Original Art By Anthony Haley
As the end of the year 2022 approaches and we begin the cusp of 2023, I write this story in hopes that most of us in the cannabis industry will reflect on the lessons A Christmas Carol has ingrained in all of us. Most in the emerging cannabis industry probably feel akin to Bob Cratchit, trying to feed our Tiny Tim’s while quietly, or not so quietly resenting those Scrooges at the top.
For the purpose of this article, the amount of cannabis companies that went under in the past calendar year will be metaphorically representing the chained ghost of Jacob Marley. Jacob Marley, who warned Ebenezer Scrooge, who will be for the sake of this article representing corporate cannabis, that he was going to be visited by three ghosts.
If The Ghost of Christmas Past arrived to show Scrooge his cannabis past, they’d probably point to the commotion, panic, and disruption caused by Toronto-based cannabis company Ghost Drops. A company who in the matter of a year, seemingly outsmarted the competition, dominated retail sales, and changed the narrative of weed in Canada forever. They did so simply by being true to what they believe and who they are.
The Ghost of Christmas Past would convey that until Ghost Drops came along, much of the cannabis industry in Canada was focused on the old narratives first set out by giant billion-dollar licensed producers. “Educating” the public by telling them that anyone involved in weed before legalization was a bunch of hippies, thugs, and stoners hiding in the shadows or under stairwells.
As much as they were right about us, The Ghost of Christmas Past would also point out that the hippies, thugs, stoners, and shadowy stair-dwellers thought of corporate cannabis as overspending predatory investors. A bunch of shiny-shoed idiots who thought they could outsmart the “legacy market” by selling mid-grade cannabis at premium pricing. Not realizing that the consumer could tell the difference even if they couldn’t.
I guess in hindsight we were both right.
However, the intended spirit of this piece is to come together. Not continue to point fingers, sabotage, or work against each other in the cannabis industry. After all, the lessons we learn in any industry are transferable. A sentiment that has always rang true with the founders of Ghost Drops.
The Ghost Drops of Christmas Past
The story of Ghost Drops starts with John Durante and Travis “Organik” Fleetwood and dates back to their early days growing up in Bolton, Ontario. A small blue collar town with small blue collar town problems. Both Fleetwood and Durante started hustling as young kids—as most in small towns do.
As a teenager, Fleetwood found a love for hip-hop and started battle rapping on the internet, pre-social-media. Fleetwood’s passion for limericks found him success as a self-professed “skinny white kid”. He quickly made a name for himself on the internet and began competing. He even made it as far as battling at the BET Spring Bling, which he won in 2009, but didn’t receive honors due to not fitting their target demographic. However, Fleetwood considers being underestimated as a youth a pivotal point in helping him build drive and character. “My greatest feature is continuously being underestimated,” he said.
With little direction, Durante took a different path and joined the military when he was 19 and served for four years. In the military is where he found the rewards of discipline, hard work, and perseverance. Little did both know, they were developing the transferable skills that would later help them to build a wildly successful cannabis company.
During this time, Fleetwood had launched what became the King of The Dot (KOTD). Battle rap showcases and competitions that would turn the heads of not only the best in Canadian hip-hop, but demanded the attention of the international rap community as well. KOTD steadily grew to be one of the biggest battle rap leagues in the world, showcasing some of the best talent hip-hop had to offer, gaining global respect, and eventually making content deals with Amazon.
When Durante finished serving in the military, the two childhood friends reunited. King Of The Dot had blown up and Durante was finding success in construction. However, cannabis was always a true passion for both of them.
In 2017, the two lifelong friends secretly started Ghost Drops. Both had experience hustling, but they wanted to start something creative while curating a unique experience for the cannabis consumer. The idea was to start a weed company that would feature and highlight the true rockstars of cannabis: growers, cultivators, and the seed-crackers. The ones who would risk it all to bring the best cannabis to the masses. They would represent the best cultivators and the cultivators could remain ghosts, hence the name, Ghost Drops. The two brought new attention to award-winning cultivators by assigning custom art, “illustrations,” and design to each of their grow partners.
Ghost Drops’ reputation became an institution in street-level cannabis in Toronto and they quickly grew a national following, serving their massive customer base largely by mail order.
Ghost Drops online model functioned as a hub connecting their reputable growers with a new audience, something Fleetwood already knew how to build from his time with KOTD. Fleetwood and Durante continued to grow Ghost Drops, but never affiliated publicly so as to not complicate their already complicated lives.
Ghost Drops continued to operate in this fashion until they came across Gene Bernaudo in late 2020.
Bernaudo had previously been the President of The Ignite Corporation—a corporation which is famously affiliated with the ever-polarizing figure Dan Bilzerian, who, in your humble narrator’s opinion, presents more as someone who should be selling cocaine rather than cannabis.
Bernaudo managed to build a global network under the Ignite banner until he decided to look for something new. He was then introduced to Durante and Fleetwood by a mutual friend. His interest piqued as he had always wanted to be in cannabis, and that wasn’t the direction Ignite had taken.
Bernaudo saw major potential in taking Ghost Drops’ gray market platform to the legalized market.
The two parties began to feel each other out. A vetting process which was briefly held back when Bernaudo suggested that Fleetwood and Durante go public as the faces behind Ghost Drops. A proposal that isn’t generally attractive to black market weed dealers.
A testament to Bernaudo’s ingenuity, Durante and Fleetwood agreed to move forward and the group had seriously begun working together by early 2021.
With Bernaudo on board the team now had the know-how to bring Ghost Drops to the legalized cannabis market. They had a plan on how to scale the operation, and they wanted to include everyone in the industry. A sentiment that struck a huge chord with Bernaudo, as being a pioneer in legal cannabis doesn’t come without battle scars, “What Ghost Drops was doing was catering to the consumer, not like the rest of the industry, who were catering to their balance,” Bernaudo said.
The Ghost Drops of Christmas Present
With a like-minded approach, the new team set out to build Ghost Drop 2.0: the beginning of the Ghost Drops we see today. They would become the first Canadian cannabis company to launch with pre-existing brand loyalty and the differentiator of deliberate transparency.
Through pre-existing partnerships, Bernaudo had the means to create a business structure with plans to bring quality genetics and curated products that they not only wanted to put in market, but felt deserved attention. Through well-vetted contract growing, Ghost Drops would build an infrastructure with micro-cultivators, and established licensed producers alike. This would severely reduce the company’s overhead and give Ghost Drops more control of their messaging and experience. A model that many current upstarts have begun to emulate if not copy exactly.
Rumors swarmed the cannabis industry around what these legacy “Ghost Drop guys” were up to.
A common falsehood that spread was that Ghost Drops didn’t care about packaging fines, so they put out fluorescent pink jars as a fuck you to compliance, challenging asinine color restrictions set forth in Bill C-45’s (Canada’s Cannabis Act) marketing regulations.
However, the public would later learn that Ghost Drop’s bright pink branding was one Pantone less than the defined term of “fluorescent.” Ghost Drops ability to cleverly maneuver within the boundaries of government set regulation is another point of pride for the company and by all counts, funny as shit.
Finally, there was a weed company in Canada willing to take chances.
By the end of 2021, Ghost Drops had officially announced they were coming to market and the hype was real. With Bernaudo in place as CEO, Fleetwood had publicly associated his Organik persona with Ghost Drops taking creative control of the company, and Durante had taken the role of President. The group was all in.
Those who had known previously about Ghost Drops founder’s association with the black market version of the company, prior to the press release, felt like they had bragging rights. Those who found out after the fact were thrilled that someone they viewed as a successful artist, known for giving people a platform, had also been supplying them with the best weed in the country. Needless to say the brand caught fire immediately. Some detractors cried “sell out,” but the sentiment was hard to maintain when it became apparent that the new post-Ghost-Drops-era of cannabis in Canada had opened the door for everyone in the “legacy market” to participate in: Legal Land.
While billion-dollar licensed producers struggled to reinvent the wheel, Ghost Drops steam-rolled in on tradition.
Ghost Drops quickly began dominating the market. They bought their own storefront in downtown Toronto, and within months had quickly announced a new program called The League—a division of Ghost Drops planned on funding cannabis startups, the legacy players who got them started, and cannabis brands they believed in.
Immediately, corporate cannabis started associating their brands with the term “legacy” in hopes that they could attract some of Ghost Drops’ rabid audience, credibility, and sales—a phenomenon I wrote about in detail in a piece called “The New Narc”.
However, growing fast doesn’t come without a few adjustments. Ghost Drops became in such demand that their mandate of vetting the best growers to deliver the best product had to be reevaluated. This public pause in strategy made many of those in the industry who were envious of Ghost Drops delighted with glee. The pettiest of us were hoping for failure as if Ghost Drops hadn’t already changed the game forever—a success in your humble narrator’s view that could never be taken away from its founders.
The lesson that the Ghost Of Christmas Present would likely want us to learn is that instead of trying to do what others are doing, focus on authenticity and servicing our own audience. Only Ghost Drops can be Ghost Drops.
What many didn’t take into account is that when you build something transparently, you earn your audience’s trust and respect—something few licensed producers have been able to maintain. A supporter who doesn’t feel talked down to will always continue to listen.
Respecting their base is another huge point of pride for the Ghost Drops team.
The Ghost Drops of Christmas Future
In November 2022, Ghost Drops took control of their own future and announced a major expansion with a 10,000 square foot processing and production facility. They have also taken leadership roles in educating the consumer and retailer alike on best practice of ordering through distribution programs across the country. Ghost Drops’ will continue to curate the best cultivators, growers, and practices in an ever-improving industry, and are willing to help anyone along the way.
However, as Ghost Drops continues to curate some of the best cannabis in the country, Fleetwood and the team recognize that the culture needs servicing as well. Their expansion includes continued charitable community projects, and they’ve recently initiated a song-writing camp called Creatives 1st by Club Blvd, a program designed to foster the careers of up-and-coming Toronto-based musicians.
In 2023, Ghost Drops’ plans include events such as a charity-driven industry-wide cannabis-infused poker tournament (March 31st), which they hope will bridge the gap between community and communication amongst the industry.
Perhaps the most exciting is the return of KOTD to Toronto, something fans of Fleetwood have been clamoring for. Taking place February 25th, the return of KOTD is bittersweet for Fleetwood as it commemorates and honors legendary battle rapper and close friend, Pat Stay, who was tragically murdered in early September of 2022.
If the Ghost Of Christmas Future appeared and pointed to our graves, it would be because we didn’t recognize that no matter our opinion of Ghost Drops, they are a fine example of what can happen when corporate, street-level, and marketing genius respect each other’s strengths.
Once we start recognizing each other’s strengths, we can then begin to own our weaknesses; we’ll be able to build a stronger cannabis industry for all.
More and more we’re seeing that like Ghost Drops, it takes the best of all of us, a combination of respect and unique skills coming together and finding success.
When the Bob Cratchits and Scrooges of the world find respect for each other, then the world will help more Tiny Tims. We can share and laugh while we all smoke big ol’ holiday blunts and share a taste of Scrooge’s big ol’ holiday Turkey (or preferred big ol’ plant-based supplement). Once this happens, we’ll finally get back to what cannabis is really all about: getting high.
And that’s how weed found Christmas.