(Daily Times-Call (Longmont, CO) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) June 28--Adversity is a common foe for start-up businesses, even in the very lucrative marijuana industry.
In the four years since Bridge Marketing was launched by a Longmont-area husband and wife and a couple of friends, the business lost tens of thousands of dollars dues to a partner's mistake; only recently settled what managing partner Gary Gabrel calls a "David and Goliath" lawsuit; and is now basically in limbo until it can find another partner to manufacture and sell its product.
"For two months production has been halted," Gary Gabrel said last week. "That's a real blow to us not to be out on the market during this key period of time.
"We hope to find a new partner soon."
Dixie partnership seemed like a natural
Gabrel is an entrepreneur who invented the board game called "Pente," which he sold to Parker Brothers, one of the largest game manufacturers in the world, for an undisclosed sum. His wife, Cameron, a co-owner of Bridge Marketing, is a former high school teacher.
The two got the idea to get into the marijuana business through conversations a few years ago with a friend of theirs who is HIV-positive who uses medical marijuana.
"She was making truffles and other edibles in her kitchen for herself and her friends," Cameron Gabrel said.
Gary Gabrel saw the potential revenue in edibles and decided mints seemed like a good idea, because they had a long shelf life and were easy to package. They started working with an herbalist to develop their recipes.
This was in 2010, when the Colorado Legislature put a law in place that, for the first time, regulated medical marijuana businesses at the state and local level.
"It was when we saw legal constraints that we started to get into it," Cameron Gabrel said.
In November of that year Gary Gabrel attended Kush Con, a marijuana industry convention in Denver, and found a partner to make and distribute the mints. That partnership proved to be a disaster.
An early mistake by that partner cost Bridge Marketing $50,000, Gary Gabrel said.
"It took us out of the market for over a year," he said. "It took us that long to get back into a partnership with a good new team."
In 2011 Bridge Marketing found a new partner company and took what was then called "Catnips" to market.
"We were partners with a small kitchen, and for a year we just refined the product," Gary Gabrel said. "And that's when we made the transition into MED-a-Mints as the brand.
"It was, at that point, mostly about the packaging, the name, and how to scale it up into a (bigger) business. This kitchen was limited in how far up they could go."
In October 2012, Gary Gabrel met Tripp Keber, the founder of Denver-based Dixie Elixirs & Edibles. It seemed like the perfect partner for his company at the time, he said.
"They were doing chocolates, truffles, etc. but no mints," Gary Gabrel said. "They were already, at that time, the biggest edibles company in the state and they had grand plans to go national."
So Bridge Marketing signed a contract with Dixie Elixirs, licensing their mint recipes to Dixie, which would manufacture, package and distribute MED-a-Mints to dispensaries.
About the same time the companies became partners, Colorado voters approved Amendment 64, the nation's first law allowing the sale of recreational marijuana. The law was to take effect Jan. 1, 2014, and for those in the marijuana industry, that was the day their potential customer base would explode.
"By the end of (2013) there was 100,000 medical patients in the state. ... But overnight, (the potential market) went from 100,000 to 2 million (potential customers)," Gary Gabrel said.
But it was late last year, in the weeks leading up to legalization, that the relationship between Bridge Marketing and Dixie started to go south. Ultimately, Bridge Marketing sued Dixie, a lawsuit that was settled in April.
At the heart of the dispute was Dixie's decision to change the packaging of the mints. "MED-a-Mints" was made much smaller, and the word "cannabis" was removed, replaced by THC.
The Gabrels said they protested the changes but were told only days before the recreational market was to open that it was too late -- the new packaging was already in full-scale production.
Dixie -- which continues to make THC-infused balms, beverages and oils -- argued that Gabrel had agreed to the changes, and at one point threatened to counter-sue Bridge for disparaging its packaging.
"It was basically a David and Goliath situation," Gary Gabrel said.
Now that the lawsuit is settled, Gabrel is shopping his recipes around to other potential partners.
Huge potential market
Cameron Gabrel said that along with clearly labeled tins, she would prefer to see MED-a-Mints put into child-resistant bottles, "because children, even if they can open it, they know it's medicine."
Edibles already make up about half of the marijuana market in Colorado, Gary Gabrel said, and he thinks it's important that the industry put patient safety ahead of profits.
"We need responsible business people driving this industry," he said. "And that's who we are. Not just people who are into it for a short-term profit."
Edibles, he notes, are already under fire following a couple of high-profile deaths in Colorado this year by people who had eaten them.
Gary Gabral said he doesn't like companies marketing THC-infused products in containers that could entice kids, and he believes dosage amounts often aren't represented clearly enough. He notes that some products have been removed from shelves but thinks the industry deserves more scrutiny from legislators, especially given that the eyes of the nation are on Colorado and Washington state.
"We want medical standards brought to this," he said. "I think that's where we're headed."
Along with tapping back into the recreational markets of Colorado and, he hopes, Washington state, there is also plenty of opportunity in the 22 other states and District of Columbia where medical marijuana is allowed, Gary Gabrel said.
"Our mints should become to cannabis what Bayer aspirin is to pain medication," he said.
Contact Times-Call staff writer Tony Kindelspire at 303-684-5291 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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