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From Rock to Reefer

From Rock to Reefer

cannabis world news history heritage author performind

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From as young as I can remember, most of us have been asked the question repeatedly, “So what do you wanna do when you grow up?” At such a tender young age, most of us have no real clue what we aspire to do 15-20 years in the future. Maybe we said a doctor or fireman, or something we related to or that our parents programmed us for. I always knew I wanted to be a rock star, and that led me from my small Ohio town to LA, where I did just that: becoming a rock star! In a few short years, I had landed many gigs as a hired gun touring & studio musician, working with members of Korn, Mudvayne, White Zombie, Whitesnake, Cirque du Soliel, and a host of others. I was extremely fortunate to see the world on someone else’s dime and play incredible music with legendary artists I grew up on. In my mind, I had truly “made it” and was never turning back.

In February of 2011, I was sitting in a backstage lounge in Auckland, New Zealand, waiting to play to a festival crowd of over 30,000 people when I looked at my bandmate (Brian Head Welch of KoRn), tears welling in my eyes as I told him “thank you for allowing me to live out my dream alongside you and I’m never leaving. In fact, if you ever want to kick me out, you’ll probably have to get a restraining order because I love doing what we do every night on that stage, brother.” Unfortunately, a few months later, faced with budget cuts from management, a lapse in touring due to changing booking agents, and the fact that my wife and I were about to welcome a baby into the world, I was forced to make the hardest career choice of my life as I exited stage left for what I feared may be the last time. I left my band and looked for a full-time job to take care of my family.

cannabis world news history heritage SVH performing live
SVH performing live

Left with a feeling of defeat and utterly depressed at the thought of getting a “real job,” I struggled to figure out what direction to go. Naturally, I fell right back into music retail sales, which I did in between tour runs before making a full-time living off of music. Then one day, it hit me like a rip from Cypress Hill’s famous bong Excalibur, “Dude, why don’t you turn your love of cannabis into a career and ROCK that shit?” It was then that I immediately started looking at opportunities in the legal cannabis market and just so happened upon an ad for Vangst, a placement agency for cannabis careers. I was passed up for the first job I applied for but recommended to another company, and with my extensive pre-road experience in sales management, I would come to be one of the very first salespeople they hired. I was officially a legal drug dealer (mama was so proud).

The company was a start-up composed of executives from IBM, Maker’s Mark, and Hot Chalk, as well as a host of others from distinguished backgrounds. We began in the medicinal market and were poised to dominate the legal market, having acquired the 3rd or 4th distribution license issued by the state. On day one, we were flown to Los Gatos, California, for a week-long training where we were given leather briefcases filled with product samples, business cards, a new iPhone and iPad, shares of stock in the company, and all the tools needed to hit the streets armed for success. The goal they had was to go public on the Canadian Stock Exchange within 15 months, which we did. As one of the leading salesmen, I rose up the ranks and was asked to train two additional sales teams, and was given my own team to manage. We quickly became the go-to distro for many of the first pre-packaged brands to hit the market and in a few short months, our teams had visited every licensed dispensary in the state, racking up sales revenue and adding to our street cred. We would go on to purchase another distributor, as well as the second largest vape company in Oregon, which we then manufactured and launched in California as well. When the day came that we saw our public offering hit the CSE, I was sure I would eventually reap the benefits of my shares in the company. But I soon discovered what the term “Corporate Chad” meant, and I realized I was surrounded by them! Eventually, I was let go by a woman I had trained because I wouldn’t conform to said Chad ideology, and with that, my stock options were denied, and I was left with nothing. Within 6-8 months, that company had died, every employee of merit had lost their equity shares, and I realized I had actually dodged a bullet.

Within a few short weeks of leaving that company, I landed a job at one of the top Vape brands in the country and utilized my former team’s vast network to open up several dozen shops all over SoCal. The company was great to work for, and my supervisor was a solid dude who recognized my ability to crack open new doors. However, many of my co-workers on the sales force hated the fact that I was quickly opening shops that they had claimed ownership of even though they had spent six months or more trying to get in. I was confused as to why people would continue to peek through the window of opportunity when I offered them the key to walk right through the front door, and the tension it created led me to start looking again. But this time, I decided I had enough experience to create my own path to success in cannabis.

cannabis world news history heritage SVH with B-Real at the grand opening of the first Dr. Greenthumb store
SVH with B-Real at the grand opening of the first Dr. Greenthumb store

It was time to approach things from a different perspective and find a way to break free from corporate structure, and I realized my background as a professional musician gave me an edge to do just that. I started to see many of my peers from the music space venturing into cannabis brands, and that would be my angle. At that same time, the mighty B-Real of Cypress Hill had announced he was opening his first Dr. Greenthumbs Dispensary, Shavo Odadjian of System of a Down had launched his brand 22 Red, and Wonderbrett was doing a collab respectively with both artists (crafting the OG Kush with B, and a Pineapple OG for Shavo). So naturally, I sought to represent all three brands in the space, and I needed to get myself aligned with each of them to make my pitch to be their “agent” in the cannabis space.

After seeing a social media post for the grand opening of Dr. Greenthumbs, I plotted my strategy and made my way there on opening day. I arrived a few minutes early, only to find a massive line wrapped around the parking lot and down the street. I realized standing in line would take hours, I would be seen as either a customer or a fan, and I needed to get right to the boss man himself in true rock ‘n roll fashion. So, I drove around the back alley and up to the gate, where I was greeted by an armed guard who promptly asked who I was and where I was headed. “I’m SVH. I’m here for the grand opening event. I represent G Pen and work closely with a few of the partners in ownership. I should be on the guest list.” Although I had only at the time represented one fill partner for G Pen’s proprietary pod system, I was soon welcomed to drive in through the gate and into the back lot, where I made my way to the smoking area, rolled a blunt and made sure that I carried myself as if I was truly meant to be there. After a quick scan of the scene, low and behold, I realized I was sandwiched between Wonderbrett and Sendog of Cypress Hill. Having met and smoked with Sendog at a show in Detroit years prior, I sparked up a conversation before turning my attention over to Brett, introducing myself and offering my sincere respect for his craft of cultivating some of the highest quality cannabis I had imbibed. I inquired if he was interested in sales representation, and I think he was rather unsure of how I could help him as he was already building these monumental partnerships that had him already well on his way to becoming cannabis royalty.

Not long after, I found myself in an RV that served as a makeshift green room, smoking another blunt alongside B-Real, Berner, and a few other higher-ups from the Cookies team. Having been a touring professional and working with some legends in the music biz, I knew there was an appropriate time and place to approach an artist, and tactfulness was crucial. So, I just relished the moment and thanked the Gods of Greenery that I was so openly being welcomed into the presence of such greatness. When I popped out of the RV, I noticed a mint green Astin Martin pulling in the gate, and as the car came to a stop and the gate closed, out popped none other than Shavo Odadjian. I could have pinched myself in utter disbelief. Would this be my one shot to hit all three targets?

cannabis world news history heritage SVH minutes after becoming VP of Sales at 22 Red
SVH minutes after becoming VP of Sales at 22 Red

After a few hours, I found an opportune moment to formally introduce myself to B and express to him my desire to represent his brand, Insane, in California. Although he was very appreciative and receptive, he informed me that they were really only producing enough flower to sell at his shop but that maybe, down the road, they would consider taking me up on that offer. So, from there, I focused my attention on 22 Red. I introduced myself to Shavo but didn’t find the proper moment to make my move and eventually headed home, but not without feeling an extreme sense of accomplishment for having dropped right into the circle I was hoping to represent. Now I wait for another opportunity. Not too long after that Shavo announced he’d be doing a meet and greet at the new Cookie’s store on Melrose in Los Angeles for the drop of his Pineapple OG collab with Wonderbrett. I appropriately dyed my hair a deep shade of red, carved some crazy designs on the side, and made my way over to meet him.

Shavo is probably one of the most down-to-earth mega-rock stars I have met and or worked with, and that made it super easy to slide right into a conversation about who was currently running sales for him. He gave me the low down and introduced me to a few members of his team, and one of them grabbed my contact info in case a future opportunity arose. Within a few months, I got a call and was invited to the 22 Red headquarters. Within a few short days of that initial meeting, I was offered a position as Vice President of Sales. I inherited a team of about 4-5 salesmen and set up training to ensure each one of them was representing the brand in the way Shavo truly wanted them to. However, it didn’t take long for management to realize I was outselling the entire team each week, and they made the call to let everyone go and roll all their accounts into house accounts that I would manage.

cannabis world news history heritage B-Real, SVH, & Stephen Carpenter (Deftones) in San Diego 2021
B-Real, SVH, & Stephen Carpenter (Deftones) in San Diego 2021

This new format had me running sales for the brand in the entire state single-handedly, as well as assisting with in-store activations, meet and greets, and other brand-related events. Within a year and a half, I had us into over 130 stores statewide and helped to pave the way for new partnerships in Arizona and Nevada, where I would also travel to do staff training and help with in-store activations and meet and greets with Shavo. I was living the dream and loving what I was doing for the brand. However, I felt that I still needed to align with other artists in the space to really maximize my legitimacy in the industry and also provide new opportunities for 22 Red to align with, so I started entertaining some of the inquiries I was getting from other brands about representing them. After helping a few friends in the space with brand launches, sales team training, etc., I decided to form my own independent sales firm, and on 4/20/2020, I officially opened Higher Vibes Solutions. With that, I put my own high vibes out into the ether and visualized myself becoming what I call “the Ari Gold of Cannabis,” a no-frills badass artist manager (based on the character from the HBO series Entourage) who would fight tooth and nail to make sure my brands are represented as the true rockstars they are.

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The Universe heard my decree, and not long after, I was approached about helping Deftones launch a box set of cannabis products known as the Passenger Series (named after one of my all-time favorite songs that also featured Maynard James Keenan of Tool). Within a few months of that project being underway, I actually got a call from someone in the Dr. Greenthumb’s camp asking if I was still interested in selling Insane for B-Real. I couldn’t believe it and realized divine timing was unfurling before my eyes. I soon joined the team also as VP of Sales for Dr. Greenthumb’s while still holding the same title at 22 Red, and that’s when the floodgates opened. Soon I was working with rap legend Too $hort, selling his brand, talking with Jam Master Jay of Run DMC’s son about helping them with their pre-roll sales, and eventually ended up representing Clown from Slipknot’s brand via my new role as Head of Sales and Operations for Heavy Grass (which ironically ended up being that first job I applied for in cannabis that I didn’t get)!

cannabis world news history heritage Rockin' the Whisky & repping Heavy Grass in 2022
Rockin’ the Whisky & repping Heavy Grass in 2022

By this time, I had cemented myself into the bedrock of the California cannabis market as a true legacy player and was making bigger and better connections in the music industry than I had when touring with bands a decade earlier. To this day, I’m still actively working with new artists in the cannabis space, creating a label group with a direct-to-consumer component, and building a brand to honor the legacy of one of my all-time favorite guitarists, Dimebag Darrell of Pantera.

It also goes to show how having a vision and finding creative ways to manifest your own reality is a real possibility. You just have to follow your heart, be true to yourself, and never compromise your integrity on your way to success. In spite of the challenges we face every day in this industry, I have such enormous gratitude for the experiences that cannabis has provided for me. Every day presents new opportunities to be my own note in the symphony of the Universe, and I take great pride in playing that note at full volume.

Follow on Instagram: @highervibesvh @highervibessolutions 

All photos courtesy of Scott Von Heldt

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