Operating in the California cannabis industry is not for the faint of heart, but fortunately for Chris Ball, he has plenty of that.
Ball is owner and CEO of Ball Family Farms, a vertically integrated, Black-owned, indoor cannabis grow based in Los Angeles. Ball built his business from the ground up, transitioning from the traditional market to become one of the first social equity licensees in LA. While Ball has established Ball Family Farms as a top brand in the California market, he and the company have also experienced a number of trials and tribulations along the way. Ball joined Cannabis Business Times to preview his upcoming speaking session at Cannabis Conference 2022, as well as what’s ahead for Ball Family Farms and the California cannabis industry.
Editor’s note: Chris Ball will be speaking on the panel session “How to Launch a Cultivation Business” from 11:20 a.m.-12:30 p.m. Aug. 23 at Cannabis Conference, taking place at the Paris Las Vegas Hotel & Casino. In this session, experienced and successful cannabis business leaders will share essential considerations when mapping out your start-up, along with some of the key lessons they’ve learned along the way.
Zach Mentz: What’s new at Ball Family Farms and what are you excited about?
Chris Ball: We got robbed twice. That happened [at the end of May]. It happened within a two-week span. We got hit twice within a two-week time period. So, that wasn’t fun, but it obviously made us stronger. They got away with close to $800,000 worth of product.
Thank God for insurance, for one, and for two, it let us know some holes that we had in our security system and when the security comes and the exchange of shifts. So, we’ve been able to tighten that up. We’ve been working with some different alarm companies and put in some extra security, but none of these alarm companies are as good as what you would get at an Amazon or at a Nike or somewhere like that. We’re still kind of getting the short end of the stick when it comes to that stuff. So, that wasn’t fun, but we’re recovering.
It’s okay. It’s a part of the game. It’s a part of our territory. It’s the cost of doing business. It just goes to show our businesses are always targeted because people think we have all this cash or they know the street value of weed, so we’re just always moving targets at all times.
But on a brighter note, we dealt with that, our insurance is kicking in, so thank God for that. One of the things we’re excited about is our Oklahoma project. We’re getting a lot closer. We’re now starting to build out the inside over there. We got two really great collabs coming up in the next couple months that I’m really, really excited about.
One is with an actor by the name of J Alphonse Nicholson. He’s on a TV show on STARZ called P-Valley, and he’s our first brand ambassador. He’s the only brand ambassador that I’ve signed up in the past four years, and I’m going to tell the story when we drop the strain. So, you’ll hear it about it, but I’ll give you just a little bit of insight into it firsthand. He’s a guy that is from Charlotte, N.C., and Charlotte was where I did a lot of traditional business before I caught my indictment. So, we had a connection there just because that’s where I kind of made my fortune, and that’s where he’s from.
I was a fan of the show before I actually met the guy. … A mutual friend of ours told me one day, ‘Hey, this actor is a fan of the [Ball Family Farms] brand and wants to meet you. I’m like, who? And then he sends me a picture and I recognized him and I’m like, ‘Oh shit! Set up a meeting.’ We spent about three hours together and that’s how I found out he’s from Charlotte. I found out he has a stepdaughter and his stepdaughter is the daughter of my college roommate. The degrees of separations were just … I was like, wait, what? I’m like, bro, that’s my roommate in college. What are you talking about? So, then we got to kind of talking about that.
We got into the weed and he’s like, ‘Listen, man, I’ve been smoking for a long time and when I found your brand, it was the only weed that I’ve ever smoked that allowed me to be better at my craft.’ … So, when we got through talking about all that, it just really touched me and I was like, you know what man, I’ve had a lot of artists ask me to be the brand ambassador for Ball Family Farms, and I just wouldn’t do it because I felt like the reasons were superficial. They wanted to ride my wave, or they were just in it for money; they just want to see their name on a weed bag because they smoke weed.
But with this guy there was so much more, and I just felt like the stars had aligned for me and him. … I spoke to my team about it, spoke to my brother about it, and sure enough, I felt like it was the right move. We pheno-hunted for him, he finally selected a strain that he loves [and] that works for him and that he wants to represent him. That strain is going to drop Aug. 1. It’s called the Fonzi.
RELATED: Ball Family Farms: One of the First Vertically Integrated Social Equity Cannabis Businesses in LA
ZM: Does Ball Family Farms have any other collaborations in the works?
CB: The one after that is going to be the Ricky Williams and Highsman collab. Ricky finally selected his pheno—that one’s going to drop Sept. 11, the opening NFL Sunday. We’re going to launch that day.
Me and Ricky have a 15-year relationship. Obviously, we have football [and] professional sports in common. We had somebody very close to me who was like a big brother, who played for the Raiders, that passed away, who introduced me and Ricky years ago. They both grew up in San Diego. Ricky found me at Hall of Flowers last year; him and his Highsman team approached me. He was a big fan of the brand, with my sports background and his. He had smoked the weed and said it was the best weed that he’d smoked, so [he] asked me for a collab. I said if we’re going to do it, let’s do it right. I was going to pheno-hunt for him, but he said, ‘Can I go through your library of stuff that you have and see if something resonates with me?’ So, I said, okay, sure. He did that and he found something, so this is our first collab.
Hopefully, it goes well because I would like to take over all of the cultivation for Highsman. That’s kind of what I’m after, just because I believe in their mission statement, and I believe that sports figures need to have a place in our space. Playing football over in Canada, man, everybody smoked weed. Everyone on my team smoked weed because it was legal over there. It kept a lot of guys out of the training room, kept a lot of guys off of opioids. It was just how guys got through.
So, I really like what Highsman is doing. They got a couple other athletes that they’re going to target moving forward, so I would like to have some sort of joint venture deal with them moving forward just because I believe in them, and I believe in what they’re doing.
So, those are really the three things that are coming up for us that I’m focusing on this year: our Oklahoma expansion, the Fonzi drop and the Highsman drop.
ZM: The cultivation tax was eliminated in California effective July 1. Do you have any thoughts on that news or the California market as a whole?
CB: We’re taking a step in the right direction. Thank God for that. Thank God for guys like Elliot Lewis, who’s out there championing getting rid of the cultivation tax in Long Beach and now moving over to the whole state. We’re taking a step in the right direction.
We obviously still have a fucking marijuana-thon to go in doing this, but as far as the state of California … man, listen, I love my state. I love my city. I wouldn’t be here if I wasn’t granted these opportunities. Now does that mean it’s working in my favor? … Yes, I am able to operate, but I’m still operating behind the eight ball behind any other small craft family business. I’m not afforded the same opportunities as those businesses, so that we need to rectify, especially now with the market crashing and in the state that it’s in.
I’m happy. It’s bittersweet that we’re in this transition because I knew this would happen. I knew this would happen when everybody crammed into the cannabis industry when we went recreational and COVID happened. COVID gave everyone a false sense of how well your cannabis business could do because nobody could do anything but stay in the house and smoke weed. And weed was deemed essential. So, everyone ran into the space thinking this is what it’s going to be forever, and now a lot of these brands are starting to feel it.
Also, you’re getting all the people who rushed the space and there was just a surplus and plethora product—legal product, traditional market product, weed on every street corner—with prices plummeting so bad, those people are starting to not be able to re-up and they’re starting to change their thinking.
So, for me, thank God I have brand recognition. Thank God I grow fantastic product. The cream will always rise to the top, so we’re making it, we’re okay. We’re not as making as much money as we were two years ago, but we’re still okay. I ain’t moved out of my house, I ain’t had to get rid of nothing, my mom [and] my brothers are still eating, family’s okay.
Like I said, it’s bittersweet because although we’re not making the same amount of money, we’re excited that the people who aren’t supposed to be here are getting out and are starting to leave. So, the competition is fierce; you got to be growing the best of the best if you’re going to command a certain number and your product is going to move off the shelf. So, we’re just focused on that.
Hopefully by the end of the year, all of those people will be out the competition and we will be playing professional cannabis at that point, maybe by January of next year. And then the real brands who deserve to be here and the real operators who deserve to be here will change the trajectory of the industry, and then maybe the California cannabis industry will go back up and rise.
They got to fix these fucking taxes, bro. We’re still a long way away. We still need tax reform.
ZM: Are there any specific changes you’d like to see next? You mentioned eliminating the cultivation tax was a good first step, but what would you like to see next?
CB: The next thing I would like to see is our ability to write off things in our business, like other businesses write off. Not being able to write off certain things is killing us. The excise tax is still killing us at retail. Consumers need to be able to come into a store and buy product for a competing price that they’re getting it for on the street. That’s the only way you [can compete] unless you have a conscious consumer that actually cares about what they put in their body. …
If I can buy the same gram, the same eighth of weed from my local dealer $30 or $40 bucks, and then I got to go in the store and pay $65 or $70—what do I get from the store? Probably the only difference in the weed is that this one’s been tested and this one hasn’t.
So that tax reform is important because if we get that right and we’re able to produce for less, then we can lower the price to the consumer, and now we’re competing with the black market. Or we get it to where it’s cheaper than the black market. Well, what’s the consumer going to do? They’re going to stop calling Julio and they’re going to go the store because I know I’m going to get a healthier product, it’s not going to be pumped with any kind of shit, I know it’s been tested, and it’s the same price or less than what you’re getting for over here.
If they do that, now you knock out the black market, which is what you want to do. You send your consumers to the store, you get your tax money, which is what you want, and everybody wins. But for right now, with it all completely lopsided like this, it ain’t never going to work.
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ZM: Why should people attend Chris Ball’s speaking session at Cannabis Conference 2022 on the panel ‘How To Launch a Cultivation Business’? What will attendees learn from you in your speaking session?
CB: Point blank, man, what they’re going to learn is a story of a true individual who has lived, breathed and slept cannabis. Somebody who’s been in the cannabis space for over 25 years, someone who’s been negatively impacted from the war on drugs with cannabis back in 2010, someone who has really tapped into the culture, someone who understands how this industry is supposed to work from selling to growing to branding and marketing. I even tried my hand at distribution, so if they want to learn how not to do distribution, I can talk about that, too.
What they are going to get is somebody authentic. They’re going to get a real legacy guy who’s still learning to be a CEO. And I’m going to be honest with them. If they have questions about ancillary businesses, we could talk a little bit about that—the things you should focus on, the things where we need help, etc., instead of just running into the space and just trying to do what the masses are doing. There’s certain areas of the cannabis space that we could use really intelligent people. There’s new technology that we could still use in the space.
I’m excited. I love talking. I love helping people. … From the streets to the legal framework, I got all you need to know about how to go from traditional to legal. I got you.
Visit https://www.cannabisconference.com/ for more information and to register.