CJ Melone, CEO of NUGL, sits down with RAZOR, legacy pioneer and creator of Skywalker OG, to talks about the past, the present, and the future of grow ops and his roll at Coachillin’.
CJ: Razor. You’ve seen it all and have been a pioneer in the cannabis space, from inventing famous strains to seeing all sides of the law and legislation, and the emergence of a billion-dollar industry. What would you deem as a primary thread of cultivation that has stood the test of time?
Razor: The thing that links people to cannabis worldwide is the desire to get the best experience from the plant that you can. A quality experience means different things to different people, in different places, at different times in history. For the last 50 years here in California, it has meant sinsemilla, female flowers without seeds.
CJ: And prior to these 50 years?
Razor: When I started in the ’70s, most available cannabis had seeds. If you could get it without seeds, it was extraordinary, so it had more value. Then folks became more specific about the look, smell, and rarefied genetics. As each thing became easier to achieve, folks began to look for more ways to make the experience exotic, which, I suppose, is why the term exotic is so prescient nowadays.
CJ: As products have evolved, genetics have become increasingly and massively important. I know you were involved in the development of Skywalker, which is a staple now. Can you tell us, what is an exotic exactly, and from your experience, how have they evolved?
Razor: The term “exotic” really just means it’s rare. Blue Dream was once an exotic genetic, as were its predecessors: Blueberry OG & Super Silver Haze. Breeding is done by more people, using specific approaches; whereas a lot of genetics that were derived from what I call ‘bag seed’ used to dominate the scene, and led to a lot of genetic abnormalities. It was a “pasta” way of making genetics: It was all guesswork. Things were mixed up and thrown against the wall to see what would stick. Getting landraces back in the ’70s was about knowing a traveler who would smuggle the seeds for you, or going to Amsterdam to get them if you were a smuggler yourself. Either way, you had to trust the source knew what they were procuring and where the product was really coming from. So every time folks do get it right, it’s considered “exotic,” because that outcome is exclusive to that breeder, and if the breeder can stabilize the genetics, replicate it, and it gains traction on the market with sellers and buyers, then it becomes a sought after exotic until it becomes a market standard. The number of breeders has increased, so the number of exotics has increased, simple as that. How long will a genetic stay exotic? That’s the question. The future begs to be answered.
CJ: 5-years ago, we saw a huge influx of investment. Piney coming into the industry for grows. At one point, I believe over 50% of grows were failing. What do you attribute this to?
Razor: Here’s the thing, I’m not the first to say this, but anyone who’s been around for longer than a minute can see that there are actually two industries now: one that runs on investment & speculation, one that runs on profit from sales. There is overlap when a company is successful, wants to expand, and takes on investors to do so. Startups that have never lived off of one harvest to create another harvest should probably put the champagne away and get to work before they push to be a part of some public offering. Of course, that’s counterintuitive to startup culture, so a lot of them fail. They are too top-heavy and have no production value because they started by hacking up the bottom line in order to afford more champagne celebrations. They need to have zero production costs, literally, to get anyway near sustainable. The startups that build and strive to create the best practices, reinvesting in infrastructure and skilled workers grow and thrive. Start-ups that turn growers with only 5 yrs of experience into a ‘masters’ and hire temp agency labor and no buy-in for workers to have a stake in the outcomes can only hope for mids. It takes a lot of real work to grow high-grade sinsemilla, a lot of discipline, and nobody is going to do it for a fake title & minimum wage.
CJ: How have the fires affected the industry? I know you have a personal story. Would you like to share it?
Razor: I was burned flat to the ground on October 8, 2017. I lost my first crop that was permitted and cleared with the state. I lost outdoor, light dep greenhouses, indoor & a couple million landraced inbred genetics, some of which were completely irreplaceable as the sources for them were destroyed by war in the last 30 yrs. I lost a few greenhouses in the Lower Lake Fire the year before, but the 2017 Tubbs Ln Fire was the worst disaster of my career. I’m still shaking it off, while I’ve watched the fires rage even harder every year since.
CJ: How were you introduced to Coachillin, and what is the relationship?
Razor: After the fires, I tried to rebuild the farm, but it was against too great of odds. Sonoma County was no longer an option after 2018. I had a few legacy farms that I had backed away from in order to go legit, but I was determined to finally do this holding my head up and pushing forward. I heard about the operations in Desert Hot Springs over the years. I had first grown cannabis with my family in the high desert area near there and was already living in an RV, so and I headed down in the winter of 2019. I was taken to the park by another operator to see their infrastructure, and I read up on what it had to offer. It was a diamond in the rough, and I noted it had a terrific water supply & a sound plan for aiming at achieving sustainability using wind & solar power. I didn’t have enough to drop on a spot, so I spent the rest of 2019 running 600 acres of Farm Bill Hemp for CBD oil. When I was done, I contacted Kenny. He gave me a tour, & I pitched him this idea I had for a cannabis & hashish museum, similar to the ones in Amsterdam & Barcelona but with my own twist. I really felt something like that was necessary to really begin a better conversation about cannabis than what I was hearing. Kenny was open to the idea, which led to more conversations, and I worked on projects while I hoped to make the museum real. Eventually, an opportunity came up to get back to growing my own genetics in the park under my Mystic Spring Farms entity with Coachillin’s support. You could say it was like the Phoenix rising from the ashes.
CJ: It seems like a no brainer to join Coachillin. We see a lot of Big Brands coming in, but there is still resistance from the “Old School.” Why do you think that is?
Razor: I think some of the best growers and processors in this state have already established themselves in places where they began, or at least are really close to where they began, in the legacy market. Unless, of course, a fire destroys your operation to its foundation, you wouldn’t want to venture far unless you’re doing well enough or have been able to garner some real investment support to expand in a way that the business park approach makes sense. Newer approaches will be more inclined to take on the challenges of expanding into a place like Coachillin’. However, I think as more established operators look for new places to expand, they will be looking for places that check boxes such as resource availability and potential for sustainability. In addition, established locations poised to take advantage of distribution hubs, such as the greater Los Angeles area, are yet to be revealed, namely, interstate routes after descheduling happens, Florida & everywhere in between. When any school of folks gets with that type of thinking, they will see the advantages of a location such as Coachillin’.
CJ: Grows are evolving, and the fundamentals of business are increasingly bleeding into the cultivation side, such as branding. Profit margins get tighter; relationships in distribution become more important… What do you expect for the next few years to look like?
Razor: Well, I’m sure most folks are hoping more action gets passed. If that does happen, and de-scheduling leads to interstate commerce possibilities, then scaling up production while retaining integrity will be a target that everyone will be aiming for. There are some brands that have name recognition across the country, but if they can’t scale up quality, then it would be a tough call. The market will continue to be mids saturated, and the price of mediocre products will dramatically drop further. It may help access for consumers who want a better bargain. Consumers should get better pricing for the quality received. The so-called ‘exotics’ or boutique cannabis will need more than just a catchy name to compete for the premium market. It will take a lot of hard work to make the real-deal for the right price, just like it always has. There will be a renaissance, I predict. I foresee more cooperative efforts between folks and creativity in the expression of what this culture can become as it matures. Once prisoners are released, and they stop locking folks up for cannabis, then we will really see an explosion of variety and shared knowledge like never before.
To learn more about Coachillin’ visit their website at coachillin.com