Warren Bobrow=WB: What is your interest In cannabis? What brought you to this place? Tell me please, what you are working on now?
Erica Kay= EK: I am inspired and continuously encouraged by the therapeutic potential of medical cannabis and its ability to serve as a catalyst in changing our consciousness perception. It is known that cannabinoids have the physiological ability to mitigate pain and inflammation but what I find particularly fascinating is that they also have the ability to affect our perception of pain, and perception of things in general. There is a homeostasis occurring not only in the body but in the mind, a shift in consciousness if you will. Bringing about a balance that I believe has spiritual ramifications, allowing for more openness, empathy and altruistic behavior. The calming and meditative effects of consuming cannabis allows us to connect and get in touch more deeply with ourselves and our surroundings. My interest in cannabis and plant medicines in general is this kind of transformative power that gives more meaning to our lives which in turn creates more healing potential.
Back in 2007 we opened our doors at Cornerstone Collective with the intention of providing compassion based medical quality cannabis and knowledge to our local community. It was the prop 215 era, and its essence was in our hearts and our purpose. We weren’t just another pot shop opening up under the guise of “medical cannabis”––we actually cared deeply about it, and the movement. The drug war had been wreaking havoc in our communities and we were in the midst of the escalating opioid crisis, a mental health crisis and refractory forms of epilepsy were becoming more prominent. There was an urgent need for education, safety standards, lab testing and proper product procurement. We became the first evidence based dispensary by keeping track of these different patient groups and understanding what, and how it was working for them. 13 years later we are still here and servicing the same community whom we have learned a lot from. We continue to be proudly independent and still very much committed to medical cannabis therapeutics and to decriminalizing the sick. This experience has informed and inspired us to create a line of specialized quality products with the same intention and mindfulness. TruFlora is our line of high quality herbal spliffs and salves that include a thoughtful combination of medicinal herbs and cannabis. And our Cornerstone Wellness brand is a line of full spectrum healing oil concentrates for patients in need of more serious treatment.
Carlos De La Torre: I was initially attracted to cannabis as a chance to do something different. I was working as a commercial film producer and in 2006 was presented with an opportunity to open a dispensary. The idea was to open a place that truly focused on the medical aspects of cannabis. I had many friends at the time who were working in the industry and it seemed like an interesting way to incorporate those relationships into a retail experience that provided a real scientific cannabis focus. Aside from the day to day operations of running the dispensary and building our brands, I have been deeply involved in cannabis legislation through the UCBA trade association. The UCBA is the largest cannabis retail trade association and I sit on their Executive committee. Currently we are working on sponsoring a handful of bills. The most important one, in my opinion, is a tax reduction bill, If passed, we feel this bill will help to balance an out of balance industry and allow for retailers to be more competitive with the illicit market.
WB: Please tell me about your six and twelve- month goals for your company? Obstacles?
Erica Kay: Our goal is to continue to provide medical grade products to our community and to continue learning from their valuable feedback. The main obstacle has been and continues to be the federal schedule 1 status of this plant. It continues to discriminate and criminally target the sick and the broken across the country. Now more than ever there is plenty of hard evidence and published scientific papers proving the medicinal value of this plant, of which a great portion of them have been conducted with grants from the NIDA and the NIH. How is that all this federally funded research including federal ownership of patents for the medical use of cannabis has no bearing on the controlled substance act? How? It also makes small businesses like ours difficult to run as it limits and excludes banking and basic business services, not to mention the unfair taxation system that is in dire need of reform.
Carlos De La Torre: For the last 13 years we have built a very unique brand and experience at Cornerstone. On the retail side we would like to expand our facility and incorporate delivery. On the manufacturing side we hope to finally launch our in-house brands and begin getting them into other stores. In 12 months once the brands are well established and the shop continues to grow, we hope to create more medicinal inspired cannabis products and with the help of like minded investors we’d like to expand our experience into a couple other retail shops in Southern California. The main obstacles for the entire industry are the limited banking opportunities and the prohibitive IRS SB280E taxation practice.
WB: Do you have a mentor? Why? What inspires you in your business?
Erica Kay: Sunshine Johnstone is a wonderful human being, a dry farmer in Southern Humboldt, and a dear friend. She is an outstanding example of being fully tuned in with nature and its cycles. She is a cannabis breeder and cultivator who pretty much lets nature call the shots. You won’t find any fertilizer, tillage, crop covers, or even watering on her farm. Her plants grow in untouched native soil, under full sun and moonbeams. She considers herself a “do nothing farmer,” but don’t let that fool you into thinking that it doesn’t require a specialized skill set, if not an art form. I am always in awe of her highly intuitive approach when making farming and harvesting decisions. It’s like she has a direct line to the local Gaian authorities, and proceeds accordingly. We both laugh about the fact that we don’t do craft cannabis, and we both believe that cannabis actually crafts us… it chose us, not vice versa. It’s a purposeful life although stressful and scary at times, but totally out of our control! She is a guerrilla grower at heart, one of the realest, a true OG, and if you ask me and the best example of California cannabis culture that I have ever come across. Simplicity at its finest, of the earth for the earth. She is my Sunshine on a cloudy day.
Carlos De La Torre: My mentor is Joe Murray. He is the director who gave me my first producing job. You could say that he believed in me early on and in many ways he has been my compass and a good friend for 20 years. Joe is a brilliant human being of high integrity and kindness and he is constantly inspiring and teaching me to be a better man.
WB: Do you have a favorite food memory? What is it?
Erica Kay: Eating Sunshine’s heirloom dry farmed melons, tomatoes, and peppers straight out of the dry dusty dirt. Truly the sweetest, juiciest and most flavorful food i have ever tasted. No condiments, cooking or watering needed!
Carlos De La Torre: I have had many great meals all over the world but I would have to say that my favorite food memory is when my wife and I were in Rome in July of 2018. It was our baby moon vacation. A close friend had recommended we check out a little restaurant called Da Francesco in the Piazza Navona area. It was a beautiful warm Roman night and we sat outside at a small table on the street. We both had the recommended linguini truffle carbonara and I have to say that it was the most decadent and delicious thing I have ever eaten. I’m not normally a big pasta eater but I can honestly say that I think about that meal all the time. Next time you are in Rome, definitely check it out.
WB: What is your passion?
Erica Kay: Decriminalizing the sick and decriminalizing nature. There is still a long way to go and plenty of room to get it right.
Carlos De La Torre: My passions have changed and evolved as I have gotten older. I would have to say that what I am currently professionally passionate about is seeing all of my work in the cannabis industry through––be it with our new in-house brand TruFlora or with my advocacy work with UCBA. Erica and I are early pioneers in this industry and we have advocated for a safe and regulated industry from the beginning. We both have a deep rooted belief that cannabis works really well as a medicine for many different things. It is very important for me to know that as the industry grows and takes on new forms, people don’t forget where the cannabis plant came from and that the plant has real therapeutic and medicinal value.