Brett Puffenbarger is a cannabis industry legend who featured on the first episode of our North American Weed Tour Podcast. A co-host of the CannaBS Detector Podcast and a co-founder of Good Highdeas, Brett is a great example of a relentless and perpetually ambitious entrepreneur. You can check out our episode of the NAWT Podcast with him below, where he discusses the state of the American cannabis industry.
Brett shares a ton of wisdom and knowledge about cannabis both as a veteran/medical user and as an active advocate and member of a diverse industry.
Exclusive Interview with Brett Puffenbarger
RMR: With your non-stop work in cannabis, can you walk people through what a day is like for a multi-business entrepreneur?
Brett: I get up real early. Around 5AM every day. Then I spend a couple hours working on my company Good Highdeas. Next, an hour every morning doing LinkedIn content. Later on in the night I’ll stop and eat dinner; usually I forget to eat lunch. After that, I’m either working with the Veterans Action Council or recording the CannaBS Detector Podcast.
RMR: The CannaBS Detector Podcast appears as a bastion for legitimate perspectives on the cannabis industry. How did you get started on that show?
Brett: The CannaBS Detector Podcast is Kristen’s baby through and through. After my first cannabis job — which wasn’t that good — a bad taste was left in my mouth about the industry. Kristen was saying what I wanted to hear on her podcast. I filled the gap in her absence when she was ill; and after she came back, we’ve been co-hosting together ever since. Our perspectives are not exactly identical, but they’re close enough that we can work off each other.
The rest is history, we record once a week. Our goal is to be right in the middle of perspectives. I don’t think it’s fair to say the industry is going through a civil war for example, but there’s still some issues and not everything is as good as people think it is. So we’re looking to find a balanced perspective to point out these flaws without inflaming them.
RMR: When did you first get involved with the cannabis industry? What did you do before?
Brett: Before the industry I was in the military. I got out and spent all of deployment money on a karate school franchise, and I hated it. After I got out of that, I wasn’t sure what to do next and became a bit frustrated. One day my ex told me that I should “smoke a joint” to cool off because “veterans do really well with that,” and she was actually right in the end.
I was working as Director of Business Development at Harley-Davidson at the time. What most people don’t know is Harley makes more money selling shirts and jackets than motorcycles. I took that marketing experience with me and approached the cannabis industry next.
RMR: Talk about your favorite consumption methods. What is your preferred medium?
Brett: I’m a Volcano guy through and through. I have Sarcoidosis, a terminal lung condition, and my friends chipped in to get me a volcano. It was something of a lifesaver during COVID because it made it easy to share. I’m pretty big on my vape pen, too. I got a battery that makes it look like a tobacco pipe and I feel like Sherlock Holmes. This battery lasts FOREVER too.
RMR: What can you tell us about the cannabis market in Virginia? Medical vs adult use
Brett: The medical market in my opinion is probably the most restricted medical market in the country. They are forced vertical integration, limited license like Florida, but they take it another step and do regional licensees.
When it comes to adult use, that was one of those kind of things that hit people real fast and quick in a hurry. We got a Democrat governor and he pushed for it super quick. Currently, we have legal possession of flower, and homegrow of four plants max.
We are working toward an actual adult use industry. The retail market needs to pass another state vote and then they will finalize rules after. We’re looking to see it improved by 2024.
RMR: Do you have any industry idols that come to mind?
Brett: I’m not sure I have any idols to begin with. I look up to Kristen, Alice Moon. They both are unapologetic about talking about things people don’t wanna hear. I looked up to Frenchy before he passed away. The Beard Bros guys are fucking epic and I look up to them in a lot of ways. I am glad to consider them friends.
RMR: Schumer’s newest bill for federal legalization was met with mixed responses, to say the least. What did you personally think of the bill?
Brett: I think it is 80-85% of the way there. I did a pretty lengthy dissection of this on LinkedIn, and I think there’s tons of good and tons of bad and a little bit of ugly. The tax part is absolutely ludicrous and gross. I think some of the parts about the VA are a step in the right direction but not quite there. I think the generalized framework of what they’re shooting for is overall positive but I think it’s a moot point because we all know it won’t pass. Overall I think it’s a good step in the right direction nonetheless.
The guy who tries to catch two birds at once catches none. [Schumer’s] trying to make advocates and opposers happy. They aren’t asking industry people for their opinions though. They aren’t talking to the actual professionals. I’m not even talking about the big corporations, either. Medium to large companies should have a lot of input.
Advocates kinda suck right now, too, for that matter. We have this hope that the people we are talking to understand the circumstance. Advocates on the national level, we are not educating the lawmakers on how to regulate the industry. We are just hitting them with walls of text calling them out.
Pro-cannabis platforms aren’t opening a dialogue to explain and discuss with these people, and that’s our fault. We shouldn’t just expect these lawmakers to understand something we haven’t educated them on yet. We aren’t backing it up.
RMR: What would you have to say about the importance of core competencies and honest dedication to the community and consumers when it comes to running a cannabis company?
Brett: I mentioned it before; I’m a PR guy. There’s a very simple equation we look at. PR is a lot more than publicity. PR is crisis communication, reputation management, dark web sites, social media… it’s all kinds of things outside of publicity.
Something most officials consider is image + identity = reputation. Image is what others think of you; the feedback and outside forces on your company. Identity is internal stuff: the mission statement, core values, your press releases, and the things you control.
I think a lot of cannabis companies do a great job of building identity, and a terrible job with image because their identity just doesn’t match. Take Green Thumb Industries for instance. I took what they say they are and compared it to what others say they are, and not everything is really what it seems.
There’s a huge chunk of the world that’s missing. The MSO’s are in bubbles. It’s not easy to pivot these large corps into new business models either. A lot of these are pump out schemes that suspect they will be bought out by something bigger someday. I think their business model is designed only to function in the broken dysphoria between markets. And once that is fixed we will see places that produce.
RMR: Bridging the gap from bong to boardroom? What does that mean exactly?
Brett: I’ve said this many times. I think we got two competing factors in our industry. It’s easy to say we have the “suits” and “the stoners;” tons of monikers for the two groups really. Both sides are equally wrong and right, and each side should be holding up one end of the equation.
The “stoner” side is the heart of the industry. This is all built on activism and creativity and change. On the other side, this is still another emerging industry, a multi-billion dollar titanic force. We need the lawyers, the bigger suits, to do their part.
Bong to boardroom means bringing the industry together, because the “bong rips” and the stoners are the community, but you need to be able to talk business with policies. I think that is the answer to long term success in the industry. It’s important to find that balance between those two.Brett Puffenbarger