistently design some of the most beautiful smoking accessories.
It’s about elevating the conversation around cannabis and illuminating the plant to new audiences that haven’t yet discovered its benefits for the body and the mind. And that’s what excites me most.
I'm curious about the future of Drew Martin, you mentioned your background in spirits, is that something you might go into, beverage?
Yeah. I'm really interested in beverages and I think it's another beautiful way to gather people and form practice and ritual. In my mind, what’s really beautiful about cannabis is the smoking of it. So for me, I think in the immediate, near term, I'd like to explore new ways that lighting the plant on fire and smoking that can be done. I think in the long term it's definitely something I'd be interested in though.
I'm very excited to see how the brand evolves and where you take it. I think it's such a beautiful world you started.
Thank you. I think there's so much opportunity around how to do that and how to think about it. Again, experience is one of the leading factors. We've thought about moving into some different edible experiences, continuing that through-line of intentional plant magic using different botanicals in combination with cannabis. We did a really beautiful project that started last year with Heretic Parfum. I didn't know if you've seen that.
Oh, yes. Oh my, you know Douglas?
Yeah. Douglas has become a really good friend.
Oh my gosh. Of course. I feel like Douglas, anyone who knows Douglas is so talented and special. He's a mastermind, a literal mastermind.
Yeah, and such a good person as well. So we got together and put out a fragrance that was based, in sort of the same concept as Drew Martin pre-rolls, in that, we wanted to start with the base of cannabis and really start augmenting and building around it with other botanicals. Obviously, Douglas is a huge plant nerd as well, so we were immediately very close friends because we could sit there and talk for hours about all these different botanicals that we were in love with. He added equally as much of an interest in looking at a plant and finding these other applications and fragrance and the olfactive, it's such an integral part to experience in both of our minds. We wanted to build a fragrance around the actual cannabis and to our knowledge, we're the first people really that have ever done that. There are a lot of cannabis fragrances, but none of them are using the actual plant. Albeit it becomes very difficult to use the plant, because of the regulatory and legal system. We can only sell the herbalist in dispensaries and it all has to follow those protocols as any other cannabis product. But we really, really wanted the authenticity of using an extract of the raw plants, and it shows.
Oh, that's, that's really exciting.
Yeah. It's really beautiful and fun. These are, I think, often ways that we want to think of cannabis and the power of botanicals and the universe that you can create with all of those. There are so many different applications that I think are important that people just haven't seen yet.