Originally featured in Fat Nugs Magazine Vol. 15. Enjoy the great articles and community at fatnugsmag.com.
Wareham, Massachusetts, sits at the gateway to Cape Cod, one hour east of Providence, Rhode Island, and an hour south of Boston, Massachusetts. Hundreds of miles of shoreline, lighthouses, whale watching, nature and nostalgia attract four million tourists here a year. But there has been something missing from the Cape Cod experience that has recently taken root in the Northeast – high-quality craft cannabis! Co-Founders of Trade Roots, Jesse Pitts and Carl Giannone, run the state’s first social equity status, full vertical cannabis business. Operating a lab, garden and retail storefront, they have gone above and beyond to help make cannabis accessible to those living in Jesse’s hometown of Wareham and the many travelers that come through their doors at 6 Thatcher Lane.
“Cannabis has always been a part of my life; it has always been there. I don’t remember life without it being there. It was always around.” – Jesse Pitts, Co-Founder of Trade Roots
Jesse is no stranger to the plant, having grown up with a father who cultivated cannabis. He saw the whole process from beginning to end at home and even remembers playing cops and dealers instead of cops and robbers, as well as pranking his Dad by locating his cannabis grows outdoors. In high school, Jesse sold now and then, like many do, to get some free smoke and money to survive before going to college at UMass where he eventually began providing for friends in the dorms.
It was all fun and games until what he dubbed “Operation Hometown” took him to the next level. He sourced the dealers from his college friend’s hometowns and undercut their prices one at a time by moving wholesale by the pound. This process continued as he finished college and returned to Boston in 2005. With underground business booming, it unfortunately culminated in an arrest in Norton, MA. Jesse had 70 pounds of product and a quarter million in cash on him at the time.
Due to a previously clean record and great attorneys, his case was negotiated down to a misdemeanor with a healthy caveat that it was for 50+ pounds packaged alongside an 18-month sentence. He spent 9 months inside before doing another 9 outside with an ankle bracelet and five years of probation. Losing a quarter million along the way and having to put in the time only motivated Jesse further to make a successful cannabis business. He continued to pursue that dream building an extraction lab in a construction trailer and a grow in a house that eventually caught fire.
“We’re now the only full vertical social equity [cannabis] company in Mass because of that arrest. It’s a weird feeling knowing I sat in a jail cell for nine months, and I have a license today to do the very same thing I did to end up in the cell.” – Jesse Pitts, Co-Founder of Trade Roots
Like many things in this story and life in general, the fire was looked at as a misfortune but turned out to have a silver lining. It was just the attention Jesse needed to catch the eye of his Co-Founder, Carl Giannone. Before this, Carl had put an investment group together for a grow in Oregon after being surprised by the financial numbers and projections for the business. Cannabis was an industry he hadn’t taken seriously at first, but after seeing the potential, he had a newfound belief in the industry. He saw the news about Jesse’s cultivation house fire and extraction lab and connected with Jesse to get him out on the farm in Oregon to help set up and run an extraction lab.
One early morning on the mountain where the Oregon grow was located, they decided to partner and move the “mountain” to Wareham, MA, Jesse’s hometown. The support of friends, family and community were necessary for the success of Trade Roots. Starting and maintaining the business in his hometown has been impactful for Jesse. He’s been able to give back to a community he understands and work with local municipalities to create a brand that’s right for Wareham.
“I think the universe pushed us in directions… for me, the path was always clear, lead, follow or get out of the way. Carl is a good partner because he can help me fill in the gaps and knows how to ask the right questions.” – Jesse Pitts, Co-Founder of Trade Roots
The cannabis industry moves quickly, but cannabis licensing can be glacially slow in some states. Massachusetts initially had hard licensing requirements that required locations to be leased during the application process. This indefinite rent without revenue was devastating for prospective businesses. It has since been revised and relaxed, but it cut many players out of the industry early on. Trade Roots was started after the revision but still took four years before opening the extraction lab. Expanding from the lab, they added the grow next before ultimately pushing to open the retail store and complete the picture.
Trade Roots produces around two thousand pounds of quality hand-trimmed craft cannabis a month. Standing by their intentions to produce and maintain a wide range of products and cultivars. In an industry at times racing to the bottom, Trade Roots has chosen to race to the top, creating craft not commercial. Cannabis is like most consumer packaged goods (CPGs) but it moves faster than those markets leading to interesting problems along the way. Consistent branding and high-quality products allow businesses to thrive without having to squeeze margins and sacrifice quality to cut prices.
Jesse is quick to explain that the first harvest is like the first pancake being made. It’s never just right until the third, fourth or even sixth one if you’re having one of those mornings. Cultivation operations in new buildings take 12 to 18 months to dial in. A timeline that can be unexpected for investors and folks outside the industry. Cultivation starts with the team and Trade Roots has quite a team of experienced craft cultivators and breeders.
“90% of our strains were brought in by the expert breeders and cultivators in the grow. We do small batch pheno hunting and change up our profiles and menus to keep people guessing.” – Jesse Pitts, Co-Founder of Trade Roots
Craft cultivation is necessary for craft extraction as you cannot fake or CRC (Color Remediation Column) your way out of it. The Massachusetts industry is maturing quickly. The menu management and cultivar selections are constantly changing at Trade Roots with some being grown only a handful of times and other more consistent staples. Adding some themes to their selections, they recently had a fruit-themed menu bringing strong limonene and terpinolene dominant fruity cultivars together for consumers to pick from. While going with the current trends towards higher THC, Jesse acknowledged the value of lower THC cultivars and the unfortunate fact that the industry “at scale” has culled them, favoring higher THC results (for now). An issue many budtenders and cannabis educators are working hard to resolve.
The budtenders for Trade Roots are delivering consumer education and top-notch customer service representing the brand. Consumer education is necessary at the budtender level as it is the only point of contact between the customer and the business, but it’s easier said than done. Trade Roots has budtenders ready and willing to assist with product selection or cannabis questions, bringing their experiences and others to consumers to help them understand the products they’re purchasing.
“Some companies say they’re just selling the weed for you. No. That’s where the brand lives. Your brand lives with the budtender.” – Jesse Pitts, Co-Founder of Trade Roots
Trade Roots is working to create a craft experience from beginning to end by listening to consumer feedback and always looking for ways to improve. Not only are they looking to support craft cannabis, it’s craftsmanship in general that they’d like to promote in the community, with plans to contribute via community events and an eventual fair to bring craftsman and their connoisseurs across industries together.
Jesse hopes to see craft cannabis follow the path of craft beer. In beer sales, craft makes up 16% of the products but 32% of the revenue. Because of this, large commercial beer companies had to acquire craft companies and leave the brands intact to maintain product quality and appreciation. New cannabis businesses can learn from this and do things right from the beginning; although, that is not always the easiest route to walk.
“Sometimes I”m like ‘this is killing us’ but then Carl reminds me, ‘look we’re doing what we said we’re going to do’.” – Jesse Pitts, Co-Founder of Trade Roots
Jesse and Carl have plans to keep pushing the envelope in the MA cannabis industry and offer excellent cannabis experiences along the way with Trade Roots. Stop in the next time you’re near Wareham or heading out toward Cape Cod. Visitors can see the grow facility through a viewing window in the retail space. For more information about the company, visit Traderoots.buzz and check out the Apartment 113 podcast to listen to the full interview with Jesse and Carl.