With its bold, wrestling-inspired packaging, Real Deal Resin is a name that’s become one of the most recognizable heaters on the California hash scene today. After partnering with LEEF Organics, this Mendocino County-born brand transitioned to the recreational market in 2021 and, along with a handful of other hash makers, experienced the challenges of switching markets in a post-Prop. 64 environment.
Today the brand has its own extraction space in Willits and a nearby farm in the Orr Springs microclimate. Still, the founders will always remember what it took to achieve success: a combination of teamwork and identity that’s given two Pennsylvania boys, Dustan and Sam, a chance to deliver a piledriver to the California cannabis industry.
From a young age, co-founder Dustan knew he wanted to grow.
“I used to look up videos of big gardens, and all of them were in California. I remember watching videos of Jorge Cervantes or Mendo Dope Boys surrounded by giant plants and they were all in the Emerald Triangle. I couldn’t believe it was real. One thing I do believe, though, is the law of intention. We had this Cali license plate hung up in our college apartment, and every day I would look at it and psych myself up for what was to come.”
In 2015, inspired by those videos of the West Coast cannabis scene, Dustan said goodbye to his roommate Sam, left college a semester before finishing his degree in communications, and enrolled as a farmhand in Mendocino County. Jumping right in, he found a small grower who took him on and showed him the ropes. Eventually, he built a reputation in the community and earned the opportunity to rent a spot with a little greenhouse. “This was in the golden era of [Prop.] 215. I remember being in the hardware store looking for grow supplies, and people walking by the aisle would just tell you what you needed.”
While Dustan was hauling water, trimming bud, and learning the ropes of life on the hill, Sam was back in Pennsylvania, completing his degree in mathematics. A year and a half later, Sam graduated and celebrated with a visit to California. Looking out at fields of tall cannabis plants, he decided a life spent staring at spreadsheets wouldn’t hold the same feeling of wonder. He quickly relocated to the Emerald Triangle and joined Dustan as a partner.
For the first four years, they lived off the grid, always wondering if there would be some problem with neighbors or law enforcement. Each year was a new search to find another patch of land to rent. As they hauled bags of soil, they worked on their marketing skills, knowing that a strong foot forward in that arena would be crucial to them getting ahead this late in the game.
By the end of 2017, they had discovered the world of solventless concentrates through people like Hash Engineers and Pua Extractions and were dabbing almost exclusively. Though already familiar with growing for hash making, the pair decided this would be their new passion, if for no other reason than to keep their own jars full. After a couple of abandoned attempts at creating a brand, they landed on one that would become their ticket to the main event, Real Deal Resin.
Dustan attributes their name to Brandon Parker from 3rd Gen Family Farm.
“He would make these hype videos, and if something was fire, he would always say it was the ‘real deal.’ When we were trying out names, I said that one, and it just seemed to roll off the tongue. It must have seemed like that for more than us since I posted something on my page right after I had the first logo mocked up. Within five minutes, there were already three different Real Deal Resins on Instagram.”
The final part of the equation was finding an identity that would have an emotional response but also had room to re-invent itself. Of all things, it was a meme that would provide the missing piece. A longtime wrestling fan, Dustan was making a Hulk Hogan vs. Macho Man image when everything suddenly clicked. Here was a world where legends sprang from humble beginnings, fans were devoted to their favorite stars, and performers were loved and hated with equal enthusiasm.
This missing piece revealed the Venn diagram connecting hash with wrestling and would fuse their desire for high-quality concentrates to an identity that had endless amounts of swagger, purpose, and potential.
“Maybe part of the inspiration was because we’re from Pittsburgh, the home of Andy Warhol,” Dustan said. “He was the king of taking pop icons and using them to make art that was easily identifiable as his own.”
They spent their first year as Real Deal Resin, discovering if their existing strains were suited to pressing into rosin. That next year, they started hunting new cultivars that would thrive in Mendocino and reaching out to friends to collaborate. By their third year, they had garnered a reputation for being the kind of exclusive concentrates only one of your friends could get a hold of, but all of your friends wore the T-shirt for.
Having been out west longer than Sam, Dustan saw an explosion of interest in solventless products. He understood it would eventually become impossible to stay entirely self-funded as larger companies switched over. In his eyes, the best way to survive being taken over was to partner up.
“The cream will always rise to the top, but the rules have made it tough to be sustainable,” he said. “Small brands like us are battling deep pockets that can operate at a loss.”
They had set out to make Real Deal Resin something with a lasting impression on the community. After a successful four years, the two partners were dreaming of bigger and better days, but worrying about being able to stay in the ring. It would be a stroke of luck that took them down the path to store shelves. At the beginning of the lockdown, they were looking for the next spot to cultivate, but everything was coming up snake eyes. In a last-ditch effort, they toured one final site. The landowner turned out to be Micah Anderson, the owner of LEEF Organics.
Anderson had seen how they had been preparing for the future by converting to living soil and concentrating on solid branding. With their reputation, the company decided they would be a perfect fit to work with. Though excited, they both still had reservations about moving up, but they realized that no amount of increasing their T-shirt runs would make up for the number of people who couldn’t try their product.
“We wanted to finally be available for all the people who were supporting us but hadn’t even seen a jar of our stuff in person, and that mission was best served by looking for a partner,” Dustan said.
The road to the championship belt is paved with hard lessons, and this would be no exception. During their first release, they had no sales team, product support, or partner farm growing their genetics.
After securing Gaia Farms for their first batches, Sam washed and Dustan squished, but much of the heavy lifting for getting products made and into stores fell to them and their reputation in the community.
“Our biggest lesson was we learned you can’t assume someone will know how to handle your product,” Dustan said.
“So much of what we consider common knowledge is room for error.”
Distributors were caught using unrefrigerated vans, budtenders thought the “resin” in their name meant grams were shelf-stable, and fans from their early days hadn’t recognized new store-friendly packaging. Seven months in, they were staring at a debut that looked more like a car driving through a dog door.
They immediately went to work making corrections.
“We started tagging every batch with stickers saying if it wasn’t cold to refuse the order,” Dustan said. “We made signage for staff education, brought back some of our earlier brand characters, and started controlling every aspect of what we could to ensure a quality customer experience.”
Now in its second year, the brand has had a chance to adjust, and batches hitting the scene have not only wowed the public but allowed Real Deal Resin to expand to edibles, vapes, and pre-rolls.
What sets Real Deal Resin in a different league than other brands using nostalgia to buy our attention is that they’re not just meme-mining culture for all its shiny bits but genuinely working to build a lasting monument to weed, wrestlers, and pop culture. It’s a sentiment that’s already been well-received by famous wrestling performers like Sabu and The Million Dollar Man.
“Ted DiBiase [The Million Dollar Man] autographed a moodmat for us and told us how the last time he smoked weed was with Hacksaw Jim Duggan in the ’80s,” Dustan said.
As for Vince McMahon, former World Wrestling Entertainment performer and current executive chairman, pulling them into a cage match someday, Dustan and Sam welcome the chance to show their heroes what an inspiration they’ve been.
“If one day they notice, I hope they’re flattered enough to want to work with us and to recognize that we’re making an ode to these things we love,” Dustan said. “If someday we have to pivot, it will always be about pushing until the wheels fall off… that’s the spirit of wrestling.”
This story was originally published in the April 2023 issue of High Times Magazine.