Steven Jung: The Operator

Steven Jung kickstarted his journey in operations leadership as a captain in the US Army serving in various strategic and tactical roles. Since then, he has built an impressive portfolio of operational expertise, from high-growth startups in Silicon Valley to financial start-ups to Twitter. He joined the cannabis industry in 2017 as President and COO at Weedmaps, a pioneering cannabis technology company, before joining PAX in 2021 as chief operating officer.

Jung tells us about the intersect of cannabis and tech, the three qualities needed to run a successful cannabis business and why policy reform is the most important thing when we talk of legalization.

Cannabis Now: What specifically in your colorful and varied life experiences influences your work as COO at PAX?

Steven Jung: In my day-to-day work, there’s a strong emphasis on entrepreneurship, startup experience and adaptability. A significant aspect is my lifelong commitment to service, starting from my military background and continuing throughout my professional journey. The companies I’ve been a part of have been driven by a greater purpose, extending beyond personal ambitions. This commitment to a higher cause is particularly relevant in the cannabis industry, given its current challenges. Working in this field requires deep dedication and a genuine reason for involvement, as it goes beyond mere enjoyment.

Regarding my role as an operator, I jokingly describe it as “confused.” This description reflects my ability to operate across various verticals and industries. This versatility allows me to approach problems from multiple perspectives, which is crucial in making sense of the intricacies of the cannabis industry.

CN: What does the intersect of tech and cannabis look like today? Tomorrow?

SJ: Technology plays a pivotal role in the ongoing evolution of the cannabis industry. At Pax, we leverage our extensive intellectual property, scientific knowledge and engineering expertise to integrate technology seamlessly with our consumable products. This synergy enhances the overall consumer experience in unprecedented ways, setting us apart from the competition.

Furthermore, technology, be it hardware or software, holds the key to optimizing personalized experiences. While the connection between specific strains and desired effects has long been based on intuition, we anticipate that medical research will eventually validate these associations. Once that happens, a new era of truly personalized cannabis experiences will emerge.

In addition, technology enables scalability and efficiency across ancillary aspects such as services, support and production. This advancement allows us to produce larger quantities of high-quality products, paving the way for widespread accessibility and mainstream adoption. The potential that arises from the intersection of technology and the cannabis industry is huge—and promising.

Steven Jung says preparation is key if you’re thinking of getting into the dynamic cannabis industry.

CN: How do technology and innovation measure against PAX?

SJ: Our DNA is in innovation, both in technology and other areas. We take pride in creating truly groundbreaking products that set new standards in the cannabis industry. This focus on innovation is a source of immense excitement for us and we invest heavily in this pursuit.

Our goal is to contribute to the greater good when considering the intersection of technology and culture. Social impact is a crucial aspect we prioritize. We strive to advance various causes within the industry, such as promoting safe access to cannabis, fostering equity and opportunities for individuals to participate in the industry’s growth, rectifying the negative consequences of the failed War on Drugs and supporting organizations like the Anti-Recidivism Coalition.

From a cultural standpoint, it’s evident that consumers seek specific experiences and higher-quality products. Over time, we have witnessed the evolution of cannabis products, moving from basic extractions to concentrates, with the focus now on extracting naturally and avoiding non-cannabis byproducts. Consumers increasingly value purity and the full potential of the plant. This cultural shift has led to a demand for superior products; just as individuals prefer organically grown, unmodified food, they seek the best possible cannabis products. As the industry matures, it will likely resemble a standard consumer packaged goods (CPG) industry, where various cannabis-derived products become a staple in people’s everyday lives. Eventually, cannabis will be integrated into mainstream culture rather than solely being associated with cannabis culture.

CN: Tell me about PAX’s move from hardware company to plant-touching with your Live Rosin vapes.

SJ: We decided to create products that are specifically designed to enhance the entire user experience by seamlessly integrating the product with the device, building on our extensive knowledge of device and technology interactions with cannabis products, including dried flower or concentrates. Throughout this process, we have remained committed to our PAX standard, which prioritizes delivering our customers the best, cleanest and safest products possible. We took it one step further and created products designed from start to finish specifically for that experience so that you can marry the product with the device together. Our product lineup now encompasses a comprehensive range of vaping options, as well as cutting-edge offerings in the realm of infused flower products. Whether you’re a connoisseur seeking the highest quality live rosin or looking for a product that balances quality and affordability through display-based options, we have something to cater to everyone’s preferences.

PAX Live Rosin Gummies recently launched in Massachusetts and will be available in California, Colorado and New York later this year.

CN: What can you tell us about your newly-released edible debut, Live Resin gummies?

SJ: Expanding into edibles was a natural next step for us as we grow our cannabis lineup, providing existing PAX customers and new consumers with a familiar experience that delivers on the quality and consistency we’re known for. We spent a lot of time developing and kitchen-testing these gummies in small batches until we achieved the perfect depth of flavor and texture mouthfeel. We believe they really stand out from what’s widely available in the market today. If the Michelin Bib Gourmand’s have shown us anything, it’s that people are hungry for premium, top-notch quality—which is what we’re delivering with live rosin and real fruit ingredients—but in an accessible way, both priced accordingly and that facilitates the shared experience so many are seeking.

CN: What’s the most important thing that needs to be addressed when people are talking about legalization?

SJ: The top priority, without a doubt, is policy reform. It holds tremendous potential for the growth and transformation of the cannabis industry, enabling it to become a world-class, mainstream consumer packaged goods (CPG) experience. However, achieving this vision necessitates significant reform.

The challenges faced by the cannabis industry go beyond what typical businesses encounter. They extend to the stringent policies that must be adhered to and the complex tax system that governs operations. Addressing these headwinds presents a significant opportunity to effect positive change and foster the overall growth of the cannabis space.

CN: How do you think the cannabis industry can be better?

SJ: When considering the growth and scalability of the licensed and legalized frameworks in the cannabis industry, it’s important to recognize that allowing businesses to flourish will lead to higher quality standards and greater consumer benefits. However, a challenge arises from the existing systems: Illicit markets can continue to operate unchecked, which creates a dilemma where consumers, who have disposable income, may choose to purchase from the illicit market if the tax regime causes prices to be significantly higher for the same product. To fully realize the potential of the cannabis industry and maximize tax revenue, changes must be made to address this issue. Such changes will improve the industry and enhance the products and overall consumer experience.

CN: What do you consider to be a career highlight?

SJ: One of my primary motivations is the opportunity to contribute to a greater cause or make a positive impact. An aspect that constantly stands out is meeting individuals who have experienced significant relief from pain, chronic pain, stress, PTSD and other conditions through cannabis. These encounters are not limited to veterans but include anyone who has dealt with such challenges. Hearing their stories firsthand is truly invigorating and reinforces the value of our work.

Additionally, I have the privilege of collaborating with remarkable organizations like the Last Prisoner Project. Engaging with their constituents and learning about the injustices they have endured due to wrongful incarceration under past cannabis and drug policies is of utmost importance. It is vital to stay connected to this crucial aspect of our mission.

Peace by PAX facilitates the brand’s purpose-driven initiatives supporting social reform, safe access and sustainability.

CN: What do you see as the social responsibilities of large cannabis companies like Pax to give back? Can you tell me more about Peace By Pax and how that came about?

SJ: Absolutely. We firmly believe in the importance of doing good for the community and the overall cannabis culture. Every company in this industry is responsible for giving back and supporting the communities they serve and the industry. This responsibility is particularly significant in the cannabis industry due to its complex history and the impact it has had on individuals and communities.

Over the years, PAX has actively supported communities and nonprofit organizations. However, we wanted to go beyond simple donations. We aimed to create meaningful engagement with these groups to make a positive and lasting impact. While we have quietly carried out these initiatives in the past, we realized the need to formalize and establish an official program that allows us to engage with various groups across the country in a focused and purposeful manner.

Three pillars form the foundation of our focus: social reform, safe access and sustainability. We are committed to making these outcomes a priority and actively engage with like-minded groups and third parties to work collaboratively towards achieving these goals. With Peace By Pax, we’re formalizing our dedication to these principles, so we can forge meaningful partnerships and collectively work toward positive change.

CN: What are the three qualities you need to run a successful cannabis business?

SJ: Resilience. Curiosity. Focus.

Resilience is paramount, akin to the military concept we call “stick-to-itiveness.” The ability to persevere and adapt to challenges is crucial for success.

Staying curious is vital because the cannabis industry is constantly evolving. To stay relevant, one must actively seek new information, stay updated on industry developments and remain open to learning.

Lastly, maintaining focus is essential amidst numerous distractions and countless possibilities. It’s important to prioritize and concentrate on the most important tasks and goals, even during rapid growth and evolution.

CN: What do you wish you had known when you started in cannabis?

SJ: That’s a good question. Personally, I haven’t encountered any surprising situations in terms of the dynamic nature of the cannabis industry. I was aware from the beginning that it would be a fast-paced and challenging environment. Having worked in other industries where regulation and compliance are crucial, I understood the importance of navigating these factors.

In any emerging industry, there tends to be a fair amount of irrational decision-making driven by the pursuit of growth. Take the example of the California market, which has experienced an oversaturation of brands, products and retailers. As a result, there has been a prevalence of poor decision-making as businesses strive to survive in the current phase of the industry. This pattern is not unique to cannabis but is a common theme in startup spaces and has persisted in the cannabis industry.

CN: What advice would you offer people thinking about getting into the cannabis industry?

SJ: Preparation is key. If you’re considering entering the cannabis industry at this time, it’s crucial to take a moment to assess your readiness to withstand the potential onslaught of poor decisions made by competitors, partners, industry players, policymakers and others. Being well-prepared is essential for navigating the challenges that may arise in this dynamic industry.

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International Women’s Day: Celebrating Tech Cannabis Leaders

Let’s hear it for the girls!

International Women’s Day (IWD) is a global celebration of women’s cultural, social, political and economic achievements. And as it happens to fall in March, which is also Women’s History Month, the love is compounded. The theme for IWD 2023 is “DigitALL: Innovation and technology for gender equality,” which, according to the United Nations, “recognizes and celebrates the women and girls who are championing the advancement of transformative technology and digital education.” Additionally, the theme of IWD 2023 offers an opportunity to examine how growing economic and social disparities are impacted by the digital gender gap and spotlight the importance of protecting the rights of women and girls in the digital realm.

Since the dawn of the digital age in the mid-20th century, women have made untold unsung contributions to the development of our increasingly digital world. Grace Hopper was an esteemed computer scientist and one of the first computer programmers to work on the general-purpose electromechanical computer, Harvard Mark I; Radia Perlman, nicknamed the “Mother of the Internet” designed the algorithm behind the Spanning Tree Protocol (STP) and was instrumental in making today’s internet possible; Katherine Johnson, the NASA mathematician whose trajectory analysis was crucial to the success of the first-ever US space flight.

While women make up only 22% of artificial intelligence workers globally, digital technology is creating new opportunities for the global emancipation of women, girls and other marginalized groups, according to the United Nations. The digital age offers an unparalleled chance to eradicate all types of inequity and inequality, from gender-responsive digital learning to tech-facilitated sexual and reproductive healthcare. 

Women in Weed

In the cannabis industry, women hold significant roles as entrepreneurs, breeders, producers, marketers, researchers and more. Women have also developed innovative technological solutions and programs to help move the sector forward. However, despite the progress being made, there’s still work to be done to achieve gender parity in the industry. According to the report “Diversity, Equity & Inclusion in the Cannabis Industry” by MJBizDaily, both cannabis company ownership and the percentage of women in executive-level roles have both shown stagnant growth from 2020-21, with both categories sitting around 1-2%.

The importance of showcasing and supporting women in historically male-dominated industries cannot be understated. According to psychologist Penelope Lockwood, women need to see female role models more than men need to see male role models.

“Outstanding women can function as inspirational examples of success, illustrating the kinds of achievements that are possible for women around them, says Lockwood. “They demonstrate that it’s possible to overcome traditional gender barriers, indicating to other women that high levels of success are indeed attainable.”

To celebrate our sinsemilla sisters, three women who are challenging gender bias and inequality share their thoughts on the intersect of women, cannabis and technology.

Photo courtesy of Aubrey Amatelli 

Aubrey Amatelli 

Founder, PayRio, Inc.

PayRio is a female-founded payments company that offers specialized payment solutions in the CBD, high-risk and health and wellness sectors. Founder and self-described “highly driven, long-term payments geek” Aubrey Amatelli has a background in payment processing, honing her craft at corporate giants including JP Morgan. 

“80% of our business directly supports dispensary growth through card payments,” Amatelli says. “It’s our mission to normalize payments in the cannabis industry and we’re off to a great start.” 

Amatelli says she has a lot of respect for cannabis and regularly uses the plant therapeutically. She says that her “love for the plant” led her to found PayRio with the goal to “bring feminine energy to the technology payments space, in an industry bursting at the seams with potential feminine power” and her goal is to “help that feminine power breakthrough and thrive.” 

“The cannabis flower we all love and support comes from the female plant, which is restorative and receptive by nature; this same energy has a significant impact on technology,” says Amatelli. “Women in tech are also tied directly to increased revenue and innovation. Women contribute superior problem-solving and help close the skills gap. As the relationship between women, cannabis and tech grows, so will the cannabis industry—a common mission for us all.” 

Amatelli believes that to positively impact gender equality in cannabis, it’s important to “spread the love and support for women-owned cannabis businesses.” Following women-owned businesses and vendors on social media platforms and purchasing products from their companies is a great way to show your support. But, she says, one of the most beneficial ways to impact gender equality in cannabis is to hire women and promote them from within. “Create flexible job requisitions and part-time roles that are conducive to women with children,” she says. “We can do this!”

Photo courtesy of Jill Ellsworth

Jill Ellsworth 

Founder & CEO, Willow Industries

Willow Industries is the industry leader in cannabis kill step and post-harvest microbial decontamination technology using organic, ozone-based technology that reduces or eliminates contaminants from cannabis while protecting the plant’s medicinal properties. The Denver-based company has been named one of Inc. 5000’s fastest-growing private companies in America two years in a row and was recognized in the top 50 on the 2022 Financial Times’ list of The Americas’ fastest-growing companies. Fueled by her passion for innovation and dedication to health, founder Jill Ellsworth has made a career of creating solutions for better living.

For years, cannabis has helped Ellsworth “level out the emotional swings of being a CEO, without feeding into it, unlike alcohol.” When she needs to feel “Zen” but still function, Ellsworth reaches for low-level THC products.

Ellsworth founded Willow in 2015 and says back then, there were “very few women in the industry representing technology—especially hardware.” But she believes that this gave her a “competitive advantage” at the time. 

“As time moved on, it has been really encouraging to see more women step into this industry as leaders and founders of tech companies and I know we will see less of a gender disparity as the industry matures,” Ellsworth says. “However, it takes women stepping into their light and being confident they can permeate a male-dominated industry. No one is going to give you that confidence. Have the strength and fortitude to put yourself out there and if that confidence radiates, people will follow.” 

Ellsworth says she believes to see more progress in overcoming gender bias, women “need to continue championing for themselves” and that “no one will see your great accomplishments if you don’t promote yourself. Women-founded companies only exist if women seize the opportunity and continually persevere. Don’t give up and don’t give in. If you have a great idea and there is a product/market fit, make it happen,” Ellsworth says. 

Ellsworth says we’ll continue to see a “dynamic shift” as more companies bring women into leadership roles. “Gone are the days when only white men make up executive suites and board rooms,” she says. “I feel confident that companies will start prioritizing women candidates for executive roles, so put yourself out there.”

Photo courtesy of Tracee McAfee

Tracee McAfee

Principal and CEO, Cryo Cure

Cryo Cure is changing traditional cannabis drying and curing techniques. Revolutionary freeze-dried technology removes the water content from harvested flower to preserve fragile trichomes and terpene potency at an optimal moisture level. The system dries and cures cannabis in as little as 13 hours, drastically cutting processing time from weeks to days. Before founding Cryo Cure, founder Tracee McAfee spent three decades building multi-million-dollar brands in the consumer products sector. McAfee’s diverse business background across new market sectors offers her a unique perspective to build and thrive in the cannabis industry.

“Cannabis doesn’t care about your gender and it shouldn’t matter to others, either,” McAfee says, who “adores all aspects of the cannabis plant” and microdoses flower to treat her PTSD and overall well-being.

McAfee says that she has been “very fortunate not to have experienced gender or age discrimination” in the cannabis industry. It saddens her when she “hears about other women that have had bad experiences in our space.” She acknowledges the hard-working women who are making big waves in this space and believes that if you share your “passion, experience and research with others and they see know what you’re talking about, respect comes no matter your gender.” 

McAfee recommends using sensitivity and awareness because some women entering this space “may have been through a rough time in their past careers. Give everyone the fresh start and respect they deserve.”

Above all else, McAfee says she loves paving the way for other women to enter this exciting industry. “To be a tech leader—and in cannabis—is an honor I carry proudly,” she says.

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Mobius Cannabis Mill Grinds to Perfection

According to the latest data, cannabis consumers are flocking to pre-rolls. In 2021, the category grew 39% from 2020, generating $1.42 billion in sales in key markets—stealing third place from edibles in the highest-revenue categories. If you’re a producer looking to expand your existing product offerings, you might want to consider pre-rolls. But keep in mind that not all pre-rolls are created equal. To keep customers coming back for more, high-quality pre-rolls must be smooth and consistent. Having a tool like the new M60 Cannabis Mill from Mobius will help you produce the highest quality hemp or cannabis pre-rolls. 

Without degrading cannabinoids or terpenes, the M60 Mill perfectly grinds cannabis to uniform particle size. Built for smaller to medium-sized throughput production, the M60 Mill is a scaled-down version of Mobius’ premier commercial M210 Mill. This means it features similar proprietary technology without taking up as much valuable space in trim rooms. Both machines use slow rotational rates to reduce heat degradation and precise cutting meshes to keep particle sizes constant without losing any THC.

“We’re excited to fit full-scale technology into our M60 Mill,” Amanda James, director of strategy at Mobius, said in a press release. “It empowers smaller pre-roll and extract producers to achieve a top-quality grind at a much lower price point.”

A Smart Choice

Measuring 16″ W x 13″ L x 23″ H, the M60 Cannabis Mill can process up to 20 pounds of dry flower per hour. It’s compact and efficient—perfect for varying sizes of cultivators. James says the machine is ideal for a wide range of established businesses, as well as “market entrants looking to access the pre-roll niche.”

The M60 is made of stainless steel and offers tool-free disassembly that simplifies cleaning and maintenance. To maintain production and reduce downtime, the cannabis mill can be thoroughly cleaned in 10 minutes by hand or with a pressure washer, while screens can be replaced in under a minute.

Let’s take a closer look at what makes the M60 Cannabis Mill so appealing.  

Consistency Is King

The cannabis industry is highly competitive, and consistency is paramount for retaining loyal customers. Precision milling technology at the core of the M60 Cannabis Mill ensures that flower is ground to the exact size needed to create perfect pre-rolls every single time. Pre-rolls are filled with particles that are ultra-consistent. Interchangeable screens enable the flower to be ground to 2mm, 3mm, or even custom sizes. 

The low speed of the mill combined with the distinctive design of the proprietary Rasp Screen guarantees no heat degradation. The end product is always finely ground flower for joints that burn evenly and smoothly.

Keep Cool

Excessive heat produced by conventional cannabis mills destroys high-value cannabinoids and terpenes. The oils in hemp and cannabis plants are exhilarated by heat, resulting in quality degradation. The machine becomes stickier and more challenging to clean due to friction-generated heat. 

Mobius mills, on the other hand, use low-friction internal mechanisms to maximize potency and smokeability while preventing temperature rise. To put it another way, a lower speed is kinder to the product. 

Made for More Than Pre-Rolls

The M60 can be used for more than just grinding flower for pre-roll preparation. The variable speed operation and infinite screen configurations of this commercial cannabis mill make it the perfect choice for other applications that require precisely ground flower, including extracts and fresh frozen. 

  • Extract Production: The M60 Mill gives you complete control over your products as you prepare for extraction. You can streamline your workflow for various extraction procedures, including ethanol, CO2, and hydrocarbon ones, with the help of the numerous screen options available. 
  • Fresh Frozen Flower: Run the M60 Mill in a cryogenic environment for the most potent fresh frozen product. Deliver high-quality fresh-frozen products with complete trichome and terpene profiles using additional milling screens for coarse and ultra-coarse chunking.

Quality You Can Count On

A team of expert engineers first put Mobius on the map with their flagship product, the M108S trimmer. The company has since become an industry leader in post-harvest cannabis and hemp automation equipment. Its range of products includes trimmers, conveyors, sorters and mills designed to fix production problems faced by cannabis processors. 

All Mobius equipment has a money-back guarantee and is ready for integration into GMP facilities. Additionally, Mobius offers free workflow design and automation configuration services for automation suite purchases. 

Pre-rolls are a low-risk option for canna-curious customers exploring new cultivar options, plus they make excellent up-sells and promotional add-ons. If you are interested in adding perfect pre-rolls to your product lineup, then contact Mobius today. 

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