Show reverence for cannabis history. — This is an industry built on the backs of small heritage farmers and the sacrifices they made for decades to grow high-quality cannabis and develop responsible farming techniques to preserve the ecosystem, sometimes at the price of their freedom. And many people remain imprisoned for simple possession of cannabis, while others are afforded the opportunity to create businesses and generate wealth with the plant. Everyone benefiting from the legalization of cannabis should do their part to right that inequity.
As a part of my series about strong women leaders in the cannabis industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Johanna Nuding. Nicknamed “JOprah” by fans, Casually Baked CEO Johanna Nuding is a storyteller and experiential marketing maven running a lifestyle and media company focusing on cannabis for wellness edutainment. Founded in 2015 to showcase the responsible side of cannabis and its enhancement of everyday experiences, Johanna engages an active audience from cannabis newbies to veterans looking for targeted information and healthy living options.
Thank you so much for doing this with us Johanna! Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to the cannabis industry?
For almost twenty years, I created brand stories and experiences for international clients while working for major media companies — CBS Sports, Infinity National Radio, Emmis Communications, Entercom, and Maker Media. Maintaining a hectic work and social life took its toll, and at age 36, I quit my job, gave away my possessions, sold my car, and took a mid-life retirement in Bologna, Italy. I woke up every day with the mission of dreaming up how to get paid to be myself and live an inspired life.
I knew for years that I used cannabis differently than my peers, but it wasn’t until living in Italy that I consciously began using it during my daily meditations. Sixteen months later, I returned to the States, making cannabis and California my next chapter. My first gig in the cannabis space was tending a friend’s indoor grow in exchange for sleeping privileges on his couch while I found a place of my own. I’m a social butterfly and quickly learned the cannabis landscape of northern California and discovered education was the glaring hole in the industry. Casually Baked was born 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?
In October 2018, at the New West Summit event after-party, I spent some time chatting with a pair of Canadian investors. They were new to the cannabis space and visiting the Bay Area on an industry fact-finding mission. One of them had never consumed cannabis, so I shared some tips for having a positive first experience with the plant and explained my definition of the casually baked lifestyle. As the conversation progressed, they asked about my vision for the brand I was building. I shared with them my intention to become the ‘JOprah of Pot,’ providing edutainment highlighting the responsible side of cannabis and conscious consumption. A few weeks later, the Canadian investors confirmed their interest in my business plan, and the wheels were set in motion to launch my brand internationally.
This experience reminded me that pushing out of my comfort zone can often lead to greater success. I know that my willingness to be vulnerable, curious and judgment-free is what makes me approachable and ultimately successful. I made two good friends that evening who not only became fans and cheerleaders of my show but also plugged me into the heart of the Canadian cannabis market. A year later, I launched Casually Baked Canada, my production company.
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?
I make a lot of mistakes, but a fun one that comes to mind was realizing about fifteen minutes into the live taping of a potcast that I never actually hit record. My guests and I were in the flow, and I killed the moment. There was no option but to start over. A sense of humor and the ability to keep going is my best friend in moments like that. After all, the show must go on!
Mistakes are an important tool for me. They’re much like rejection; the more it happens, the easier it gets. It never feels good to mess up, but when the emotions aren’t a factor, I quickly see the learning opportunity. Perspective is everything, and choosing the one that serves my highest good is the necessary fuel to keep me cruising on this entrepreneurial journey.
Do you have a funny story about how someone you knew reacted when they first heard you were getting into the cannabis industry?
I’m from a rural farming and ranching community in west Texas. There were fourteen kids in my graduating class of 1994, so there is always a shock factor when someone back home hears I’m a ganjapreneur living in downtown Oakland. It sounds impossible!
My ultra-conservative father is the Republican Chair of our county, and he listens to my show, Casually Baked, the potcast, every week. In fact, he is now advocating for cannabis legalization. He recently questioned his party representatives on the challenges he’s seen my face with banking discrimination as an ancillary cannabis business.
I think my favorite story, though, is of my granddad, Alfred, who recently passed away. I went home to Texas for the holidays one year early on in my cannabis career, and Al greeted me at the door with a big smile, “Johanna, did you bring me some of those marijuana cigarettes?” It still makes me giggle every time I think about it.
None of us is 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?
Ganjapreneurship is not an easy path to choose, and it’s riddled with roadblocks. Dr. Monica Vialpando is a pharmaceutical development scientist and principal at Vialpando LLC, a provider of innovation consulting for the cannabis industry. We serendipitously met at a dinner party in Bologna, Italy, in 2013. Dr. V was performing a research study at the University of Bologna while I was enjoying a mid-life retirement. We became fast friends who share an adventurous spirit, a solid work ethic, a conscious lifestyle, and a passion for pot.
We both moved to the Bay Area where our friendship and respect continued to blossom as I founded and grew Casually Baked and Mon left big Pharma to focus on improving products in the cannabis space. Together we crafted a muscle rub to address my chronic aches and pains which we’ve batch produced for ourselves, friends, and family for the past several years. Hemp CBD-infused MJ Relief will debut in the mainstream market Q1 2020.
It’s meant everything to have one of my best friends join me on the journey. We offer each other daily support and perspective to tackle the challenges we inevitably face building our businesses with grit and grace.
Are you working on any new or exciting projects now? How do you think that will help people?
I’ve got a lot of irons in the fire and am excited that several of my creative projects will come to fruition in 2020.
MJ Relief will be the first product release from MJ Skin, an herbaceous line of skincare solutions Dr. Vialpando and I are designing for sensitive skin like mine. The products are thoughtfully formulated with natural skin penetration enhancers to assist active ingredients. A little goes a long way making the products both high-quality and affordable options in the crowded topical arena.
In the fall of 2019, I launched Casually Baked Canada, the production arm of my lifestyle and media brand. We’ll soon begin shooting Casually Baked, the series, a weekly journey into the heart of cannabis culture around the world. Each 23-minute episode explores a cannabis-friendly destination around the globe. We’ll share insider tips to enjoy the local cannabis scene while highlighting the food, arts, entertainment, and maker community. As a host and cannabis lifestyle guide, I sneak in cannabis 101 and wellness education to round out the edutainment series.
Ok. Thank you for all that. Let’s now jump to the main core of our interview. Despite great progress that has been made we still have a lot more work to do to achieve gender parity in this industry. According to this report in Entrepreneur, less than 25 percent of cannabis businesses are run by women. In your opinion or experience, what 3 things can be done by a)individuals b)companies and/or c) society to support greater gender parity moving forward?
I’ll start by acknowledging that the bro culture is real in cannabis. The way I challenge the old-school societal constructs around women in business is by being the kind of person with whom someone wants to collaborate. In my experience, if a woman shows up and knows the market, her business, the competitive landscape and adds value, offers solutions, and is in control of her emotions, then she’ll outshine her male counterpart.
We all deserve a safe place to work and create — no matter gender, religion, or sexual orientation. Companies can do their part by creating an intentional corporate culture that focuses on group collaboration and individual accountability. Consumers can make a clear difference by doing their homework and voting with dollars. If society doesn’t support brands or businesses that exploit women or that discriminate against groups and spew hate messages, those businesses won’t survive ultimately.
You are a “Cannabis Insider”. If you had to advise someone about 5 non intuitive things one should know to succeed in the cannabis industry, what would you say? Can you please give a story or an example for each.
- Develop an authentic relationship with the plant. — Nothing irritates me more than someone looking to “get rich” in the cannabis industry, yet they don’t use cannabis in any capacity. And they can’t have an intelligent conversation about the nuances of the plant, and it’s magnitude for healing. I don’t do business with those people.
- Play chess, not checkers. — It’s easy to get swept up in the green rush and make quick decisions and move fast in hopes of the quick payout. But we’re ultimately playing a game where the rules aren’t concrete — in fact, the rules seem to change daily, which can be costly if you’re not careful. Don’t get blinded by the hype. Make thoughtful decisions focused on the slow and steady win.
- Be of service to the plant, the planet, or the patients. — In the newly developing cannabis industry, you can jump in and make your mark in a myriad of ways. Discover how you can help build the foundation, such as designing eco-friendly packaging, developing healthy, sugar-free/low-sugar infused products, or by advocating for small, heritage farms and businesses.
- Be a vocal advocate for cannabis in your community. — Change begins at home. As we continue to work toward federal legalization, it is our individual responsibility to lead by example in our communities. Walk the walk and be a highly responsible role model for the modern cannabis culture.
- Show reverence for cannabis history. — This is an industry built on the backs of small heritage farmers and the sacrifices they made for decades to grow high-quality cannabis and develop responsible farming techniques to preserve the ecosystem, sometimes at the price of their freedom. And many people remain imprisoned for simple possession of cannabis, while others are afforded the opportunity to create businesses and generate wealth with the plant. Everyone benefiting from the legalization of cannabis should do their part to right that inequity.
Can you share 3 things that most excite you about the cannabis industry?
- Building an industry from scratch means creative freedom. Whatever lights you up, there’s an opportunity to translate that into the cannabis space and get paid to be yourself. No matter your skill-set, if you have a passion for pot, you can find a way to put those skills to use in the burgeoning cannabis industry. I find that extremely exciting!
- The blending of plant medicine into western protocols is the future of healing. On Casually Baked, the potcast, I recently aired a three-part series on cancer and showcased a stage IV breast cancer patient who is thriving through chemotherapy. She’s blending whole foods, natural supplements and tinctures, cannabis, and an intentional mindset along with the western medicine and chemotherapy prescribed by her oncologist. She is blowing her doctors’ minds with how fast she’s healing without experiencing the negative side-effects of chemo.
- The budding of a global industry through knowledge-sharing is inspiring. I’m proud to help build the foundation of the cannabis industry with other ganjapreneurs, farmers, scientists, researchers, and educators. Cannabis is nuanced, and the rules are different everywhere you go. By collectively sharing the data of what we learn, we can squash the stigma, create better laws, improve products, and collaborate on opportunities to advance the industry responsibly around the world.
Can you share 3 things that most concern you about the industry? If you had the ability to implement 3 ways to reform or improve the industry, what would you suggest?
1. Cannabis packaging regulations need an overhaul stat. Our industry is a huge contributor to the global trash crisis that became painfully apparent early in 2018 when China banned the import of the world’s plastic waste. Developed countries like the U.S. can’t turn third-world countries like Malaysia into our dumping ground, which we tried. And good for them for standing up to the bullying! That said, brands don’t get to pat themselves on the back for creating recyclable packaging. It’s a joke until we change the narrative around single-use plastics and challenge our reliance on fossil fuels with a turn-key, plant-based solution.
Well-funded brands currently use wasteful, robust packaging to stand-out on dispensary shelves. I’d love to see a mandate on compostable packaging with guidelines for minimalist design. And hemp is a clear bioplastic front-runner though it’s still too expensive to produce to be a sustainable option. Thanks to decades of drug prohibition, we still lack much of the infrastructure needed to grow and process hemp into the plastic at a meaningful scale. Government subsidy programs for hemp would help drive down costs — as they do for the fossil fuel industry. Cannabis industry giants with multi-national reach who have the resources should take the lead on fine-tuning the solution and making bioplastic an affordable option for all.
2. I recently became painfully aware of the cannabis banking roadblocks for small businesses.
I naively thought that with the passing of the Farm Bill in 2018, I wouldn’t have a problem finding a business banking solution for my hemp-CBD infused skincare start-up. Turns out, finding a bank willing to work with me was more challenging than creating the business and first product combined.
The 2018 Farm Bill completely removed hemp and anything made from hemp from the Controlled Substances Act. But boards of directors of banks and merchant services companies across the country are still playing things conservatively. They don’t know the differences between CBD in hemp and cannabis, so they lump it all together. Banks rely on the States’ regulations for licensing, validity, and backup to give them the confidence to play ball in the space. And if the state in which you are building your business doesn’t have a sound regulatory system in place, then banks are leery of getting involved. California, where I reside, is currently a mess. After being denied a basic business checking account by more than five banking institutions I began reaching out to cannabis-friendly banking programs. The monthly fees to simply have an account were upwards of $2k or 2% of transactions, entirely unrealistic for a startup that’s not even working with cannabis or doing business in cash. I ended up hiring a banking matchmaker to find a CBD-friendly bank offering a reasonable solution for my business.
During this process, I learned that typical businesses (non-cannabis) average a 70–73% profit margin. Due to the regulatory fees and inability to write off business expenses, cannabis companies average less than 20% profit margin. And I heard through the grapevine that there’s a cannabis tax increase on the horizon here in California.
The whole experience is a reminder of how important it is to be intentional in creating a structure with sound regulations around not only the cannabis industry but also the hemp-CBD industry. You can find CBD on shelves everywhere you go these days — from malls to truck stops. The industry has exploded with very little oversight. CBD is a buyer beware market, and both consumers and banks need more education. As legalization continues to roll out across the country, I hope states are learning lessons from the missteps so they can responsibly shape policies from the ground up that encourage small business owners and protect their consumers.
3. The hot-bed of opportunity within the cannabis space is limited to the rich and wealthy.
Mom and pop businesses like mine don’t have access to the same business capital. SBA small business loans aren’t available, and investors aren’t interested in playing “small.” And in places like my home state of Texas, seed-to-sale single licenses take millions of dollars for issuance, blocking out smaller players. The number of permits is capped, thus creating a monopoly on the industry in the state. Texas followed Florida’s lead on this model, but in July 2019, a Florida court ruled that vertical integration was unconstitutional. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis raised the red flag saying vertical integration for licensed cannabis operators in the state is not based on free-market principles. And I couldn’t agree more.
A vertically integrated LP owns the entire supply chain: they cultivate, process, package and sell cannabis. This model not only hamstrings small business owners from engaging in the cannabis industry, but it also limits the variety to the consumer in the marketplace. As we move closer to federal legalization, I’d like to see a mandate on horizontal integration, which is more in line with the ideals of our country. Big players can still buy multiple licenses to create their own vertically integrated powerhouse. But, it won’t close the door on this budding industry to entrepreneurs who dream of creating a new cannabis product or owning their own dispensary or cannabis testing lab. We’ve already got the alcohol, tobacco, and beverage industry behemoths plotting their takeover of the cannabis industry. The American dream is up in smoke if we let that happen without a fight.
What are your thoughts about federal legalization of cannabis? If you could speak to your Senator, what would be your most persuasive argument regarding why they should or should not pursue federal legalization?
If I weren’t already involved, the two things that would motivate me to get off the sidelines and speak to my Senator about cannabis legalization in my community would be a lack of access for cancer patients and U.S. Patent #6630507. Back in 2003,U.S. Patent #6630507 was granted, which identifies the antioxidant effects of medicinal cannabis, as well as the active chemicals that benefit patients undergoing chemo and radiation. The US government issued this patent for cannabis-based compounds to itself, yet cannabis patients, caregivers, and advocates like me are still fighting to prove the healing properties of the herb. Federal legalization is inevitable; we’ve passed the tipping point. But it still requires acts of persistence from each of us in our communities to make it a reality sooner rather than later.
Today, cigarettes are legal, but they are heavily regulated, highly taxed, and they are somewhat socially marginalized. Would you like cannabis to have a similar status to cigarettes or different? Can you explain?
I’m mortified to think that cannabis would ever be placed in the same category as cigarettes. Part of the Casually Baked mission is to shine a light on the foundational, healing elements of the plant. And knowing how and where your cannabis medicine grows.
What I call “tractor weed” will certainly give cannabis that “left-handed cigarette” label if we aren’t intentional about educating the gen pop about responsible farming practices, quality flower, and what cannabis is and what it isn’t.
As consumers, one of our biggest responsibilities — and superpowers for that matter — is to be considerate of where we spend our hard-earned dollars. We’re witnessing a time in our world where ecosystems, communities, and cultures everywhere are in collapse. Caring where your food and cannabis comes from and how it’s grown can make a global impact.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Do it or don’t, but do.”
Life isn’t something that happens to us; it’s something we create. In 2012, I was living in Austin with a great job, amazing friends, and a busy social calendar. By most standards, there was no reason to change things. But there was a whisper from my higher self that this wasn’t it. I felt deep in my bones a desire to change my experience — to hit the reset button. Heeding that call changed the trajectory of my life. I know so many of us to feel that but oftentimes fear keeps us sitting on the sidelines in ambiguity. Indecision is the paralysis of living and regret is the unfortunate result. That’s why “do it or don’t, but do” is my rebel yell. I encourage you to be in the driver’s seat of creating your reality.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Figure out what it looks like to get paid to be yourself. If we’re all doing what we love and offering our strengths to the community, the world will be a happier, more copacetic place to be. I’m proud to say I’m doing it already. I get to spread the good word through Casually Baked, the potcast, and inspire others to join the cannabis for wellness movement. If you’re looking for inspiration and a dose of canna confidence, I encourage you to tune into the potcast weekly on your favorite music or podcasting platform.
Thank you so much for the time you spent with this. We wish you only continued success!