YouTube Removes Ad for Prostitute-Filled 'Sex Island' Getaway in Colombia

A Colombian resort which is currently promoting a prostitute-filled “sex island experience” has had its steamy promotional video removed from YouTube.

The Good Girls Company’s YouTube account, which was suspended by the site’s moderators as of Friday morning, was advertising its sex-filled getaway with footage of scantily clad women dancing, partying on a yacht, and offering their services to a guest.

The on-screen text also promised “unlimited sex” would be included in the price of admission, and that there would be “60 girls” for the 30 guests.

“Each ticket includes the company of two girls each day for unlimited amounts of sex during the four days of the event,” the company’s website explains of the getaway, which runs from Nov. 24 through Nov. 27 . “At any moment you can switch girls with the other 30 guests.”

According to The Independent, guest will also be invited to partake in an orgy on the first day of the getaway, and on the second day, each will have the opportunity for a 30-minute solo encounter with 16 prostitutes at once. The last two nights are reserved for boat parties.

Despite the marketing video being removed from YouTube, tickets to the “experience” are still available online, and cost $5,000 apiece, per the Sex Island website.

The website further promises “surprise sexual activities,” “unlimited condoms,” free alcohol and food, luxury yacht parties, and pick up and drop off services from the airport in Cartagena, all included in the price.

The resort and the prostitutes are said to be “drug friendly,” as well.

Newshub reports that while prostitution is legal in Colombia, facilitating a sexual experience, or pimping, is not. Marijuana and cocaine are also decriminalized in Colombia, so long as users are not carrying more than 20 grams of marijuana or 1 gram of cocaine for personal use.

This isn’t the first time the Good Girls Company has made headlines for their risqué services. Earlier this year, the brothel entered the global hospitality industry when it debuted all-inclusive packages to its resort in Cali, Colombia, that included horseback riding, golf, and prostitution services. Prices ran between $599 and $1499, depending on which package a guest purchased.

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Why Doesn’t Korea Advertise Condoms?

Korea takes up the lion’s share in manufacturing condoms worldwide but ranks last among OECD countries when it comes to using them.

Condoms are, without argument, a method for having safe sex. The barrier device, commonly made from latex, decreases the chance of pregnancy by around 85 percent. And unlike birth control pills, condoms also protect against sexually transmitted infection such as gonorrhea, chlamydia, hepatitis B -- and HIV/AIDS.

But the last time Korea saw a television advertisement for condoms was in 2013 by the U.K. condom manufacturer Durex. Before 2013, the only television advertisement for condoms was in 2004 when the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ran its AIDS campaign. Even then, the ad portrayed condoms almost as an illegal commodity.

So what’s with the hush-hush around condom advertisements in Korea?

Condoms are, first of all, classified as a medical device in Korea, meaning it is subject to stringent advertisement laws. A company advertising its product needs to gain the approval of the Ministry of Food and Drug Safety, Korea Communications Commission, and the Publication Industry Promotion Agency of Korea before airing its marketing piece.

Meanwhile, condoms are sold as a general product in the market – a discrepancy that has deterred companies from spending on advertising slots.

But the most significant contributor to low latex use is arguably embedded in the country’s lopsided stance toward sex, and more importantly, toward who is responsible for safe sex.

Sex is not openly talked about in Korea, but that doesn’t mean people aren’t doing it. The booming clusters of “love motels” situated virtually in all metropolitan areas say otherwise. Despite the copious amounts of sex enjoyed, condom use is nearly a taboo.

According to local media reports, only 52 percent of women between the ages of 25 and 34 asked their partner to use a condom. The more surprising number is that just one out of three 30-year-old males used it, according to the survey.

The reluctance toward using them is two-fold. First, condoms have been widely perceived as an unwelcome third party during sex. Famous male celebrities have openly (in jest and solemnly) said the latex glove is a “barrier” to intimacy and a signal of distrust. Asking to use a condom may “kill the mood,” they add. That may be why only half of the women ask their partner to use them, and just one-third of men do.

Secondly, the burden of protection has long fallen on women in Korean society. Advertisements for birth control pills (taken daily) are rampant, and abortions, arguably a “contraceptive” in Korea, remain a booming business. Even abortion laws, which recently raised controversy, punish only women.

Changing the societal look toward sex may take a while. In the meantime, it’s high time to advertise condoms and promote protection, for both sexes.

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The Would-Be Amazon of Sex Toys Became the Radio Shack Instead

With Sex and the CityFifty Shades of Grey, and Comedy Central’s Broad City helping catapult sex toys out of the bedroom and into the mainstream, Germany’s Beate Uhse AG—a publicly traded company that a decade ago was Europe’s biggest retailer of erotica—was poised to become its industry’s Amazon or Netflix. After the company filed for insolvency on Dec. 15, it looks more like Radio Shack.

In 1962, Beate Uhse, one of a handful of female pilots in Germany’s World War II Luftwaffe, opened what she called the world’s first sex shop, the Institute for Marital Hygiene, in the northern German town of Flensburg. The enterprise revolutionized the sex lives of European baby boomers with condoms, lingerie, and how-to books, eventually growing to more than 300 outlets. The company went public on the Frankfurt Stock Exchange in 1999, intending to use the proceeds to expand abroad and invest in internet sales. The shares—each certificate featured photos of scantily clad women—were 64 times oversubscribed. A joke at the time held that more Germans knew who Beate Uhse was than Chancellor Helmut Kohl, and retail investors bought into the company’s story, helping the stock almost quadruple in the first three days of trading, to €28.20 ($33.32).

The honeymoon was short, as Beate Uhse failed to shake off its image as an operator of adult film cubicles in dodgy neighborhoods. With physical stores and websites lacking consistency in marketing, web sales were disappointing. And the company underestimated the impact of free internet porn, which depressed revenue from its profitable DVD business. Instead of pushing harder online, Beate Uhse invested in unsuccessful gimmicks such as 3D porn.

In the early 2000s management considered buying a condom maker and the publisher of Penthouse but stopped when it became clear rescuing the troubled companies would be costly. A defective sprinkler at a Dutch warehouse caused millions of euros in damage in 2006. And an effort a decade ago to create female-focused shops failed to meet sales expectations. “Beate Uhse veered off the success path because it stuck too long to its old business model,” says Michael Specht, who in April took over as chief executive officer. “It’s been a big challenge to continue the company’s rich tradition in a modern, digital form.”

Revenue has been on a long slide since peaking at €285 million in 2005, and the shares have bounced along in penny-stock territory for almost a decade. After the collapse in December of talks on restructuring €30 million in debt, Beate Uhse filed for insolvency with self-administration (similar to Chapter 11 in the U.S.), though Specht says its main units will continue to operate as usual. To get back on track, Beate Uhse has in recent years closed scores of stores, dropped its print catalog to emphasize online sales, and revamped its logo, with a script font replaced by a simple “bu,” for “be you”—a call to freely express sexual desire. “We’re optimistic we can turn around the company as a whole,” Specht says.

Beate Uhse’s stumbles have created an opening for younger rivals that make buying vibrators seem cool by catering to couples and women, staging Tupperware-style home shopping parties, and designing websites that position their wares as health-care products. Founded in 2006, Eis says it’s Germany’s leading online erotica shop, with 7.7 million customers, drawn in by a TV ad campaign featuring cheerful hipster women against a pastel-tinted background. Amorelie has doubled sales every year since 2014 and is now profitable, thanks to products such as a €130 Advent Calendar, with 24 toys including a vibrating penis ring, a “spank me” paddle, and lemongrass-scented bath salt. The company, which in 2015 was bought by German television juggernaut ProSiebenSat.1 Media SE, plans to expand beyond the five European countries where it operates, and in July it started selling in the 2,000 outlets of a German drugstore chain. “Traditional sex toy shops focused on single men, and the shopping experience felt very uncomfortable,” says Amorelie CEO Lea-Sophie Cramer, a 30-year-old who often takes her toddler to work. “We’re positioning ourselves more like a fashion brand.”

The global sex toy market will expand about 7 percent a year, to $30 billion in 2020, researcher Technavio predicts. Beate Uhse faces a growing range of rivals including—of course—Amazon.com Inc., which now sells vibrators, fur-lined handcuffs, and other sex toys. With many potential customers still put off by the industry’s raunchy reputation, vendors must project an image “that is progressive, inclusive, positive, socially conscious, and approachable to all,” Technavio analysts said in an October report.

Specht says he can tap into that trend with more Beate Uhse-branded toys and a redesign of its stores. New outlets, such as a revamped two-story shop in central Berlin, aim to attract the kind of customers who have been turning to Amorelie, with a minimalist look that includes golden mannequins in the windows and lubricants and vibrators displayed on austere marble blocks inside. “The market has much more potential, so we see good growth opportunities,” Specht says. With its colorful history, “Beate Uhse is unique in the industry.”

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Instagays, Unfiltered

The other night, a stranger with an ambiguous-looking avatar and a private account DMed me on Instagram to tell me he was gay. He then asked how I reconcile my homosexuality with being Muslim (he'd likely just seen a video about my relationship with my Muslim father.)

It was late and I was sick; I didn’t want to respond. But I make a point to when the message is about coming out, which I’ve written about often, and I wanted to tell him that despite having a Muslim father, I've never identified as Muslim. We went back and forth briefly until I politely declined coffee, and suggested that finding someone in his life to talk to would be more fulfilling than a stranger on the Internet. I wished him luck and signed off, “Congrats, being gay is great.”

I have conversations like that on Twitter or Instagram almost weekly, but I have just a couple thousand followers on each. Meaning the inbox of a successful Instagay—the burgeoning cult of beautiful gay men on Instagram, with follower counts that reach into five or six digits—must be inundated.

Chances are, if you’re a gay man, you either follow or have encountered an Instagay online. They’re “different than your average hot selfie-taking guy or women on Instagram,” as New York Magazine once put it. “These men are more relentless and artful [...] their images as well-selected, aspirational, and powerfully seductive as an underwear or fragrance ad campaign.”

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Instagay phenomenon is often criticized for being vapid and misrepresenting modern gay life. It seems like many Instagays know each other, and so their world is unique. Through travelogues, lavish grooming routines, and daily appearances at Barry’s Bootcamp, one imagines endless disposable income (seemingly without real work to produce it).

Despite some ridicule, there’s no shortage of Instagays who have crossed the elusive 500,000 follower mark, from writer/director Max Emerson to Justin and Nick, a gay couple based in Pittsburgh. Ask a gay man to close his eyes and picture one, and he might see Charles-Laurent Marchand, a 26-year-old former runway model studying to be a pastry chef. Followers travel the world alongside him, often in first class; in one story, he stripped down to Versace briefs in a lie-flat bet. He broke 400,000 followers last October.

And not unlike his peers, brands familiar to any Instagay follower are peppered throughout Charles’ feed, from Daniel Wellington watches to the dating app Chappy. Many, unsurprisingly, are sponsored by protein powders or teeth whiteners. A recent Ad Week piece noted Instagram influencers with 100,000 followers can earn nearly $800 per post—ample incentive to keep those underwear pics coming.

Over the past few years, these men have captured a not-insignificant slice of the popular queer imagination. And while gay culture has always slavishly worshiped unrealistic ideas of beauty, from physique model magazines and the cult of Tom of Finland, Instagay culture may take this worship to a new level.

After all, Instagays are algorithmically-calibrated thirst traps, a new kind of social media star whose fame is predicated on a heady combination of sculpted abs and the lavish trappings of “influencer” culture. What if these are our new gay icons? And what happens when a new queer generation looks to them as role models and idols, people whose lives are their proof that it gets (much, much) better? Is the superficiality of Instagay culture really something they should look up to? How many of them are reaching out to Instagays for help through dark times, as they do to me? And how many of them have nowhere else to turn?

I sought to ask the Instagays directly. And if you’re looking for Instagays, there’s one surefire way to find them: On New York-based artist John MacConnell’s page, where he’s sketched hundreds of men, most of whom are Instagays, in their underwear or less.

After DMing John, 33, to talk about his experience, he invited me over to his Nolita apartment. By the time I climbed six flights to reach him, I had sweat through my white dress shirt, and no filter could glamorize me—I was the opposite of an Instagay. Nonetheless, he sketched me while I interviewed him, flicking on a spotlight and directing me towards a stool.

“It’s so hot,” I said as I fanned myself with my notebook.

“You could take some clothes off,” he smirked as he threw his sketchbook open.

I fixated on how I sat while John drew me, and I asked if his other subjects did, too. He quickly painted a picture of his most-followed models as illusionists. “They know their angles, they know exactly how to twist at the waist,” he said. Yet their conversations often betray insecurities lurking beneath. “The people who work out the hardest often are because they’re self-conscious,” he said. “And I don’t get the best drawing from the people with the best bodies, either.”

Still, it’s hard to find someone with a bad body on his feed. I ask if he thinks his work contributes to body dysmorphia in the gay community. His answer almost sounds media trained. “I’m drawing what I want to draw and people are choosing whether they want to consume it. I can’t speak to how they experience my work,” he replied. “People are selective about what they see.” He’s not defensive, but I realize I’ve put him in an unfair position. He’s an artist, this is his art, and the role—if any—that Instagays play in body dysmorphia within our community is almost impossible to parse.

He’s more comfortable talking about the good he’s seen from Instagram. He told me it’s elevated his profile as an artist, that he’s used it to sell countless works of art, make friends and raise thousands for charity.

After our interview, he shows me his sketch. I don’t think it looks much like me, no better, no worse—more angular, maybe. I wonder if I was too distracting with my questions or if John’s ballpoint pen often acts as a chisel.

The next night, I met Logan Fletcher, 26, for drinks in Hell’s Kitchen. He’s a frequent subject of John’s sketches; with 30,000 followers, he’s still building his base. His sponsored posts are infrequent and most often for The Underwear Expert, an “underwear of the month” club. “I just get free underwear,” he told me.

He looks like a Disney prince, blonde and tall; he brings up the fact that he’s 6’2” several times throughout our conversation, even when it’s irrelevant. And his personality matches his looks: he’s charming and refreshingly authentic, and over the course of a couple hours, he talks about everything from his ex to his obsession with drag queens.

He’s transparent enough to show me his DMs. They’re mostly compliments, and they’re pretty benign, though he does get messages from guys struggling to come out. And he responds.

He talks about his upbringing, and I’m surprised to learn he spent high school in gay conversion therapy, twice a week for three years. “I’ve been that kid in Middle America who had no one to talk to,” he said. “When I came out, my family took my phone and computer away so I couldn’t connect with other gay people. I’ve been that kid who feels like there’s nowhere to go, who looked to self-harm as a solution. I would hate for someone to feel like no one cared.” And he’s smart about how he replies. “I’m always very clear that I’m not a professional, and I might not have solid advice. I try to send them to other resources or organizations where I can.”

As we keep talking, I push back a little—his Instagram doesn’t talk much about where he’s from or reveal how layered he is. “You post with your shirt off more than on,” I told him.

“That’s accurate,” he said.

I ask if he feels a responsibility to speak out, to use his platform to share meaningful stories. As we talk it out, I wonder if I’m taking it all too seriously—I scroll through his feed while he talks, through dozens of photos of him playing with dogs and posing in the mirror. Maybe his feed—and maybe the Instagays—are more harmless than people think. Logan re-grounds the conversation. “I just post what I wanna post. Hopefully it helps someone out because I keep it positive,” he said. “Even if it’s me dressing up as a dog because I’m fucking stupid and silly, then cool—hopefully it helps someone out.”

He talks briefly about Instagays who are speaking out and cites examples of posts where they tell their coming out stories or support an initiative like GLAAD’s Spirit Day; he qualifies that the speaking out is something, even if it’s only “twenty percent of the time.” Then he nicely articulates what I already know. “To expect anyone to be on a mission [to do good] all of the time isn’t realistic.”

The next week I connected over the phone with Joshua Cummings, 26, a fitness model and aspiring actor and writer. As a person of color, I was curious to see how his experience with Instagram differed from John’s or Logan’s. I also wanted to know whether he approaches Instagram differently given his career (modeling and acting) is most directly impacted by it; John works as an art director and Logan works in sales.

Our early conversation was more aligned with my expectations of an Instagay—he possessed a confidence that bordered on arrogance, and threw around words like “my brand” and “my art” when referring to his feed and his body. His Instagram posts are primarily gym shots, and his stories comprise workouts, facials, haircuts, and other pampering treatments.

But as we talked, he revealed a vulnerability rooted in his upbringing not dissimilar to Logan’s, one that’s also wholly absent from his feed.

Joshua grew up in Omaha, Nebraska. He was one of eight children in a family that was “very much into the church.” He came out when he was fourteen; at the time, he was dating a guy six years his senior. His family didn’t take that, or his coming out, well, and he moved out when he was fifteen to live with the older man.

He came to New York alone when he was eighteen, and spent his first week there sleeping in Penn Station. Suddenly, his arrogance comes across as defiance, a relentless ambition to prove himself. “I told my mom I wanted to be a model when I was 15. She told me there was never gonna be someone like me on a magazine,” he said. “I sent her four magazines featuring me this year.”

Despite their complicated coming out stories, Joshua and Logan’s Instagram experiences differ in many key ways—namely, their DMs. While the compliments and flirtations in Logan’s inbox only occasionally go too far, the majority of Joshua’s DMs are explicit. “I’m objectified a lot,” he told me. “Many people, especially white gay men, treat me like an escort. They flat out offer me money, they ask to see my dick.”

Still, despite what may be constituted as harassment, he said that, largely thanks to Instagram, “I’ve come to understand who I am, what I want, and what I can do.”

When he poses for photographers, he tells me he aims to look “strong and sexual.” And he seeks out photographers who don’t typically shoot black men. “My Instagram is a showcase of what African-American men can do,” he told me—not a showcase of how he’s struggled. “I don’t want total strangers to know all of that. I tell my story and my life through the photographs I’m in; that gives hints of what I’ve been through.”

A couple of weeks after interviewing Logan, he referenced our conversation and posted with a lengthy caption about his coming out, conversion therapy and all. I’m struck that the deeply personal post, with 1,400 likes, isn’t more popular—a gym selfie on Logan’s feed can easy see over twice that number. But it's barely surprising, given the quick scroll nature of Instagram consumption.

If anything, Instagays are as flawed and complicated as the rest of us. But their feeds are filtered to make them appear simpler than they are, and if follows and likes are indication, that’s how we like it.

As I wrote this piece, friends asked if it would be an exposé. Ask a typical queer person, and you’ll get a slew of opinions. Shirtless pictures signal vapidity, they’ll say. If they have too many sponsored posts, they're greedy or inauthentic. (And it is astounding how creatively an Instagay can draw a connection to a brand.) Posts about mindfulness or inspirational advice that aren’t done right can come across as foolish.

It’s a vicious cycle: The more followers a guy gets for his sexy pics, the easier it becomes to monetize their feed and expand their "brand," and the more valid their clout and influence becomes. But that elevated profile only exposes them to more criticism. The validation begets vilification; like a Shakespearean drama, we build them up only to tear them down.

All the criticism reminds me of something both John and Logan said during our conversations—John when I asked about how contrived some of his posts were, and Logan when I prodded him on the logic behind those sexy dog costume shots. “It’s just Instagram,” they told me.

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Cannabis Companies Scale to Meet Increasing Demand

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Retail sales for legal marijuana are growing so big and so fast that the industry has to supersize their operations. Growing and producing marijuana products is now happening on an industrial scale.

Retail sales in the U.S. from 20 jurisdictions were $6.5 billion, but according to Greenwave Advisors, that number is projected to grow to $30 billion by 2021. In order to meet the demand for customers, the growers and makers of infused products have to scale up their operations. More automation, more square footage and the ability to manage this fast growth are separating the mom and pop shops from corporate cannabis.

Berto Torres, Chief Operations Officer at GFarmaLabs in California, has been with the company since it started with four grow lights and a 3,000-square-foot canopy. It now has 700,000 square feet. Torres said the company's growth boomed after they made the jump to branded products and specifically after they won a Cannabis Cup award for chocolate truffles in 2014. “It created so much demand, we had to scale up,” he said. “We needed to organize ourselves and run and function like a normal corporate company.”

For example, it used to take two to three employees a day to make 800-1000 pre-rolled joints. Now Torres has a Futurola machine that automates the process and those same employees can now produce 8,000 pre-rolled joints a day. The company now has 100 different SKUs of products it produces from cannabis-infused beverages like its popular lemonade to its bestselling pre-rolled cannabis flower called G Stiks.

Of course, success in the cannabis industry immediately comes with accusations of “going corporate.” “We were accused of selling out by having a consistent product,” said Torres. “I think we're one of the few companies that have been able to create a successful blending of both worlds.”

One company that is helping the cannabis industry increase in volume is Convectium. While some industrial equipment companies refuse to work with the cannabis industry, Convectium has jumped at the opportunity. “If this was a stagnant industry, slow growth would be okay. Cannabis is growing so fast, you get passed by if you don't automate,” said Danny Davis, a Managing Partner at Convectium. He added that a laid back chill attitude in this business won't work. “Aggressive is a solid attitude to have in cannabis.”

For example, when it comes to filling a cannabis oil cartridges for vaping some small companies fill them by hand using a syringe. Davis said it takes a company an hour to fill 100 cartridges in that manner. His machine can fill 100 vape cartridges in 30 seconds. “The demand for machines is five times what it was from one year ago,” he said. “We truly believe that the only way to scale is to add technology and standardization.”

Davis said there are many operations that are resistant to change. “They don't trust technology,” he said. “Many of the companies out there are primitive, even the big ones, but they will learn they had better scale quickly.”

Kiva Confections is one of the biggest infused edible companies in California that has successfully grown. Cofounders Kristi Knoblich and Scott Palmer started with a couple of workers and now Kiva employs 85 people, with products in 1,000 dispensaries. The business began in their kitchen, but the fast growth has them moving to a 30,000 square foot facility. “We're looking at large scale equipment to prepare for the recreational market,” said Palmer. Kiva is also in Nevada and Arizona and has plans to expand to Colorado, Illinois and Hawaii.

Teewinot Life Sciences creates cannabinoids for the pharmaceutical industry for testing purposes. They too are prepared for growth.If any of them succeed, then the supply chain has to scale as well. “The testing could only require 100 grams,” said Jeffrey Korentur, Chief Executive Officer of Teewinot. “However, a successful test could cause the pharmaceutical company to need more. We can scale to patient populations ranging from tens of hundreds to thousands.”

Growing facilities are getting bigger as well. Bright Green Group in New Mexico has plans for a facility with almost 6 million square feet or 100 football fields that can cultivate 40 million medicinal plants. AmeriCann will have the largest grow facility in Massachusetts, with a 53-acre tract in Freetown. The company started with 1 million square feet and got approval to expand another 30,000 square feet.

The days of local growers selling out of backpacks to dispensaries wasn't that long ago, but it is definitely over. Growers must produce large volumes of consistent flower. Producers must be able to sell branded product that is the same from state to state and meet the demand of hundreds of dispensaries. Scaling up will be the new challenge for the biggest players in the marijuana industry.

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Tips for Successfully Navigating the Cannabis Industry

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The cannabis industry is rapidly expanding. Public opinion has never been higher. A recent Quinnipiac University poll found that 93% of Americans support the legal use of medical cannabis when prescribed by a doctor. With analysts projecting $20 billion of annual sales by 2021, excitement from entrepreneurs and investors is higher than ever before. 

In the past three years, I’ve educated thousands of people about cannabis, even giving a TEDx Talk on the subject. Some have become leaders of promising entrepreneurial ventures while others have already been weeded out of the industry. It’s impossible to sustain a successful cannabis business just for fun. The industry is becoming more competitive every day.  

Collaborating with the industry’s leading experts and coaching hundreds of entrepreneurs has revealed to me five fundamental prerequisites for success in the cannabis industry.

Passion For The Plant And The Cause

Lifesaving medicine. Superfood. Biofuel. Textile. Construction material. C02 absorber. Soil detoxifier. Nutritional supplement. Party favor. CommodityHowever you think about it, the plant itself is the lifeblood of the industry. While ancillary businesses (grow lights, nutrients, security) may seem less risky, they, too, ultimately depend on the plant.

The most accomplished and ambitious cannabis entrepreneurs I’ve encountered practically worship the plant on a metaphysical level. They view it as a vehicle for global transformation and healing. Passion for the plant is what drives them to endure the hard work and many challenges of cannabis entrepreneurship.

Without a clear and authentic passion, you will be fighting an uphill battle. Not only will industry veterans be skeptical of you, but your competitors will be driven by a higher purpose and will likely out-hustle you.

Endless Curiosity

Playing in a cutting-edge sector requires constant education. Much about the plant remains a mystery, even to the world’s top experts. I met Meg Sanders, CEO of Mindful, one of Colorado's first dispensaries, at an event. She told me, “The best thing in cannabis hasn't even been invented yet.” Yes, it’s still that early. 

At a minimum, cannabis professionals must become informed about: 

  • The history of prohibition
  • The plant’s scientific properties
  • Growth, extraction and infusion basics
  • Product quality and safe consumption
  • Cannabis lexicon
  • Constantly changing regulatory frameworks
  • The political landscape
  • The culture of the cannabis community

That’s all in addition to the work of, you know, actually running your business. A lifetime is not enough to learn all there is to know about cannabis. Don’t just self-medicate, self-educate. Read books, attend conferences, find mentors and coaches. As your knowledge about the plant grows, so does your capacity for adding value in the industry.

Spirited Activism

This industry was born out of a countercultural social movement. Without decades of political engagement, community organizing, and civic participation, the legal cannabis industry would simply not exist today. Activism is absolutely mandatory for cannabis entrepreneurs. Honor those who paved the way and do your part for the sake of human liberty and social justice.

How does restorative justice fit into your business model? Is reform part of your brand's identity? Do you contribute to organizations like NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws), Drug Policy Alliance, and Students for Sensible Drug Policy?

You don’t need a cannabis business to be an activist, but you need to support activism if you want to succeed in the business.

Professionalism

As more of the mainstream enters cannabis — institutional investors, big corporations, seasoned professionals, etc. — the nascent industry will start looking and feeling more like Silicon Valley and less like deals in the alley. Today, entrepreneurs can differentiate themselves, and even stand out, just by being professional. Investors can differentiate themselves by cultivating an authentic understanding of the countercultural roots and values common amongst cannabis entrepreneurs.

Although some entrepreneurs may be attracted to cannabis because they want to let their hair down and bust out their favorite tie-dye, the fact is, once you enter the industry, you become an agent of the plant, and as such, you must represent your business in the highest light possible.

The cannabis industry is tightly regulated and under constant scrutiny. There is still a huge stigma against cannabis. Everyone benefiting from the plant can be more mindful of challenging — and not perpetuating — that stigma.

Community Support

Restrictions on advertising, lack of access to banking, and a rapidly shifting legal landscape make the already difficult pursuit of entrepreneurship even more challenging in the cannabis sector. Building a successful cannabis venture requires the help of other passionate, curious professionals. One of the best ways to cultivate that network is through community service.

Many cannabis entrepreneurs find great joy and renewal by engaging with local communities. Whether it be through volunteer projects, social events, political fundraisers, there is undoubtedly a communal spirit in the cannabis industry.

This is an easy starting point for aspiring cannabis entrepreneurs. Participate in your local community and find ways to create value for others. Once you do that, you’ve begun to succeed as a cannabis entrepreneur. The plant will reward you.

The five qualities above, when combined with business savvy, hard work, and resilience, can grow into the cannabis unicorn the world has yet to see. There is already plenty of opportunity for entrepreneurs to contribute and succeed in the cannabis industry. Just know that every moment you wait, another entrepreneur is taking small actions towards building a large, green future — beyond prohibition.

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Investors Are Putting Millions Into Cannabis

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OAKLAND, Calif. — The storied Silicon Valley venture firm Benchmark Capital has launched a slew of tech companies: Twitter, Uber, Snapchat, Instagram. Now its search for the next big thing has led it to … pot.

Benchmark recently invested $8 million in Hound Labs, a startup here in Oakland that’s developing a device for drivers — and law enforcement — to test whether they’re too buzzed to take the wheel.

And that’s just the start. Wealthy investors are pouring tens of millions into the cannabis industry in a bid to capitalize on the gold rush that’s expected when California legalizes recreational marijuana on Jan. 1. They’re backing development of new medicinal products, such as cannabis-infused skin patches; new methods for vaporizing and inhaling; and “budtender” apps like PotBot, which promises to scour 750 strains of cannabis and use lab research, including DNA analysis of each strain, to help customers find the perfect match.

Among the noted investors: tech and biotech mogul Peter Thiel, who co-founded PayPal and made a fortune with the cancer drug startup Stemcentrx. Thiel contributed $300,000 to the California ballot campaign that paved the way for legalization. And in the first public endorsement of the industry from a major biotech investor, Thiel’s Founders Fund has sent millions to Privateer Holdings, a Seattle private equity firm that backs research into medical marijuana products, among other cannabis-related ventures.

Pot has been legal for medical use here since 1996, but with broader legalization, the industry is poised to explode. Experts say the market for marijuana and related products in California will reach $6.5 billion in 2020, and likely spark legalization efforts elsewhere.

“California is the sixth largest economy in the world. Colorado and Washington are pilot studies by comparison,” said Troy Dayton, CEO of The Arcview Group, an Oakland-based cannabis investment and research firm.

The federal Drug Enforcement Agency continues to classify marijuana — like heroin and LSD — as a Schedule I drug, defined as highly prone to abuse and having “no accepted medical use.” Attorney General Jeff Sessions has been a vocal opponent of marijuana legalization, but has not yet cracked down.

Given that most states have already legalized cannabis for medical use, and seven states plus the District of Columbia allow recreational use, most investors think that federal officials eventually will relent and regulate marijuana more like alcohol.

For now, most publicly traded companies — including pharmaceutical and biotech giants with the resources to develop FDA-approved drugs — have shied away from the industry. Most large venture firms, which receive money from public companies and pension funds, also have steered clear due to both risk and morality clauses in their investor agreements.

But California legalization opens such huge profit opportunities that many individual investors have eagerly jumped in. Los Angeles-based private equity firm MedMen, for instance, has raised about $80 million for cannabis projects in the last year. It recently held its first investor conference in San Jose.

Nearly half of all investments into cannabis companies nationally come from California, according to the finance-tracking firm Pitchbook.

That’s no surprise to Ben Larson, founder of Gateway, a cannabis business incubator in Oakland.

“We’re not afraid to question authority,” he said. “We’re not afraid to question authority.”-BEN LARSON, FOUNDER OF CANNABIS BUSINESS INCUBATOR

Larson said some of his investors and entrepreneurs come from tech giants like SpaceX, Oracle, and Facebook. He said many of them are interested in medicinal foods and nutraceuticals — or, as he put it, “aesthetically pleasing, de-stigmatized products” that don’t play into stereotypes of long-haired, perpetually buzzed stoners.

The Bay Area is a logical epicenter for the industry — with its rebellious pot history that traces back to San Francisco’s “Summer of Love” in 1967.

“It’s not just the cannabis culture that’s based here, but it’s where the best cannabis is grown — the famous emerald triangle in Mendocino County and Humboldt County,” said Dayton of Arcview.

He said the dicey legal landscape has made for some tensions in the industry: “While we are trying to make money on this, there are people sitting in prison for the same thing,” Dayton said. “That’s partly why you have colorful characters, and interesting mashups with people from the advocacy world and the corporate world and the underground cannabis world, all trying to make the most of this opportunity while making the world better at the same time.”

Arcview has helped about 600 wealthy individuals invest more than $131 million in cannabis companies since 2010.

And Dayton said full legalization in Canada, expected next year, will further fuel investment.

Another big boost could come if California State Treasurer John Chiang succeeds in building a parallel banking system to support the industry. It would circumvent federal strictures that prevent cannabis businesses from securing traditional loans — and if it works, could open the floodgates of investment.

Some of the interest is deeply personal. When Morgan Paxhia was 12, his father was dying of cancer. A hospice nurse suggested marijuana to ease the pain, but his father declined — largely to avoid breaking the law. “It’s unbelievable that the [federal] government continues to see dying patients as criminals,” Paxhia said.

Viewing cannabis investing as “a change agent,” Paxhia and his sister, Emily, founded Poseidon Asset Management in San Francisco in 2013.

His investments have included vaporizer companies and Meadow, a website and delivery service that helps customers compare marijuana products. He’s also looking at synthetic versions of cannabinoids, the active ingredients of marijuana, and a transdermal patch for patients with arthritis or localized pain.

Even Dora, Paxhia’s rescue dog, has joined the revolution: Pet pot nibbles from Oakland-based Treatibles — dosed with CBD, a chemical in cannabis that is not intoxicating — help her chill out, quelling anxiety that led to late-night barking, he said.

As with medical marijuana for humans, the FDA has not approved any form of cannabis for pets.

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How the Cannabis Industry is Gaining Traction in 2017

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Over the next few years we will continue to see great advances in the industry as more states approve legal cannabis use. North America should continue to see increased sales volumes, more scientific research, new products and expanding investor interest.

The caveat is that the industry still faces headwinds from inconsistent and unsettled federal and state regulations and the continued classification of cannabis as a Class 1 narcotic. This ongoing dispute stems from cannabis' special political, social and legal role as a disruptive plant to established industries producing essential consumer items such as paper, plastics, medicine and clothing. But thanks to grassroots activism at the state level, the cannabis industry should continue to make advancements that benefit its patients, consumers and the overall industry well past 2017. Now, onto the report...

Look for More Luxury Cannabis Brands

The emergence of luxury cannabis brands is the newest trend and signifies that the industry is reaching a new level of product and customer sophistication. Higher-end cannabis products in all forms have attracted national attention, including a 28 gram Jack Herer kola that sold for $2,000 in Seattle and a $3,600 marijuana cigar with 28 grams of flower and 7 grams of oil wrapped in leaves and cured for six weeks.

Now that there are 28 states, plus the District of Columbia, that allow cannabis sales, the consumer base will have the option to choose from a variety of luxury brands with more sophisticated, high-end packaging and improved brand messaging. Brands such as Diego Pellicer, Tokyo Smoke, Toast, Van der Pop, Recreator, and Shine exemplify this emerging trend and are replicating what happened in liquor brands with the introduction of high-end, more expensive tequilas, dark liquors, vodkas and sake. One company, Toast, advertises that “each puff [of its product Toast] is like having a sip of champagne and each full Slice is like having a generous glass.”

Nor is this luxury brand trend just restricted to products. Dispensaries, such as the Silvercreek Apothecary in Aspen, Colorado, boast of a rich wood design and product displays that present its products like expensive designer handbags. Edibles also can be elevated into luxury status. Défoncé Choclatier sells infused cannabis from the vantage point of a European chocolate artisan, complete with elegant packaging and imaginative copy that waxes on about product benefits.

One study from Miner & Co. Studio found that an "…overwhelming majority of Cannabis Consumers [polled] are consuming Cannabis and Cannabis products to enhance their daily and social experiences. 95% prefer a high that allows them to be 'present', 'mindful' and/or 'focused'…."

The emergence of cannabis luxury brands also gives the industry a distinct advantage over large mainstream corporations. Due to the stigma, it’s almost certain that major luxury brands, such as Gucci, Michael Kors, Chanel and Moet, will be offering cannabis products. This presents more opportunities to cannabis-specific companies to enter the profitable luxury space.

The more sophisticated brands with distinct features will be able to command higher prices in the marketplace. This, along with a more discerning customer base, will foster the development of more luxury recreational, medicinal and wellness brands.

The More States That Legalize Cannabis, The Better The Science Will Be

Despite significant obstacles from the federal government on cannabis research, NORML reports that as of 2015 there are approximately 22,000 published studies or reviews in scientific literature worldwide referencing the cannabis plant and its cannabinoids. Much of this worldwide research has focused on the endocannabinoid regulatory system, accompanied by more testimonials from medical cannabis patients and their physicians.

The year 2016 also saw some major breakthroughs in scientific and health care research regarding medical cannabis. This included the creation of the first U.S. research institution focused specifically on cannabis research, the Center for Medical Cannabis Education & Research (CMCER) at Thomas Jefferson University, “which will provide expert-developed, unbiased information and guidance to clinicians and patients about the medical uses of marijuana and cannabinoid focused-therapies.”

On the case study research side, the publication Health Affairs reported that when medical marijuana is available as a clinical alternative, it reduces reliance on prescription drugs used in Medicare Part D, especially in cases involving chronic pain, anxiety or depression. This was also found in a report from Kaiser Health News which found that in states with medical marijuana laws on the books, “the number of drug prescriptions dropped for treating anxiety, depression, nausea, pain, psychosis, seizures, sleep disorders and spasticity. Those are all conditions for which marijuana is sometimes recommended. Prescriptions for other drugs treating other conditions, meanwhile, did not decline.”

Similarly, the Washington Post reported that continued use of cannabis did not have “any negative effect on any measure of health, except for dental health.” Other sources said cannabis reduced the pain effects of migraines (Skaggs School of Pharmacy at CU Anschutz) and that a cannabis-related drug reduced the ill-effects of epilepsy (GW Pharmaceuticals). The trend here is that cannabis is now being treated as a medicine with specific benefits and applications to specific diseases. This research will only continue to expand in the years ahead.

Genetics and Intellectual Property

The future of the industry as it relates to developing product consistency and quality will be through advances in genetics. This will provide the means to normalize and standardize the industry’s products as it simultaneously makes strides to achieve pharmaceutical-grade products. Advances in genetics will also help determine craft cannabis and create predictable and consistent, organic plant-derived, medical-grade products.

On the pure research and science front, new articles are appearing weekly on genetic advances. For instance, the general direction here is for combining functional studies and molecular modeling to improve the scientific community’s understanding of the molecular basis for the physiological functions of CBD. This will allow advances in the design of next-generation CBD-targeting pharmaceuticals.

Expanding Craft Cannabis

Craft cannabis, or cannabis products that are made in a traditional or non-mechanized, often in limited batches, also are growing in popularity and this trend shows no signs of abating. Following the brand development of other craft products in beer, liquor, wine and even fashion, this area of cannabis products should explode in the years ahead as more edibles, and cannabis-infused food and drinks become available. This will be especially evident in the $X billion health and beauty industry where CBD (non-THC) products will be used for an expanding use in health, nutritional and cosmetic applications.

This will all be aided by advances in genetics and the development of cannabis brands that capitalize on their specific growing region, such as the famous Humboldt County area of northern California, which is widely considered to be the best location in the U.S. to grow cannabis. By starting the Mendocino Appellations Project, farmers in the area made major strides forward in terms of its science, professionalization, regulatory compliance and tax generating capabilities.

Agricultural products grown in a specific micro-climate, such as the Champagne or Bordeaux regions in France, have built worldwide reputations for quality and consistency. There is no reason why these appellations (the region where the product is produced) cannot be replicated in the cannabis industry via major brand-building and educational campaigns.

For instance, Humboldt’s Finest has made its mission to set the standard for sustainable cannabis cultivation with advanced “sun grown” and “rain grown” farming techniques, devoid of pesticides and fertilizers. In addition, Humboldt’s Finest farms are all PFC Verified (Patient Focused Certification), ensuring regulatory compliance and high quality product safety standards are followed. Since California may become the nation’s leading cannabis producer, Humboldt’ Finest is raising standards by reducing its water use and carbon footprint in all of its farming operations. The goal of Humboldt’s Finest is “to lead by example in showing that cannabis farming can protect local watersheds and combat global climate change with sustainable practices.”

We also can expect similar major branding initiatives in the years ahead for brands tied to individuals (Julian Marley, for instance) and specific recreational effects or product purity. In the area of product purity, cannabis grown in the most organic way possible–free of pesticides, using reclaimed water, outdoors and in the most natural way possible–should also expect to see an increase in brand awareness and customer acceptance.

Look For Advancements In Water and Sustainability Practices

When California passed the Medical Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act (MMRSA) last year, it created “a comprehensive state licensing system for the commercial cultivation, manufacture, retail sale, transport, distribution, delivery, and testing of medical cannabis.” MMRSA set new safety and health standards for the California cannabis industry, including the licensing of almost everyone engaged in the cannabis industry, testing for potency and contaminants, tamper-resistant packaging, and labeling. MMRSA also stated that all licenses must also be approved by local governments.

The far-reaching MRSA also contains requirements for water usage and prohibits the use of volatile or poisonous solvents in the preparation of any cannabis products. In other states, such as Colorado, Washington and Oregon, the health and safety of cannabis consumers also reached a higher level of protection with tests for contaminants, bacteria and mold. These standards vary on a state-by-state basis.

In California, some cannabis companies have focused on efficient water use and conservation accompanied by reducing the industry’s carbon footprint. A California craft growing concern, Humboldt’s Finest, an alliance of heritage cannabis farms representing the legendary Humboldt County, is leading by example by showing that cannabis farming can protect local watersheds and combat global climate change with sustainable growing practices.

Most cannabis farming today is done indoors with electricity-powered lights. In total, the cannabis industry uses 1% of the nation’s electricity and over 70 gallons of oil are needed to provide energy to grow just one cannabis plant, according to a 2012 study. Sun grown cannabis is grown primarily with sun, reducing the energy needs substantially. This is why Humboldt’s Finest follows a “rain grown, sun-grown” cultivation technique that collects rainwater and storm runoff to fill our ponds and water storage tanks during the winter. Then, the water is used though the dry summer without diverting precious ground water from the local watersheds.

Advances in Consumer Research

The driving force that will make cannabis a more sophisticated, profit-generating industry is consumer research.  Obtaining more data on customer preferences, demographics, use patterns, price preferences, national geographic and age differences and other product preference information will make the industry smarter and more customer focused. This will include more focused research and demographic reports, accompanied by national data sets.

Companies such as Biotrack, cannabis traceability software company based in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., are providing complete seed-to-sale data reporting packages to dispensaries that track product from planting to final sale in dispensaries. The company’s government software solution for both the medicinal and recreational markets, provides state governments with real-time data into the seed-to-sale tracking data of every licensed medical marijuana dispensary in the state, including plant and inventory quantities, production activity, laboratory testing results, transportation activity, and dispensing activity.

To provide a more seamless link between sales and state regulatory compliance, Adherence Compliance, an automated compliance management software, is making its Compliance Dashboard via BioTrackTHC’s BT Command Center. The compliance data is made available via an API data integration with BioTrackTHC.

Other companies, such as Eaze, called “the Uber of weed,” produces consumer reports based on surveys from 250,000 California users on the Eaze platform and 5,000 survey participants. This makes it one of the California's largest data collectors on marijuana spending patterns. Similarly, the Marijuana Policy Project is producing cutting-edge economic reports at the state and national levels.

State’s Rights vs. Federal Regulation

The appointment of new Attorney General Jeff Sessions has raised issues about the enforcement of federal laws regarding cannabis as a Schedule 1 drug. Sessions has said he was concerned about state-level marijuana legalization efforts. He also suggested that in states where cannabis is decriminalized for either medicinal or recreational use, or both, have opened those states to an increase in violence. This statement has not been proven, but the Attorney General’s provocative statements have opened the doors for a confrontation between state and federal laws over the criminal jurisdiction of these laws. This should be a major evolving legal area in 2017 and will be one that shapes the industry.

Publicly-Traded Cannabis Companies

As the industry matures, more of its participants will go public. This entails raising public money, finding investors, meeting state and federal regulations, and having products with a distinct market appeal. Organizations, such as Cannafundr are now offering their services to raise money for cannabis companies. The MJIC California Cannabis Business Expo now features speakers from public companies who tout their success stories as they seek additional funding.

Currently, most publicly-traded cannabis companies have shares that trade over-the-counter. As a result, they do not have to file audited financial reports with federal and state regulators. In 2014, the Securities and Exchange Commission suspended five cannabis companies for fraud.

But there are also larger companies, such as British biotech company GW Pharmaceuticals has a market capitalization of $2.8 billion.

To track exchange-traded cannabis companies, MJIC created the Marijuana Index in January 2015, but this only includes a limited number of publicly traded cannabis stocks. The North American Marijuana Index is broken down into two country sub-indices: the U.S. Marijuana Index and the Canadian Marijuana Index. To be in the Index, stocks must have a minimum market capitalization of $10 million, a daily trading volume of $20,000 and a share price over 10 cents.

To date, there are only 23 stocks in the Index out of nearly 200 similar stocks that trade on U.S. and Canadian exchanges and over-the-counter markets. The average stock on the index has a market capitalization of $263.9 million and a share price under $4.

Just as in any emerging industry, there are also takeover targets of promising, but undervalued companies, such as Cara, Zynerba and GW Pharmaceuticals These companies are attractive because of their intellectual property and future list of promising cannabis-based drugs.

Trading Cannabis as a Commodity

The report also noted that as the cannabis market matures in terms of the number of growers, available supplies and commercial activity, there is also a growing need for growers to hedge their prices against adverse price declines and price volatility that can unset the industry’s more sophisticated financial operations.

The traditional way to hedge price volatility is via futures, options and forward contracts.  Thanks to more transparent pricing and the regular calculation of spot, or current, cannabis market prices, it is now possible for a publicly-traded financial product to be developed. This helps explain why there were at least four companies at year-end 2016 promoting the use of cannabis indexes in an Exchange Traded Fund (ETF). These proposed ETFs would use Cannabis Benchmarks as a price assessment tool, including the U.S. Cannabis Spot Index and the U. S Cannabis Implied Forward, as possible index calculation sources in 2017.

“This is a very exciting development in the industry and if it materializes, it represents a huge maturation point in the development of the cannabis industry,” according to Jonathan Rubin, CEO of New Leaf Data Services. “For the first time, investors, traders, analysts and other industry participants can monitor and analyze cannabis price data in the broader context of agricultural commodity market data, macroeconomic data, weather data, regional electricity prices. From this, they can develop hedging strategies to reduce price volatility. This will help patients and all other cannabis consumers who should see price stability in whatever they are buying,” Rubin said. “It will also help growers manage their price risk and improve their overall financial management.”

If this happens in 2017, it will be a major breakthrough for the cannabis industry. Only sophisticated, mature markets with full price transparency, an established tax and regulatory structure, and credibility can be used as the foundation for a trading and hedging marketplace.

And managing price volatility is certainly something the industry needs. Based on 2016 spot prices, the study found that price volatility in cannabis was much higher than 15 other non-cannabis agricultural products, such as corn, wheat, oil, natural gas, gold and cocoa. For example, the spot price volatility in 2016 for Oregon cannabis was four times greater than gold and twice as much as sugar. Traditional hedging strategies that are a hundred-years-old could help eliminate some of that price volatility.

While most agricultural commodity prices are determined by weather and supply-demand factors, the cannabis industry is highly dependent on  these, as well as regulations at the state and federal levels. This changing regulatory landscape creates price uncertainty and lends itself to creating forward markets, or contracts to deliver a certain amount and quality of product over a certain time frame at a mutually agreeable price. Forward contracts have existed since the Middle Ages between buyers and sellers and primarily involved agricultural products that are most susceptible to changes in weather and failed harvests.

About the 2017 Cannabis Trend Report:

Since Colorado decriminalized adult use cannabis in 2012, the $6.5 billion cannabis industry has largely been concerned about the legislative and legal environments surrounding the industry, as well as the financing needs for this growing industry. But as the election of Donald Trump has re-shaped the political landscape and made it more regulatory uncertain at the federal level, the cannabis industry has already developed enough internal momentum and legitimacy as a taxpaying, job creating machine. It is now poised to push ahead on the scientific, medical and wellness fronts to attract even wider audiences with expanded demographics and greater political strength at the state levels.

We are witnessing a major shift in the industry as more states than ever before, supplemented by hard scientific evidence and  wider social acceptance among a wider group of consumers, will propel the industry in a more definite, popular and profitable trajectory for years to come.

This is especially evident in the actual number and quality of new products that have been developed, accompanied by large infusions of investments into boutique firms that are making advances in all stages of cannabis production, from sustainable farming, to scientific analysis, research, data collection, dispensary services and the emergence of new luxury brands.

In November 2016, eight of the nine states with cannabis measures on their ballots voted to legalize it: four on the adult use side, four on the medical side, bringing the number of states that allow cannabis use in some form to 28.

In a report from GreenWave Advisors, the firm projected cannabis sales in the U.S. to be $6.5 billion for 2016. They also forecast that by 2021, revenues should reach about $30 billion, assuming that cannabis will be legal in all 50 states to various degrees.

When California fully legalized adult use and medical cannabis in 2016, the industry reached a new plateau in terms of legal status and a vast potential consumer base. The passage of the Adult Use of Marijuana Act (aka: Prop 64) was a marijuana legalization action that broke new ground in three areas: It allowed people over age 21 to possess up to one ounce of marijuana and cultivate up to six plants for personal use; the Act regulated and tax, production, manufacture and sale of cannabis for recreational adult use; and the Act rewrote criminal penalties that reduced many common cannabis-related felonies to misdemeanors and allowed prior offenders to petition for reduced charges.

While the law affected the largest state in the union, it was also important since California is considered a bellwether for other states looking for model legislation to apply to its own state laws.

Accompanying the growing base of consumers nationwide was an increased interest in investing in the emerging industry. Groups such as Marijuana Business Daily's 2016 factbook and PitchBook report robust investor interest in cannabis start-ups and this is only expected to increase in the next few years.

So given the larger national consumer base, product developments at all levels, from seed and farm operations to dispensaries, the industry is now poised for major advancement in 2017 that will see newsworthy developments in science, environmental sustainability, and the introduction of branded craft and luxury cannabis products.

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I Tried "Weed Lube" and OMG YES!!!

 

Cannabis is healing in more ways than you know. Check out this feature on Foria in PopSugar for more.

I'm not into smoking weed, but my vagina is all about some THC. Disclaimer: I live in the state of California, where the purchase and use of Foria Pleasure, a "sensual enhancement" product made of cannabis oil and liquid coconut oil meant for your nether regions, is legal. It's basically weed lube, and it's glorious.

The company says that Foria Pleasure "brings the power of ancient plant medicine to your fingertips," and let me tell you — there's certainly something powerful going on here. While technically not a traditional lubricant for all intents and purposes — it's more of a "pre-lubricant" — the topical oil taught me what "mind-blowing" really means — and I will never use the phrase so lightly again. While the application of the spray resulted in arousal almost immediately, the greatest (seriously, greatest) effect it had was on the intensity and length of my orgasm(s). I literally was laughing incredulously the first time I climaxed, and I'm pretty sure things like "what the actual f*ck?" and "holy sh*t is this still happening?" came out of my mouth.

Here's the lowdown (literally) on how Foria works — read on to see if it's for you.

How It Works

The instructions suggest you apply four to eight sprays directly onto the clitoris, inner and outer labia, and inside the vagina, adding that "internal application provides the highest absorption," which I found to be true in my own experiences. Foria works the way it does because the skin of the vulva and vagina are sensitive and highly absorbent. I've experimented with various amounts and haven't found a huge variation in terms of sensation, except that closer to eight sprays with internal application seemed to really do the trick. Really.

 

Related
7 Reasons You Should Be Having More Sex

 

 

 

Each time I've applied Foria, I've noticed almost immediate effects, but they begin more externally/on the surface and then progress to a deeper, more internal sensation. Because it can take between 15 minutes and an hour to get the full effect of Foria, I suggest applying it, then taking part in lengthy foreplay while enjoying the feeling as it blooms. It is described as a "pre-lubricant" because its purpose is to enhance pleasure, not lubricate the vagina. "Weed lube" is a loose term, mainly because it is applied to, and inside of, the vagina like regular lubricants.

What It Feels Like

My biggest concern about taking Foria was my fear that I would feel high in the traditional sense. I deal with extreme anxiety and have found that smoking or ingesting marijuana (particularly sativa) can cause actual panic attacks. It's something I avoid entirely, because getting stoned isn't worth the risk of inducing my anxiety, something I work tirelessly to keep at bay. Luckily, Foria doesn't work that way, and I didn't feel anxious at all — quite the opposite, actually.

Some reviewers on the site noted their own struggles with pain during sex and difficulties achieving orgasm for years, and they finally found pleasure with Foria. Again, every experience is different, but after using Foria, I am inclined to believe their anecdotes.

One reviewer put it like this: "Fact — you WILL get a little horny and turned on! Fact — you WILL feel stimulation in HD . . . it's the only way to explain it! Fact — you WILL orgasm deeper than you ever have," which pretty much sums up my experience with it. The sensation and sensitivity of all aspects of sex is heightened and, for me, improved.

Each time I've used it, it almost feels like everything goes warm and tingly down there, and when touched, it's actually so sensitive it almost tickles — in a good way, of course. Foria doesn't necessarily bring you to an orgasm faster (although for some, it can, since it can increase arousal), but it's the grand finale where you really feel major the results. Climaxes are deeper and way more intense than anything I've ever experienced. They feel all-consuming! Orgasms also can go on for longer; it can feel like it's going to last forever, and if anything is going to be eternal, I think we can all agree that an orgasm would be our top pick.

Health and Wellness

While the oil hasn't been evaluated by the FDA, the company says that safety and purity is "of paramount importance." "Our cannabis oil is extracted using leading-edge solvent- free pharmaceutical grade processes that provide extracts in their purest possible form," the site says. To ensure the cleanest and safest final product, the company tests Foria at multiple stages; it tests for potency, pesticides, residual solvents, and microbials. The products undergo something called a "hot-fill" bottling process, allowing Foria to produce a "microbial-free product without the use of artificial preservatives," the site says. The bottom line is that Foria is natural, and the product is made up of two very basic components: cannabis oil and coconut oil.

As with any product, you should always use at your own risk and consult your healthcare provider, because plant medicine, like any other kind of medicine, works differently with different bodies.

To be clear, Foria isn't a product designed to get you high the way that smoking or ingesting cannabis would; it is a topical "pre-lubricant" meant to be sprayed, then absorbed. It is not latex-safe and not recommended for use with latex condoms. While I enjoyed all of my experiences, everyone is different, and it may not be for everyone. It is currently only available in states where marijuana is legalized.

Beyond Pleasure

Foria turned me on, it spiced up sex with my partner, and it gave me some of the best orgasms of my life. But it goes beyond that. A sexual enhancement product for women is empowering; it places the focus of pleasure and completion on women and those with vaginas. It's something we can enjoy alone or with a partner, and it is a novelty in that its central purpose is to optimize the female sexual experience. Bottom line? I'll be using it again. And again.

Tampons, Lip Balm, Cocoa: Startups Cultivate Female Cannabis Lifestyle

When Diane Czarkowski, 50, is ready to relax at the end of a long day, she uses cannabis to take off the edge in the same way many women her age unwind with a glass of wine.

“For me, it’s a good way to transition from work-mode, when my brain is going a thousand miles an hour, to settling down and making dinner,” she said.

Cannabis is pretty much incorporated into her and her family’s lifestyle. Czarkowski owns a fashionable Annabis “toke-bag” that has odor-proof compartments to prevent her bag from reeking of pot, she just signed up for DIY class on cannabis-infused skincare products, and she talks freely to her children about cannabis culture at the dinner table.

Granted, Czarkowski, and her husband work in Colorado’s burgeoning cannabis industry at their cannabis business consulting firm, Canna Advisors, so being familiar with the product comes with the territory —but she maintained that she, her husband, and her friends are representative of a growing class of professionals who are living an openly (and moderately) cannabis-infused lifestyle. “If anything becomes too prevalent, it’s not a good thing,” she said.

As weed is legalized in several states and developed in less potent forms, cannabis is losing its stoner stigma. Czarkowski and many other female executives in the business, who make up a third of leaders in the industry, talk about cannabis more as if were a lifestyle product you’d purchase at Whole Foods or CVS.  At the same time, companies are marketing cannabis personal care products — from sexual enhancement oils and massage oils to even cannabis-infused tampons — specifically to women, who they know make the vast majority of household consumer and drug store purchases. These brands often emphasize the benefits of cannabis or cannabis compounds without the tropes associated with its use.

MORECanadian Govt To Announce Legal Weed Is Coming Next Year

“What we’re finding as we look at the data is cannabis is very much a part of lifestyle. It’s also a part of routine,’ said Linda Gilbert, who works for the cannabis market research firm BDS Analytics. She said the firm’s recent statistically-representative survey of 1,200 adult cannabis users in Colorado and California found that 45 percent were women. Of those, nearly half said they were likely to use marijuana or marijuana containing products to relieve PMS, menstrual cramps, manage mood swings. About a third said they’d use it to enhance sex or relieve menopause symptoms.

Companies have taken notice. For example, take Whoopi Goldberg’s line Whoopi and Maya: It sells products like Epsom salts and raw cocoa aimed at relieving menstrual cramps and menopause symptoms and other ailments. Its products use THC, the chemical compound in weed that gets you high, and CBD, a cannabis compound that doesn’t share THC’s psychoactive properties but is being used to fight acne, fibromyalgia, and insomnia, among other ailments.

“Our demographic are people who would like to be healthy, want to feel relief, and don’t want to consume chemicals,” said the brand’s co-founder Maya Elisabeth. “It’s definitely for the working woman who doesn’t have to take time off for her menstrual cycle.”

Increasingly, businesses are marketing cannabis as a product that’s beneficial for its health properties, rather than its psychoactive experience—which explains why microdosing, ingesting just a small amount (10 milligrams of less) of THC, is being touted by busy professionals for its creativity and productivity inducing properties.

Kiva Confections, an Oakland, Calif.-based, women-owned edible firm, is just one of company making “chill pills” meant to appeal to women. According to Christie Strong, Kiva Confections’ marketing communication manager, the company’s main customer demographic is in their mid-30s and above and skews mostly female. Right now the brand’s most popular products are its Terra Bites, chocolate covered blueberries and coffee beans with five milligrams of THC, and its Petra Mints, which have a mere 2.5 milligrams of THC. “They’re the perfect product for a new patient and ensure that no one is going to have an overwhelming experience,” Strong said.

MOREWeed Bikinis And ‘Sexy 420 Sessions’: The Rise Of The Stoner Porn Star

Since launching in 2010, Kiva Confections has grown to 70 employees and is in over 1,000 collectives in three states. But unlike a traditional confections company, Kiva Confections faces more adversity when it comes to marketing its products through traditional marketing avenues.

“Instagram has shut us down eight times,” said Strong. The guidelines for posting products on social media are inconsistent, she said, which is challenging since many of the company’s customers make purchasing decisions through these channels. Because of this challenge, Kiva Confections relies on educating their current customers through word-of-mouth-marketing.

“Our users essentially become our biggest advocates,” she said. Much like how wine companies will sample product at grocery stores, Kiva Confections has brand ambassadors who host sampling events and focus on “bud-tender” education, as they are the ones making recommendations at dispensaries.

This word-of-mouth component is essential, Gilbert said, because once women find a bud-tender they like they become loyal fans. Her interviews revealed that women’s relationship with their bud-tender is much like a relationship with a hairdresser. If they move dispensaries, the women will follow.

Skin care and other alternative forms of application are also new markets for companies. For example, CBD For Life is just one company that sells topical products without THC, making it easier to export. Founding partner and sales director Mollie Twining said the woman-owned and operated company, which launched in February 2016, saw over $300,000 in sales last year and is looking to grow by 50 percent in 2017. “Bed Bath and Beyond reached out,” Twining said. “They’re interested in carrying our products and hearing more about us.”

Caroline Rustigian-Bruderer, founder of the PR and branding firm K-Line & Company, is a fan of the company’s topical line, which promotes CBD’s anti-inflammatory and antibacterial products. She uses it for a variety of ailments from sunburns to cuts to aches and pains. Having once represented Clinique, she predicts mainstream companies will develop products that contain cannabinoids such as CBD some day. 

Eventually women will likely become the gatekeepers as to which cannabis devices and products are used in the home, according to Emily Paxhia, managing director of San Francisco-based Poseidon Asset Management, a hedge fund for the cannabis industry. Cannabis makes sense to people seeking ways to relieve pressures of daily living, she wrote in an email, because it’s a natural substance that has been used as medicine for centuries.

“We are living in a time where people are seeking new behaviors and are going back to ancient foods, medicines and practices to relieve stress… I think brands that are winning with women are the ones encapsulating the things women care about—health, wellness, maintaining a busy life effectively, looking good and being present.”

How Marijuana Companies Bypass Advertising Restrictions

Though marijuana is no longer a conversation stopper for public discussions, cannabis companies still have to jump over hurdles to draw the buyer's attention to their products. Advertising restrictions for alcohol and tobacco brands bear no comparison with the limitations marijuana businesses have to skip over in order to attract their customers.

Cannabis companies in California have the right to advertise medical marijuana products only if they include a specific notice for buyers, though other states have established significantly different rules. For instance, Colorado allows advertising of marijuana brands for an audience that potentially includes less than 30% under-aged viewers. Such restrictions make cannabis advertising campaigns almost impossible, as newspapers, flyers, billboards, and other common ad places are also subjects of limitations.

Moreover, the Internet is also under the strict control of the state law enforcement agencies. Thus, cannabis businesses spend the major part of their ad campaign budget not on radio or television, but on search engine optimization that brings potential customers to their sites.

Unfortunately, even social media sites have to follow the restrictions of a particular state. Thus, there are plenty of cases when Instagram or Facebook shuts down pages for marijuana-related content without a good reason. Even some states where cannabis is legal for medical purposes can close a licensed dispensary for interaction with customers.

Nevertheless, cannabis market is growing rapidly into a huge industry due to marketing companies that offer alternative approaches. Thanks to the efforts of marketing experts, marijuana businesses manage to create a massive appeal to new customers by redesigning their product lines, breaking stereotypes about marijuana users, and even creating social media interaction.

Mantis is a great example of successful media managers. It serves over two hundred websites and social media accounts associated with legal cannabis. This advertising platform shows more than 130 million advertisements to over 12 million cannabis consumers per month.

However, Bang Digital Media made a step further by creating a breakthrough advertisement of marijuana brands. Created in 2014, the company successfully links marijuana brands to cannabis users via online advertising network and a team of social influencers. Advertising cannabis through social people with more than 250,000 followers, the company managed to make marijuana marketing viral.

Word-of-mouth always works more effectively than other expensive advertisements, as people tend to take the advice of their friends or people they like more readily. Similarly, the voice of social influencers on the Internet sounds more powerful to web users. People who create their own channels or podcasts on Instagram, YouTube, Twitter, Vine, Snapchat, or Facebook, can reach millions of subscribers. These social influencers benefit from their channels by making paid advertising of brands or products.

Thus, if one of the cannabis influencers, like HaleylsSoarx or CustomGrow420, suddenly recommends a particular marijuana-related product, thousands of their subscribers will undoubtedly want to try it at least once. Moreover, social influencers should not worry about state restrictions or any other limitations of local marijuana laws, and their subscribers include only cannabis-friendly audience.

Mountain Dew expands premium line with live music festival, VR experiences

Mtn Dew, part of PepsiCo's Mountain Dew soft drink brand, is expanding its premium Label Series with two new flavors — Green and White — according to a company press release. The release of Mtn Dew Black Label last year was one of the brand's most successful ever.  

As part of the new products' launch, Mtn Dew will take over the Musicland Hotel in Palm Springs, Calif. for a free, two-day music festival called "Label Motel," running April 15-16. The rollout also coincides with the Coachella Music Festival.

Other components of the campaign include a hotel room virtual reality (VR) experience that puts participants in a "classy" lounge party with a beat drop that actually drops out of a plane, as well as a merchandise collaboration with the New York-based social media firm Vfiles called 92264, featuring branded Hawaiian shirts, beach towels and bandanas.

Dive Insight:

Lining up marketing with a major event like Coachella potentially draws in Mountain Dew's target audience of engergized, party-going millennials, and the "Label Motel" experience shows how big-name brands with budgets to spare are focusing on curating massive, live product launches catered toward their most dedicated consumers. Such experiences not only act as potential revenue sources but also promote continued loyalty and, if successful, can take on a life of their own. 

Putting a VR experience in the mix additionally provides some innovative, on-brand messaging opportunities, and the merchandise collaboration adds a fun, branded commerce element that's gaining more traction with marketers.

The VR "lounge" might appeal to the festival-going crowd for its tech novelty, but the merchandise element is interesting because it has an e-commerce component, being available, not just on-site, but with retailers and on Vfiles.com. Cheetos is another consumer brand dabbling in e-commerce marketing efforts, launching a luxury line around the holidays and, following the success of that, crowd-funding a spring collection with the help  of Betabrand

What PR Pros Can Learn from Marketing Marijuana

Medical marijuana is legal in 29 states, as well as Washington, D.C.; on Wednesday, West Virginia’s governor signed its medical cannabis bill into law.

Recreational marijuana use is legal in eight states and Washington, D.C.

CNN Money reported :

Sales of legal pot grew to $6.6 billion in 2016, according to New Frontier, a research company that analyzes the marijuana industry. That includes $4.7 billion for medical marijuana and $1.9 billion for recreational. The industry as a whole is projected to exceed $24 billion by 2025.

The growing legalization and increased positive public perception of marijuana translate to opportunities for PR and marketing pros.

Adweek reported:

Given all that activity, Matthew Karnes, founder of the marijuana financial consultancy GreenWave Advisors, predicts that the legalized U.S. industry will grow from $6.5 billion in sales during 2016 to $30 billion in 2021. He estimates that by 2021, marijuana marketing will total $75 million.

Here are a few lessons communicators can glean from marijuana marketing: 

1. Perception is everything.

In October 2016, Gallup reported that 60 percent of Americans supported the legalization of marijuana—the highest percentage of support recorded in a 47-year time span:

When Gallup first asked this question in 1969, 12% of Americans supported the legalization of marijuana use. In the late 1970s, support rose to 28% but began to retreat in the 1980s during the era of the "Just Say No" to drugs campaign. Support stayed in the 25% range through 1995, but increased to 31% in 2000 and has continued climbing since then.

Kaiser Health News reported:

Consumption of marijuana has also increased steadily over the past decade, with more than 22 million Americans reporting they had used it in the previous month, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Effective PR and marketing have made a huge difference in this perception change.

Matt Rizzetta, founder and president of communications agency N6A, told Observer that PR efforts are changing people’s feelings toward the cannabis industry, and as more news outlets are covering industry developments, the call for subject-matter experts is increasing:

“Business Insider and CNBC both have dedicated cannabis beat reporters now, and our clients are positioned as thought leaders,” he said. “PR is helping erase stigma around the category. Reporters began to trust the cannabis companies and see that they were in it, not for commercial gain but for the greater good.”

Whether you work for an organization or client that offers products and services for which consumers have negative feelings, or you’re fixing a reputational weak spot with a public awareness campaign, perception is everything.

Understanding consumers’ beliefs and self-interests, combined with effective education tactics and savvy messaging, can make all the difference.

 

2. Persistence pays off.

 

For most PR and marketing pros, social platforms are a crucial part of successful campaigns.

As more and more consumers use Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and more to learn about organizations and make purchasing decisions, it’s essential for brand managers to stay current on best practices and know their advertising options for social media sites.

For PR and marketing pros representing cannabis organizations, online strategies face another hurdle.

Adam Steinberg, Flow Kana’s co-founder, told Adweek that a “fair share” of Facebook ads—especially those with “typical stoner language” —were denied. Google’s advertising policies, which include Adwords and YouTube, explicitly state that the promotion of recreational drugs and products that facilitate their use are not allowed.

Though Steinberg said he still has success using Facebook for his cannabis clients, PR and marketing pros representing the industry will continue to walk a tightrope with social media efforts for the foreseeable future.

Let this motivate your efforts on behalf of your organizations and clients. Just as public perception of marijuana has changed, so will social media policies adapt to the growing tide of consumer desires (along with lucrative marketing opportunities).

It’s also a reminder that we all can struggle with social media efforts, whether it’s in the form of rules and regulations, a hashtag that goes awry or decreased reach for your content.

 

3. Go niche.

Though support for marijuana legalization is growing, why face marketing regulations and uninterested reporters from mainstream online platforms and news organizations when you can target interested and passionate consumers?

Adweek reported:

Most traditional media companies have spurned the industry's ads. But Joe Hodas, CMO of Dixie Brands, which sells edible and topical products in four states, reported that new cannabis-focused companies with print and online opportunities are constantly contacting him. "The No. 1 fastest media platform in this industry is print," he said.

There’s a plethora of cannabis-related publications, websites and social media opportunities, too.

In July 2015, Entrepreneur reported:

… Mantis [Network] reaches 6 million unique visitors each month, while WeedMaps has 2.1 million. “Every single month, we’re growing 25 percent in reach with no advertising, no funding, just natural growth,” Price says, adding that Mantis is on track for $1 million in revenue for 2015, its first year in business.

Along with sites such as free sites such as MedicalJane.com and WeedMaps, a quick Google search for “cannabis marketing” yields seven agencies that provide communications—and that’s just on the first page of results.

Other agencies and cannabis database sites, including NSFW, offer “influencer” opportunities and advice for successful partnerships with influential social media users.

Savvy communicators are fine-tuning their messages and campaigns for local audiences, as well.

Merry Jane reported:

The skyrocketing figures signal that cannabis businesses are only going to proliferate. From there, with the market becoming more specialized, leading PR firms like Nison’s will likely need to tailor their messages to local audiences.

“I see it maturing to a more local level,” he says. “As more states legalize marijuana, there’s going to be more need for local press for things like dispensary openings and local license applications and those sorts of things. Like for instance in Colorado, obviously, there’s more local reporting going on, so I think eventually there will be more local cannabis PR offices.”

You don’t have to promote marijuana products and services to go niche, however.

Discover where your passionate consumers seek information and share recommendations, and start building relationships that can yield more success than pitches to major news outlets would.

Flow Cannabis Institute to Serve Small California Cannabis Growers

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California-based Flow Kana has purchased land previously owned by Fetzer Family Winery in Mendocino County to create the Flow Cannabis Institute, which will process cannabis grown by dozens of local farmers to be sold with its label and their own names. The company spent $3.5mm to acquire the 80 acres and facility.

This is about how we take a small craft farmer industry to scale. Bringing everybody together really creates the volume to compete with these larger players.

The company expects Flow Cannabis Institute to be operational later this year and plans to later introduce extraction services. Flow Kana, which has positioned itself in the California market as a solution to the threat of “big cannabis” that many fear legalization could create, also plans to operate a bed & breakfast and retreat experience on its new property.

Pornhub Is Trying a Different Approach to Teaching You About Sex

 

Photo: Library of Congress/Corbis/VCG via Getty Images

On Wednesday, leading adult-entertainment site Pornhub launched a new venture: a sex-ed site called the “Sexual Wellness Center.” Located at the entirely hilarious URL of http://www.pornhub.com/sex, it will offer information on a range of topics, from STDs and IUDs to transgender issues and consent.

It’s helmed by Dr. Laurie Betito, a clinical psychologist who specializes in sex therapy and has over three decades of experience, and includes a variety of contributors with expertise in the field.

“We understand the importance of educating the general public on a wide range of topics pertaining to sexual health and awareness, and saw an opportunity to deliver knowledge and understanding through renowned doctors and experts,” Pornhub’s vice president, Corey Price, said in a press release.

Hey, it beats the abstinence-only route.