Van arrestatie naar boven Cannabis Biz Exec: Aaron Riley's dramatische reis


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CannaSafe President Aaron Riley

Aaron Riley, president of CannaSafe

Courtesy of CannaSafe

When he was 19 years old, Aaron Riley was on the cusp of success until things went drastically awry. It’s the type of story you see frequently portrayed in movies. Except in Riley’s case, it was only too real.

Attending Furman University on a football scholarship, Riley had gotten involved in a drug-dealing operation. It was a rebellious act that Riley chalks up as a reaction to his parents’ divorce. Arrested on several felony drug charges, Riley, luckily, only spent two days in jail. Although his record was eventually expunged, the fallout was immense: he was kicked out of college and a once promising future seemed to be in tatters. Though able to pick up the pieces of his young fractured life and attend a new school, Jacksonville University, on another athletic scholarship, Riley knew he was facing an uphill battle with getting employment due to his record. That’s when he became entrepreneurial, starting a car dealership business, which would prove to be lucrative.

Then in 2014, Riley decided to re-enter the cannabis industry. This time, he would do it legally. After much research, he zeroed in on the testing segment and in November 2016, joined CannaSafe as president. Described as the first ISO accredited cannabis lab in the world as well as the top cannabis testing lab in California, CannaSafe has a stellar clientele that includes some of the state’s top brands and producers, such as Raw Garden, Cresco Labs, Papa & Barkley and Lord Jones. Last year, it generated about $20 million in revenue, said Riley. The 2020 forecast looks even rosier: CannaSafe, which currently has a staff of 150, is opening five new locations in the second quarter and Riley is projecting 50% growth.

It’s been quite a journey for Riley, now 28. Recently, he spoke about his personal and professional trajectory, his social equity efforts and what he considers to be the legal market’s biggest problem right now, aside from federal illegality.

This interview has been edited for conciseness and clarity.

Iris Dorbian: What have been your biggest challenges serving as president at CannaSafe? How have you resolved them?

Aaron Riley: We never took in any outside investment capital. We’re self-financed; we’ve never done any fundraising. We barely broke even in 2018. First year, we lost money. When we started, I put in all the cash I had and maxed out all my credit cards. I slept on an air mattress. It was an all-in endeavor. The regulations weren’t finalized in California. And then we were 10% uncollectable—people weren’t paying. But we were able to crawl out of the hole.

Dorbian: I understand CannaSafe places a heavy focus on social equity. I know Los Angeles has a strong social equity program. Can you talk about your company’s efforts in this area?

Riley: We have a six-figure advocacy and education budget. We do a lot of educational events. We sponsor expungement clinics and do minority hiring. It’s about giving people who have been persecuted an opportunity to participate [in the legal market]. We do on a monthly basis at least one event that revolves around education and social equity, minority promotion and expungement. We also have a discount program that’s for social equity businesses.

Dorbian: What do you think are the biggest problems facing the legal cannabis industry today?

Riley: In California it’s the black market. Obviously, we’ve seen with the news what the unsafe [vaping] products can do to consumers. In California, it’s made it very hard on the legal business. The black market is cheaper, they’re not paying for taxes or compliance fees. There’s no incentive for them to be upstanding citizens; they’re only going after profits.

Dorbian: What are your thoughts on federal legalization? When do you think it will happen?

Riley: I think it’ll happen in the next two or three years. It’ll be something that gets discussed in the next election. I think the Democrats will focus on it being an economic opportunity. It won’t happen overnight.

Dorbian: Where would you like to see CannaSafe in five years? How about ten years?

Riley: I would like to continue to be the leader of hemp and cannabis testing in the world. We plan on going to pretty much all the large states that have cannabis programs. We want to be known for integrity and quality.

 

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CannaSafe President Aaron Riley

Aaron Riley, president of CannaSafe

Courtesy of CannaSafe

When he was 19 years old, Aaron Riley was on the cusp of success until things went drastically awry. It’s the type of story you see frequently portrayed in movies. Except in Riley’s case, it was only too real.

Attending Furman University on a football scholarship, Riley had gotten involved in a drug-dealing operation. It was a rebellious act that Riley chalks up as a reaction to his parents’ divorce. Arrested on several felony drug charges, Riley, luckily, only spent two days in jail. Although his record was eventually expunged, the fallout was immense: he was kicked out of college and a once promising future seemed to be in tatters. Though able to pick up the pieces of his young fractured life and attend a new school, Jacksonville University, on another athletic scholarship, Riley knew he was facing an uphill battle with getting employment due to his record. That’s when he became entrepreneurial, starting a car dealership business, which would prove to be lucrative.

Then in 2014, Riley decided to re-enter the cannabis industry. This time, he would do it legally. After much research, he zeroed in on the testing segment and in November 2016, joined CannaSafe as president. Described as the first ISO accredited cannabis lab in the world as well as the top cannabis testing lab in California, CannaSafe has a stellar clientele that includes some of the state’s top brands and producers, such as Raw Garden, Cresco Labs, Papa & Barkley and Lord Jones. Last year, it generated about $20 million in revenue, said Riley. The 2020 forecast looks even rosier: CannaSafe, which currently has a staff of 150, is opening five new locations in the second quarter and Riley is projecting 50% growth.

It’s been quite a journey for Riley, now 28. Recently, he spoke about his personal and professional trajectory, his social equity efforts and what he considers to be the legal market’s biggest problem right now, aside from federal illegality.

This interview has been edited for conciseness and clarity.

Iris Dorbian: What have been your biggest challenges serving as president at CannaSafe? How have you resolved them?

Aaron Riley: We never took in any outside investment capital. We’re self-financed; we’ve never done any fundraising. We barely broke even in 2018. First year, we lost money. When we started, I put in all the cash I had and maxed out all my credit cards. I slept on an air mattress. It was an all-in endeavor. The regulations weren’t finalized in California. And then we were 10% uncollectable—people weren’t paying. But we were able to crawl out of the hole.

Dorbian: I understand CannaSafe places a heavy focus on social equity. I know Los Angeles has a strong social equity program. Can you talk about your company’s efforts in this area?

Riley: We have a six-figure advocacy and education budget. We do a lot of educational events. We sponsor expungement clinics and do minority hiring. It’s about giving people who have been persecuted an opportunity to participate [in the legal market]. We do on a monthly basis at least one event that revolves around education and social equity, minority promotion and expungement. We also have a discount program that’s for social equity businesses.

Dorbian: What do you think are the biggest problems facing the legal cannabis industry today?

CannaSafe testing lab

Inside the CannaSafe testing lab

Courtesy of CannaSafe

Riley: In California it’s the black market. Obviously, we’ve seen with the news what the unsafe [vaping] products can do to consumers. In California, it’s made it very hard on the legal business. The black market is cheaper, they’re not paying for taxes or compliance fees. There’s no incentive for them to be upstanding citizens; they’re only going after profits.

Dorbian: What are your thoughts on federal legalization? When do you think it will happen?

Riley: I think it’ll happen in the next two or three years. It’ll be something that gets discussed in the next election. I think the Democrats will focus on it being an economic opportunity. It won’t happen overnight.

Dorbian: Where would you like to see CannaSafe in five years? How about ten years?

Riley: I would like to continue to be the leader of hemp and cannabis testing in the world. We plan on going to pretty much all the large states that have cannabis programs. We want to be known for integrity and quality.

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