Have you ever inhaled a deep pull of Blue Dream to experience the utmost relaxation, only to buy the same strain from a different retailer a week later, and find that a hit wracks you with anxiety? Due to genetics, despite the shared name, the high from a puff from one nug may vary from that of another if it's born and raised in a different place. Dustin Johnson, co-founder of Huxton, an experience-based flower brand, is here help make your highs consistent. Currently based in Arizona and working to expand across America, Huxton uses a series model to curate products based on user experience rather than the standard Hybrid/Indica/Sativa model. When it's Saturday morning and you're ready for a wake and bake followed by a hike to focus on the beauty of nature, their Rise series will put a spring in your step, through a full-flower nug or a vape pen full of all-flower extract. If you're in a creative rut and need a cannabis-based blast to invigorate your art, Hi-Fi is meant to work as artistic inspiration and also provide the perfect company to a concert. Are you done with the day and ready to unwind by kicking it with your dog? Relax with Zen. For the strain-name lovers, fear not, the cannabis brand also has Maui Waui and others ready to provide a consistent experience––a rarity when shopping by your favorite strains.
Though Johnson is an entrepreneur with an eye for identifying gaps in the cannabis market, he didn't simply create Huxton with cash in mind. The brand's creation story stems from his mother, who had an accident that left her with chronic pain and was prescribed opiates as a result. Johnson forged Huxton through understanding that cannabis can often be a safer alternative than opiates for pain relief while striving to find consistency in healing for medical patients and high for recreational users. He took a break from his family vacation with his wife and daughters to chat with MERRY JANE about how Huxton works to improve upon the current Hybrid/Sativa/Indica model, the simultaneously fun and informative testing process, and the importance of enjoying your cannabis proudly.
MERRY JANE: What lead to the creation of Huxton? Was it a personal experience, or did you simply see a niche in the market?
Dustin Johnson: My mother had been in a boating accident about 15 years ago and shattered her kneecap. She ended up with RSD, which is a residual nerve pain, which is like losing a limb as your body is still firing nervous impulses up to the brain. They prescribed her OxyContin, Vicodin, and Fentanyl, over the course of 15 years. I said 'Hey mom, why don't you take a look at cannabis? It looks like it'd be super beneficial.' She was all about it. We started sourcing some products from some friends because there really wasn't any good options out there for her; there were no stores open yet. She'd put [cannabutter] it in her tea and within nine months got off her narcotics entirely, and has been for five years now. It completely saved her life in my opinion.
While observing her I realized that there were probably a lot of folks like her who were looking for a sophisticated environment with friendly, knowledgeable staff. I'm 36, so I was in my late 20s at the time, and realizing the entrepreneurial opportunity and what a unique industry this was. I pursued it, and we found the only location in Scottsdale that was zoned for retail use. We opened a dispensary called Monarch in 2013 and then we have a 20,000 square foot cultivation facility as well, the licenses in Arizona are fully vertically integrated, so we do cultivation out of that facility [for Huxton].
How does Huxton differ from the Hybrid/Indica/Sativa model?
With Huxton, we noticed that the majority of people that were coming into our shop purchasing flower wanted to know was how that product was going to make them feel. 'What kind of experience can I expect, does it give me energy, is it going to be relaxing?' The only good indicator we could give them was whether it was a Sativa or an Indica or a Hybrid. I started questioning that concept, because I was realizing that a lot of genetics, you're not getting them from seed banks. They're coming by way of a friend or a guy that has some that he's willing to share with you. So there's really no good way to vet whether or not it truly is a Sativa or Indica. So we set out to understand how our genetics actually work and how they make people feel.
And a branded flower can provide a consistent experience.
Most flower was being sold in bulk and then re-branded at the retail level. If you got a Blue Dream from one shop, and then picked another Blue Dream at a different shop next week, it could be an entirely different product. We launched Huxton with the idea of bringing some consistency to the market and allowing consumers to purchase based on their desired experience. It's nice for people to be able to say, 'Hey, if I'm down in Tucson over the weekend, I forgot to bring some product with me.' I can go pick up a Huxton Durban Poison, or maybe a Huxton Hi-Fi vape pen, and I can get the exact same product that I got last week when I was in Phoenix.' And we don't see a lot of people doing that.
How can they provide a more tailored experience than the Hybrid/Sativa/Indica model?
We classify all of our products. We have Rise, Hi-Fi, and Zen, and give people guidance with what they're looking for. If you're looking to do something active, say to be outdoors, then Rise is going to be a good fit for you, because it's going to be a little more focused. If you're going to a concert or looking for something more creative, Hi-Fi would be great in flower or in the vape pen. It's going to give you a little more creativity, and a little bit more potency. And if you're looking to relax, take in a sunset, and have a nice glass of Cabernet, our Zen products are a good fit. We think of Sativa/Indica/Hybrid as technically being three series of flower. We've just replaced those names. Rise would equal Hybrid, Hi-Fi would equal Sativa, and Zen would equal Indica. And then we found that some of our genetics, for example, a Blue Dream, we have that in our Zen series, because our particular cut of Blue Dream has more of a relaxing, mellowing effect. Where typically Blue Dream is a Sativa-leaning Hybrid. But ours just doesn't work that way. So we really want to use those series as experience-guiders for people to understand how that product is going to make them feel. We want to bring some unique simplicity to the market for those folks that might not understand the nuances of terpenes and cannabinoids and flavonoids and all the different technicalities. We wanted to make it simple and easy for people to enjoy cannabis in a way that was fun and fit into their lifestyle.
What was the testing process like to come up with these products? I imagine it was fun.
It was really fun. We started off thinking that we could do it by genetically profiling some products using testing laboratories to understand terpene profiles and cannabinoid content. We quickly realized that...I think that the testing labs are doing a great job at trying to understand the industry, but we weren't getting very consistent results from them. So we went a little bit more old-school and said, 'Let's figure this out from a consumer standpoint how this actually makes people feel.' We put together a little survey; we made it relatively simplistic and easy to fill out while you were medicated. We have a really great staff, most of whom are patients in Arizona. We had access to a lot of patients who were willing to work with us through our retail location and we just asked them to consume our product, and they'd give us feedback on how it made them feel. And then we just collated all of those, and took a look at all of the responses and started to find some central themes with a particular genetic. We used that feedback to classify our products.
Does Huxton help patients find the product best for them? For instance, how would you help an anxious person find the best product to unwind?
We do. At Monarch, our retail location, we're super focused on the medical side of cannabis and making sure that all of our associates are very well trained so they can really guide people towards products that are useful for them, whether that's an edible product or smokable flower or vape pen. With Huxton, for somebody in that situation that was just looking to unwind, we would point them to anything in our Zen series. In the Zen series, for example, we'd have a couple single strain flower products for people who understand different flavors, maybe have a little bit more of a connoisseur profile. They can pick a particular genetic. And then we sell a tin of seven half-gram pre-rolls that comes with a book of matches, so that you've always got fire with you.
The packaging is very discreet, speaking of anxious.
There's nothing that overtly says "cannabis" on the packaging, so people can feel comfortable with it sitting on their coffee table. 'Enjoy proudly' is one of our slogans, so we want to encourage people to be proud of their cannabis use, be willing to pull their products out at a social setting and feel comfortable.