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“Why it’s exciting.” With Len Giancola & Dan Grace

What really excites me is how young this industry is and how much there is to learn about the cannabis plant. There are new cannabinoids and other compounds being discovered, each with new implications for medical and wellness use. It’s these sorts of things that make me believe that we’re in the midst of a […]

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What really excites me is how young this industry is and how much there is to learn about the cannabis plant. There are new cannabinoids and other compounds being discovered, each with new implications for medical and wellness use. It’s these sorts of things that make me believe that we’re in the midst of a “Green Revolution” right now where we learn just how useful cannabis (and hemp) is for many areas of life.


Asa part of my series about leaders in the cannabis industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dan Grace.

Dan founded Dark Heart Nursery (DHN) in 2007 as a B2B nursery in the emerging medical cannabis industry. Since 2007 Dark Heart has specialized in cultivating high-quality clones for the California market.

He successfully created a company vision and culture at Dark Heart with a focus on learning and staff engagement. Success at Dark Heart has been cultivated by implementing lean manufacturing methodologies which increase productivity and reduce waste. Dark Heart has also pioneered research and development in cannabis pathology, tissue culture, and agronomy and has always sought to identify methods for improving the crop through scientific inquiry.

Dan passionately commits himself to the political landscape and contributes his time to local and statewide efforts including that of the California Cannabis Industry Association. He’s developed a strategy to guide and inform the evolution and adoption of the Medical Marijuana Regulation & Safety Act, AUMA and subsequent legislation. Dan also actively represents cultivators statewide on key policy issues. On a local level, Dan has worked continually with local governments throughout California to develop regulatory approaches that serve both the community and local cannabis businesses.

Dan believes that the cannabis industry is the next great American industry, and that it can be a new kind of industry to boot. One that emerges out of social activism, remembers its roots, and continues to promote social justice and change. To that end, Dan has been active with numerous nonprofits and change agents, and is particularly proud of his work founding Team Cannabis, and industry wide partnership to raise money to end HIV and AIDS.

A talented horticulturalist, skilled leader, and compassionate individual, Dan Grace has been at Dark Heart’s helm since its inception. He has grown Dark Heart from a boutique nursery to a multimillion dollar business. As is the case with many professionals who entered the cannabis industry when it was still called a “movement,” Dan came to cannabis through activism. He believed that the war on drugs was unjust and unfairly targeted communities of color. As an avid horticulturalist, and passionate community garden leader, Dan saw the cannabis industry as an opportunity to merge his passion for social justice with his skillset in botany.

Dan believes that knowledge and empowerment are critical to understanding the industry and the plant. Therefore, he has dedicated himself to advocacy and education. Dan is an active Board Member of the California Cannabis Industry Association where he meets with community leaders and develops solutions for some of the industry’s most vexing problems. He has worked continually with local governments throughout California to develop regulatory approaches that serve both the community and local cannabis businesses. On a statewide level, he’s developed strategy to guide and inform the evolution and adoption of the MMRSA, the AUMA, and now, finally, the MAUCRSA and its implementing regulations. He continues to empower policy makers and community leaders on important issues facing the industry.

A consummate plant nerd, passionate activist, and skilled leader, Dan Grace practically invented the cannabis nursery segment when he cofounded Dark Heart Nursery, in 2007. Since then, Dark Heart has continued to lead the pack by investing in biotechnology and creating the highest quality plants available anywhere.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you share with us the story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Absolutely, it actually started while I was attending college as an undergraduate. I felt that the university structure didn’t necessarily foster the environment that I was looking for, specifically for personal growth and development. So I dropped out to travel and participate in social justice and community building events around the country. It was a very valuable experience seeing many diverse communities. When I returned, my partner and I wanted to help medical marijuana patients with safe access to cannabis. We tried several business models including cultivation, which made us realize how hard it actually is to be a farmer. We figured out just how essential it is to have a strong, healthy start that grows, so we looked more into the cloning and propagation side of the industry, which was pretty nonexistent at that point. We scaled up and grew from there.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

The most interesting story we have so far is when we identified the hop latent viroid, a wide spread pathogen that reduces cannabis yields by 30% on average. The viroid is spread by contact and can be very difficult to detect and eradicate because not all infected plants show symptoms. Many farmers haven’t heard of HpLVd and don’t know what to look for.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

The funniest mistake my partner and I made while (unknowingly) starting a nursery business was to start a cannabis grow operation. After months of planning and many long days of hard labor, our newly constructed facility was burglarized and our crop was stolen. Nevertheless, we persisted and started another crop that looked even better — than that one was stolen too! These unlucky incidents are part of how we were led to look at the propagation side of the industry — which directly hinges our success to our customers’ success.

The big takeaway from this was to be flexible, even in failure. Failure teaches us things but we have to listen and be open to new directions. If we had kept trying to cultivate crops, we may or may not have succeeded but we also wouldn’t have started down the nursery path.

Are you working on any exciting projects now? How do you think that will help people?

Yes, we just opened our new Half Moon Bay facility which is the culmination of several years of work. This facility effectively triples our production capacity which will allow us to better meet demand, especially during the busy spring planting season. What we’re really excited about this new facility is that it is the new home of our breeding research and development center which allows us to breed exciting new varieties designed with our core mission in mind — helping farmers thrive. By breeding cultivars selected for beneficial traits such as vigor, structure, production, and more, farmers benefit. This space also makes possible new seed making capabilities, in addition to expanding our tissue culture and diagnostic services.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

I’m very grateful for my partner and cofounder for their unrelenting support and resourcefulness for more than 13 years now. [Good story?]

This industry is young, dynamic and creative. Do you use any clever and innovative marketing strategies that you think large legacy companies should consider adopting?

As mentioned earlier, our success is directly tied to the success of our customers. As a result, our marketing strategy is tailored to help promote our customers and their products in order to help them sell from retail shelves. This collaboration extends beyond farmers, we have partnerships with cultivation education businesses like Green Carpet Growing in San Diego, and of course we have an extensive breeder network that lets us source genetics while promoting breeders for their hard earned creations. Because our marketing team is so familiar with the details of our operation and product, they are able to visit customers and personally tailor and customize marketing and promotion solutions that help achieve set goals. Our advice for large legacy companies — get to really know your customers, and go out of your way to help them succeed.

Can you share 3 things that most excite you about the Cannabis industry? Can you share 3 things that most concern you?

What really excites me is how young this industry is and how much there is to learn about the cannabis plant. There are new cannabinoids and other compounds being discovered, each with new implications for medical and wellness use. It’s these sorts of things that make me believe that we’re in the midst of a “Green Revolution” right now where we learn just how useful cannabis (and hemp) is for many areas of life.

As for what concerns me, misinformation is a big one. The pre-legalization cannabis market had virtually zero peer reviewed scientific research, which results in false and pseudo-science information being spread and shared through social media and more. One such example is the belief of “genetic drift,” that somehow a plant’s DNA blueprint can drift and change over time. This of course is false, and it’s now believed that this phenomenon is due to significant viral load.

Another concern shared by nearly all cannabusinesses is the issue of regulation and taxation, or finding the right balance between businesses and communities.

Last concern is how many farmers do not know about HpLVd and the devastating economic toll it has on crops.

Can you share your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started Leading a Cannabis Business”? Please share a story or example for each.

Being a farmer ishard! With so much to worry about, not knowing whether your plant starts are healthy or disease free is the last thing a farmer needs to worry about.

You must have grit: Unwavering focus and perseverance is the only way to succeed in this industry.

Learn to recognize, cultivate, and reward the top performing employees of the company: These people have the grit it takes to succeed and are valuable to the company.

Learn, don’t dwell, from mistakes: Mistakes are part of life and there’s no escaping them. When mistakes happen, and they will, it’s important to understand what went wrong and how to prevent it moving forward.

Embrace Change: Don’t fear it or recoil from it, just embrace it.

What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive?

Be crystal clear about your company’s mission, core values, and behaviors. Invite everyone’s input when brainstorming these documents so they are all stakeholders. Refer to these ideas frequently and let these themes guide team building activities and decisions.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I would want everyone to know how cannabis can help them thrive in life. Whether for a medical reason or simple self-care, cannabis has many benefits.

What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?

You can sign up for Dark Heart’s newsletter and the latest news on the website. Our Instagram handle is @darkheart.nursery. You can also find us on Twitter at @DHNClones and on Facebook at facebook.com/dhnclones.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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