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On the Stone Road with Lex Corwin
Stone Road's CEO discusses building a sustainable multi-state brand with indie values
As a legacy grower turned founder of one of the country’s fastest growing national cannabis brands, Lex Corwin has never known a life outside the industry.
“I was always kind of an entrepreneurial kid—and also just a very misbehaved one. I always had a fascination with cannabis and a natural affinity for it,” says Corwin, CEO and founder of the queer-led, family-run cannabis company, Stone Road. “Some people will ask, ‘How long have you been in the industry?’ And it’s like, I’ve been in the industry my entire life since I was 16 in 2009.”
Raised in New York, he got his first taste of growing by learning the ins and outs of organic agriculture his junior year of high school at The Mountain School in rural Vermont, an immersive working farm program where students learn to grow everything they consume.
After finishing the program, he returned to New York where he ordered some cannabis seeds from Amsterdam and started growing weed on his neighbor’s property located on—you guessed it—Stone Road in Connecticut. What he ended up with was virtually unsmokeable East Coast ditch weed, of course, but you have to respect the process.
“The weed was SO BAD that I had to go get an ounce of good weed and an ounce of tobacco. I mixed them all and sold Stone Road spliffs my junior year of high school and into my senior year. And that just kind of started it for me,” he says. “I loved selling weed and having it and growing it, so it was a very natural pathway for me.”
Since then, he’s had a little practice. Today, he and his COO Sabrina Wheeler put out nothing but top-shelf, sun grown bud under Stone Road’s label, which now retails on the shelves of over 400 outlets throughout California, Oklahoma, Massachusetts, and Michigan, plus New York, New Mexico, and Connecticut expansion in the works.
While sustainability initiatives are often the first to get cut with lean operating models, Stone Road remains a brand with values despite its growing footprint. Perched on top of a hill, Stone Road’s greenhouses in Nevada City, California take up a mere half-acre of their 57-acre wild property and operate using biodynamic farming strategies (minus the whole burying cow horns filled with manure moonlight rituals associated with biodynamic winemaking).
Sticking to his consume-what-you-grow organic farming ethos, the family-run farm is working towards closing the loop of using what’s on the property to cultivate plants, including making their own compost teas, opting out of crop sprays in favor of leveraging predator mites and beneficial fungi, operating as a no-till farm to create a nutrient-rich, living soil and micro ecosystems tended to by Mother Nature and water sourced from an artesian well.
Not only are these methods better for the environment, but they yield a more terperne-rich product. (You can also swing by the farm to check it out for yourself May through September by sending them a nice note here).
Taking things a step further, the company’s distinctive packaging doesn’t just look great, it’s ecologically conscientious. Always looking for ways to be more sustainable, the company is moving to eliminate as much caustic, petroleum-based plastic across its supply chain as much as physically possible, eliminating their thin shrink wrapped boxes and moving to zero plastic tins.
“We weren’t going to grow in this really, really sustainable, environmentally-friendly fashion and then put it into a plastic doob-tube. That just wasn’t what we were going to do design-wise, stylistically,” he says. “For us that meant finding glass with a cork top tube, finding cardboard boxes—things that are going to break down in a reasonable amount of time. Just not caustic, petroleum-based plastic that’s going to be on this planet for 10,000 years.”
Being on the forefront of legalization, Corwin has also had a unique line of sight between the old and new ways of doing business in cannabis. Taken under the wing by old hippies who taught him everything about organic farming and running a business, he cut his teeth in the cannabis space in Portland, Oregon, before starting Stone Road with two friends at the impressive age of 23.
Jumping from making handshake deals on hand-rolled spliffs and watching the rise of the medical market from the West Coast and Denver to building a national brand means he’s seen it all, including notorious Wild West business tactics.
“In typical fashion, both of those business partners were gone after 6 months—one by robbing me at gunpoint and clearing out my warehouse, and the other by suing me. So, different tactics, but ultimately the same classic betrayal.”
As most cannabis farmers will tell you, California has been experiencing a bit of a crisis where many dispensaries have been sitting on invoices of up to a year and sometimes longer, screwing over farmers and manufacturers. In fact, he’s currently dealing with about a dozen lawsuits over unpaid bills upwards of $700,000 each.
“Honestly now looking back at it, people cared more in the legacy market. At least in the medical days, you’d show up with Stone Road joints and you’d get paid, and that was it,” he says. “You’re inherently disadvantaged because 20 percent of the operators we sell to—who are good people and communicative—they just don’t have the money and are holding on 200- or 350-day-old invoices of all products that we had to pay tax on, test, grow the damn thing, manufacture it, where everyone is making money on it except the farmer.”
On the latest Pipe Dreams podcast, Lex discusses how he’s been able to successfully implement a lean seed-to-store sustainability model as an independent farmer with multi-state operations, diving into the challenges of running a cannabis business in existing and emerging markets, and creating a truly inclusive marketing campaign.
Listen, like and share the episode. Follow Stone Road on Instagram. Have someone in mind that you think should be on the show? Drop a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.