Honoring Colorado’s early cannabis entrepreneurs


There’s a lot of talk these days about cannabis and big business. Corporate entities, cigarette companies and other greedy, moneyed interests, the reasoning goes, are poised to swoop in and kill off the local folks who built the cannabis industry and turn it into just another corporate product. The Walmartization of Cannabis.

It’s something that Tim Opsal, onethird of a cannabis mobile app company called BestBuds, has been thinking about as Colorado begins its second year of retail cannabis sales for adults. Opsal has just published Best Buds of Colorado 2014: Pioneers of Legalization, which casts an already somewhat historic light on some of Colorado’s cannabis pioneers.

The book includes interviews and stories about some of the early dispensaries that opened in Denver as legalization became reality, why the owners got into the business, how they developed their companies and built their product lines, their dreams, failures and successes. Growers talk about how and why they come up with new strains and why they love the business they’re in. There are plenty of color photos of many of the state’s popular strains, a wealth of information about the state’s legalization efforts as well as an appreciation for those who were there at the beginning.

“The real inspiration behind the book was to honor the dispensaries that have brought about legalization from a recreational standpoint,” Opsal says. “They are folks we really felt encapsulated the entrepreneurial spirit that the marijuana industry was built on. As we got to know them better, we learned their stories and wanted to share them in a physical format rather than a digital platform.”

What Opsal realized was that the Colorado cannabis business was started mostly by small mom-and-pop entrepreneurs.

“They have a passion for the plant and wanted to see it happen here,” Opsal says. “They go through constant changes and are taking the lumps in what is still an experimental market. Without these folks making the effort and paving the way, there would be no industry. We thought we’d give them a little honor and tribute. If it does go to big business, I don’t want them to be forgotten.”

Opsal started the BestBuds digital platform on Jan. 1, 2014, with partners Ronnie Wagman and Jordan McHugh. Opsal and Wagman had been friends in high school before moving here from Madison, Wis. “I wanted to work with websites and with maps,” Opsal says. “We enjoyed marijuana, and we saw this as an opportunity.”

The BestBuds app uses a mapping system with picture-based menus that allows users to find dispensaries based on the quality of their product, with a couple of features that distinguish it from Weedmaps or Leafly, the two most popular national mobile cannabis apps.

“We learned from users, and we found that most were connoisseurs and wanted the best rather than the cheapest marijuana,” he says.

Anyone can access BestBuds at bestbudsapp. com, which allows users to search by specific strains or products and find dispensaries that carry those products. The iPhone app offers picturebased menus and allows for a rewards system. It’s much like a coffee-shop punch card, only this one resides inside your phone.

The BestBuds app also offers a “Be Our Bud” program, which allows dispensary users and owners to send and receive direct personal messages.

“Many of our customers use this direct messaging system to send out menu updates and deals to their customers,” Opsal says. “We are currently the only mobile app on any platform that allows for two-way communication between dispensaries and their customers.”

Every dispensary in Colorado is listed on the website, but only the 50 signed up with the service have full profiles with menu items that are searchable. And BestBuds recently partnered with The Cannabist, which now uses the BestBuds map on its website of Colorado dispensaries.

Opsal expects 2015 to be busy: “We will bring on more support help to assist us with customer service and maintenance of customer accounts. From a technology standpoint, we plan to release an Android version and a new version of the iPhone app optimistically in the second quarter of this year.”

Opsal is working on an e-book version, but Best Buds of Colorado 2014 is currently available as a hard-cover book.

“We only have hard copies available online and on Amazon,” he says. “It is also retailed at all dispensaries and some record stores. The Boulder Book Store picked up a few copies.”

Opsal says current plans are to continue expanding throughout Colorado.

“We’re starting in Denver and looking to Colorado Springs, Boulder and Fort Collins. We are slowly expanding, but we’re a three-man band. Scalability and remaining customer-centric is a concern. But we really have our eyes and hearts set on continuing to support our Colorado dispensary clients. We have found success in that we’re a Colorado company. Our customers have a face to go with the service. At the end of day, people want good service.”

You can hear Leland discuss his most recent column and Colorado cannabis issues each Thursday morning on KGNU. http://news.kgnu.org/category/features/ weed-between-the-lines/

Respond: letters@boulderweekly.com

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