The trio behind marijuana startup have ambitious plans – Democrat & Chronicle

From Meta Platforms to Airbnb, the Ivy League has a reputation for producing startups that change the ways the world functions. The founders of 8th Wonder Cannabis Co., two of whom are Cornell University graduates, want their company to join those ranks.
Jeremiah Swain and Cameron Scott met as students at Cornell Nolan School’s Master of Management in Hospitality (MMH) program. By the time Swain, who is originally from Georgia, matriculated in 2020 and Scott, who is from Kansas City, followed in 2021, the seeds of their friendship had already taken and root and sprouted because of a mutual love and appreciation for cannabis.
Then Swain met Ryan Goble, a Buffalo native and long-term Ithaca resident, and immediately hit it off. The duo quickly became a trio, and in 2020, an early form of 8th Wonder Cannabis Co., a “research-based, craft-cannabis cultivation operation,” was born. The men, all of whom were interested in cultivating and selling cannabis, decided to consolidate their efforts and prepare for impending legalization in New York.
But the trio’s work goes beyond tapping into a lucrative business: Swain and Scott, who are Black, say they hope to help the cannabis industry become more diverse.
Though still a fledgling industry, the industry is overwhelmingly white and overwhelmingly male. According to a 2021 study by Business Insider, “White men comprise 70% of the C-suite at the 14 largest publicly traded cannabis companies by market value in the U.S. and Canada. Of the 75 executives surveyed, five — or 7% — identified as Black.”
8th Wonder Cannabis Co. hopes to be a part of changing that narrative.
Each of the men had a skill necessary for their mutual success in addition to their existing clients: Scott, who is president, brought capital; Goble, who is chief cultivation officer, brought experience; and Swain, who is chief executive officer, brought charisma and connections.
Swain says his “story is similar to a lot of brothers’ stories.” At the beginning of the pandemic, he and his wife learned they were going to have a baby. Even with his degree from an Ivy League, his undergraduate degree from Morehouse and an associate’s degree from the Culinary Institute of America, the impending arrival of a new life made him sit down and figure out how he’d pay for new expenses.
“It was like, ‘Well s–t,’” Swain said, laughing. “Weed is what’s here. It’s what’s going to pay the bills.”
Becoming a father forced Swain to focus, he says. He describes himself as an “ideas person,” but said fatherhood forced him to hone in and make his ideas into a reality.
From the beginning, the trio’s efforts have been data-driven and consumer-tested. They built a web portal for servicing 21 and older students and used it to collect data. They were interested in finding out what consumers’ purchasing habits and incentives were so that they would consistently offer products that were wanted and enjoyed by their buyers.
“We got a chance to really test that, see how that went (and) collect data,” Swain said. “See what type of strain they like. … Do they like edibles? What is their consumption preference when it comes to that?”
As the pandemic continued, they aggregated data about the customers to better serve them. Their business kept growing and the trio decided to grow themselves. They secured a space to focus specifically on learning to grow cannabis.
By March 2021, when then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a New York law officially legalizing recreational marijuana, Swain says they decided to go full speed with figuring out how they would be part of that process and of New York’s burgeoning industry. They started saving money and fundraising through family and friends. With those funds, they were able to secure their first cultivation location. They are still fundraising money to “really get going,” Swain says.
While it is legal to consume marijuana recreationally in New York, the state is still in the initial stages of licensing retail businesses to sell cannabis products by the end of this year, at the earliest. The first retail licenses will go to those who are ”justice-involved,” or who’ve had marijuana-related offense convictions before marijuana was legalized in New York.
The company had a series of names before settling on the final one: 8th Wonder Cannabis Company. Its final name pays homage to earlier names, while also referencing the company’s move forward.
“8th Wonder, in a sense, is like an eighth cannabis bud. We started out as ‘Outlaw Booty,’ which, of course, wouldn’t fly with a lot of investors,” Scott said, laughing. “We have a saying we were like a crew of outlaws. Outlaws, pirates, the motley crew — they sailed the 7 seas, 7 wonders of the world and we’re the 8th, in a sense.”
8th Wonder Cannabis Co.’s symbol also nods to an eighth point on a seven-pointed marijuana leaf, and features eight infinity signs put together, which is also symbolic.
“We’re just trying to wonder and wow the world as much as possible, through not just cannabis, but experience,” Scott said.
For 8th Wonder Cannabis Co, changing narratives is vital. They’re challenging the idea of what it means to partake in cannabis consumption, to sell cannabis and to be an outlaw is all included in their future plans.
The business incorporates techniques and skills the trio have learned in and outside the classroom.
“We are a group of individuals trying to come above ground to create an entirely new market so that everybody can have access to medicine and a communal drug that brings individuals together,” Scott said.
Swain said the business is interested in tapping into the talent pipeline of historically black colleges and universities, and added he believes the South will eventually legalize recreational marijuana, too.
“We’re hoping, we’re working to build a brand that’s able to have that type of presence and that type of community,” he said. “That the core of it: using culture and cannabis to build community.”
For Swain, the business has had personal benefits: He said his involvement in the cannabis industry has made him a better person and a better father. He recalled “getting lost” in the meditative process of growing and tending to plants while dealing with the stresses of creating a new business, living through a pandemic and becoming a father.
“Plants have a way of hitting you emotionally,” he said. “You get your hands dirty and you’re working with them and becoming intimate with that process of growing.”
From the beginning, Goble said, the trio knew that they wanted to involve the community in their endeavor in some capacity, though they are still brainstorming what that might look like. He says that the group decided long ago that it’s “not about the money,” but instead about having the resources and ability to give back or, for instance, starting a nonprofit.
The trio’s warehouse is located in the Finger Lakes, though they were hesitant to share a more specific location, or details about future locations, due to ongoing negotiations and conversations with local leadership. They did say that one of their long-term goals, in addition to empowering people through job creation, is to aid in the revitalization of the town.
The trio also plans to open a cannabis-integrated hotel, with a potential groundbreaking in 2025. By entering hospitality, the trio hopes to “touch people on a more intimate level than just selling weed or growing weed,” Scott said.
“Weed will be an established sense intertwined with everything that we do, from the textiles to our buildings to the sheets in our hotels to what we infuse our drinks with and our smoothies and salad bar and things of that nature,” Scott said. “So it’s going to be a holistic experience rather than just smoking cannabis, buying cannabis.”
In every facet of the business plans, Scott said empowering people is a central goal for the trio.
“We’re just trying to empower everybody that we’re able to come into contact with … we’re trying to, in a sense, empower people within the town … trying to revitalize the entire town and bring jobs, bring tours,” Scott said.
In addition to a goal of helping to diversify the largely white cannabis industry, the company is also intentional about including women.
Swain believes that being a mostly Black-led organization is a “strategic competitive advantage” because of the ways in which Black culture has influenced and continues to influence what weed culture looks like.
“Though the intent of it, through Harry Anslinger and the War on Drugs and the very beginning of the demonization, the forefather of this exact drama, blues and jazz musicians, and through that into hip-hop — you think of it as the same cultural cache at the time and this time, that war on the Black entertainer, if you will, is something that was very real,” Swain said.
But he believes his generation is changing the narratives around marijuana consumption — and he believes that 8th Wonder Cannabis Co. can be at the forefront of that change.
“I think of it as an opportunity to really continue that legacy of transforming the thought process, if you will, but at the same time I also know that a lot of people are looking at us to see how it’s done,” he said.
8th Wonder Cannabis Co., is becoming a type of leader in the industry because of its involvement in the cultivation side of cannabis distribution, a side that Swain says is and was considered both the highest financial risk and the highest legal risk. He estimates that, before legalization, cultivators took on more risks because growing the plant could lead to more jail time. He says that the barriers to cultivation have historically been too high for minorities to enter, and because of the way licenses are being distributed, he believes more people will go into retail and delivery over cultivation.
In addition to entering the cultivation field themselves, Swain says 8th Wonder Cannabis Co. hopes to help other Black people become cultivators, or at least participate in parts of the cannabis industry outside of retail and sales, through a foundation they are creating.
“We’re looking at, as we get further in position, how are we intentional in ensuring that we’re bringing in more Black and brown people with us and providing a space for people to come in and try and fail a little bit?” Swain said.


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