The Cannabis Industry in a State of Change
Licensed cannabis producer and processor Solstice, based in Washington State, focuses predominantly on the dried flower and also provides some pre-rolled and concentrate products. Its primary goals are to cultivate the very best cannabis varieties in an environmentally responsible way while being an active participant in the community and a voice for the cannabis industry.
Solstice was established in 2011 to produce and process medical cannabis and was the original cannabis brand in Washington State. Currently, every product that is sold within a specific state must be grown within that same state, and there is no opportunity to export.
Cannabis is still federally illegal in the United States, although hemp was recently legalized and shifted from a controlled substance to an agricultural commodity, which is a positive sign for the industry. The federal government has taken a hands-off approach with cannabis, as long as it is licensed and adequately regulated by the state entities. As of the end of 2018, thirty-three states have legalized cannabis for medical purposes, and ten states, as well as the District of Columbia, have permitted recreational use for adults.
In 2012, Washington and Colorado were the first states to legalize recreational cannabis for all adults, and those benchmarks were achieved through voter initiative. Both states created a strong regulatory framework to provide legal access for adults that has developed further since other states have gotten on board. Vermont became the first state to legalize recreational cannabis by way of the state legislature in 2018.
The two founders of Solstice, Alex Cooley and Will Denman, built the company based on their desire to legitimize and normalize medical cannabis as well as adult-use cannabis. “At the time, there weren’t many legitimate operators, especially within cultivation, and we felt that if cannabis was going to be taken seriously, there was a need for someone to step up and be transparent about the supply chain, and so we decided to do that before anyone else did,” says Alex Cooley. “We were hopeful to transition marijuana from what it was to what cannabis can be.”
The solstices mark the changing seasons, and this name was chosen for the company to represent the need for change in industry. Since that time, it has spread across the country, but there is still more work to do because cannabis has not yet reached its full potential.
Alex Cooley is actively involved in the cannabis industry outside of the company and has had the opportunity to assist in the development of several laws and ordinances. Although he has never officially registered as a lobbyist, he often communicates his views to decision makers from a neighborhood level all the way up to the United Nations as a member of the board of directors for the National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA).
His view is that this should be treated like any other type of business and should not be taxed unfairly. It has become clear that cannabis is no more dangerous than alcohol and it is becoming widely accepted across the country.
The major beer companies are concerned about the impact of cannabis legalization on sales, but it is logical for the alcohol and cannabis industries to work together since they are products that tend to go hand in hand for consumers. Solstice has heard that people drink less alcohol, take less prescription medication, or smoke fewer cigarettes when using cannabis as an alternative, and there are even people who claim that the CBD products helped them to quit smoking altogether. Substituting one drug for another with the intention of avoiding health problems or other negative outcomes is a part of harm reduction and is another benefit to cannabis legalization.
The biggest challenge for Solstice today is market saturation. Many newcomers joined the industry during its inception and received licenses even though they were not fully qualified to operate a cannabis cultivation company. This has led to problems such as oversupply and made it difficult for legitimate companies to remain competitive.
“We really do love the product at the end of the day. I am, first and foremost, a medical patient. I fractured four vertebrae, and pretty much everyone in the company has had a direct connection either themselves or a close relative to the values of cannabis from a medicinal perspective,” says Alex.
Solstice is mindful of the medicinal benefits of cannabis and also values the ability to enjoy cannabis as a recreational option. It is also inspired by all the new trends in products and technology and the evolution of the industry. This passion drives the company to create high-quality products and experiment with different flavors and experiences, developing new varietals, cultivation procedures, and award-winning products.
Solstice is the original cannabis brand in Washington and the most recognized cannabis brand in the state, having won a myriad of competitions. “I believe we have twenty first-place cups at this point, and we are the only producer and processor that has bred their own varietals within the legal framework and won competitions with them,” says Alex.
“We work very hard to create an incredibly inclusive and supportive environment,” says Alex. “We just believe that anybody should be entitled to anywhere they want to work so long as they’re qualified for the position.”
The young, fun, team culture here creates a great workplace for its forty-five employees, and the company invests in its people by compensating them well. All employees have an income that is above minimum wage, and the company pays for eighty percent of healthcare costs for its full-time staff as well as full dental and vision coverage. Full-time employees are given paid time off, a 401(k) plan, and plenty of positive workplace incentive programs as encouragement improve their skills and move up within the company.
“Several of our director-level employees have grown from within the company, I think all but one started within a different department and have grown to be head of departments, which I am proud of, and we also support people to continue their education to do those things. We’ve helped plenty of people pay for college over the years,” says Alex.
Solstice concentrates on change, education, and a commitment to the community. Harm reduction and helping to ensure that innocent people do not go to prison for cannabis use are personal priorities of the founders and a unique aspect of the company. The founders are involved in legislative procedures and often provide expert witness testimonies pro bono in cannabis-related cases. They recently were successful in having a number of cannabis-related criminal records expunged in Seattle.
The company has also partnered with several groups to solve homelessness issues in Washington, particularly in Seattle, and it worked with the Low Income Housing Institute on a clever project to build tiny homes for the homeless for the area.
In the future, the United States will likely remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act and continue to allow states to choose between regulating it and keeping it illegal, in a similar process to alcohol legalization following prohibition. There are ripple effects of alcohol prohibition to this day, as there are still dry counties and there were even dry states until the early 1960s.
As any business on the rise, Solstice is looking to grow, find new opportunities, and expand into new territories in the future. It is excited to advance in the industry; however, it is more driven to grow properly than quickly. It is currently looking to expand within Washington State and exploring its options in other states to serve consumers in a broader region.