Seven Kentucky buds are on a quest to build the stickiest, ickiest empire in all the land.
First off, you've got your Ryan Moore. Kid was a superstar straight out of Lexington's Henry Clay High School … for foosball. Not football. Foosball. Google him. He isn't even 30 yet and he's been the man to beat for over a decade.
Watching him work the table is like watching Mr. Miyagi catch flies with chopsticks in fast forward. It's insane. Men's Journal magazine once ran a profile of him called "The Party Boy King of Foosball" on account of his penchant for staying up all night and then, hungover and tweaking on energy drinks, kicking the shit out of his well-rested opponents. True story.
Then you've got your Todd Murty. Todd is different. Whereas Ryan is more of the good vibrations sort of carnival barker personality, Todd is a little brainier. His mind has a bigger business compartment. He'd had his own construction company in Lexington and a boutique wine shop in Midway. Maybe not as glamorous as a career on the professional foosball circuit, but just as important to what comes next.
Ryan had moved out to Colorado some time ago and had really dedicated himself to learning everything he could about growing marijuana. He'd gotten pretty good at it, but he didn't have the confidence or the know-how to turn it into a self-sustaining venture. So he and Todd put their heads and wallets together and that was that.
"We had this dream — this vision — and we just knew we could make it work," says Todd.
The guys recruited another Kentuckian, their green-thumbed buddy Michael Whitaker, as head grower and four more hustlers from back home to round out the pack: Kirt Lawless, Solomon Kravetz, Christian Browning and Byron King.
"We definitely wanted Kentuckians," Ryan says. "We wanted good ol' boys who we could trust."
Trust is important when you're asking everybody to work for free. They're all part owners now, but for one-and-a-half years, right up until the day their dispensary, Herbal Healing, opened in Colorado Springs, they were all volunteers living in the same cramped house to make ends meet.
And the story of that opening is a legendary one.
They'd sunk tons of time, effort and money into building the perfect grow room. No corners were cut. It's basically a giant Thermos with specially insulated walls where most would just skimp on studs and sheetrock. The temperature. The humidity. The height of the plants. Their distance from the lights. Everything is controllable.
But all that love for the grow room meant they couldn't afford prime real estate for their storefront in Colorado Springs. To put a positive spin on it, it's … discreet. A 5,000-square-foot building that had been divided into about 50 little offices. And every single wall was full of some weird fire retardant sand. It was a renovation nightmare.
They got it done, but were feeling a little iffy.
"Anyone who opens any kind of business has doubts," says Ryan. "We didn't know how our product would compare to everyone else's. We knew it was good, but we didn't know how good."
That's right. They'd never actually sold any product before. How could they have? And it's hard to do market research for freshly legalized merchandise when the market doesn't even exist yet. So they didn't have a lot of facts to go on.
What they did have was Grandaddy Purps, the mythical Indica cross of Big Bud and Purple Urkle.
They didn't invent it. They just perfected it with a proprietary grow formula and a customized nutrient lineup that's impossible to duplicate.
Before ever offering their first harvest for sale they entered it into the most crowded High Times Cannabis Cup field ever. For the first time, medical and recreational strains were being judged together.
They win best Indica in the nation in 2015. Instant momentum. Instant street cred. By the time Herbal Healing was ready for its grand opening, people were camping out in front of the store just to get a taste.
"People were shocked," says Ryan. "It was like they'd never seen good bud before."
Business went through the roof. The win also attracted another Lexington investor, Ashly Taylor, which fast-tracked their expansion to a new, 30,000-square-foot grow facility with 800 more lights. And with two more dispensary locations in the works, Herbal Healing and its owners are well on their way to achieving their No. 1 goal: To be the biggest and best true medical dispensary in America.
Ryan puts it like this: "This isn't just about making a dollar. We can actually help a lot of people and still make a living, still do what we love. We're smokers for smokers. The reason we grow such good product is because we use this as medication ourselves and we want the best."
We're building our roots in Colorado because we have to, but when places like Kentucky go legal we'll be the first ones there.
Right now, on top of their recreational varieties, Herbal Healing carries about 15 strains of high-cannabinoid medicinal marijuana. That means no euphoric or psychoactive effects. These are strains that they've developed or imported to combat specific ailments like chronic pain, depression, anxiety and PTSD.
At the age of 26, Ryan's own sister was diagnosed with epilepsy. She recently moved out to Colorado and started working with Herbal Healing and using their products. According to Ryan, she's completely quit her prescription meds and hasn't had a single seizure since.
Herbal Healing estimates about half of their customers are medicinal users. A lot of them, they say, are senior citizens who drive over an hour to buy marijuana that's more affordable and effective than the brand-name drugs at traditional pharmacies.
"We make everything about the plants and the people," Todd says. "We don't worry about the money. And that's the reason for our success."
Herbal Healing won second place in the Best Indica Concentrate category at this year's High Times Cannabis Cup, held April 19 in Colorado, and third place in the Best Cannabidol Flower category.
"We'd really like to come home to Kentucky and kick some ass," says Todd, but irrational taboos, the private prison industry and the American Beverage Association are really tripping things up in Frankfort.
"Yeah," Ryan adds, "we're building our roots in Colorado because we have to, but when places like Kentucky go legal we'll be the first ones there."
Want to help bring some herbal healing to the Bluegrass? Sport your convictions with a Hemp Y'ALL T-shirt from the shop, and call the Kentucky legislative hotline at 1-800-372-7181 to advocate for access to medical marijuana for Kentuckians.