Real Cannabis Stories


Meet Kaiya: CEO @ Utopia Farms

1. Past: What is your professional background? Why did you decide to look into the industry?
I was focused on Social Psychological research with a plan to teach at the university level before entering the cannabis space. I entered the cannabis industry after being disillusioned with the options available. I’m a “clean-label” guy and hated that I couldn’t validate where a product came from, how it was made or what the chain of custody was. I knew enough about analytics testing to know that the market was contaminated with solvents, pesticides and microbiological contaminants and I wanted to find products I’d be comfortable using. This commitment to product integrity motivated Emily, Jesse and myself to start Utopia.
2. Present: How did you get involved? how has the transition and overall experience been?
Nothing could have prepared me for the cannabis space. This industry is so rapidly evolving that flexibility is key. Its been great to watch California cannabis adapt into a market that supports Utopia’s philosophy – a commitment to transparency and quality and I feel blessed everyday to be a part of it. We work way too hard but at the end of the day we’re always proud of what we’re doing and even on our hardest day we’re cognizant enough to know we’re blessed to have this opportunity. One of the greatest benefits of founding Utopia is the breadth of skills I’ve had to acquire to keep the company moving forward. There’s not many industries where you have the opportunity to become proficient in tasks from plumbing to marketing to zoning laws.
3. Future: Do you see yourself working in the industry long term? Why? 
I’ll consider myself blessed to be involved in the cannabis industry in 10 years. As long as the industry continues to foster community, ethical responsibility and innovation, I’ll be a part of it. We often hear fears of cannabis mirroring big-ag, big-tobacco, big-alcohol and big-pharma. At Utopia, we’re committed to keeping the industry pure and a reflection of our consumers. If money and power overtakes that commitment, it will be hard to find the same pleasure coming to work each day.
4. Do you have any advice you’d give to someone looking into making a career change into the industry?
Bring flexibility, patience and a commitment to your values. The industry is so young and constantly changing that you will be forced to adapt what you were doing yesterday to fit with tomorrow’s innovations. Embrace that opportunity for growth – if you want stability you’re in the wrong place.
Did you ever feel stigmatized by the industry?

All the time. Its improved with time, but the stigma reaches all aspects (from banking to family relations).

How did you get your first cannabis job?

Started our own company.

Have you been promoted or worked for different companies in the industry?


 Has it been difficult?

Amazingly so.

Any advice to someone looking to get involved in the industry with no cannabis experience?

I don’t feel that you need cannabis experience to enter this industry. It parallels so many other spaces (CPGs, marketing, agriculture, manufacturing) that you can take your expertise and adapt it to match cannabis. Furthermore, the space is so new that there are few experts and constant innovation and change.

What do you think the future looks like for the industry?

Depends on my mood :-).


Here’s Kaiya at the last Bloom Farms job fair!! 

Utopia Farms is the cannabis brand committed to providing highly desirable, quality products. Specializing in artisan flowers, refined extracts, and nutritious edibles, Utopia Farms supports the cannabis community with variety, quality, and transparency.


When Kaiya Bercow, Jesse Bower, and Emily Bercow set out to create their cannabis brand, they were imagining a state of things in which everything was perfect. Hailing from the same hometown, they entered the industry as cultivators, perfecting their craft over years of study and work. Disheartened by the industry’s lack of quality, clean-tested products, they set out to develop a branded alternative to the unlabeled, un-tested products filling dispensaries shelves. Their commitment to consumers has resulted in a line of products focused on health, higher business ethics and unparalleled quality.


Utopia Farms knows that one size doesn’t fit all, and the beauty of medicating is in choice. That’s why they provide flower, extracts, and edibles. Utopia Farms’ signature flower is the C. Banana, a phenotype they’ve been cultivating for nearly a decade. With THC tests as high as 35%, this Sativa-dominant Hybrid is renowned for its powerful effects and fresh banana aromas. Utopia also cultivates Lambsbread, Taffy, and a variety of other strains. Their extracts are potent and pure with unique terpene and cannabinoid profiles and are available as processed trim, cured resin, and live resin grades. Utopia Farms’ macaroons (available in four flavors) are health-conscious and are made with raw, gluten-free, vegan, kosher-friendly, paleo-friendly and organic ingredients. Blended with their in-house extracts, these edibles take you higher!

Lab Testing:

Utopia’s products are lab tested with SC Labs, every batch, every time. Total transparency is one of the cornerstones of Utopia Farms practice and with that comes batch-testing to ensure purity, safety, and consistency. After undergoing full-spectrum testing, each product package is labeled with a batch number that is linked to a publicly available lab result, allowing you to know the potency, terpene pesticide, residual solvent, and microbiological test results. Utopia Farms works hard to provide trusted products and is at the forefront of California’s pesticide-free movement. Clean growing, clean ingredients, and a company that cares – #ThisIsUtopia.




Meet Gilbert: Founder of Pacific Salsa Co

1. What did you do before the industry?

I enlisted into the U.S. Army as a Junior in High School. I was in the 2nd Ranger Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment and actively deployed to Iraq (2004) and Afghanistan (2005) as an Airborne Infantryman. I transitioned back into civilian life by taking five years of college courses while also serving in the Texas National Guard for two years. I graduated in 2012 from The University of Texas at Austin with a B.A. in Psychology. I moved to Oakland California in 2013 and founded The Pacific Salsa Company on June 3rd, 2014.

2. What sparked your interest in the cannabis industry? How did you first get involved in the industry from a career standpoint?

I have always maintained a healthy relationship with cannabis that began in my teenage years. I collected High Times magazines and had dreams of visiting Vancouver, B.C. I enjoyed movies such as “Half-Baked,” and “Friday.” Even though I participated in cannabis culture, I never planned to have a life career in the cannabis industry. My involvement unfolded organically as the compassionate people around me guided and nurtured my dream of blending great salsa. Much of my success could not be possible without the community around me. Sometimes I feel like something greater than myself has chosen me to lead the way in cannabis infused salsas.


3. Walk us through a normal work day? What skills did you learn from past careers that have helped you succeed in the cannabis industry?

I always like to keep things interesting with a little variation. A normal work day can range from slow to hectic, but an ideal work day is productive and rewarding. A good example is my April 19th 2017 production day. I began by making suppositories for a patient with colon cancer. Next, I have a little fun making a gelatin based confectionery mixed with nerd candies. After these warm ups I dive head first into my salsa production process which can be long and unforgiving. In between production projects I work on my marketing, packaging, answer emails, send invoices, and consume some cannabis. I am currently a one man operation with the occasional help from my friends but I am excited to say that I am creating jobs with the success of The Pacific Salsa Company.

I have learned many valuable lessons and skills from my time spent in the military and at the university but I am constantly open to learning and experiencing new things.

4. Have you ever felt any stigma against yourself from others for working in the industry?

The cannabis industry has always been very open and compassionate towards me. However, I have felt stigma from both sides of cannabis culture and counterculture. To most of my old military buddies I am labeled a long-haired “hippy” that likes to “support terrorism” by buying pot and losing the war on drugs for America. To some of my new cannabis industry buddies I have been labeled a “fed/narc” that doesn’t wear enough “hat-pins” and doesn’t “dab hard” enough. The stigma I have felt in the past has diminished as I have established myself amongst my peers. Also, our public opinion regarding cannabis has begun to change more drastically as more patients are using cannabis to treat their ailments.

For the most part I am received with a smile and a raised eyebrow when I inform someone that I make cannabis infused salsa.


5. What have been some of your favorite things about working in the industry?

My most favorite thing about working in the compassionate industry is definitely the cannabis. Sure, I get to meet a lot of interesting people but having access to some of the best cannabis in the United States has been a dream come true. I have been fortunate enough to experience and participate in many different aspects of the cannabis industry. I have always been familiar with the recreational aspect of cannabis and it wasn’t until after I moved to Oakland that I began to hear of all the medicinal effects. At first I was skeptical of what many geriatric patients would tell me about the treatment of their conditions using cannabis. After experiencing the healing effects of cannabis first hand I have become a full believer in the awesome potential this plant can offer humanity.

6. Do you have any advice to job seekers looking into the industry?

My advice to anyone looking for a job in the compassionate industry is to stay positive! Try this: Go grab a big piece of cardboard and draw a large pair of scissor on it with a black marker. Hitchhike your way up the 101 to Redway and find a nice spot in the shade to hold your sign. If you get hungry there is an unlocked dumpster behind the grocery store. Anything frozen from the day before should still be good. Distinguish yourself from the others by acquiring a pair of trim shears and wearing them in a holster. A little persistence and your presence on the side of the road should be acknowledged with the opportunity for the ride of your life!


“With a name like “The Pacific Salsa Company,” we have to think big and we have to think global. This is why we are dedicated to developing huge tastes everyone on Earth can enjoy. We are devoted to exploring the far regions of uncharted territory to shower your taste buds with our remarkable fusions. Come take a journey on the relaxing waves and let us be the wind in your flavor sails.”

-Gilbert Joseph Pacheco III, Founder
The Pacific Salsa Company


Meet Shayne: ‘Docent’ @ Serra

What did you do before the cannabis industry?

Well I grew up in Portland and spent my college years between Portland State, and the University of Oregon. I bounced between studying business and science, trying to figure out what I wanted to do. Although I no longer dream of being a dentist, I took much of what I learned in science and applied it to learning the science of cannabis.

I worked at Dutch Bros Coffee for a few years before working at Serra. If you’ve never been, it’s a drive through coffee franchise that specializes in kind of “above and beyond” customer service. Going through hundreds of face to face interactions with customers everyday, gave me probably my one and only real strength coming into this job. We’ve all had at least one really stellar customer service experience that stood out among others. The biggest draw I took from Dutch Bros was learning to seize that unique opportunity with customers. The opportunity to be that experience for them. Every time someone walks into Serra I want them to feel like I’m glad that they’re there, and I want it to be one of the best parts of there day. That’s how you build loyalty, you structure it off relationships.. and that’s kind of where I came from.

How did you get your job at Serra with no industry experience?

I was up against having not only no real industry experience, but also not a lot of real experience with cannabis personally. I didn’t even use cannabis for the first time until I was 23 . I went all throughout high school and college without ever touching it (with hindsight, I wish I would have used it in college, because it helps me focus!). As far as getting the job, It was through a personal connection. I had known someone who started at the first shop in Eugene, and in passing they mentioned they were opening up a new store in Portland. I was ready for something new, so i got the email of the hiring manager and sent in my resume. I was fairly certain going in that I would have the least amount of real experience with cannabis, so I knew that would be a weakness I’d have to get around and that’s what I did. The reality and nature of cannabis is that everyone experiences it slightly differently, so going forward quality customer service will be the backbone of who gets hired on the retail end.

Despite my lack of experience with cannabis, I got hired because I was prepared. I did a ton of research before I came in for an interview.  There’s a bunch of resources and platforms to utilize for cannabis research. I watched youtube videos, read a ton of articles, documentaries, you name it. I just absorbed as much info as humanly possible.
How has it been working in the industry? Harder than traditional retail?

It’s harder in that there is more responsibility than traditional retail. It can be a scary thing for people who have had negative or no experience with cannabis in the past, so there is a lot of trust put in us to guide them into a good experience. I see cannabis as a tool, and it has so many tremendous benefits to reap from, if you know how to use it. Many of our customers are medical patients too, so its imperative that we know what we are selling.

I love it though. I love being a part of the ground floor of this very raw and still fragile industry. There’s so many states and countries even that are keeping a close eye on how we navigate the early waves of legal cannabis.
Have you ever felt stigmatized for working in the industry?

It will, more than likely, take years for popular opinion to come around fully on legal weed. Serra Downtown was one of Leafly’s “Top 10 most beautiful Dispensaries in America”  and also Dope Magazines award winning “Best New Dispensary” so luckily for me, where I work is actually the best tool for me to fight stigmas. Our shop is beautiful and far from your “dark, green cross, bars on the windows” type dispensary. Our goal is to bring cannabis into the modern way of life and give our customers a one of a kind experience.


What advice do you have for someone looking into the industry?

Just do your research. Treat it like you would any other job. Be professional, Don’t bank on just smoking a lot of weed as your X factor. Be able to conceptualize where the industry is headed down the line and what it will look like. And just like any other industry, be dependable and work hard.


Meet Jimi: Cannabis Industry Writer

What did you do before the industry? School? Any other jobs outside of the industry?


I got involved in drug policy reform, in general, my second week of college at Franklin Pierce University in the fall of 2005. The thing that pulled me in at first was Students for Sensible Drug Policy’s efforts to end the Higher Education Act Aid Elimination Penalty, the section of the bill that prevented folks from receiving federal financial aid due to a drug conviction as minor as marijuana possession. Not long after I became aware and more involved with SSDP’s cannabis advocacy efforts. Meeting the SSDPers from Brown  in the summer of 2006 when  I attended a Marijuana Policy Project workshop, I was sucked in completely at that point and believed medical initiatives, at the very least, would continue to pass one by one. Things obviously accelerated very quickly in the years after that.


What sparked your interest in the cannabis industry? How did you first get involved?


By the time I graduated in 2009,  I’d risen through the SSDP ranks to serve on the board of directors and on the board of Massachusetts NORML, with a stint in Washington DC the previous summer interning with the Drug Policy Alliance and The Drug Reform Coordination Network. In the fall, DPA hosted their biennial conference. The Washington DC experience convinced me I needed to move to California immediately following graduation.


Walk us through a normal work day.


I start my days still opening the dispensary. I came out here to work at CBCB, where I recently celebrated my eighth 4/20 on the team. I leave around lunch time to go follow my journalistic endeavors, whether it be for Hearst and their properties Green State and The San Francisco Chronicle, Cannabis Now Magazine where I serve as Staff Writer, or one of the other publications I’m currently freelancing for. Many evenings I’ll rendezvous with friends and sources just to get a pulse on what their up to and get the biggest picture possible of the industry as a whole.  


Have you ever felt any stigma against yourself from others for working in the industry?


No, I’ve been in the game too long. When I got here, if they were anyone that mattered, you had to be ready to go to jail together and keep your mouth shut. Most of the petty stuff flew out the window quickly. But obviously, some people don’t think folks who wear sandals every day can spar verbally when it comes to products, policy, and best practices. That’s always fun.


What’s been one of your favorite things or proudest moments about working in the industry?


Getting into the San Francisco Chronicle this year and writing the CBD section for Ed Rosenthal’s new book were huge for me as a writer, but having the confidence of the industry’s top minds when trying to tell their stories is what I’m the most thankful for. After spending a decade cultivating relationships, being a phone call away from an expert in any part of the industry, that I likely call a friend, is a catalyst for the type of coverage I’ve been able to provide.


Do you have any advice to job seekers looking into the industry?


The best companies hire their best people from those who gave their time to nonprofits. Look at the who’s who of the industry, in nearly all their bios they list their favorite campaigns or nonprofits they worked with. These are the type of people you want to get hired by because they already won the game. You can have all the capital in the world, but if you don’t have a bricklayer, it’s going to be a shitty wall.


Jimi Devine

Cannabis Industry Writer

Staff Writer – Cannabis Now Magazine

Contributor – Smell the Truth on SFGate