Charles McElroy is the founder of Goldleaf, a science-forward printing company for cannabis growers, patients and enthusiasts. Goldleaf empowers people by helping them better understand their interactions with the plant, and works to make the subject more approachable to new audiences.
A former volunteer with Marijuana Policy Project, a history supporting veterans education and access to medical marijuana, and several years studying permaculture and organic farming in Ohio and Colorado, McElroy created Goldleaf to benefit the evolving recreational and medical cannabis communities.
Charles tells us about his cannabis journey:
How did you get involved in cannabis?
I've been an advocate for most of my adult life - it originally stemmed from an interest in social justice reform, seeing the effects the current policies had on communities and farmers, and the general desire to help fight the injustice. I was later diagnosed with an autoimmune issue and came to cannabis again from a new angle-- wellness. Being in a (formerly) prohibition state-- I wanted to find a way to scratch my creative itch, and also do something to help normalize and elevate the community as I saw it. At the time, there were not a lot of well-designed cannabis brands out there. Most clung to the 'stoner culture' vibe and still championed the same handful of words, phrases and colors with their presentation. All things I felt didn't raise the community up and show it in the mature and responsible light that I felt was needed for further normalization. That is when I can up with the idea for Goldleaf-- something that could have a much farther reach, and show the subject in a respectful and elegant light. Goldleaf is a cannabis company that is not a cannabis company-- so we are not barred from shipping our content around the world and frequently 'cross the media aisle' due to our approach and. I felt that using design and analog tools as my vehicle for communication, I could engage with new audiences and tactfully show them the benefits of cannabis (without all the emotional baggage that some generations still cling to).
What is your mission with Goldleaf?
In short, we aim to make the science behind cannabis approachable and beautiful. We want to educate, enlighten, and be the filter that takes cutting edge cannabis research, and boils it down into understandable topics and lessons for the average person. All wrapped up in compelling and gorgeous design. We focus on the 'print' world (art prints, journals, cards, etc.) because I think it is a natural companion to the subject. An analog journal or art piece forces someone to slow down, be mindful, and focus without the distractions of an app or screen.
Where do you see yourself in the industry in 5 years?
Very hard to say! We're about to turn 4 and I couldn't guess we'd be where we are now. I can say that I hope to continue to work with other like-minded organizations and brands in the space to continue creating amazing collaborations (in the way of art pieces, educational materials and new things for people to nerd out on). We've begun having our journals translated into other languages, so I see that continuing to grow as other countries adopt pro-cannabis policies. I also want to continue to be a leader in cannabis education and design through the projects we choose to take on, and our ongoing work.
What's the biggest challenge of working in the cannabis space and the biggest reward?
The biggest challenges have all been digital. While we have no trouble working with printers, binders, finishers, insurance companies, lawyers and other supporting companies, many big players in tech have not been so friendly: Amazon, Facebook, Google and Pinterest to name a few. Even though we deal in information and printed items, we're still blacklisted from using most of their services just as if we were a producer. While this is frustrating and needless in my opinion (since we don't ACTUALLY violate any of their posted policies) - it is a fight we cannot win simply because we have some blacklisted keywords on our website (which all use the scientific vernacular, but that doesn't matter). I guess the silver lining is it has placed our company on equal footing as others in the space, so we're just as versed in the challenges with digital marketing as any other cannabis brand.
The biggest reward is probably the feedback we get from clients and customers. While we were the first to market with many of our flagship items (medical cannabis tracking journal and growing journal) - these have become a little more common, but still don't go through the content development that we do. Each edition is vetted with experts in the space, and all the infographics and education are culled from primary source material (peer-reviewed). We also update our work at a regular cadence as new research comes available. Our Patient Journal for example is on its 12th edition. This focus on content, while it slows us down, has also garnered us a great reputation for high-integrity and care in our products. When we hear the stories and feedback about how our work has helped someone better understand their own therapy, or how we have helped a brand successfully deliver product education-- it feels really great.
Do you have any advice for any fellow cannapreneurs?
I think any new brand or idea is going to be existing in the digital space (in one way or another). I would encourage folks to invest in quality design and branding out of the gates - it is a great way to stand out and while it is often an investment upfront, it pays off over the life of your brand. It is a way to show your audience that you care about what you do and aren't just in it for the money. We see so many cannabis brands (startups and established) who focus solely on monetary gains and that is reflected in how they showcase their brand (as well as how they treat their vendors and employees). We do a lot of B2B custom design work and we can always tell the brands and companies who will last. The digital space rewards authenticity above all else. You have to care about what you are doing or people will see right through it. Having a good brand (visually) is a good first step in controlling that perception.