Gary Cohen and Cova Software delivers the best POS and Payment Solutions for Cannabis Retailers

Ry Russell and Gary Cohen on WeedBudz Radio

Hello Budz!  I’m excited to have a returning guest; Gary Cohen, CEO of Cova Software.  As a business owner, I have met with and researched several software platforms for my own business as we opened an adult use dispensary this year.  Cova software was the perfect solution for us and I invite you to join us to hear from Gary himself.  From first-class service to high-performance software, Gary and his team are continuously evolving to support retailers in providing a best-in-class customer experience and staying ahead of regulations and laws within the Cannabis industry.

Gary Cohen – CEO

Cova Software

Host: Ry Russell
WeedBudz RadioSupport the show

Hey, budz.

Welcome back for another incredible

episode of WeedBuzz Radio.

And of course, I’m your host, Ry.

And joining me today is a guest that we’ve

had on before and one that I’m really excited

to to share with you all today.

Because as you know, we have been on

a journey in our own cannabis retail world

of Budz Emporium here in Medway, Maine.

And when you’re opening a retail store, there’s

a lot you need to think about.

And just so much going on, so much chaos.

And one of the biggest things that you need to figure out

is what are you going to use for your POS system?

And we have spoken about different companies.

We’ve spoken to Gary before, and we’ve

learned a little bit about Cova.

And so when we were getting open, we called Gary,

and Gary introduced us to his team at Cova Software.

And they took incredible care of us.

They taught us how to use this

entire system in a very tight timeline.

We were kind of under the gun.

We were just moving slow and then moved fast.

And Gary’s team was there the entire step of the way.

Even when we were delayed, they were still there

and they were still ready to help us.

And we get the system in, and it’s perfect.

And we have ATMs in, and that’s helping

us with our business and our tourists .

And then the ATMs go away

because their banks say no more.

We saw where it’s located.

So we got a debit card system, and the fees are insane.

And when you’re already paying incredible

taxes, you cannot afford incredible fees.

So what do I do in a panic, I think?

Well, who has solutions to these things?

Well, of course, our next guest, Gary

Cohen, CEO of Cova Software, always has

solutions to these types of things.

So, Gary, welcome back to WeedBudz. Thanks, Ry.

It’s great to be here.

It’s incredible to think that our journey started prior

to the pandemic and you’re one of

our first episodes of our rebranded WeedBudz radio show.

We met at MJ Bizcon, and we stayed in

touch ever since we’ve seen you in Portland, Maine.

We purchase and we invest in your

product, and we love it so much.

And it’s just been a wild ride,

and it hasn’t been that long.

Well, in marijuana years, 3 years is

like 30 in any other industry.

So time flies fast, especially in a

super high growth space like we’re in.

Speaking of super high growth, I remember a story that

you shared with us at Bizcon about your

first trade show, if you will, and kind

of where your market share was and how it grew.

And as far as I know, Cova is now

the number 1 POS software in North America.

I mean, such a lion share of the US.

And the Canadian market.

Yeah, we are.

Well, I think that your experience with us and

just so that the people listening know I love

Ry and I want to support him, but we

didn’t do anything special or different for him.

So when he reached out and said, hey, I need

to get going with something for my dispensary that I’m

finally going to get to open, I hate to say

it, but you didn’t get any special treatment.

You got like, what everyone gets so everybody

can get the Ry Russell treatment from Cova.

That’s right.

That Ry Russell treatment is a top shelf experience.

But I think that’s our secret sauce.

So I think what we did really astutely or well at

the very beginning was we were new to the industry.

Everyone was dealing.

For the most part, everyone is new to the industry.

When I think about everyone opening a dispensary, we’ve

got a lot of people who have no retail

background almost, I’d say 90% have no cannabis background.

And then you add that full compliance element into

it, where you got to do it right and

get connected up and report properly, do the taxes

properly and all that stuff, and it’s complicated.

And we set a mission to simplify that

complexity and hold your hand during the process.

So not just teach you how to use the software, but

try to educate you on, here’s what you’re getting into.

Here are the pitfalls, here’s how you can navigate through

those things, and if we could be that value added

service, not just the software, but a partner to help

you through this, that was our mission.

And when people ask, how did Cova

go on such a fast trajectory?

Because we were of the bigger POS companies, we’re the last

ones in, but we went to the top pretty fast.

And it was those 2 things, compliance and education.

There’s our secret sauce and that’s free for everybody.

But the execution is really where it lies.

Well, and I think the execution side really

comes about because of our DNA.

We spun out of a big, huge POS company.

So the know how I guess one of my

proudest moments is we got this client in Canada

that was an existing chain that had 20 dispensaries

in Ontario and didn’t go with Cova originally.

Decided they wanted to go with us,

but could we launch all 20 of their

stores by the end of the month?

So we’ll sign the thing, but in the next

25 days, can we cut over 20 stores?

And we did 20 stores perfectly.

Well, what’s behind all that is, I hate

to say it, it’s the non sexy.

Do you have processes?

Do you have people trained internally who know how to

do this stuff in scale, do it at an enterprise

level as fast, and all the parts necessary have been

figured out and everyone can get on the same page.

So that’s how you execute through experience,

document what works, what doesn’t work.

Cova has been incredibly nimble since

day 1 in self analyzing.

What are we doing now that’s not working

or that’s not the best way, and not

being stuck in, that’s the other good thing.

We’re new. The industry is new.

So instead of saying, well, that’s how we’ve

always done it, there is no always.

So the way we’re doing it isn’t

that good or it’s not that effective.

Change it, modify it, test it, does it work better?

There’s the story of execution.

Well, when I think about

that Ry Russell treatment that I got,

I felt like I was just obsessed with, just

everybody just took such good care of you.

Well, you know what’s underneath that?

Not to cut you off, but one of those things that

happened was we started looking at every dispensary or set

of dispensaries or chain of dispensaries as a project.

And I’m not a process guy, but there’s a

whole discipline in the world called project management.

And there’s a proper way to manage a project.

Whether you’re building a house or

remodeling kitchen or building a road

or designing software, it’s a project.

And there’s a way to define what

you’re trying to do, assign people responsibilities,

go through a set of steps.

And when you think about you being obsessed on,

that’s the project, right, your store was a project,

and there’s all kinds of people who got assigned

to your project and they are obsessed on it.

That’s their thing.

And they know what they’re supposed to do

relative to your timeline, store size, way that

you want to operate the store.

So anyhow, I’m giving you all the secret sauce.

But it is, but it’s not as,

it’s not like we’re geniuses.

These are just taking the things that work that

are generally accepted ways of the optimal way to

do business or do a piece of business and

applying it to our industry, which is brand new.

And guess what?

Most of the other players in our

industry, they’re not on that page yet.

They will be someday.

But we kind of came into this

going, well, there’s project management discipline.

How are we going to put that in?

And I’ve always been obsessed with the

consumer because that’s ultimately what my side

of the supply chain is focused on.

However, I was really inspired by the level

of service and care from your team.

And I mean, just to your point, they were

foreshadowing where I was and helping me be prepared

for something that I did not even know that

I needed to be prepared for.

And that is something that we really try to

tailor that experience for our guests as well.

Maybe a 5% of concentrate is stupid.

We don’t know our customers.

This customer only smokes flower.

And that’s what I felt like with your team as they

really got to know me and kind of tailored that experience.

And maybe I didn’t take some

of the generally accepted best practices.

I was like, I don’t want to do it that way.

And your team be like, okay, well, how do you want

to do it and how can we make it fit?

So it’s streamlined within the way you will execute.

So it was just incredible.

And obviously as we got going and we learned

more, it was the right fit for us.

But one of the questions that came up for us

was, you hear about metric and seed to sale tracking

and you’re worried about compliance and all of this stuff,

and there’s so many point of sale systems out there

that it was hard to kind of tell, like, do

I need seed to sale software?

Do I need retail POS software.

Can you help kind of break that down for other

people that might have kind of been on that journey?

Like I was, what’s the difference and

what does a retailer really need?

That’s a great question.

What you just asked has become

a marketing induced complexity in terminology.

So when I started Cova, seed to

sale and traceability were a synonymous concept.

It was when you plant a seed gets big enough, how

are we going to track that seed as it becomes a

plant all the way through the supply chain to when the

chain of custody gets handed over to the end user, the

customer, and it’s a chain of custody thing.

This whole concept of traceability and seed

to sale is because A, states like your

state that went medicinal, it’s a medicine.

So can we implement some of the

process and thinking around tracking medicine?

What happens if a medicine is tainted or bad or we got

to go catch it, get it out of the supply chain, or

get it out of the hands of the person who bought it?

Kind of like tainted Tylenol.

And when you think about a box of Tylenol and

it’s got the lot number, expiration date, it’s got all

kinds of stuff stamped into that bottle that’s so that

if something’s bad we know exactly which batch to go

find, get off the shelves and protect people.

So that’s traceability.

Now the second benefit to traceability is

you’ve got something that’s federally legal.

So from the state perspective, to be able

to say to the federal government, hey, we’re

watching this marijuana seed from when it’s planted all

the way through the supply chain, we’re going

to track it so that it doesn’t divert.

That’s a big concept is diversion so that the

legal cannabis doesn’t divert out of the supply chain,

gets sold out, the back door, stolen, or inbound

diversion, we’re going to get illegal or unlicensed product

or untested product into the supply chain.

So we’re going to put

in this whole traceability system.

And that way if I go into a store and

I go, this product is not licensed, or this product

was never tested, I can trace it all back and

go, I know what’s Kosher and not in the store.

Well, where everything got confusing is when people,

some of my competitors, started saying we sell

seed to sale software because originally seed to

sale was the state traceability systems, which was

either bio tracker, metric, and then for a

brief period, leaf Data Systems was in it,

but those were traceability and traceability receipts of

sale and it was a state implemented system.

But then they switched it over to vertical software.

And instead of calling their product vertically integrated

software, meaning it’s software that can help you

manage and track your grow or your MIP,

your manufacturing operation or your retail.

And you have a vertically integrated business that does

all of those aspects of the supply chain.

And our software is vertically integrated to

connect internally on our side, the software

side with all those pieces.

And they started calling it seed to sale.

And that’s what made everything confusing.

The truth is, there’s grow management software, there’s

manufacturing software where you’re taking raw products and

you’re turning them into some sort of other

product and then there’s retail software.

Now, I’ll say this one thing, it’s very

rare in any industry that someone does all

of the pieces of the supply chain well.

Usually, if you’re a farmer, there’s great agricultural software

to help me understand what goes into my crop and

my product and the mechanics of that, that are tracking

yields, what are we putting in and what are we

getting out and what’s working and what’s not.

That’s grow management

software, manufacturing software,

it’s like whether you’re a coke plant or a

cookie bakery or you’re making razor blades, manufacturing

is a process and you’re measuring and managing the

process and there’s great software for that.

And then lastly, there’s retail software

that’s all about running a store.

It’s very rare that any company does all of that great.

Lastly, in our industry, because of metric or because

of state traceability systems, it doesn’t matter whether you

have a software that can do all three of

those things at every stage of the product’s life,

it has to be reported to the state through

that state traceability system.

So there’s no states where I can bypass that.

And within my software, I can make it

transfer it to my store, and I’m done.

And I can keep everything within my software platform

and it’ll see and talk to each other.

Because the validation step that’s got to happen

in every state is, here’s the plant that

I planted, here’s how big it got.

Now I’ve harvested, I got to tell the

state what I’ve harvested, then I got to

tell the state where is it going?

Even if it’s going to my own store,

I can’t just move it in my software.

I have to go to the state.

The state transfers it to the

next place in the supply chain.

And I think that the misnomer about

one software can do it all.

It doesn’t work that way and the

benefit you get is minimal, if anything.

One last thing, and I know I’m throwing arrows at some

of my competitors but I’m going to throw them anyway.

And that is when I ask people what’s the best advantage you

get out of seed to sale software, as they call it?

The number 1 answer is single sign on.

I just have 1 login password,

I don’t have to remember 3.

Well, in the grand scheme of things, I know that’s

a convenient thing but I don’t know if that justifies

the hundreds or thousands of dollars a month.

But anyhow so my recommendation is always go out,

look at the best in breed for if you

got to grow, there’s amazing growth management.

That is software that is easy

and sophisticated to use as Cova.

Same for manufacturing and then that’s

what we do in the retail.

And similarly on the payment side, there are

many competitors and there are many advertised claims,

if you will, and it gets murky.

Some offer part of a fee and some

of that fee goes the retailer and that

kind of incentivizes them to go there.

Some just have exorbitant fees on the consumer, no fees

on the retailer and then there’s others where there’s fees

on everybody and it just gets so confusing.

And I think we reviewed probably 4, 5

There aren’t too, too many.

But there are a handful of payment

solutions out there because as I mentioned.

Our ATMs just no longer became an option for us and

we had to act quick and we got a system in

and it was working but then it was declining all of

our Canadian customers and for us that’s a big market for

us right here on the Canadian border.

And so that was a surprise and we kind

of got through that and moved through that hurdle.

And then I started seeing the daily fees I was

paying and I was like, man, I’m already paying all

of these other taxes and I’m already paying these fees.

Yes, it’s cheaper than the ATMs for the consumer

but it’s not necessarily a better all around product.

And then talking to Nick and I’m asking some

of your team, there’s got to be a solution.

A day later I get an email there’s Cova pay and

I’m all excited and I met with your team and I

don’t know if I was the first person to reply, but

I’d say as soon as that you’re one of the first.

Yeah, I was right on that email and same thing.

Your entire team is knowledgeable.

They explained it to me, how it’s going to

impact my consumer, which is the number 1.

Number 2 was the fees and number 3

was, can my simpleton brain make it work?

If it matches that criteria, then we’re pretty solid.

And it did.

It was a better product for the consumer,

it’s way more cost effective for us and

the lines of communication are there.

I know that when I provide feedback, it goes up.

It goes all the way up until it

gets to you if it needs to.

But your team is so educated that I’m sure

most of the time it doesn’t even need to.

And so I think within 72 hours, we

had a plan, like an execution plan together

of how we’re going to pull this off.

And so that alone stands out.

But I’d love for you to just kind of give

a brief synopsis, if you will, of what Cova pay

is and what the advantages are for retailers.

Well, I don’t know if this is

a good story or a bad story.

Since we launched.

Which will be 5 years in November.

I’ve literally gotten 3 calls a week.

Every single week from some payment

provider wanting to partner with Cova.

Because when you’re connected to the POS.

It’s the holy grail.

And it’s whether it’s a fully integrated

solution or it’s a standalone solution.

One way or another.

Payment and POS in other industries was like

an inflection in technology and customer experience.

Everything kind of gelled when

payments and POS got married.

So everyone was contacting us.

And honestly, our board and the company we

spun out with is so skittish about risk.

They don’t want anything bad to happen to Cova,

and they don’t want anything bad, and we don’t

want anything bad to happen to our customers.

So as a result, we were incredibly

slow in getting an integrated payment solution.

And we were incredibly slow at even

getting a non integrated payment solution.

And a non integrated payment solution.

Like when you go to a restaurant or Jiffy

Lube or something and they say, it’s going to

be $114, how are you going to pay?

I’m going to pay with a credit card.

You give them your credit card, they type

in $114 in a separate little payment terminal,

and then they swipe your card.

Well, if it’s that kind of experience, if

they have to type in the amount from

the purchase of the purchase, it’s not integrated.

They call it a swivel chair because you’re

doing this system and you do that, you

come back to the system and finish it.

So it took us over 2 years

to get US a vetted payment solution.

That was a swivel chair.

And the reason that we were so slow and

there were other companies in our space that have

been doing payments for years and years, but to

find one that was relatively safe, they had send

certification, which is an element of banking.

Accreditation is very rare.

And you go, well, Gary, how did

you have like hundreds call you?

Well, because they’re not legit for cannabis.

So the US

banking system will not bank the cannabis industry

because Visa and Mastercard are federal banks.

And if it’s federally illegal, they won’t touch it.

So then all these other guys are just masking who

the customer is. I could tell you the funniest.

Like, I’ve got 100 stories of a

guy going, wait, just talk to me

because we figured it out.

We know because of the Spanish Falkland Island

Act of 1435, you can actually run payments

through the Falklands on this international treaty.

That is totally legit.

I’m just looking at them like, that’s the

biggest bunch of bullshit I’ve ever heard.

This is the definition of money laundering. Yes.

That’s all this is.

Then you get the next guy who’s

saying, no, we figured it out.

We convert the payment to crypto.

We process the crypto through London.

They turn it back into cash.

It gets back into your bank

account in 7 to 10 days.

That’s money laundry.

You’ve diverted money into another form to pull it

back into usable currency, and you can’t do it.

So then you ask, Well, Gary, why don’t you just do it?

All your competitors are doing it.

And then dispensaries, guys come to you, Ry

and go, hey, we’ll do your payment processing.

They probably hit you up a couple of times a

week because you’re a bridge.

Every day.

You’re an new retailer.

And how are we going to do it?

How are you going to get away with it?

Oh, we’ve got it figured out.

They all say the same thing.

Well, we wouldn’t touch it with a 10 foot pole.

And I can tell you, it cost us opportunity, because if

someone else is going to do it, some other POS company

is going to do it, and it’s what we want.

So we were just cautious.

So when we finally found people that, oh, wait,

where I was going was, what’s, the cost?

So what’s the big deal?

Are you going to go to jail?

No, nobody’s going to go to jail

if you use Jim’s credit card processing.

But what’s going to happen is in the

time it takes to clear your funds.

So if your dispensary does 50 transactions a day, and

let’s say half of them are on debit or credit,

and so 25 transactions at an average of $70.

So that comes out to, let’s say it’s couple thousand

dollars a day over the course of a week, that’s

$14,000 that your money is somewhere in processing.

Well, once they find out that you’re dispensary and in

the layers of credit card processing, someone discovers it to

pull the plug, you don’t get the $14,000.

You’ll never see cash on us.

Well, in most dispensaries, like, it would crush

anyone who has budgeted and planned on that

money and the money goes away, then the

next guy that you switch to happens again.

And the lifespan before the plug gets pulled is

usually about 2 and a half to 3 months.

So if 4 times a year you’re losing $14,000

to $15,000, what is $60,000 a year significant?

Probably so.

That’s why we didn’t do it.

Well, let’s go to Cova Pay.

So what Cova Pay

is, it’s debit.

It’s not credit, but we’ve got a provider that is

legally sanctioned to do debit only, long track record.

So we found a partner that it’s safe, like it’s

safe for us, which means it’s safe for our clients.

And we’ve done the work to integrate it.

And the big difference so, you know, when you

think about the customer experience swiping, like entering the

amount swiping versus your total is $114.

We will take debit or cash and they go, debit. Sure.

Give me your card.

Swipe it done.

It’s not that much time.

The difference is in reconciliation.

So at the end of the day, we sold

$1000. $700 of it was cash, $300 was debit.

And in the POS in Cova, as you

process it, you hit cash or debit.

So we know what it should have been.

But then when you pull the tape off of your

credit card or debit card readers, it says $250.

So now we got to find which one

of the sales adds up to the $50.

What if it was a $30 and a $20?

Somehow some manager every night got to figure out

how to reconcile the money in an integrated solution.

The fact that it got swiped, it’s debit, so no one has

to go, which button do I push to try to keep account?

So that’s a long way of saying it’s good from that.

The way you manage your store every day, it’s

even better in your records and reporting because now

at the end of the month, I can pull

a report and it tells me exactly what my

cash sales were, debit sales, if there’s any problems.

All the records are all associated payment type

with what was sold, I think, the most.

Now, here’s one last thing.

Everyone always, how did Cova get so big

and we didn’t have a payment solution?

Well, one of the things in a

market like Maine is you’ve educated

the market to show up with cash.

Or if you don’t have cash, we have an ATM.

So 90% of dispensaries haven’t, have or had an ATM.

The ATMs are actually going away at

a faster and faster rate now.

But you could go over there and

get cash, get out of line.

We’ll hold your sale, go get some money out.

But we’ve trained people.

This is how it works.

Now, tourists don’t know.

That’s who pulls out a credit card.

It’s all I got.

But the percentage of Americans that have a debit card

is something like in the 80 percentile, and the ones

with a credit card are in the 60 percentile.

So more people have debit than they have credit.

And the average per transaction is

almost 15% to 20% higher

when I can just keep adding things to the basket

and I don’t have to worry I only took $60 out

of the ATM, I’m not going to go back, pay

another fee and take another $30 to get more.

So they just keep adding to the basket. We’ve had so many

times where people are like, oh man, I only have $40.

Do you take card?

And we’ll say, well, we take a debit card.

Can I grab that, that and that?

Exactly. So it’s good for everybody, it’s

good for the customer, it’s good for you.

And the whole Cova Pay thing, I think what you’ll

wind up seeing strategically is, as it grows and gains

more and more adoption,

it’ll offset all kinds of other fees.

So subscription fees, CRM and loyalty.

E-commerce, that’s the other thing.

We’ll be adding a US e-commerce component.

So you can just pay on,

you could pay online.

That’s kind of cool too.

That’s amazing.

So one of the things that we’re preparing for, Gary, and

I know Brooke would be mad if I didn’t ask you,

is that as we continue to grow our retail business, the

state of Maine is looking at delivery for adult use.

And it’s something that we’re looking at very closely.

And I’m just curious.

Obviously you have a lot

of wisdom about different markets.

I was wondering if you had any insights on how

does delivery impact a retail business and will these solutions

be able to be integrated once delivery is available?

The answer is yes, they all will be.

Cova is partnered now with delivery software.

So we have a really great

partner in a company called Webjoin.

And to answer your question, at a bigger

level, as a market matures, delivery will become

more and more of a thing.

And the reason is, at the early stages

of a market, customers don’t know the form

factors that they can consume cannabis.

They don’t know which types they want.

Like, am I a Sativa guy?

Am I hybrid?

They don’t know all that stuff.

And that education that you do in the store is

not only vital to them, but it helps build that

trust and it helps build your store, all of that.

It’s necessary and it’s vital to both sides.

So a retail store at the start of a

cannabis market is one of the greatest things and

necessary things to get the industry off the ground.

But over time, people figure out, this is

what I like. I’m a this kind of guy.

Here’s how I like to consume it.

I don’t really need help anymore.

I know what I want.

Well, the next phase is order online, pick up in store.

So I don’t really need hand holding. I’m just going.

Can I go online?

Can I order it? Can I call you?

Can you set it aside.

I’ll come in, and then the next step is delivery.

I don’t need to even go to the store.

Now you’re providing that convenience factor,

I think delivery, again, in our

industry, it’s a patchwork of states.

No 2 states are alike.

The regs are different in every single state.

And the delivery regs are even more

convoluted because of their hyperness to security,

to when you think about

that seed to sale.

Well, what’s going on between the

retail store and the end point?

Should we be tracking it?

Where is the marijuana?

Like, that was the whole point of traceability.

Where’s the pot at all times?

Well, is the pot driving by a junior high, stopping?

It’s kind of scary.

So some states want to know, like, does

your software set a route, and then does

your software have GPS tracking to make sure

they followed the route they didn’t deviate?

Does your software say they deviated

and they actually went to the strip

bar that they shouldn’t have gone to?

Chances are the guy’s selling a bunch out of the back of

the delivery car and then he went back on his route.

Every state is different of how

much do we want to watch?

Every state is different about what

type of vehicle can be used.

Can it be a private vehicle?

Does it have to be a certain type of vehicle where,

like, in Missouri, the driver cannot be able to access the

storage of the cannabis, which needs to be in a locked

in a locked box or a safe in the vehicle, but

he can’t get to it from the driver’s seat.

He’s got to get out, go around.

So it’s almost a van or some sort of delivery vehicle.

Then you’ve got the issue of insurance.

Who’s going to insure it?

How much do we have to insure it for?

It adds all kinds of overhead.

The worst state, Missouri, when they wrote

up the original delivery guidelines, they had

2 cars for every delivery.

They had a car with the

cannabis and a security car following.

And you talk about, like, the

dumbest thing you’ve ever heard.

And the good news was, enough voices

jumped in and went, nobody does that.

You can’t do that.

It just kills the whole and they were

trying to deliver medicine to people who couldn’t

come and get their medicine, right.

So the intent was there.

The execution on a realistic basis was just ridiculous.

So delivery, in my opinion, delivery will be part of the

industry in every state in the next 2, 3 years.

And it makes sense.

It’s a win-win for everybody.

The thing is, if your state over regulates

it, you need to charge $20 on top

of whatever you’re doing for a delivery fee.

And now you’re pricing it out for people who

don’t have a car, can’t get to the store,

so there’s nuances to it, but it’s coming.


Well, Gary, I’m so excited to get to

connect with you again and catch up.

I feel like we do this once a year, so

we’re going to need to do it more often.

I just appreciate the time we get together.

Well, me too.

Honestly, my time going to Maine was the greatest.

Like, I couldn’t be more of a Maine fan,

and I haven’t been there in a year.

Like, I got to get back.


I will tell you right now, for Maine,

it is hot as it can get.

I think we’ve had a couple of

mid or low 90 degree days.

So I know for you, you’ve experienced that.

But up here in the northeast,

you don’t get that too often.

But another month or so and we’ll have to

bring you north of Portland to where we are

next time, the lakes and the mountains, Gary.

I can’t wait. Well, Ry

it’s great to see you.

It’s great to see you and it’s great to

see all of you tuned in to WeedBudz radio.

Be sure to head over to,

check out those show notes, links

to connect with Gary and Cova Pay.

And, of course, we’ll see you in the next episode.

A New and Healthier Habit w/ John Friess

Hello Everyone!

Welcome to another episode of WeedBudz Radio, with your host Ry Russell. On this show we love taking individuals from every aspect of cannabis, From THC, to CBD, to Delta-8 and so on. For this episode we have invited John Friess, the Co-founder & President of Metolius Hemp Company. John’s passion for what cannabis can do and how it can heal others led him to where he is now, creating innovative products contains CBD as replacements for those who use nicotine & tobacco. From cannagars, to pre-rolls, and even dip! The goal of Metolius is to help those who can not quit by themselves, and to replace their current habit with a much healthier one. Join us and learn about John’s journey and how his journey ended up with him helping others. Tune in!

John Friess
Metolius Hemp

Ry Russell
WeedBudz Radio
Manufactured Excellence
Knot Plastic

Support the show (

Contact the host or our team using the form below!


Hey friends.

Welcome back to another episode of WeedBudz Radio.

I’m really excited to share our next guest with you.

We have John Friess, the co founder

and president of Metolius Hemp Company.

John, did I pronounce that right? Right. Yeah.



So John, I always ask people because I definitely

like most people, didn’t have this kind of normal

trajectory of using cannabis in high school and college

and then making my way into the industry.

It was a little unorthodox.

And so I’m always fascinated to hear how our

guests get into the cannabis and hemp space.

So I’m wondering, was this something that you just

had an idea one day that you are going

to partake in or was this something that you’ve

been involved with for a while?

Yeah, so I was researching CBD for our son

who’s on the autism spectrum disorder and also started

utilizing CBD for myself initially before his mother and

I approved the option for him to utilize it.

So starting with CBD tincture and started to see

the applications results for him, specifically in regards to

mood, behavior, sleep, and that was just tincture.

And about 3 years after that, I got a call from

my cousin who said we’re going to start growing hemp.

This is in 2017 and decided to move

out to central Oregon, join the farming company

and the rest is sort of history.

Were you living in Oregon at the

time or did you have to move? Yeah.

We were living in Portland, Oregon.

Moved to Bend, Oregon.

The company farmed for 3 seasons, went

from 1 farm to 4 to 7.

I know that’s not 7.

And we owned outright a couple of farms essentially.

And then the rest we coowned.

But what we saw was that

unfortunately, like almost all forms of

farming, the industry rapidly got commoditized.

Farmers were taking the brunt of the weight and the flower

that we were producing CBD flower at the time was being

put into consumer products that we thought were relatively subpar, way

too expensive and were essentially trying to find a niche or

a place to fit in the market.

And we thought there was something much, much bigger

here, which is that cannabis should be the direct

replacement for tobacco in all of its forms.

That’s fascinating because I’ve heard, and please tell me

more, but I’ve learned a little bit that the

tobacco industry is getting heavily regulated now.

I mean, it’s been regulated, but

heavily regulated where even menthol cigarettes

are being banned in some areas.

Are you seeing that as well?

Yeah, I mean, you’ve been seeing

massive taxation on everything from tobacco

based products to vaporizer based products.

And yes, you are seeing a ban on menthol cigarettes, which

has a series of issues attached to it as well.

But in the end, I think what they’re finding is

that to me okay, how should I say this?

The addictive nature of tobacco specifically because of

all the additives because of all the elements

that they place into cigarettes and things like

blunts and or cigars and or chewing tobacco.

Gives you a sense of how much

that behavior is wrote for people.

They can’t quit or they’re not prepared to quit.

And it’s sort of that adage of cigarettes

and beer before diapers is what they say

at many of the convenience stores.

And it’s a truism and it’s tough.

We think there is a way in which to get

people to still have that habit, if you will.

But we want to make a healthier habit.

They still have that vice, but we have a healthy vice.

So our belief is, and we’ve studied behavior modification

as much as we possibly can, and we’ve learned

a lot about it over the years, and the

truth of the matter is there are 3 primary

elements that come with any form of addiction.

Obviously, there’s the physiological effect, whether

it’s alcohol, nicotine, what have you.

2 is the social element.

Am I out with people? Am I interacting?

Am I taking a break?

And the third is a sense

of ownership on something that’s yours.

And even if that thing is unhealthy, and even

if you know it’s perhaps the least healthy thing

you can possibly do, I would put smoking a

cigarette or smoking cigarettes in that category.

If you can replace those 3 things, if

you can give someone a physiological effect, it’s

as good or better if you can allow

them to remain in those social situations.

And if in the end, you have the

ability to allow them to own something that

again, is ritualistic for them, that’s a vice.

But make it healthy.

All of a sudden you’re sitting on what

could be the largest opportunity we’ve ever seen

in the cannabis industry, which, again, is to

reduce or replace tobacco with cannabis.

Specifically non psychoactive CBD, CBG

and all the derivative cannabinoids.

Now, how did you come up with that recipe, if you will?

Were you looking for a tobacco replacement or

did you kind of stumble across this idea?

Candidly we stumbled across it.

We had been rolling what we consider

to be premium and enhanced prerolls.

So these were not just CBD cigarette alternatives.

They had cannabinoid content 5 to 7 times

that of a hemp cigarette you might find

at a dispensary or at a convenience store.

And what we found as well is that we

were mixing 2 types of flower, CBD and CBG.

And most people didn’t know what CBG was.

Many still don’t.

It’s just another cannabinoid.

They call it the stem cell cannabinoid.

But it has 2 primary properties

in regards to its efficacy.

One, it can actually help clean up

the CB1 and CB2 receptors. And two,

So if you have a high level of anything

in your system that’s cannabinoid based, it can help

sort of flush the system, if you will.

And then two, it can help increase the

bioavailability and the uptake of other cannabinoids.

And so we have been mixing CBD and

CBG and our pre rolls as a flower.

And then we decided we would coat them

with distillate tea free distillate, and then we

would enhance them with CBD isolate and CBD.

Kief by adding all 5 of those

byproducts into one preroll, people started saying

to us, I chew, I smoke cigarettes.

I have less cravings when I smoke this, too.

I am finding this to be a replacement.

And then the epiphany moment was last November when

one of our customers called and said, I’d like to an am

quitting cigars completely by smoking your cannagars

And so this is what he was ordering.

This is our 5 gram cannagar.

It is 5 grams of CBD, CBG flower

organic palm leaf, organic corn husk filter.

And inside is 5 grams of CBD, CBG flower

And then the outside is distillate.

Kief and isolate.

This product in particular was what he

wanted to utilize to quit smoking cigars.

He was smoking 2 to 3 a day.

And I said, what if we just

sent you a certain amount monthly that

would replace all the cigars you’re smoking? So, great.

I’ll order 30 of these a month.

And so that started our canna clubs.

Within about 2 weeks, we had about 14, 15

people signed up, all of whom were generally

replacing cigars with our 2 forms of cannagars

We have a 3 and a 5 grammer

And then we started finding people replacing cigarettes

with our pre rolls, either our half gram

or our 1 gram pre rolls.

And that started this whole movement where we

just said, let’s just start talking to people

about whether or not they’re utilizing tobacco, and

if they are, they can ultimately replace all

of their tobacco use with our solutions. That’s amazing.

And I know that the tobacco industry

also has a number of other products.

There’s gums, there’s pouches, there’s chewing tobacco.

I don’t even know all of

the products that necessarily exist.

Do you find that there are potential alternatives

for those types of products as well?

Yeah, absolutely.

Our internal vision is to reduce or

replace tobacco in all of its forms.

And our strategy is threefold.

Number one, it has to be the exact same form factor.

If you’re smoking a wide cigarette, a slim.

If you’re smoking a particular type of cigar, chewing

smokeless tobacco, we will match that form factor.

That’s number one, it’s critical.

Number two, we’ll match the price.

What are you spending now on tobacco based products?

We will match it so there’s no additional cost.

And three, we will make sure that in the end,

it’s delivered directly to your door, so you no longer

have to waste additional time away from life, work, family,

to go and receive or to retrieve tobacco based products.

We think those 3 elements make it way more

approachable and much more likely that you’ll be successful.

We understand that many of our customers

may never quit smoking completely, but we

say stop smoking, start toking.

I’ll give you this data point, which is pretty amazing.

The longest study ever done on cannabis

smoking is running about 21 years now.

And they looked at 4 types of people those who

never smoked anything in their lives, those that only smoke

cigarettes, those that smoke cigarettes in cannabis, and those that

only smoked cannabis after the 21 years.

What they’ve proven is that the people that have

the lowest propensity for lung disease, emphysema, and cancer

were the ones that smoke solely cannabis.

These joint years.

These are individuals are smoking at least about

a joint a day, if not more.

So they proved that you actually have a lower

likelihood of getting all of these conditions associated with

lung disease if you solely smoke cannabis.

That wasn’t a significant difference, but

there was a lower percentage.

Those that smoked only cigarettes versus those that never

smoked 21 times, 21 times off the charts, 21

times the likelihood of emphysema, lung disease, and cancer.

Those that smoked cigarettes and cannabis

dropped that by two thirds.

So what ends up happening is they’ve proven

that cannabis not only has 5 anticancer properties,

but in that particular study, which was thousands

of individuals that participated controlled study, they found

that you got about a twothirds lower likelihood

of having cancer, lung disease and emphysema by

just adding cannabis to your tobacco use.

Our goal is get off tobacco completely.

If you cannot, reducing it is dramatically better

than not reducing it, and we will support

you in whatever you want to do.

If you’re not ready to quit, we just

like you to consider taking a healthier hit.

Well, it sounds like you all really do the

research to back what it is that you’re doing.

And I’m interested because you all seem

so far ahead of the curve already.

And I’m curious, do you see yourself as that or do

you see yourself as having a lot more work to go?

I think we have a long way to go for sure

from a marketing and total impact that we want to have.

We would love to have millions of

people work with us if possible.

With that being stated, we do like to

attempt to launch products first, and we’ve been

able to do that thus far.

Each of our products were the first to market.

And so we’re always just going out in the marketplace,

seeing what exists and then saying, how can we replace

that with a product that, again, same form factor, same

price, and ultimately direct to your door.

When we launched the lip dips, for example, people

who got 3 flavors now cherry, mint, and orange.

But these are direct replacements

for Zen or smokeless tobacco.

So this comes with 15 pouches in it.

They’re almost identical to what a Zen

pouch looks like, feels like, acts like.

This, however, has 0 nicotine,

0 additives, 0 fillers.

This is 3 organic ingredients in total and

it delivers 100 mg of CBD per pouch.

And the most bizarre thing is dipping generally

is attributed to males, but about 45% of

the users of this product are female.

Now, you can put it in your lip in one

of the quadrants or whatever you sip, so you can

drop it into your tea or coffee, whatever you want.

The CBD will be distributed within the beverage.

But my point is, launching this is rapidly becoming

one of our best sellers, actually top two.

And all it is is an alternative that

is exactly what you wanted and needed.

And here’s the difference.

Nicotine, everyone knows what it does for you.

It definitely can immediately decrease

anxiety for many people.

It can give you a sense of euphoria and

not significant, but something of a body high.

CBD, though non psychoactive, does produce

a form of a high.

That high, though, is a sense of mental

clarity, decreased inflammation for many people, a greater

sense of I’m doing something good for myself.

And so the results, right, we can only make certain

claims, or very few claims, but once you give someone

exactly the same thing and it’s exponentially better.

To me, it’s no different than the company here in

Oregon that just launched an IPA based THC drink.

It is non alcoholic.

They have the right amount of THC in

it so that it gives you a similar

result physiologically to having a single beer.

But what they did is they put it into a

glass brown bottle and labeled it just like a beer.

All other forms of sales of these THC products

that were beverages were not selling as well as

they had hoped until they match the form factor.

You match the form factor, you give it

viable physiological results that are similar or even

better because you don’t wake up hungover.

Right, all of that.

It’s just the way the world we think

will go because that’s what people want.

I love that.

So that can also be essentially used

as a tea bag as well.

Yes, we’re going to probably launch this in a

couple of different forms, but yes, one of the

ways that we make this approachable and we’ve definitely

found that all of our products that are non

smokable are often the entry point for our customers.

So whether it’s a dip, whether it’s our sleep powder

that you take on a nightly basis, whether it’s our

Pain stick and pain roller, which many companies have, many

companies have, these allow you to start to bring CBD

into your life, or CBD and CBG as well as

other elements of the plant, but in a way that

doesn’t make you feel like you have to smoke.

But yes, this product in particular, you can just

drop it again in your lip or whatever you

sip and that gives people an option.

But what we do find is we go out

and we do events on a continual basis.

We have 2 pretty significant events this week.

We just give out samples of deeds.

And so our whole approach to every event

is, would you like a free CBD sample?

And people come up, we say, we have

the world’s first fully organic lip dips.

This is 100 milligrams of CBD.

This is the equivalent of

3 to 4 tincture droppers.

And then we say we say this to

them, what are you paying for tincture?

And I’m like, oh, I bought a bottle.

It was $70. It was $50.

I once bought one for $120.

Great, we’ll sell you this for $15.

And this is going to be the equivalent

of up to 3 tincture bottles of CBD.

And then what ends up happening is, regardless, essentially of

age, gender, all of that, people just grab it and

they’re like, so just throw it right here?

And we’re like, yes, and just do it.

90 year old women, 55 year old

guys in wheelchair, it doesn’t matter.

They just find it highly approachable.

Now, what separates because there’s for those tuned in,

there’s all kinds of CBD products on the market.

What separates a premium product from just

a standard product off the shelf?

I think it’s akin to what you might

see with wineries and breweries or food.

First off, it’s got to be local or

start local and hopefully be manufactured local.

Two organic, if at all possible.

Three, handcrafted and artisan.

And then fourth, and finally, a level of

quality that you can see, taste, feel, you

know, it’s there, it’s hitting on the senses.

And that’s what we attempt to do.

So when we show someone our cannagar,

they’re like, oh, so you make blunts?

We’re like, no, we don’t make blunts.

We make the world’s first premium enhanced cannagar.

And then you show them this

and they’re like, what is that?

And you’re like, this is almost an 8th

of cannabis in a device that’s all organic,

including the filter, including the paper, including the

flower, including the keif and the isolate.

And this will smoke for 35 to 45 minutes.

This is probably the equivalent of about

10 to 15, depending on which CBD

preroll you might purchase at a store.

And people are just like, that

was an experience I’ve never had.

First off, our tagline is this for this

product, it tastes like grass, not ass.

In the end, we’re trying to convert people.

I think the number one reason that people

want a premium product in the past was

because they felt like it was somehow definitive

of where they were at in life, perhaps.

And now I think we’re seeing a movement,

especially, I think food sort of drove this.

People are like, I just want quality food.

I’m willing to spend a little

bit extra if it’s quality.

And that has obviously permeated so

many other industries, including cannabis.

So we only want to do premium and enhanced, and

we want to build a brand that not only provides

that, but provides it at an affordable cost.

That’s the key.

Some of our products are very expensive if they’re

one offs, but that’s why the clubs make so

much sense, is because if you commit to us

to try and reduce replace tobacco, we will commit

to you at the lowest possible price.

We’re totally vertically integrated,

direct to your door.

We do not have any middlemen.

And so, for us, we can send you something the

same cost as a lip pouch, like a zen.

We can send you something that is exactly the same

cost as your Marlboro, or something that’s the same cost

as your cigar or whatever cigars you choose.

And that’s really what makes it work.

That’s amazing.

John, one last question for you.

Because you’ve been building

such an incredible business.

I’m curious, what are some of

the roadblocks that you’ve had?

Because all businesses have something that they have

to overcome, and especially in this space.

So what is one of the biggest challenges you all

have had to overcome and how did you overcome it?

Yeah, I’d say the primary hurdles in the

beginning were just associated with licensure and regulation,

which is great that it’s in place at

the level that it is, including in CBD

and on the non psychoactive side of cannabis.

So that was significant.

Everything from getting a manufacturing facility and getting

a lease, everything from getting licensure and approvals

make each and every one of our products,

testing every single 30 pound batch of flower,

testing every byproduct that goes into our products,

testing every finished product.

I don’t think the consumer quite as aware,

nor should they be, of what it takes

to get one of these products to you.

This is not like supplements where I

can just throw powder into a pill.

And if I’m in a particular state in the

United States, I can ship it to you and

claim that it can do all these wonderful things.

There are certain things we can and cannot say.

There is definitely a significant amount of testing

and regulation that is only growing with time.

And keeping up to speed with that,

I’d say, was the primary hurdle.

I’d say the secondary hurdle is no different than

any company in any industry in today’s world.

Marketing has become so significantly difficult and fragmented, it’s

as if you’re sitting in a meeting and saying,

how are we going to find our customers?

Everyone’s like, oh, we’re going to do events, we’re going

to do social, we’re going to do activation events, we’re

going to do paid placement, we’re going to get ambassadors

and influencers, we’re going to do the list goes on

and on and on and on.

And so I think that’s probably the most difficult

thing that we face, which I think is the

most difficult thing that every company faces, because the

best companies with the best products don’t always win.

They often don’t win the best marketed

products are the ones that win.

And that’s difficult to do when you’re not willing

to just spend cash as if it’s free.

And so I’d say those are probably

the two biggest hurdles we’ve faced.

I think what we’re attempting to do is just build

a brand that just reflects how our team lives and

how our customers live, which is we try to do

things that are valuable to individuals in society, but also

try to maintain some semblance of balance and have a

lifestyle that’s very active and chill.

Many of us on our team didn’t live that life, including

myself, for a number of years, and just come to the

point where you realize I can’t wake up every day and

work this hard on business, friendships, family, all of it, and

feel as though I don’t have any time to live in

a sense of just being in the world.

Our lives become so insanely packed with tasks and

activities that I just feel like most Americans at

least don’t take the time or are finding the

time to just sit back, relax, and sort of

think about where their lives are at and where

things are at and how they might change things.

So we’re trying to assist them in that

process with arguably one of the things that’s

maybe causing the most issues in their life.

If you are smoking 25 cigarettes a day and you’re

constantly having to go outside or leave social situations and

or are dealing with health issues and or your spouses

like, you smell all the time, I hate this habit.

What if you could change those things?

We literally have customers of ours now that

smoke our cannagars inside their homes and their

spouses are like, this is great.

I love the smell, not a problem.

And it’s just great that

you’re here interacting with us.

You’re not outside all of a sudden for an

hour and a half taking in a cigar.

Those things make a real difference with time.

But most importantly is how does it

impact your body and your mind?

And that’s the beautiful thing.

I know nicotine has its value, for sure.

And nicotine alone as a chemical

is not all that bad, but it’s all the things

that are around it that make it so terrible.

And so in the end, I think that’s

how we’re going to try to differentiate it’s.

Just constantly show people via content.

This is at least how we’re attempting to live life.

This is what we’re trying to create

as a company and a brand.

And let us help you.

Let us help you. No judgment.

Let’s go again.

Let’s reduce or replace everything

from tobacco, eventually pharmaceutical drugs.

We’re going to attempt to do some

things in regards to replacing alcohol.

We think it’s the most medicinally rich plant

on earth, and we think that’s been proven.

And we just want to make it accessible

to everybody in whatever form works for you. Amazing.

And for those that want to check out your products,

what is the best way for them to go to

your website and stay in contact with you? John?

Yeah, just go to

It’s or

Either one.

That’s our web presence there.

You can request a sample if you would like.

Just email us at rollwithus@metoliushemp

or fill out the contact form on the website.

We’ll send you a sample of a product,

any one of our products you’d like.

See if it works for you,

see if it’s advocacious for you.

And then, of course, if you want to take one

additional step, that’s not quite a high level of commitment.

Purchase some products.

We usually have great promos going on.

Try them for a couple of days, a

couple of weeks, couple of months, and then

if it works for you, join the club.

Our clubs are by far the biggest focus of the

company because they provide anywhere from 30% to 73% off

retail, depending on the club and what we can afford.

And just to be honest, we do such a

nominal markup, some people are like, wait, you only

do a 15 or 21% markup over costs.

We do that because we understand it’s

the only way this is going to work.

I cannot charge someone the equivalent of $2 for one of

our pouches when they can get a Zen for $0.40.

We have to match the price, and the only way

to do that is through vertical integration and direct consumer.


Well, John, thank you so much for sharing your company

and your team and your products with me today.

Of course. Thank you.

This has been awesome.

And nice work on hitting over 100 episodes.

That’s freaking huge.

I appreciate it and I’m so grateful for

all of you tuning in as well.

Be sure to head over to

our show notes on

We’ll have all of the links to connect with

John and the company and check out their products.

We’ll see you in the next episode.

The Pros and Cons of Authenticity w/ Alex Redmond

Today our host Ry sits down with another amazing individual whom he met off of the Clubhouse app, Alex Redmond. Head of Sales at Veriheal, a company that connects patients with doctors for medicinal cannabis recommendations, as well as a legendary salesman, entrepreneur and a huge part of the cannabis community. These two titans of industry sit down and discuss their unique experiences on the clubhouse app, transitioning into the cannabis industry, as well as the pros and cons of the most important quality a salesman can have, authenticity. Join us!

Alex Redmond

Ry Russell
WeedBudz Radio
Knot Plastic

Support the show (

Contact the host or our team using the form below!

Rob Wirtz is at it again!

It is that time to shine a spotlight on one of the hardest working individuals in the industry, Rob Wirtz! Rebranding from Python to Mach Technologies, he is up to big things. If you have not yet caught our episode with Rob find it on our WeedBudz Radio Player, and stay tuned for yet another amazing episode with Rob in the future.

If you are in the Norco area stop by Booth 214 to see and learn more about Mach Technologies as a whole!

Laura Hand is using our ultimate human need to create the ultimate Customer Experience

Ry had the pleasure of meeting Laura at one of the first virtual events after the lockdown, due to this, many entrepreneurs had the opportunity to expand their network from their own homes. Today, Ry has the pleasure to sit down with Laura once again, to discuss not only her own journey into the cannabis space, but also how other businesses can design the ultimate customer experience. A lot of the knowledge Laura has obtained through 15+ years of building engaged and profitable communities in healthcare and finance. This led Laura to create, Laura Loo Experience Design, where everything is done based off the basic human need that everyone  has to feel connected, and, that they belong. Join us!

Guest: Laura Hand
Laura Loo Experience Design

Host: Ry Russell
WeedBudz Radio
Knot Plastic 

Support the show (

Contact the host or our team by using the form below!

Investing in People with Griff Conti

From the outside looking in on the Cannabis Community, it is easy to understand why it is the individual people that make up the heart and soul of any successful business. For someone like our next guest, Griff Conti, understanding people is all in a day’s work. Griff is a very successful recruiter for the Bradsby Group, entrepreneur, and Investor. Like any entrepreneurial-minded individual Griff is a big fan of keeping his mind busy with various projects. However, he doesn’t want to invest in just any project, he wants to invest in projects that celebrate people and put the community at the center of decision making. When Griff was looking for his next Investment it is easy to understand why he partnered with a team like Franny’s Farmacy to become an Owner and Operator of their new flagship retail store in the historic Bedford Square in downtown Westport, Connecticut. Join us!

Guest: Griff Conti
Franny’s Farmacy

Host: Ry Russell