Late one night last year, Case Mandel was visiting his mother in Santa Cruz, California, when an old high school buddy, Cliff Sammet, called him up with a concept for a revolutionary new cannabis product: weed dip. “I thought, this has definitely already been done,” recounts Mandel. “So I Googled it and started researching. It turned out that there was nothing, zero.”
Mandel and Sammet were no strangers to the marijuana industry, having grown up in Humboldt County, one of the three counties that make up California’s Emerald Triangle, the largest cannabis-producing region in the United States. While Mandel had held a series of cannabis-cultivating jobs before pursuing a master’s degree in business, Sammet’s experience was more personal. He had gone to Santa Clara University on a basketball scholarship, only to have his athletic career derailed by bone cancer, diagnosed in his sophomore year.
Surgery and chemotherapy took a toll on the athletic 6-foot-8 forward, his weight dropping to just 150 pounds. “He started using cannabis at the hospital,” says Mandel, “and got his weight all the way back up to where it was pre-chemo by having people sneak edibles into the hospital.”
Seeking a Solution
Both Mandel and Sammet chewed tobacco in early adulthood so the idea of a cannabis product that employed the same delivery method seemed like a perfect solution—provided they could solve the bioavailability issue. Rather than move forward with an edible-equivalent product—a solution Mandel says he might have gone with had Sammet not put his foot down—the duo kept working on the issue.
“Finally, we found an amazing food industry chemist, Leslie Norries, who had developed a technology that allowed us to make the THC and CBD water-soluble,” he explains, noting that the initial concept of a pouch product was not revolutionary until the partners added the water solubility aspect.
The result? An all-natural, fast-acting, spitless cannabis “dip” product available in two forms—medical marijuana packages (containing THC and CBD) and CBD-infused pouches (CBD only)—both of which take effect in 15 minutes. The water-soluble flakes inside each pouch are activated by saliva and absorbed sublingually, says Mandel, who says the company has a patent pending on the process. “Because it’s not going in as a liquid, it has a really good opportunity to get absorbed in the mouth.”
Determined to do their utmost to set a high bar for the competitors they were sure would eventually enter the market, Mandel and Case invested in high-end packaging and getting their flavoring right. “We invested $75,000 in tins that we ordered from the Netherlands, from the home of the snus that inspired us,” says Mandel, who says the partners decided to go with an artisanal look and quality. “We didn’t want to just get plastic packages from China and put stickers on them.” Drawing on Mandel’s industry contacts, they also brought in a chef and flavor expert to design three distinct flavors for the brand (mint, citrus and American).
The company has also adopted strict quality-control measures designed to ensure safety and consistency. “We get organic hemp from Humboldt County [and farm-bill-compliant hemp from Colorado], and we test everything when it comes in for mold and pesticide,” says Mandel. “As we make the product, we test again in two steps to make sure our end product is solvent-free, with no molds and no pesticides. We are dotting every ‘I’ and crossing every ‘T.’ As we go national, we will be moving production to a GMP-certified facility.”
The company is currently selling both products in California and will be rolling out its CBD product (already in test markets) nationwide this spring. Because the U.S. government has yet to legalize marijuana at the federal level, the medical marijuana version of the product cannot be shipped across state lines. However, Cannadips has already licensed the product to a producer in Nevada and will be considering additional licensees, as well as international markets, says Mandel, who is gearing up for a busy 2018 once the product hits store shelves nationwide.
“We’ve gone from, ‘let’s create weed dip,’ to introducing a brand-new delivery mechanism for THC and CBD,” he says. “It will take time to educate the market about this product, but the potential is huge. We’re really excited about the journey we’ve been on and where it will take us.”
– Story by Jennifer Gelfand
This story first appeared in the November/December 2017 issue of Tobacco Business magazine. Members of the tobacco industry are eligible for a complimentary subscription to our magazine. Click here for details.