I sat down virtually with Dennis Hunter, Co-Founder of CannaCraft to talk about how one of the largest cannabis companies in California has paved the way for the cannabis industry. After serving over six years in prison for cannabis cultivation charges, Hunter later went on to co-found CannaCraft with fellow farmer Ned Fussell. Established in 2013, CannaCraft is the umbrella company for several renowned brands including Care By Design, AbsoluteXtracts, Farmer and the Felon, and HiFi Hops.
*Interview has been edited for clarity and readability.
SHELBY: Can you tell us about CannaCraft and some of the brands that you’ve created under it?
DENNIS: CannaCraft is one of the largest manufacturers of cannabis products in California, founded in 2013. We have brands like AbsoluteXtracts, Care By Design, Farmer and The Felon—that’s one of the latest ones that we just came out with and it’s doing really well. But just being one of the larger manufacturers—we’re vertically integrated so we cultivate, manufacture, and distribute all of the products that we have.
SHELBY: What is CannaCraft’s background and mission in the cannabis space?
DENNIS: It’s bringing happiness through cannabis, really. There’s so many people that rely on cannabis every day, whether it’s just to take the edge off, or whether it improves their life and health in so many different ways.
SHELBY: How does science inform CannaCraft’s methods of extraction and production?
DENNIS: You know, from the get-go we’ve always looked to people from other industries and things like that that bring some expertise into our extraction processes, looking at how to keep all the components there that have so much therapeutic effects. So we have chemists and Ph.D.s and do a lot of research, and collaborate with a lot of researchers as well. Just looking for the best technology to get the cleanest, most effective products that we can.
SHELBY: And Care By Design recently went full-spectrum, is that correct?
DENNIS: We like to say we’re now offering our fullest spectrum oil. We’ve used full-spectrum oil in our products for years to enhance efficacy, but we are now formulating with even more cannabinoids, flavonoids, and terpenes that are so effective for steering what that product does. Research over the years found that the terpenes and the flavonoids are really the magic in the sauce, that THC and CBD as cannabinoids are just so much more effective when they’re influenced by those different terpenes, minor cannabinoids, and flavonoids. And that’s why you see certain strains that are more sedative, or more upbeat, or more body, and different things. A lot of the terpenes are really steering it and [making it] effective.
So you’ll see with Care By Design we’re going to be coming out with an effects line. We’ve been doing the research probably for almost two years just to really perfect this line and use those terpenes and flavonoids and some of the minor cannabinoids as well to make effects, whether it be for sleep aid, or pain relief, or stress, or whatever. Obviously cannabis helps with all those things—but it’s amazing how we can naturally grab the right components of some of the terpene profiles and help with individual effects.
SHELBY: Switching gears a little bit, how have your experiences within the cannabis space and the criminal justice space influenced your decision to start CannaCraft, and also Farmer and the Felon in particular? I know that one’s very focused on the criminal justice aspect of it.
DENNIS: I’ve been growing cannabis since the late eighties, and for so many years it was just a childhood adventure that just hasn’t really stopped. The plant is so amazing—I feel good every time I’m around it, and every time I plant another seed or start another clone, the magic I’ve seen from the plant and the people that it’s helped through my life—I’ve just gotten to witness how it’s changed people’s lives. It’s turned into my passion and it’s something that’s now my life-long passion.
The other part is, it wasn’t an easy road getting here. My passion also put me in prison for six and a half years. Getting raided back in 1998, I ended up getting busted by the DEA and ended up getting pulled away from my family for six and a half years, so I’ve never forgot[ten] about that. It was a hard time. But I took a lot of that and, when I got out went into the hydroponics space—because I was on federal probation, I didn’t want to go back to prison right then—I started just selling supplies to growers, and I knew exactly what they needed so it was really easy to create other products in the hydroponics space to sell to them. Then the day I got off probation—I literally had been planning it and thinking about it the whole time that I really wanted to start CannaCraft. And so my co-founder and I, Ned Fussell, started CannaCraft and kind of with an eye of doing things a little different we created Care By Design, which is a CBD and THC ratio-based product. We found that there were so many consumers who needed to find the right ratio and the right dose to really be effective. And for them to even try it—there’s so many people afraid of getting too high because of one bad experience they had when they were a kid—and so they just kind of swore off cannabis. Our target was to show them that it can be done differently by creating really precise doses and ratios that could be repeatable; then we could find where their comfort zone was and create a product to fit it.
So in doing that, we were probably one of the first cannabis companies to have a lab and do all of the analytical work to make sure our products were absolutely accurate. Every time someone had an 8:1 tincture and had two drops that they were going to get a very similar effect as the last time they did it, which I think is what was lacking in the cannabis space at the time. Having an analytical lab was very expensive, and it was a lot of work but really stepped the game up for the industry to make everything be accurate. And now today you see every cannabis product has the milligrams listed on it. It’s such a different place than it was literally five or six years ago.
And then, you know, it was really amazing to go to prison for six and a half years for something I did that now, all of a sudden I’m running a company that’s doing the same thing. And it was validating a little bit, it was kind of like I felt like I shouldn’t have been in prison for cannabis, it was BS. So I kind of think I wanted to prove a point at the time [laughs]. Here I am running this company, and it’s getting larger—we have hundreds of employees—but, you know, there’s still people in prison. There’s people that are in prison still from when I was in there that I met that had such large sentences that they’re still sitting there. So we created a brand where we wanted to tell a story of CannaCraft and we wanted to bring awareness to the injustices of the War on Drugs and just kind of the damage it’s done to so many families. So Farmer and the Felon is that—it’s our way of creating a product that asks questions. Any time you’re looking at it, it’s like you cannot not talk about it—why this brand is here. Being a felon in this day and age is tough for a lot of people, even when they get out of prison, to get jobs as felons. We wanted to wrap the name around it and bring up these issues. We’ve been able to partner with Last Prisoner Project and bring awareness to what’s going on and try to affect change through raising money to get people out of prison, even raising money to help people once they get out of prison kind of transition, because it’s a tough transition. And given today’s economy and things like that—even worse. So we’re just trying to do some good work with it and it means a lot to CannaCraft to really know where we came from and not just to turn our backs on it because we’re able to have a successful company. I think that just puts us in a position to have an even louder voice and raise more awareness about the injustices and get people to kind of push back, because you would think today that oh, it’s all legal which it’s just not. There’s still people serving life sentences in prison for cannabis which is just the most ridiculous thing. Anyways, we’re going to do what we can to keep raising up the voices and affect as much change as we can.
SHELBY: Yeah, we definitely live in a little bit of a bubble here in California, just because cannabis is becoming more and more accepted but obviously it is not across the country. But hopefully we’ll get there.
DENNIS: No, no. [It’s a] different world out there in some places.
SHELBY: What are some of the achievements that have been made by Farmer and the Felon, and by CannaCraft as a whole? And then also if you have any obstacles that you’ve faced as well, post-Prop 64?
DENNIS: Obstacles, I think you could talk to any cannabis company and they would tell you the same thing. Obstacles are, it’s a difficult place to be successful. We get a lot of, you know with 280E, and just the regulations and the double standards and the different pieces there, it’s a really difficult space to operate in. We have stricter guidelines and stuff than probably any other product in the world, maybe other than pharmaceuticals. It’s been amazing how well the industry has done to put out the kind of products that they are and be held to that standard and do really well. But it’s expensive, and it takes a lot of time and effort to do that. As a business, we pay so many taxes and everybody thinks that money grows on trees when it comes to cannabis and that there’s so much money in it, but the reality is it’s really difficult. We have really high costs and costs of regulations, and then we get taxed anywhere we can—can’t even write off expenses unless it’s cost of goods. Try to run any other company with those kinds of obstacles and it would be very difficult. So it’s definitely not for the meek—I think everybody that’s in it doing it, at this point that’s running credible companies are literally doing it because they love it and they’re passionate about it and so they’re going to weather it through and hopefully we’ll get some relief in the coming years.
Achievements—CannaCraft, it’s been such an amazing journey. We probably have a top brand in almost every category in cannabis. And it’s just being passionate about trying to figure out what people are looking for—our customers—and trying to make really effective products, and it’s showing. And Farmer and the Felon, being the latest brand that we launched back in last year in April, it’s already in the number seven position best-selling flower brand in California. So we’re really stoked with that and it’s such a fun brand, I get to immerse myself in it. This last year I got to go up to the farm, and actually I spent about three months in a motor home up there basically setting up a new farm that we had and so I got to be with the plants the whole year through and seeing that flower going into the bags it’s really amazing.
SHELBY: So you mentioned earlier—Care By Design I believe you said—is coming out with a new line of products, the effects line. Between that and anything else coming down the line is there anything you’d like to share with our consumers?
DENNIS: Yeah so the effects line is going to be amazing, we’re really excited about it. We didn’t rush this to market, we really took our time to get it perfected before we launched it. So I’m excited to take all of the research and work that our science team has done to make this [an] effective product. I’m excited to see the customers get to experience it, so I’m looking forward to that.
I think the other exciting thing is that Humboldt Terp Counsel has joined the CannaCraft family. I’m not sure if you’re familiar with them, but it’s maybe one of the best, headiest extract companies, and just high-end, really artfully-done extracts. So we’re going to be able to bring those to all of the accounts that we already sell all of our other products to and let them—that distribution and kind of spread that around. I know up here in Northern California they’re renowned they’ve won so many competitions and stuff with Emerald Cup and High Times Cup and things like that, so getting that and spreading it down a little more into Southern California, I think you guys are going to be blown away by some of the extracts that these guys put out.
SHELBY: Is there anything else you’d like to convey to consumers in terms of shopping for a safe, legal product?
DENNIS: I think I’d say just to support your shops, the regulated shops out there and to know how much compassion and energy gets put into making the quality of products that we put out and so many of the other companies put out. We’re held to a very high standard and almost all of the companies out here in the industry and the regulated market are doing an amazing job of putting really great products out. And I want to give you an invitation if you’re ever up here in Northern California, we’d love to have you by the CannaCraft facility and walk you through. We have one of the best tours in the cannabis space we really love to share what we do with people. So if ever you get that chance, we’d love to have you by.
SHELBY: Well thank you so much Dennis, it was really a pleasure talking to you.
These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. Nothing said, done, typed, printed or reproduced by Torrey Holistics is intended to diagnose, prescribe, treat or take the place of a licensed physician.