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Utah in the Weeds Episode #87 - Blake Smith of Zion Medicinal

What to Expect in This Episode

Episode 87 of Utah in the Weeds features Blake Smith, Chief Science Officer at Zion Medicinal. Blake frequently collaborates with us in educating the public about Medical Cannabis, and we were happy to invite him back for another episode of Utah in the Weeds.

Tim and Blake reminisced about the last couple of years working in Utah's ever-changing cannabis industry. [02:17]

Blake talked about Zion Medicinal's growth over the last two years and some of the products they're producing now. [05:22]

They talked about the customizability of a Medical Cannabis treatment plan. Patients can experiment with different ratios of THC, CBD, CBG, and other cannabinoids to tailor their treatment. [11:30 ]

Blake responded to recent research about cannabinoids and COVID-19. He says the research isn't quite as exciting as sounds, and he explains why. [13:44]

Tim noted reproducibility has been a challenge in the cannabis research field, and for science as a whole. Blake explained some of the challenges in conducting pharmaceutical research. [16:12]

Both Tim and Blake appreciate the enthusiasm with which Utah's Medical Cannabis patients have provided feedback about their treatment. [21:32]

Next, they talked about the current state of Utah's Medical Cannabis program and the changes they'd like to see. [25:12]

Blake talked about entering the retail space in Cedar City and his philosophy of making a wide variety of products available. [33:14]

He also spoke about the plans for Bloom Medicinals to begin a delivery service. [39:16]

Blake is also involved in cannabis-related projects in other states and even in other countries. One project involves producing hemp-based products for pets. Blake says cannabis products for pets should be made with the same high-quality materials used in making products for humans. [40:54]

The pair reflected on the quality of Utah’s cannabis products before shifting to a discussion about Medical Cannabis legislation. [44:13]

Blake talked about Delta-8 THC and another lesser-known synthetic cannabinoid called HPP. [45:27]

Blake says it’s “silly” to define hemp according to a low THC percentage. A hemp producer, he says, could still legally make a product with several milligrams of THC. The key to making that type of product legal is basing it around a dense food product. [50:06]

Tim and Blake then discussed potential legislation regarding cannabis, and the continuing need for quality assurance in cannabis products. [51:07]

We wrapped with a quick discussion of a new video series to help Discover Marijuana viewers get to know Tim and Blake. [57:18]

Podcast Transcript

Tim Pickett:
Hey, everybody. Welcome to Utah in the Weeds. I'm your host, Tim Pickett. And I'm excited for this episode, an interview with Blake Smith, the chief science officer, as you were, for Zion Medicinal, and just a good friend of mine and somebody that I've wanted to bring back on the podcast for quite some time. We talk a lot about a lot of things in this episode. So, I'll let you listen to it all. Again, Blake Smith, he knows pharmacokinetics, he's very, very interested in minor cannabinoids and how those interact in the body, and just making good medicine. So, some housekeeping; also, we just wrapped up the month of January, and again, raised over $6,000 for the Uplift subsidy program for medical cannabis patients here in Utah. We've added two more partners that will be starting to contribute in February. So, if you have not donated, we are going to match your donation. I believe it's eight times now; eight times those donations to Uplift at utahmarijuana.org/uplift.

Tim Pickett:
Stay tuned, we have upcoming episodes with Daniel Mark Jones, a veteran of basically, two wars, was in Kosovo, was in Iraq. And you've got to hear his story about how he was basically fleeced for $6,000 in Utah, trying to get medical cannabis access. You've got to listen to that story. That'll be coming up in a future episode. We've also got [inaudible 00:01:44] from the department of health coming up, and we just have a line of guests now, as we dive into the winter and the spring. Subscribe to Utah in the Weeds on any podcast player that you have access to, stay up to date with the conversation on YouTube. Discover Marijuana is the channel. Leave a comment there, and we answer all of those comments. We want to engage with you. So, I'm excited to have you with us, and enjoy this episode with Blake Smith. Cool. Well, Blake Smith.

Blake Smith:
That's me. The one and only.

Tim Pickett:
Do you remember, the only real-time we've had you on the podcast was in the very beginning, right? So, you haven't been on the-

Blake Smith:
Yeah.

Tim Pickett:
This is going to be like episode... We're high 80s now.

Blake Smith:
Holy crap. Awesome.

Tim Pickett:
...Episodes, right? And maybe a few more people are listening to the podcast than were when we had you on before. I remember sitting in the room when we were recording. We were in our Mill Creek office, we had like these cheap Amazon desks, and we were talking, and man, things were so different. We're talking episode one, two, or three. We're talking-

Blake Smith:
Yeah, I think that was episode three or four. Yeah.

Tim Pickett:
Yeah. So, since then, holy cow.

Blake Smith:
The world is very-

Tim Pickett:
Are you tired?

Blake Smith:
Yeah, I'm exhausted.

Tim Pickett:
Because just remembering a couple of years ago, it just makes me tired.

Blake Smith:
This industry, more than anywhere I've ever worked, is accelerated. A year in this industry is like five in any others. And so, anyone who's in here too long will age and age significantly.

Tim Pickett:
Yeah. I mean, I guess they talk about how being president of the United States is just really, really stressful and it ages people. Of course, Biden's into his administration, what? A year. But he already looks a lot older. I feel bad for the guy in some ways, but in the cannabis space, yeah, it's like that; it's just a rocket ship.

Blake Smith:
That's right. Well, because every day is different. Every day, something is happening. I mean, just yesterday, we were up at Capitol Hill, and then the week before that, there's people who were interested in doing different things with their licenses. And the day before that, the state comes by. And then the day before that, there's an announcement in Mississippi, and then the next day... It's just nonstop all the time.

Tim Pickett:
Yeah. It's nonstop. It is an industry... I feel like the medical programs, it's still really... For any other industry, this would be in its infancy. So, we're two years into the program. And when we were talking to you before, we were barely getting tinctures out, lemon dream, your vape cart lemon dream. Wasn't that the first vape cart you made?

Blake Smith:
Yep. It was the first vape cart we made.

Tim Pickett:
And one of the first-

Blake Smith:
It may have been the first vape carts created in the state.

Tim Pickett:
In the State of Utah.

Blake Smith:
That's right.

Tim Pickett:
And there was hardly any flower at the time.

Blake Smith:
Almost nothing.

Tim Pickett:
And now there's quite a bit of flower in the state. So, take me from before, take me from Zion Medicinal, when we talked two years ago, to today. Give me just an overview of some of the stuff that's changed.

Blake Smith:
Oh, wow. Well, all eight licenses are growing now. And so, there was about a year period where several licenses were not activated, and we started off with zero patients. So, when the program first started, they say, "Okay, everything starts March 1st, and we want products available, and then we're going to be getting our first patients, and we're going to be doing this." Boy, that's a real hard way to start planning how much you're going to grow, how much product to make.

Tim Pickett:
Right. This is back when we were thinking, "Oh, there's going to be 6,000, maybe 10,000 patients the first year. How much operation do you need? How many plants do we grow? Can we afford it? Because we're maybe not going to get our investment back for a long, long time."

Blake Smith:
Yeah. I'm mean these are the issues. So, a lot of people, also even if they got their grow going... And you remember, we started off in our own warehouse. We had grow tents and stuff [crosstalk 00:06:48].

Tim Pickett:
Oh yeah. I recorded with Sean in, now what is your processing facility, and there were like three grow tents back there.

Blake Smith:
That's right. And it's because we had no idea, plus, creating a clean grow space in a warehouse was challenging. I mean our isopropyl costs alone were outrageous. I mean, it's just one of those crazy things. And now, I'll speak to Zion, we have two grows going. One, we've maximized our license. We produce a lot of biomass, we produce massive amounts of products and distillate. We have all kinds of different products out there. And we continue the science, figuring out mechanism of action of specific cannabinoids, and tried to create specific medicines for specific conditions. But now, we have a lot more cannabinoids to actually do that with. There's like the 1:1:10 tincture for pain. We're right in the middle of the 1:1 tincture with CBN.

Tim Pickett:
Tell me, what's the 1:1:1 for pain?

Blake Smith:
It's a 1:1:10, and it's one part THC, one part CBG, 10 part CBD. And then we're about to do one for sleep, which is a 1:1:10, but instead of CBG, it's CBN. And we're also looking at doing some vape carts that are going to be some mixes like a 1:1:1, something along those lines [inaudible 00:08:16].

Tim Pickett:
Yeah. Because there's no vape carts in the Utah market with other cannabinoids that I know of.

Blake Smith:
Their White Widow had CBG.

Tim Pickett:
In a vape cart.

Blake Smith:
In a vape cart. There's a couple. What I would say is it's been lacking a little bit. And part of that's because if you don't get your ratios right, the other cannabinoids, other than THC, will crystallize in the cart, so you got to get it just right with the right amount of terpenes, with just the right amount of agents in order to get it to keep from crystallizing. So, that's just science. We can figure all that out.

Tim Pickett:
Yeah. So now, would you say you have an abundance supply of biomass and flower for what Zion needs to do?

Blake Smith:
Yeah. I mean, I have enough flower and biomass to produce pretty much anything anybody wants. I mean, we've started now producing concentrates, [crosstalk 00:09:18].

Tim Pickett:
Which takes a lot of biomass.

Blake Smith:
Which requires a lot of biomass and it requires a lot of good flower, quite frankly. And so, good flower was always at such a high demand. There was not excess flower to put into the market in this other products. So, you talk about raws and carts and things like that. There's just not enough material to make that worthwhile, considering that flower will all sell. We're getting to a point now in the industry where there's enough flower to start seeing some other products come out, and that's cool. That's a cool place to be.

Tim Pickett:
Yeah. Have you landed on things that you really like over the past couple of years; the products that you feel like are kind of your favorites so far from Zion? What are those?

Blake Smith:
Yeah. I think, a little bold on this one, I think Zion makes a lot of cool products, but I think the tincture market is probably our strongest. And the reason I say that is because we specifically put a lot of different types of cannabinoids and very specific formulations for very specific conditions. We make a really nice delta-9 cart. The delta-9 cart is designed to really help you get the head change and mask pain. We make some cool delta-8 carts which are good as antiemetics. They're really nice in terms of helping with nausea and things like that, nice flavor profiles, and they're all cannabis-derived. But our tinctures, without trying to sound too bold, we've seen miracles with some of these. We've seen people stop having seizures, we've seen people who cannot sleep, all of a sudden, their back pain goes away. And so, I mean, we produce some cool flower too. Our Mad Max flower is one of my absolute favorites. It's always a high percent THC, but also a high percent CBG. So, people are happy to make their own and splits with it.

Tim Pickett:
Yeah, the Mad Max, it is a favorite strain and just because it's kind of different. As you get into this and you learn a little bit about it, start keeping a journal as a patient, and you start to experience these different cultivars, different strains, different products, you start to think or you start to realize what the difference is. I know CBG, I've seen it marketed as a bubble bath for the brain, and it is kind of that way. It's like a little different... The head change is a little different. And so, for patients who are experimenting with THC and CBG, and THC and CBD ratios, I've had people come back to me and tell me, "When I needed the chill, then I really just go to the THC, CBD, but when I don't need that, there's just something different about the CBG." So, from a medical standpoint, it's as if we're manipulating our own drugs for our own effects, and it's working. It seems like it's working for people.

Blake Smith:
Yeah. I mean, the thing is we've learned enough at this point, that we can draw some actual dose effects, like we know about, for the typical person, how much THC will affect... a masking element for pain and create a head change. We know about how much delta-8 is required. We know about how much CBD is necessary to cut into if you're overly high, but also how much CBD is necessary for helping with pain management. We know enough about CBG, how many mgs of CBG are required to do things. But now we're also in the fun world of like, "Okay, well now, let's start mixing more of these together." And then you get these entourage effects where you get heightened effect from any of the individual cannabinoids, by putting them in certain ratios. And that's this whole other world that's kind of awesome, where individual patients get to figure out what their right dose is that's working for them in this mixture of cannabinoids.

Tim Pickett:
Yeah. I wonder what, once you get through the CBN, the CBG... Oh, okay, totally going to change this topic here. What about CBGA and CBDA. This is your COVID study article? What about those?

Blake Smith:
Yeah. Well, I mean, somebody may try to come and hang me after I say this. They're not as exciting as I think people want them to be. Here's the thing. In vitro, you're putting in a Petri dish, you can get the same effect out of coffee, actually, with tannic acid. It inhibits proliferation of viral load. That's not to say the CBDA and CBGA don't have a physiological effect, but how are you going to get your CBGA? How are you going to it in? Are you going to smoke it? Well, guess what, the second you light it on fire, you decarboxylated it.

Tim Pickett:
You've decarboxylated it.

Blake Smith:
That's no longer CBGA. So, what are you going to do? You can do a crude. Well, crude oil has other health implications. I don't know that you want to be delving into armfuls of crude. So, that may not be the right answer either. And we also know that with the acidic forms, you're not going to get into CB1 receptors. You potentially will get into CB2 receptors. Cellular uptake for the as acidic form seems to be a thing. We don't have tons of data on it yet, but there could be medicinal value with both of those. Could you get a protective index from them? How about this? Maybe.

Tim Pickett:
I'm glad we're bringing this up.

Blake Smith:
[crosstalk 00:15:23]. We don't have CBGA and a nebulizer, so it's not going [crosstalk 00:15:27] viruses.

Tim Pickett:
Right. And you don't have... Okay, so what about this other issue with the reproducibility problem that we have with this data? So, there was this study, the CBGA, CBDA study, there was another study that was done, retroactively looking at CBD patients, seizure patients, and looking at their incidents of COVID, and saying that, potentially, CBD had this protective effect. Some confounding factors, certainly, one being that maybe people with seizures were not in the public and getting exposed to COVID as much as the general population, but that all being aside, it also seems like, in general, in science... And I want to hear your opinion about this. We have kind of this reproducibility problem. We have these studies, and then we're having a very hard time reproducing the results of a lot of science. Not just in cannabis medicine, but even outside of that. What do you think about that?

Blake Smith:
So, I'm not going to speak directly about cannabis for one second. I'm going to just talk about science and science process in general. So, I got a bunch of degrees. I started going and working for a contract research organization, and my first boss I had there said, "Hey, you got hired in this contract research organization because of your background and your degrees. However, we're going to now teach you real science." And I was like, "What? What does that even mean? Man, I studied my butt off, I passed my test, I'm a scientist." And they, very politely, were just like, "Well, there's a difference between getting N of 20 people and getting 10,000 people, and reproducing it with 10,000 people." In fact, there's difference between that, and then six months after all your tests are done, randomly picking a thousand of those 10,000 samples, pulling them back out of the freezer, running the same method, and being within 2% of your original value."

Blake Smith:
That's hardcore science. I mean, that's reproducible science, where we know that aspirin has a dose-effect because we now have so much data and have done this so many times that we know what aspirin does. Now, we have that much data around THC. We know about how much THC it takes for a head change. How many science experiments do we have with THC in two different hundred types of cancer? And how many variables? So, this part of the whole science and medicine stuff is still nascent, it's still new, we're all of this stuff. Could THC, CBD, CBG help with COVID? Maybe. Scientifically, can we prove that yet? Do we have an end of 10,000 that show that? No, we're not-

Tim Pickett:
And not only do we have an N of 10,000, but we can we take another N of 10,000? And when you say N, that means just the number of people treated.

Blake Smith:
The number-

Tim Pickett:
Right. Number needed to treat, but then can you then take another 10,000 people that kind of match those first 10,000 and do this again, and then do it again? Then you get into this issue where... And again, another kind of rabbit hole, but you look at SSRIs for example, and there's so many studies, and some of them didn't get published because the results didn't match what the drug companies needed. So, you end up somewhat biasing the publishing of some studies over the... It's not that you're withholding data in those cases. You're just not promoting some of these things. How does that fit in with cannabis? I don't feel like we have enough of those studies with cannabis to even make that argument.

Blake Smith:
It's an interesting point though. And I think it's actually probably very relevant to what we're talking about, because, in the cases where you have some drug companies that aren't releasing all studies to the public, what I would say is this, it's not that those studies don't ever get released, because what does happen is those studies do get released to their peers, other companies, FDA, and so that's where you start getting your contraindications. I mean, you, as a doctor, know what the side effects of most of these drugs are, not because the drug company initially came out and said, "Hey, we saw this in a study, but it's like, upon full scientific review, we know this is a contraindication of this particular SSRI or whatever it's."

Blake Smith:
And so, that scientific process is the part that needs to continue to play in cannabis. Because what I hear a lot in the industry is this sort of war against synthetics versus non-synthetics, or this war of whole plant medicine versus non-whole plant medicine. And I don't think we need to war at all. What I think we need to do is have qualified individuals talk about the data, and then we need to peer-review all of our data, and then come up with conclusions that we either can agree or we don't agree on, and that's okay. Scientist don't always agree, but one thing we will agree on is, this data is here and this is what the data itself sets. So, that's kind of my feeling; I just feel like we're so new in how we even think about the science on all this. It's really hard to get real hard conclusions. Having said that, we're getting there. We're getting a very good understanding of CBGA and all those [inaudible 00:21:29].

Tim Pickett:
Yeah. Or we're certainly better of. Well, and we have 40,000, here in Utah, we've got 40,000-plus patients that are using cannabis in various forms and types and delivery methods and products, and they're responding to questionnaires that we're giving them. And what's nice about the cannabis population, the cannabis consumers, is they seem interested in providing this feedback. Like, "I want to prove to you what's happening. I want to legitimize what I'm doing as a patient." There's a lot of that in cannabis.

Blake Smith:
Cannabis is awesome because it involves the enthusiast around the medicine they're taking. I don't usually see somebody who's like, "Man, I can't wait to go home and take my Warfarin," but somebody who's like, "Look, I can't sleep because of my pain, and this flower or this product, I sleep with this. My life is better and I want you to have a better life too. Let me tell you about it."

Tim Pickett:
I haven't heard one human being, in my lifetime, say to another, "Hey man, I couldn't sleep. You know what you need to do, you to get on Ambien." Like, "Oh, I just started Ambien last week, and it is so awesome. I sleep so good, and I'm now..." That never happens. I hide the fact... Most people would be hiding the fact that they take this, but cannabis is the opposite. "Sally, you know what, I have been using these Gummies that my sister brought back from wherever, and now I got my card and I'm using the tincture and it has changed my life."

Blake Smith:
Yeah. That's right.

Tim Pickett:
That's what's happening.

Blake Smith:
And part of that is the stigma. There's a stigma around it, so people are trying to break the stigma, but I think you can also run into the other problem too where people can be so over-enthusiastic that it comes off as being hyper drug culture. And here's the thing; personally, I don't really care about any of that, but somebody might be like, "Oh man, how much Mescaline do you take? Do you follow the White Rabbit? And that's going to be the best high you've ever had. Let alone, don't worry about the cardiac palpitation, don't worry about the [inaudible 00:23:57], don't worry about... But if you're trying to get lit, man, it's the only way to fly, whatever." So, I think there's this balance that you got to play out. "I use this medicinally or I use this for this purpose."

Blake Smith:
And look, here's my experience. And please correct me if I'm wrong. And viewers or listeners out there, please correct me on this. But even most recreational or adult use is still usually centered around treatment of some kind. I very rarely have somebody who's just like, "Man, I just light up all the time because I like to just be lit all the time." I mean, there are people that do that, but almost everyone I know who even use it as an adult-use product, they're like, "Man, I just sleep better. I feel better. I have this pain, I'm just off. I'm not in my right place, and this helps center me or whatever it is." And so, they're taking it medicinally even if they're not identifying it with a card saying, "This is my condition. This is why I'm doing it." And that's why medical programs become [inaudible 00:25:02] because you can bring them in and say, "Yes, what you're complaining or what you're sensing is a real thing. Now come onto the white market and let's do this in a way that makes sense for everybody."

Tim Pickett:
Is the program in Utah getting better, getting worse, staying the same? What do you think?

Blake Smith:
That's a great question. Despite what I think detractors will say, Utah is a pretty good program. That doesn't mean it's all right, but overall, I mean, we are allowed a lot more concentration forms and different things than many states have allowed on the medicinal side. We have a lot more producers producing lots of different types of products, so even the number of products is pretty wide in terms of what we can do. I mean, we haven't got there yet for everything we need, obviously, but we're moving in that direction. Legislatively, our legislature's been pretty open to changing things that needed to be changed. And that's been really, even in this session that's going on right now. We're looking at changing a couple of things to make the industry better. Do I think we're there?

Tim Pickett:
What types of things...

Blake Smith:
No, but we're getting there. I think we're continually trying to improve.

Tim Pickett:
What types of things is Zion interested in changing or is the "Industry in Utah," trying to change?

Blake Smith:
The biggest thing, I think, everybody in industry can agree on, no matter... Because there are different companies that have different philosophies about how we think about medicine, and that's okay, there's nothing wrong with that. But I think universally, the industry can all agree that we need more patients. Patient counts have got to go up because that helps fuel innovation, it helps fuel business, it helps fuel getting rid of the stigma. I mean, there's so many advantageous... And so many people who still just need help who are still on their opioids, or still on their Ambien, or still taking all these other drugs, that could be helped by cannabis, and so we need to increase patient counts. So, I think that's a universal thing we all agree on. I think the other thing we would agree on as an industry is we need to get the right amount of licenses with real data. Because if you go back originally and you look at eight grows, 14 pharmacies, and now there's a 15th pharmacy, I mean all these numbers are sort of arbitrary.

Tim Pickett:
Sort of arbitrary. They're like literally arbitrary. Somebody could say they're correcting me and they have data around how many pharmacies there could have been, that... bullshit. It's just arbitrary. [crosstalk 00:27:53].

Blake Smith:
Tim. I like you because you're bold. I was trying to give a little bit more of the benefit of the doubt, but [crosstalk 00:27:57].

Tim Pickett:
I know, but like it's... [crosstalk 00:28:00].

Blake Smith:
You're right. The numbers were arbitrary. Now, does that mean the numbers are necessarily wrong? Well, how do you know right or wrong without the data. So, the whole point would be, I think the industry would all be okay with getting data around it and saying, "Look, how much do we really need?" I mean, because right now, even if you look at the amount of flower, there's now enough flower for the most part. Almost every pharmacy has flower in stock. Does it always the best flower? No, I think we still have strides to make there. And we need to lower prices. Prices need to come down, but generally speaking, we've made huge advancements.

Blake Smith:
Over half companies still aren't utilizing their full license either. So, if everybody has flower in all their pharmacies and so forth, and we can start lowering prices, maybe we don't need more grows. But the only way to do that is to start doing a real assessment. And then I would say the same thing on the pharmacy side. How many people are not being served because they can't get access to it? And so, we need to have data had to suggest how many pharmacies we should have. I think the industry is okay with those ideas, but we should make all decisions based on data.

Tim Pickett:
Yeah. And at least I can see, I think, Ray Ward is trying to do maybe an appropriation for some industry questionnaires, asking the QMPs and the patients, how the program is going, what's happening, what's good, what's bad? I can support that from my side, from the medical provider side, that we need practical data, on my side, on how the program is being used. On my side, it's more of a question of who's providing the recommendations? Who does the legislature want to be providing the recommendations, versus who is actually making those recommendations and helping the program grow?

Blake Smith:
Yeah, that's right. And we're still lacking in education too. I mean, one of the biggest challenges, I think, with the government, in general, is that they stepped into this without actually knowing how the cannabis industry actually works. And then not only that, but then there's always this standoffish like, "Well, of course, industry is going to suggest things because they're so self-motivated that the industry can't be trusted." Well, the industry's the only one who has all the knowledge that's necessary for everybody to know everything, so it's a very weird stance to say, "I'll be ignorant and make rules based on my ignorance, but I can't trust industry who does know the answer to this because they're only going to do it in their own interest." I mean-

Tim Pickett:
You're exactly in the same spot that I am too. Nobody trusts me as a QMP that that owns a cannabis specialty clinic, because, "Oh, you have all of your interests. Utah Therapeutic, their interests are in seeing more patients and doing more evaluations." But on the other hand, just like you, but yet, I'm the one seeing all the patients and doing all the evaluations.

Blake Smith:
Right. I'm the guy who's making medicine, so like-

Tim Pickett:
Right. You're like, "You're the guy who's making medicine, so you've got to listen to what people are buying, what people are using, how people are responding, what's the accessibility."

Blake Smith:
And this is the science of what we do know.

Tim Pickett:
Yeah. This is just practical. It's that practical knowledge that's hard. And it is hard for a state... Ironically, you have a state that's very libertarian and right-sided on the political spectrum, and yet, they have got their clauses deep in regulation on this side. So, it's a very interesting place to be. I'm glad you feel that same way. And it's...

Blake Smith:
Tim, I always laugh. I laugh about this a lot because I have been told to my face that, "Well, we wouldn't want to trust data coming out of a cannabis company because it's going to be self-serving in terms of doing the research." I worked in pharma for a good portion of my career. Every study we did, we paid for, and it was promoting our material we were making from pharma. The difference was it was okay because it was being peer-reviewed, it was going through this regulatory process. And so, why is cannabis any different? Zion, I think I have done clinical studies, I know how to do this, but if Curaleaf gets a study done and they open up the data and everybody can review it and scientists all can weigh in, that's good for everybody. It doesn't really matter that it was Curaleaf or Zion or whoever, it doesn't really matter. Good data is good data, and that will win out at the end of the day.

Tim Pickett:
How do you... Switching gears a little bit on Zion's portion, so you applied for the 15th license, Dragonfly ended up with the award. Sounds like they're going to put a pharmacy in price. You fought hard, Zion fought hard, I know.

Blake Smith:
Yeah.

Tim Pickett:
You and I talked for that license, but you have a retail establishment. How did that play out? Talk to us a little bit about that because not a lot of people understand or even know.

Blake Smith:
Yeah. And that's been... I mean, that was pretty intentional on our end. I mean, there has been differences of opinion in the industry about different companies and different things. I mean, I've heard people say, "Well, Zion, those are those lab guys, and they're full of chemists and scientists, and they're doing weird stuff." And so, people are entitled to the way they think about it. I would like to think that we make good medicine and we follow good scientific practices as a result of that.

Blake Smith:
But what ends up happening is, because of these differences of opinions and different things, that we had an opportunity to acquire the business, which included the license for pharmacy 127, which is the one that's in Cedar City, and that became important. I mean, it's important for us for a lot of reasons, but we need to be able to give all different patients, access to all kinds of different medicine. But we also wanted to make sure that we didn't want people to not want to get us products because it was going to be a Zion affiliate in some way, shape, or form. Because if you go to Cedar City, what you'll notice is that pretty much every company is represented there. Every company.

Tim Pickett:
Yeah. You buy products down there from everybody. We have a clinic in that same building, and it's one of the things that our staff... And when I ask my staff about loyalty programs and which pharmacies they like to shop at, which pharmacies they like to get their medicine at, always, the availability of all the products at Bloom at the Cedar city location, is one of the things that comes up. Always stopping by that pharmacy on the way to St. George, that's what I'm hearing people are starting to do, because, the variety's good, the prices are as good as you can get around in the state. And that variety isn't the case in all of the pharmacies.

Blake Smith:
That's correct. Yeah. So, to that point, Tim, I mean, we purposely have lowered prices on all products a little bit. I mean, I would like to do more, but at the moment, it is what it is, but I think we're one of the cheapest pharmacies in the state for the daily price. I mean, there are pharmacies that run some specials, that do a little bit better than that, but on average, the daily price is cheapest, and that's very intentional on our side. And the other thing is we want to carry everything. Because here's the thing. And again, I'm going to be bold, Tim. You know I like to get bold.

Tim Pickett:
Yes.

Blake Smith:
I think I produce some of the best products there are. I believe that. I come from a background of making medicine, and I think I'm really good at this. And some of my products, I think are better than others. I think we produce the best tinctures. I just think that that is the case, but having said that, that doesn't mean there's not room for other tinctures in the market. And in fact, I would make the argument that says, everybody should be able to make the things that they think and hold value. So, for example, if somebody thinks that it's better to have whole plant medicine, where they don't pull out certain terpenes that have sulfurs, and they think that's valuable, that should be available to patients.

Blake Smith:
Patients and providers should be able to start talking about what types of medicines are going to be the best fit for that individual. And even though I think I make great medicine, there are plenty of other processors and people who make good medicines as well, that may be a better fit for an individual. And as a result of that, it's our philosophy at our pharmacy, at Cedar City; we try to carry everything. I mean, we don't always have everything, but we try to carry everything because we want patients to have the biggest selection they can possibly get.

Tim Pickett:
Well, you don't go to Walgreens and expect that, "Oh, they don't carry that brand of my thyroid medicine." Like, "Oh, can't get that one because I don't order that." That's not the case. We write prescriptions, expecting that no matter where you go in the pharmacy world, you can get what I write for.

Blake Smith:
That's right.

Tim Pickett:
Now, that's not happening... It's not the same in cannabis, but what you're talking about is essentially that same thing. You should have... If what you need is this flower that is grown at a processor in Garland, then we're going to need to carry that stuff because you're not driving to Garland or Brigham City to go get it's.

Blake Smith:
That's right.

Tim Pickett:
You're in Cedar City or Southern Utah.

Blake Smith:
I think almost every company now is producing gummies of some type, gelatinous cubes of some type. You should have the ability to choose. I mean, "Am I going to get the Kroger's brand of aspirin? Am I going to get the Walmart version? Am I going to get the one from Bear?" Look, there's a price point differential for all of them, and that's okay. Give the patient the ability to make that choice, and that's valuable. So, that's how we think about it.

Tim Pickett:
Do you guys plan on doing delivery out of Cedar City?

Blake Smith:
We do. One of the things that's becoming important to us is trying to figure out if there's a way we can do broader delivery out of multiple locations. Since we have a pharmacy, we can do delivery anyway, but the way the rule is currently written is, I would need to have a delivery vehicle leave from Murray to go down to Cedar City, then Cedar City, potentially coming back to Salt Lake to do a delivery, and it could be the same medicine. That's a little odd. And so, legislatively, we would love to be able to say, "Look, as long as you have a pharmacy and a pharmacist who is actually reviewing every single thing going out, then it should be able to come from any of the locations that have the right licensure."

Tim Pickett:
Yeah, it seems silly that you would have to-

Blake Smith:
And that's a difference for most of the industry, by the way. That's something that Zion cares about, but I don't know that everybody in the industry would care about that, but that's something we care about.

Tim Pickett:
Sure. What... I lost my train of thought there.

Blake Smith:
That's because it was so groundbreaking. Just playing.

Tim Pickett:
What other projects do you have going on? What other projects does Blake... You're involved in... I mean, I'm sure you're involved in other states and their scientific process, working on bills, to pass bills.

Blake Smith:
Yep.

Tim Pickett:
What else are you involved in right now, what other projects?

Blake Smith:
We have some projects that we're working on in multiple states, all cannabis-related. We have some ventures that are actually outside the United States, in Europe and New Zealand, and some other places, that are actually more on the hemp side. We have a whole hemp side of our business. I've started developing specialty in cannabinoid science for animals, specifically mammals. And so, we're doing a lot of work and we're doing some clinical studies with another company. And I can mention them, I'm sure. [inaudible 00:41:39] pharmaceuticals. They're producing animal cannabinoid therapies. And so, I'm their chief technical officer as well. And we have a study at University of Sydney and a study going on at UPenn, measuring arthritis and elbow joints for dogs. And CBG and CBD are far superior than the gold standard.

Blake Smith:
And that's awesome. That means not only is your life better through cannabis and cannabinoid, but we're going to start making pets lives better through cannabinoids. And one of the biggest failings in the industry right now, on that side of things, is people think, that's for an animal, we should be using substandard materials. We treat them just like we treat everything else. We use medical-grade everything because like in the case of my dog, that is for my daughter and so forth, I'm not giving it subpar material. I want it to have the best.

Tim Pickett:
No, and this is billions of dollars. The pet industry's billions of dollars a year. I mean, people are willing to spend the money on the right product and get good products for their pets. Why would you do... I don't know, it does seem odd that you would use low-grade products for pets, but I guess-

Blake Smith:
Because it's cheap.

Tim Pickett:
It's because it's just cheap.

Blake Smith:
If we're going to be honest, it's the same thing with anything. Why are some products better than others? Well, can we make it cheaper? I mean, if you think about medicine even, like the different brands of medicine for aspirin, what is the real difference? If they're both 25 milligrams of acetylsalicylic acid, then they're both 25 milligrams, well, what's the difference? Well, what are they using as the filler for that pill? And so, your fillers, all of those different types of things, have different cost value. And so, the biggest issue, I think, in all of cannabis, whether it's hemp or medical or even adult-use, is who's out there trying to make hay while the sun is shining and they don't care about the product, they're just trying to move it as quickly as they can and as much as can, and consumers buy it, versus who's trying to make something that's going to have a lasting effect and be a quality product?

Tim Pickett:
Well, I think in the medical market here, we've done a pretty good job. I don't see any real bad actors making, for lack of a better term, really just shitty products in Utah. I don't see that either.

Blake Smith:
Look, I think Utah is a great place with great producers. I don't have any complaints, but I can tell you this, having done business now, looking at things outside of our state, not all places are created the same, not all bills and legislation are created the same, and not all processors are created the same, especially, as you start to follow cannabis around the country and what the black market's doing and different things, some people still are using dirt floor radiator hoses, and hexing to do a bunch of business. And that, I don't know, seems a little sketchy to me.

Tim Pickett:
What on the hemp side is changing in the legislature now? I know they've combined the Utah Department of Agriculture with... They've made their own department up there for the hemp and the medical cannabis that's going to be combined, I guess, at the department.

Blake Smith:
In legislation, we'll see if it happens.

Tim Pickett:
Okay. What about what other hemp things that are happening? Do you know?

Blake Smith:
The biggest thing is getting like delta-8 and other THC analogs out of the general public and moving them into the medical industry.

Tim Pickett:
Do you think that'll happen?

Blake Smith:
Yeah, I do.

Tim Pickett:
It seems like there's a pretty good appetite in the system and in the legislature for that.

Blake Smith:
Yeah. I think so. I mean-

Tim Pickett:
To remove delta-8 from the over-the-counter products.

Blake Smith:
And what I would say is delta-8 is only one part of that. I mean, if you look at delta-8, the rules around delta-8 is it has to be significantly pure to be in the medical market; 95%-plus. So, the response to delta-8 now being eliminated out of general circulation, is people are moving to HPP, which is basically another THC analog. And, oh my gosh, if you were sketched out by delta-8, you should be really nervous by that, because, the way that you make it is you end up usually combining sulfuric acid, hydrochloric acid, an acetic acid because you actually have to donate carbons. We're no longer moving a single covalent bond. We're literally changing the molecule, adding things, taking stuff away, and manipulating the molecule. And what does it do? It gets you high, but I haven't seen any that's really pure. So, it has just-

Tim Pickett:
I've seen some of this on the market. I've literally been given a vape cart of this because it's the new thing. It's the new thing. You should-

Blake Smith:
And it's sketchy. I'm going to be honest, it's sketchy because I have not been given any material or created any material that I can throw on the mass spec and show that it is extremely pure. I haven't seen any yet. I mean, there's some stuff that's not bad, but people were complaining about delta-8, that like, "Well, what's the other 5%. If it's 95% pure, what's the other 5%." AJ, HPP, I haven't seen anything that's better than about 82%, ever.

Tim Pickett:
I mean, how do we adjust for this? Is the black market and the hemp side just going to always be one step ahead, are we always going to be chasing?

Blake Smith:
[crosstalk 00:48:01]. Yeah. I mean, the legislators could fix this real quick. "Okay, any analog of THC is now going to be regulated." Done. It's over. Because this is just another analog of THC. And so, if you do something like that, then it falls into the same category as spice and some of these other things. And so, let's not do that. Let's not go down this rabbit hole. I mean, there's ways for us to cap CBD molecules. And what I mean cap, I mean literally binding the ends of these molecules so that it will sit in your stomach long enough, so that it's subjected to warmth and acid. We can get it to convert in your liver to 11alpha-hydroxy. And so, we can get you high on CBD.

Tim Pickett:
Which will get you high.

Blake Smith:
We can figure that out. I mean, in fact, we know how to do that. Let's not play that game. That's a silly game to play. We'll just keep doing this over and over again until somebody at the legislative level says, "Look, if we're going to regulate THC, then we should regulate." And even if this were to become adult-use market, even if that happened, I would still want to regulate these rogue analogs because they're not shown to have be safe. Typically, if Joe's growing it in his backyard or in his basement or in his bathtub, and the local-

Tim Pickett:
And then converting it in the garage.

Blake Smith:
Yeah. But even if the neighbors just goes and buys weed from Joe, it's probably pretty safe. Joe's probably not spraying it with arsenic, he's probably not getting lead or cadmium in there, and he is probably not dousing it in hydrochloric acid. Okay. Joe's brother, who's out on the farm, who ends up having massive amounts of hexane hydrochloric acid, who just starts taking all their hemp and dumping it in there, and then is like, "We got some of it out. Let's go ahead and make a bunch of vape carts," that's sketchy, that's weird. We shouldn't allow that in the system even if you are a pro adult use. It's just the way that you think about processing things.

Tim Pickett:
Yeah. It's just not safe. What about also, the... I've made a gummy that is 0.3%, but I've made it so big that it's got eight milligrams of delta-9 in it. Is there a legislation to fix that?

Blake Smith:
So, here's the trick. Here's how to beat the federal government. Everybody, are you ready? What you do is go buy some Kashi, which is sticks and stones and berries cereal. And that's going to add density. Just pour that into your party gummy, and you can get about 20 mgs of THC in there, and by weight, it's still going to be below 0.3%. So, you could eat that whole party pack and get 20 mgs of THC and be legal. Look, the whole thing that's craziness too; to define things by percentage is a real silly way to think about this. Just because, from a weight density perspective, look, I could just add denser and denser materials to my gummy, so I can up or increase the amount of THC that's in there.

Tim Pickett:
And is that part of the bill... If we limit analogs of THC, are we going to limit total milligrams of delta-9? [crosstalk 00:51:19].

Blake Smith:
I don't believe [crosstalk 00:51:21] now.

Tim Pickett:
You don't think so.

Blake Smith:
I don't think it's in there. I mean, I haven't seen the draft yet.

Tim Pickett:
I haven't seen the language either on any hemp side or medical side.

Blake Smith:
I would love if it was in there. Because here's the other thing-

Tim Pickett:
I just don't want people... Look, the reason why you come see a medical provider is so that I can help you just adjust the dosage, plus I can make sure the pregnant woman, breastfeeding woman, and the kid who's under 21, doesn't get access unless they absolutely need it through the Compassionate Use Board. There's a system of access for these folks. I get that. That was what we designed. We're going around it. We're actually making the medical market kind of look foolish.

Blake Smith:
Yeah. Well, and the other thing I would say is, I'm pretty pro-free market when we think about things like this. If somebody creates something innovative and so forth, then they should be able to have a right to sell it. But I don't think this qualifies as innovative. This is not like... If somebody went in their backyard and threw in a bunch of seeds and you did this hyper mix of boswellic acid and all these type of things, you don't know anything about it. And it's like snake oil in some way, shape, or form, but it happens to be a high-demand snake oil. And so, you'll sell it, but there's no guarantees about anything about it. Could it kill your liver? Could your kidney suffer failure? Maybe. Does the person making it even know that? No.

Tim Pickett:
Nope. Nor do they really care.

Blake Smith:
Nor do they probably even care.

Tim Pickett:
And they know that it's only going to last so long. And we're going to get a ton of comments on this, the people that disagree with me on this. And I get your point, I get people's point that we should have access, but if you want that, then create an adult-use program and get it done legislatively so that it's legal, and that's the right way to do this. You don't-

Blake Smith:
Even if it's an adult-use program, Tim, it's still going be sold at a dispensary.

Tim Pickett:
Yes. It's still regulated.

Blake Smith:
And still [inaudible 00:53:32] rules.

Tim Pickett:
Rules and processing and testing. That's what we want. We need safety.

Blake Smith:
That's the point. If Joe's making cereal... Sorry, if there's somebody listening that's named Joe. I keep using Joe. We'll call him Bob.

Tim Pickett:
It'll be fine.

Blake Smith:
If Bob is making cereal in his kitchen or in his bathtub, and he says, "Look, it's just like Marshmallow Mateys," I'm not sure that I want to eat Bob's Marshmallow Mateys out of his bathtub. I don't think that's the right way to think about cereal. And so, because, at least the general meals has rules, and GMP is good manufacturing practices. There's rules around how to do it. And so, I just think it's the same case for all of these things. I don't trust somebody just dissolving some willow bark and making aspirin on their own. I think that's a weird thing to do.

Tim Pickett:
No, but alternatively... Okay, this brings up a good point. And about home-grow and flower, and what you said before about Joe growing a plant and then providing it to his neighbor, that's probably reasonably safe.

Blake Smith:
Sure. Yes.

Tim Pickett:
So, Joe grows his vegetables, takes them to the farmer's market, sells them, reasonably safe. Joe starts manipulating and doing gene modification on things, and now processing in the garage, that's where this breaks down. So, there's a very big distinction for me on flower and safety, of flower and potentially home-grow and that type of stuff, versus processing THC, which we need regulation.

Blake Smith:
And I'll take it further. Do I have a problem with Mary taking willow bark, making her own aspirin, and then Mary taking the aspirin? No.

Tim Pickett:
Yes.

Blake Smith:
That's fine. Look, that's your deal, you get to decide what to do with you and your individual family. Do I think you should start making that in pill form and giving it to the kids on the street, or selling it to all your neighbors? Nope. I'm out. That's where we have a problem. And so, it's the same thing. Look, if you want to make your own HPP in your garage and take it just yourself, well look, man, go do your thing.

Tim Pickett:
Yeah. I guess that's something because you should-

Blake Smith:
But you put it in a kiosk in the mall, and you're telling me to trust you that it's all safe and done the certain way, yeah, man, I want to see the certificate of analysis. And it needs to actually come from an accredited lab, and it needs to have a full profile, and I want to see the mass spec. That's the point. Where it's individuals doing their own thing, I don't know that I care that much about it. I think people should do whatever they need to do for them. But the second you try to commercialize that and you don't have a safety profile, you don't have GMP, you don't have any of those things, I'm out. I can't support it.

Tim Pickett:
So, back to... You and I can go down the rabbit hole a little bit.

Blake Smith:
Okay. I'm in.

Tim Pickett:
No, we just did.

Blake Smith:
Oh yeah. I get that a lot. I'm like a wind-up toy. You just wind me up and let me off.

Tim Pickett:
Yeah. I love it. Okay, so we've got Bloom... Well, Cedar City, which is retail, we've got bills at the legislature that are happening. We haven't read the language yet. We've got hemp stuff. We've got multi-state projects going. I mean, when do you... Oh, and I should mention this. For those of you who listen to the end here, congratulations, because, you're going to get a preview. Blake and I, we just spent the last week videoing ourselves. Okay. That was a little awkward for me. Was that a little awkward for you?

Blake Smith:
It was sort of terrible in some ways. I know I talk a lot, but I don't necessarily actually like the sound of my voice that much, and I certainly don't like talking about myself.

Tim Pickett:
In a way that they were trying to really get us to talk about ourselves, because, you and I kind of try to thread this needle between all of these different things; our kids, our involvement in the program, the fact that we deal with cannabis for a living, our own use. All of that sort of stuff is just a little awkward.

Blake Smith:
Well, one part was pretty upsetting, actually. I mean, so the question got asked to me, how do I balance my work life?

Tim Pickett:
Yeah, me too.

Blake Smith:
I don't.

Tim Pickett:
I know. They were like, "Well, but you make it to all the soccer games and all the dance concerts and all of that sort of..." And I'm like, "Well, yeah, I do that, but it sure doesn't feel balanced. It feels like I work all the time. I love it." What do you think?

Blake Smith:
Yeah, I like my job. I wouldn't spend so much time doing this if I didn't think it had value.

Tim Pickett:
Sure.

Blake Smith:
And so, I have this weird dichotomy that I hold my family... My family's like my number one thing, and then work is also important to me because I feel like I'm doing good things. I'm doing good things for lots of different people. Okay, so now I have two competing things. And so I try to do both, but what that does also mean is I don't take good care of myself very well. There's all these other things that happen as a result. And the thing that was hard during the interview, was like it was kind of a little bit of a slap to my own face. Like, "Oh, I don't do a good job at balancing everything in my life. I don't do a good job of taking care of myself." And I don't talk about that very often because I try not to think about myself or talk about myself very much. And so, saying it out loud was like, "Oh my gosh, wow, do I need to reassess how I think about things?"

Tim Pickett:
Right. And what I'm prioritizing for me. And I'm very, very excited and terrified at the same time. For listeners, Ramble Content does a lot of our video production. And great guys. Dave Trevino, friend of mine, and very, very talented organization. We'll be putting these videos together on our YouTube channel, Discover Marijuana. If you're not subscribed to that channel, you should just go there right now. YouTube, Discover Marijuana, hit subscribe right now, because, in the next few weeks, you're going to see these videos of Blake Smith, close-up look at Blake, close-up look at Tim Pickett too.

Blake Smith:
You got to find out, I guess, what makes me tick, I guess.

Tim Pickett:
I'm interested to see how they put it together. I think that they'll certainly do a better job than you and I would've. And I think what's good about having other people involved, is they see what's happening for the industry, they see what's happen for you and I, and I'll bet they put together something that's true in a way that you and I wouldn't have seen.

Blake Smith:
Oh, I guarantee that. Yeah. That's absolutely. And you and I, when we sit and talk, we tend to be able to... We enjoy each other's company and we can talk about anything for a long period of time. Having somebody else come in and view this objectively... I don't know that you and I are always fully objective about the way we do that.

Tim Pickett:
No, certainly not.

Blake Smith:
Having somebody else do that for us, I think is valuable.

Tim Pickett:
Yeah. Well, I'm looking forward to those and I'm looking forward to the new content on season four, frankly. Well, I think there's going to be a lot of... We had a meeting about that today. There's going to be a lot of really amazing content coming out, and a redo of some of the stuff that we've already done on that channel, that's just, let's just step it up a notch. We know more, we can do better, so let's do better.

Blake Smith:
Yeah, absolutely. Do better.

Tim Pickett:
Just do better.

Blake Smith:
Better.

Tim Pickett:
Just do better, work more. One year, my motto was, go to bed later, wake up earlier, show no mercy.

Blake Smith:
And how did that work?

Tim Pickett:
It was awesome. This year, it is, let's do that again. And it has a thumbs up with it too. Let's do that again.

Blake Smith:
Do it again.

Tim Pickett:
Let's do it again.

Blake Smith:
I don't have anything, quib or anything, saying that's awesome like that.

Tim Pickett:
You can use mine; "Let's do that again."

Blake Smith:
Okay. Let's do it again. Hey, let's do this again.

Tim Pickett:
Let's do this again, Blake. Okay. Well, there you go. Okay, well, I guess that's it. Anything else you want to talk about?

Blake Smith:
No, you're awesome. Look, it's really fun to be in this industry. It's really fun to see patients get benefited from this, and it's really fun to be able to be part of making history in some way, shape, or form. I mean Utah, cannabis, medicine, treating people, it's wild. This is all wild.

Tim Pickett:
It's really wild. All right, everybody. Stay tuned, thanks for listening to Utah in the Weeds. If you're not subscribed to Utah in the Weeds, please subscribe on any podcast player that you have access to. This has been a great conversation, Blake, and I look forward to talking to you again. Stay safe out there.

Blake Smith:
You too. Thanks, buddy. Bye.

 

By UtahMarijuana.org
Published February 7, 2022
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