This is an English translation of our recent interview with Ganja Talks. Founded by João Paulo Costa and Henrique Torelli, Ganja Talks "produces multimedia content and experiences for cannabis enthusiasts. Ganja Talks promotes cannabis education and culture and puts on an annual festival in Brazil with programming that ranges from lectures to chats, films, and product exhibits. The mission of the festival is to create and maintain a strong dialogue between the different spheres of the cannabis universe: business, technology, medical research, and public policy."
We had the pleasure of meeting João Paulo and Henrique at Canopy Boulder, a cannabis industry accelerator program and venture fund in Boulder, Colorado. JoãoPaulo and Henrique were there working on another startup of theirs called Who is Happy. Who is Happy is "a geolocated social network connecting cannabis consumers to share their feelings, find useful information about consumption and locate cannabis business establishments around the world."
For reference, here's the link to the original interview, which was published in Portuguese on the Ganja Talks website. The English translation is below.
Ganja Talks: How did Sana Packaging start?
James Eichner: Ron and I met during our MBA program at the Leeds School of Business at the University of Colorado Boulder. Sana Packaging actually started as a project for a Sustainable Business Venturing class that culminated with a pitch competition at the end of the semester. We ended up winning the pitch competition and that’s what gave us the confidence to pursue Sana Packaging outside of the classroom.
GT: When did you realize there was a demand for sustainable cannabis packaging?
JE: Cannabis packaging waste is a problem that really frustrated us as consumers and most cannabis packaging is made from petroleum-based plastic. We knew the cannabis industry could (and should) do better. Then, when we began researching the market we realized there was a strong demand for sustainable cannabis packaging and not a lot of solutions. That was our first “ah-ha” moment.
GT: Why is sustainable packaging so important for the cannabis industry?
JE: Since we began mass-producing plastics in the 1950s, we’ve created over 8.3 billion metric tons of plastic. Of these 8.3 billion metric tons of plastic, less than 10% has been recycled while 79% has ended up in our landfills and natural environment. Packaging is a huge part of this problem because about 50% of the plastic we create is for single-use packaging products.
Looking specifically at the cannabis industry, we see an industry that’s on its way to having a real plastic problem. The cannabis industry is one of the fastest growing industries in the United States and will be a $20-$40 billion dollar industry by 2020. This means that on the low end, the cannabis industry will also be generating over one billion units of single-use plastic packaging waste per year by 2020. This is why the cannabis industry desperately needs more sustainable packaging solutions.
GT: Your packaging products are made from hemp plastic. Why are you using hemp plastic instead of other types of bioplastic?
JE: We make our packaging out of hemp plastic for a few reasons. First, hemp makes great plastic. The automotive industry has known about hemp plastic for years and companies like BMW and Mercedes-Benz use hemp plastic in their interior door paneling and dashboards. However, there currently aren’t many other use cases for hemp plastic. We want to change that. That’s why one of our long-term goals is to work with our strategic partners to further develop hemp genetics and hemp plastic manufacturing processes.
Second, hemp is a far more sustainable crop than corn, which is what most bioplastic is made from in the United States. Growing one acre of hemp requires about a third of the water required to grow one acre of corn and none of the pesticides. Hemp is also the best carbon trap per acre and one metric ton of hemp sequesters 1.5 metric tons of carbon. Furthermore, hemp does all this while remediating the soil so it’s a fantastic rotational crop.
GT: Can you tell me a little bit more about your plastic formulation and your manufacturing process?
JE: Our hemp plastic is 100% plant-based and chemical free. We only use domestically grown hemp for our plastic and we manufacture our products domestically as well. In short, we’re proud to be a “Made in the U.S.A.” company because we believe in supporting domestic agriculture and domestic manufacturing. We believe the hemp industry has the potential to reinvigorate economically stifled agricultural communities all across the United States.
GT: What are some of the other uses for industrial hemp besides bioplastic? What is the potential impact this plant could have on the U.S. economy?
JE: There are lots of known uses for industrial hemp, such as textiles, paper, food, building materials, biofuel, and so much more. However, it’s difficult to measure the full potential of industrial hemp in the United States because it’s been federally illegal to cultivate hemp since the 1930s.
The 2014 Farm Bill reintroduced hemp to our agricultural economy and it’s now legal for farmers in over 20 states to cultivate hemp in partnership with state agriculture programs and institutions of higher education. There’s still an 80-year gap in hemp R&D and the industry has its fair share of challenges to overcome, but we’re making great progress. In fact, the U.S. hemp industry is growing more than 30% per year and is projected to be a six billion dollar industry by 2020.
GT: Strict cannabis packaging regulations are part of what makes it difficult to innovate in the cannabis packaging space. Can you tell us a little bit about those regulations and the challenges they present?
JE: Cannabis packaging regulations in the United States are different in every legal state. These regulations affect where in the supply chain the actual packaging of cannabis products can occur, the information that needs to be included on the packaging compliance labels, and more. That said there are some common threads in cannabis packaging regulations, like the ASTM child-resistant certification. Every cannabis packaging product needs to have a child-resistant locking mechanism and this can make it difficult to design innovative packaging. We design our products with these regulations in mind and all of our products are ASTM child-resistant certified. Our products also have different state-specific packaging certifications like the OLCC approved packaging list in Oregon.
GT: Sana Packaging also went through the Canopy accelerator program in Boulder, Colorado. What was it like being part of a cannabis specific accelerator program and what are some of the most valuable lessons you learned there?
JE: The Canopy accelerator program was a really great experience for Sana Packaging. At the time, Ron and I were just MBA students with an idea and Canopy gave us the time, money, and mentorship we needed to begin turning that idea into a reality. I forget exactly who told us this, but some of the best advice we received about developing your first product is that everything takes twice as long and costs twice as much as you think it will.
GT: What advice would you give to other aspiring entrepreneurs looking to enter the cannabis industry?
JE: My advice is to pursue a problem or issue in the cannabis industry that you’re passionate about. Have a strong mission, stick to your values, and lead by example. The cannabis industry is young and open to change, so every entrepreneur entering the space has an opportunity and a duty to help create a cannabis industry we can be proud of.
Thaís Ritli is the Content & PR Director at Ganja Talks, a multimedia company that produces content and experiences for cannabis enthusiasts.