Lee Stowell worked on Wall Street selling high yield junk bonds for 25 years before deciding to return to her native Vermont with her six children in March 2020 to take over a medical cannabis operation in Brandon, called Grassroots Vermont.
“I wanted to get back to Vermont,” Stowell said in a recent interview. “I built my house 15 years ago, but I didn’t move up here permanently until Covid hit.”
Stowell built her house on Goodsell Point on Lake Champlain in Colchester, on land her great grandmother purchased in 1937 for $3,000. Nine other family members also live on the point. Stowell said her great grandfather owned and operated ferries crossing Lake Champlain, and family legend has it her great grandmother bought Goodsell Point using the accumulation of her husband’s pocket change.
“She actually wrote into the leases, because my great grandfather was a speculator, that he didn’t have the right to sell the property, and she gave seven pieces of land to her seven kids, and it’s just been transferred and transferred,” Stowell said.
With Grassroots Vermont, Stowell is showing the same determination and vision − landing the contract to be the exclusive supplier of cannabis for a new line of products being launched by Ben Cohen called B3 for Ben’s Best Blnz − as her great grandmother did landing Goodsell Point.
“It’s been a whirlwind,” Stowell said.
Ben’s B3 launching ‘cannabis Ferrari’ in Vermont
Stowell got into the cannabis business by way of serendipity. She was acting as a financial advisor to a cannabis-growing operation in Kingston, Jamaica, being run by another Vermonter, former Nectar’s co-owner Chris Walsh.
“We met down in Jamaica and started doing cannabis investments together,” Walsh said. “She was like, ‘Guess what, I’m moving back to Vermont from New Jersey.’ When she moved up here we hit the ground running. We’ve done a bunch of stuff together. This is our magnum opus.”
The masterpiece Walsh is referring to is the deal with B3.
“Everyone wanted to work with (Cohen), he chose Lee,” Walsh said. “A lot of people were lining up because this could put any manufacturing facility on the map. This is a very high brow, sophisticated product. We’re building the equivalent of a cannabis Ferrari. The manufacturing plant that does it gets a lot of street cred.”
Cohen’s approach to his nonprofit cannabis business is to offer five different blends with five different effects on the user. Cohen, 72, explained there are six to eight “major terpenes” in cannabis that determine what kind of effect that cannabis is going to have, depending on how much of each terpene is present, and the relationships among them.
“In our pre-rolls, which we call blended slow smokes, they are deliberately low potency because so many people feel like pot’s too strong these days,” Cohen said. “I felt like there should be pot more like the way (it was when) I grew up, when I was in college. Turns out what we were smoking in college was 4-8% THC, back in the 60s and 70s. Now what you find in the dispensaries is mostly 20-30% (THC). You know it’s just too strong for a lot of people.”
THC is the substance that’s primarily responsible for the effects of marijuana on a person’s mental state, according to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. It’s the part that gets you high.
From clear-headed to out cold
With B3, Cohen focused on manipulating the terpenes to create five different effects on the user.
“The first one would be focus,” Cohen said. “That’s pretty clear-headed and motivated and high energy. On one end of the scale you have energetic. On the other end of the scale you have sedated.”
Second comes ECS, which stands for “enhanced creative and stimulated.”
“Mentally you make different connections, different perspectives that you normally would,” Cohen said. “Walking out in nature things are a little enhanced. Being physically with a person is a little more stimulating, a little more enhanced.”
After ECS comes cloud 9, which Cohen describes as “slightly euphoric,” and after that, kick back, which he said is “relaxed.”
“Then there’s dream, sweet dreams, which is good for going to sleep,” Cohen said.
More than a year of testing terpenes
Walsh is responsible for coming up with the formulations for B3’s line of products. He said testing went on for more than a year.
“From the summer of 2021 to the summer of 2022, every week I rolled 80 joints,” Walsh said.
Those joints went to 30 to 35 test subjects, mostly in Chittenden County.
“We had 65-year-olds, Ben’s crew,” Walsh said. “We had daily smokers, we had light smokers, we got a good cross section. It kind of vacillated because we burned people out, believe it or not. Once we got it locked in, we brought the brand here and we’re going to launch May 1 in medical, hopefully in adult use soon after.”
The reason B3 is launching its medical line first in Vermont is because Stowell is still waiting for her approval from the Cannabis Control Board to produce and sell cannabis for adult recreational use. The board is responsible for administering the adult-use and medical cannabis programs in Vermont, as well as regulating hemp and CBD product manufacturing, according to its website.
Stowell said Grassroots Vermont has a vertical license, which means it can grow, produce and sell medical marijuana. The company has applied for a vertically integrated license, which would allow it to grow, produce and sell adult-use recreational marijuana as well.
“Our application is all in, we’re just waiting for that process,” Stowell said. “Then, (the Cannabis Control Board) basically blesses it and it becomes recreational and medical.”
Ben Cohen’s latest social mission
Like the ice cream company he founded with Jerry Greenfield, Ben Cohen has a social mission with B3 − to “right the wrongs of the war on drugs,” he said.
“In the industry, people have started to realize that Blacks were arrested at four times the rate of whites for smoking pot, despite the fact that both colors smoke at the same rate,” Cohen said. “Now that it’s becoming legal, the money-making parts of it are mostly owned by white people. Blacks paid the price, but they’re not reaping the rewards of legalization.”
With that inequity in mind, B3, a nonprofit, will use 80% of its profits for grants and loans to black cannabis entrepreneurs. Ten percent of the profits will go to the Vermont Racial Justice Alliance, and the remaining 10% will go to the Last Prisoner Project, a national organization that works to get people convicted of cannabis crimes out of jail and get their records expunged, according to Cohen.
More: Waterbury’s Zenbarn Farms supports racial equity in the cannabis industry through fund
“We’re looking to downplay the Ben part,” Cohen said. “Not because of Ben & Jerry’s, just because it’s not about me. It’s about these guys and the cause, righting the wrongs of the war on drugs.”
B3 provides the graphics, marketing and packaging
The business structure of B3 is as a licensor, according to Cohen.
“We developed the formulas, we developed the graphics, the marketing, the packaging and we license that intellectual property to a licensee,” Cohen said. “This operation is controlled by the licensee in Vermont, which is CNC Higher Love. CNC Higher Love is run by Chris Walsh and Craig Mitchell. They’re working with Lee’s operation to actually manufacture it.”
While B3 is a nonprofit, both CNC Higher Love and Grassroots Vermont are for-profit entities.
CNC Higher Love is B3’s first licensee, but Cohen acknowledged B3 could develop similar relationships with other companies in every state where cannabis is legal. Twenty states and the District of Columbia have legalized weed for recreational use, and 27 states allow it for varying medicinal purposes, according to yahoo!finance. Idaho, Kansas and Nebraska prohibit it entirely.
There are only three vertically integrated licenses available in Vermont like the one Grassroots Vermont has applied for, and no more will be created. Stowell is in the process of buying Grassroots, and the licenses along with it, from iAnthus, a Canadian company with headquarters in Manhattan at 420 Lexington Ave., of all things.
“I run it, I’m the general manager, but I will become the owner as soon as it closes,” she said. “I think this is going to be an interesting startup for us. We’re starting off with a bang.” (Full Story)