Meet Caleb Saunders, CEO of Green Jar
A conversation with Caleb Saunders, CEO of Green Jar (one of the first businesses to open in the Mat-Su Borough this summer).
You were one of the first businesses to plan to open in the Mat-Su Borough this summer. When did you find out about the proposed moratorium?
It all started in a Mat-Su Borough meeting assembly and we found out the moratorium was going into place and the vote was happening. Shortly after that, we sat down for a meeting with the owner of Bad Grammer [an Alaskan dispensary that will open in March] and others who helped us out making the signs. We realized there were people who could help and that we couldn’t sit around. We couldn’t sit and hope. We put in way too much time and money to allow it just to happen.
How did you feel at that time? Was it hard emotionally?
It was shocking. I had quit my job in January of last year working on the North Slope and the same with the other owners. We have no investors. It’s all privately owned, so we had all the risk. We saw the potential for this early on in 2012. When Washington and Colorado went legal, I remember sitting in my kitchen talking and realizing we needed to start planning in case this happened. We kept saving and saving, so when the moratorium popped up, it was definitely shocking and I had no idea how we’d have to plan and change things. Not only were there delays, but then a vote we had to make sure went our way.
A lot of people were upset and angry but did nothing. What gave you the drive to get out and wave signs?
We knew if we went about it as a group that if we win the vote now, we will have the power of a voice in the community. That’s where we wanted to go. We believed that all the benefits Cannabis brings — that helps with opioid addiction, the economy, taxes — that we could win. We wanted the vote to stay in place so we could win with a good margin and go to community leaders with the voice that we had been accepted. That kept us positive — that we had a point to prove to the leaders that our community does want us here. If we are going to ask the question, we want to know, and it was nice to know.
How long did you spend out waving signs?
We went out there for three weeks before the vote, going out a couple days a week that had busy traffic, and the last few days before the vote we were out morning and night. We had a few people that would show up just because they wanted a job and trying to support a new industry.
There was a short period of time where the mayor vetoed the moratorium and it looked like it was going to be overturned, and then the veto was vetoed and the vote was back on. How did that affect your efforts?
That was 48 hours of crazy roller coaster. We were in the middle of doing application stuff for 48 hours, and then it didn’t work, so we went back to the vote. It seemed like we had a win, and then we chose not to accept everything as a defeat. One good thing about that moment though was because of that high and then the drop … was the realization that we had to accept the moratorium as reality and move forward with the campaign. I’d quit my job. There was no sitting around and hoping this went well. I just didn’t have that option.
What was the night of the vote like?
The night I remember was just craziness. We woke up early at 6:30, were out waving signs by 7 and we waved signs all day because it was the final day of it. Everyone that participated in the campaign had voted early so we could be out all day, so then we went back to the store … all the positivity, I was keeping it going … and then we started hearing about the gap between votes …. I realized how much stress I had been holding. Felt tears coming. We finally got past this. I can finally have a biz, and I could see it on everyone’s face. We had people there as sign wavers hoping for a job or just to support. That was amazing; that moment was such a high. I just didn’t realize … I know I had been holding stress, but I didn’t know how much when the relief had come.
Did this experience change your view of politics or Cannabis in general?
I grew up thinking the government was so powerful that there was no point in ever doing anything about it. But going to Alaska where five votes could be the difference … I realized that through Cannabis, I can affect change locally on a political level. Through this campaign, the people against Cannabis made a mistake: They made us into activists that want to make change, and they forced the community at large to speak and approve Cannabis.
What are your hopes for the Borough with this new change?
Some of my hopes for the Borough overall is to have the jobs increasing and all the money made circulating in the economy, and I’m hoping I can stimulate growth with my business as well. More than that, I wanted to see the borough succeed, I would love to see the area grow! There’s a road I live on that I know taxes could really help widen that road. I also hope that the borough can be more of a hub rather than Anchorage controlling the entire state. And for us personality, I do want to have more than one store. We want to be able to have a green jar model like the brown jug.
When is your newly remodeled store going to open?
We’ll be opening in February as the head shop, but we are hoping in March 6th — the planning commission meeting — hoping to do a soft open that week. And then on March 11th, we hope to have our grand opening for the public with Cannabis products. I feel like after everything, now that we are here, now I get to finally have the exciting part. Everything else was just to get to this moment. I just wanted to have a biz that I could love doing and have no limits, and this is the first time in my life I’ve had no limits put on me, and if I’m gonna fail, at least it’s my fault. It feels good to know we made it through everything and will get to be the boss that I never had.
What is your message for anyone else facing this type of challenge?
I know there are some other campaigns happening this year. Fairbanks and Kenai are having the same vote we had, and I’ve heard Valdez might have a vote, so I want to mention that there is still a fight going on. To anyone, my message would be to stay positive; we are on the right side of this, and that time will show we are on the right side of history.