Bob Eschino identifies first and foremost as a businessman. He looks the part (albeit rather jovial) and he certainly has his credentials in order. He’s the co-founder of Medically Correct, one of Colorado’s leading infused products companies and the creators of Incredibles, the popular brand that merged with Green Thumb in 2019. So when we sat down to talk, I expected to be talking business. And we did. But what I didn’t expect was the depth of his passion and compassion, nor that his story would be laced with pearls of wisdom, heartfelt conviction, and disarming profanity.
Eschino got his start in the early days of Colorado’s medical industry. And his involvement happened almost by accident. At the time he owned a packaging and distribution company. His client, Rick Scarpello, ran one of the state’s largest bakeries. Sometimes they’d discuss ideas for side businesses, mostly revolving around food. Meanwhile, Bob’s brother was helping a guy with medical grows and also baking and selling (conventional) cookies at farmers’ markets.
“He had access to all this trim because he was helping this guy with his grows. He started infusing cookies for my grandmother, who was struggling at the end of her life,” Bob explains. “She was in a lot of pain. She didn’t eat. And as he started giving her infused cookies, I watched cannabis work as medicine for my grandmother. And I was like, “Holy shit! It is medicine!”
Eschino had been smoking pot for most of his adult life, but he’d viewed the medical argument as just a path to legalization. “I’d never seen it work as medicine until it worked for my grandmother. And a light bulb just went off!” He contacted Scarpello and proposed launching an edibles company. “We started running some numbers,” Eschino says. “We thought if we could sell 150 edibles a week, it’d be a fun little side business.”
This fun little side business ended up being one of the first companies in the world to be licensed to make regulated cannabis products. And for Eschino and his partners, regulated was the key word. In 2010 there was a wild west atmosphere in Colorado, but they approached the business not as gunslingers but as business people. They had no idea what they were in for.
“We were laughed out of the bank.”
“The first thing we did was walk down to the bank to try to get an account. We were laughed out of the bank. Then we went to try to find a building where we could start making products. And we were laughed out of every appointment when we told them we wanted to make cannabis products. It took us over a year to open our first kitchen. In that time we really couldn’t do a lot of R&D because we didn’t have a certified kitchen.” As Eschino and his partners wrestled with red tape, they lost their head start in the new industry.
“We watched a lot of our competitors get to market,” Eschino remembers. “But as businessmen wanting to follow the rules, we didn’t feel we could manufacture in a place that wasn’t certified yet, that wasn’t inspected…”
Despite the delays, Eschino thinks their prudence eventually gave them a competitive advantage. “We understood manufacturing. And we knew how to run a business. We could take an order, we could process your order, and we could invoice you for your order.” This set them apart from competitors who were still operating by black market norms, like walking into a dispensary to try to sell candy from a backpack.
In those days, they had to build everything from scratch: they created their own closed loop system, and pretty soon they were in the manufacturing business, building equipment for other companies. At the time it wasn’t economically feasible to purchase biomass, so they got into farming. Later they couldn’t find software that was designed for the intricacies of cannabis manufacturing, so they designed that too.
Bob and Rick had joined forces with Derek Cumings and Josh Fink, who had worked at Rick’s bakery. Derek and Josh were in charge of developing recipes. The partners had originally imagined making cannabis-infused brownies and bars, but soon realized the challenge of dealing in perishable goods made with a very expensive key ingredient. “When you’re throwing away a spoiled brownie, you’re throwing away THC,” Eschino says. They began learning about hydrocarbon extraction and infusing products that would have a longer shelf life.
At the time, people were afraid of edibles. Everybody had a story about that one batch of brownies that laid waste to a party. Eschino and his partners set about to correct that problem. Before testing was mandated, Medically Correct was testing its products. They were dedicated to delivering consistent dosages and printing all the relevant information on their labels.
“Those things used to set us apart. Now they’re entry level.”
This due diligence did a lot to develop trust with Colorado consumers and advance the general reputation of edibles. Eventually the rest of the industry would catch up and consumers would learn that they could trust products to deliver consistent dosages.
“I look back now, and all of the things we did are really what built the Colorado market,” Eschino reflects. “Now if you can’t do those things, you can’t be in the business. Those things used to set us apart. Now they’re entry level.”
“People come into this industry thinking they’re going to get rich, but you’re still a federally illegal criminal and you still don’t get things as simple as a bank account.”
Eschino’s dedication to playing by the rules goes deeper than a respect for proper operating procedure. He looks at his job not as building a company but as building an industry, an industry that had emerged from a fight for human welfare, social justice, and civil liberty. “As we got into the cannabis space, we started learning more about the fight, and about cannabis in general, and about the people who have sacrificed everything to get this movement to where it was when we got in,” he says seriously. “We very quickly understood the magnitude of that, and it became our job not to fuck it up.”
“It became our job not to fuck it up.”
“Don’t fuck it up,” is a major part of Eschino’s philosophy. “I tell this to people all the time,” he says. “If you’re coming into this industry, do the right thing. Because you’re not just damaging your business, you’re damaging the industry. Because it’s still so new. If you do something stupid, you make it so the next state over won’t make cannabis legal…Understanding that really early on shaped me, and it shaped our company.”
Eschino may be a business guy, but he doesn’t enjoy the same perks as his cohorts in conventional markets. The constantly changing industry is always producing new hurdles and expenses, and federal prohibition is a constant source of stress. “We’ve been fired by everybody. From the guys who sell us chocolate to the guys who sell us toilet paper. Because they find out it’s a cannabis company. It still happens today.” Banking continues to be an issue, and this extends to his personal life. “I can’t buy a house. I can’t even refinance my house anymore,” Eschino says. “People come into this industry thinking they’re going to get rich, but you’re still a federally illegal criminal and you still don’t get things as simple as a bank account.”
If Eschino just wanted to make money, he’d have bailed a long time ago. “It’s a difficult industry to be in,” he says. “You need to learn to be flexible in the cannabis industry and never get attached to anything because odds are it’s going to change.”
Despite the challenges, Medically Correct continues to create brands. In June they announced the release of Quiq, a line of fast-acting products that includes topicals, tinctures, suppositories, and chocolates. They’re also capitalizing on the trend toward gourmet with their Nové line of creamy filled chocolates. “I get to eat chocolate every day as R&D and that’s fun,” Eschino says. “We’re working on a ton of stuff.”
But it’s people, both customers and cohorts, that ultimately keep him in the game. “I get to talk to some patients now. I’m friends with families with children in need who we get to help. And that makes me get up in the morning and come here and work to get better.”
He also feels supported by the Colorado cannabis community, especially the people he met in the early days, who share his core values and got involved because they believe in the medical value of cannabis. “There’s a lot of good people in this industry,” he says. “The people who came for the right reasons, the people who stayed here for the right reasons. Seeing those people, having those relationships, that’s the fun part for me.”
When asked what additional advice he’d give a newcomer to the industry, Eschino looks me in the eye and says, “If you’re coming in here for money, you’re going to be sorely disappointed. So make sure you have some other reason to be here.”