Going into business with your significant other isn’t for everyone, but for these couples working in the cannabis industry, it’s been a journey they wouldn’t trade for anything else.
When Amy Ludlum and Peter Bishop met at the end of 2016, their shared entrepreneurial drive was evident from the beginning.
“On our first date, we talked about almost nothing but startups,” Ludlum tells High Times. “The passing of Prop. 64 in California caught our attention, but it wasn’t until one fateful night when we whipped up a cannabis drink on a whim, using simple tincture and some grapefruit juice, that things really clicked.”
That same night, the twosome agreed to start a company to test out their idea.
“Several all-night bottling runs and dozens of happy customers later, we knew we were onto something,” Ludlum says. “It was then that we both dropped everything and took the plunge.”
The end product? California Dreamin’, a low-dose cannabis soda currently available in four flavors: cranberry apple, pomegranate, tangerine, and grapefruit. The couple says that with legalization bringing new consumers into the cannabis space, they saw an opportunity to fill a gap within the market.
“It’s easy to make lots of cash selling knock-out brownies with 100mg of THC, but those don’t make sense for light and new cannabis consumers,” Bishop explains. “It’s a lot harder and less cost effective to make high-quality products with smaller amounts of THC. Given how unbelievably challenging this industry is, I can’t imagine [not] doing this together and supporting each other the whole way.
Chris Whitener, executive director of MagicalButter, where his partner Randi Sether also works as a digital marketing strategist, echoes that sentiment.
“It’s exciting to create and activate on ideas with your best friend,” Whitener says. “Being with a fellow cannabis pro who understands your unique lifestyle and can share it with you has been a dream come true. Cannabis spreads love and brings people together — that’s what it did for us, and that’s what we do for others.”
The MagicalButter machine helps medical cannabis patients create their own medicine by infusing their own topicals, tinctures, and edibles. In fact, Sether started off as a customer herself — making coconut oil to microdose her meals — before ultimately joining the MagicalButter team full time.
“Many people will not recommend working with your life partner, but it’s actually quite sweet,” says Sether, who was formerly the director of marketing for Florida’s largest physician’s practice providing medical marijuana card recommendations. “The key to success in businesses and relationships is having varying roles. Our skill sets are different, but they allow us to work well together, complementing each other’s strengths and being able to achieve more as a team.”
That’s something that Kate Black and Katie Stem, co-founders of Peak Extracts in Oregon, can relate to.
“My partner and I decided to make a go of it because we have complementary skill sets,” Stem explains. “Her specialty is branding, design, and cuisine. Mine is the scientific and business aspects.”
The couple founded Peak Extracts in 2014 through Oregon’s medical marijuana program. It then transitioned to the recreational use market in 2016, eventually becoming the first edibles producer licensed in Oregon. These days, Peak Extracts is currently the number two cannabis chocolate manufacturer in the state.
“We’re doing work that makes a direct and positive impact on people’s lives, and it’s constantly rewarding to hear their stories,” Stem says. “From a veteran with debilitating nerve pain that can now sleep through the night thanks to our topicals, to women who use our chocolate to help with symptoms of PTSD, our customers are discovering new ways to take control of their health.”
Of course, working in cannabis comes with challenges that couples in other industries are less likely to face.
“The uncertainty can be very difficult,” Stem shares. “The rules change often, and with little notice, and we are forced to make changes to operations, the facility, or packaging on the fly. Between the regulatory environment and the constant influx of new money and brands into the industry, there’s always a feeling of impermanence, like it could all dissolve at any moment.”
Julia Jacobson, CEO of Aster Farms in Northern California, has experienced similar frustrations.
“The most challenging parts of the industry are the changing regulations, specifically around packaging,” Jacobson explains. “One day you place an order for 20,000 units of packaging, and the next day it’s no longer compliant. We speak with our lawyers and our packaging supplier daily, and we’re nonstop problem-solving.”
But the downsides of the industry haven’t stopped her and her husband Sam Ludwig, who serves as president of Aster Farms. After all, they’re a couple with deep roots in cannabis.
“Cannabis cultivation in Northern California has been part of my family legacy for almost 50 years, so when we decided to jump in with both feet, the decision felt right,” Ludwig says. “Julia and I had been using the plant medicinally for over a decade and with my family’s history in cultivation, we knew that was a great place to start. We noticed there wasn’t a brand aligned with what we cared about — clean, organic, and sustainable — so we set out to change that.”
Like other couples have mentioned, knowing which assets and abilities both parties bring to the table is critical for success.
“I’m a numbers person, and he’s a creative — where I drop the ball, he picks it up and vice versa,” Jacobson explains. “The other amazing thing about working with your spouse is the transparency. Unlike other co-founders, you know exactly how hard the other person is working — there’s no room for BS when you’re working with your spouse, and that’s great.”
And when all the sweat equity finally does pay off, the rewards are that much sweeter.
“The successes we have as a company are a lot more rewarding when we share them as a couple,” says Danny Murr-Sloat, founder of AlpinStash. “I consider myself extremely lucky to have her in all aspects of my life.”
Sloat credits consuming and growing cannabis with losing 70 pounds, transitioning off more than 19 prescriptions including opiates for multiple medical issues, and eventually establishing one of the most well-known micro-cultivation brands in Colorado. His wife, Kristin Murr-Sloat, is a cultivator at AlpinStash who cut her teeth in the industry working at a cannabis bakery.
In 2014, Danny founded AlpinStash following a string of negative experiences working and growing for two different facilities. He says he was compelled to pursue his own venture that would be “completely dedicated to offering unique genetics and craft cannabis.” Two years later, he brought his wife on board.
“At first, finding a professional balance was tough,” Danny says. “It can be difficult to go from seeing each other after work and on the weekends to pretty much spending 24-hours a day together. Overall though, it’s really amazing. As a couple, we complement each other, and this holds especially true for work.”
And for high school sweethearts Antonio and Heather DeRose, being able to combine their shared interests in an entrepreneurial way is what makes their work so fulfilling.
“Our business is focused around our passions for cannabis, health, fitness, and travel,” Antonio says. “Fortunately for us, we’ve known each other for more than 15 years, so we make a great team.”
The DeRoses left careers in finance to launch Green House Healthy, which creates healthy experiences through educational and athletic events, including cannabis-positive fitness and nutrition classes. They’re both athletes and certified personal trainers who aim to destigmatize cannabis and share how it has changed their lives.
Heather, for example, used to be “completely against cannabis” before discovering its benefits. Now, she regularly speaks about how cannabis helps her epilepsy, PTSD, anxiety, weight management, and athletic performance.
“What we both enjoy most about working in the cannabis industry is the community,” Antonio says. “Knowing our work has an impact on normalizing cannabis, improving the quality of life for people who need it, and the overall sustainable impact cannabis can have on our planet is enough to keep us motivated every day.”