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Bob Patton of Green Meadows: 5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started Leading a Cannabis or CBD Business

“Go where you’re wanted” — Actually, this was told to me early in our business development, but someone should have hit me in the head at the same time, so I’d remember it. Instead, I spent almost two years trying to establish a cannabis greenhouse on the original Massachusetts farmland that had belonged to my family since 1928.

As part of my series about “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started Leading a Cannabis Business” I had the pleasure of interviewing Bob Patton, Chief Executive Officer of Green Meadows.

Robert H. “Bob” Patton holds degrees in literature and journalism from Brown University and Northwestern University. He worked as a Capitol Hill reporter, a commercial fisherman and a real estate developer before publishing his family memoir, The Pattons: A Personal History of an American Family, to wide acclaim in 1994. He’s published three novels and two histories since then. In addition to heading up the Green Meadows team, he’s currently at work on Jackals & Foxes, a historical fiction series set in the world of colonial maritime war.

Bob has been an advisor to the Patton Veterans Project, founded in 2012 by his brother Ben to help veterans and their families cope with post-deployment issues of PTSD and social isolation. Bob co-founded the Fairfield County Youth Football League in Connecticut in 2003 and spearheaded a $1.2 million project to build multi-use turf athletic fields for youth sports programs in Darien, Connecticut in 2008. Married for 34 years, he and his wife Vicki have four sons and six grandchildren.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you share with us the story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Green Meadows, the produce farm founded in Massachusetts by my father after his army retirement and carried on by my mother after his death, came to a crossroads in 2017. At 86, she could no longer manage the farm day-to-day. The family gathered around a kitchen table and discussed how to continue the legacy of organic agriculture and veteran support that she and my father had built over decades.

My younger brother and sister have worked extensively with veterans through their charitable foundations, Patton Veterans Project in America and Patton Foundation in Europe. They’d heard about the potential of cannabis to ameliorate psychological issues of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and physical issues related to chronic pain. They lobbied me, as the senior sibling, to add cannabis to the farm’s offerings. Though a supporter of research into medical cannabis and of legalization in general, I dismissed the idea. (“The family of General George S. Patton selling weed? I think not.”) Our mother was equally opposed: “Over my dead body,” she said. But ultimately, we were persuaded to give it a try — with me, a writer with no business background, in charge, and three of my sons, with much entrepreneurial experience but not in cannabis, as the operational leads.

Our initial plan was to grow greenhouse cannabis for wholesale to medical dispensaries. But Massachusetts law requires medical cannabis providers to have seed-to-sale vertical integration, meaning we had to establish at least one Green Meadows dispensary to go along with cultivation. The demand for legal cannabis eventually led us to pursue adult-use licensing; and we now know that many recreational users value the therapeutic benefits. The decision was positive for the company and for our host communities, and hopefully it will enable us to fulfill my parents’ example and generously support veteran causes and other worthy initiatives.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Standing in a public forum and being cursed as a drug pusher and Patton family pariah was interesting in its own way, but not unexpected. On a more personal level, I was sure my friends and peers (most in their sixties, like me) would admire my leap into cannabis enterprise. It turned out that some were skeptical of medical cannabis and condemning of recreational use. Debate erupted, conflicting statistics and personal biases were thrown at one another like stones. Nothing was agreed upon, no minds were changed, and people retreated to their corners (me included) in sullen irritation.

Time healed the rifts, though Green Meadows cannabis remains a subject that in some circles goes unmentioned unless others ask me about it. This is not out of guilt; rather, it’s a matter of mutual respect, which is the lesson I draw from the experience. Cannabis can be medicine, cannabis can be fun — but it’s a serious matter when factors of youth, mental illness, and black-market criminality are considered. Supporters of legalization do the cause a disservice if they dismiss these concerns outright. Accountability and empathy are essential to righting the inequities of past drug laws and granting citizens the liberty of personal choice. Those obligations fall as much on cannabis companies as they do on users, patients, and advocates.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

It wasn’t funny at the time, but I have to smile at my early naïve belief that my sons’ business experience and my fabulous charm would ensure our success as cultivators, manufacturers, and retailers of medical and adult-use cannabis at multiple locations across Massachusetts. We laid out an expansion chronology that was ludicrous in discounting what we now know to be obvious challenges.

The state’s regulatory regime is complex, rigorous, and fluid. For novice cannabis entrepreneurs, the learning curve is crazy-steep and requires experienced advisors who themselves must adapt to legal and business requirements that vary from state to state and town to town. Capital costs are enormous and almost impossible to gauge at the outset. And there are no short cuts to constant personal engagement. Earning the trust of police and fire departments, local officials, and community neighbors, is key to the process. So, the lesson is this: If you’re a small family company starting out in cannabis, don’t try from day one to open operations at multiple far-flung locations. First off, you probably can’t afford it. And second, recalling the 40,000 miles I put on my car in less than a year crisscrossing the state, I can honestly testify that it may kill you.

Reality chastened our early ambitions and ultimately led us to a grand welcome in Southbridge, Mass. There we constructed a state-of-the-art cultivation and manufacturing facility and flagship dispensary in a 19th Century mill building, home to the original Ames Department Store, in the city’s historic Globe Village. Southbridge’s diverse community, which includes many veterans, is currently embarking on a major project of urban revitalization. Green Meadows is proud to participate in that project and to call the vibrant city our home.

Are you working on any exciting projects now? How do you think that will help people?

We recently received final approval from the Cannabis Control Commission to add medical sales to our adult use licenses, a long-awaited culmination of our dream to provide premium organic cannabis products to patients in need. We intend to have the most aggressive discount program for veterans in the state and hope someday to offer our branded products nationwide, always highlighting values of organic agriculture and veteran support that were the foundation of my parents’ original Green Meadows Farm.

Our local charitable initiatives include support for Southbridge’s recent Earth Day celebrations, the historic George B. and Ruth D. Wells House, and Nick Perry’s House, a transition residence for homeless veterans. We also continue to advise and take part in the ongoing Globe Village renaissance in order to make the area an inviting destination for visitors and a wonderful place to live. Our aim is to help the people of Southbridge fulfill the city renewal their heartfelt work is now bringing about.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

There are many who’ve helped throughout our endeavor, whether on the regulatory side, in facility design (especially in blending retail warmth with safety and security needs), or in the delicate craft of producing organic cannabis. However, Dave Adams, Southbridge Town Councilor, is perhaps the most significant.

We met Dave through the city’s Economic Development Office in 2018. Even medical cannabis was viewed dubiously in Southbridge at the time, and adult use was banned. Dave, a retired Marine sergeant-major and Iraq combat veteran, shared that skepticism. But he loves Southbridge and loves democracy, and for those reasons he spearheaded an education campaign to present the pros and cons of cannabis enterprise to local citizens and to put the matter to citywide vote.

We worked beside him during the campaign in the understanding that the result of the vote would decide our future in Southbridge; he and his fellow councilors would back the outcome either way. The referendum in favor carried by a landslide, and today Dave is one of our best friends in Town Hall. To this day, I don’t know where he stands on the issue of legalized cannabis. But I know he has faith in the wishes of the majority of the people of Southbridge, and on that score Green Meadows is grateful.

This industry is young dynamic and creative. Do you use any clever and innovative marketing strategies that you think large legacy companies should consider adopting?

When a company leverages its marketing voice these days, it must take into account sensitivities and potential cultural flashpoints across the wide public spectrum that digital platforms access. We’re confident that our sensibilities align with our customer base and therefore we invite conversations with visitors to our dispensary and with members of online forums such as Reddit and Instagram. We appreciate all feedback and think it’s important to seek transparent dialog with the people we serve. We hope to educate our customers about cannabis; we welcome when they educate us. It may not be clever or innovative but sharing a mutual goal of improving people’s lives is probably the best marketing strategy of all.

Cannabis marketing poses an interesting challenge of combining medical seriousness, drug awareness, and fun. One way that a provider of medical and recreational cannabis can link those seemingly disparate goals is by presenting health and good times as joint factors in a lifestyle of personal wellness that cannabis can enhance. But above all, we try to be true to our core values. That’s why we stress a local focus in how we market our company and our products — Southbridge, organics, veterans. Legalized cannabis has opened the door on a likeminded global community. But our neighborhood friends and supporters will always be a priority.

Can you share 3 things that most excite you about the Cannabis industry? Can you share 3 things that most concern you?

  • Research into the medical efficacy of cannabis is just beginning. It’s exciting to see its observed benefits progress from anecdotal accounts to lab-tested results. The FDA’s approval of cannabidiol as a treatment for epilepsy in 2018 was a sign of things to come.
  • The erosion of America’s huge black market in illegal, untested cannabis that legalization is gradually bringing about is great for society. In addition, to see the inequities of past cannabis law enforcement transform to opportunities for business ownership and solid employment is gratifying and overdue.
  • While expansion of the cannabis industry will inevitably introduce competition among providers, at present there is an overarching sense of camaraderie that distinguishes the industry and its participants from standard corporate culture. The prospect that the industry will always maintain at least a degree of that unique fellowship is exciting to contemplate.
  • On the negative side, current cannabis banking regulations are burdensome and counterproductive. It’s notoriously hard for cannabis businesses to raise money under current federal restrictions. And being forced to operate in cash rather than through standard credit and accounting procedures is an ongoing challenge, especially when cannabis companies are obligated (quite properly) to faultlessly track their finances.

Can you share your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started Leading a Cannabis Business”? Please share a story or example for each.

  • “Go where you’re wanted” — Actually, this was told to me early in our business development, but someone should have hit me in the head at the same time, so I’d remember it. Instead, I spent almost two years trying to establish a cannabis greenhouse on the original Massachusetts farmland that had belonged to my family since 1928. A lot of people in our hometown wanted it — a majority, even. But a lot didn’t, and as is typical of political forums the haters were louder, more active, and more virulent. The welcome that we later received elsewhere eased the sting of those confrontations, though my former regard for my hometown has yet to recover.
  • “Embrace regulation” — This, too, was told to me early on, and while it matched our intentions and values from the outset, the necessity cannot be emphasized enough. Law enforcement officials and regulatory inspectors may seem potential hindrances to efficiently launching a cannabis business, but they are a company’s greatest allies when their oversight is received with respect and transparency. When we learned that one of the state’s most rigorous inspectors had been assigned to us, we worried she would hit us with nitpicky reports and undue delay. We worked extra hard to prepare for her visits, made corrections as required to our security infrastructure and procedural protocols, passed the follow-up inspections with flying colors — and got better for the long term as a result. We now view the inspector as an objective and responsive resource in maintaining our company credo, “beyond compliance.”
  • “Capital costs are high, certain to grow beyond early estimates, and they’re relative” — The first two points are probably standard to most business startups, but the matter of relative costs wasn’t something I absorbed initially. Like many entrepreneurs new to cannabis, we hired some experienced and knowledgeable consultants to help formulate financial models to build out our cultivation and processing facility, an adjacent dispensary, and to employ the necessary staff. The trouble was that those consultants were based in western locales where the cannabis industry has deep roots and long history, but which are less pricey than urban New England. Which is to say, establishing a sizeable cannabis facility outside, say, Las Vegas is not the same as doing it outside Boston. Consequently, our costs, timeframe, and general anxiety far exceeded our expectations. My hair today is much grayer as a result and exhaustion is my usual state.
  • “You need legal counsel experienced in cannabis regulations and licensing, but if you’re smart, you’ll need less as your business matures” — Navigating cannabis licensing and municipal permits requires, at least for rookies like us, seasoned and expensive legal counsel. But if you pay attention to details, listen, and learn, you and your team can build expertise and save money by eventually taking on the regulatory paperwork in-house. Moreover, you may well do it better than the lawyers in time.
  • “Melding corporate structure and cannabis culture is a tricky proposition, but also a rewarding one” — Administrative and organizational structure is necessary to ensure efficiency and accountability in a business whose fundamental product is in high demand and highly regulated. It’s a fair generalization to say that many folks drawn to the cannabis industry embrace its rebel traditions and rejection of standard commercial bureaucracy. But a degree of bureaucracy is unavoidable as a company grows to include dozens of employees. Maintaining the humanistic, egalitarian environment suited to many cannabis enthusiasts isn’t easy. We at Green Meadows address the paradox constantly. We want to be both cool and responsible. We may never get the balance perfect, but it’s something we’ll never stop striving for.

What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive?

Green Meadows benefits from a formative blueprint combining business and family — the company really was hatched at a kitchen table and based first and foremost on values of giving back. Green Meadows is of a size today that it’s easy (and enjoyable) for the CEO to know the names and personalities of every employee. That may become more difficult as we grow, but it will never be the case that our employees aren’t treated as family members whose rewards and experiences in working for the company are always protected and optimized.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

My idea of an inspirational movement would be something that brings ostensibly incompatible factions together in casual gatherings of shared interest and shared curiosity. An example would be an industry that has recently emerged from a clouded, controversial history and brings together generations of old and young (21+), nervous newbies and seasoned aficionados, and has no stake in political arguments or identity distinctions — an industry, I would suggest, like cannabis.

What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?

My Twitter handle is @rhpatton, and I can also be reached through the greenmeadows.com website. On Instagram, @greenmeadows_ma is a great way to get the latest news on our company, our products, and maybe even a little about me.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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Candice Georgiadis

Candice Georgiadis

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Candice Georgiadis is an active mother of three as well as a designer, founder, social media expert, and philanthropist.