Santa Rosa, California

Founder and CEO Chris Emerson’s cannabis products are becoming increasingly popular with non-traditional consumers.

Emerson says his company’s line is designed with the concept
of “effects-based cannabis” in mind.

To illustrate that concept, products are listed on LEVEL’s website within categories such as
energize, socialize, relief, calm, and sleep. The company also notes the level
of psychoactivity a customer can expect — whether it be a minimal therapeutic
dosage or a strong high. Most of the tablets are meant to be swallowed and take
effect within 30 to 90 minutes. Others are taken sublingually and require only
five to 20 minutes before their effects begin.

Some of the cannabinoids LEVEL employs are well known:
there’s the heady-feeling THC (in its Delta-9 form) and the non-psychoactive
CBD. But others are still relatively novel for most consumers. For instance,
there’s THCV, which the company’s product guide
calls “the first cannabinoid to display appetite-reducing properties” and is “purported to have energetic qualities, helping to stimulate and focus the
mind.” There’s also THCA, which produces a “mild high” and “may be effective in
pain management.” And CBN, which is a “potential sleep aid.”

Emerson says, “When I founded the company in 2015, no one was
talking about effects-based [product formulations], and most people just looked
at us and were like, ‘I have no idea what you’re talking about.'” After
initially manufacturing vaporizer cartridges (since discontinued)
LEVEL released its first line of tablets in 2018.

Today, the company is one of the top-selling brands in
California in the capsule category, according to Headset. “We’re currently selling into just under 500 retailers in California,” says
Emerson. “So, we’re in about 45 percent of all retail outlets in California.
We’ve grown about 35 percent year-over-year for the past three years.”

As more states legalize cannabis, Emerson envisions expanding
beyond California. He intends to target non-traditional and new consumers
who don’t want to smoke or vape as a means of ingestion. Emerson anticipates
one day being able purchase a LEVEL product at a Walgreens or CVS Pharmacy
instead of acetaminophen or ibuprofen after a rough night on the town. Indeed,
one of the products LEVEL currently makes is called Hangover and is a
formulation of THCA, CBD, CBG, and Delta-8 and Delta-9 THC. “It’s definitely an
alphabet soup,” jokes Emerson about the abbreviations for the cannabinoids the
company employs.

Emerson, who earned his doctorate in organic chemistry and
once worked at a biotech company, started LEVEL in San Francisco within a
2,000-square-foot space. Early this year, LEVEL moved into its
16,000-square-foot facility in Santa Rosa. There the company does its R&D,
purification and testing of materials (which it mostly obtains from outside
vendors), formulations, and pressing of tablets with names like Protab,
Hashtab, and Tablingual. “We’re an incredibly technical company,” says Emerson,
citing the array of analytical and production equipment that LEVEL employs.

The company is also conducting a clinical trial on one of its
products, which it hopes will show the efficacy of that cannabis-based
treatment. All he will divulge at the moment is, “It’s a product that
contains no THC.”

Emerson hopes non-psychoactive cannabinoids will eventually
be used by veterans for post-traumatic stress. A veteran himself, he served as
a Chinese interpreter within the US Navy in the mid-1990s. He says cannabinoids
can “offer relief for a lot of the symptoms [experienced by] individuals that
have sacrificed and served this country. They don’t need medicine
that…deteriorates their quality of life.”

Emerson’s proposition is that consumers will increasingly
choose cannabinoid products designed for the specific effects they want to
experience. “Ultimately, that’s the future of cannabis that we are driving
towards, and we think it’s something that’s absolutely going to happen,” he

Photos courtesy LEVEL

Challenges: “Draconian regulation and the burden of over taxation,” says
Emerson. But there’s also competition from multi-state operators who “have been
able to raise significant amounts of capital through going public or going
through a SPAC.” Not that investors have shied away from LEVEL. The company raised $5 million a
couple years ago through Gotham Green
, allowing it to scale its business.

Opportunities: “New potential markets,” says Emerson. “We have an expansion
strategy that we’re beginning to execute on. So, going outside the borders of
California is a solid strategy.” Within California itself the company could
also “be disruptive in, say, other categories that we may not be currently involved
in,” he adds.

Needs: “I need ten of me,” quips Emerson with a laugh. “Cannabis
really is a journey. It’s not a one-size-fits-all. And it’s also not a silver
bullet. For a lot of consumers, that’s the messaging the industry needs to tell