“I’m happy to continue with this mysterious man behind the mask, if that’s what you choose,” Onell D Crawford says with a grin. He’s appeared at our interview wearing a Zorro mask and hat courtesy of a Zoom filter.
We’ve never met, and I don’t know how Onell was able to surmise from our brief email correspondence that I’m the sort of person who would find this amusing, but he’s spot on. As we continue to talk, I realize that this intuitive and disarming gesture is representative of Crawford’s personality. He has a singular sincerity and conviction. “I’m about relationships. This comes from my background,” he says. He’s talking about relationships in the context of the cannabis industry. Onell Crawford leads international business development at Greentank, the Toronto-based company that creates custom vape hardware for some of the industry’s most prominent brands.
Onell’s patience for building relationships has been key to his success in the cannabis industry, which still retains aspects of the culture of trust that was essential to survival during prohibition. “I’ve nurtured relationships for three years where nothing happens,” he says. “But when they’re ready, they know I’ve been there for them without the pressure. I don’t think pressure works with the new generation of people doing business…Especially in cannabis. Some people don’t want to hear that corporate jargon. They want to feel like they trust you, like they can lean on you, and like they can depend on you. And that ties into my philosophy of being a true, genuine person.”
He says this sense of true connection is part of the culture at Greentank, which started in 2016. “I was blessed to be the first employee at Greentank,” Onell says. “I got the Mr. Miyagi treatment from our founder, Dustin [Koffler]. He has an amazingly robust knowledge of this industry. It’s been quite a ride working with him.”
In the ensuing years, Greentank has gone from one employee to 60. The company was well-poised to survive the vape crises because they were ahead of the game when it came to due diligence. “Greentank is committed to our four pillars: performance, customization, innovation, and safety. When I say we’ve hired a rocket scientist, believe you me I’m not exaggerating,” Onell says.
In December of 2020, the company announced it had received a coveted research license from Health Canada—the first time a government research license had been granted to a vape hardware manufacturer. The announcement coincided with the unveiling of a 7,000 foot research and development lab devoted exclusively to vape devices. Greentank is using its labs and license to better test how their partners’ extracts interact with different materials. They’ll use this information to determine the best fits for each formulation. The company will also be gathering critical data on vape emissions.
Evidently Greentank’s commitment to innovation is paying off. Onell drops tantalizing hints about big news on the horizon: “We’re at the cusp of innovative technology that Greentank is about to launch. The clients we have relationships with are really going to be ahead of the curve because they’re going to get first rights of refusal with this product. If I can only express to you how amazing and how different this technology and product is…It’s just mind-blowing.”
Although his background is in sales management, Onell recently expanded his scope. These days he’s tracking potential international markets, consulting with what he’s dubbed IOs (international operators), and working with regulatory bodies to influence emerging policy. This position gives him the chance to provide historical data to lawmakers and business professionals in the hope he can help them avoid some of the undesirable outcomes he’s seen in other developing markets.
In addition to working with policy makers, he’s concerned with getting a jump on consumer education. “There’s 213 million people in Brazil alone. I want to get people up to speed with what they need to look out for as cannabis vape products eventually funnel into their country. Because the technology is exciting–everyone’s gonna want to get it. So it’s our responsibility to provide the information they need for safe and responsible use.”
When it comes to lower income countries with emerging markets, he thinks it’s important that high quality vape products are within the reach of the average consumer. “We’re interested in creating products that are appropriate for the economic status of those countries. We want to create products that are economically friendly for them–still high quality, still food grade, but more affordable.”
In addition to his work for Greentank, Onell has positioned himself as a resource for companies that are new to the industry–both nationally and internationally. “I’ve been planting seeds and cultivating relationships so that I’m able to help people who are coming into the space but don’t have that network yet,” he says. “That’s my joy. To connect people and make things happen.”
When he’s not dreaming on a global scale, Onell does graphic design and volunteers as a motivational speaker and youth educator, teaching kids about their legal rights. He has a lot on his plate, but he likes it that way. “If you work 9 to 5, I’m going to work 9 to 6 because over the course of a week I’m five hours ahead of you,” he says with a laugh. This mix of playfulness and dedication is pure Onell. “I provide a real heartfelt approach to the people that I meet,” he says. “If you were to stop recording, you’d still get the same me. If you were to reach out to me a year from today, you’d still get the same me–but with a little more grey.”