Sharoz Makarechi had a novel idea for funding the fight for criminal justice reform. She spent a year trying to find a cannabis company to partner with. When that didn’t work, she launched her own company, Substance pre-rolls.
“I tried to give the idea away,” Makarechi said. “I’d been trying to get someone to do what we ended up doing.”
For each pack of joints she sells, she’s donating $8.46 to organizations working to end mass incarceration. The $8.46 represents the last eight minutes and 46 seconds of George Floyd’s life.
Makarechi wanted to donate the $8.46 to the Equal Justice Initiative in Atlanta but because cannabis is not legal in Georgia, accepting proceeds from a California cannabis company is not possible, so she chose California-based organization Impact Justice, a research and advocacy center that advances solutions for justice reform and supports former prisoners as they re-enter their communities.
Based in Venice, California, Substance is part of Plaid America LLC, which plans to launch other brands that will donate proceeds to various causes. The next brand to launch will be Gage, a line of flower, pre-rolls, and edibles that will support music education.
The pandemic was in full swing when Makarechi started designing the packaging for her Substance brand of pre-rolled joints. The pre-rolls come in a pack of 12 single-use joints that are each 0.25 grams. The pack can be flipped open with one hand so it’s easy to discreetly offer a friend a joint and walk away.
“I was thinking that people should never share joints again,” she said. “There is absolutely no reason for anyone to pass joints again.”
In addition to pre-rolls, Substance also will offer flower in a no-frills 7-gram pouch. Makarechi wants to keep the packaging simple to maintain the $8.46 donation level while preserving higher profit margins.
Plaid America, which does not have its own cultivation license, has partnered with award-winning California growers Royal Key of Humboldt County and Moon Gazer Farms of Mendocino County to source flower for its products. Plaid America is responsible for building and promoting its brands.
For Makarechi, artwork is the heart of branding, so she enlisted the help of Michigan-born artist Sinclair Korte to create the image of the fist that adorns each pack of Substance. She says many incorrectly perceive branding as taking a fun idea for a product and making it look good. That, she said, gives them the idea that it deserves a place in the market.
“I’ve seen a lot of fists in the air, and I’ve seen a lot of graphics and attempts to align with movements and philosophies,” Makarechi said. “What I wanted to do was collaborate with an artist. I don’t want to logofy the symbol of truth to power. It’s important for me for the brand to have a soul from the start.”
It costs $6 to produce each pack of Substance, which has a wholesale price of $20. Substance is available in more than 70 cannabis retailers in California, and Makarechi’s goal is to sell it in every state where cannabis is legal. She’s been talking to licensed growers in Oregon, Florida, and Massachusetts.
Putting people over profits is attractive to many retailers, so Makarechi also is drawing the attention of retailers in those states.
“There’s interest because of the nature of the brand,” Makarechi said. “The (cannabis) plant wasn’t always as important to the people getting into the industry as the possible profits that would come from getting those licenses.”