Courtesy of LOWD. Photo Credit Sam Gehrke.
More than ever, communities impacted by the War on Drugs need an extra boost, following years of unrest and upheaval. Companies such as Portland, Oregon-based LOWD are actively working with projects aimed at providing grants, loans, educational resources, and job assistance to people trying to get their foot in the industry.
Portland, like other urban cities in the U.S., is emerging from the years of COVID crisis cautiously, as boarded-up businesses, restaurants, and public venues sputter back to life in downtown Portland. The city’s mask mandate ended in mid-March after two years of pandemic protocols and restrictions.
The effects of the pandemic in Portland were felt in addition to months of civil unrest; starting in May 2020, when Black Lives Matter protests sparked by the death of George Floyd inspired a global uprising against police brutality and the prevalence of racism. The pandemic and protests also shared headlines in September 2020 with wildfires that burned more than a million acres near Portland, while 2021 has proved to be a record-setting year for wildfires across the state.
LOWD Chief Executive Officer and founder Jesce Horton, though, has high hopes for people aspiring to get into the industry despite these setbacks. He was recently profiled by Forbes for building a multi-million dollar brand in spite of being a casualty of the War on Drugs himself.
An engineer by education and a passionate horticulturist, Horton’s career experiences are rooted in “urban culture and epic nature.” LOWD’s artisan cannabis strains are developed and grown at the company’s indoor cultivation facility, where social distancing restrictions stymied operations even as demand for cannabis spiked, early in the pandemic.
“[Cannabis is one of] the fastest growing Industries in the world, adding the most jobs, you know, and so many new small businesses are happening. Every time a state legalizes… I’ve seen an increase in Black- and brown-owned businesses, without a doubt.” – Jesce Horton
“[…] Even though cannabis was considered an essential business in law in the state of Oregon, you know, we were allowed to still operate but we had limitations on the amount of people that could be in the facility,” said Horton. “Also, limitations on, you know, the amount of people that can be in one room at a time. So, certainly, you know, altered some of our operations. We had to kind of be a little more flexible.”
But the pandemic also helped in certain ways, as the business of cannabis outlasted many other industries. “You know, all-in-all during the beginning of the pandemic, sales increased dramatically because of so many people being at home. So, everything was great,” he said. “As we’re moving toward the end of this pandemic, things have slowed down significantly,” though Horton added that current sales for LOWD are still higher than pre-pandemic levels.
Brand-building and market survival, especially in challenging times, are all about being able to adapt. LOWD is taking lessons learned during the pandemic and implementing new business strategies aimed at consumers.
“[…] People have started to rely a lot more on delivery and alternate forms of retail. So, we’re developing an exclusive home [delivery] service with a company called Outlet, and they’ll be delivering only our stuff. They’re getting it directly from our cure room,” Horton said. “We’re just opening up more potential for it to reach our consumers. Regardless of what’s happening out there in the economy, you know, people are still going to be looking for premium cannabis access.”
LOWD’s Smoke Like a Grower (SLAG) Jars are filled with genetically proprietary award-winning phenotypes that are “stick trimmed” into UV-protectant glass containers, completely untouched by human hands until the consumer cracks the seal on their purchase.
As an activist, Horton co-founded the Minority Cannabis Business Association (MCBA) and has worked with state lawmakers on policy for sustainable practices, energy efficiency, and social equity. Currently, he is focused on Portland’s NuProject, a nonprofit initiative which “grants, loans, educational resources, job matching assistance and entrepreneurial services to cannabis business owners and career hopefuls.”
“[Cannabis is one of] the fastest growing Industries in the world, adding the most jobs, you know, and so many new small businesses are happening. Every time a state legalizes… I’ve seen an increase in Black- and brown-owned businesses, without a doubt,” but added that for Black and brown cannabis entrepreneurs, opportunities in the industry were nowhere near the potential that will eventually be reached.
“No way, not even close, you know, there’s much more opportunity for growth in those areas. But still, we can’t look past the progress that has been made, which is significant,” Horton pointed out.
For would-be cannabis entrepreneurs in emerging legal markets, he encouraged activism and community-building. As turbulent times and unprecedented changes continue to unfold, he emphasized the importance of participation in policymaking and networking.
“I would say to always be at the table as things are being legalized, as these movies are being made, make sure that you are represented in those halls, in those legislative rooms, as they’re deciding the rules, because you will miss opportunity. Even if you can’t, you should be able to influence, but even if you can’t influence, you’ll have a good understanding of what’s happening and be able to be ahead of the curve.
“And I think secondly, I would say continue to expand and grow your networks. Because people, there’s a lot of people that are making progress and the [more] people in your network, the better opportunities for you to take advantage of the market, right?”