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Valor and flower: Kuno strives to put cannabis into the hands of veterans 

He charged through enemy gunfire, tackling a gunman to save his fellow soldiers’ lives. After losing a paw in combat, he went through extensive surgery that made him the first UK military dog to wear a custom prosthetic. And now Kuno is living his dog days, at home and retired. 

In November of 2020, the courageous Belgian Malinois was awarded the medal of valor in a virtual ceremony, and now his legacy lives on with the June launch of Flower One’s new veteran-created brand, Kuno

When Grayson Bowman, former Navy SEAL and Flower One’s Director of Special Operations was tasked with naming the brand, Kuno was a natural pick. 

“We didn’t want any sort of harsh military branding,” says Bowman. “We wanted it to be softer. Many veterans are already really into their dogs,” he explains, adding that the pets provide a daily opportunity for an evening stroll and smoke session. 

You can see the intent on the brand’s  website and Instagram, both of which are very minimal and feature imagery of a calming sunset. The logo is simple, just the word “Kuno” with the silhouette of a soldier and his service dog. 

“With what people are dealing with, we didn’t want [the branding] to feel like they’re picking up a round of ammunition,” adds Kellen O’Keefe, Flower One’s President and CEO. 

Flower One works with many notable brands, including Cookies, Kiva, Heavy Hitters, and Old Pal. But when launching Kuno, O’Keefe says they weren’t necessarily focused on publicity or total sales, but rather getting affordable products into the hands of veterans. 

O’Keefe notes that some retailers have been marking up product prices, which undermines their goal of providing cannabis to veterans at a discounted rate. “We want to get retailers to support the manufacturer suggested retail price (MSRP) and deliver the product into the hands of the consumer. We want retailers that will preserve MSRP.”

They’ve made use of Flower One’s reach to build out a small group of retailers that honor the suggested price. Currently, the brand is available at Jardín, Greenleaf, Oasis, and Nuwu Cannabis, with plans to expand to more dispensaries in Nevada. Without question, the demand is there. 

“I didn’t realize how many veterans we had in our organization,” says O’Keefe. “When we go to local cannabis chamber events, there’s a large number of veterans. For those people to have access to the product at a discounted rate is a nice message to send out to the cannabis industry.”

Pointing to the conversations they’ve had with other veterans about how cannabis has improved their lives, O’Keefe says that the stories speak for themselves, eliminating the need for traditional marketing techniques. This is reiterated in their minimal Instagram, which focuses on interpersonal relationships and facts about PTSD and cannabis. “Those stories and anecdotes are all you can do to share and market this. We’re not going to go out and say Kuno treats your depression. It has to be word of mouth and this kind of anecdotal evidence.”

Thanks to Flower One’s involvement with so many other brands, the team has a large pool  of genetics to pull from. It’s in no way a rock solid science, but they’re doing their best with the information they have to tailor Kuno’s strains to common veteran needs. 

“We have that open platform, so when new genetics and discoveries come out, we can plug it in and put it under our name,” says O’Keefe. “If we branched into vapes we could get really creative with cannabinoid and terpene blends, but that takes more R&D and we haven’t invested in that.”

So far the brand has been met with enthusiasm. Their launch sold out within four weeks, and the team received plenty of positive feedback from veterans who were excited to support a veteran-created company. 

But even for a brand with a solid foundation and a successful start, surviving Nevada’s regulatory structure can be harsh and prohibitive. “The excise tax is unsustainable and outrageous, coming out to about a 40% rate. It’s very aggressive,” says O’Keefe. “They’re not offering us relief for anything for any program.” O’Keefe hopes that Nevada will follow in California’s footsteps, offering some tax relief to operators. 

Flower One has ambitions to eventually expand beyond Nevada, and O’Keefe says Kuno is one of the brands that will expand with the company—as long as they feel they can protect their values. “We want to get things off the ground in Nevada first and better understand the veteran demand to make sure the program has integrity,” he explains. “We don’t want someone manipulating it.”

“Shedding the stigma that cannabis has in the veteran community is big,” Bowman says. “When people get out of service, they’re very set in their ways, and whatever vice they choose to self-medicate with is often destructive. We want more education so people know that this is an option for them, and can help them wean off of other drugs.”

O’Keefe concurs. “It’s about quality product at an affordable price. It’s about picking quality genetics for the right reasons, and doing our best to grow them to the best quality. And making it available to veterans who need it the most. It’s about staying focused on that mission.”

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