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Experiences of a Female CBD Retailer

Feb 22, 2023

In this episode of CannaCast, Partner and leader of EisnerAmper’s Cannabis and Hemp Group, speaks with Beryl Solomon Jackowitz, founder and CEO of “Poplar, Your Modern Drugstore,” an e-commerce marketplace selling a curated assortment of hemp-derived CBD products that launched in 2018. The two discuss the importance of branding and the experiences of a cannabis influencer.


EisnerAmper:Thanks for tuning into this episode of CannaCast. I'm your host, EisnerAmper's National Cannabis and Hemp Practice Leader. Please welcome my guest today, Beryl Solomon Jackowitz, Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Poplar, your modern drug store, an e-commerce marketplace selling a curated assortment of hemp derived CBD products that launched in 2018. She's also an Adjunct Professor at LIM College working with the business of cannabis bachelor's and master's degree programs. Before that, she was involved in the retail and fashion world at companies like Kate Spade, Norma Kamali, and STATE Bags to name a few. Welcome Beryl.

Beryl Solomon Jackowitz:Thank you for having me.

Beryl, how did a woman who got her master's at the University of Pennsylvania in Government Administration and Public Policy become a cannabis advocate speaking to organizations like the Long Beach City Council about opting into cannabis retail dispensaries?
BSJ:Yeah, so I would say my cannabis story began in 2017, which I guess is a really long time in cannabis years, but not a really long time in life. So I was working in fashion living in New York City, mom of two small boys. I had been on pharmaceutical anti-anxiety medication for many, many years and really wanted a natural alternative. On a routine checkup with my doctor, I said, "Hey, can I go off these anti-anxiety meds or decrease them or is there an alternative? Is there something more natural?" I've always sort of been clean and green since before that was a buzzword, if you will.

So unfortunately my doctor, who clearly is no longer my doctor looked at me and said, "We don't recommend women like you go off their anti-anxiety meds." That didn't sit very well with me, as you can imagine, and I turned to the internet and this is the time that California is becoming legal and the internet kept telling me that cannabis was a natural alternative. And I was really blown away. I hadn't touched weed since college, and so I started investigating and I really talked to anyone who I could talk to, research, all of that and really began a journey that led me here to being a cannabis advocate and entrepreneur, which is kind of crazy. If you had asked me, like you said, where I thought I would end up, it's not necessarily here.
EA:I think so far about 600 municipalities have opted out of New York state retail. How is the Long Beach fight going?
BSJ:Yeah, unfortunately, I think it's probably more, I think it's like 700 and something. So I lived in Brooklyn, that's where I started Poplar and I moved to Long Beach with my family during the pandemic. And moving to Long Island has been a very interesting experience in general, but also from a cannabis perspective. So when I moved here... first of all, Long Beach is amazing. I love this town, I love this community. I'm super happy, my family's happy, it's an awesome place to be. It does have a culture of hanging out. We have bars, we have the beach. So as soon as I moved here and triggered my finger on the pulse of what was happening.

Also unfortunately, long Beach has a long history of financial trouble. So when I really looked around, I thought to myself, "Oh my God, this is the perfect place to opt in for there to be a dispensary. We have the culture, we have the people, we have the tourists, all of those things."So I started trying to understand where the city was going to land and it seemed like there was no question they were going to opt out, and I was relatively new at that time to the community. So I really just listened to the process and Long Beach did opt out. So the deadline to opt out was December '21, they opted out by that deadline.
And then I got wind of the fact that in I guess spring, summer of '22, they were open to re-looking at the topic. And so of course I jumped in at that point. If I had an opportunity to really craft policy, I wanted to get in front of everyone. So I said, "Listen, how can I be a resource for you? I'm a local community member, I'm a PTA mom, I teach Hebrew school at my kid's local synagogue, and I am a cannabis entrepreneur, so use me, use my resources. What can I do to help both from a community perspective as well as a political perspective to make it clear of the benefits that the town could receive if they opted?" And so we're still in that process. Some days I feel like we're making huge headway, some days I feel like it's one step forward, two steps back, unfortunately.
EA:New York State finally had its first recreational sale at the end of December. I think that helped. Tremaine Wright, her goal was to have recreational sales by December 31st and she got it under the wire opening up the one dispensary in New York. How do you think New York did with this rollout of adult use recreational cannabis?
BSJ:Listen, there's no question that it's really hard. I think OCM has a hard job and I think it's easy to sort of sit here and be critical of their job, "Would I have done it differently? Would I have this, would I have that?" I mean sure, but the reality is you do look at most states, from legalization to a market, it does typically take about two years. So what I like to say at this moment is, was it slower than I personally want as an advocate and as an entrepreneur? Yes, but I really... if now is the time and we take that momentum of that first store opening and really do move forward instead of sitting on it, then I think we've done a lot of things right.

I think the next sort of six months will be a real indication of how the market's going to move, and if I think it did a good job or a bad job. I mean they hit the mark of having one person open. They now have a second one that opened in January. They have granted additional card licenses. I think the real tell is are they going to communicate a timeline by which applications are open for the more general population, the MRTA dispensaries? And if so, then we're moving along. If not, and if that isn't clear, then it's really troubling for entrepreneurs, investors and consumers alike.
EA:You opened Poplar in 2018, and I know you had experience in startups, but that was in fashion, not cannabis and hemp. How hard was it to open up your own place after working in some of the more iconic brands in fashion?
BSJ:Yeah, I mean some of my latest fashion experience was of in the startup culture, so that was fine and I think I have that sort of grit in me, the like wear lots of hats. The startup part doesn't bother me, but I do... it is baffling how complicated it is or regulators are making it, et cetera, et cetera, to operate in this space. Whether you're talking about hemp derived CBD, whether you're talking about Delta-8 THC, whatever realm of the cannabis world you're talking about, it is very complicated and I think unfortunately there aren't a lot of other industries that you can compare from a complexity. You can make certain parallels to alcohol, you can make certain parallels to supplements, clean beauty, there are bits and pieces, but there is no roadmap and it's constantly changing. So where we were in 2018 as an example, I had to completely custom build my website. Now we're on Shopify because Shopify opened up to CBD and now you can do... you still can't use them as a payment processor, but you can use their platform, which is great from a small business cost of development ratio perspective.
EA:The focus of your current business is products for women.
EA:Are you planning to expand your customer base to include the rest of the population?
BSJ:So the way I see women is not just that we're selling to them, but I see them as the gatekeepers of the family. Again, whether that's sort of a traditional family or a newfound family, the research still shows that females are purchasing the majority of products for your household. They're still purchasing groceries, they may now be delivered, but they're purchasing groceries, they're purchasing supplements, they're purchasing wine for a dinner party. And so what we go after women as the gatekeeper of those purchases, not just as the end consumer. So I'm sure if you looked in the mirror and you know thought to yourself, "What of this did my wife have influence on?" you would end up probably saying, "A lot," or at least my husband would, let's put it that way.

And so I think that's really the idea. Women will help normalize it. We are making the purchases, we are caring for our children, we are making decisions in our household. Not to say that men are not, that's a whole nother conversation and we want men to be as much a part of the mental load as possible, but let's just talk about where we actually are today. In most families, and I think where we are is women are the gatekeepers.

So if we get them to be open-minded about cannabis, which I think sort of starts at CBD because it's easier to begin your journey with something that's not psychotropic and then you are able to sort of evolve into the THC realm, I think I've always believed that that's the way to get our customer. I don't believe our customer is already deep in the cannabis echo chamber, as I say. I think who my customer is is she's going to SoulCycle, she's shopping at Whole Foods, she has this world about her. How do we make that meet her where... how do we make Poplar and cannabis meet her where she is versus the sort of bongs and thongs old school view of cannabis that no mom, wife, female is going to sort of welcome in their home. So how do we change that narrative? How do we make it easier to understand? And I think appealing to women is one of the ways to do that.
EA:What type of products does Poplar sell?
BSJ:So we started off selling only products that included hemp derived CBD, so a face serum, a variety of tinctures, gummies, pre-rolls, all with hemp derived CBDs, meaning less than 0.3% THC, legal according to the Farm Bill of 2018. Although there was some recent news on CBD and how that will be managed nationally, but that's another can of worms to a certain extent. In 2020 with the pandemic and the fact that New York didn't legalize when we really thought they were going to legalize in 2020, I added some non-CBD products to the website. Again, really in an effort to destigmatize cannabis. So if you see CBD tincture, as an example, that's talking about sleep and you see it next to a beautiful bath bomb that maybe does or doesn't have CBD in it, or you see it next to a dry brush or a serum next to a gua sha, which are all things that a female health and beauty wellness customer would understand. You're kind of like, "Oh, I get it. That's how it fits with all these other products in my life."

Again, the big thing is yes, cannabis can fit in your life. It does not need to define you. Just like people who drink wine don't introduce themselves. "Hi, my name is Beryl and I drink wine." Or "Hi, my name is Beryl and I exercise," right? It's just one part of your being. And I think because cannabis is so stigmatized and so big and so heavy, we are unfortunately in this space right now that it's sort of like you need to define yourself. Are you a canna mom or are you a weed mom, or are you a wine mom? And it's sort of like, "No, no, no, no. I don't need to wear just that hat. I want to be all of those." So when we opened up the assortment, the intention was to make it more clear how all of these products can fit into your existing lifestyle.
EA:Okay. What's your future view for Poplar? Where do you want to take the company?
BSJ:Yeah, so our intention, and I'm super clear on our intention publicly, it's to apply and hopefully win dispensary license in New York. We are solely focused on New York, I think New York... I'm a New Yorker, I'm raising my family here, I think New York has a special spirit. I have always been singularly focused on New York. Partially the rules should end our preferential to small businesses, which should make it easier for an entrepreneur like me to cut their teeth in this market, but also because it's where my passion is, and I think, not to be cliche, but you can make it here, you can make it anywhere.

I think there still is a lack of brands in cannabis, and my goal is to create Poplar as the Bergdorf Goodman meets NET-A-PORTER of legal cannabis. I want cannabis, weed, whatever you want to call it, to be as socially acceptable as Chardonnay and Botox. And we're still not there, but hopefully we will be, and the intention is you can come into a beautiful Poplar store, which will be called a dispensary, but hopefully eventually will just be a gorgeous retail store that will sell cannabis, but also again, other health and wellness products. So you're really... get an entire opportunity to understand how cannabis can be a part of your life.
EA:And I hope that story will be welcome to the men also.
BSJ:Oh my gosh, definitely. My hope is that your wife brings you, because then how do you say no to that? If your wife is like, "I want to check out this..." Or your girlfriend or your sister or your daughter. I think yes, the intention is certainly that they're bringing along their dads and their brothers and their boyfriends or their best friends, whatever it may be, again, because women are making those choices and if men, non-gender conforming whatever you want to say beyond a standard box that a woman falls in, are still our customers and we want them to feel welcome. The intention is not to be so exclusive.

I always say with a caveat or asterisk when I talk about NET-A-PORTER and Bergdorf Goodman, those stores, as an example, still sell a $90 pair of Nikes. I'm not saying that a $90 pair of Nikes its not expensive or a luxury, but the intention is I don't think that a high end beautiful store experience needs to equal that every single product is expensive. The intention would certainly be to have a variety of price points in order to actually be able to service a variety of customers. So your girlfriend, your sister's going to get you in the door, but then you're going to buy what you want. And that's the intention, to have a big enough assortment that does satisfy most people, not to be everything to everyone, but that does satisfy most people, and I think we can do it. I think learning from fashion, that's one of those big takeaways.
EA:What research and testing do you do into a product line before you added the poplars list of products?
BSJ:Great question. So it's changed over time because the sort of onus on the brands is much higher now than it was when I started in 2018. So when I started in 2018, I required testing, and that was not the standard. And so some brands didn't have testing, and then some brands sent me their test reports and I didn't know how to read a test report, but I did know that the address of the testing facility and the signature if we did the test was on the bottom. So the first set of test reports I got I called up the testing facility and I was like, "Hey, my name is Beryl, I'm reviewing this testing report. Can you confirm for me that Bob Jones works at your testing facility?" So even if I, at the beginning, for example, wasn't 100% sure how to read the report, just some sort of regular level setting and not taking everything upon face value was a big part of it.

So it had to have testing, I had to confirm that that testing actually came from that lab, and I really... there is not a product on the Poplar website that I have not tried myself, that I do not stand behind. So I have a group of testers that also test new products and has to give me their feedback. I'm quite particular about how often we add new products because if I'm personally testing everything, I don't want to use a face serum one day and then another face moisturizer the next day, and then I don't know what did what. So I try to add only one thing to my routine at a time, and really from a testing perspective, personally use it for a couple of weeks before I stand by it. But the good thing is the industry is stepping up and the requirements have increased. So I am able to rely a little bit more on best practices on the industry where at the beginning I had to create what those best practices were.
EA:As we talked about earlier, or as I mentioned earlier, you're also an Adjunct Professor through LIM College. How great is it that institutions of higher learning, and no pun intended, are starting to recognize this industry as legitimate career?
BSJ:I think it's super, super exciting. I mean, I believe very much so in education and in checking that box wherever you can. I mean, I have an undergraduate degree in history, a graduate degree from an Ivy League institution in public policy and an associate's degree from Parsons for fashion design. I believe in doing all the thing. And so when LIM said they want to move forward with a program, I was obviously honored and excited to help make that a thing.

I mean, if we're going to grow this industry and really provide jobs and opportunities and especially be cognizant of the harm for the war on drugs and those that were disproportionately impacted, we have to train people. And so I think LIM is just one of those many, many touchpoints and it's exciting to be able to... I created the curriculum last year and I actually will start teaching it in March and I can't wait to dive in and do it for real with students. Apparently our class was over-subscribed and they had to lift the cap. So I think that's all just a good sign for enthusiasm around the industry and specifically New York.
EA:Before cannabis, we talked about you being in fashion where branding is so important, such a major focus. What impact will branding have on the cannabis industry? How important is it to the cannabis industry?
BSJ:I think it will become or continue to become more and more critical. Obviously there continues to be a big question mark on regulations and what the regulatory environment will be as a whole. But if you look at consumer packaged goods, CPG brands, and or alcohol brands and or... well, beauty and wellness, which is a CPG, at the end of the day, once the market matures, brand recognition gets you across the finish line. I still don't believe that there are any brands in cannabis or if there are very few, and I think until New York is fully online and you're able to understand what those brands look like and how they're able to really get traction, I think it will continue to be incredibly important as the market matures. I think there's a rush to like, "Well, I don't care what the brand is. I'm going in the four legal dispensaries and buying whatever sort of legal product they have." So I think the regulatory environment needs to catch up, but I believe branding, especially for my customer, is critical.
EA:Because if I go into a 7-Eleven in New York and buy a Diet Coke, and I go into a 7-Eleven in San Francisco, there's a comfort level. The product I'm getting is the same product. In this industry, you don't have that because of interstate commerce and a variety of other factors. But I think we need to get there.
BSJ:Yeah, I think it's still going to be a long time till we get there, unfortunately. I think we're going to see more states come online and do it their way and thinking that their way is the best way. But ultimately, not this year, but at some point we'll see the hopefully right fingers, toes, everything else, cross passage of SAFE Banking and all additional, again, rules, regulations, laws that will enable that to be the case so that you really can feel confident and comfortable that what you're buying, to your point, that Diet Coke is Diet Coke is Diet Coke.

And right now, if you use the Diet Coke model, I used to go to summer camp in Atlanta and we would always take the... outside of Atlanta, we always took a field trip to the Coca-Cola Museum and they have in the Coca-Cola Museum a fountain and you can taste what the Coca-Cola formula tastes like in all different countries around the world. So unfortunately, I believe from the Coca-Cola analogy, we're more in the around the world versus the 7-Eleven in California and 7-Eleven in New York. But we'll get there. Again, I mean, I hope so, and I believe that we'll get there, but we're not there. We are actually far from there.
EA:Beryl, for my last question, is federal legalization in our future? Will we get to a place where cannabis is treated like alcohol?
BSJ:I think it's in our future. I think it's overly optimistic to think it's in our near future. I think that cannabis advocates and entrepreneurs are probably downplaying the real bummer that not passing SAFE Banking was, and in cannabis, you sort of learn to lick your wounds and move on. And so I think people are kind of like, "Well, I don't want to sit here and hem and haw." But the Banking piece is such a critical part because if the capital markets aren't aligned, it's impossible for entrepreneurs to create these businesses, whether they're big, small, et cetera, and so yeah, I mean, I think we're going to see it, but unfortunately I don't think we're going to see it as fast as we wanted to.

I also do believe that seeing New York fully up and running will be a catalyst for it because New York, I think more so than a California or a Colorado, you have a tri-state area. You have people coming into New York from Connecticut, from New Jersey. All the time, there's sort of this constant flow. So I think it'll be interesting to see if pre full federal legalization, and they're talking about it a little bit in California, but I think it's a different scenario. I'm interested to see if more so the medium future is, or medium term future is, some free trade zone amongst sort of small groups and that we're able to test that out. It's going to come, but it's not tomorrow.
EA:Beryl, thanks for talking with me today. Thanks for listening to CannaCast as part of the EisnerAmper podcast series. Visit for more information and podcast. Also, please visit shop-poplar, for more information about Beryl and Poplar. Join us for our next CannaCast podcast where we'll discuss other budding issues.

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Our CannaCast podcast addresses the burning issues impacting the cannabis sector. EisnerAmper professionals cover the tax, regulatory, financial, logistic and other key strains of the industry. We’ll also talk about budding developments with market leaders from the highest levels.

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