Like it or not, the cannabis industry has graduated from a “Ziploc dime bag of weed” to the mainstream marketplace with branding and marketing strategies, quality packaging and a plethora of high-end, legal recreational and medicinal products.
After decades of cannabis industry’s retailers keeping a low profile to avoid legal scrutiny, cannabis retailers have started using design and sales campaigns that have worked effectively at some of the most profitable storefronts in the country, like Starbucks and Apple.
Cannabis patrons are not just the pony-tailed goateed skateboard stoner types but rather a clientele more reminiscent of the high-profile professional, soccer mom, film studio executive and the Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods-style shopper.
In March, award-winning actress, talk show host and comedian Whoopi Goldberg teamed up with a California edibles producer to tackle a different medical cannabis demographic: women who suffer from menstrual cramps.
“Cannabis is a lifestyle product and appeals to a broad range of consumers including the affluent,” said Edward “Swerve” Clarizio, internationally known as the “Johnny Appleseed of Weed.” “People use it medicinally to get relief from chronic pain, not to get high. It has less damaging effects than hardcore legal pharmaceuticals prescribed for pain, such as Fentanyl, the opioid painkiller, OxyContin and Vicodin.”
Recently, Grammy-winning R&B singer Chaka Khan and her sister, Taka Boom, announced their stint in an intensive rehabilitation and after-care program for fentanyl addiction.
Music superstar Prince died in April from an overdose of opioid fentanyl, which is nearly 50 times more potent than heroin and up to 100 times more potent than morphine.
According to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, as a result of opioid fentanyl, there has been a spike in overdose deaths in the United States. America consumes 80 percent of the global supply of opioids. Nearly 300 million pain prescriptions were written in 2015, which equates to a $24 billion market.
Clarizio, also known as Swerve, a name he borrowed from his brother-in-law, comes from an old school big Italian family.
“I learned about medical marijuana in my 20s because I was diagnosed with five eye conditions and wanted the pain and discomfort to stop,” he said.
Clarizio suffers from macular degeneration, uveitis, glaucoma, macular edema, and pars planitis. Constant hospitalization was the norm for him.
“I felt like my eyeballs were being squeezed from behind,” said Clarizio, who is 75 percent blind in one eye.
Medication such as cyclosporine A or methotrexate is prescribed for pars planitis. Those drugs can have serious side effects.
Determined to find a cost-effective, alternative approach to the numerous prescription drugs, Clarizio developed his own form of relief — Tahoe OG Kush. For 10 years, under the shingle Cali Connection, he created the best genetics in seed form.
“I really wanted to concentrate on alleviating the pain,” he said.
Being saddled with five eye diseases was bad enough. Then the other shoe dropped.
At 30, he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS), which affects the brain and spinal cord.
“I felt weak, tingling in my legs, numbness and blurred vision,” Clarizio said.
Out of necessity, Clarizio became a pioneer in the cannabis industry and began breeding custom strains 15 years ago to alleviate his own symptoms of MS.
Back in 2004, Clarizio was one of three providers of clones of genetics (varietal of the marijuana plant).
“My background was in video editing,” he said. “However, growing up in an ‘old world’ Italian household, I learned agriculture and was good at growing vegetables.”
The medicinal need for cannabis was prevalent.
“Everyone wanted it, but I was one of the three providers who could get it,” Clarizio said. “My passion and purpose was born.”
Clarizio’s goal to make a difference in the war on medical diseases and disorders has been accomplished on many levels. “I have known people with Crohn’s disease,” he said. “My friend’s wife wanted to conceive but having Crohn’s disease increased her chances for complications such as miscarriage and preterm delivery.”
Crohn’s disease is a form of inflammatory bowel disease.
“She didn’t want to take the prescription drugs because it can cause birth defects,” Clarizio said. “She made milk from the buds grown from my seeds, drank it regularly, and within days her condition improved greatly.”
His friend’s wife became pregnant, delivered a healthy baby without complications, and years later, is living a normal life.
The Cali Connection name came from Clarizio’s Italian roots.
“It’s not about what you know, it’s who you know,” he said. “Everyone wanted to have a connection in California because the cannabis is 95 percent better than anywhere in the world. I’m connecting the world to California.”
When Clarizio made the transition from corporate America to the cannabis industry, his mom was OK with it because she also has MS.
“My father being old school Italian, did not initially support the business,” he said. “After I told him that I own the world’s largest seed company, my dad realized his son is a businessman.”
To date, Clarizio is the recipient of an impressive list of awards and 30 lines of strains.
“My first award was in Amsterdam,” he said. “I brought California to the world.”
Recently, he added the “Trailblazer Award” to the list.
Operating a multimillion dollar business comes with its challenges. Clarizio has been raided.
“There is always a huge concern about the fine line of legalization; therefore, running a tight operation and the best legal team to interpret the law is essential for success,” he said.
“It is difficult to be the Joan of Arc of this industry. I released genetics to the general public, and was the first to bring California genetics to Amsterdam,” Clarizio said. “It caused some anger among the large growers.”
Clarizio has multiple farms in Northern and Southern California. He is constantly pushing the boundaries to create more strains to address a wide variety of medical issues.
Acknowledging that mentors in this field would have been beneficial, Clarizio, who is self-taught, believes in giving back. He provides mentorship and shares his knowledge at speaking engagements across the country.
The California Marijuana Legalization Initiative known as the “Adult Use of Marijuana Act,” will be on the Nov. 8 ballot. The initiative is led by Let’s Get it Right California! and Californians to Control, Regulate and Tax Adult Use of Marijuana while Protecting Children. Supporters include the California Medical Association, which represents over 41,000 doctors statewide and the California State NAACP.
“Creating a legal, responsible and regulated framework for marijuana is a predominant civil rights issue and it’s long overdue. The current system is counterproductive, financially wasteful and racially biased, and the people of California have repeatedly called for it to be fixed,” said Alice Huffman, president of the California State NAACP.
“This measure will ensure that California is not unjustly criminalizing responsible adults while also ensuring that our children are protected while the State receives hundreds of millions of new dollars for vital government and community-based programs.”
Let’s face it, medicinal marijuana is not going anywhere.
The Cali Connection – www.thecaliconnection.com
Yeson64 – http://www.yeson64.org/
The California Medical Association – www.cmanet.org
Centers of Disease Control – www.cdc.gov
U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration – www.dea.gov
California State NAACP – www.californianaacp.org
Ballotpedia – https://ballotpedia.org
Marie Y. Lemelle, MBA, a public relations consultant, is the owner of Platinum Star PR and can be reached on Twitter @PlatinumStar or Instagram @PlatinumStarPR. Send “Health Matters” related questions to firstname.lastname@example.org and look for her column in The Wave.