POST CATEGORY: Profiles

Meet Christine Smith, Owner of Gron Chocolate

March 01, 2017 | SimoneFischer

The owner and creator of Gron Chocolate oversees a new recreational facility brimming with busy employees and loads of silky Cannabis-laced confections. We talked chocolate, the balance of being a kick-ass lady boss and how to manage the growth of a wildly successful edible company.

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christine-smith-sidebar.jpgWhat did you do before the Cannabis industry?

I worked as a practicing licensed architect for a firm in Portland for about 20 years. I kind of parleyed my way into this industry when my boyfriend [now husband] owned a medical marijuana dispensary. I started to see what was on the market, coming from a design background, in perspective; I was unsatisfied with the product(s) that were out there. So I began tinkering. Playing around with chocolate on the side, taking classes on chocolate and experimenting with different mediums for infusions, oils, butters and at the time RSO [a type of full extract Cannabis oil], because distillate wasn’t on the market. That’s pretty much where it all started: a “happy little hobby.” I never intended for it to grow into the monster it is today! About two years ago I took a leap of faith and left my architecture firm and committed to Grön full-time. I haven’t looked back since.

What major hurdles did you face when you started this journey?

In some ways, the laws and regulations — for me and my background in architecture — I have a degree in regulations. So laws and regs weren’t a “hurdle” for me, they were a godsend. So, as the regulations came on and it became harder for people ... my background is in rules; I love rules! And we just started excelling. The more regulations came on, the better I got at adapting and growing and feeling more consistent to be working within confines that made sense. So started out, the hardest thing for me was not having rules! Because there weren’t any rules! Something could be 600mg and there were no testing regulations [at the time].

The 400mg medical-strength bar was a hit in the medical market. New dosage caps on medical milligrams limit all medical edibles to 100mg or less. What was your plan?

We [Grön] did not make money within the medical market. We would have never survived producing a 400mg bar at the price we were selling it [$20]. Back then, I was paying money to have this product on the market at the quality I demanded to keep it at. And that is one of the reasons why we’re successful and consistent. We stayed on the market because of what we did. But that was not a sustainable business plan, but I took a risk. Knowing regulations would come into play and the rec market was coming on and actually starting to make a profit. Many companies have switched to recreational edibles only because of the cost of producing higher-dosed medical edibles. We still provide a 75mg chocolate for medical patients.

In the switch from medical to recreational licensing, do you still plan on providing higher-dosed chocolate for OMMPs?

You know, I feel very loyal to the medical market. I feel like they have really been shit on. They were the ones who started this whole thing, and now they are being left behind. Unfortunately, that’s big business and corporate America, and that’s what happened. The people who started this grassroots effort have really been left behind by the regulatory system. In my opinion, they should have left medical alone. The problem is they regulated it so much! The best we can do to serve our medical patients is making a small piece of chocolate [to reduce costs] at the highest dosage legally permitted.

How do you maintain such high quality standards?

It’s a constant battle. And that’s my job here. We now have 18 employees a manager chirped from the next room who are amazing chocolatiers. But my job is to always be looking forward, always looking to how we can stay on top, and looking at this huge market of people who maybe haven’t even thought about trying Cannabis! Whether you have problems sleeping, or could use CBD for pain, they are interested in it, but they have no clue on how to go about it. How can we as a large brand educate our community? That’s really the next step and task I am taking on: To help educate Oregon on edibles, Cannabis and CBD, to serve as a resource. We aren’t just “weed chocolate,” we are here to make people happy.

On the topic of community education, edibles are one of the media’s most demonized targets within the Cannabis industry. What is your advice on going forward with dosing and storage?

I am a mother, I have children. It’s one of the primary reasons we started on the rec market with a fully self-contained child-resistant packaging. It’s hugely important to me, and it’s the responsible decision for any edible to have — not just an exit package, but to have a package where you can take a dose, put the rest back in the package and know it’s secure. Granted, that’s just one way, but it’s a start. Easy dosing is another concern of mine. Dosing appropriate is very important. Our product is very easy: you simply break off a rectangle, 5mg per rectangular piece. So you know exactly what you are getting. The third thing is to provide more literature. I believe Oregon has failed consumers in that respect, so the brands are going to have to pick up the slack. If you dissolve the chocolate in your mouth without swallowing, you’re going to feel it kick much faster [within 20-30 minutes]. The OLCC seems to want to engage in these sorts of things, versus letting it dissolve in your stomach, which takes longer. If you just ate a large hamburger and eat a 5mg dose of chocolate, you might not even feel it! It’s like drinking: if you drink a beer on a full stomach, you probably won’t feel much other than full. But if you drink a half a beer on an empty stomach ... you feel drunk. Context is important. The next step is budtender education, so they can relate to a public that doesn’t have the same tolerance they do. Many budtenders have very high tolerances.

As a woman in this industry, has your perspective primed you for the roller coaster that is this industry? I feel like there are things from your P.O.V that would make you more competitive?

I think I read somewhere that some 50 percent of leaders of Cannabis are women, versus other industries where those numbers hover around 15 percent. I think being a mother, being a nurturer, women are fabulous multitaskers. I come from this not only being a woman, but a woman who came from a development professional career. Sometimes it’s hard for me to distinguish the things that I bring being a women or development professional. I come from a very male-dominated field — construction and development — almost entirely male. So I fought my way up in that industry to become a leader in that industry. And that definitely parleyed into this so it’s refreshing to be in the Cannabis industry. It’s amazing. I am kind of dancing around. I think women have a great opportunity in this industry, and I think women are supportive of each other and I love that. It’s just such a great family.

What are your company’s future challenges and goals?

Effective growth management and really responsible education for the public. Maybe it goes back to me being a mother, but it’s really, really important to me. It’s my mission right now to help the Oregon community feel really safe and good about edibles; and help this industry grow responsibly. I think this company has the ability to do that.

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