Betting on Yourself: the Story of Parlay

High Times spoke with rising cannabis brand Parlay to learn how they are making so much noise from California to Europe with just 10% of the canopy space of some of the bigger brands.
Parlay’s flower shot by Chewberto

The regulated cannabis market has come a long way from its illicit roots, but the formula to succeed in this game never really changed for anyone paying close enough attention.

I say this with particular regard to two factors: financing and company focus. In my humble opinion as a man who has spent most of his life around the plant, the best weed has always been grown by people who are self-funded and focused on quality of the weed itself with little regard for marketing strategy, sales gimmicks, mylar art etc. All those things are still important, but they should not be the top priority.

Enter Parlay, a company cultivating in downtown Los Angeles with around 300 lights and a small team, who have been operating in the recreational space since May of 2020. I spoke to the owner of Parlay who respectfully asked to keep their name out of the public eye, about their perspective on the legal market. It was refreshing in that they are uber-focused on producing the best possible cannabis, for the best possible price, without breaking the unwritten rules passed down from the days of prohibition. 

“Parlay stands for sticking to the code. I don’t know how else to explain it. There’s an unspoken code of ethics in cannabis, and I feel as though we try to keep the standards high in all aspects,” the owner of Parlay said. “Whether it’s the quality, the way that we conduct ourselves, or how we treat our friends in the game… There’s just too much silliness that goes around nowadays, and we’re not into the gimmicks.”

In the cutthroat recreational market of California, a big chunk of the larger companies out there have gotten where they are by cutting corners, screwing over competitors and putting together complex marketing schemes that are ultimately used to get customers to purchase sub-par flower. I do not believe Parlay to be in that group. Their work has received accolades from plenty of certified connoisseurs whose opinion I trust (check out First Smoke of the Day’s review of their MochiLatti) and they command brand recognition across a huge swath of the world for such a small company.

Parlay also has some impressive collaborations under their belt with companies like BackpackBoyz and Runtz which is, in my opinion, a testament to the quality of their work, and an indicator that they’re doing good business. The big dogs have their ear to the ground, after all. They don’t tend to mingle with known rule breakers or mids pushers. Hell, most of them are in a group chat with each other. This is a tight knit community and bad behavior doesn’t tend to get very far without everybody hearing about it.

Quality of the weed aside, the word Parlay has become a bit of a trend lately. I think it probably has to do with the emerging popularity of online sports betting wherein people who have never gambled in their life have been throwing a few bucks into parlay bets on the off chance they strike it rich. 

Parlay’s flower shot by Chewberto

When it comes to doing business in the cannabis space, however, staying financially solvent at this stage of the game is often synonymous to throwing your life savings into a sports bet with slim to none odds of paying out. Between the lack of tax breaks, obscene overhead costs and the ever-fluctuating consumer market even growers with decades of experience under their belts have been bankrupted by the modern day recreational market in California. It becomes a big shitty game of chicken to stay afloat. You have to enter yourself into the race and go drop off the money for next months electric bill at the betting booth time and time again. 

“We’re all in. I have no business partners. I have no investors. All money in. ALL money in. All risk taken because we knew that this was a greater cause,” the owner of Parlay said. “I knew that this was gonna be a part of my life. I saw cannabis as a space where I see myself in the future – being a tastemaker, creating good product, and being a person with integrity to give people good medication.”

Good medication in the recreational market has become increasingly more elusive as the California cannabis canopy expands and the market continues to mature, bringing tougher margins and higher costs with it every day. It has become a game of monocropping the money strains and expanding indefinitely until everyone’s weed ends up looking, smelling, tasting and smoking the exact same. It’s nothing sinister or complex. People have investors to report to, sales goals to hit and sky high electric bills to defend paying. That’s why the weed has to be special to stand out, and special weed doesn’t just fall out of the damn sky perfectly cured and ready to roll. It takes years of work, the scrutiny of an overbearing mother and a fair amount of luck to produce consistently.

“We don’t spray any weed. We don’t put in any fucking PGR’s. We try our best not to cut any corners. We don’t even care about the yield. We just want the weed to smoke good, and then we want to just share it with our friends. It ain’t much more complicated than that,” he told me.

Now while some of the CEO’s out there might attest that it is much more complicated than that, the mission statement doesn’t have to be. The proof is in the pudding. Keeping it simple and refusing to scale past a manageable point can work wonders if you’re dedicated to the craft. Refusing to take on investors and intentionally staying small until your work takes on a life of its own can lend itself to greater success later on. If you don’t believe me, just look at what happened to the big money multi-state operators that went too big too fast.

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