Cannabis is becoming more mainstream and available to nearly one in three Americans, yet most cannabis consumers aren’t educated enough to buy the right products for their needs. Apart from poor experiences, this can lead to unhealthy consumption.
For Matthew O’Brien, editor and founder of the Four PM newsletter, one of the most important places to start is by setting their expectations properly — primarily that “cannabis affects everyone differently.” In this episode of The Cannabis Enigma podcast, Matthew unpacks how that lack of information negatively impacts the industry.
As Matthew explains in the episode, budtenders are often best positioned yet ill-equipped to serve their customers: “I’ve seen some very crazy conversations occur in cannabis retail stores — we’re asking individuals to provide a service which they just have not in any context being provided with the right support to actually provide.”
Later in the show, Matthew discusses the potential for cannabinoids to experience a huge upswing as the industry matures. The key question he asks is whether “THC is popular because it’s the best cannabinoid? Or is THC popular because of a lack of choice?”
Produced by Elana Goldberg and Michael Schaeffer Omer-Man. The Cannabis Enigma is a co-production of The Cannigma and Americans for Safe Access. Music by Desca.
Michael Schaeffer Omer-Man: Matthew O’Brien, thank you so much for joining us.
Matthew O’Brien: My absolute pleasure, Michael. Thank you for the invitation.
MSO: So I am a subscriber to your newsletter and I find it very useful, and interesting, and a little bit of everything. Can you tell us a little bit about it and how you started it?
MO: Yeah, absolutely. Yes. We’re still very much in the early stages of defining what exactly Four PM will be. For myself, I often like to describe Four PM as the most selfless-selfish thing I do on a daily basis, whereby I’ll allocate three hours of my day just to produce a piece of content such that I can better understand a current event or topic that’s actually happening in the cannabis industry. Whether that’s a discussion as to — why is there such a high demand for high-ticket C products correlated to the down regulation of certain receptors in our body or a large acquisition, which just happened in Europe or in North America.
Right now, to the point you made, it still is very much a little bit of everything. We’re hoping to better refine that in the future as we better understand what exactly we want the publication to become. But right now, we’re very much just producing content, which we ourselves would want to consume. As of today, that’s very much the North Star, which we’re using to guide as what type of content we prioritize.
MSO: Where did it come from? What’s your background? What were you doing before this?
MO: Sure. Background, I started working in cannabis in 2017. Had moved from Ireland to Canada to get involved in this space, because the cannabis industry in Ireland is — there is no cannabis industry in Ireland, I should say that. Moved to Vancouver to get involved in the space, started up budtending, I eventually started managing stores, managed multiple stores, left that to run a processing facility. Last but not the least was running inventory for a chain of stores based on Vancouver Island.
For myself, as a cannabis professional who was pretty ambitious to, like, move up the corporate ladder, I saw that there was an absence of good information. But it actually allowed me to better understand what was happening in cannabis through our very good publications out there MJBiz Ganjapreneur, which are very much focused around providing good information to investors and people who just want to stay up to date with what’s happening in the space. However, from my perspective as a cannabis industry professional, I never felt there was good information for a professional in the space, and given the exponential rise we’ve seen in the number of people actually working within cannabis. It just seemed like a very obvious thing to build for no one else but myself.
Elana Goldberg: That is interesting to me that you’re mentioning that there were no kind of educational products for people working within the cannabis industry and this is four years ago that you’re mentioning. Do you see the space as different, kind of from that perspective now?
MO: Not really to be honest. There aren’t good education providers out there. Green Flower kind of comes top of mind as someone who’s actually servicing cannabis professionals. But I speak rather to cannabis professionals on a daily, weekly recurring basis. It’s so obvious that there’s such a lack of good information, which has been available to these folks. There are some efforts being made in Canada, whereby producers are actually trying to create platforms that empower budtenders in store with good information. But from the material I’ve reviewed thus far, the actual standard of the information or the quality of the information that they’re providing is extremely subpar.
I would actually go as far as to say that, for a lot of the information these producers are putting out, it’s actually extremely inaccurate. And it’s just solidifying these misconceptions which existed within cannabis for years, if not decades. Terminology like ‘indica-sativa hybrids.’ And as opposed to actually taking a more difficult path, which would result in people having an accurate understanding as to what cannabis is. A lot of these producers just seem to be playing to the lowest common denominator, whereby, they’re just telling budtenders what they think they know. Which from my standpoint, that’s not an education service. At that point in time, you’re already just starting to build brand awareness within these retail stores. I don’t think that’s the model which is going to flourish and actually succeed long term, or at least I hope it is.
However, for the most part, I don’t think this problem has been solved. I think that there are a lot of better publications that have come in recent years. But in North America specifically, I still think there’s definitely an absence of high-quality information for cannabis professionals.
MSO: I’m going to take kind of contrarian view there. I agree that most companies, probably dispensaries specifically who are training their staff, their bottom line is not to best educate the budtender but rather to teach them how to sell it the best — based on the terminology that they and the customers will be using. Isn’t it kind of on, in such a highly regulated space like cannabis, isn’t it more on the government or other authorities to ensure that people working at least at a retail level or in a public facing place have the right information?
MO: I couldn’t agree more. Yeah, 100%. That’s very aligned with my own perspective, is the model I would ideally like to see other nations adopt when they inevitably legalize cannabis. Because, to your point, you already have to dissect the alignment of incentives. There isn’t all that strong incentive for a retailer to train their staff. Albeit, I could probably write a really interesting post on LinkedIn, specifying the potential upside on their bottom line if they were to create like an educated experience.
For a lot of consumers who are purchasing cannabis today, and I think this is part and part of it. They themselves aren’t all that educated, so the overall expectation as to how educated the person serving them should be is pretty low right now. To your point, the real incentive is to train their staff how to sell more products. Because the industry is just ultra-competitive in just about every jurisdiction in Canada today. The same is true in states in the US. From my standpoint — and judging upon the point you made from your standpoint as well, this has to happen from a higher level of government. Whereby, they just need to decide, “Do you actually want to prioritize educating people as how to safely consume cannabis?” Whether that’s educating people on the benefits of taking regular tolerance breaks, such that they’re not having to consistently increase the dosages of the products they’re consuming to obtain the same results. Whether that’s educating consumers on something as simple as targeting profiles.
I can’t see that happening from a retailer’s standpoint. So if that is something we actually do want to see come into fruition. Such that there is an educated populace of people who understand how to purchase cannabis correctly, how to consume cannabis in such a way that minimizes any and all risk of having an adverse side-effect. I do think that has to come from the government, as opposed to private enterprises. Because if what we’re seeing today is anything to go off, if you wait for private enterprises to put these structures in place, it just never occurs.
MSO: To a different point on the same topic, how much do people actually need to know in order to be an educated consumer? I, as the editor of a cannabis publication that focuses on science, I got deep into it. It’s almost sometimes hard to figure out what is essential information, like with how much of a topic do you need to know in order to be an educated consumer in order to make an educated decision of the type that you’re actually facing and not just spew out biology, trivia with your friends.
EG: I want to kind of piggyback that before you answer on Mike’s question. Because what I was going to say was that, I think at the same time as the onus being on the government or on kind of regulatory bodies to insist that this education is distributed. I think, also, there needs to be some pressure coming from the consumers. Like consumers need to be educated enough to demand this level of credible information from the people who are serving them in the industry.
MO: Yeah, it’s a great point. I think it’s one of these situations whereby it’s kind of a chicken and the egg. Like if consumers aren’t educated, how would they identify an experience that has sort of an absence of a high-quality experience, which is sort of grounded in accurate information. Because, for the most part, like, if a consumer was to walk into a store today and the person behind the counter was to give them a mud full of absolute BS, just so that they can upsell them on an interesting product because there’s an incentive occurring in the store. Whereby, if they sell this product, they might get like a bit of a kickback.
For the most part, most consumers aren’t actually going to be aware as to what’s happening, because they themselves just don’t have that rich in understanding of cannabis. So to Michael’s point, I think we do need to prioritize what information we would ideally like consumers to have access to. From my standpoint, this conversation has to start with; cannabis affects everyone differently. The reason from my standpoint as to why that makes perfect sense as to be the highest priority is that it creates realistic expectations, as to the experiences consumers are going to have from consuming cannabis.
My biggest critique would be indica-sativa dichotomy is not that it’s a complete mischaracterization of all those terms or actually representative of. It’s the experience it creates for consumers, whereby they purchase a product with the expectation that’s going to produce a certain outcome. When that product doesn’t produce that outcome, many consumers perceive that cannabis just isn’t for them. I’ll give an example. If I purchase an indica and I consumed it 40 minutes before going to bed, with the intent of getting better night’s sleep. And in actuality, that product was extremely stimulating, and I’m up half a night and I still have to go to work in the morning, and I only got four hours sleep. That to me is a big problem.
Having discussed it with a lot of consumers when I was working as a budtender as to the types of experiences they were actually having from purchasing these various products. The labels that we were applying to products were simply never actually living up to the expectations, which we’re creating for consumers. For me, as a consumer first and foremost, like that is a huge problem. I only perceive that the solution to that problem is to, first and foremost, readjust those expectations, such that when a consumer purchases a product, they know that there’s a likelihood that it’s going to produce one effect. There’s a likelihood that it’s going to produce another effect and they just have to consume like a small quantity of that product to better understand the type of outcome it’s going to produce.
With that, you can start to build a relationship with the budtender, whereby, together you can identify, “Okay. This particular product seems to produce this specific outcome for you.” Ideally, that budtender is armed with the right information. They understand the terpene profiles of that product, such that they can identify patterns to say, “Okay. Limonene seems to be producing stimulating effects for you. Whereas, myrcene seems to be producing quite sedating effects. Therefore, moving forward, those are the types of products, which we are going to recommend based on the intent, which you’ve expressed for consuming cannabis.
If we can just completely readjust those expectations, which currently exists, I think at that point in time, it’s a much more honest conversation. I only think a lot of good can happen after that. We can then start to inform consumers about the benefits of taking tolerance breaks. But to be honest, I don’t think there’s that much information a consumer has to have to be an educated consumer. I’d say, in all honestly, there might be like five pieces of information which, if every consumer had access to, we would all be much better off.
The two which we’ve mentioned, creating realistic expectations by informing consumers that cannabis affects everyone differently. Taking tolerance breaks for me is an important one. Another one which I would emphasize is the benefits of taking CBD alongside THC. The conversation which we’ve seen in North America has really been shaved around this narrative that CBD is the inferior cannabinoid, whereby, people consume it for anti-inflammatory purposes. And that’s really the extent of this utility. I really push back on that narrative because for myself as a consumer who has always really sought to incorporate CBD into my consumption of THC, I’ve always found it to just be a much better experience. In the sense that any and all negative side effects, which I’ve experienced from consuming excess with quantities of THC, seemingly can be eliminated if I consume CBD alongside it.
Whether that be having a bit of hangover the next day, which can happen. It’s something which doesn’t really get much attention in the industry, but a lot of consumers can wake up the next morning with a bit of a headache. And they feel just a little bit run down on. From my personal experience and having requested that a number of the consumers who I serve incorporated the same into the routine and saw their feedback. They’ve all reported back that if they consume CBD alongside THC, the negative side effects they experience are significantly diminished.
The fourth point I would say is consuming water when you’re consuming cannabis. Like this one definitely seems like it’s a very easy point to get across. But from a lot of the consumer I’ve spoken to, they always seemed to have had a number of pretty negative experiences, whereby they wake up the next morning and they’re like, “I was informed cannabis doesn’t produce hangovers, but I actually feel like absolute shit.” If you were to ask them, “Okay. How many pints of water did you drink throughout the day when you are consuming cannabis?” More often than not, these people just aren’t necessarily aware that they should be consuming at a higher quantity of liquids alongside their consumption of cannabis or THC more specifically. That would be the fourth.
Then in terms of the fifth, not entirely sure what that one would be. I would need to give more thought to the next point I would prioritize. But honestly, if you were to get those four pieces of information in the hands of every single consumer, I think that it would be a really interesting dynamic moving forward. And I think the industry as a whole would completely be turned on its head in that, if you were to move away from that ongoing obsession with the highest THC products, the downstream effect that’s going to have on the supply chain are absolutely enormous. In Canada today, there’s a lot of producers whom I’ve spoken to that want to produce balanced cultivars of CBD and THC. However, by virtue of the fact that the current market is simply just demanding the highest THC products, it doesn’t actually make any sense. Nor would it be sustainable as a business for them to actually produce those products. Whereas, if those four pieces of information were in the hands of every consumer, I’d be pretty confident that the supply chain that currently exists would be very, very different.
MSO: That was a lot about what consumers need to know. From a budtender standpoint, are we even approaching the question of what a budtender should know from the right point of departure? Should budtenders be the ones who are actually helping people make these decisions? We speak a lot with pharmacists who work in cannabis and just because it’s worked this way so far, it doesn’t mean that it’s the right way moving forward.
MO: Yeah, probably not, to be honest. I would more so approach it from the lens of expectations versus actual compensation. And that, Cody who is an editor or an individual who supports The Cannigma, he is a very educated individual on the topic of the pharmacology of cannabis. He understands, generally speaking, like what is the most up-to-date literature suggesting as to how these complements actually affect people. I’m sure his level of compensation cannot actually be put in the same sentence, as the level of compensation a budtender is receiving in Canada. Whereby, to use myself as an example, the day I received employment as a budtender, literally within two hours, I was serving customers, giving recommendations as to what products they should purchase.
That, to me, should not in any situation be an industry standard, whereby we are asking individuals who have likely received little to no training — they aren’t being financially incentivized to actually upscale themselves to become more educated on the topic of cannabis. At the same time, we seemingly have these expectations that they have the same, if not sort of more improved understanding than a pharmacist as to how to effectively prescribe cannabis.
In Canada, we’ve done a pretty good job at masking the fact that budtenders are not necessarily sort of pseudo-pharmacist, in that the legislation itself was very specific and that they shouldn’t be suggesting products. But just because the legislation has been created in such a way, whereby, they don’t want that to happen. That’s not in any way to suggest that that’s not actually what’s happening. So today, walk into any store and I would say, 90% of budtenders will readily be willing to give you a recommendation as to what product will meet your needs. To me, I think it’s a very bad situation which we’ve put ourselves in.
And to the point which you made, I would personally like to see a model whereby there’s some sort of coexistence between the existing model and the pharmacy model, whereby you could perhaps seek to incorporate pharmacists into the cannabis retailers or into retail stores. Or if nothing else, have at least one individual in the store at all times who has achieved a certain level of education within the space, whether that’s a course like a Ganjapreneur, which Green Flower are putting out or some alternatives. I do think at all times, there needs to be someone in the store who is sort of policing the information that’s being provided to consumers, such that there isn’t any outrageous claims made, which I’ve personally seen time and time again. Whereby budtenders will inform consumers very, very out-there information. Whether that be commenting on the chemotherapy a relative is currently undergoing and cannabis being an alternative for that because they read an article online, which suggest that THC can kill cancer cells.
I’ve seen some very crazy conversations occur in cannabis retail stores. To me that is strongly coordinated to the fact that we’re asking individuals to provide a service, which they just have not in any context being provided with the right support to actually provide.
EG: You guys both made this comparison to pharmacists, which I think is relevant probably for all cannabis consumers, but definitely for patients. I think there’s another parallel we need to look at here, which is bartenders. I grew up in Australia, and before anyone’s allowed to serve a beer to any customer, whether it be in a bottle shop or in a bar, you have to take a two-day course, called the Responsible Service of Alcohol course. And you learn about the different types of alcohol, and you learn about obviously making responsible service decisions. Even that sort of baseline standard is missing here when it comes to cannabis.
MSO: Well, some states do have requirements for certification for budtenders, but it’s — I think usually just one-hour online deal, and then you answer a few questions and you get your certification.
MO: We have one in Ontario, it’s awful. Here to be critical of a business/service that’s operating within the space, but it was previously operated by a company called Lift & Co, who actually, they went bankrupt at the, honestly at the beginning of 2020, thereabouts. With that, the certification which they provided was acquired by an outside company. However, if you were to actually review the material, which every budtender is being required to actually consume, the quality of information is — subpar would be an understatement. They’re just again playing to these decade old narratives of understanding that indica equals ‘in-da-couch,’ sativa equals stimulating.
From my standpoint, I’d actually much rather that they didn’t obtain that information. That if there’s a choice between not obtaining any information versus obtaining that information. I would actually, personally be in favor of them having no understanding. Such that when you approach them with creating realistic expectations as to how products are going to affect people, they’re not going to be pushing back because in the course which they’re required to take by the Canadian government. It’s specified that indica equals in-da-couch.
EG: Wow! That is such a statement to make about an educational service that you’d be better off without having it at all. Yeah. Matt, to kind of pivot around a little bit. You like us, you interview a lot of people and you speak to a lot of people within the cannabis industry, specifically in North America. I’m instead to hear, who is someone that you interviewed that you wanted to keep talking to, that was really fascinating for you?
MO: Yeah. John McEachern was the former director of marketing at Aphria, which is one of the more successful Canadian cannabis producers. But he made a point, which I would have easily had a conversation for hours on end, just to fully dissect his perspective on it. But it was his perspective that eight out of 10 Canadians are not actually willing to step foot into a dispensary or cannabis retail store today. For me, that point in particular was really interesting because, as someone who has come from a nation whereby cannabis remains a fully illegal product, there’s a very interesting dichotomy made between the culture that exists in that part of the world versus the culture that exists in a country like Canada. Whereby for the most part, there’s been this broad acceptance of cannabis for many, many years.
Yet, in spite of that, a director of marketing and a producer is of the perspective that 80% of Canadians are unwilling to actually step foot in a cannabis retail store. Now, I personally don’t think it’s 80%, I’d say that number is probably somewhere in the ballpark of like 50%. But I do think it offers really interesting insight as the work that remains to be — the work that still needs to be done as to destigmatized cannabis in the nations, whereby it is even legal. So if we want to analyze, okay, what do we have to do in nations whereby cannabis is legal to destigmatize the product? That’s a really interesting conversation.
However, the fact that there is such a large percentage of populous who are still not willing to consume cannabis, despite the fact that its legislative status has been altered, such that it is a fully legal product. To me, that’s just a really interesting conversation just from a psychology standpoint, as to why people are still unwilling to actually consume this product, despite the fact that it is completely legal to do so.
EG: Yes. Super interesting. I think what would have to kind of go with that as well is to understand the trend, to look at whether the numbers is 50% or 80%, like you said, it doesn’t matter. What’s interesting is, where was it five years ago, where is it today and where will it be in another five years’ time in Canada specifically?
MO: Yeah. I think over time, we’re going to see that number shrink. The stat which I usually reference is that, 78.5% of Canadians over the age of 15 in 2019 reported to having consumed alcohol. Whereas, that same number for the same group of Canadians over the age of 15 was less than 20% for those who reported to having consumed cannabis. From my standpoint, as someone who, I should know. I’m extremely biased in this conversation, and that I stopped consuming alcohol in favor of cannabinoids. My perspective is that, over time, particularly within my generation, this whole idea of like being Cali-sober, whereby you consume cannabis as an alternative to alcohol. I just see that trend increasingly growing in popularity whereby people like myself are simply sick of the fact that they have to wake up the next morning with a pretty severe hangover, they lose 50% of the next day, if not 100% because their body is so run down that their level of productivity is drawn to a halt.
Over time from my standpoint, it’s somewhat of an inevitability that the percentage of consumers who are currently opting for alcohol-based products will likely move in favor of cannabinoid-based products. If for no other reason than the fact that they’re just not willing to have to experience a hangover the next day. Whereas, if they consume a cannabinoid-based product, which — there’s a lot more diversity of affects which can be experienced. If I consume alcohol, for the most part, it’s one molecule, it’s really one experience. I have some friends who operate in the alcohol industry, who would probably push back on that perspective. However, as a consumer, that’s always been my perspective.
Whereas, with cannabis, if I would consume an edible, that is a very different experience versus that if I would consume a dried flower product. And even within the dried flower product category, there is a huge sort of bell curve of effects which consumers can experience. Looking at the types of effects you can experience, and over time, as we become better at actually consistently producing those types of products, with the same chemical composition for consumers. And at the same time. A lack of willingness in consumers to actually have to experience a hangover. For me, some of those two points adds up to what would likely be a flip in the percentage of Canadians actually consuming cannabinoids as opposed to alcohol. However, I’d say that’s probably a decade long play. I can’t see that occurring in the next 10, 20 years, I’d say. It will likely occur in my lifetime; however, I’m not betting on it happening overnight.
MSO: Also a mix up in there is the question of, what is the reasonable market size for cannabis? Not everybody uses alcohol, not everybody uses anything but, let’s call them aides for having a good time or relaxing. And to take it in a different direction, not everybody does Yoga, even though that’s probably good for everybody. I’m just wondering. It’s not really a question. What would be sort of the equilibrium of how many people in Canada, or California. Or the United States using it. I suppose you have to define it in different ways like somebody who has a toke at a friend’s house versus somebody who is buying their own and going to dispensaries?
MO: I personally think there’ll be a bifurcation between cannabinoids and cannabis in the coming years, which will likely be a very important factor in answering that question. In the sense that, if you were to ask the question of what percentage of people will consume cannabis — and for the purpose of this conversation, you’re classifying cannabis as dried herb. I can’t see that percentage being all that high. I think relatively speaking, we’re probably not that far away from hitting the ceiling as to the percentage of consumers who are going to have that willingness to use that as their preferred form or factor.
Whereas, if you were to change that conversation from cannabinoids as opposed to cannabis, whereby people are consuming tablets, they’re just putting on transdermal patches, et cetera, topical products. I think the sky is the limit. I’m likely overestimating this. However, only history will reveal this answer. However, I actually don’t see any reason as to why perhaps like 80% of the Canadian populous will be consuming cannabinoids. Whether that’s just consuming CBD for the anti-inflammatory purposes or any of the new cannabinoids which were currently on course to commercializing in the coming years.
From my perspective, I think there’s going to be a huge change in the industry in a relatively short period of time, whereby people actually stop identifying as cannabis consumers in favor of like cannabinoid consumers. Unfortunately, cannabis is still a bit of a dirty word, less so than marijuana, but it still has negative connotations. Whereas, cannabinoids is a rather new word in the vocabulary of many consumers. And if they aren’t actually consuming cannabinoids, that perhaps where producers are using his biosynthesis, technically they’re not actually consuming cannabis. That is a whole other topic of conversation, whereby the two alternative supply chains seem to be emerging. However, I do think that that point in particular is going to completely change this conversation. With that, I think we do have to ask the question a little differently. What percentage of consumers are consuming cannabinoids, versus that of cannabis?
MSO: What do you think is the most revolutionary cannabinoid product or the one that has the most potential for having that kind of a lure is?
MO: It’s a great question. To tell you the truth, I don’t know. I don’t think anyone really knows at this point in time. For the most part, I think we would generally agree that there would be a consensus that there’s like five cannabinoids that are currently readily available. Like CBD, THC, CBG — THCV seems to be kind of becoming more available in parts of the States. However, I’m still questioning as to the source of those products, because my understanding is that it is extraordinarily difficult to produce that cannabinoid in high-quantities. Whereas, when you look on the list of the cannabinoids that we know do exist, we don’t currently have the means to actually produce the bulk of those cannabinoids. Whereas, when companies like [inaudible 00:28:56] come online and they actually figured out how to biosynthesize these compounds.
I think at that point in time, we’re going to get a much better understanding as to which are the cannabinoids that really have the highest potential, like the contrarian question I often like to ask is — “Is THC popular because it’s the best cannabinoid? Or is THC popular because for lack of choice?” If we know that there’s 100 different cannabinoids of which we’ve currently accessed the five, just because THC is top of the list in terms of popularity on those five cannabinoids. That’s not to say that by the time we actually figure out how to commercialize this other 95 plus cannabinoids, then it will remain the most popular. I don’t think anyone has the means to answer that question until such point as they actually do commercialize these components, and there is more widespread availability of them.
MSO: So Elana asked you who you most enjoyed speaking to, who’s the highest on your wishlist?
MO: I think Ralph Mechoulam, for sure. Just given the contribution he’s made to getting the industry to where it is today, he definitely would be someone who I would be a bit star struck if I was in the same room with. He definitely would be top of the list. Then, despite the fact that Bruce Linton has — his contribution to the industry is still questionable. I do think that he undoubtedly has made a substantial contribution to the space via his ability to generate enough attention such that Constellation Brands literally dropped billions of dollars in the space. I think that Bruce would be for just reasons such that I can better understand him as an individual, because I still have a lot of doubt in my mind as to who exactly he is. Was he actually someone who was on track to completely revolutionize this space, because he often talked about only wanting to get access to certain IP, and really pursuing the medical route? Whereas, when Constellation came in and took control of the company. They’ve since decided that the recreational path is the path which they’re going to be pursuing.
Ralph Mechoulam for his contribution to the space, which I think there will be a huge consensus that he’s definitely in like the top three people who has made the largest contribution in our space today. Then just out of curiosity, I would love to have a conversation with Bruce Linton just to better understand who he is, and why he got into the space, and would he actually willingly hold his hand to say that he made a certain series of mistakes. Or does he still perceive himself to be untouchable on someone who is simply was on the wrong side of history by virtue of Constellation Brands is deciding that they needed to bring in fresh blood.
EG: You got to get them both on Clubhouse.
MO: I actually was on Clubhouse the last time. I had a conversation with Max Simon on there, who was actually someone who is relatively near the top of my list as someone I want to have a conversation with. Had previously interviewed him over email, but never actually had a conversation in-person. Again, just complete wealth of knowledge, but there’s a lot of people in the space who have made substantial contributions who — I don’t even know their names. That to me is like an area, which I know myself I need to improve on, such that I can better understand who are the individuals that are actually building the industry in other nations across the world. Because I do find myself sort of in a bit of a bubble as to what’s happening in the Canadian industry. Whereas, I’m sure there is a long list of individuals who have made pretty substantial contributions in the cannabis industry that’s been built in Israel. For the most part, I don’t even know those individual’s names, so that’s definitely an area of improvement for myself in the forthcoming months.
EG: All right. Well, we look forward to seeing the addition of Four PM that focuses in on Israeli research.
MSO: In preparation for speaking to you, I was scrolling through your LinkedIn feed and I came across a post about how you had been working on an app that you canceled two weeks before launch. That you dropped and ended up doing what you’re doing now with Four PM. What happened? What was it supposed to be? Why didn’t it take off and what did you learn from that?
MO: Yeah, great question. We were building a mobile application, which would effectively be a prediction engine to inform consumers as to how products would affect them, based upon the feedback they provided us as to how previous products had affected them. From my standpoint, I don’t ever like to be part of conversations whereby people are just focusing on a problem. For me, for it to be a productive conversation, there has to be at the very least suggestions towards what a solution to that problem might be. And as someone who has already been a frontrunner in highlighting the fact that the indica-sativa dichotomy is completely insufficient to service the needs of consumers.
I often found myself asking, “Okay. Well, if that’s the problem, then what is the solution?” From my standpoint, the core problem with that dichotomy is the tradeoff that we made whereby we traded simplicity for sake of satisfying the needs of consumers in such a way whereby the information was basic enough, such that they could interact with the products, they could understand what was being presented to them. Whereas, from my standpoint, I don’t think we actually have to trade accuracy for sake of simplicity. I think we can retain both of those features, properties, if we were to create a model whereby you could effectively have algorithms doing a lot of the tough work on the backend. Whereby they’re analyzing the chemical composition of products to identify the patterns in terms of what products, what terpene profiles are actually responsible for producing their desired outcome.
The way we were thinking about it from day one was that we just wanted to build a new industry standard whereby consumers could very readily walk into a store and receive the products which would best meet their needs, based on our understanding of what products have previously produced the effects they’ve sought. The reason as to why we didn’t launch that product was merely as a result of my early mistakes as a young entrepreneur in cannabis. So for clarity, when I left my previous occupation as head of inventory for Trees, I decided to focus on building highly, despite the fact that I never had touched the software industry in my life, nor had I any previous experience actually running code.
I brought together a team of extremely talented people, one of the top engineers at Uber, a designer who only worked with Fortune 500 and a machine learning engineer who had a lot of great work with a company called Element AI, which is a startup based in Montreal. However, in the end, the core problem is simply a misalignment as to what we wanted it to be. From my standpoint, I was always very interested in servicing the recreational market, because I don’t actually think that that market is a recreational market. I think that you really have to do like secondary thinking, whereby if you analyze the data as to why people are consuming those products, it’s primarily for wellness purposes. Whereas, my co founders’ perspective is that, we should focus our attention on the medical market.
Honestly that, I was really, all that we’re going through is just a misalignment as what we wanted to be in the future, and his perspective is primarily that we should focus on the medicinal market. Whereas, my perspective is that the recreational market is really a wellness market in disguise. And there’s not all that much of a difference between people who are consuming a product for wellness purposes versus that of medicinal purposes.
A lot of lessons learned for sure, but for the most part, I think it’s just a case of, for anyone who’s listening to this, you might be considering starting a business. If you’re going to do it, just make sure you do it with someone with whom you have a prior relationship with. Like it’s very difficult to build a startup with someone whom you don’t have a prior relationship with. I think that was probably the primary lesson which I took away is, if you want to build, whether it’s a software startup, whether you want to build a cannabis production facility, ideally, just do it with people whom you have existing relationships with.
MSO: Well, thank you so much for sharing all of this with us. It was a fascinating conversation. And if people are looking to sign up for your newsletter or find your stuff, how do they find you?
MO: Absolutely. You can connect with me on LinkedIn. It’s just Matthew O’Brien. Pretty active on that platform. Alternatively, you can check out the blog itself, which is fourpm.co. Other than that, pretty active on Twitter. @Matthew is my handle on that platform. Any and all platforms, like you can always feel free to slide into my DMs. I always like to do my best to give people a timely response. But yeah, like said, always open to answering questions in a timely manner. If you want to reach out LinkedIn is probably the best platform to do so.
EG: We’ll see you on LinkedIn, Matt.
MO: We shall indeed. On a final note, I just want to say, big fan of the work that you’re doing. I know you’re a much, much larger publication than what Four PM is, but truly mean it when I say it. I do like to celebrate other people’s success in this space. It’s been fantastic just to see the growth of your company and I wish you many, many years of success.EG: Well, thank you so much. Really appreciate it coming from you.
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