Smoke’s First Fire: Welcome to California

Well, it’s been an eventful 72 hours and the #WoolseyFire is still burning.  First, I want to acknowledge we are extremely fortunate.  My family has suffered no injuries or property damage to date.  Our experience with the fires has been more of an adventure, while I have seen friends, associates and strangers suffer greatly.  We’ve had a ton of people checking in on us so I thought I’d give a quick recap of my first California fire experience since moving to Los Angeles from Indianapolis earlier this year.  For the record, we have tornados and really crazy thunderstorms in Indy, but nothing like this fire.

It’s 7:48pm PT, I’m sitting here at home in Westlake Village under mandatory evacuation and prepared to leave again at a moments notice.  We are monitoring the Ventura County Fire alerts & radio chatter, Twitter has been our best source of information, albeit requiring tremendous filtering of nonsense posts. The TV news has been recycling video for days in creative yet misleading ways, making it hard to tell new events from prior ones.  We are surrounded by fire zones.

#WoolseyFire – from Simi Valley to Malibu . Blue Dot is our house in Westlake Village

#WoolseyFire – Blue Dot is our house in Westlake Village. Red lines are mandatory evacuation areas. Purple is fire areas.

Another map showing the fire zones and Westlake Village

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The losses to the Southern California community are staggering, yet amazingly thus far mostly relegated to property and hardship. For the scale of this disaster, the limited loss of life has been a blessing and a testament to the Fire and Safety professionals getting ahead of it.
That said, this does not diminish the emotional hardship I’m seeing everywhere for personal losses.

 

We began this journey Thursday when upon returning from meetings in downtown L.A., we encountered highway closures just beyond our exit and the resulting logjam of everyone trying to get off at our exit, Westlake Boulevard.  Joining friends at Tuscany Restaurant, we enjoyed discussion with fellow patrons, but it increasingly turned to what people were hearing re the fires to the East of us. We offered our home to colleagues who were being evacuated.   I discussed exits plans that evening with Anitra and we agreed to leave if mandated. After a couple of hours of sleep, I awoke with a start at 2:30am and decided to turn on the news. By 3am, mandatory evacuation orders were issued for our Westlake Village. Go Time!

Even though I’m one who plans for emergency situations, knowing a fire may be imminent created a little bit of a scramble out the door.  As you should expect from an Eagle Scout, my go bag is always ready, with ample supplies of first aid, water treatment, weapons for self defense and other survival gear. I always think about how to survive for a week or more without civilization (hotels, stores, water, power) if on the road and for a month if bunkered in at home. [NOTE: If you do not have such a plan I suggest you consider it. It does not take long without power, food or water for the situation to cause people (especially crowds) to behave badly.]

On the other items front, we didn’t do quite as well.  E.g.,we later discovered that I had 9 pairs of underwear and one shirt (the one I was wearing), while Anitra had 14 shirts and one pair of pants (the ones she was wearing).  LOL Funny moment.

At 3:30am on Friday morning, we evacuated.  At that time there were fires to the East, North and West. I expected the 101 to be jammed up and fires were threatening to jump it by then.  Thus, I chose to head out via Westlake Blvd over the curving roads to Malibu and then down to Santa Monica. I figured this would be the least traveled most accessible escape route.

4am evacuating… no not happy

The 101 was closed in both directions from Westlake Village at the time of our evacuation

Over the hill in Malibu and headed to Santa Monica

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It turned out to be true and we made it to the Santa Monica JW Marriott by 4:45am.  The hotel was sold out that night but I was fortunate to book a room for Friday night and after huddling around the fire pit for a few hours, we were checked in by 10am Friday morning.

Luckily, we left Malibu on the same route ahead of this now famous scene:

Photo of masses of people evacuating Malibu later on Friday after we had made the trek. Photo credit unknown.

 

Evacuee at the JW Marriott – yes lucky and blessed. In the words of one of my favorites, Tom Petty “You don’t have to live like a refugee”

This became our home for the next 36 hours.  It was eerily perfect, sunny, warm and no sign of the massive disruption happening nearby other than our fellow fire refugees we met.

On Saturday, the winds shifted and Santa Monica became smoky and unpleasant.  Anitra’s history of asthma was on our mind as we exited and headed toward Sherman Oaks where friends offered their home.  On that front, we had nearly a dozen offers of places to stay with our wonderful community of friends and family. It was amazing and heartfelt from many friends giving us another reason to give thanks.  As we came over the hill towards the Valley, it became clear that the air was anything but clear. The shifting winds had brought heavy smoke.  At this point, we had heard from several friends who had remained in Thousand Oaks & Westlake Village who told us the area was clear, even though the evacuation order was (and is) still in effect.  We decided to go home to at least grab other supplies (clothing) and at best stay put (we did).

 

 

 

My friend and colleague who stayed behind in Westlake Village sent me these shots of the fires burning in our neighborhood on Friday:

 

Today we rode bikes to survey some of the damage and view the situation live.

 

Smoke reporting from Westlake Village during the #WoolseyFire from J. Smoke Wallin on Vimeo.

I learned from my neighbor, a veteran of the 101st Airborne (thanked him) who has lived here since 1985, that where we are in Westlake Village is uniquely sheltered and the fires historically have gone around us. The winds also made the air here much clearer than I expected.  We had a blue sky sunny CA day today.

We remain vigilant and ready to leave at a moment’s notice.  I have great respect for the heroes of this tragedy. The fire and rescue and police have done a remarkable job of fighting an unstoppable force of nature.  I grabbed this shot from a twitter post (source unknown) of some of these guys taking a rest after 48 hours of constant fire fighting.  Amazing dedication and perseverance.  We plan to find ways to support them in significant ways going forward.

From KTLA – photo of firefighters sleeping in place after 48 hours of nonstop firefighting. Heroes, every one of them.

I will update this with the next chapter when it unfolds, but wanted to share in the moment while its fresh.  Thanks for sharing with me, your stories, as well.  As Anitra would say, we are blessed and lucky.

WASHINGTON’S TOP PRE-ROLL BRAND SAINTS PARTNERS WITH VERTICAL TO BRING ARTISAN CANNABIS TO CALIFORNIA

Excited to share our newest Vertical brand partner for California… Saint’s from Washington State – check it out

Saint’s Will Curate It’s California Only Collection From The Best Craft Cannabis Producers Throughout The State

From Washington to California

Sept. 19, 2018

Award-winning Saints Joints has forged a strategic alliance with Vertical Companies to bring its innovative pre-rolls to the rapidly growing legal California cannabis market.

Based out of the city of Seattle, Saints Joints has collaborated with artists ranging in styles from Street Graffiti to Rock Poster art. They have released over 30 different box designs and will be focused on capturing the emerging artisanal market. Sold as singles or five-packs, hand-selected pre-rolls come in a variety of indicas, sativas and hybrids, including the Artist’s Series Pack, a five joint multi-strain sampler collection. Like the Saints namesake, Saints have been active in the arts community and believes in supporting these communities and giving back. Saints supports the arts by sponsoring concerts and with the support of Gold Leaf gardens and our retail partners have raised money for Equal Rights Washington. Saints will look for similar giveback opportunities in the California market.

Saints artists have included Jeremy Fish (famous for his work with Upper Playground), David D’ Andrea, AO Hamer, Jimbo Phillips (Santa Cruz Skateboards) and Skinner. Vertical uses a combination of creativity and consumer insights, to make their brands stand out from the crowd with marketing campaigns to match. Each box has become collector’s items and are traded amongst Saints and design fans. Together, the two companies will focus on quality cannabis and artistic packaging to not only create the perfect joint but create an all-encompassing and iconic experience for the legal market.

Saints owner Lawrence Perrigo is from Northern California, and excited to bring the gritty street brand home to where it was created in his experiences growing up Skateboarding the streets of Sacramento and San Francisco.

“I’m truly excited to bring Saints back to my home state of California!” enthuses Perrigo. “I know California consumers will love the artisanal boxes and the attention to detail and the quality we guarantee.”

Saints chose to collaborate with Vertical because of their business model, which is patterned after the large-scale wine, spirits, and beer distribution businesses that Vertical’s team has created.

“Saint’s has built a hip iconic brand by bringing out the best artisan expressions in Washington state. This is exactly the kind partner we look for to bring to our markets.  I couldn’t be more excited to bring Saints to the people of California!” said J. Smoke Wallin, President of Vertical.

About Saints Joints

Saints Joints was founded in the Seattle area by members of the Seattle Medical Cannabis community in 2015. Saints are dedicated to making the highest quality cannabis products using only natural organic ingredients and practices. Saints have released 30 different box designs and variants, and have been included in Entrepreneur’s Cannabis Top 100.

https://www.saintsjoints.com

About Vertical

Vertical is among the first and largest vertically integrated companies in the legal cannabis industry. It has operations in AZ, KY, and CA, combined with strategic partnerships in OH and additional markets, position it well to take advantage of the legalization and normalization of cannabis globally. Vertical’s brands cover all aspects of form factor and demographic.  Vertical is led by an executive team of entrepreneurs and business leaders from the alcohol beverage, agriculture, CPG, distribution, entertainment, food, healthcare, and medical industries.

Media Contacts

Vertical:

Jon Lindsay Phillips

RLMpr

646-828-8566

vertical@RLMPR.com

 

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CNBC’s Fast Money with Smoke Wallin re Branding Cannabis, Wine & Spirits and Market Observations

Thanks to CNBC and the Fast Money crew for a fun interview on the state of the cannabis industry.

Cannabis industry exploding with growth here, says top pot exec

The cannabis business is growing like a weed, even as pot stocks see wild swings. With Smoke Wallin, Vertical Companies, CNBC’s Scott Wapner and the Fast Money traders, Pete Najarian, Tim Seymour, Karen Finerman and Guy Adami…

Smoke Wallin on CNBC’s Fast Money

A few shots from the day at CNBC:
 

 

 

 

PORTLAND-BASED FORM FACTORY INC. FOODS PARTNERS WITH VERTICAL COMPANIES TO BRING INFUSED PRODUCTS TO VAST CALIFORNIA CANNABIS MARKET

Pleased to share our new partnership with Form Factory Inc. Foods!  Exciting times!

PORTLAND-BASED FORM FACTORY INC. FOODS PARTNERS WITH VERTICAL COMPANIES TO BRING INFUSED PRODUCTS TO VAST CALIFORNIA CANNABIS MARKET 

Form Factory Inc. to Build Full Production Facility at Vertical’s Needles Campus To Produce a Wide Range of Edibles

Portland, OR – August 6, 2018 – Portland-based cannabis products co-packer Gruner Apfel, now known as “Form Factory Inc.,” and Vertical Companies of Agoura Hills, CA, today announced a joint partnership where Form Factory Inc. is scheduled to build a full production facility at Vertical Companies’ licensed Needles, CA, campus to co-pack an array of new infused products for the California medical and adult recreational cannabis market.

The facility is the first California Form Factory Inc. co-packing facility to open under its Form Factory Inc. partnership with MacArthur Capital.

“I met the Vertical principals through YPO, and their experience from food and beverage is very strong,” said Todd Boren, MacArthur Capital Managing Partner. “It’s a tremendous partnership that will enable us to expand throughout California.”

Form Factory will manufacture the branded cannabis edibles for the California market. Vertical cultivation and extraction will provide raw cannabis ingredients, and Vertical distribution will bring these products to licensed retailers throughout the state.

“Form Factory brings deep expertise in the manufacture of edible products—a strong management team, a focus on quality, and a relentless pursuit of delivering a safe and predictable consumer experience,” explained Vertical President J. Smoke Wallin. “These qualities are what we look for to bring a broad array of the highest quality cannabis products to our markets. It’s the perfect addition to our rapidly expanding BCAA-licensed Needles, CA, operations.”

Led by food and beverage industry veteran Tony Bash, former VP of Sales for innovative food, beverage, and spirits giant LiDestri, Form Factory Inc. Foods is the first food and beverage packing company licensed by the Oregon Liquor Control Commission (OLCC)’s Recreational Cannabis Division. The company is currently packing products for a rapidly expanding list of edibles, beverage, and topical brands.

 

About Form Factory Inc. Foods

Form Factory Inc. Foods is the first Oregon-based company licensed by the OLCC’s Recreational Marijuana Program to pack and bottle cannabis-based food and beverages. The company covers all aspects of production, from concept to final execution, using modern equipment, professional packaging, and decades of experience in the industry. It is Form Factory Inc. Foods’ mission to package and bottle the healthiest, freshest products for the cannabis food and beverage industry.

 

About Vertical™

Vertical is among the first and largest vertically integrated companies in the legal medical cannabis industry. It has operations in AZ, KY, and CA, combined with strategic partnerships in OH and additional markets which position it well to take advantage of the legalization and normalization of cannabis globally. Vertical is led by an executive team of entrepreneurs and business leaders from the alcohol beverage, agriculture, CPG, distribution, entertainment, food, healthcare, and medical industries.

Tapping the Booze Business

May, 2018

Tapping the Booze Business

Hemp, CBD and extraction companies can crack the infused alcoholic beverage market but must navigate a regulatory thicket

By Vicky Uhland

When Prohibition was repealed in 1933, small, local brewers and distillers were the first to get back into the alcohol business. Many either grew into national brands or were snapped up by larger companies looking to expand.

Today, the same scenario is occurring with beer, wine and spirits infused with hempseed oil, cannabidiol or cannabis terpenes. Colorado-based New Belgium Brewing, for example, recently unveiled a hemp beer, while California-based Lagunitas Brewing last year offered a brew infused with cannabis terpenes.

“We’re in a unique moment in time. There are no big hemp or CBD alcohol brands yet, so there’s a window – maybe for the next three to five years – to establish a brand,” said Smoke Wallin, chief marketing officer and president of distribution for Vertical, a company in Agoura Hills, California, that is developing a CBD oil that can be infused into alcohol.

Some big companies are wasting no time, especially with Canada poised to legalize recreational marijuana. Last October, New York-based Constellation Brands, which distributes more than 80 wine, beer and spirits brands, paid $190 million (CA$245 million) for a 9.9% stake in Canadian cannabis cultivator Canopy Growth Corp. Wallin and others believe more large beverage companies will follow.

 

Smoke Wallin, former WSWA Chairman and President of Vertical Companies

 

“I’m absolutely certain the Anheuser-Busches, the Bacardis, the Jack Daniel’s are going to get into this, but they will wait until marijuana is fully legal to do it,” said Wallin, who has more than 25 years of experience in the alcoholic beverage business. “Anyone that can get a brand established in the meantime, and show traction, is going to be very attractive to the big players.”

That translates into business opportunities for hemp growers, CBD producers and companies that extract oils such as cannabis terpenes. Those products don’t carry the same stigma in the United States as THC-laden marijuana, but it won’t be a slam dunk.

The marriage of alcohol and cannabis faces unique regulatory and legal hurdles, making it difficult for hemp, CBD and extraction companies to produce their own booze. The simpler option for those companies is to sell their products to alcoholic beverage manufacturers to get a foothold in what could become a lucrative product niche.

Striking a Partnership

That’s what Joe Pimentel did. In 2017, Pimentel, the owner of Luce Farm in Stockbridge, Vermont, decided to start producing CBD-infused honey to set his farm apart from other area hemp growers. He approached Long Trail Brewing in Bridgewater Corners, Vermont, about carrying the honey in the brewery’s restaurant and gift shop.

“The CBD hemp market is so immature, so our strategy is to align with a lot of Vermont brands that are better known than ours,” Pimentel said.
Long Trail decided not only to sell the honey, but also to make a beer with it. “We liked that the hemp gives us new flavors we can’t get anywhere else,” said Head Brewer Ian Harbage. But the honey played havoc with the beer’s consistency, so the brewers opted for Luce’s CBD extract and hemp terpenes instead.

Terpenes are separated out at the beginning of the hemp-extraction process, like an essential oil, and then the CBD extract remains. Pimentel used to do his own extractions, but “nothing we could create in our kitchen had consistent levels of THC,” he said.

He started researching the best extraction techniques and decided on a carbon dioxide method offered by the PhytoScience Institute in Waterbury, Vermont. PhytoScience now handles all of Luce Farm’s hemp extractions, and the terpenes are consistently documented at less than 1 part per million THC.

CBD has more health properties but not as much flavor and aroma as terpenes. “The main terpenoid in cannabis is the main flavor in hops, which makes terpenes and beer a good partnership,” said Andrew Follett, the owner of Philadelphia-based Keystone Canna Products, which was founded in 2014 to help hemp farmers distribute nationally.

Follett also said CBD, which has a slightly nutty flavor, is a better option for wine and spirits manufacturers that don’t want a distinct cannabis taste or smell in their products. But he noted that it takes time, effort and creativity to mix the oily product into beverages, which can deter some brewers and distillers.

Regulatory Headache

Like the cannabis sector, the alcohol industry faces a web of regulations – in this case from both the states and the feds. Consequently, hemp, CBD and extraction companies must be aware of the complicated regulatory process when wading into the alcohol business.

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’s declaration in December 2016 that CBD is a Schedule I controlled substance – like marijuana and heroin – complicated matters. Last year, a Colorado craft beer producer, Dad & Dude’s Breweria, butted heads with the feds over the brewery’s production of a non-THC, CBD-infused beer. Dad & Dude’s had previously won approval for the brew from the federal Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB). The brewery, which continues to sell the beer on its premises, is for now locked in a legal battle with the DEA as well as the agency.

The TTB, meanwhile, presents other hurdles. Any alcohol company that sells across state lines, for example, must secure approval from the agency. Back in 2000, the agency’s predecessor issued requirements covering formulas, processes and labels for domestic hemp products. The policy requires all alcoholic beverages that contain hemp or a hemp component to submit a lab report stating the amount of THC in the hemp, a move that dovetails with the DEA’s policy.

“It follows the DEA’s rules, and the intent of those rules are to ensure the product is THC-free or has trace amounts,” said Ryan Malkin of Malkin Law, a Miami Beach, Florida, firm that specializes in alcohol law.

In December 2017, Weatherford, Texas-based TVM Wines received TTB approval to manufacture and sell its hemp wine across state lines. The process took two years and 28 different paperwork submissions to the agency, said Elease Hill, TVM co-owner and vice president of sales and marketing.

Hill said the key was to supply the agency with lab tests showing the hempseed oil used in her sweet, citrus-based wines had less than 4 parts per million THC, and that the oil was derived from hemp stalks, roots or stems rather than flowers or resin, which is considered a Schedule I substance by the DEA.

“You have to be careful where you get your hempseed oil from,” Hill said. “I had one that was 3% THC, from mature hemp stalks, and the DEA said that was too high, so the oil must be coming from hemp resin.”

Hill found her suppliers through a list provided by the Texas Hemp Industries Association and by simply Googling hempseed oil companies. She read product reviews and then called the companies to check their references and lab work documentation.

Hill eventually partnered with Keystone Canna Products. Its hemp oil and food brand, Cannagenix, specializes in paper trails and lab testing, according to Follett, the owner.

“There are a lot of hemp and CBD products but not a lot of quality documentation,” he said, noting that growers and CBD companies that can’t produce a regulatory paper trail are likely to be shut out of the alcohol business.

Labeling Semantics

Hill said even though TVM’s wines contain CBD, they’re labeled as “hemp seed oil infused” because the TTB and DEA preferred the word “hemp” to “CBD.”

But, like most cannabis law, this is a gray area. The determining factor appears to be where the beer, wine or spirits are sold. Even if alcohol doesn’t cross state lines, regulations vary from state to state, just as they do with cannabis.

So far, Long Trail’s Medicator beer hasn’t run up against the TTB, even though the can says: “Vermont’s first CBD infused beer.” But the company has made only three small batches and has limited sales to the brewery’s pub.

In California, Petaluma-based Lagunitas Brewing uses cannabis terpenes in its SuperCritical Ale. CannaCraft, a vertically integrated medical cannabis producer and distributor in Santa Rosa, California, extracted terpenes for the beer using a carbon dioxide process.

“There is no THC in the beer, so we simply made the beer and did not ask for permission to do that which we do every day,” said Lagunitas founder and Executive Chairman Tony Magee. “However, the TTB became interested, and we are talking with them about it right now. I’m pretty confident they will understand what we intend to do, and we’re looking forward to making a whole lot more of it.”

 

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