Julie Dooley: Interview with a Pot Baron

After being diagnosed with celiac disease, Julie Dooley experimented with cannabis to assuage her symptoms and discovered a calling to create healthy, all-natural edibles that are flying off the shelves of Denver dispensaries. Featured on MSNBC’s documentary series, Pot Barons, Dooley battles with anti-pot opposition groups, negotiates with state bureaucrats and reveals the everyday drama that defines life for pioneering ganjapreneurs.

While Pot Barons is overly focused on the “get-rich-quick” angle of the pot legalization scene, Dooley is refreshingly down-to-earth and more interested in serving her patients a quality product than getting as rich as she can as fast as possible.

Learn how she got her business up and running, how she promotes responsible consumption and why it’s important to pair cannabis with high-quality, wholesome ingredients.

Julie Dooley, founder of Julie’s Baked Goods, allowed her life to be filmed for MSNBC’s Pot Barons reality show.

High Times: First off, I wanted to talk to you about Pot Barons. You were definitely the most likable person on that show. I was wondering what that experience was like.

Julie Dooley: I appreciate the compliment, thank you. You had a glimpse of my world for a minute. The filming experience itself was easy, they were filming my real life. What was challenging was that they took up a lot of my time, a lot of it was staged because they weren’t allowed to actually be in the kitchen while we were producing, so what you see on camera, you know—us in the kitchen, we had to shut the kitchen down for the whole day, and that was a little trying for us. But the staff that did the filming were delightful, young and very willing to learn. We had a lot to teach them and so it was kind of fun. Their knowledge was about filming, and they came away as pseudo-experts in edibles manufacturing. That experience was a good thing, and I really liked the people.

As far as the show itself, I wasn’t really happy with how it turned out. I think the public missed out on a lot of educational opportunities that were filmed that didn’t make the show, and that was a little upsetting to me. I’m happy to report that I complained about that, and so the next edibles episode will be almost all about the edibles education and how passionately we work on that part. It’s my hope that eventually makes it to the show.

HT: Has it led to an uptick in your business?

JD: A little bit. It’s hard to say because this time of year, we have an uptick anyway. But did Pot Barons cause a huge uptick for us? Not so much. It wasn’t our brand that you got to see a lot of; it was really Dixie’s brand and Euflora that got a lot of frontage, and people could remember that and they’re busy because of it.

We got a lot of national attention, which was actually a little trying for us. Every time the episode airs, I’ll notice because we get phone calls and emails, and they’re sad stories from people around the country, around the world that need cannabis for some reason, and they can’t have it. It’s been really disheartening for me to have to answer that email over and over and over again. I must have gotten a hundred emails where I have to reply “I’m so sorry, I can’t help you with your Stage 4 liver cancer; I’m so sorry I can’t help you with your anxiety, unless you come to Colorado.” That’s the best you can do. So that was eye-opening for me, how far we have to go. We’re years away from helping the whole country.

HT: What got you into the pot business?

JD: Pot, marijuana, cannabis, however how you say it. First and foremost, it was medicinal after I was diagnosed with celiac. I started doing more homework about food and what we eat and all that goes along with having celiac, which is an auto-immune disease. With that, I discovered that people who smoked cannabis had fewer symptoms after they smoked because it helps with the digestive system. I didn’t know why back then, but I knew that it helped, and I felt it myself so I loved it. But I had young kids, and it was kind of a hassle because I didn’t want them to know what was going on. I don’t condone it for children at all and how do you have smoke around the house? So edibles were a logical option.

It was legal medicinally at that time, but because I had so many food allergies, I couldn’t buy anything that was made. I had another friend, who had a brain tumor, and we had access to a third kitchen, and so we started to experiment with cannabutter. The research was really a lot of fun, with a lot of “a-ha!” moments when we’d discover something that really helped. We learned about over-ingestion, we learned about what cannabis should be paired with. It was an extraordinary time for us to delve into it for no reason other than our own research. And then the business was born. We didn’t even realize it at the time. Then 2009 came around, and people wanted to get involved in it. The circumstances were right for us, and we jumped in.

Julie’s Baked Goods uses all-natural ingredients for their vegan, gluten-free edibles.

HT: How did your background in genetics and finance help you in the cannabis industry?

JD: Genetics and finance are really similar studies—ratios, numbers—these are similar disciplines that go hand-in-hand, and so I would say the same thing about business. There’s a lot about business that is very similar to finance, obviously, and genetics in general—discipline, maintaining budgets, learning to have employees, learning to scale operations. Genetics came into play with the recipes themselves, since it’s a science in the kitchen. It was really helpful to have that science background, because I understood intuitively what I was trying to do before I was able to mathematically prove what I was doing. I was able to go from a recipe all the way to a manufactured product, and I think that really helped.

With finance, you learn so much about business. I was a budget officer at the University of Denver for years, and you learn about big business at that level. Putting it into a small business was actually kind of easy.

HT: As bigger businesses get into the cannabis industry, how can a small business like yours hold on?

JD: By the hair of their chinny chin chin (laughs)! But really, resolve. We’re not going anywhere. We believe in the products that we’re putting out, and putting the pieces into play, slowly at my pace, which means someday it will happen, and we will be big business. Being cautious.

Obviously, I’m a risk taker. I’m in this industry, being a pioneer was not what I had in mind when I started this. Now that I’m in it, what I’m doing is too important. It’s going to affect the entire country, and so I want to continue to be involved in it as best I can. I think there’s a great future for a small entrepreneur, and I have a lot of hope that this industry has room for somebody like me.

HT: Why do you think it’s important that consumers have these healthy edible choices?

JD: News flash—sugar isn’t good for you. We shouldn’t eat it. When you’re eating cannabis as medicine, why would I pair it with something that’s potentially very bad for you? I just couldn’t do that as a producer. I don’t eat like that at all, and there was no reason why I was going to make a product that I couldn’t eat.

So it’s not to say they’re not flavorful. They’re just made with sugars that are natural, made with simple ingredients that you recognize. Maple syrup, almonds, sunflower seeds… pair that with cannabis, and it’s just one more perfect, natural, organic ingredient. So I think that was important to offer to people like me. It was a very small niche in the market, people with auto-immune diseases who don’t eat gluten. Everything I make is gluten-free, and that’s a small demographic.

But what happened, look what happened to Whole Foods, it appeals to everybody now. People are getting aware of what they’re eating more and more, and it’s not just because they’re sick, it’s becoming a popular thing. So a company that has their ingredients in big bold letters, because they’re really proud of their ingredients and because they go together with cannabis so well, it just makes perfect sense.

Julie preparing the Nutty Bite treat.

HT: What kind of feedback do you get from your patients and customers?

JD: Happy, usually, rarely a bad comment. We hear that people have a great night’s sleep. That’s probably our number one comment; low anxiety, they were happy all day… Because we are strain specific, we target certain ailments, including anxiety, along with an extraordinary pain reliever. Our favorite feedback is when we hear someone was able to give up narcotics or prescribed medicine and now has switched over entirely to cannabis.

For instance, we had a boy who lost both of his legs in a tragic accident, and his life was pretty much just about taking his regimented prescriptions, which impacted his ability to do anything. He was a homebound 22-year-old who really had no life, and edibles were able to slowly but surely help him get off of his prescription pills. We hear that story again and again… And now he works. He’s a productive member of society. He has his prosthetics so he can move around, and he doesn’t need to be at home all the time. Those stories are our favorites.

We also hear people who say “we were so horny for 12 hours, we had multiple orgasms.” We hear that too, which is all just great (laughs). Tell us more!

JD: See?! It could help with that!

And that’s why my company is such a huge supporter of any kind of research, because we have to learn more about this plant. We know anecdotally what it can do, but we haven’t even begun to understand how much this really could help people.

HT: It’s very heartening to hear that Colorado is giving money directly to research.

JD: And they made a big public announcement about it, so that the public could contribute, which was huge. People like me have been looking for that. I was able to contribute to the seed genome project, which is going to be really exciting; they’re going to map the cannabis genome. There’s an epilepsy project that’s going on with Children’s Hospital and PTSD in Arizona. That’s being studied, so I think it’s just going to be great.

HT: What are the difficulties you encounter in this business?

JD: Constantly changing regulations. Regulations are coming at us so fast, and we have no time to change. The consequences are that we have to shut down for a few months or change up and spend ten thousand more dollars, so that’s been the hardest thing, just to be nimble, and that’s partly why I stayed so small. Until the regulations are really firm and the country has a grip on it, you have to be nimble.

We only order 10,000 labels instead of 100,000, even though the larger order would save us money, but we can’t order that because by the time we’re through 10,000, the regulation is going to change. We deal with that by working with industry alliance groups. We sit at roundtables almost every week and discuss regulations and go over interpretations. We’re introducing a new bill this session, and just doing everything we can as an industry to help so that the regulations can calm down a little bit. We want to settle into a groove and have something that the whole nation can look at.

HT: A lot of the concern that’s been driving these new regulations is issues of edibles appealing to children. As a parent, I’m hoping you can give some advice to other parents about how they can keep their kids safe around edibles.

JD: Parents need to educate themselves about what edibles and marijuana look like. Even if it’s just going online and looking at a dispensary and seeing what an edibles comes in. I think it’s very helpful for people to be able to recognize packaging. Right now in Colorado, they’re very similar to pharmacy pill bottles and the label is clearly marked with warnings, information and instructions. It’s sounds silly to remind consumers to read the label, but we do. We’re also working on symbols that can be clearly recognized.

To us, education for the parents is critical, anywhere they can get it would be great. As far as the products themselves, they’re labeled and packaged as child-resistant, and they have a ton of information on there. It’s very clear what’s inside. There might be colorful, sugary treats inside—and while I don’t personally condone that—many adults want that. That’s their dose, one gummy bear, and so that’s why they sell millions of them. I’m not going to say that’s right or wrong, but that gummy bear comes in a very regulated bottle. The warnings are on it, and the person who sold it to them should have gone over a bit of edible education, whether it’s handing out a card that explains to “start low and go slow” or personal advice to not eat all of this at once. There’s an education that has to happen on that level, and so we hold the parent responsible at this point.

As a manufacturer, we’ve gone through all these steps to make the product safe and compliant. It’s now your responsibility to keep this out of the reach of your child. That being said, of course we still have children getting into edibles. As a manufacturer, I listen to the regulators who have been giving us data from Children’s Hospital. For instance, there were over 40 cases of children (under 10 years of age) going to the hospital since 2010 in Colorado, and, in almost all cases, they’re starting to admit that it was a homemade edible… that it was not a manufactured edible that the child had gotten into. Or the typical child who passed out the brownies at school. That was a homemade item, not a manufactured, regulated product. So the industry’s not happy about this.

So what we want to do is continue to enlighten people about what marijuana looks like and smells like. You know, what does a pot brownie smell like? It smells different than a regular brownie. Simple things like that any parent can do that, just smell it for a second.

HT: Is what why you personally don’t share recipes, and you advise against people creating edibles at home?

JD: Exactly, I just can’t condone it. I don’t think that people understand that cross-contamination is such an issue when working with cannabutter. The odor will smell up your whole house for days. Do you have a pet? You have to think about that because you might drop some of it on the floor and then they’re going to eat it…

When I started out in 2010, I thought, I’ll tell people about what’s right and wrong about cross-contamination, and I started to, but I got too many questions. I realized that people weren’t paying attention to what I was saying so I stopped trying to do personal training. I don’t put out any material about how to do it at home at all.

Everything I do is tested by a laboratory, and that’s the safest way to consume an edible: A laboratory-tested, regulated product, comes with instructions, so that’s what I will support.

Measuring each piece of Nutty Bite helps maintain quality control.

HT: How do you select the cannabis for your edibles?

JD: At first, we just got what we got. I didn’t have contracts, but now I have two grows that we get to pick, so I just call them up and say I want a couple indicas in the kitchen because we’re out of our Sleepytime, or we need a better pain reliever, and they’ll give us a list of the strains. We have a database of every strain that we’ve worked with and anecdotally what we know about it, so we can handpick and tell the grower that we want x, y and z today.  That’s why we don’t have a consistent product, if you try it in May and go back in August to try it again,  it’ll be completely different strains. It’ll offer similar relief, but it’ll be different because each strain is different. I like that about cannabis, so I want other people to have that experience as well.

HT: Why do you feel it’s important to use clarified butter?

JD: The fat solids that are in butter can cause certain microbes and fungus to grow in products on the shelf in the dispensary. To have a long shelf life, you need to use clarified butter that does not have milk solids that can essentially cause mold. So I have a longer shelf life because of it.

HT: Where do you see the business going in the next five years?

JD: I see us going maybe to the national level on a small scale. We’re not going to do anything big and fast. I continue to see the education projects that we’re working on to grow. We need a new program other than DARE, so I think something good can come out of it. As the industry grows, more and more people will try cannabis and discover for themselves if it’s something that’s going to help them.

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