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AUTHOR: Heather Allman
PUBLISHER: CANNABIS LAW REPORT
In May 2021, Cannabis Law Report talked with John Friess, Founder and CEO of the Metolius Hemp Company in Bend, Oregon about their company roots, how consumers have evolved, and his words of wisdom for others in the industry.
CLR: Why CBD? Why a new brand? How did you get started in making CBD-related products?
John Friess: Our team believes that hemp has the potential to be recognized as the most medicinally powerful plant on Earth.
We believe this because hemp doesn’t just have a multitude of incredible benefits in and of itself, but it also acts as an effective substitute for addictive drugs like tobacco.
I quit smoking cigarettes myself before I discovered the potential of hemp, and know first-hand how grueling the process can be only utilizing other solutions.
Before starting Metolius, our team was farming hemp for other brands here in Central Oregon. In the company’s early days, we created our River Rolls pre-roll and River Logs cannagar lines and began sharing them with friends and family.
What we found was that a substantial number of those people began utilizing our products to reduce, then ultimately replace their tobacco use, whether in cigar or cigarette form.
At this point we knew we had something special, something very few people in the industry were doing: creating a viable, healthier alternative to tobacco use. Our cofounder Donnie recently quit smoking cigarettes himself, and credits our products.
CLR: Tell me about Metolius — the idea? the execution? your process?
John: It began in 1969 when our grandfather and grandmother purchased 3.2 acres of land on the banks of the Metolius River in Central Oregon.
The river derives its name from the Native Americans who lived on the land and it means ‘Stinky River’ as the Kokanee spawn here and then pass on in the river.
This for us, growing up, was the one place on earth where we went to truly be in nature, to reconnect with family and friends, to play, and to be in balance. Gratefully, it is still that place today for our team, our families and our friends.
When creating our brand, we strove to develop a line of product that shared the bliss we experience on the Metolius.
We could have opted to sell what everyone else in the industry was vending: tinctures, gummies, standard pre-rolls, etc.
But we knew that to share the Metolius River experience, our product would have to be truly special.
So, we developed our unique enhancement process, which includes a premium blend of distillate, isolate, and kief to our organically grown flower. The experience is like nothing else out there.
CLR: What is the mission and vision behind Metolius?
John: Our mission is to save millions of lives by drastically reducing or replacing tobacco consumption among the tens of millions of Americans who still regularly use it. A sad truth is that cigarette smoking alone causes about one in five deaths in the US*.
Cannabis, on the other hand, has no significant correlation with increased cancer rates (and in some studies correlates with lower cancer rates). If we can transition more tobacco users to hemp, or nothing at all, we’ll save an incredible number of lives.
CLR: When and how did you personally first discover the potential of CBD?
John: I first discovered the power of CBD when giving it to my son, Canyon. Canyon, as other autistic people often experience, has always had trouble sleeping. Waking up multiple times an hour, yelling, sleep walking, etc. were all commonplace.
It wasn’t until I gave him CBD that he finally slept consistently through the night.
The first time I gave it to him, I was so shocked by his lack of noise that I ran into his room in a panic and woke him up only to see that he was, for once, sleeping peacefully. From that point on, I was sold.
CLR: Tell me a little about the products that Metolius is offering.
John: Metolius products, that we’ve dubbed the River Line, is comprised of 100% organic smokables, topicals, and pouches that allow our community to benefit from the benefits of CBD, CBG, and other non-psychoactive cannabinoids by seamlessly incorporating them in their daily routines.
- River Logs, our take on a premium hemp cigar, provide a smooth, rich taste that pairs fantastically with many spirits. Made of our homegrown CBD and CBG flower, wrapped in an organic palm leaf, and finished with our distillate, isolate, and kief enhancements, they provide a laid-back toking experience like nothing else out there.
- The River Roll pre-rolls, which come in both a CBG flower and a CBD/CBG flower blend, deliver a robust flavor experience and powerfully calming effect. Because of their premium flower and added enhancements, River Rolls are packed with tasty terpenes, which provides a full-bodied, smooth, and balanced profile.
- River Dips, Metolius’ most unique product to date, is the world’s first ever CBD lip pouch. Simply grab a pouch and put it in your lip or whatever you sip to experience the calming impact of pure CBD isolate.
- River Springs is our line of CBD whole plant based topicals. They’re created with a blend of fifteen different herbs, essential oils, waxes and butters, to soothe pain and discomfort whether that be due to injury, soreness, or more general aches. Because River Springs are anti-inflammatory, they are also often utilized to alleviate headache and migraine symptoms!
We are also in the process of bringing to market a cannabis-based sleep aid, called River Dreams, this summer. I think it could very well be our most popular product to date.
CLR: Let’s go beyond Corporate Social Responsibility. Talk to me about “positive impact” and what that means for you? For Metolius?
John: Our goal is to save millions of lives by spreading knowledge and use of this amazing plant. So, positive impact, for our team, comes down to creating a healthier and happy world.
We have a deep belief that health between both people and the planet are inextricably tied, which is why we only farm utilizing organic and regenerative techniques.
If we can continue to steward our land by increasing biodiversity and sequestering carbon all while helping people live longer, more active lives, we’ll consider this venture a job well done!
CLR: What are you most currently passionate about at Metolius?
John: Changing lives through wellness is what gets the team out of bed in the morning. At the end of the day, that’s what we care about.
CLR: How do your past professional expertise and experience help you with your leadership role?
John: I’m a life-long startup guy. For the last twenty-two years, my career has surrounded scaling entrepreneurial ventures, whether building my own or acting as an investor or advisor for others.
Over the course of these two decades in startups, I’ve been fortunate enough to see multiple ventures through, from the first days in the garage, all the way to achieving a successful exit or going public.
When I had the opportunity to join my co-founders, who all hold a deep expertise in growing and producing cannabis products, it was a no brainer to make something happen together.
CLR: What do you enjoy most about your job? The upsides?
John: Working with the team that we’ve built every day has been an incredible experience. We all work hard and focus well, but we also have a truly great time while doing it, which is crucial when building a sustainable company.
There have been countless periods in my life where I’ve been continually exhausted and stressed from my work, and there are certainly times while running Metolius I’ve felt the same but working with the team we have on the powerful mission we’re pursuing has given me a tremendous amount of energy and passion.
CLR: There can be two kinds of industry players: (1) people-centric, and (2) profit-centric. How do you reconcile the two in order to maintain a balance at Metolius?
John: Fortunately for us, given our mission of replacing tobacco, the more people we help live longer, happier lives, the more we succeed financially.
One thing that I think is important to touch on though is that CBD brands often price their products way too high in order to maximize profit.
Charging two, three, or even four dollars for a serving of 20-30 mg of CBD has become commonplace among many brands, which is frustrating to see. If other brands truly cared about making the highest impact on the most lives possible, I think we would see a lot more of them strive to make it more affordable.
That’s why we launched our Club subscriptions. If a customer comes to us and commits to purchasing a certain amount of product from us every month, we’re more than happy to give them a significant discount.
Our River Dip Club, for example, gives consumers the ability to pay between just 54 to 66 cents for a 100mg serving of premium, organic CBD. Our margins on these are thin, without a doubt, but we’re willing to prioritize access over a higher margin because it still funds the business and allows us to pursue our mission.
CLR: Who taught you about or how did you learn your entrepreneur and business skill set? Do you have a mentor, concerning the CBD industry?
John: Before starting Metolius, I was the Executive Director of the Oregon Startup Accelerator, Starve Ups. Now, running Metolius, I have the privilege of once again being involved with Starve Ups as a member.
The guidance, mentorship, and connections received from Starve Up’s community of founders has been instrumental in the success of Metolius to date, as it has with my past ventures. Starting a business from the ground up can be a long, lonely process.
Being immersed in a group going through the same highs, lows, and everything in between who deeply care about my success has been key in maintaining my drive to keep going.
CLR: What still needs improvement in the CBD space? What ideas or actions need to come to fruition for true CBD regulations?
John: I would love to see the adoption of CBD by the few remaining states that have yet to legalize it. To be candid, it’s rather shocking that it’s still illegal in some places given medicinal potential and lack of risk to those who consume it.
Thankfully, however, the acceptance of CBD has been exploding over the past few years.
It’s hard to imagine it continuing to be illegal anywhere in the U.S. another five or ten years down the road. Removing it from the list of Schedule 1 drugs at the federal level would obviously help as well.
At the end of the day though, this won’t happen unless we continue making substantial progress in breaking the stigmas of utilizing cannabis in its psychoactive and non-psychoactive form.
As the use of CBD proliferates, I believe we’ll see the stigma continue to break down for all cannabis use.
CLR: What consumer product or service demand do you see trending currently?
John: It seems that general acceptance of hemp, specifically CBD, has increased by leaps and bounds since our team began farming years ago. More and more people who would otherwise never touch cannabis are now becoming active users of CBD and reaping its benefits.
We think this will be quite beneficial for the entire cannabis industry as it continues to expand.
Words of Wisdom
CLR: What advice or words of wisdom can you give to other leaders to help their teams and companies and brands to thrive?
Strive to find your niche and go after it with everything you’ve got.
Those that aren’t afraid to be different are likely the ones that will evolve into the next big names.