We talk to Robert Weakley, founder of Altai Brands, about the business of cannabis edibles and the future of the industry.
From downhill skiing to mixing cannabis with chocolate, Robert Weakley’s career path has veered from the usual trajectories of other hospitality veterans. After spending 13 years working for Hyatt hotels in cities like Vail, Chicago, New Orleans, and Carmel, Weakley opted to branch out in order to launch the celebrated Pebble Beach Food & Wine and the Los Angeles Food & Wine Festival. Restaurants came next in the form of 1833 in Monterey, Faith & Flower in downtown Los Angeles, and Rose. Rabbit. Lie. at The Cosmopolitan hotel in Las Vegas. Now, Weakley is delving into California’s cannabis industry with Altai, an edibles company that mixes cannabis oil into luxuriously crafted chocolates, fruit soothers, and mints.
We caught up with Weakley to discuss the state of the cannabis industry, how he got into edibles, and what’s on the horizon for Altai.
Why did you decide to get into cannabis? ROBERT WEAKLEY: I saw the opportunities in the industry with the edibles and manufactured products. There weren’t many people from the food industry actually in the cannabis industry. It was more people that were in cannabis starting to experiment with food products, which was a little concerning on our side because of the science and everything else behind food. Around June 2014, I sold my interest in the entire hospitality company and dove headfirst into the cannabis industry.
What do you think about state of the industry right now? RW: I think it’s really exciting. Not only are we creating a brand and product lines that can be trusted, we’re helping shape an industry. When we set out to create Altai, it was really to create a trusted brand in the cannabis sector that not only tasted great, but also was reliable. You knew every time it would give you that same effect—like having a glass of wine or a beer. To just take a bon bon or a mint and be able to relax from a day’s worth of stress at work and focus on home life—it’s a great alternative.
What's involved in the manufacturing process? RW: My business partner Mark Ainsworth was a pastry chef for Ritz-Carlton for eight years, and then started a company that had a 40,000-square-foot manufacturing facility where he produced for Whole Foods and Costco nationally. I talked to Mark [about] how we can really make an impact on bringing a brand into this industry that was responsible, consistent, and triple-tested, which is kind of new to the whole industry. We test our flour to make sure there’s no mold, mildew, or pesticides. Then we test the oil we use to manufacture our product for strength and clarity. Then we test our finished product, so that when we tell the consumer that it’s got 10 milligrams in it or 25 milligrams, they know what to expect every time. We’re in the food manufacturing business. One of our ingredients just happens to be cannabis oil.
How did you come up with the name for the company? RW: When researching everything, we came up with Altai, like the Altai Mountain range in the Himalayas. In 1993, they found a burial tomb of a Siberian princess in the permafrost. She was buried with six bridal horses and this ornate jar full of cannabis. In 2013, [scientists] did an MRI of her body and found out that she was suffering from Stage 4 breast cancer 2,500 years ago and using cannabis to treat it. That’s where we got the name and kind of the story behind the brand.
What is the recommended intake for users? RW: Altai is all about low dose—we call it micro-dosing. It only comes in 10 mg or 25 mg, so we always recommend for people that are just starting edibles to take one 10 mg the first day or night.
Can you talk about the difference between the strains of cannabis you use? RW: Our products are broken into either sativa or indica. Sativa is more uplifting, creative, and can help with focus. Indica is more for relaxing and typically a little bit higher in CBD, which really helps with pain relief. Typically, doctors always recommend sativa during the daytime and indica more toward the end of the night if you want to get some sleep. If you’ve got chronic pain, we always recommend indica.
What edible products are you currently developing? RW: CBD, which is a cannabinoid that helps with pain relief, is one of the big trends right now. A lot of cancer patients take CBD. It doesn't give you the head high that THC does. We talk to patients out at dispensaries about what they're looking for and what we can create to help them.