Jesce Horton’s newest cannabis brand, LOWD, launched the week of Oct. 26 at 28 dispensaries in Oregon’s adult-use cannabis market. Cultivated in a 7,500-square-foot facility in Portland by 12 employees, LOWD cannabis’ brand and flower products have been years in the making. (Horton made a facility and brand pivot after his first cannabis business—Panacea Valley Gardens—which operated within the medical market, didn’t qualify for an adult-use license because of zoning restrictions.)
In this Q&A, Horton—a former engineer for Siemens, founder and former director of the Minority Cannabis Business Association, board member for the Resource Innovation Institute and Cannabis Conference 2020 advisory board member—discusses the road to officially launching his adult-use cannabis business, what the LOWD brand means to him and his team, and the steps the company is taking to build a strong culture and high-quality products.
Editor’s note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Cassie Neiden: Could you provide us some background into your journey of launching LOWD?
Jesce Horton: I am one of the people in the industry that started growing from their basement—actually just a clone in my backyard. Like many people, through the different regulations, from moving from an unregulated market to a medical [market], here in Oregon there were a lot of changes. And then [when] moving from medical to recreational, we experienced even more in that the facility we built while being medical no longer qualified [for recreational cultivation] from a zoning perspective.
So throughout that time I was doing a lot of nonprofit work. I decided to step down from the nonprofit [Minority Cannabis Business Association] and focus 100% on finding another facility and building it out steadily over about a year and a half. And then we waited for about a year for licensing. We started again from the bottom with a big, empty warehouse. And from that point, we steadily built it out, using a lot of energy-efficient equipment, a lot of process design, and moved from 10 lights up to 100 flowering lights here at our new facility in Portland.
During that time we focused a lot on our branding, messaging and also our strain selection—making sure that we were curating a menu that we felt would be successful in the very saturated adult-use market here in Oregon. So that’s kind of where we are now.
CN: Are there any lessons learned from your first medical facility that you’ve applied to this new recreational facility?
JH: I would say making sure that [you’re] taking your time. I think in this market, a lot of us feel like you have to go as fast as possible, and you have to get to that next toll gate as soon as you can. And sometimes, within that process you sacrifice a lot of things like equipment selection, process development, [and] team development. Within that first iteration, we really learned that [lesson], and we [took] our time over the last couple years—not really being in a rush to get to the adult-use market—but making sure that when we got there, that we had a very strong team, that we had really solid branding and messaging, and that we had a product that was consistent and of premium quality.
CN: You’re a board member at the Resource Innovation Institute—and I know sustainability is important to you. How did that factor into the process development, facility design and equipment selection?
JH: [With] the bootstrap methodology, the goal is always, for example, to add tons of cooling, however many [tons] that may be. And a lot of times, within that, you’re sacrificing the efficiency of that equipment, and you’re not designing the facility around that equipment. You’re kind of fitting things in piecemeal. And instead of doing that this time, we really took our time to identify and try some of the most efficient HVAC equipment. We developed our facility so that it could utilize heat exchange, so that we could then optimize that equipment [for use] in our office space, in our propagation space and all throughout our facility, understanding that [each of those areas] need different levels of cooling. We have one system that can essentially provide that for each room.
And then also, in lighting selection, instead of going for the typical PAR [photosynthetic active radiation] value that you look for, [we thought]: How can we make that a little bit more efficient and better for the plant? So we utilize mixed-spectrum lighting.
CN: How many people do you have on your team now, and how did you go about building that team?
JH: It was very painstaking way of doing it. But it was one from a founder’s perspective, one my partner and I were a lot more comfortable with. We built the team very slowly—we brought on our trusted group of people that we’d been working with. [We brought] people on [for] a trial basis and if they didn’t fit in with our core values, [we helped] find [another] place for them within the market [by utilizing] our network. We quickly moved people out of our facility that we felt weren’t adding a great amount of value, versus just being able to do the job. We definitely pay our people more, but we feel like we have a group of people that really focus 100% on excellence.
So I think we have an all-star team of people, it’s kind of all home grown. Our creative director is actually my cousin and one of the top black ad executives in the nation, [Brandon Pierce]. He’s the vice president, executive creative director, of Hulu. TaJanna [Mallory] also is a great core team member and she’s been working with me since I started MCBA [helping] me to grow that organization, as well as my old college roommate [Oyd Craddock II] who does all of our graphics. So I think a lot of times people look at the quality of what we’re putting out there, and they assume there’s a lot of money or a lot of big players behind it, but it’s really just a small group of creatives and cultivators who are really trying to exemplify the Portland cannabis culture experience.
We have a small investment team. It’s actually 100% black investors, primarily friends and family. Our biggest investor, though, is the former president of Jordan Brand [Keith Houlemard, who] has really been helping to guide a lot of our work as it relates to working with retailers. Similar to how Jordan Brand always wants to connect with the community and its most important consumers, we’re trying to figure out exactly where [ours] are. So [we’re] making sure we have metrics and are understanding how things are doing at the individual dispensaries, making sure that we identify other dispensaries that are out there that may not be on the radar that are really serving our consumers well—figuring out how to really get closer to the people that we really think are driving the culture.
CN: What are LOWD’s core values, and how are the folks on your team living up to them?
JH: Without a doubt, first and foremost, is being thorough and complete. We call it hardworking. That’s one of the most difficult qualities to find: people who are going to honor the plant because really, when it comes down to it, if you cut any corners [for an] easier way, it will come back to you somewhere down the line. That’s just how this particular part of the industry works. In doing that we have to find people who are looking at the purpose of the job.
The second one is culture. And that may be kind of different for different people, identifying with cannabis culture and that can connect with all the way to the oldest member here which is a 70-year-old lady, Linda Kozen, who spent a lot of time in the Applegate region in southern Oregon cultivating plants from when she was a little girl. She’s very, very connected to the medicinal aspect and the culture of cannabis cultivation here in Oregon. [That also includes] people who identify with the street culture of cannabis: people who have been arrested for cannabis, for possession or for sales or whatever it may be [and] people who understand how that market moves, how the city really works.
CN: Tell us more about the branding and messaging of LOWD.
JH: [We like to think of] LOWD [as] the intersection of street and nature. If you think about a plant that really [represents] the beauty of nature, the diversity of nature [and] urban culture—I think it’s cannabis. So, LOWD wants to be that voice. We don’t think there’s any other place that exemplifies that more than the city where we operate, Portland, Ore. That’s how we identify with our consumers: people who want to go and spend the weekend hiking but also love to go to the city to sit down to have a cup of great coffee or go to a great club or spend time at a beer brewery with some friends. That’s what I enjoy, and we think more and more people are enjoying those same things. So as this Portland culture continues to grow, and continues to get more diverse, we want to be a shining star that represents that growth and diversity.
CN: What does LOWD stand for?
JH: LOWD stands for a few different things, we kind of play with it a little bit.
First and foremost is Love Our Weed Daily, and that touches on our employees here and how we care for the plant. But it’s also the consumers and the connoisseurs that we want to connect with who are very, very tightknit group of cannabis people: people who really love the plant, who consume on a regular basis and are discerning of how they select their cannabis.
Love Oregon Weed Daily is also one that we play with because we believe Oregon has some of the best cannabis in the world. We believe that strongly.
Also, Live Out Wild Dreams is the third one that really connects with us because we’re all guys who’ve [started by] growing from our basement. Being able to build a cannabis brand is one of the biggest dreams that each and every one of us has ever had, so this is our way of bringing that out.
And the acronym LOWD also connects with us very much because it’s a big part of the street culture and how they discuss the most premium cannabis, the best weed—we’ve always called it “loud.” So much of the cannabis culture has been stolen, has been transitioned, has been left behind. We want to make sure that we really grab a piece of the culture in our own way and help to put it on a pedestal.
CN: What goes into LOWD’s genetics selection?
JH: We are very ambitious with seed here at LOWD. We pop seeds from some of the best breeders on a regular basis. Usually when we select the strain that we believe has a nice profile, instead of popping 10 seeds, we usually pop 100 to 150. We’ve been [selecting strains] very ambitiously over the past two to three years, strictly for the purpose of identifying strains that we feel fit into really unique terpene category profiles, ones that have really been important in the evolution of strains that the cannabis culture identifies with. Those would be Purple Punch crosses, OG profiles, Kush profiles, Garlic x Cookies crosses and profiles, very gassy profiles. [These are] really important categories that make up the strong diversity of strains out there. And we’ve tried to select a strain that can fit into each of those categories so that no matter what [people] like, we hopefully have something—our interpretation—of that particular profile.
We have the typical wholesale flower that we sell in half-pound increments, but we also have a really unique product that helps us to give the consumer what we think is the closest experience to smoking like a grower. And we call those our SLAG—or Smoke Like a Grower—jars. The idea is, typically when someone picks up flower from a dispensary, that flower has gone through a lot of handling, whether that be at the harvest, breaking it down into bins, the trimmers touching it and weighing it, then going into another container, then going to distribution, and being weighed again—we think that really diminishes the flower over time.
So what we’ve done with the SLAG jars is we’ve, ourselves, selected what we think are the best buds—the truest essence of each plant of our best plants. We hand-trim those directly into a UV-resistant jar, and then it’s never touched again. And that way, we feel like a consumer can come and have the flower that’s minimally handled, thus giving them the chance to smoke like growers do. We think growers smoke better than anyone.
We are working on pre-rolls and live resin and rosin that we hope to be released by the beginning of the year.
CN: How did launch week go?
JH: It was a great, big week. We launched in about 28 dispensaries, and we’re happy to know we were No. 1 [in flower sales] in 98% of those dispensaries that we launched in. We got a ton of great feedback, [and] we’re working very closely with the dispensaries to learn which strains are doing the best [and] figuring out how to bring the most successful strains to those individual stores.