Interview: Beryl Solomon, Founder of CBD Retailer Poplar

The entrepreneur's multi-brand destination ditches jargon to make room for clarity

In 2018, the market for CBD products grew by 80%. That’s a jump to $591 million according to Illinois-based Brightfield Group, a market research firm focused on the cannabis industry. Though it’s soon to be a $22 billion business, digestible information about how CBD and THC products impact one’s mental and physical health is hard to come by. “It was everywhere and nowhere,” Beryl Solomon says. At the time, Solomon was the CEO of the accessories brand State Bags. “My life was becoming more stressful and everyone was talking about CBD,” she says, sitting on a velvet sofa at Dumbo House. “I was doing research to find out what I would want to try, but nothing spoke to me. It was either too witchy, too stoner-y, or too medical. I am none of those things.”

Last November, the Brooklyn-based entrepreneur launched Poplar, a multi-brand online retailer dedicated to CBD products. “My original goal was to create the Net-a-Porter of cannabis,” Solomon says. “But I don’t want to just serve wealthy customers. Our opening price point is $25.” While each item—from tinctures, massage oils, roll-on ointments, lotion, lube and chocolate—is enclosed in stylish packaging, they’re also thoroughly vetted. “I don’t believe that you should live in the gray with the things that you consume,” she affirms.

As a result, Solomon meets with the founders of brands she considers stocking, reviews their lab reports and personally tests each item before it hits the site. “I’ve asked vendors how recently the machine at the facility where their testing is done was calibrated,” she says, attributing the caution to her “mom side.” For an added layer of vigilance, Solomon independently tests these products and consults a network of doctors, lawyers, and scientists who can confirm their efficacy, safety and legality. Additionally, Poplar also simplifies the confounding laws around transporting cannabis products across state lines through a zip code filter that allows users to only purchase items that can legally ship to their state.

While Poplar is one of the first companies bringing order to this somewhat chaotic new landscape, it’s just four months old and is dealing with inevitable growing pains. To formalize an informal process and cement her cannabinoid retail brainchild as a thought leader, Solomon is currently establishing an advisory panel to review each product. Dubbed the Poplar 10, the group will include a former professional athlete, wellness and functional medicine professional, a fashion insider and a western medicine-oriented anesthesiologist who specializes in pain, among others. Even then, their opinions will be expressed in Poplar’s straightforward, jargon-free approach.

It’s the opposite technique to what the cannabis industry is currently taking. “Most people in the space are talking to other people in the space. It’s a reverberation chamber,” Solomon says with a sense of frustration. “They’re doing deep dives into things like extraction and growing techniques at these cannabis conventions, but the general population isn’t ready for that.” Largely led by “white dudes in suits and straight-up bros” as Solomon calls them, the industry is also lacking diversity. For her, carrying women and minority-owned brands and working with people of color is imperative to building a smart, responsible business.

I have to make sure I am building a platform that doesn’t just sell lots of product, but also gives a voice to the history of social justice issues in this category

“I’m a jappy, Jewish, white woman living in Brooklyn Heights,” Solomon says. “I have to acknowledge that privilege. As a result of it, I have access to capital, a network and so many opportunities. I have to make sure I am building a platform that doesn’t just sell lots of product, but also gives a voice to the history of social justice issues in this category.” Solomon (who’s earned a masters in government and public policy at the University of Pennsylvania) is referring to problems that disproportionately impact lower-income people and minorities including stop-and-frisk laws that land individuals carrying even a minuscule amount of marijuana in jail. “If they can’t afford bail, it starts a cycle because they suddenly have a record,” she explains.

Solomon hopes to donate a portion of sales from Poplar to bail reform for low-level drug offenses, but so far no organization is willing to take the money. “I’ve reached out to so many non-profits and I haven’t gotten any responses,” she says noting that these proceeds will sit aside until a home is found for them. “The few that did respond said that they’re hesitant to formally associate with a cannabis brand right now. ” Responses like these illustrate how deep the stigma runs even within organizations working to fix our broken criminal justice system. Even then, Solomon is hopeful.

“Things are only getting started, and I don’t just mean for Poplar,” she says. With strides being made with marijuana legalization around the country, more research on the drug and its controversial oils is emerging. “Based on my hypothesis and others’, the entourage effect, which means CBD with THC is how we will optimally absorb CBD,” she reveals. Research confirming this phenomenon could soon surface discounting the anti-THC storytelling that a number of CBD brands are currently banking on. “There’s going to be a whole other wave of conflict if you will,” she says.

Solomon hopes that Poplar will bring clarity to the industry. “We want to help people navigate this new world with facts, not tell them that THC is the devil or CBD is a silver bullet that’ll make you see Jesus. I know it can be confusing and scary,” she says. “But the beautiful thing is this is just the beginning.”

Images courtesy of Poplar