Interview: Guy Rocourt, Co-Founder of Cannabis Company, Papa & Barkley

An insightful view of wellness, with sleep as a new area of focus

When cannabis-based wellness brand Papa & Barkley launched in 2016, the world was a very different place. While Adam Grossman (co-founder and executive chairman) and Guy Rocourt (co-founder, president and chief product officer) and their team continue to focus on cannabis products that positively affect the mind and body, they’re also acutely aware of the different stresses of the “new” existence we’re collectively experiencing. It makes sense then, that their new suite of products centers on sleep, rest and relaxation. Not only was that an area that Papa & Barkley planned on turning to (after their initial products that centered around pain relief) but it’s also an area that their customers focus on. The California brand always wants to meet the consumers where they are, and where they are is—evidently—lying in bed, struggling to sleep. We spoke with Rocourt about the new collection, the brand’s commitment to being responsible corporate citizens, and longtime beliefs about wellness from plant-based medicine.

Tell us about this new suite—there are a lot of different products available. 

I think we all can agree that pain-management, sleep and anxiety are the true bailiwick of cannabis, but those are broad umbrellas. Cannabis works with people differently, so there should be different modalities. When you walk into a cannabis store thinking, “Oh, this should help me sleep,” well that’s a valid thought because that is a key thing that cannabis can do, but if you’re a newbie you might want a tincture because “Oh that’s medicinal, I should start there.” Or you might be like, “I want to do a gummy because I use gummy vitamins” or you might say, “I like chocolate and that makes sense—a piece of chocolate before bed” or you might say, “I want to take a capsule, just like I take Ambien or Valium.” So deploying a suite of products was a nice step for us.

Do you grow your flower or do you work with other producers to procure what you need to formulate everything?

In the beginning, we did have a small grow with some growing partners here, but I quickly wanted to—I guess the word is “ingratiate myself to the community. Recognizing that we were new to town, I wanted to pay respect and honor those who were there. So we made it a point to start working with small farmers and empowering them. We were the first to do an agreement with folks where we would pay them in advance of the cost to secure it [the crop], then pay them once we received it and also pay them after. So we have about 300 small farms in Humboldt that we work with.

And if corporations are going to be citizens, we need to be held accountable. Papa & Barkley is a corporate citizen and is doing the right thing, because we’re talking to the farmers. I know how we treat those farmers. I know my chocolate is fair-trade because I went through the hoops to make sure of that, we know ours is sustainable because we ask the questions. It’s not good enough just because the vendor tells you, you also have to find out yourself. With the farms, it’s the same thing—it’s a deep relationship with those farmers.

It’s interesting, what’s happening in the industry. It’s important to us to honor small farms because those farmers are constantly growing the new-new and keeping our cultural heritage going. Without that, it’s a race to the bottom—you know how margins work. If folks think they can get away with putting just an active pharmaceutical ingredient in it, they’re going to do it. It’s a lot easier to just get biomass and not care what the farmers are doing, not care about pesticides. You have consumers going into dispensaries now and not even realizing that they’re no longer getting plant-based medicine. People are buying CBD—which is supposed to be a plant-based medicine—and yet they’re eating isolate. We need to fix that.

These sleep products use CBN—the cannabinoid that’s created when THC ages—can you explain a little about that?

In the case of CBN, we’re able to make it solventless for sleep. That’s a primary cannabinoid, a natural degradative THC—everybody understands old weed and how that sometimes has a sedative effect, so we went after that… Our CBN is created without solvent by just using light and heat—the same things that used to make your weed old if you left it on you window sill in the sun or on your radiator. Well, that’s what we do, we just accelerate heat and light to make our CBN in a natural way: there’s no alcohol, there’s no chemical, there’s no distillate. It’s plant medicine.

You can take a lot of cannabis in, but if it’s single-source active ingredient, that’s when you get toxicity issues. But when it’s buffered by chlorophyll, plant fats, other phytonutrients—the stuff of plants—you don’t need to worry about these notions of toxicity. That’s plant-based medicine.

Waking up feeling refreshed is also part of this equation. Can you explain a little about your solution for that?

I think it really comes down to dosing. But we did a study and had 90 participants who all fell asleep faster and slept longer and 90% reported little or no side effects. I believe that’s a dosing issue and if you start slow and just titrate up you get there—maybe you take one-half of that one piece of chocolate or one gummy, maybe it does nothing, then you take two and you’re like oh, that helped me. You go that way, you should get to the point where you fall asleep, but it also just metabolizes your system overnight, and if you get up in the middle of the night, too early, maybe you need another half gummy or something like that. Folks do have to find their exact dosing.

Your body is enjoying it while you’re asleep, quite frankly

But cannabis is not alcohol, it is not trying to dehydrate you. Your body is enjoying it while you’re asleep, quite frankly. I recommend that people take a CBD regimen every night, like an analgesic that also helps modulate sleep. I think that no grogginess is because this is a natural product. Cannabis is just a cleaner medicine.

There’s a holistic approach to the company and the products, but maintaining your integrity and scaling a business is hard. How do you do it?

You know, it’s difficult. Luckily, we’ve hired some folks from traditional CPG [consumer packaged goods] and they’re not cannabis people and I counterbalance them because I’m down the rabbit hole. With these other folks around me, I’ve allowed myself to go down the rabbit hole. I’m looking for you to buy our products and feel as guilt-free as humanly possible in the modern world. I check the packaging. I made sure it was recycled and as recyclable as possible. I’m very focused on the totality of our carbon footprint, on the quality of the products, how they’re packaged, how sustainable it is, making sure everybody in the supply chain gets their fair share. All of that is important.

On the other side, we have a CFO who’s looking at our profits and losses. But that’s where the team comes in. We have folks like me who are arguably just one-sided and I’m ready to like take 10% margin and give it back to the customers and be the best corporate citizen I possibly can be. And on the other side of the house we have strong financial controls and business professionals that sit me down sometimes and say, “We just can’t. We cannot afford to do that.” It’s a healthy tension, but it’s not easy.

There seems to be a balance within the company that’s literal and figurative. Can you explain about the ways the brand has evolved and also remained true to its mission?

We already think about demographics, but we also think about psychographics with these particular products. It’s not about your age or your gender, it’s about your vibe and your mindset. There’s somebody that’s 18 that’s in pain and somebody who’s 60 and in pain. There’s somebody that’s 18 who has anxiety and there’s somebody that’s 60 who has anxiety. The only difference is the 18-year-old might want a gummy and the 60-year-old might want a capsule. But at the end of the day, they’re coming to cannabis for solutions and that’s what we should provide… I knew in my heart, I had this expanded view of wellness; cannabis is all wellness.

I am passionate about clean cannabis products—and there’s not enough of them. We don’t use any chemicals in our ingredients, and we don’t use any chemicals to make the products. If you visit us, the only chemical you’re going to see in our shop is alcohol and we use that to wipe the counters down. We make basic, plant medicine with the primary ingredient of THC, and that’s what people want.

Images courtesy of Papa & Barkley