Interview with MarQaha | Cannabis Tinctures, Drinks, and Sprays
Skipp Meador is a Co-founder of the Cannabis Brand Marqaha (along with Tim McDowell), a trained pianist, motorcycle racer, a dojo of ping pong Kung Fu, and an international man of mystery. We went up to his home in the hills outside of Boulder, CO to learn more about his life and company.
Generic question to start out, but can you tell everybody what Marqaha means?
Marqaha is a word that the Arabs use to describe a state of bliss when they drink a massive amount of coffee and stay up all night, essentially to get closer to God. So the state of Marqaha is a state of spiritual bliss. We thought it would be a great word to re-appropriate and bring into the cannabis world. That’s how it started.
When did you start Marqaha? How did you get into it? Let’s get the backstory.
I started in 2009. In 2009 the federal memo went out and essentially said the federal government is going to lay off states that had medical regulations and laws in place and overnight Colorado just went nuts because it had a constitutional right for cannabis. There was a small caregiver model here going back to 2000, and I really had no idea that that was going on in my state. And overnight it was everywhere.
Next thing I knew I was on the dispensary side, building out of cultivation, learning this whole world. One of the things that I wanted to do was start a product line. We spun off from a group and ended up doing everything independent by ourselves. Tim (co-founder) was there in the early days, and we started Marqaha then and said, man, we want to reach the whole state. We want to do something where we can really interact with everyone rather than just a dispensary. And that’s what we did. You know, just cranked it, up created our little logo, and the name, and like most people figured we would figure the rest out. Just crazy times.
I mean everyone talks about these crazy times. It really was and still is, it’s just different now. There’s a regulation side, but there’s still very much a soulful side to this whole thing.
So how did you meet Tim?
Man. Tim was one of the first guys that came in when I got into the business. He was hired at the very beginning to help figure out the kitchen. He was a trained chef. He went to Johnson Whales. He’s actually a pretty awesome chef, but he cooks so much that it’s hard to get him to cook for you.
He came on right at the beginning. In all honesty, just those early days of crazy people that everybody had to go through. The experts were coming in from God knows where myself included. I was initially going to be a silent investor in this industry and quickly realized, oh shit, I’ve got to get rid of a lot of people and do this the right way. And Tim was one of the guys that were just solid and honest. And we hit it off immediately. Just a salt of the earth guy.
I know formulations, I had a nutraceutical company that I started before Marqaha. So, I was getting into FDA background and that kind of stuff. And that’s how Marqaha started. You need to have folks that you trust.
So talk to us about Marqaha’s product line for those who might not be familiar. What have you guys got going on?
We started with beverages and expanded to tinctures. Early days we did a sublingual spray. So the idea of micro-dosing that people are talking about now in the industry, back then it was just how much can you put into a brownie. The THC arms race you know. Here’s a thousand-milligram piece of pizza. We looked at it and said, well what’s the smallest amount we can get somebody?
I took a medical approach early on and said the industry is far deeper and more soulful than the stereotype. Than the High Times crowd. Even getting within the High Times crowd lots of soul there as well. I mean those are the cats, they’re the reasons we’re here. These are the folks that would live and die by this.
So our approach was liquid base, beverages, tinctures, sublingual sprays you know we wanted a product where an 80-year-old woman could interact with the plant right and enjoy it. And now you look at it a few years later, and this is kind of the norm now. Which is refreshing to see. We know that other folks are doing a great job out there as well. Great brands out there. There’s a lot of products that have got to earn it now, it’s not just a cannabis thing, It’s got to be more than cannabis. Like what are you doing this for?
Do you see the medical side differently from the recreational side? Do you make different products for Each?
Same products, same intent. Each state has its own approach. Here in Colorado, medical doesn’t have any limits right now on THC. Recreational, retail everything’s capped at one hundred milligrams. In some products, it’s great having a thousand milligrams, it’s just easy to interact with. Other products like tinctures, sprays, and things like that, it’s really a dosing device for some people that need more of those milligrams for medical reasons.
So there’s a micro-dose part that works for a lot of people, but then you see this other crowd where they’re hitting 100 milligrams in a session, and that’s their medical use, and you need to address that as well. So you’re not going to eat a big chocolate bar to hit that. So we just concentrated everything to make it easier to get to those milligrams.
What for you is one of the most poignant moments where you thought Oh things have changed. Did you have that moment or has it been inconsistent?
You know we saw it early on. I had a dispensary here in town, The Dandelion. In those early days of having the Dandelion, seeing who was coming through the door really opened our eyes of what was really going on up there. You know people were quite private that they were even using cannabis at the time. So seeing that change where people were proud to talk about it and the type of people that were using cannabis so just seeing that in those early days we knew that there was something more there. You know very much so.
We have always focused the brand on education. I mean you go to our website we’ve got educational brochures about how to safely use the plant in all its forms. Even education on products that we don’t produce because maybe a tincture is not the best for you. We offer other ways you can interact with the plant to help you find the way that’s right for you. We help people learn how to use it safely and know what they are getting into because we really are self-medicating. You don’t have a doctor telling you what dose to take, there’s really no science behind it other than personal experimentation.
We were talking recently about the idea of a consistent Brand Experience, thoughts?
I think one thing that’s changed in the industry has products that are consistent with their dose. Anybody can use a product and know exactly what dose works for them every time. Whether its an 80-year-old woman, a 21-year old that got in a car accident, a 20-year old that just wants to have a good time or somebody that just wants to relax after work. They know what to expect, and they can trust it. That’s what’s changed out there in the cannabis industry, and you see it in the population. It’s up to the brands and these companies out there to keep pushing the education and designing good products right.
People need to trust the brand. When a brand comes out with a new flavor, consumers know that the dose is X. In the cannabis industry brands are really creating a food and a drug at the same time. Creating a delicious chocolate bar is the easy part. Creating a chocolate bar that you’re getting a consistent dose or in our case a tincture or beverage, man, it isn’t easy. And then you take that out to 100,000 units. Wow. You know I mean you got to be spot on with your manufacturing, everything you know.
Have you guys run into like a bad run of product? I guess have you ever had like a “recall”?
We have never had a recall.
Well, what would you attribute that to if anything?
A few things. You know we’ve had a couple batches that because of liquids separated a little bit more, but it wasn’t because of dosing or anything. We still look at everything we do as a medicinal. When you’re talking to somebody that has three or four months left to live, they’re going through chemo, and they’re saying ‘I want to use cannabis.’ ‘I want to use your product.’ It puts it in a completely different light. You’re no longer formulating something that tastes good, you have to be spot on with everything because this is your user and they’re trusting you in a deep, deep, deep way.
So for us, we test every ingredient. We test for pesticides in our blueberries or the tea. Every ingredient that we bring in we test the origin of it and get a certification that there are no pesticides. It’s the standard of the brand, but it really started in earnest. It’s the stuff that you don’t really talk about. But it’s the medical side, we know that some of those end users it could be the difference of them not making it another month or a poison that they’re being introduced to that didn’t come from the cannabis. You get into that stuff and all these companies being thrust into a medical world with these list of conditions doesn’t mean that everybody’s got formulations figured out or that they even know what all these conditions are.
So we’ve always taken the approach of learning about these things, reaching out to nurses and doctors. One of our good friends is as a palliative care nurse. She’s seen it all. She’s seen every facet of life. And in embracing cannabis now, she’s retired she still helps folks through their entire life. But we ask her questions like, What does this mean?. What does this look like? Just learning and being respectful of that whole process. You look at this plant, people are using it therapeutically, recreationally, spiritually, medically, all rolled into one at the same time. I have more than once seen somebody with two weeks to live and I go over and see them, and they’re laughing. They had pain head to toe, and now they’re having an enjoyable end of life experience. You see this like holy shit! We got to do right by this.
That brings up a question of the spirituality behind the plant and if that does have any spiritual meaning for you?
I’ve been making tinctures for almost 30 years my life. I have tinctures in my garage that are a little over 20 years old. So for me, plants have – I mean some plants can kill you – but pants are powerful. So I got into plant-based medicine more because I believed in it, even before cannabis quite honestly. I believed in plants as medicine early on. So when cannabis became legal here in Colorado, it was just a natural progression especially seeing this plant as being quite powerful.
The Dandelion, my old dispensary was named as I was yanking up dandelions, a medicinal plant. There’s Dandelion wine Dandelion tea, it’s a master medicinal plant. At the time I didn’t have a name for my dispensary. And I thought holy shit this (dandelion) is a misunderstood weed! So I named the dispensary the Dandelion. Plant medicine has just been something I have always believed in.
You’ve taken thousands of milligrams of THC at a time. Can you tell us about this experience?
I’ve done a few heavy sessions. Some high users may say, ‘man that’s nothing,’ a thousand milligrams session or two thousand milligrams. I wanted to know what it was like to be in that state. I already knew I wasn’t going to die. To hit the LD (lethal dose) level for cannabis, you would have to get it intravenously and millions of milligrams. You’re gonna pass out before you could ingest that much.
I wanted to experience high doses so I could talk to other people and understand what they were going through. To say I get it. This lapse of time and this time interval starts chopping up, and you’re phasing in and out of reality and just the whole experience and knowing that you’re gonna be okay, but you’re just living… you’re going to have a hell of a night. You know you fall asleep, and then you wake up, and you’re still in it; you’re like Noooooo! Groundhog Day. He has like 2000 milligrams, wakes up… Over and over again.
You know there’s actually these books, I’ll grab them right here, so I can show them to you. These are amazing books. Pikal and Tikal right. A chemical love story. So this was a husband-wife Alexander Childen and Ann, so this is the guy who created ecstasy, MDMA. And reading their story, this husband-wife, he had this lab in northern California had the federal legal right to develop drugs. This unbelievable lab, he synthesized thousands of different combinations and his way of testing this stuff was on himself and his wife.
So you know reading these about these guys and getting into their life, man a 2000 mg session is really nothing. It’s really coming into it being confident enough in yourself to know how to go through that experience. Mindfulness.
These folks were with each other you know there was a love and a bond where they could pull each other through this. You kind of get into that and you learn more about at least for me way more about in this case cannabis by getting to that level. What are the extreme limits? You know what’s physically happening in my body. What’s happening mentally. And it’s really a learning experience. So it’s not just to talk to other people to say I know what you’re going through, it really is learning about it. And saying, yeah I’m going to do this and test other things that way. And know that you can do it safely.
Do people call in to ask you questions about the products and dosing a lot?
Yeah, the 800 number points to my cell phone. It has from the beginning. I’ve had some fantastic phone calls coming in through that line. I wouldn’t change it. You know there’s no customer service line. They don’t know who’s answering, but I get calls from customers all over. I get calls from folks that have never used our product. They get educational materials. I mean they’ve been out there for almost nine years now, and they just have questions. It’s just as simple as that. You know somebody from Kansas calling and just questions about cannabis. And that’s the wild part.
They’re like Man I got in a car accident two years ago, and I’ve never drank or anything, and now I’m addicted to opiates. You get these calls of desperation, and being in the cannabis space and being a brand you have to be prepared. You’re a steward. And in the right companies the good dispensaries you know they understand that they have staff that’s ready for that. Right. The brands out there that understand that these are the calls are coming in because they aren’t going to a doctor to ask them. They’re not going to their H.R. department or their boss. They’re reaching out with these questions, and it’s the companies out there that are answering them.
What is the best phone call in your recent memory?
Best phone call. A guy who his mother was 75yr old South African woman, he was torn between putting her into chemo or not going to chemo and learning how to make whats called Phoenix Tears. He had read about Phoenix tears and saw our brand when he was out here. And I mean I’ve shown tons of people how to make Phoenix tears the right way. So going through this, I mean sweet old lady and getting her on the phone afterward with this South African accent just a beautiful experience and she ended up living another five months and he said it was one of the greatest… him loving his mother and I’ll show you upstairs I got this this bronze Buddha that he sent me I’ll let you read the letter and show it to you. This just shows up in the mail just like thanking me for walking him through this and having his mother pass that way. Right. He said I get to be my mom respectful and loving and real. Right.
Do you get anybody calling you to effectively shit talk you?
Yeah, I had a call, this would have been probably less than two months ago a woman called to complain about our tinctures. So she calls to complain that she had this psychedelic experience on our tinctures. The place she went to was out of the brand that she usually used, so she bought ours. After she tried it, she called me, and was like, something is wrong with your products, they mislabeled them. And I said Well you know that’s not possible.
It could’ve been possible eight years ago because there was no required testing. Now its independent batch testing. The state will lock everything up, so I mean you’re testing and validating each batch. So I’m explaining this to her and saying it’s a different formulation. You’re just getting, in my opinion, a better formulation in your system. You’re getting more of the plant right. It’s just a product designed a different way than the one that you were using before. And she’s like I’m just going to go back smoking weed. She didn’t even want to go back to the other tinctures. She was like that was horrific. Kaleidoscopic colors.
So as far as marketing goes in the cannabis industry, you can’t market in usual fashions. What does Marqaha do to get to the people?
Word of mouth. I mean it’s the old fashioned way of earning it. Education, we said early on if they trust education and our logos that gets the name out. But it’s really earning it in all honesty. We’ve never been big on hype, we’ve never even at high times. I mean, we have a butterfly for a logo. It doesn’t really look like any crowd seemingly. We wanted something that that wasn’t speaking to, speaking at, or down, or with any culture because I mean marking or who you’re marketing, what’s your demographic, is it male, female, blah blah. Well, there are children with epilepsy using cannabis to 90-year-old women…
It really comes down to if they trust the product and it really comes to the product just rip off the label ripoff all of that if it works then that’s it. The brand is just a way to find it again and ask for it again.
Speaking of the industry, I always think it’s interesting to ask where you think the industry is going or future predictions?
Future predictions. With all the hype right now with money coming into big companies in Canada right now, you know Altria, Constellation you know now we’re talking billions. There are billion-dollar valuations. It looks like everything’s gone corporate and countries are opening up. You have Uruguay allowing growing, and there’s a lot of CBD flying around now and plants grown for those purposes. But in the end, it’s still a simple plant and people can still, in some countries, be able to grow it themselves.
So I think the craft model is still very viable although it doesn’t look like it from the outside. Craft growers, brands that are making products that people just want to interact with. You see that with big food. The crafts of the world, Nestles, they end up buying the other companies that just made a better product. Because they didn’t understand the consumer. And you know the idea that big pharma is going to take over or big tobacco, yeah, I think they are coming in. Obviously, they haven’t even really begun. The U.S. market is huge. But man there are thousands of strains, and they’re not going to be able to keep up with the variety of products that the small companies that are quite nicely already dialed and dug in and have the ability to produce.
We’re getting established, and we stand for something. And I believe that will still thrive and you’ll have the big box version where folks that are OK with buying a product from a 7-Eleven. But they’re not going to be able to interact with all the varieties out there or put the genie back in the bottle. You know the varieties there, the strains, the craft genetic, there’s just so much going on that the consumer has already… you know Pandora’s box has been opened. So the big companies aren’t going to able to compete with that although they’re going to have their version of it right.
The cheesiest question I ask someone before we let you go. Favorite color?
Favorite color, dark indigo blue.
How about a favorite album?
Hip Hop, Low in Theory by A Tribe Called Quest is pretty stellar. Jazz Donald Bird’s a new perspective is a sweet album gospel and jazz Herbie Hancock on the keys. It’s good.
Favorite record to listen to stoned?
Favorite record listened to stoned man. Like a million just flew through my mind. I would say these days there’s an old album I tend to right now called Cybophonia. This is circa 2000. It is a solid, solid album. It’s like a genre that is like downtempo it’s like jazz meets not really techno, but electronica meets jazz and just slowed down. But that’s a great album that nobody knows about.
For More on Cannabis Podcasting: