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5 Questions: Joe Hodas

Wana Brands recently came out with a statement supporting LGBTQ+ members in the community.  Why was this important for your brand?

Thanks for asking. There are so many reasons why it’s important to us. Our mission is to enhance our world. And we take that mission VERY seriously. As a manufacturer of edibles that have a variety of uses (like our Optimals line which helps with sleep or anxious feelings), we of course believe our products alone are intended to enhance people’s lives. But we take it well beyond the “what” into the “why.” And part of the why for our existence is, as the mission states, to do good in our world. We all see what is happening to the LGBTQIA+ community with over 350 pieces of active legislation looking to limit, eliminate or even criminalize the freedom of choice that many of us take for granted here in the US. As a company, and as the individuals who make up that company, we know we have a platform and a bit of a megaphone, and we feel it’s our responsibility to use that voice to stand up for marginalized communities like the LGBTQIA+ community as one expression of how we try to enhance our world. But it’s important to note that it’s not just the recent string of high-profile legislation etc, that prompted us to make a statement. Historically, we have donated over $500K to various LGBTQIA+ initiatives, and have also done work with several businesses that are part of that community (SAD Brunch and OUT FRONT Media to name a few). So we look at being there for our communities not just when they are in peril (which, sadly, is often for the LGBTQIA+ community), but ongoing. And we don’t start, nor stop, at LGBTQIA+ either.

What stood out to you about the reaction to your message, both pro and con?

Wow. So much!  First, as a marketer and the person in charge of our brand, the difference in response between the post we made on Instagram and the one on LinkedIn (same message on both) was night and day. Lots of props, shares and kudos on LinkedIn. On Instagram, it was about 80% positive, about 15% vitriol and hate, and another 5% was so vile we removed the comments and blocked the posters. It’s important to understand that this isn’t our first rodeo..we have posted other messages of support for the LGBTQIA+ community (and others, and we knew from those experiences that we might see “some” negative comments. But we also agreed, from Nancy (our founder/CEO) on down, that no matter the negatives (i.e. many posting they will never buy our products again, or that we are evil child molesters, etc) that it was the right thing to do. To the haters, we simply would say bye-bye. Although, if I’m being honest, a few of us on the team just couldn’t help but jump in the fray personally. We all have strong feelings for Wana and are tied to the mission personally, so it’s hard not to defend when being attacked. But on the pro side…a lot of folks who found our post let us know they didn’t know of our brand/products but would now be lifetime loyalists. At the end of the day, we do sell a product, so many chose to express their rage or joy in terms of our products, but, for us, it wasn’t about selling more or less. It was about adding to the voices and letting our customer base know where we stand on this important issue. The last thing that stood out to me about the reaction was how many people called it “political” with statements like “stick to gummies and stay out of politics.” There was one like that which compelled me to jump in and point out that this is showing support for a community and is NOT a political statement. It is only the fact that legislators have chosen to actively promote discriminatory legislation and then use it politically that it is branded as such. I feel there is an inherent misunderstanding that showing solidarity for marginalized communities is “political” in nature. But then again, I guess everything in our world is politicized currently.

Why do you think it’s important for companies to take a stand on controversial topics?

There are a few reasons. First…we have power. We can mobilize consumers. We can use our platforms to educate. We can use our economic strength to have an impact beyond what an individual can sometimes have. And we are living in a day and age where it’s increasingly impossible to sit back and not take a position. Sometimes, for some companies, they don’t want to but are dragged into it, kicking and screaming, because employees or customers demand it. But it seems like a much better play to get ahead of that and do it proactively. Additionally, the consumer has power and today’s consumer buys based not on what is shoved down their throats through advertising, but, rather, by spending with companies that align with their values. It’s a double-edged sword…Wana’s values are not everyone’s values. But regardless, it’s important for brands to let consumers know where they stand on key issues…for better or worse. Lastly, companies are made of individual human beings. Sure, the biggest of the big are so large and diverse that the “individual” can get lost. But as human beings who make up those companies, we should be compelled to take a stand on what we feel is important and right rather than letting companies be faceless, nameless behemoths. We are living in a time where we are left with little choice but to take a stand for what we believe in/support, lest it be ripped away from us. I don’t mean we should be divisive or engage exclusively in “us vs. them” rhetoric. But we should be able to protect those rights/beliefs/communities most precious to us without alienating them. And for me personally, I want to be able to look my kids in the eye and tell them I stand for something and that I am trying to defend what I believe will be important for their futures (equality, environment, etc).

Photo provided by Joe Hodas/Wana Brands.

We’ve been hearing about a significant decline in cannabis sales and marijuana taxes in Colorado.  Are we oversaturated with businesses and what are companies like Wana Brands doing to counter this?

Just like any industry, there are cycles in cannabis. And, given its nascency, there simply isn’t clarity as to the supply and demand economics of cannabis. Add to that the fact that with each new market, the pie gets further divided. When CO was the only game in town for legal cannabis, we sold more. But now that there are 41 medical states and 21 adult-use legal states, coming to CO for cannabis is not as critical. Thus, each year requires adjustment, but with such onerous regulation and an illicit market that benefits from our obsession with taxing cannabis, it’s hard for the industry to be nimble. Add to that the lack of access to traditional banking and financial vehicles and a challenging macroeconomic environment. The result of these challenges is a self-fulfilling “race to the bottom” mentality that is hard to overcome. Dispensaries, and therefore brands, get caught in the trap of dropping prices (in many markets, and in many cases, to a level that creates a loss on a per unit basis), the consumer gets trained to look for “deals,” and the cycle repeats itself with escalating impacts each time. Wana, unlike many in this environment, has managed to mostly stay above the fray (we have had to lower prices but not at a loss, and still at a premium to most brands) by focusing on innovation. We bring to market products of a quality and effect that no one else has. Thus, the consumer knows if they want the best product or the product that best meets their needs, there will be a premium to purchase it. And we see many consumers in this tight economic environment who prefer to spend their hard-earned money on a “sure thing” rather than what the cheapest product of the week is. That, combined with our new products like our Quick Calm, or Fast Asleep and Stay Asleep, offer the consumer a product that they cant get elsewhere.

Now that psilocybin is decriminalized in Colorado do you expect marijuana companies to eventually branch out into psychedelics?  Why or why not?      

Complicated question. I think when there was discussion of decriminalization/legalization of mushrooms, many presumed that was the next frontier for cannabis companies. But the truth is, it’s a vastly different product, and the current regulations don’t lend themselves to an unlimited license, dispensary style, or adult-use experience. There are so many other differences as well, such as more research companies and pharma looking to psilocybin for clinical trials and treatments (that is still a ways out for cannabis), the footprint/cap ex required to grow mushrooms is much smaller than cannabis so the real estate and operational factors aren’t the same; and most importantly in my mind, it’s a vastly different experience. While certainly, folks do use mushrooms recreationally, it is not a “recreational” drug. Cannabis can and is used daily by many. Mushrooms likely won’t follow that model and when it does, it’s about micro-dosing. The point is, the product necessitates a totally retail and financial model. But then again, I would love to see a Wana Mushroom Gummie in the future!

Written by

Vicky Collins is a freelance television producer and journalist based in Denver, Colorado with a diverse portfolio of projects that include network news, cable programming, Olympic sports, corporate and non-profit videos. Some of her most satisfying assignments have been covering disasters, working in the slums of developing countries and telling stories of people who show great courage in the face of adversity. She has been in all 50 states and on six continents and many of her television stories and photos are posted on her website at To contact Vicky Collins directly email or tweet @vickycollins.

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