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Let’s be blunt: MO cannabis culture is a great niche, founder says a year after legalization vote

A year after Missouri voters approved recreational marijuana at the ballot box, demand for high-quality cannabis products has exceeded expectations, said Michael Wilson, whose Kansas City-based operation quickly became a best-selling Show-Me State brand.

The past year has been a wild ride as anyone can suspect from an early emerging market like cannabis,” said Wilson, co-founder of Franklin’s, which began in 2023 with just two products in a handful of dispensaries.

Franklin’s employees produce pre-rolls at the company’s Kansas City manufacturing facility; photo by Tommy Felts, Startland News

The company — one of Startland News’ Kansas City Startups to Watch in 2023 — rapidly became the largest manufacturer of blunts in Missouri with products being distributed to more than 130 locations. Franklin’s has produced more than 500,000 blunts and pre-rolls this year so far, Wilson said.

We put a great deal of craftsmanship into making the perfect blunt, so we’re very excited to see how well the demand for blunts has soared over the past year,” he continued. “Blunts are something we believe to be deeply ingrained in Missouri cannabis culture and it’s our intent to continue serving the customers of Missouri the products they desire the most. From a business perspective, it’s a great niche to be in.” 

Franklin’s also manufactured more than 30,000 bottles of James Lemonade and Guy’s Root Beer, making good on a high-profile partnership with the Guy’s brand and fellow Kansas City serial entrepreneur Andrew Miller.

Click here to explore more Franklin’s products, which range from “Gold Bar” gummies to Hop Water, a cannabis collaboration with Raytown-based Crane Brewing.

From the archives: Guy’s THC-infused potato chips hitting shelves; first bite of cannabis collaborations to come 

Michael Wilson, Franklin’s Stash House, speaks during Startland News and the KU School of Business’ entrepreneurial lunch and learn series in spring 2023; photo by Austin Barnes, Startland News

Setting a standard for quality has been critical for Franklin’s, Wilson said, encouraging Missouri consumers to educate themselves about the products they buy and from whom they’re purchasing them.

If consumers understood just how much fungus and bacteria is in the average ‘street weed’ … it might change some perspectives,” he said. “If the average consumer had a chance to see how heavy metals are and non-food grade ingredients are used in illicit market vapes … it might also change some perspectives.” 

“At the end of the day, the consumers of cannabis in Missouri need to ask themselves: Would I rather go to my local liquor store to buy my favorite spirit? Or would I rather buy my liquor from a moonshiner, who only accepts cash and wants to meet up for delivery in a grocery store parking lot?” Wilson continued. “It’s time to support local. Local growers. Local cultivators. Local dispensaries. Local brands.”

Franklin’s proudly operates as a fully independent entity — free from ownership or financial ties to multi-state operators, ensuring their autonomy, Wilson noted.

That makes navigating the nuances of the tightly regulated cannabis industry all the more challenging, he said, adding that Franklin’s must be constantly creative and innovative to meet evolving demands.

“For example, in most industries if a business wants to launch a product, they can simply launch it,” Wilson explained. “However, in the Missouri cannabis industry, before a licensee can launch a product they must submit all the product information, designs, formulations, dielines, etc. to the Department of Cannabis Regulation (DCR) for ‘pre-approval.’ This pre-approval process with the DCR is designed to take 60 days, but can take longer for a whole host of reasons.”

This “delay to launch” massively affects the speed Franklin’s can bring new and innovative products to market that customers are demanding, he continued.

“While it’s definitely a challenge to navigate these demands, we welcome the DCR’s regulation in the market as we believe it keeps things both fair and competitive,” said Wilson.

RELATED: How much can local government tax weed? Legal fights brew over Missouri cannabis rules

Check out a video profile on Franklin’s below, then keep reading.

A founder of multiple brands and startups through the years, the Franklin’s leader also emphasized the importance of committing to fair practices on the team level early — setting a solid foundation before scaling.

Franklin’s boasts 66 percent female representation in management, as well as prioritizing fair and equitable wages, Wilson said, noting an executive pay to entry-level pay ratio of just 3.4x, significantly below the industry average wage gap ratio of about 11.2x.

The company also invests in entrepreneurial training programs for its employees, he said, aiming to strike a balance between professional development to boost the team’s growth and setting the stage for larger success at Franklin’s itself.

The competitive landscape in Missouri cannabis is pretty asymmetrical. When competing against very large corporations with investments in the tens of millions, it requires consistent and rapid entrepreneurial thinking,” Wilson said. “To compete, everyone within the company culture must think entrepreneurially and must adapt and learn new skills and tools that can assist them in advancing their career and the business interests. The adaptableness of an entrepreneurial mind is highly valued at Franklin’s.”