It’s amazing how much the cannabis world has changed in less than a decade. Washington and Colorado were the first two states to legalize recreational cannabis, opening the floodgates for legalization to spread throughout the nation. When California legalized recreational cannabis in 2016, 20 years after it became the first state to allow cannabis for medicinal purposes, Sean Smutny was ready to finally turn his passion for cannabis into a legitimate career.
“I’ve been in cannabis for about 15 years,” Smutny says. “I’d been cultivating for a long time for personal use, and also pre-64 [Prop 64 legalized recreational cannabis] to sell to medical dispensaries. When it was just medical I was taking duffel bags from dispensary to dispensary, showing the product and creating relationships throughout the industry. As soon as it was legal, having that experience and knowledge let me jump right in.”
Smutny is the co-founder and director of sales for Lbs. Distribution, one of California’s largest cannabis distributors. As soon as licenses started to become available in Yolo County—yes, that’s the county’s actual name, not a dumb Drake reference—Smutny and his partners were quick to take advantage of their expertise and snag one.
Now that roughly 40 percent of Americans live in a state with legal recreational cannabis, and many more in states with medical cannabis, the industry is exploding. It takes a lot of work to fill all those dispensaries, especially when you consider the particular difficulties for an industry that is only legal in 16 states. Whereas a major corporation in a different industry may use many different vendors to get their product made, packaged, delivered and into stores, this is far more difficult for a fledgling industry without federal legality and the infrastructure that goes along with it. So Smutny has created a one-stop shop that handles all of the details from the field to the shelf.
“We own a 55,000-square-foot distribution facility in West Sacramento where we do packing, distribution and logistics for seven brands with more coming on,” Smutny says. “We have our own two acres of cultivation where we grow a lot of product. Then we take it, we dry it, we cure it, weigh it out and package it for each different brand. We’re out there really helping people get their brands into dispensaries across the state.”
When the floodgates opened up and recreational cannabis became legal in the nation’s largest state, there were a ton of people rushing in hoping to cash in on the 21st century gold rush. Not all of them were necessarily prepared, nor did they have a familiarity with the community.
“Unlike a lot of people who came into this industry not knowing anything about cannabis,” Smutny says, “we’re fortunate enough to come from a background of cannabis. My partners and I have known each other for a long, long time and we trust each other. We all have the exact same goal in mind, our motto is to become everybody’s favorite dealer. When I go to work I don’t feel like I’m even going to work, it’s just a part of all of our lives.”
Once relegated to the counterculture, cannabis is now firmly part of the mainstream culture in California. Black-and-grey tattooing has made a similar journey from fringe to the norm, so it’s more than fitting that Smutny’s sleeve honoring his home state is in the style. The sleeve was tattooed by Jesse Missman and it includes images of palm trees, waves, flowers, some California girls and script reading “California Dreaming.”
“I really feel like I was always meant to live in Southern California,” Smutny says. “I have a picture of a postcard [in the sleeve] that says ‘Risk It All’ because I’ve taken so much risk in my life to get where I’m at. So far, it’s all paid off.”
With more states legalizing every day, not to mention the possibility of federal legalization with a Democrat currently in the White House, the sky’s the limit for the cannabis industry. And when that day comes, Sean Smutny and his team will be ready to take things even higher.