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. Goldleaf products are available worldwide and the company also provides custom design services, now adorning select dispensaries and white-label products across the U.S. Formerly COO at Noble Denim & Victor Athletics, a sustainable and ethical clothing manufacturer, McElroy holds a B.S. in Engineering Technology and Management from Ohio University with an MBA track at Miami University in Business Informatics.
Learn what inspires Charles's journey, and more, in this insightful Q&A.
When did you get involved in the cannabis industry?
I was an activist in my home state of Ohio a few years back when we had a ballot initiative and continue to be an advocate for responsible legislation and updates to our penal system as it pertains to cannabis and non-violent drug offences. However, I got my start on the business side of cannabis recently with the creation of Goldleaf—back in 2016. It started as a labor of love—I wanted to create something to help people new to cannabis experience it in a guided and helpful way.
What experience are you bringing to Goldleaf? What industry were you in before? What’s your role now?
I have a varied background. I love to learn and always keep a pretty full plate. My background is in computer science, but I’ve always been active in the creative space. I’ve worked with a motley array of companies and organizations from tech and startups to family farms and non-profits, but some of my favorite, and most educational, experiences have been in small business and entrepreneurship. I helped start a sustainable clothing company in 2012 with a focus on ‘overbuild’ durable product, made regionally in rural US factories and comprised of organic and reclaimed materials. We did quite well, and although garments and fashion aren’t my passion, I very much enjoy the operational and product development side.
That experience certainly informed some of my decisions with Goldleaf and provided me with a rounded understanding of the business world and product manufacturing. My sweet spot is the intersection of the analytical and creative. This is partly why Goldleaf is so dear to me. It scratches both itches since it is very science-forward and research-driven in its mission, but paired with highly visual and aesthetically aware content. I think I have a good eye for design and user experience, and now have a healthy background knowledge of product dev and production—especially environmentally friendly methods. I brought this knowledge of production, my fluency with digital technology (web development, online operations and ecommerce) and my passion to improve the perception of legal cannabis to Goldleaf and I’m happy that our brand has been so warmly received.
How is Goldleaf changing the education game?
Well I certainly hope that it has a positive impact. One thing I know about perception is that imagery is incredibly important. I want to help further normalize cannabis, re-educate the decades of misinformation, and make the subject approachable and beautiful. The best way I know to do this is by creating content and products that are mature, science-forward and pleasing to the eye. The latter is very important because in this day and age, we have to combat shortened attention spans and constant stimulation. If I’m able to create something that visually draws someone in, so they can more fully digest and experience the content, then I feel like we’ve accomplished something. Having products that showcase the science behind cannabis in a helpful and pleasant way can only help progress the national conversation of this industry.
What's your favorite thing about the global cannabis industry?
I think it is the sense of community. Everyone who is in the industry, or simply an advocate for that matter, has something in common—something that has a colorful history of being both oppressed and celebrated. This industry seems to be very open and welcoming to all walks of life, all languages, races and cultures, and that is incredibly refreshing. The shared experience of working with cannabis means that everyone is aware of the polarization of the subject, everyone probably felt some sort of oppression around cannabis whether it is incarceration, social stigma or professional challenges, and everyone is aware that pushing for progress is a worthy fight. Certainly, some have come into the industry for financial gains alone, but in my experience, even those folks are self-aware and understand the weight that is collectively on the industry shoulders to keep fighting and making progress. I could still be a little naive about that, but overall, that sense of fraternity is pretty amazing.
The Patient Journal is such a great concept. Recently, you just collaborated with Habu Health on a new edition. What’s different?
Yes. I was thrilled to bring in Habu Health to our recent Patient Journal edition. We intentionally create our journals in small batches, so that we can update the content for each printing. There’s always new research and medical leaps happening with cannabis and we want our product to be as current as possible. By doing this small batch approach, it ensures we can always offer patients the latest insights and most accurate details. Although we’ve vetted our designs with many medical professionals—nurses, doctors and medical researchers—we were never able to put their names in the journal as a co-editor because of the polarizing nature of cannabis and the professional risks that it would place on many who work in the healthcare industry. I was thrilled when Habu Health agreed to collaborate since they are unapologetically involved in the cannabis industry and were not afraid of any national repercussions for being associated with cannabis.
The main change on this edition was a new tact on the ‘recommendations’ sections. Previously, we would list specific cultivars known to benefit certain ailments. Although this was something that our audience specifically asked for, it was a slippery slope due to the wild variety of chemical compounds found in even the same cultivar from different growers. Elements like growing technique and location have a major impact on the terpene profiles and cannabinoid levels of any given cultivar. So while we would pull our data from lab results in Colorado, they are by no means regulated or consistent from state to state or even grow to grow.
We updated this area to focus solely on the chemical makeup that can benefit an ailment, rather than the cultivar name. You can’t fake the lab results, and they are blind to the ‘marketing’ of cultivar naming conventions. Habu Health helped us create a comprehensive blueprint of chemical compounds and terpene profiles for common ailments that someone could check against whatever cultivars are available to them. Beyond those recommendations, this edition also features new artwork, a PSA about the Indica v. Sativa myth, and a step by step guide on how to find the right cultivar or product for your ailment. Other pages like the infographics and entry pages did not change from the previous version.
Overall, I think this latest version of the Patient Journal is on the bleeding edge of scientific understanding of cannabis, and much of that is thanks to the researchers and scientific minds at Habu Health.
Do you have any other collaborations you’d like to highlight?
We are in the process of created a few new journals with other industry leaders—one dedicated to cooking with cannabis, and another focusing exclusively on the wide world of CBD extracts. I’m not able to talk much more about those collaborations just yet, other than they are coming and we’re stoked about them. We’re also working on a few new medically focused art prints that I think many of our wholesale partners—mostly medical dispensaries, medical co-ops and research labs—have been asking for. They will fit right in with our other array of infographic/educational prints and we hope they are similarly well received by the community.
What are Goldleaf’s goals for 2018?
We hope to continue to find creative ways to engage with the community, collaborate, and make the science behind cannabis more appealing to those new to it. Much of what has been most exciting to us are the small collaborative efforts, filling our small niche within the industry and being able to truly straddle two worlds—the cannabis industry and conventional business. Our content is cannabis focused, but our products are journals and prints—conventional!. So, we don’t always have to deal with the same red tape as some and it gives us unique leverage to push back when we do face challenges with business support services. I kind of love that, it is our way to continue to be involved from an activist standpoint. I expect that to continue as we grow and I’m excited for some of the new content and products we have “on the stove” for this year.