Eclipsing $2 billion in sales in 2020, Colorado's nation-leading juggernaut of a cannabis industry has made a habit of defying expectations. It's difficult to predict what's coming next.
But one thing is for sure: Manufacturing and R&D have gone hand in hand for more than a decade. The 2021 Colorado Manufacturing Awards finalists for Cannabis Manufacturer of the Year are prime examples of businesses that keep science at center stage.
Medically Correct celebrated 10 years in Colorado's cannabis industry in 2020. "It was a fun year to reminisce about where we were and where we've gotten to," says founder and President Bob Eschino.
Now 90 employees strong, the company -- best known for its incredibles line of cannabis-infused edibles -- spent the last year focused on launching a number of new brands: Nové, a luxury chocolate brand; fast-acting Quiq; Clear Creek Extracts; value-priced Zelo; and Trupura CBD.
"It doesn't stop," laughs Eschino. "You always think that at some point you're going to be able to coast a little bit, but we haven't been able to do that for 10 years. It keeps us on our toes."
"We're still as an industry struggling to be normal businesses," he adds. "We don't have banking, we still can't get a loan, we don't have access to capital, we still don't have normal business tools, we still pay taxes double what other industries pay. We're not going to be a real industry until those things change."
And for that, change at the federal level is needed. "We haven't created an industry yet -- we've created 32 industries, because each state is different," Eschino notes. "At some point, it's not going to make sense to grow cannabis indoors in Maine."
CompanyWeek profile (August 2017): https://companyweek.com/article/incredibles
"The business is proliferating," says NuVue founder and CEO Dr. Malik Hasan. "The main facility has tripled in size." The company is now 130 employees strong, and Hasan projects 70 new hires as the company expands to seven dispensaries with new stores coming soon in Gunnison and Cortez.
But Hasan says he is more excited about NuVue's long-term strategy to conduct clinical cannabis research, and the company is on the short list for a license from the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to grow cannabis for research. "We think we will meet those requirements," says Hasan. "I'm optimistic that we'll get the license."
He adds, "Because we build our facility from the viewpoint of research, we are much better prepared than anybody. We are the only one in Colorado selected on the short list."
The DEA license would allow the company to pursue federal grants and new markets. "Not only will the door for big grants open up, but we can send our product anywhere in the country or even export it," says Hasan.
CompanyWeek profile (March 2018): https://companyweek.com/article/nuvue-pharma
A vertically integrated manufacturer, Stratos has expanded from cannabis-infused tablets into topicals, tinctures, and smokable products. "We still stay true to our mission, which is providing full-spectrum, full-plant products," says CEO Jason Neely. "One thing most people don't know is that we actually grow, so we are seed-to-sale."
Tablets continue to lead in terms of sales, but pre-rolled joints are on the rise. "In the next three to four months, they might pass tablets," says Neely. "They're just bigger categories."
Stratos is now looking to enter new markets, says Neely, citing Arizona and Oklahoma as top targets. The key, he adds, "is really working on our processes, so when we go to expand, it's flawless."
In 2021, success for Stratos is all about continued innovation. "The biggest thing, I think, is just to continue to develop," says Neely. "We're R&D at heart."
CompanyWeek profile (August 2017): https://companyweek.com/article/stratos
The winners of the 2021 Colorado Manufacturing Awards will be revealed at a virtual event on April 29, 2021.