Eureka, California

A homemade cannabis balm for his ailing father led founder and CEO Adam Grossman on the path towards manufacturing California’s top-selling topicals.

Photos courtesy Papa & Barkley

Grossman says his company’s mission is “to unlock the power, the potential of cannabis to improve people’s lives.” In that regard, Papa & Barkley serves California’s recreational and medical markets with topicals, transdermal patches, concentrates, gummies, and chocolates.

But it’s his company’s balm — available in a couple of different formulations — that Grossman calls Papa & Barkley’s “hero product,” having helped the company corner “over 50 percent of the topicals market in California,” he says. The brand can be found in about 85 percent of cannabis dispensaries in California; of those shops, 90 percent carry the balm.

The balm’s general recipe dates back to early 2015 in Massachusetts. Grossman’s elderly father, Mort, suffered from spinal stenosis, which had left him bedridden and eventually put in hospice. His father’s situation was “degrading pretty rapidly,” Grossman says, and a doctor told him that “if [Mort] didn’t get out of bed in the next week or two, he probably wouldn’t.”

Grossman researched formulas for making cannabis balm on YouTube, eventually using a borrowed crockpot to infuse two ounces of cannabis flower into coconut oil, then mixing the result with beeswax, Vitamin E, and essential oils. “I was definitely doing it on the DL, down in the basement,” says Grossman, noting cannabis’ still-illegal status in New England at the time.

After applying the balm to his father’s back, Mort was soon able to get out of bed. “It opened my eyes to the incredible medicinal potential of the cannabis plant,” says Grossman.

Mort was eventually able to return the family home. Grossman’s pit bull, Barkley, became a constant companion, lying at Mort’s feet, or sleeping in bed with him. “It was the experience with my dad that provided the catalyst to create Papa & Barkley,” says Grossman of his company’s beginnings.

In Los Angeles, Grossman — an entrepreneur, who’d studied business and law — was introduced to Guy Rocourt, a veteran cannabis grower, who’d already had experience introducing a cannabis vape pen onto the market in Colorado — everything from working on the product’s development, to its manufacturing, to its licensing. The duo started with 20 crockpots in Rocourt’s house, eventually introducing a balm as well as a transdermal patch to California’s medical market in summer 2016.

In 2017, the company moved production to Northern California, having convinced the city of Eureka to issue its first cannabis manufacturing and distribution licenses to Papa & Barkley. Grossman says the company’s focus on “non-psychoactive pain products” — its topicals — helped win over regulators. The business has since become a major employer, he ads, paying above-average wages and helping out in the community. “We pride ourselves on being good corporate citizens,” says Grossman.

Papa & Barkley also established relationships with Humboldt County cannabis farms, which provide the organic cannabis that the company utilizes in its products. “We offer them a consistent buying relationship,” notes Grossman. Given Papa & Barkley’s entry into other product categories, as well — including ice-water hash, under the Papa’s Select name — that means the company is purchasing from its partner farms even more cannabis, which doesn’t even need to dried and cured by the growers, since the company will be flash-freezing in its raw form.

In a 60,000-square-foot former Kmart, the company does all its solvent-free manufacturing. “Everything we do is full-spectrum, full-plant, chemical-free processing,” says Grossman. Frozen plants are spun in a sifter to obtain kief, some of which will go into the company’s gummies. Kief is also pressed to extract rosin, which will be incorporated into its transdermal patches and chocolate bars. The plants then undergo a “proprietary lipid infusion” process, which extracts the cannabinoids, phytonutrients, and terpenes into coconut or MCT oil by using water, pressure, and heat before the water is separated from the base oil.

“Essentially, it’s a professionalized version of the crockpot,” says Grossman of the technology. The finished oil is then used to make the company’s balms. And although there are now two balms with different ratios of THC to CBD, the recipe itself hasn’t changed much since Grossman prepared that first batch for his father.

Papa & Barkley also has a line of CBD products, which are made in Colorado. Grossman’s company shares its IP with a partner in the state, producing salves and tinctures at a “GMP facility that does the blending and final packaging,” after first sourcing industrial hemp from select Colorado farmers. The products can be found in around 1,500 retail stores, including more than 750 The Vitamin Shoppe outlets, where the brand’s Releaf pain balm is the top-selling product in that category.

Grossman says he’s grateful his father got to see Papa & Barkley get off the ground before he passed away in late 2017.

Although Grossman says he doesn’t use the term “magic” lightly, he nevertheless concludes, “If you think about the ability to take away peoples’ pain as being magic — or helping them get through chemo — [cannabis] really is a magic plant. That’s for sure.”

Challenges: “The way we do things is not the easiest or most cost-effective — but it is the most efficacious,” says Grossman.

Opportunities: “We have a tremendous potential to be a national — and even a global — brand, which is a dream of mine and our goal,” says Grossman.

Needs: More brand awareness. “We have to build out our marketing voice and our social media presence,” says Grossman.