As the legal cannabis industry continues to flourish in the growing number of states where the law has changed, more and more women are claiming their space as business owners, growers, designers and entrepreneurs. California-based Kiva Confections is a highly recognized brand (and San Francisco and LA High Times Cup Best Edible title holder) that creates premium edibles — mostly chocolates — made with medical grade cannabis. Their products are currently sold in California, Arizona, Nevada and Illinois and can be found at MedMen Dispensaries.
PAPER spoke with Kristi Knoblich Palmer, Kiva's COO and Co-Founder, about some of the best parts about working in the industry, the biggest misconceptions about cannabis and what still needs to change:
How did you get started in the cannabis industry? What were you doing before?
My husband Scott and I were working as photographers when the 2008financial crisis hit. We were medical marijuana patients and noticed a distinct lack in the marketplace of trustworthy, consistent, delicious products. There was simply nothing we felt confident referring friends or family to. With the economy where it was, we saw that there was an incredible opportunity in this burgeoning industry.
The lightbulb really went off when we visited a local chocolatier and realized how beautifully chocolate and cannabis complemented each other. Not only does chocolate make a perfect carrier for cannabis' absorption, the earthy flavor profiles worked really well together. Our background in photography had given us both an appreciation for the aesthetics of branding, and we set out to create a sophisticated brand that helped evolve the stigma around cannabis and made it accessible to a wide demographic of users. In 2010 we launched Kiva Confections. I'm happy to report we have over 100 employees now, and our products are available in four states.
Who is your customer?
Kiva's core customer is someone who wants to be in control of their cannabis experience. They aren't necessarily looking for a psychoactive adventure, but rather a subtle, enjoyable experience that they can integrate into their busy lifestyle in a balanced, holistic way. In small doses, the relaxing, mood-enhancing properties of cannabis really shines through. Many users report lowered stress, heightened creativity, and better sleep. From business professionals to parents to seniors, these consumers really see cannabis as any other health and wellness product, as opposed to a recreational substance.
What's your favorite part about running your own company in this industry? What's the hardest part?
We receive scores of letters and messages from consumers whose lives have been positively impacted by our products. The plant is extraordinary — and we have only scratched the surface on really understanding its benefits. The people are extraordinary too — from the advocates driving forward the legalization movement, to Kiva's own team — who are as passionate and dedicated as they come.
On the other hand, the constraints in this industry are like no other- from steep taxes and a lack of interstate commerce, to fighting a thriving black market and dealing with multiple regulatory bodies- and all within a federally illegal landscape. Navigating it is almost a full time job in and of itself!
What are some misconceptions people have about the industry? What do you wish they knew?
I wish people knew how relatively safe cannabis is in comparison to almost any other substance. It is non-toxic and no one has ever died from an overdose — yet it's still treated by many like a scary, harmful drug. That's the biggest misconception about the plant. The greatest misconception about the industry is that it's been taken over by Big Business. While the opportunity is immense, the majority of players are still, like Kiva, relatively small in the scheme of things. The risk is still far too great for giant players to get involved with.
Are you starting to see more female entrepreneurs in the cannabis space?
Absolutely. Women hold a greater share of executive positions in the cannabis industry than all other U.S. industries. One of my favorite things about cannabis is that it's an equal playing ground for both men and women. There is a real camaraderie I feel with other women in the industry, and a real ambition to keep it diverse and inclusive as it grows.
What do you envision or hope for the future of your brand?
Our greatest hope would be to have Kiva legally available to anyone who stands to benefit from cannabis edibles. We endeavor to continue releasing innovative, trustworthy products that our consumers embrace, and to help evolve this industry to a state of health and prosperity. Kiva is lucky to have the stellar reputation it does today — so if we can continue to flourish amidst political and legal shifts, while still hanging onto our roots, I would call that a terrific success.