Meet the Entrepreneur Selling Weed In Non-Cannabis Stores Across Europe
A regulatory quirk opened the door and, inevitably, an entrepreneur stepped in.
I remember the first time I heard about CBD420 as if it were yesterday. It was a November afternoon last year, and I was conducting my daily cannabis news gathering when I came across an article on The Guardian. "The Swiss cannabis farm aiming to supply 'legal weed' across Europe," the title read.
I wondered: What the hell does this mean, legal weed in Europe?
I opened the link and read the subhead: "With its low-THC and high-CBD products already on sale in Switzerland and France -- and soon the UK -- Swiss business CBD420 are keen to see clearer regulation around the supply of cannabis." I was hooked. It's not every day that you hear about cannabis companies operating across Europe, navigating all the different regulations found there.
Over the months that followed, a few other articles emerged. I witnessed the number of stores selling CBD420 products surge from 700, to 1,000, to 1,100… The premise was pretty bold. Taking advantage of a legal loophole that allows for the legitimate sale of cannabis products with less than 0.2 percent THC levels across multiple countries in Europe, Jonas Duclos, Bruno Studer and Kevin Goetelen, had been offering their weed-based products, and actual pot and concentrates, in "regular" stores like tobacco shops as well as online.
Interested in the story, and in understanding more about the cannabis situation beyond North America I decided to reach out to CEO and Co-Founder Jonas Duclos, and ask him a few questions.
Jonas was born and raised in Switzerland, but his story reminds one of California. Before even mentioning his company, he chooses to define himself as a "skater and music lover" who grew up in a great environment with two parents working in social jobs.
When he was 15 years old, a rare genetic disease affecting his skin forced him to quit school and the job he had as a cashier in a supermarket. "The pain would become very strong. At the time skating was my way to get away from everything that was happening, but it prevented me even from that," he remembers.
Jonas' disease would pull him into the world of cannabis. "After a couple years fighting the disease, I discovered cannabis was more efficient as a painkiller than any products my doctors would prescribe me. Benefitting from the effects of cannabis, I spent a lot of my time "studying' cannabis, with a focus on its potential benefits on human health. Due to my own situation our objective has always been to help more people in similar situations," he adds.
"When my health became more stable, I started working in banking. It taught me a whole new set of skills that I used to study the economics of the cannabis industry in my free time. I gave advice to companies for 8 years on how to protect and enhance their wealth, but I was also equipping myself to start in the cannabis business, which I had been tracking attentively."
Despite his health condition and his work in the financial sector, Jonas didn't give up on skating. On the contrary, a few years after his diagnosis, he founded the Genevan Skateboarding Association (O.G. Skate), which is the city's vehicle for organising events and competitions, and represents the skateboarding community. We "build skateparks, organize events and raise awareness about skateboarding," he explains. Through O.G. Skate, Jonas managed to get government support to build three skate parks, his experience in banking being key to represent the skate community effectively in front of government officials.
The Birth Of A 'Made in Switzerland' Weed Brand
Next up, I asked Jonas about his company, JKB Research and its brand CBD420.
"After the change of regulation on THC in Switzerland and the recent "confirmation' of CBD's potential, I saw an opportunity to start a legitimate business," he says, adding that his partners and him shared a view of what the a cannabis company should look like: "safe, serving people's needs, and with the objective to educate people transparently on cannabis".
"With JKB we wanted to start by creating a brand that would become a reference in the cannabis industry when it comes to product quality and client service - just like 'Swiss made' inspires quality and trust," he adds. "We made no compromises when it comes to the selection of our products and made sure to build partnership with experienced growers and manufacturers. Plus, all products are lab-tested again with independent laboratories before put them on the market."
For Jonas, outward image is key, especially towards the authorities. "Being transparent and absolutely clear during this 'grey' phase will be key to accelerate a better transition into a fully legal, regulated cannabis market. As well as tax money, governments have public health in mind, and at this critical time we need to self-promote the highest possible standards."
When asked what the future holds, Jonas is quick to go back to the roots of how JKB started. "Before being CBD420, our founders have been medical patients for many years, benefitting from cannabis products. We will never stop thinking about those that can benefit next, never stop thinking about improving our products and services, as well as promoting a safe and regulated cannabis industry," he ensures.
JKB plans to extend its product range and brands as legislation in Europe changes, but change is slow and, according to Jonas, the rules are being tailored to suit the needs of pharma giants. "Our aim is to help people, not to make shareholders rich. For a cannabis industry that truly benefits the consumer we will need to find a way for regulators to start listening to companies such as ours, not just the pharma multinationals."
Don't Miss Out
By means of conclusion, we asked Duclos to share an inspirational quote he likes. He chose one by Michael Jordan:
"I've missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I've lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I've been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I've failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed."
Duclos said he finds this quote inspiring because, as a skater, "it's part of the process to learn how to fall and fail before you succeed at anything.
"I've always thought this whole process was a great teacher in my life, and I've been able to obverse that with so many skaters that I met. Cannabis is in this "bad kid reputation' situation and has to prove everybody wrong. I hope it will! Like so many skaters, awesome human beings but who were meant to be losers in this society, showed everybody wrong and became successful and recognized."