David Bronner has a new kind of friend — unaffiliated with the company his grandfather founded — and his partner company has billion-dollar ambitions, but he insists Brother David isn’t in it to clean up.
The celebrity cannabis product bandwagon gets pretty full. At just one Sonoma County scholarship last month, SF Evergreen saw new marijuana brands from Post Malone, 2 Chainz, The Game — and, for the record, comedian Chelsea Handler. They join a long list of celebrities who also have their own cannabis lines, including: Cypress Hill, Willie Nelson, Tommy Chong, Whoopi Goldberg, and the legacy of the late Bob Marley.
Some of these figures have legitimate marijuana heritage and claim expertise, while others simply slap their names on a green get-rich-quick scheme. And every new celebrity-branded product hitting pharmacy shelves could eliminate a smaller, hard-working competitor who busted themselves out of surviving this tumultuous first 18 months of legal cannabis.
But a well-known, well-known name of a different strain has just launched its own brand of weed. The CEO of dr. Bronner’s soap debuted its new Brother David’s series of prerolls, eighths, quarters and grams last month at a guerrilla street theater event for SoMa’s Vapor Room.
David Bronner describes himself as the “Cosmic Engagement Officer” from dr. Bronner’s, the cult soap brand his grandfather founded. At launch, he dressed in a fake Boy Scout uniform topped with a red elf cap, made even more noticeable by his towering height and shaggy hippie mustache on the handlebars.
Brother David’s website states that the new flower line “celebrates small family growers,” but it looks like they’re going the way of the big bucks. Brother David has partnered with Flow Kana, a massive distributor that has raised a $150 million war chest and told investors they will soon be a $2.2 billion a year company, according to documents obtained by Market overview.
Bronner himself is the heir to a $120 million-a-year soap empire, so calling this brand a champion of the little guy seems like a stretch. But Bronner is not your typical CEO. He has pledged $5 million to help legalize MDMA, he has been arrested for trying to make hemp oil outside the White House, and he sits on the board of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS).
And Bronner vows to donate all of his cannabis profits to charity.
“Our profits go towards helping the small family farmer ecosystem threatened by industrial growth from large companies,” he says. “Chemistry-intensive crops are replacing small family farms.
“We trade coconut, olive, palm and mint oils in our soap business,” he adds. “But it’s the same story in every commodity, big industrial plantations coming in and decimating rural economies and communities in this really horrible, environmentally destructive way.”
David Bronner thinks he can revolutionize cannabis, just as his grandfather revolutionized soap.
Thanks to Brother David’s
“Doctor” Emanuel Heilbronner was not a doctor when he left pre-Nazi Germany. He just bestowed the title on himself. Some may have called him a “mystic,” while others may have used the word “boil.”
“He was a German and Jewish soap maker, third generation,” Bronner recalls, noting that the Heilbronner family was the largest soap maker in Germany. “But my grandfather was quite politically intense, an activist who constantly clashed with his father and uncles. He was a Zionist, but his father didn’t want him to mix politics and soap.”
Dropping the “Heil” from his surname due to Nazi association, the original Dr. Bronner to the US in 1929.
“His parents, like many bourgeois Jews, stayed until it was too late,” Bronner says. “They thought they would dispel the madness.” (The parents were executed in 1942.)
The tragedy brought Dr. Bronner’s “All-One-God-Faith,” which is still detailed today on his soap bottle labels, in Frank Chu-style rhetoric and presentation. And the man remained genuinely passionate about his plant-based, biodegradable soaps, which caught on nationwide in the 1960s.
“When the counterculture exploded and a generation rose to reject the way business as usual was destroying the planet, then my grandfather’s soap became the counterculture soap,” explains Bronner. “From there, we spread to every health food store in America.”
The insanely small font and illogical layout of the label remained intact because Dr. Bronner didn’t realize how terrible they looked.
“My grandfather went blind in the 60s and 70s,” he recalls. “He didn’t realize how busy the labels were as he put more and more of his ‘full truth’ on the label. The labels became increasingly difficult to read.”
“Our label was designed by a blind man,” laughs Bronner.
Brother David’s can labelsnewbis flower are designed much more tastefully and pleasantly. That label, packaging and distribution of Brother David’s are all handled by the versatile cannabis company Flow Kana, a hugely well-funded operation known in the industry for raising – and burning through – astonishing amounts of money in a short period of time.
Flow Kana is now one of the largest cannabis companies in the country, following a recent $125 million venture capital investment that was the largest ever for a US cannabis company. They tell corporate investors that they will break even next year and earn $2 billion annually by 2022, staggering numbers for those of us who remember the age of medical marijuana.
“We turned capital into this big bogeyman,” said Flow Kana CEO Michael “Mikey” Steinmetz SF Weekly. “Historically, it has done this planet no good. But I strongly believe in what we think of as ‘regenerative capitalism’, using capital to really fund the future of agriculture and really champion the smallholder ecosystem.”
All Flow Kana partner farms are certified through the Sun + Earth program, which ensures the farms use sustainable practices and pay all workers a fair, living wage. Bronner also insists on paying himself no more than five times the salary of his lowest-paid employee.
“All of our major supply chains are served by regenerative and organic [suppliers]. We make sure our farmers are paid fairly,” said Steinmetz of both Dr. Bronner’s as Brother David’s. “We limit all our salaries to five times our lowest paid position and devote all our profits to the charities and causes we believe in, including ending cannabis prohibition.”
Bronner has donated over $5 million to various cannabis legalization efforts over the years, so his in good faith are well established. It may seem strange that multibillion-dollar millionaires and intermediaries present themselves as the faces of small, independent growers, but people like Dr. Bronner could be transformative in this modern legal cannabis soap.