For Lady Gemini founder Dawn Bazurto, a good pre-roll isn’t just a joint. It’s a work of art. From selecting the flower to the designing the distinctive packaging, each detail of the final product has been attended to by Bazurto herself. “I didn’t start this to be a manufacturer,” she says. “I’m doing this for a purpose.”
Lady Gemini offers two pre-roll options that come in tubes made of recycled ocean-retrieved plastic. “I wanted something different. I designed the packaging myself to make sure all the things you need for your experience were there,” she says. Each pyramid-shaped box comes with matching artisan matches. “You need something to light your joint, and I wanted my packaging to have matching colors. But it was really hard finding anyone in the United States that would sell me matches in certain colors.” In the end she went online and found a small Lithuanian business to sell her color coded matches made by hand. “In every box there’s a strip and two matches, because one match is always going to go out.”
Elevate and Create is made with a strain called Alcatraz OG that’s grown at the woman-run Giving Tree Farms in Mendocino. The rich, warm tones of the box suggest what Bazurto calls an “uplifting and fiery” pre-roll experience.
As someone who has struggled with anxiety and PTSD, Bazurto is adamant about offering her consumers some mental medicine. For those looking for a sense of calm, she recommends Lady Gemini’s first pre-roll, Centered and Balanced, which are made from an indica strain called Fire Cookies and grown outdoors on Nevada City’s Sanctuary Farms, a Black-owned family business. The Centered and Balanced pre-roll is there to help you get your mind right. “I personally prefer indica because I have really bad anxiety,” she says. “This strain is more relaxing, and it’s great for inflammation, anxiety, PTSD- it was everything I personally needed.” She chose a deep purple for the box to indicate its soothing effects, “and the colors just flowed.”
While cannabis has been instrumental in helping her with anxiety and PTSD, originally it was also the cause. A veteran of the illicit market, for years she and an ex-partner had a cannabis grow, though in those days he was the one calling the shots. “I was really just doing what I was told to do.” Eventually they were raided. After three months of keeping the operation under surveillance, the Berkeley P.D. surrounded the house, guns drawn. Bazurto was arrested and charged with multiple felonies. “It was terrifying,” she says. “I lost my children, and it was hard to find work.”
After the grow got busted, Dawn Bazurto thought she’d never go back to cannabis. She went legitimate and taught herself bookkeeping, spending years as a QuickBooks pro advisor. But in 2016 when a QuickBooks Pro conference offered a special class for wine and cannabis, she was intrigued. “I’d been on the outside, so I didn’t know what was coming, but this was right when the regulations were about to change. They said we needed to help the industry, because in a matter of months they’re going to have to go from being in the black market. In order for them to get a license they need to do their books, and that’s just totally foreign to someone who is used to hiding everything.”
The bookkeeping skills proved useful for legacy producers, and soon Bazurto had plenty of cannabis clients. She joined the East Bay Canna group online and connected with a woman who was looking for social equity partners. Though Bazurto had been convicted in the Oakland courts, she didn’t meet the residency qualifications. That’s when she met Joshua Jones, who had already qualified for the program and had Blue Tree Medical, a bustling East Bay delivery service. The two of them decided to partner on the company that would become Lady Gemini. “I was very trepidatious about going into a relationship of any kind with a man, but Josh is mellow and respectful, and brings so much knowledge into the partnership. I’m lucky that we’ve built such a great rapport.”
Bazurto realized that she had an opportunity to come back to cannabis on her own terms. Jones’ delivery company kept him busy, and it was agreed that Lady Gemini would be her baby. The night she and Jones decided to go into business, she went home and started looking for the perfect logo. The graphic design service she found put her in contact with hundreds of design options, but she knew the right one when she saw it. “The colors, the feathers– it was perfect. It just encompasses so much.” After Kanna agreed to incubate six Lady Gemini as one of their brands, Bazurto was in business.
She went looking for farms that shared her values, and Sanctuary Farms was a warm, family-run atmosphere that made her feel right at home. For the second strain, she found another perfect fit in Giving Tree Farms.“My vision is just to help get the legacy people to market, and to share their flower, and share the stories.” She admits that the profit margins for pro-rolls are not enormous, unless the growers cut you a serious deal. “But the farms have to make money too,” she says.
Lady Gemini is a lot of work for a labor force of one–including hand packaging thousands of pre-rolls in preparation for distribution– but it’s a labor of love. “My essence and energy is in every single one of those,” she says.
As she begins to experiment with topicals, a project where she’ll work more closely with Jones, Bazurto stays focused on the medicine. Having dealt with skin cancer, she knows that a good cannabis body butter can make all the difference. But for her, the most healing part of starting Lady Gemini was the chance to reinvent herself. “It’s been therapeutic, to say the least. I’ve really had to do everything, and I’m learning more every day. For my children to see this succeed–the whole thing has been so empowering.”