“There’s so much that goes into our brand beyond just the pretty packaging that sits on their shelves and the good weed that sits in that packaging,” says Kate Miller, CEO and co-founder of Miss Grass.
At this point in our conversation, Miller has already provided evidence to support this claim. Although Miss Grass only began selling cannabis products two years ago, the brand is the result of an evolution that’s clearly thoughtful and strategic, yet also feels organic.
Miller’s cannabis story dates back to her formative years in Northern Jersey. She describes her dad as “an avid consumer of the plant,” and her older brother was arrested for manufacturing and distribution.
“He was under 18, which was nice timing. I guess… If there is such a thing as nice timing for that experience,” she says.
Meanwhile, Kate’s early relationship with the plant was personal rather than entrepreneurial.
“It always worked for me. I was the friend that always had it and always rolled it,” she says.
When she moved to L.A. for college, she was thrilled to walk into a dispensary and buy legal weed for the first time. She liked it so much that she got a budtending job. At that point, in 2007, Miller, who says she’s always been “entrepreneurial minded” began dreaming of creating a brand for people like herself and her girlfriends. Something fun, stylish, and positive that would help destigmatize cannabis use for all women.
She went so far as to buy the domain name from GoDaddy, but it would be ten years before Miss Grass fully materialized.
In the meantime, Miller went on to build a career in the entertainment industry. She was working for Lorne Michaels, managing brand partnerships for Broadway Video’s entertainment properties, including Saturday Night Live, when she started laying the groundwork for Miss Grass, treating the project as “a side hustle.”
While looking for sponsors for “little activations” in a Miss Grass geodesic dome at Coachella, she met Anna Duckworth, who was working as head of content at dosist. The two women felt a creative spark that inspired Kate to get serious about launching Miss Grass as an online magazine and community.
“We ultimately held hands and got married and launched Miss Grass in January of 2018,” she says with a laugh.
Miller’s CEO vocabulary is tempered by disarming asides and animated delivery. She goes big with gestures, and I find myself fixated on her nails, which are painted an unusual and enviable shade of blue.
She describes the media platform as a “brand-building play.” Instead of launching a cannabis product immediately, they set out to organically build a consumer base, creating a resource for cannabis consumers, especially women, and also normalizing the plant for the cannacurious.
“We do a lot of educational content through our online platform, as well as a ton of events, which has allowed us to really build a community not just within one state, but in every state and even around the world. And that work also really allows us to understand that community intimately.”
Visitors to the Miss Grass website will find an extensive archive of articles under the heading “Weed 101,” as well as profiles of industry luminaries and influencers like poet Jasmine Mans, the woman behind “Buy Weed from Women.” The content is snappy yet informative, and it’s easy to understand why Miss Grass has an email subscriber list of 100,000 and 86,000 Instagram followers.
Clearly their philosophy of brand-building is working.
“We know brands drive long term value in any consumer industry and it may be inning four or five in cannabis right now, but it will get there,” Miller says.
They’d been in business for almost three years when they launched their first product in California, where they source from Ladybug Farms, which is owned by a family of farmers who have been growing ornamental flowers and succulents for four generations but added cannabis to their roster during the medical era. Kate is enthused about the partnership.
“Having a connection and being aligned with our supply chain partners is super important to us,” she says, emphasizing that it’s essential for product development as well as quality control and consistency. As the brand has expanded into Massachusetts, Nevada, and Illinois, they’ve looked to build similarly strong relationships with their farmers.
Miss Grass organizes their cannabis in four color-coded categories: Fast Times, Quiet Times, All Times, and Half Times. Although each category represents a specific strain, terpenes are listed more prominently than strain names and the marketing emphasis is on effect. Consumers can buy jars of flower, double packs of joints, or their signature mini pre-rolls, which come with a matchbox.
“They come in just like a really cute box that you can throw in your purse pocket, grab and go,” Kate says with audible enthusiasm.
For strains she’s partial to Fast Times, which is actually Mango Bliss. “I would say my favorite high is that super cerebral—almost like mad scientist style,” she says. “Where you can get really weird and brainstorm and get creative…Fast Times is perfect for that.”
The company recently revamped their look. The intention was to better show consumers what sort of high they could expect from each line of products.
“We brought on an incredible head of creative,” Kate says. “Her name is Priyanka Pulijal, and she really led the rebrand for us. And the intention was, you know, having something that truly embodied the spirit of Miss Grass—a little bit playful but a little bit feminine, but badass and bold at the same time.”
Color was a big part of the rebrand.
“The colors were defined based on color psychology,” Kate explains. “So our vibrant blood orange for Fast Times elicits that uplifting, inspiring high.”
Suddenly I realize where I’ve seen the unusual shade of Kate’s manicure. Two seconds later, she says, “Now even when I go and get manicures, I get the color of a mini box.” She brandishes her nails, which indeed match Miss Grass Quiet Times.
This playful attention to detail seems very on brand for Miss Grass, a company that’s not afraid to lean into the feminine.
When I ask Kate how her experience as a woman leader in the cannabis industry has differed from her previous executive positions, she points out that helming a company is very different from managing a department. So on the one hand, she says it’s been harder.
“I think where you see the gender disparity being most impactful is in the capitalistic markets–who’s investing and who’s controlling the money and choosing which companies to invest in.”
But while raising capital in the male-dominated investment world was challenging, she brightens when she talks about the cannabis business community. “I’ve never felt so much support from other women and leaders than in this space,” she says, noting that she thinks cannabis brings out a different caliber of human being. “Just in general, people who consume this plant are more compassionate and collaborative and empathetic human beings. I’ve just felt and seen so much collaboration in this space.”
To illustrate, she describes a recent brainstorming session with Solanje Burnett of Humble Bloom, a New York-based advocacy community that has collaborated with Miss Grass in the past.
“It is a really special empowering energy to be around badass females in this space who are doing really cool stuff, and having the opportunity to, like, hold hands to build something bigger and better together. There’s definitely been a lot of that. And I would say that collaboration is really part of the DNA of Miss Grass and why we’ve grown—it’s because of our partnerships.”
The company is a big supporter of Women’s Prison Association and is part of the Broccoli’s Floret Coalition, which funds and spearheads equity-oriented actions in the cannabis space. Miss Grass also finds opportunities to use their internal capabilities to perform helpful tasks like translating expungement materials into Spanish for Cage-Free Cannabis.
Despite her positive experience with the intersection of cannabis business and advocacy, Miller hardly sees the industry through rose-colored glasses. She sees a tax structure that’s hurting all sectors.
“I think that’s why it’s really, really hard in California right now, because, honestly, everyone is struggling and there’s no margins along the supply chain.”
But she acknowledges that industry players are also part of the problem.
“I think the whole promo, race to the bottom mentality that everyone is playing right now is ultimately destroying the market. It doesn’t just fall on the brand side. It falls along the whole supply chain of the massive biomass that’s available in the market. The price of flower has gone down so dramatically. There needs to be a price that is withheld so the farmers also can extract margins on that. And especially then when you compound that with the tax issue, it’s just wild.” She suggests that brands are also culpable for getting sucked into the culture of constant promotional deals, which can ultimately undermine brand value.
But it’s not all doom and gloom. Miller recently moved back to New York, where we both attended MJ Unpacked this spring. She was moved by the energy she saw there.
“It just felt like, you know, some of the folks aren’t as jaded as some people who have been in it a bit on the West Coast. People felt excited about it overall, you know, wide eyed, starry eyed. And it was good to be around that energy. It was nice.”
When asked what she’s most excited about in general right now, she continues in this vein. “I’m very excited for these East Coast states, like very excited for early days…The community here around cannabis is so special and it’s just going to be really cool to see what comes out of the state.”
Miss Grass does have plans to expand into East Coast markets, but right now Miller is just giddy with the nascent freedom felt by many residents who once lived in fear of being busted.
“It’s so awesome. It’s so liberating to, like, walk on the sidewalk and not even think twice about smoking a joint.”
So we’ll end on that high note, with Miller smoking a joint from a pack that matches her nails, blazing like a mad scientist as she contemplates a brighter reality.