Social Equity Spotlight: Creme De CannaSocial Equity • December 07, 2022
We’re sharing the stories behind some of our favorite social equity cannabis brands, and this month that brand is Creme De Canna. We were fortunate enough to speak with Jon Kolodinski and Allan Flores, the jack-of-all-trades growers turned extract extraordinaires who believe that Santa Cruz, California, is the epicenter of cannabis culture.
As two of the faces that operate Creme De Canna, Jon and Allan have experienced their fair share of hardship since the early days of the medical cannabis program in California. Nevertheless, they’ve fought to carve their own space in the cannabis industry and continue to grow and extract some of the finest cannabis products in the world.
Planting the seeds of Creme De Canna
Jon has had his brand in the marketplace since 2009. “I had been growing in the hills for years,” says Jon. “I was growing the weed and [Allan] was making killer hash.” This was the dynamic that Jon and Allan built their business on and carried into legalization, building an empire together. As one of the six original cultivators in the city of Watsonville, located in Santa Cruz County, Jon became heavily involved both politically and charitably in the local community.
As operators of a heavily regulated business and through acts of service within the community, they were able to establish relationships needed to expand their business model. Fast forward to 2017, Jon became one of the first officially licensed cultivators in Central California. These days, they have an outdoor farm, with about 10 acres of cannabis and a great relationship with the county of Santa Cruz.
But getting to this point wasn’t a walk in the park.
The early, tumultuous medical days
Before Creme De Canna, Jon was living in LA running a delivery service and a “bodega of sorts”. It was through this experience that Jon began really working with cannabis – cultivating it and learning about California’s legal framework. Allan was up north, living in Humboldt County.
“We always had an affinity for making cannabis fun, especially in the early days. I used to have this whole separate refrigerator with a freezer full of medicated cookies - those were awesome. People loved those,” Jon muses. It was during this time that Jon was operating his delivery business that he met a number of elderly community members dealing with cancer and HIV. He got to see first-hand the healing potential of cannabis.
Fast forward again, Jon decided to set up shop in Santa Cruz, “the best place in the world to live if you're trying to build a life around cannabis”. Jon moved up north and started a family in the area around 2007, when shortly after, he came out with a groundbreaking line of medicated ice cream in 2008.
Jon was featured on the local Fox News affiliate, MSN, and CNN. The news of his ice cream was circulated worldwide. Jon notes, “We got so much press on a global level, I remember months after getting daily requests from Europe and all over the country from people asking me to ship ice cream to them. I had to explain to everyone that it just wasn’t something we could do.”
Even with their successes and medical rights, it was still a tough time to be in the cannabis business. In 2012, they received a letter from the US Department of Justice, threatening asset seizure. For two months, they were burglarized by a gang of criminals targeting dispensaries. The sheriffs let it happen. Allan was robbed at gunpoint. “It was a heavy moment for us.”
Then in 2015, all assets were seized. Jon laments, “All of the sudden it went from ‘everything is great’ to waking up one morning and everything was gone.” Looking at a total loss, Jon decided they needed to figure out a plan to move forward. They had committed their entire existence to this movement and they weren’t going to bow out.
City Involvement and Social Equity Status
After little success trying to work with Santa Cruz County, Jon decided to redirect his efforts toward the city of Watsonville. Around 2012, there was no cannabis policy. Only an unfavorable city council and even more unfavorable sheriff. In order to combat the stigma, Jon and Allan set forth educating the local community on the importance of safe access to cannabis. Eventually, they were able to show that cannabis deserved a home in Watsonville and got recreational cannabis legislation passed in 2016.
Allan was on the cannabis committee forging relationships with the city and council commissioners, “I was on the cannabis committee at the time with school board members, fire police, and local community folks to help structure and answer any questions so they could understand the industry.” The city heard them out.
At this point, there was no talk of social equity but eventually there was a program put together by the city to help license holders apply for and receive grants. To help inform the program, the city reached out to people in the industry - including Allan and Jon. “Once the program was in place, we applied and got ourselves equity status based on our background, and what we’d already done for the city.”
Allan is Latino, he immigrated here from another country with his parents with the hopes of attaining the American freedoms he grew up learning about. “That freedom is really difficult to acquire,” Allan exclaims. “Having this social equity program has helped us a teeny tiny bit…we’re hoping with grant money and things like that it will really help out.”
A Commitment to Equity
“My parents kicked me out of the house for getting my doctor’s recommendation for cannabis when I was 18,” says Jon, who found that cannabis really helped him in social settings as an otherwise awkward teen. “Cannabis has been a fabric of humanity since before the recording of human history.” For Jon, the stigma around cannabis had personal consequences.
For Allan, the commitment to equity stems from his background, “Never in a million years did I think we would be licensed in this world…especially as a Latino male in this industry, it’s not for me.” An equitable cannabis industry is more than just grant applications, the lack of true social equity policies has profound implications.
Jon notes that “99.9% of [legacy] brands and groups that were operating in 2015 before legalization, have now gone out of business,” further explaining, “for every one hundred farms that are going out of business, a billionaire, VC firm, Canadian Company, etc. is planting a hundred acres in Santa Barbara County or throwing up another thousand lights in a warehouse in LA.”
The frustration and disappointment in big corporations and well-capitalized funds monopolization of the cannabis industry is valid. Many of the individuals who fought on the frontlines of cannabis legalization are being excluded from the newly established legal, recreational market. Those who sacrificed are now being priced out of the market, but that won’t stop Creme De Canna from thriving. “This regulated market we’re in wasn’t designed for people like us. But yet we are so determined to bring high quality, healing products to the world, we are still standing and we brush it off, persevere and push on because we want to be here,” says Allan.
Creme De Canna’s Newest Innovations
“We always try to be at the forefront of creating innovative products and bringing high quality cannabis to the market.” Jon and Allan just rolled out a new full spectrum oil, originating from a strain called “Cremedy,” given to them by Lawrence Ringo, the grandfather of high CBD hybrids like Sour Tsunami and Harlequin. They grow it at the farm under full sun, in the Central Coast outdoor environment, with natural spring water and organic inputs.
Their second but equally as exciting new venture is what they’re calling Diamond Nugs & Dubs, diamond-dusted flower nugs with extremely high potency levels.
“For us, it’s all about creating a cannabis company that will survive the test of time. It’s in touch with society. We could create products that help people live a better life and do it in a fun way.” Ultimately, Creme De Canna’s mission is to establish a company of like-minded individuals who want to commit themselves to the cause of cannabis, working to improve the lives of others. Until then, Allan and Jon and the Creme De Canna crew are simply building a community, one bowl at a time.
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