When Jeremy Heidl came to Denver in 2010, you might say it was on a wing and a prayer. The recession had hit his trucking and construction businesses in Atlanta particularly hard. And as a lifelong lover of cannabis, he had been watching, with great interest, the medical cannabis boom going on in Colorado.
“We ended up packing up everything, cashing in our life savings, selling most of our possessions and then we drove across the country in a Penske truck with our two cats and a dog and made it happen,” Heidl told CULTURE.
The so-called “Green Rush” to Colorado produced plenty of successes and failures in those early days of changing regulations and uncertainty about federal enforcement, but few success stories can rival Heidl’s.
Starting with a single dispensary, he went on to co-found O.penVAPE, the vape pen that revolutionized the discreet vaporizing experience. Smaller, simpler and cheaper than anything else on the market at the time, it allowed cannabis users to puff practically anywhere. And the pre-filled cartridges of THC-infused oil, sold specifically for the O.penVAPE at medical cannabis dispensaries, eliminated the headache and mess of filling up the oil.
Today the pens and cartridges are available in 1,000 stores in nine states where medical or recreational cannabis is permitted, making it one of the largest consumer cannabis products in the nation. And with the tide of legalization continuing, Heidl, Chief Operations Officer, may only be getting started.
“We dreamt, like everyone in this industry dreams, that we were going to someday grow up to become what we are, but it came true.”
The entrepreneurial spirit was instilled in Heidl at a young age. In third grade, he realized that since lunch cost 90 cents, each student would have a dime of change after lunch. So he began selling blow pops to his schoolmates, at 10 cents each.
Fast forward to 2009. Looking for a lifeboat from the sinking ship of his own businesses, he and his wife made the decision to head west. The cannabis industry seemed rife with potential, and besides, it sure would be nice to live somewhere with legal cannabis.
His first dispensary investment seemed rocky when a landlord issue forced him to abandon an entire grow operation, so Heidl learned quickly to partner with others in Denver’s medical cannabis industry for product and assistance.
Vape pens were in their infancy in those days, and at his dispensary, Heidl fielded plenty of gripes about the products on the market. The oil was inconsistent, and if you loaded a pen but didn’t finish all the oil, get ready for a mess. And in many cases, the pens didn’t work right and manufacturers wouldn’t stand behind the product.
He’d gotten to know Ralph Morgan, owner of several medical cannabis businesses and Organa Labs, a Denver-infused product manufacturer. “Let’s do a better vape pen,” he said one day to Morgan.
Morgan replied, “I’ve got the formula,” and O.penVAPE was born.
Heidl isn’t quite sure how many O.penVAPEs he gave away in those first years, but it’s easily more than 100,000.
The pen and oil cartridges hit Colorado medical dispensaries in 2012. As a new product, Heidl figured patients wouldn’t be willing to spend a lot of money on a pen when they could just buy a sack of buds. So the pens—basically just a battery and an atomizer—were to attract the customers. The oil would keep them, and the lifetime warranty would ease their minds.
It helped that, with the passage of recreational cannabis in Colorado, there was a crackdown in Denver (amongst other places) about smoking in public. Here was a discreet, low-odor and tidy way to partake anywhere, whether at a concert at Red Rocks or in the bedroom while the kids are watching TV. And it was simple–just load the cartridge and inhale. There wasn’t even a button.
A few months later, it debuted in California, then in Washington. Since every state had their own quirks on cannabis regulations and the feds were always hovering like the Sword of Damocles, competing oil producers weren’t branching into other states. O.penVAPE hired lawyers to navigate these murky waters and licensed with growers and oil producers in each state to produce the O.penVAPE cartridges.
The battery and charger aren’t given away for free anymore, running about $20, but that doesn’t appear to have hurt business. As of late 2015, O.penVAPE was available legally in nine states.
Of course, there are plenty of other vape pens on the market these days, but O.penVAPE isn’t shying from the competition. In September, the company signed an agreement with Timeless Herbal Care in Jamaica to produce cannabis-infused products outside of the U.S. for the first time in history.
Closer to home, the company has also announced a partnership with CBD Biosciences to open a massive industrial hemp oil extraction facility, which is expected to employ 163 workers in a former rocket factory in Pueblo, Colorado, by 2017. Thankfully, with the passing of the 2014 Farm Bill which contains an amendment to legalize hemp production, and the Industrial Hemp Farming Act of 2015 which is currently in process, Heidl was able to work with local governments and acquire millions of dollars in incentives for the project.
In fact, all across its history, O.penVAPE has thrived because of such partnerships, Heidl said.
“What has made us as successful as we are is the ability to work in partnerships. It’s one of our core values and being able to partner with our licensees around the country and our vendors and our employees. Our tagline is ‘It’s what’s inside that counts,’ and it’s more than just the oil. It’s our people and our partnerships.”