I’m introducing myself to Skunk Pharm Research readers under my SPR pen name, SPRoss. I’m a middle-aged marijuana enthusiast who lived and worked in the “Emerald Triangle” of northern California and Southern Oregon during the drug wars of the 90’s without (fortunately) wearing handcuffs. I left Humboldt County and landed in Portland as medical cannabis became a thing for Oregon. Today I work in the state-regulated cannabis industry as a consultant and salesperson for a diverse group of clients from small indoor farmers to manufacturers of a variety of cannabis infused products including beverages and nutraceuticals.
My first job in the legal cannabis industry was as a procurement specialist for a company which has grown from a single-state enterprise five years ago to be one of the largest international cannabis companies operating in nearly two dozen USA states. Since then I’ve worked in various capacities from dispensary budtender to extraction technician and facility manager.
The diverse people I’ve worked with in this industry come from a variety of backgrounds. Folks who I count among my work friends have a couple things in common: enthusiasm about the growth potential of our industry, and excitement for the science of and research into therapeutic uses of marijuana and its constituent components.
Chris Gromek is someone I befriended early in my legal cannabis career. He was a gregarious entrepreneur I struck up a conversation with at a Cannabis trade show, the Cannabis Collaborative Conference (now branded as the Hemp CBD Conex). Although we’ve not yet worked together directly Chris and I realized mutual benefits over the years through industry referrals and recommendations for various vendors, services, products and equipment. I’ve stayed in touch with Chris through the years and we use each other as sounding boards when something exciting or new pops up that sparks our curiosity.
I have fond memories of growing up in a small logging town in Washington and working on farms in southern Oregon so I’m not much of a “city boy.” I long for seeing dark, starry skies and I’ve nearly forgotten getting a restful night’s sleep. So I was admittedly jealous when Chris pulled up stakes and rolled his family wagon out to eastern Washington where he founded Old West Hemp Co.
Last year Chris sent me some admittedly sad pictures of his first hemp plants that struggled without adequate irrigation. But things have improved significantly since then after a lot of hard work and application of some hard-learned lessons. This year I got some impressive pictures of his farm in full bloom and new products. My hope is that SPR readers want to learn a little about why Chris started Old West Hemp Co., gain some insight into his cannabis career evolution, benefit from his experiences founding a hemp farm, and glean insights from his insider perspective on our ever-evolving industry.
Thanks to Chris for his time sharing his story and to the SPR readers for checking out the story of Old West Hemp Co.
(Hemp plant harvested at Old West Hemp Co.)
(Eastern Washington landscape near Old West Hemp Co.)
Old West Hemp Co. Company Background
Founder: Christopher Gromek
Affiliated brands: Synaptix, LLC
Services: professional joint rolling; white label product formulation
Location: Eastern Washington
- Q - Good day Chris! How would you introduce yourself and Old West Hemp Co. to Skunk Pharm Research readers?
- A - Hello and thanks for having us! Old West Hemp is our small family hemp farm in rural Washington. We produce small batch CBD and CBG hemp, and have a line of consumer products including tinctures, lotions, salves, smokes and even tea blends.
(Old West Hemp Co. retail products on display)
- Q - What was your daily grind before starting Old West Hemp?
- A - Prior to Old West Hemp we were living outside of the Portland area where I was doing marketing work for cannabis companies. Most of the impetus for the move was that my wife and I realized we were tired of suburbia and wanted to move more rural, and that sort of dovetailed nicely with starting a hemp farm since it was newly legal and we had some background in cannabis already. It sort of felt like a natural evolution.
- Q - What was your introduction to the cannabis industry?
- A - So I got started working with a cannabis investment firm back in 2015 as I was getting out of the Army. I was basically trying to figure out what I wanted to do when I grew up, and cannabis legalization was happening around the same time, so I thought that looked like fun. I had developed one of the first websites tracking cannabis publicly traded stocks, sold that, and subsequently worked with them to develop that idea further and get some of the early cannabis investor events off the ground. I then started working with some farms around Portland as many were in need of early stage partners and I had a pretty decent technology skill stack to offer. I worked with them until 2016 or so, as did some of my family.
Through those farms I met and started working with Dan Gustafik at Hybrid Tech, a cutting edge cannabis design and engineering firm. We got to work on some really large projects and had fun at their Portland location for a while - we helped a lot of new businesses get permits and build new facilities. They've actually got some exciting new turnkey facilities available soon which I think will be of enormous value to larger scale producers and extractors.
During that time my brothers and I also started a business called “Roll Bros.” Many farms needed high quality pre roll production, and we were already licensed cannabis workers in the state, so we would pack our equipment up and go roll on location for a lot of farms. I forget how many exactly we rolled but it was something like hundreds of thousands of joints - Fun times.
So we basically put all that experience into Old West Hemp, where we are able to offer a bunch of great products and also offer an Industrial Hemp Rolling Service, just for smokable hemp, which has been hugely popular.
- Q - Why did you transition from a cannabis services industry to being a hemp farmer & product manufacturer?
- A - For me, I am well suited to creating and producing. I have a type-A personality and I just enjoy developing products. And I like to make things that are actually helpful and useful, its very fulfilling. I will always prefer the greenhouse to the cubicle!
- Q - Do you miss being in the PDX Metro area or is the isolation of being in rural Washington a plus for your business?
- A - Being rural has some drawbacks - We are reliant on online sales, many of which are urban stores. When COVID hit, some of those retailers we had been supplying ended up shutting their doors forever.
And being rural, when things break or go wrong, we frequently just have to figure it out ourselves. It imparts many lessons. We do get to enjoy a super peaceful, outdoors lifestyle. It’s great for the family and we love it.
- Q - Most SPR followers are likely in the know about the spectrum of available CBD products, can you describe the different products available from Old West Hemp?
- A - It’s great that consumers are beginning to key on the differences in spectrum. In the full spectrum realm we currently offer some really nice CBD flower and 100% flower smokes. We also have a new harvest of CBG flower that’s currently drying. Incredible genetics. We’re excited to work with CBG more - It has a lot of interesting properties and is, in my opinion, a superior smoke to CBD. Our tea blends are also full spectrum.
- Q - There are lots of different marijuana products, and specifically CBD products for consumers to choose from. With companies developing new, innovative products the market seems more crowded every day. What do you think differentiates Old West products from others?
- A - My goal is that our products are two things: effective and reliable. So far it seems like customers agree, and I hope we can maintain that reputation going into the future.
- Q - What was your first product you brought to market?
- A - Our first product was our 1 gram vacuum-sealed CBD flower pre rolls. Excellent quality at a low price point - Stores love those.
(Old West Hemp Co. pre-rolled joints)
We also make some outstanding THC Free tinctures and topicals - These are all precision made with isolate, here on site. We’ve had the good fortune to work with our partners Synaptix CBD on developing formulas that really work as reliable consumer products. We are launching some new ones together this month actually - The Synaptix team has a PhD chemist, Rupert Holmes-Smith, who comes equipped with wide and deep experience. I highly recommend checking out our 500mg Therapeutic Salve - I broke my arm earlier this year right after we finished the formulation so I got to really document how well it helps the healing process.
(Old West Hemp Co. THC-free Therapeutic CBD Salve)
(Chris Gromek’s anecdotal results of injury recovery using Old West Hemp Co. CBD Salve)
Our most popular products are the Relax CBD Tea blend, and the Midnight tincture - Both of these harness the sleepy time powers of lavender and linalool. Interestingly, we’re finding these extremely popular with athletes - fighters, trainers, etc. who swear by it for rest and recovery.
(Old West Hemp Co. Echinacea & CBD Tea)
(Old West Hemp Co. Tincture Formulations)
- Q - Can you share some of the insights you gained through your pre-roll joint making business?
- A - Sure. I think the biggest thing for whatever sector of the industry is just to jump in and get started. There will always be plenty of large, well-funded corporations and that can be intimidating to someone just starting out, but know that there is always room for quality products and services. Also everything takes more time than you plan for.
- Q - How do you manage the regulatory environment (WA vs. USDA) and how do you stay current on all the legal stuff?
- A - Engagement with regulators is important. Don’t overthink it, just send them emails when you have questions or comments. And give honest effort at adhering to regulatory requirements, and you’ll make it through.
- Q - Can you suggest any helpful media links or podcasts for people to follow for up-to-date information?
- A - No, I mostly avoid the news these days. There seems like an endless sea of cannabis media that I largely don’t pay attention to.
- Q - Have you made any major expenditures or purchases (advertising, equipment, etc.) that you’d advise someone starting a cannabis business to avoid?
- A - Tons. My #1 piece of advice to producers is to start very small and scale up slowly. Look for an irrigated property. We spent a lot of time and money attempting to bring irrigation to a non-irrigated property and that has been somewhat of a costly adventure.
- Q - Where do you see yourself in a year, 5 years, etc.
- A - I hope to be doing what I’m doing now, at a larger scale. There are a lot of great products to be made with hemp and cannabinoids in general, and I anticipate working on it for quite some time.
- Q - Is there something you do periodically to keep your business on its current trajectory?
- A - I find great value in regularly reeling myself in. I know myself and I will bite off more than I can chew. So regularly ensuring priorities are straight, and ensuring we focus on products and customers has been our best habit.
- Q - Are you open to any outside investment for growth or a merger/buyout?
- A - We are always interested in new partnerships - though I am selective about who we work with. I like to work with high energy people with integrity, who can embrace long-term games.
Thanks from me and the Skunk Pharm Research family to Chris for giving up part of his busy day to share the story (so far) of the Old West Hemp Co. Please check out his website and post your questions for Chris in the article comments after you set up an SPR account.
Stay tuned to Skunk Pharm Research for more industry profiles and product features from me. Until next time, I’m wishing you all the best on your cannabis adventures!