CATEGORIES: Cannabis Industry Interviews
Chris Kelly is the Vice President and General Manager of Landrace Labs, a cannabis production company serving Washington State’s recreational market. He is also the founder and former CEO of Green Lion Farms, a medical cannabis company based in Seattle. Landrace produces high-quality CO2 extracts as well as flowers and pre-filled vape cartridges that are for sale in retail shops within the state.
“Adopt a winning team mentality, be a professional, and treat this like the billion dollar industry that it is.”
Given that his experience with cannabis runs from growing ditch weed to growing multiple thriving companies in the legal market, Chris Kelly has witnessed first-hand how legalization has affected the cannabis industry. We recently had the opportunity to ask him about how he transitioned from Washington’s medical market to its much more strictly-regulated recreational market, how he has grown his company with excellent marketing and branding to back up his premium products, and what he thinks the future of legal cannabis looks like.
Read the full interview:
Ganjapreneur: How did you first get involved in the cannabis industry, and what was your career prior to that?
Chris Kelly: I have been in the “cannabis industry” since 1992. Started by growing ditch weed and selling it to my classmates. I have always been a dealer, but had a normal job at the same time. I studied Biology and Business Administration during my multiple stints at various community colleges. I had been doing system and network administration as a profession until 2011, when I left Starbucks Corporate to focus on the cannabis industry full time.
What is the story behind your company’s brand, “Landrace?”
My team and I had to regroup after our last venture and realized our core group is very much like a landrace strain of cannabis. A landrace refers to a local variety of cannabis that has adapted to the environment of its geographic location. We like to think we represent a Pacific Northwest way of life and my wife suggested we call ourselves Landrace Labs.
Is Landrace entirely focused on extraction, or will you be producing flowers and other products as well?
We have two brands we are focused on developing. Landrace Labs (Rochester, WA) focuses on CO2 extracts, Hash, and Vape Cartridges. The lab is responsible for the processing portion of our organization. Landrace Farms (Oroville, WA) focuses on growing a wide range of genetics, including CBD specific strains. We offer Smokes (Pre-Rolls) and Flower (Bud) under our farm brand.
How many people are currently employed by the company?
We have 12 FTE, 2 PTE at the lab and 4 FTE at the farm. We do use a migrant work force on the farm and we are in the process of growing, so this number is likely changed by the time you read this.
When hiring lab technicians, how do you balance experience with cannabis vs. experience with lab work? Are both mandatory?
We are not so interested in past cannabis experience, although it is very helpful. A healthy balance of lab work and “life skills” make for an ideal candidate. We treat the HR process like any other company. We are looking for qualified candidates that demonstrate professionalism, organization, and a good head for science.
⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ got kief? #i502 #sixstar #hash #fullmelt #twax #vape #mmj #refill #measure91 #prop215 #ommp #washington #science #pnw #lab #cannabis A photo posted by Landrace Labs (@landracelabs) on
As someone who has built businesses in both Washington’s medical market and the recreational market under I502, what are your thoughts on the current state of affairs? What would be the best way forward for Washington, in your opinion?
It’s a mess out there. People that figure out how to play by the rules and get compliant with our states regulations in the next year, may stand a chance. People holding on to our old way of thinking in the “green market” are going to have a bad time. Moving forward, Washington needs to lower the barrier to entry for individuals and small businesses, especially for retailers. The good news is that with the recent passing of SB5052, a lot of medical shops are getting the chance to convert to recreational stores. This means better access and more consumer choice.
I’ve been following Landrace on Instagram for a long time, and it has been a lot of fun to watch the company’s journey and how your brand has evolved. Ten years ago, the idea of a cannabis production facility broadcasting its activities & sharing photos would not have been possible. Do you view social media primarily as a marketing tool, or as a way to share history in the making?
Both. It also serves as a great reflection tool for me. I often say, “Holy shit, we were doing _____ only 4 weeks ago!”
How close were you to the recent wildfires in Eastern Washington? Did they interfere with your operations at all?
The Okanogan Complex Fire came within 10 miles or so of our farm. Even though our operations were not affected, we did evacuate non-essential personal.
In both Colorado and Washington, people were surprised by how much of retail sales went to edibles and infused products. Do you think that extracts will eventually rise to challenge the popularity of flowers & edibles among consumers, or is this already happening?
I think we are seeing a decline in consumption of smoke. The younger segments of our market would rather vaporize or eat their cannabis. We will continue to observe an increase in popularity of concentrates and edibles.
What do you make of the rise of “Rosin Tech,” and do you anticipate that it will ever poise a threat to botanical extraction?
Rosin is great and it makes for some of the best dabs I have had. I have yet to see it work on a scale we need it to though. I am hopeful that someone will modify some newspaper press somewhere and create a rosin factory line. Until then, CO2 closed loop systems are the only thing of scale that can keep up with our pace. The idea of pressing a few kilos of Rosin with one or two employees per day is laughable at this point, but I’m keeping my eye out for emerging tech.
What advice you would offer to someone who is in the black market as a grower or extraction specialist, and who wants to pursue a career in the legal industry?
Approach it like you are applying to a Fortune 500 company. If your Cover Letter and Resume are not on point, most companies are throwing it away and never looking at it again. Adopt a winning team mentality, be a professional, and treat this like the billion dollar industry that it is. Nobody ever did anything of importance by himself or herself. It takes a team to win championships and this is definitely the big leagues!
Thank you for sharing your insights and experience, Chris! We look forward to watching Landrace Labs continue to put out high quality products as the market grows.
To learn more about Landrace Labs, you can visit their website. Something to say? Post your comments below!