PORTLAND, ORE. (KOIN) – How can medical cannabis change your life? Just ask Marianne Cursetjee.
She stops by the show this week to talk about how her experience led her down the path of founding her own marijuana cultivation company.
She talks to host Travis Box about being a woman in leadership in a male dominated industry, what reforms she would like to see, and having an honest conversation with your kids about cultivating cannabis for a living.
Travis Box 0:04
Marijuana, pot, grass shake, bud, ganja, chronic cannabis cannabis, whatever term you use, less than 10 years ago, it was a product that was trafficked in the shadows. Today, in Oregon and many other states in the US, you get a receipt in a bag with your purchase. Thank you come again. I’m Travis Box. And I am fascinated by the complexities of what seems like a voter approved Gold Rush happening in real time. Will we cultivate Oregon’s greatest cash crop ever? Or will this great experiment and legalization go up in smoke? Each episode I’ll sit down one on one with the major players in the Oregon cannabis industry, the activists, the medical professionals, the legislators, The Economist, regulators, the lobbyists, how did Oregon get to this place in history? Where does this budding billion dollar industry go from here? You’ll see what I did there. You’re listening to mainstream media on the coin Podcast Network. This week we speak with someone who had an established corporate career, but after having a profound experience with medicinal cannabis, she co founded her own cultivation company. We’ll talk about the challenges of being a woman in leadership in a male dominated industry, what reforms she would like to see and having an honest conversation with your kids about cultivating cannabis for a living, the co founder and CEO of Alibi Cannabis. Marianne Cursetjee joins us next. You’re listening to Mainstream Weedia.
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Travis Box 2:25
Welcome back to Mainstream Weedia. Marianne, I asked this question of everybody I have on the show because everybody has a different and unique path. What led you to the cannabis industry?
Marianne Cursetjee 2:39
That’s a really interesting question. Because my background is traditional finance, accounting, very, very traditional business base. my Bachelor’s was in accounting, I have my MBA, I worked at Microsoft, Intel, so very, very traditional. Until 2015, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. And that completely changed the trajectory of my life in my professional career. And as I was going through chemotherapy, a friend had given me some cannabis and said here, you should try this, it will help you. And at that point, I was like, Sure, why not. So I tried it. And within a matter of a week, I was able to get rid of a whole line of pharmaceuticals that I was taking just to deal with the symptoms of chemotherapy, because chemo is it’s a poison. And the hope is that it poisons the cancer before it poisons the rest of you. Not only is there chemo, but then there’s side effects. There’s the side effects of nausea and fatigue and everything else that goes wrong with your body. So you have pharmaceutical, it’s just a waterfall effect. And I was able to get rid of about 10 fifferent pharmaceuticals just for the side effects using a single product from a plant. So at that time, I had sold my previous business and was looking for something else to do. So we started looking for some property and found some property that was perfectly suited to start a cannabis farm. And that’s what we did.
Travis Box 4:02
What was your take on cannabis leading up to the cancer diagnosis and then trying it I
Marianne Cursetjee 4:08
had never really experienced I think I’d maybe tried it twice. So definitely not a user it was not part of the culture that I came from. It was not part of how I was raised my viewpoint on it which of course has since changed was that it’s kind of this slackers stoner mentality. Those are the people who use it come to find out certainly there is that and that is true, but then there’s also the way that it can help you medically and even high performing people you know if you’ve got issues, some I think body chemistry, you need it. Everybody has an endocannabinoid system. So what I grew up with in terms of slacker is not complete.
Travis Box 4:45
Let’s talk about Alibi Cannabis. Tell me the story. And what sets you apart from the other cultivators out there.
Marianne Cursetjee 4:52
So Alibi was founded, like I said, based on my cancer diagnosis, and at the time when we started the farm, we made the facility decision that we wanted to be in the cultivation side, my background is strongly in business and process and system. So I know how to design a system that works well, I didn’t have the agricultural background. So we have hired that. And we have an amazing team at the farm. The business is it’s not only from the cancer, but it’s just from my background and my ethos, which is always do things, right, whether that’s being truthful and honest with your customers and your suppliers, which, you know, you would think that would that would be a given, but it’s not the cannabis industry is filled with people who are less than trustworthy. So I will always tell you like it is, even if it’s not good news, we’ll always be straightforward. We treat our employees well, they have living wages, benefits, you know, growing plants, there are a lot of things that can go wrong, we always try to invest in systems and processes to eliminate that so that we always try to do put out the best product that we possibly can. And after having been doing it for seven years, we’ve gotten pretty good at that. So that’s one of the things that sets us apart is not only are we able to produce reliable crops and products, but we do it always keeping quality in mind, we’ve had to the Oregon market is incredibly competitive. If fortunate, I think it’s helped all of us get better other states, you could take something that we would call a great seat, and that would that would pass for good. And you know, that would be their top shelf with here in Oregon because there are so many great cultivators that really it’s just part of the culture in Oregon. So we have people who have been doing this their whole entire careers, they know how to do it. So certainly we are amongst the top but I was there’s so many great people and so many great even though we’re technically competitors, I think rising tide lifts all ships. So it’s important to me to build that community and to be part of it so that we all can thrive.
Travis Box 6:51
What are the biggest regulatory challenges that you’ve had to face,
Marianne Cursetjee 6:55
there are so many challenges this industry is is tough, the one that first comes to mind is the problem with federal illegality. So it’s still a schedule one drug. So there are lots of ways that that plays out in the way that we have to run our business. But for me, the biggest impact is what’s called to AV E. What that means is that means that our business cannot deduct normal operating business expenses. So for example, I pay a salesperson, I pay for mileage to deliver product to stores, I cannot deduct that off to my taxes, that makes it really challenging, because a lot of the creative, wonderful things that we would like to do, we’re just hampered because I have to pay tax and which is already exorbitant. And that just makes it it makes it harder. So once 280 goes away, that I think that’s really going to be the thing that opens up this industry wide, because then people can finally explore all of these other ideas about how to do it.
Travis Box 7:51
What is the biggest challenge for women in this industry? Is there enough outreach? Is there enough support? What is it like being the CEO and what seems like a very male dominated industry right now,
Marianne Cursetjee 8:05
it’s really interesting thinking about women in the cannabis industry, because I’m further along in my career than a lot of people. And I think that if I would have been doing this 20 years ago, or 30 years ago, it would have been a different experience for me, I think women and I can only speak for myself, I was raised to follow the rules you go along, you do what you’re supposed to, and everything will work out. So there’s a lot of that still embedded and ingrained in my approach to things of like, okay, just head down, do your job, don’t make waves just get along with everybody. And that worked for me for a lot of years. But that doesn’t work. When you are trying to build and create a business on your own in the cannabis space, it’s really important to step up and say, Hey, this is what I need, or, Hey, this is what I’m struggling with. Because somebody helped me with this, or hey, here’s a challenge. Does anybody have any solutions to it? So where I see women needing some help is in having the confidence to ask those questions and having the confidence to reach out because there’s a lot of pressure to look like you have it all together. And the moment that you ask a question and the moment you ask for help your SLA judge like Oh, you guys don’t know what you’re doing. Forget it. But having the confidence and just knowing that you are doing everything right, and that you don’t need anybody else to validate what you’re doing. It goes a long way. It’s totally true. I go to industry meetings, and his all these bearded guys with tattoos, and they’re all really nice and really helpful. But for a long time, they didn’t take me seriously. I had a tendency to just kind of step back and not only that, but now that I’ve been further along, I’m like, You know what, I’m just gonna be just upfront, open friendly, but just a little bit more outspoken and own my voice because I don’t want anybody else to be telling me what to do. I want to be in charge of my voice and my path.
Travis Box 9:57
Do you see programs or outreach She or are there networking groups, mentor groups that are helping bring more women into the industry, especially in leadership roles.
Marianne Cursetjee 10:08
The trade organizations, I wish they would do more, there are several of them. And they’ve they’re currently in the process of merging. So I think that will hopefully, once they merge, I’m hoping that there’s enough maths that they can include that as one of their pillars. But the trade associations really haven’t done very much. There is another mentoring organization called Accelerate that does a lot of tech companies. And they’re starting up the cannabis mentoring program for which I volunteered and we’ll be starting that in the summer. So I’m really excited about that. Super excited to be working with them. And hopefully we can help find people that want to do things in the business and give them some guidance.
Travis Box 10:47
I will say that the Oregon industry has some brilliant, powerful women in it, you among them. For example, I’ve talked with Megan Walstad, Dasheeda Dawson and I’ve talked with Jeanette Ward Horton.
Marianne Cursetjee 11:01
Yes. Interesting. Because does she does she and I have both been recruited to teach at LIM College in New York City. So they’re starting a business of cannabis bachelors program and a master’s program. So there’s so many Oregon people on the faculty at this college in New York for cannabis, I was just like, I look around, and I’m like, I know all of you people. So it really just is a testament to the strength of the Oregon industry and the value that we can bring to the industry as a whole.
Travis Box 11:28
What do you believe Oregon has done? Well, since the passage of measure 91,
Marianne Cursetjee 11:33
there are so many things that Oregon has done right? There’s also a bunch of things that have gone wrong. But
Travis Box 11:39
that’s my follow up, by the way. So let’s put a pin in that. Because that’s the next question.
Marianne Cursetjee 11:44
The I think it’s awesome that the licensing fees are so low. So the barriers to entry were very low there. You know, the my licensing fee for a Tier Two indoor farm is I pay $6,000 a year to the LLCC. There are states where it is hundreds of 1000s if not millions of dollars, having it so low, automatically creates an environment where entrepreneurs can succeed. To me that’s what makes a thriving industry is that somebody who has an idea maybe who has a criminal past with cannabis, they got convicted for something or you know, there’s this really large social equity component, and having the low license fees really created opportunity. The second thing is the low taxes, people like to complain, and there’s always ways we can improve it. But when you compare Oregon to other states, like California, our tax system actually is really awesome. Not saying it couldn’t get better. There are constantly people who are trying to change it. But the fact that it is not punitive was not overwhelming. And it is rational. The unlimited license thing was also I worked really hard on lobbying to impose a moratorium on new licenses. So I’m really glad that the moratorium passed, because we had unlimited licenses. And there are still people who think that unlimited licenses was the way to go. But I’m glad that that’s gone away.
Travis Box 13:06
So talk to me a little bit about that, too, because I’ve talked to people on both sides of that argument. What are you hoping happens during this pause? And what do you hope comes of it once they do open licensing back up?
Marianne Cursetjee 13:20
So just to kind of set the framework there are enough, I’m going to look at the numbers. So don’t mislead you. But there’s something like, If only 20% of the licenses of the producer licenses grew their capacity, that is enough for five times the consumption of what is currently being sold in Oregon. So what that means is there’s this huge potential oversupply. So not only is the oversupply actually there, but you can’t grow you can’t expand because what’s the point? You know, maybe you start off small and you think, oh, like we did, we started off small, we started off, we’re all self funded. So we have grown organically in terms of we build out what we can afford and do it in a way that makes sense financially, we could still build more but why I can’t even there’s no money in it. You’re never gonna get your money back from a capital perspective until until a federal legalization happens.
Travis Box 14:15
All right, now let’s talk about some of the other things that may need to be fixed or addressed. In Oregon.
Marianne Cursetjee 14:22
There are several the OCC has been working really hard to work with the industry, they still have a reputation of being overreaching in terms of their rulemaking and the regulations. A specific example for that is the OCC just asked like six months ago and got a ban on minor Knapp artificially derived minor cannabinoids. That’s a lot of words. But basically what it means is that means that the most common edibles or gummies that are used for sleep or for cancer can no longer be sold in Oregon starting July 1, and I think that is a huge mistake. It’s not based on science. It’s not based on any problems. It wasn’t like there was some incident that caused it. It’s just an overreach. So having some sort of rational understanding of how the plant works could go a long ways. The other thing that could be helpful from a regulatory perspective is just trying to streamline how businesses have to comply with the rules. As an example, because we’re a producer, every single plant has to be tagged with an RFID tag. So it costs us a fair amount of money to have our employees go through tag all the plants, we check it, we audit it to make sure it’s right all the way down the line, you have to keep really strict understanding of what’s in your supply system. You know, I’m not saying that it shouldn’t be there shouldn’t be some regulations. But it should be with an understanding of how businesses can make a profit and not just overly burdensome. I do want to say that the OLCC has been working on building better relationships with the industry. As an example on Tuesday, we had about 15 OLCC inspectors out to the farm, they had asked to use our firm as an example. And they were training them. So I open up everything I said here, let’s go through it step by step, here’s everything that you need to know, here’s the places that things can go wrong. Here’s how this works. So they are working hard at training the new inspectors, and I’m hopeful that that is the beginning of a new relationship with them. In your
Travis Box 16:26
opinion, how is the relationship right now between the industry and the OLCC?
Marianne Cursetjee 16:32
I think it depends, I have never had a bad experience. I’ve reached out to them, I have no problems talking with them. I totally respect the people that have come out and visited. And inspector, it’s been a great experience. I have heard stories of people who other women, cultivators who inspectors have come out and made them cry. It doesn’t have to be that way. It shouldn’t be that way. And I think that they’re changing. It’s also true that there are some of the staff at the OCC who are really anti cannabis. And I don’t think they should be in the cannabis hierarchy if you can’t be for the plant and building a better industry. And so I think that that’s, you know, regulations are important to follow. But also Oregon has this great opportunity to set ourselves apart as a producer state, however, the government can support support the industry should be doing that.
Travis Box 17:21
Do you feel we’re close to federal reform? And if we can’t get overarching federal reform, what are the first things you’d like to see in a piecemeal approach?
Marianne Cursetjee 17:34
No matter what I say, I’m gonna be wrong.
Travis Box 17:38
Your opinion? Right? Yeah,
Marianne Cursetjee 17:40
I used to think that Biden would do it at the end of his term, thought that for the longest time, I think he his political capital is, is waning. But I thought that that would be like a little freebie at the end of his term. I don’t think that’s going to happen anymore. I still think we’re three to five years out. People have been saying three to five years for the last five years, I just think that there are so many other problems at the federal level that they have to deal with that are also important that prioritizing cannabis over some of these other things. I don’t think it’s going to happen. Yeah, you mentioned banking, certainly a lot of people talk about that. And that gets a lot of publicity. But there are enough third party banking. So thinking is bigger than just where you put your money. The question of where do you put your money that has already been solved by a lot of third party providers. In Oregon, we have access to several credit unions, there are third party banking solutions that are out there. So you know, you’re not driving down the freeway with you know, bags of cash in your passenger seat anymore. So just to be clear what banking means it’s not where to put your money, but it does open up access to capital markets. So you can get investors like you were talking about. There are good things and bad things that happen with that. I really don’t think the industry is ready for full on investors from the capital market. I do some investing also, in addition to running this business, and the way that people look at the cannabis industry, just you need to take a shift and understand that metrics are totally different. The data is totally different. And I don’t know if they’re, I just don’t think we’re ready for it.
Travis Box 19:13
That one’s lower on the list, then yeah, so 280 e still the top for you.
Marianne Cursetjee 19:19
Here it is 100% top, because without that, then all the rest of the numbers don’t make sense. You look at the large publicly traded companies. They’re by and large, they’re losing money, and then losing a lot of money and losing it quickly. There are some profitable ones there, but they are the minority. And if these big companies continue down that path, I think it’s just going to torpedo the whole industry. From my little perspective of running a little tiny farm in Oregon. I don’t want to see that happen. So we just keep our head down and do our business. So I don’t I don’t know that access to capital is really a big a big problem. And that’s a controversial remark, but I’m sticking by it.
Travis Box 19:56
And then interstate commerce,
Marianne Cursetjee 19:58
interstate commerce, I would tell Only take that right after 280 either. I don’t know how likely that is to Pass, Oregon has already passed it, as I’m sure you’re aware. So what we need is one other state to buy into it. And then we need a test case, you know, Harborside, down in California did the whole tax test case, they were willing to stand up to the IRS. So we just need somebody who has the guts to try it out and see what happens. And I’m hopeful that somebody would take that step. It’s not going to be me. But I hope that somebody has that.
Travis Box 20:30
Let’s talk about stigma. How should the industry address the stigma associated with cannabis?
Marianne Cursetjee 20:37
I think that there are plenty of opportunities to change the stigma. You can’t just change society on the drop of a hat. It takes time. Like there’s this whole cultural shift, you know, in the 60s, and that was a decade worth of, of our society, changing their mind on things. And I think that cannabis is that same way, I think if you try to force people into thinking into changing their mind, it’s just not going to be effective. So I think the best way is just to be open about it and not be afraid or ashamed. My experience is a perfect example of that. When we bought the property for the farm, and we started the farm. I did not tell my parents for probably two years, which is crazy, because we’re really close. They had no idea what I was doing. And I just said, oh, yeah, I gotta go to work. And you know, it is what it is. Then finally, I felt really bad about it. Because the kids knew. And they’re teenagers. And I didn’t want to put the kids into this middle situation of having to lie to their grandparents. That’s not a good look. So I was working myself up to telling them, and then my dad was diagnosed with cancer. So I’ve been I was like, forget it. I just thought we’ve got to have this conversation. So we had the whole conversation and they were totally open. They’re like, Oh, that’s really cool. Can we come on? Look, I think it’s, it’s just a matter of being meeting people where they’re at, and when somebody’s ready to hear it, then they’ll hear it. If they’re not ready. They’re not going to hear it. But sharing that with my dad, we got him some medicine and it helped him. And even two weeks ago, my mom was having problems sleeping through my mom to take a chocolate, it’s okay. She took a chocolate, she woke up the next morning, she’s like, I have never slept so good in my life. Like, yeah, I told you. So. It’s little things like that, that really just help change everything. Even this morning, I went for a walk with a friend. And she was telling me that her dad doesn’t sleep. So I was like, Okay, next time I’m at the shop, I’ll pick you up some chocolate. If he’s open to it, give him one he can try it. If it doesn’t work, that’s fine. No problem. But at least he’s open to it.
Travis Box 22:42
How did you approach the industry that the topic everything with your own kids?
Marianne Cursetjee 22:50
It’s really interesting. And I don’t know that what I did is the model. I’m sure somebody could do it better. We try to be really open with our kids always heard of that is just having these open conversations. And so when we told her kids, my oldest who she’s 20 Now, so she must have been probably 16 or so she just rolled her eyes like, Mom, they’re just almost a little embarrassed. I think the kids were more embarrassed than my parents were, which was really hard. They were like, oh, no, everybody in high school is gonna think we’re a drug dealer. Like, no, that’s not the way it works. But they were they were just kind of not really embarrassed, but just sorta, but as things have progressed, and they have gotten older, I think the opportunity, it opened up the opportunity for us to have real conversations about the things that you put in your body. And I think that those conversations are super important because I don’t know what age kids figure all this stuff out. But nicotine vapes are being marketed to teenagers. And this stuff is already there, having these conversations upfront and saying that is poison that will hurt you that will kill you don’t compare to other things, which when you’re 21, let’s think about how, you know how you approach it. So I’ve always been open about it, like, okay, so compared to everything else that you could put in your body, there’s been nicotine vapes, there’s cigarettes, there’s joints, there’s you know, edibles, like this is where I think it falls. And when you are able to make choices for yourself, this is how I hope you choose. But please don’t vape
Travis Box 24:21
when your kids old enough to understand the medicinal use when you were going through your cancer treatment.
Marianne Cursetjee 24:26
They were I don’t remember how much I shared with them about about they’ll have to think about that. But definitely they were there with me going through it. And I think they must have known it’s kind of ullery that year because there will be times where like, you know what, I’m just I’m going to take my medicine early and I’m just going to be asleep till tomorrow and you’ll just have to survive and because that’s what it does. For me the RSO just it was a way to sleep off the nausea. So then you wake up you’re feeling better.
Travis Box 24:53
Where do you believe the industry goes from here and let’s start in Oregon.
Marianne Cursetjee 24:59
That is a big question. I think that Oregon is. So the wholesale prices in Oregon continue to drop, they have been dropping for the last year, there’s hope that they’re going to start going back up again as we get closer to summer. But from a profitability standpoint, Oregon is very challenging. That’s why actually, I don’t think the capital markets outside investors make sense in Oregon, because there’s just no way to make money. I don’t care how efficient you are, how smart you are, it’s just the margins are so thin and so narrow, that it doesn’t make sense to invest the time here at this time, there’s going to be another reckoning this year with more businesses going under, which I think is sad for them. But on the other hand, it makes more space for people who are have financial capabilities to stick it out. I think that Oregon is just going to be that way until that something changes whether it’s interstate commerce or to 80, or one of these things that we’ve talked about. I don’t think that the time when it was like five years ago is really easy to make money. I don’t think that’s ever coming back.
Travis Box 26:00
Do you see a point where Oregon cannabis becomes a globally recognized brand,
Marianne Cursetjee 26:07
I would hope so. But I also think that unless somebody takes charge of that, it’s not just going to happen on its own. It’s not a thing like build it and they will come it’s somebody has to take charge of that. And we’re looking at other states, I’m in negotiation deals for some licensing deals in other states. And that’s one of the ideas that we’re throwing around is maybe we somehow figure out how to get our genetics there. And then we set up in Oregon room like we do a takeover. We’re gonna take over this room, we’re gonna do it Oregon style, and see if we can get people excited about the quality that comes out of Oregon. But that takes a lot of work and a lot of time and a lot of effort. And I don’t know, I would hope that there’s enough groundswell in Oregon to take the message into other states.
Travis Box 26:52
I know that Megan walstad are with the Oregon cannabis association would really like to see that as well. Oregon cannabis marketed like Oregon Pinot or Oregon craft beer, where we have global brand recognition.
Marianne Cursetjee 27:06
And I agree that it’s the trade association will be a perfect opportunity for that. I also think that that would be a really good time for some public private collaboration. So if there were some public money, so business development fund or something, build a home meet in Oregon, you get a sticker, a stamp, whatever it is something you pay 100 bucks a year to be part of the association, I would totally do it. And I think that can only elevate the message and emphasize the quality that comes out of our beautiful state.
Travis Box 27:34
Marian, what would you like to leave listeners with?
Marianne Cursetjee 27:37
Yeah, I was thinking about that. And one thing that I think is super important is for consumers to understand what they’re consuming. There’s a phrase, I didn’t make it up, but it’s used fairly commonly when talking about potency. So potency is the THC percentage, you go into a shop, then you say, Hey, where are you? Like, what’s life? You’re looking for flour? What do you have? And they’ll say sativa versus indica. And then they’ll say, I’ve got a 28%, blah, blah, blah, Saturday. So because that’s a number, the potency of the THC percentage is a number. People think that that means it’s better. But in fact, that’s like going into a liquor store. And you say, hey, I want your best whiskey. And they say, oh, no, here’s some Everclear. Because you know, it’s the strongest, and it’s kind of gets you wasted. In fact, that’s not what’s necessarily best for your body, where you’re going to have the best experience with, it’s really challenging because cannabis is such a complex plant. And education is really behind the times in terms of we don’t even know what the research is still happening. So it’s, we can’t say this, that and the other thing about the flavors and the terpenes and the cultivars, but if customers will just educate themselves just a little bit and understand what they’re consuming. And bigger numbers doesn’t always mean it’s better. So just pay attention to yourself and find something that works for you.
Travis Box 28:59
If people want to learn more about alibi cannabis, where do they go?
Travis Box 29:14
And we can also Google your name. And there are a lot of interviews that you’ve done as well. Marianne, thank you so much for joining me today.
Marianne Cursetjee 29:22
Thank you, Travis. This has been a lot of fun. I really enjoy chatting with you.
Travis Box 29:25
Marianne Cursetjee, co founder and CEO of alibi cannabis, mainstream media. If you’re new to this podcast, I would like to invite you to go back and listen to previous episodes of mainstream media. And you can do that by going to coin.com and under the News tab, click on mainstream media for archives of all our previous shows, and the latest news on the Oregon cannabis industry. coin.com Your place for mainstream media on the coin podcast Network