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Forbes: Cannabis Now Magazine CEO Eugenio Garcia Talks Marijuana, Publishing And The Future Of It All

Mike Adams
Forbes: Cannabis Now Magazine CEO Eugenio Garcia Talks Marijuana, Publishing And The Future Of It All

There was a time not so long ago when a magazine dedicated to marijuana was considered taboo, right up there in the ranks with Playboy, Hustler and other misunderstood kings of sleaze. It was nothing to catch curious bookstore patrons nervously looking over their shoulders while flipping through the pages, and teenagers, well, these fearless rebels were sometimes known to risk life and limb for even a chance to catch the smallest glimpse of the pro-pot messages embellished within.
But over the course of the past twenty years, there has been a major shift in cannabis politics – weed is no longer considered the gateway to downtrodden and despair that it once was back in the day. Marijuana is legal in some parts the United States and prosecutors in areas of prohibition are even starting to turn a blind eye to pot offenses. What’s even more exciting is the fact that the cannabis curious can now page through marijuana magazines at their local bookstores without running the risk of being burned at the stake.
This evolution is largely due to the tireless efforts of the original cannabis advocates -- those formerly known as stoners and potheads -- who wrote and religiously ingested the information printed by the groundbreaking counterculture magazine High Times. Although the publication, which was founded in 1973 by self-proclaimed social architect Thomas Forcade, may have only intended to shake the governmental foundation by “teaching the world to grow marijuana anywhere,” it actually inspired a brand of reporting that is now referred to as cannabis journalism. In fact, High Times paved the way for similar media companies that have, too, made it their mission to help spread the word of this amazing plant. California-based Cannabis Now Magazine is perhaps the most successful of the bunch.
Regardless of whether you are cannabis journalist or simply the average advocate pushing to further the marijuana legalization movement in your neck of the woods, chances are you have been exposed to Cannabis Now. The publication, which was launched in 2009, is quickly gaining the reputation for being one of the most trusted sources in the cannabis discussion. In addition to its bi-monthly, national print publication, the company also publishes daily news and other valuable content to its website Its overall goal is to educate, inform and entertain those wanting to learn more about the cultivation, politics and economic trends surrounding the cannabis culture.
Cannabis Now CEO and founder Eugenio Garcia believes the magazine has picked up where High Times left off by leading a more mature cannabis conversation. Yet, perhaps without even knowing it, the 37-year-old entrepreneur has additionally become one of the most influential voices in the business of cannabis publishing. In less than a decade of operation, Garcia has made advancements with Cannabis Now that have not been achieved by any other cannabis-related publication since the High Times heyday of the 1970s. Among these accomplishments is being the first pot-related publication since Forcade’s journalistic vision to be distributed nationally by Barnes and Noble. It is also the first publication of its kind to be made available on iTunes and to receive distribution in airports nationwide through Hudson News. And the publishing company is only getting bigger, better and stronger. Cannabis Now recently raised more than $1 million in seed funding through a campaign supervised by Tress Capital. It is money the publishing group plans to use to expand operations and become a media powerhouse that leads the next wave of cannabis content and how it is digested.
So it stands to reason why Forbes was eager to catch up with Eugenio Garcia to learn more about the future of cannabis publishing, what we can expected to happen with this thing we now call cannabis journalism and find out what it is going to take for his or any other marijuana media company to stay relevant in the global cannabis conversation.
Forbes: How Did Cannabis Now Get Started?
Eugenio Garcia: Around 2009, more and more medical cannabis politics were moving in the direction of medical legalization. I was working for Whole Foods Market in the Bay Area, and I had already launched my first start up, a specialty food company (Montana Mex) that I started with my sister and my brother. So I was kind of getting the entrepreneurial bug and already thinking about ways to create a future opportunity beyond just the traditional 9-5. Working at Whole Foods, I was acutely aware of the power of being a part of paradigm shifts. Whole Foods’ claim to fame is that they really brought organic eating to America. It changed the way people ate food and shopped for food -- partly due to all natural, organic products. During that time, I started to become aware of the fact that more people were consuming cannabis in a responsible way – they were no longer just the isolated stoner, aggressive, counterculture kind of user, and that this new medical, legal, affluent mainstream user was emerging.
California had already legalized for medicinal use and a bunch of other states, including Montana were starting to do the same. So, I had a job consulting for a dispensary in Montana, helping with basic business startup operations. And my brother-in-law was also in the cannabis space. So, one day, I was on the corner of Haight and Ashbury in San Francisco and I found a publication called The Northwest Leaf. It’s a free newspaper-style magazine distributed in headshops and whatnot. There was also a new publication called Kush Magazine, which was out of Colorado. It was free, glossy, perfect-bound, lots of advertisement – kind of like a print coupon book. But it was also very popular and was being distributed in different markets. There was Kush Montana, Kush California, Kush Colorado, etc. So I had a copy of that in my hands and I had the Northwest Leaf and a High Times. I was showing them to my brother-in-law, and he said, “You know, there should be a medical journal of the Rocky Mountain region.” Being an entrepreneur, you get like ten ideas a day. Every single thing you look at is a business opportunity. But this one hit me right in the face. It was like lightning bolts and thunder, and I was like, okay, High Times is no longer reflecting the larger reader. They’re still focused on this counterculture, now minority group of people, and there's an opportunity here to do something. So we started Cannabis Now as a Rocky Mountain mainstream publication with a focus on politics and medicine. We were based out of Bozeman, Montana.
Forbes: How did the publication end up in California?
EG: After we put out our second issue, the laws in Montana changed. I believe Montana is the only state in the union to have gone backwards in their marijuana laws. They made it where a provider could only sell to like three patients at a time and they put all sorts of restrictions on the industry. All of our advertisers went out of business. And we virtually went bankrupt. So, what I did was, I actually put a barcode that we were using for one of our food products on the magazine and put a price on it. I sent it to Barnes and Noble and said, “Dear Barnes and Noble, here's the future cannabis publication for the U.S. We’re a national publication focused on horticulture, politics and the economics of the industry. We’re the grown up version of High Times. They wrote us back and made a major order. Then I had to scramble to find distribution, I had to get offices in Berkeley and had to raise more funds.
Forbes: So, Barnes & Nobles actually ordered the magazine before you were even organized to publish at the national level?
EG: Well, we had an amazing designer, we had myself as an entrepreneur, and we had teamed up with a very, very talented editor. So we had the three most important components, which is quality of content, artistic design and then someone to sell it – me. But a lot of it had to do with some real industry pros stepping up and helping us out. Ed Rosenthal gave us a great interview and a bunch of photos of his cannabis plants, which was incredibly helpful for a third issue. Steve DeAngelo gave us photography that had been taken by a very famous photographer. Of course, there was our first employee, digital director Anna Pitman, who continues to be a vital part of the team. So, it was kind of a group effort to jump up into the national quality category.
Forbes: How is the magazine different now?
EG: The strategy for Cannabis Now was to learn about the industry. So it's not just a publication. But the publication is the foundation to understanding the growing market and also to be a legitimate voice for that expression. That allows us to not only take care of our advertising partners; it allows us to see other opportunities from which to launch other brand-focused revenue streams.
Forbes: What kinds of revenue streams?
EG: We are now developing film projects with Cannabis Now TV. We are looking at retail opportunities for branded clothing and non-specific THC products. We are also looking at ecommerce platforms and dispensary finder opportunities for Cannabis Now. So, really the publication is a tool to legitimize ourselves and to have a legitimate voice that can help educate people, but then that translates into many other opportunities that aren't just a print magazine. It’s developing into more of a publishing, entertainment and tech company. That’s how we see ourselves right now.
Forbes: So, are these the types of advancements necessary for a publication like Cannabis Now to stay relevant and ultimately survive?
EG: Yes. I mean people say that print is dead, but actually that is not completely accurate. It is very much alive, especially in niche markets. But what is happening is print is changing. It’s not dead. It’s changing. The change is that it’s no longer able to operate in isolation. Print has to be a component of a larger media push -- that includes experience; that includes film; and that includes a digital presence. It’s no longer just one, tunnel vision expression. It’s part of a buffet of entertainment and education for the people that consume it. Every single week the demand for cannabis content and education and entertainment is doubling, tripling. It just keeps compounding.
Forbes: But are we losing quality journalism and creative writing to compensate for the quantity that cannabis journalists are responsible for churning out on a daily basis?
EG: Well, I think there are a few ways to answer that question. But first and foremost we at Cannabis Now, myself specifically, are very, very open and active with all other publishers. There are very few cannabis media or publishing groups out there that we would advise against participating in. Because it’s so new, any conversation about cannabis is a good conversation. However, that being said, there are very few cannabis media outlets that are investing in what you would call investigative journalism or well thought-out pieces. You can count them on your hand. Some companies like Leafly invest in some long form journalism, and they do a pretty decent job, but it's only in the digital. People get lucky, like Forbes, they get lucky enough to work with people like you who have a decade of cannabis journalism under their belt. And that’s good for them. But the future of journalism is going to be like, there are writers that just focus on sports, that focus just on outdoors, that focus on international politics. These people, they develop over years and years and years, not just in their ability to communicate a story, but in their contacts and their networks. It’s one thing to be an amazing writer and researcher, but if you really want to communicate truth and magic that nobody else is aware of, you have to be a part of that community, and it takes time to develop relationships and the networks to be a part of a community. So, right now, the majority of any cannabis journalist out there, they’re still in the very beginning of their relationships and community building stage. So, the writing will get better on all platforms. I think Cannabis Now is at the tip of that sword.
But here’s the catch. Right now we're in the middle of the Bonanza; the honeymoon period; nobody knows about it and they’re all trying to learn. Right now, cannabis is very exciting and unknown, but in the next five years it’s going to become so mainstream and so already basically understood that cannabis specific content will have to find out what the next conversation is. Everyone right now is trying to figure out what the laws are; how does it medically affect people and how to consume it. Those are the three big stories. Maybe the fourth one is just talking about entertainment and social activities that happen around cannabis. And maybe different qualities of cannabis. But once the politics becomes more stable, and the legal questions are more consistent, what people will want to talk about is still unknown.
Forbes: So what happens then? Does a publication like Cannabis Now become more of an industry publication, or culture publication or what?
EG: If you want to read about music or you want to read about food or you want to read about other things, you go to magazines that specifically focus on that. You go to Rolling Stone to read about music. You don't go to Men's Health. So I think what's going to happen is that the niche publications will start to even further focus their conversations. And that’s why Cannabis Now has diversified into three main titles. Right now, we have Cannabis Now, which is more of an overarching conversation that includes many different things, like growing and politics and economics. We do some book reviews and we talk about music, but it has many different departments that are all encompassing for the cannabis community. We recently launched a new title called Hemp, which is just focused on the non-psychoactive varieties and the industrial varieties of the cannabis plant. That’s more of a farming focus, agricultural focus, biofuel focus type of publication. The hemp industry will be even faster growing soon than the cannabis industry. It is just coming up as a commodity. And then we are launching a third magazine called Cannabis Aficionado, which will just be focused on the real, uber, geeky cannabis user that doesn't need to know any the basics; they don't really care about politics; all they want to know about is the different strains and concentrates and new ways to consume. It’s a less serious conversation, but entertainment in a high quality focus. And then I think the final title that will come out of the publishing group will be a grow-specific magazine -- something that just focuses on horticulture – almost like home gardening for the cannabis world. So, Cannabis Now will remain the authority in all aspects of the cannabis conversation, with the other magazines laser focused on the most important aspects of the industry.
Forbes: This is what you believe the reader will eventually want?
EG: I think that's what's going to happen with the cannabis reader. Once they get through the basics, they will start to read the publications they are most excited about. Maybe they are a home grower and they have a garden and that's what they want to consume every month. Maybe they are an aficionado and they want to learn about the new rosin presses that they can have in their garage to press their own bud. Or maybe they don't smoke cannabis, but they're into saving the planet and not cutting down trees and using gasoline and they are excited about the hemp opportunities. But, I also think that right now, cannabis is a very sexy conversation. So the Forbes, the Entrepreneur magazines, the Bon Appétits, they are investing into this conversation, but it’s because it’s very hip. You know, CBD is the hot buzzword and cannabis is like the sexy, new kid on the block. Once it becomes a little more normalized, they will move on to the next, new, sexy conversation. That’s when the responsibility will fall back on the High Times, the Cannabis Nows and the Leaflys to lead that discussion.
Forbes: But is creating several different cannabis-related magazines a smart way to do business?
EG: I am confident in the vision. We didn’t get into this to make a lot of money. We got into it solve a problem, and the problem was a lack of quality information around this growing industry. And if we can support ourselves and our investor partners and our advertisers while doing that, yes, I think it will be sustainable in the future. However, I think pairing the publishing with and our new domain -- we’re going to be launching ecommerce platforms on both of those properties -- those will be the opportunities that could go very large in scale and become more lucrative.
In order to become successful on a massive scale will be non-specific publishing expressions that are steps coming out of the understanding of the industry, which is what the magazine is all about. Not only does it allow people to understand it from the consumer perspective, but we as a publisher and the people on the inside, we have more access to what's actually going on in the industry and where it's going than almost anyone on the planet. This helps us see potential opportunities and decide whether to pair up with other teams or to express it ourselves.
Forbes: It just seems like every time I turn around there is a new cannabis-related website or magazine popping up in the bookstore. Can all of these publications survive?
EG: No, absolutely not. I think in the next two years 20 percent of the current print and online, digital cannabis expressions will not be in business.
Forbes: Why is that?
EG: It's like having too many restaurants with not enough people to go to them. They’re all telling the same story. Right now investors have a fear of missing out. In the investment community, there’s always been too much money and not enough good entrepreneurs and teams. So, right now, all of the money that’s out there being thrown at people who might or might not have good ideas, good execution and good access. It’s almost like natural selection. Poor expression that is well funded will eventually run out of funding if not supported organically.
What advice would you have for anyone thinking about starting up a cannabis publication?
EG: Don't do it (laughs). Because you’re going up against Cannabis Now and High Times. There’s very little room in between. Or I would say, show me your plan and maybe we can team up. But I guess my biggest advice would be to make sure you have 12 to 24 months of funding where you don't have to be concerned about revenue. I think a lot of companies get caught, and that’s where you see a lot of low-quality content. Because that content is being sold. Ninety percent of the online expressions out there, you can’t tell whether the content is being dictated by an advertiser or not. And that’s because most new media outlets are not funded enough to survive without advertisers dictating what the content is.
So make sure you have two years of good funding until you can really understand the space and whatever niche you think you’re best equipped to express. And use those two years to create quality and to create your community and really understand the conversation. Then once you have the product, because that is exactly what it is – a product -- then you can figure out how to monetize it. But if you are trying to monetize something that is not high quality, you’re going to be fighting a losing battle. And quality is way more important now since people have access to information globally at their fingertips -- on their smartphones 24 hours a day. You don’t want to compete with access or quantity. The only way to compete now is with quality. You can throw a bunch of money at something and still come up with something poor quality. Quality comes from the developed relationship you have and the artistic skills of your team.

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