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ELI MELROD OF SOLFUL DIGS INTO FIVE QUESTIONS ON TERROIR AND CANNABIS

Warren Bobrow interviews Eli Melrod of Solful

I love what (full of boundless energy) Eli Melrod has achieved in the craft cannabis retail space. His esoteric and craft-oriented dispensary, Solful embodies my somewhat educated image of what a well-curated cannabis experience should look like. The environment is not overwhelming when entering the shop and the sophisticated, yet somewhat older clientele demands a deeper understanding of the plant. This is much different than the experience at most high-volume dispensaries. They seem to focus on getting the guest in and out, quickly and without much thought to the well-being of the customer.

More than just an allegory is how I describe the experience of visiting Solful. From the first time that I visited this dispensary several years ago, to the present day, I can honestly say that Solful offers a very wine store-esque, cannabis transactional experience right in the center of wine country. And I believe that the terroir of the cannabis mimics that of fine wine. It’s uncanny to taste a Sonoma Chardonnay, then inhale some cannabis, grown in Sonoma. Their terroir is very similar to each other.

Please allow me the honor of introducing you to my friend and fellow entrepreneur in the cannabis space, Eli Melrod, who is the CEO and Co-founder of Solful, award-winning cannabis dispensaries in Northern California

Photo credit: Mary Roll

Eli Melrod is CEO and Co-founder of Solful, award-winning dispensaries in Sebastopol and Santa Rosa, California, widely recognized for its broad selection of high-quality, locally-sourced cannabis products, as well as industry-leading in-store experience, and a commitment to making a meaningful impact in the community.

Under his leadership, Solful is dedicated to selling only 100% sun-grown flower purchased directly from small craft farmers in Northern California. A frequent visitor of partner farms, Eli and company directly manage Solful’s supply chain to ensure that every cannabis product sourced is planted, grown, nurtured, trimmed, and packaged according to the highest standards of care.

Eli has been an entrepreneur in the California cannabis industry since 2015. His interest in the health and wellness benefits of cannabis began in 2006, when his father was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, and discovered the power of cannabis to help him manage pain, nausea, appetite, anxiety, and sleep. Inspired by his father’s experience, Eli dedicated himself to bringing cannabis to people whose health, wellness, and happiness could be improved by its responsible use.

Today, Solful is known for its emphasis on cannabis bringing customers health and happiness. Focusing on training, education, and culture, Solful is reinventing the cannabis retail space. Their goal? For all customers – from experienced users to the cannacurious – to walk into their doors feeling comfortable and confident they will find the product they are looking for with the help of a long-tenured team that abides by the highest values, known as the Solful Standard.

Eli Melrod and Mike Benziger of Glentucky Farms: Photo credit: Brennan Spark

WB: Please tell me about yourself. Where are you from originally? Live now? What do you think about terroir in cannabis? Does “biodynamic” mean to you? What about Terpenes?  

Eli Melrod: I was fortunate to be born and raised in Northern California. I spent my younger years in San Francisco and ultimately went between SF and Sebastopol as a teenager after my dad bought property up here. Since then, Sebastopol and Sonoma County have always been home. My interest in cannabis began when my father was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. I saw firsthand the power of the plant and how it helped him manage pain and anxiety from the awful illness.

At the time, I was studying economics at Wesleyan University. Inspired by recreational cannabis use becoming legal in California and being a believer in its health and wellness benefits, in 2014, I left school and dedicated myself to bringing cannabis to people whose lives can be improved by its responsible use. I first worked for an established cannabis testing lab to understand the science of cannabis, and it was during this time that I started to build personal relationships with industry influencers, many of which included farmers. In 2015, I connected with a family friend and entrepreneur, Peter Dickstein, to launch Solful. Since we opened in 2017, Solful has been a destination cannabis retail brand with a focus on educating the community, offering personalized customer experiences, and sourcing the best craft sun-grown cannabis.

For me, terroir means the expression of time and place. All plants are going to be influenced based on where and how they are grown. What I love most about sun-grown and regenerative farmed cannabis is that the plant embodies that specific region and harvest. At Solful we work with farms that have a number of strains that they have developed over the years for their specific region. You can see and taste the variation of that strain each year, showing that the growing season no doubt impacts the end result of the plant. I’ve found that as I get to know our farming partners better when I smoke their cannabis, I feel the expression of their farm and the vibe of that region. It’s an intimate and special relationship that no other plant can offer.

Eli and his father. Photo credit: Brennan Spark.

With biodynamic farming, there’s a strict seven-year certification process by Demeter needed in order to use the term on labeling. That said, there are plenty of farms that use biodynamic practices, but don’t go through the official certification process. Biodynamics is a part of regenerative farming, which focuses on working with the land’s ecosystem – the farmers work with the land to help build a stronger, healthier system.

We are learning more and more about the plant and terpenes show there’s a lot more contributing to cannabis’s effects and medicinal uses than just cannabinoids. The science around terpenes is early and as an industry, it’s important that we are thoughtful in how we talk about the subject. We still have a lot to learn. What we do know is that terpene-rich cannabis tends to be more enjoyable to consume and has a more robust effect, compared to one that is lower in terpenes. Think of terpenes as the fingerprint of that specific strain and harvest. A strain’s terpene profile can act as a guide to help the consumer figure out what they like. As the industry evolves, I think it is great that we are shifting the conversation beyond just cannabinoids, especially for medicinal use.

WB: So many cannabis companies are hung up on high THC levels. Why is this flawed science? What are you doing to change this marketing into something more appropriate for the plant? 

Eli Melrod: At this point, it is clear that higher THC doesn’t mean higher quality or potency. The overreliance on this number is misleading to consumers.

At Solful, understanding each strain of cannabis and product we sell is really important to us. We spend a lot of time educating our team to then educate consumers about where the farm is located, how the plant was grown, and the difference in strains. It’s all of this information that should ultimately play into the buying decision. At our stores, we display full terpene and cannabinoid profiles for each strain we carry. It’s a priority that our team members get to know the farmers we work with so they can speak to them as people.

An important lesson we have learned is that if you don’t train your team on how to translate industry knowledge into practical information for consumers, you aren’t educating them. We believe in meeting the consumer where they are – and we have built a program around this method so our team can offer more of a hospitality experience for everyone who walks through our doors.

Photo credit: Brennan Spark

WB: What are your six and twelve-month goals? How do you anticipate removing obstacles to cannabis?  Who is your mentor/s?  

Eli Melrod: We are excited to continue to expand Solful’s retail footprint. We opened our second location in Santa Rosa earlier this year and have a third location opening in an incredible community and neighborhood in San Francisco in the coming months.