How to compete with “big weed”

Like plenty of teenagers, Mario Sherbinski started smoking weed when he was 16.

Unlike a lot of pot-smoking teens, though, Sherbinski made weed his professional life—and the bet paid off. Now 42, he runs one of the splashiest brands in the new world of legal weed. (Recreational weed became legal in his home state, California, in 2018.) His company, Sherbinskis, sells premium vapes, thin, beautiful cylinders in the brand’s burnt-orange color, and flower. (When I asked him why he picked orange, he said the color reminds him of the sun, which gives all of us and his plants, life.)

(Watch the Quartz News video about this story here.)

Sherbinskis is part of a new wave of brands that is emerging post-legalization in North America. At the biggest marijuana industry conference in the world, which took place in Vegas in mid-November, hundreds of cannabis companies were selling products: creams, roll-ons, pet oils, equipment, bongs, weed-based botox treatments, accounting services, and much more. Suits walked from booth to booth, listening to sales pitches. “Everyone is seeing the gold rush,” remarked a tattooed, former model who was representing the weed brand, Flav.

Big companies are betting weed is the next gold rush, too. At MJBizCon, publicly-registered companies worth millions of dollars stood side-by-side with small businesses that had barely scraped together the roughly $5,500 needed to rent a booth. Some were wary of their competitors. “Big pharma, big Wall Street, big tobacco, they’re coming,” said a small vendor who sells weed accessories for the outdoorsman. “They’re going to buy up half the booths in here, they’re going to take over all the grows.”

The very biggest cannabis companies in the world, though, aren’t based in the US. They’re from Canada, which legalized recreational weed two months ago.

One such company, Canopy Growth, owns over a dozen brands, is in 11 countries, and is making its way into a 12th: the US. “Our goal is to be big and to be successful,” says Jordan Sinclair, the VP of communications at Canopy Growth. Canopy has already figured out ways to speed up its harvest time, and produce more, faster.

Quartz News went to Smiths Falls, Ontario, to see just what the biggest weed factory in the world looks like, and to figure out how someone like Mario Sherbinski can stay competitive in the emerging world of corporate weed.

Mario has his own plan. He wants to create the “supreme” of weed. Watch the video.

Quartz News is a weekly video series bringing you in-depth reporting from around the world. Each episode investigates one story, breaking down the often unseen economic and technological forces shaping our future.

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