Unique things are happening in the cannabis industry in Taiwan. Bringing on a guest to give light to the situation, Anthony Frischknecht talks with Zoe Lee of the Zhu Lu International Legal Office where she represents a variety of clients in cannabis and hemp-related cases. In this episode, Zoe lets us in on the legality of CBD in Taiwan and discusses where she works to clarify and pioneer its policies and overcome the barriers that lead to the opening of CBD legalization. Turning over the microphone, Zoe then interviews Anthony about his own CBD origin story and becoming a pioneer in the industry.
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Legalization Of CBD In Taiwan With Zoe Lee
I’m going to turn it over to you and you can go ahead and ask me some of your questions.
I know you joined this industry way earlier. Could you tell us your story of how you started?
Back in 2005, I’ve got a construction background. I grew up in the construction industry. My father was a carpenter my entire life. In the early 2000s, our housing and construction industry was booming. This was in Northern Colorado. At that time when that happened, everything was great. People were doing remodels on homes and they were fix and flips. They fix them up and sell them. I was looking for a business that I could take to my own. I have some friends that were in real estate and I had a roommate of mine that was very successful. I started talking to him about real estate. Where do I start, where do I do this? He said, “You got to start.”
I had no money. I didn’t know how I was going to do it, but I knew people that could help me in finding a place, potentially helping me figure out the remodel side. I had a lot of ideas on my own, but I didn’t know how to start. I talked to some family. I talked to my grandmother. I was so nervous because I was going to ask her for some money and getting on the phone with your family, especially when you’re young. I was 22 years old and I had a number of asking her for $15,000. At that time, when you have no money, $15,000 was like $1 million. I remember calling my grandmother up and saying, “Grandma, this is what I’m going to do. Would you consider lending me money?”
She goes, “How much do you need?” I said, “I’m looking for $15,000.” She paused for a second and in my mind, I’m like, “She’s going to tell me no. She’s not going to lend it to me.” She says, “I could probably do that.” In my mind, I was like, “This is actually happening.” My voice is cracking a little bit, “That’s awesome, thanks, grandma.” She’s like, “Let me get back to you in a couple of days and then we can get it sent to you.” She mailed me a check for $15,000. I was able to purchase a house with my friend and we were business partners. I did all the work and he helped me get the house.
In 2004, I had started doing a remodel on a place. It took me a year. I did it all on my own. I did sleep in the place. I worked a second job at Home Depot and Sears to pay my bills. Fortunately, I don’t have to pay rent because I was living in the construction. I paid my bills and we got it all ready to go and sell it and the market had dropped. We were able to sell it, but I didn’t make any money on it. I believe it just broke even. I started another project next door. In about a six-month period, I knew this wasn’t going to pan out again. It felt like the same thing.
I had a friend of mine that I had been talking to. He owned a hydroponic store and that’s where you get all the equipment and all the grow supplies. I had been doing some dinners with him and he’s like, “You should look at investing.” In the meantime, I borrowed that money from my grandmother. I didn’t know how I was going to pay her back because I wasn’t there. She ended up passing away and between a couple of time-periods. I didn’t have that debt that I had to pay right away, which allowed me to invest in the grow that I had been discussing with my friends.
Long story short, I started growing in a house with a 1,000 square foot basement. My friend had supplied me with the plants for the property so I could start growing. I had a bunch of little clones. They were probably three or four inches tall when I got them. This was in 2006. I was doing the remodeling on the house and I was starting to grow operation at the same time. I had rented a place, finishing up the remodel on the property and growing in a basement. As I was growing in this basement, I’m trying to finish up this project that wasn’t going to make me any money anyway. I was doing something highly illegal. I got through two harvests. The first harvest took me about six months. I was able to pay off my expenses in that first round. The second and third round, I was able to catch up.
In the meantime, I was able to finish that property. We put it up for sale, but I still didn’t make any money. At that time, I had to make something work or else I was going to be in the hole and I didn’t know how I was going to get there. I was making money, but I was stressed out because of the anxiety of growing illegally. I looked at trying to find a better way to do this. I started looking into medical. As I started researching medical, I was able to figure out how to work through that process. It took me about a year to figure that out. Getting your medical marijuana card and going through that and then also finding patients to grow for because that’s how it was legal in Colorado. You could grow it, but you had to grow it for people, only so many plants per person.
I started getting a full fledge business going. After about a year and a half, I had started a new grow facility down near Denver. I was doing a basement. It is as legal as it could be because I was following all the guidelines, but there wasn’t a lot of regulations at that time. I shut down my operation in Fort Collins and I moved outside of Denver. I started a new operation there and I was doing deliveries to my patients. I had 40 patients and I was doing deliveries up and down the front range. Things were going well. I was doing incredible. I had gotten another house nearby, the first property where I was doing my flowering and that’s the maturing the plant to create flowers.Businesses have huge undertakings financially to go in and start one of these grows. Click To Tweet
In one house, I was vegging the plants and growing them up to the size I needed. I’d move them over to the maturing house and I would flower them at that house for two months. I was doing that constantly back and forth. Every two and a half months, I would be able to flip those houses over and have a harvest. At the end of 2009, everything was going great. I had my patients going and I was covering everything. I was starting to make money. I was leaving my house one morning in Denver. I had moved down to Denver, but I was growing in these two houses and I was working constantly. I was driving hundreds of miles a month and I was doing it.
I had one assistant that was helping me with some of the growing, but I was doing it all on my own. I did that up until the end of 2009. In October of 2009, I walked outside my door and I got a greeting from the DEA. They said, “We are raiding your house and we know you’re growing marijuana there.” I flipped out. The fear that’s going through my body at that time was insane. I was up high, then I went down low and now I’m getting everything taken away that I’ve worked my tail off for the lasts several years. Not only that, I had challenges growing the whole time. You’re having issues, you’re farming. At that point, I had equipment. They only raided one of my homes. I had equipment at the other house where I was doing the flower and I took that equipment. I went with what little money I had left. I had about $15,000 and I borrowed some money from friends and family. I went and rented a 6,000 square foot warehouse. There was no choice. I couldn’t fail.
That was before recreational. I thought you have a license and you grew medical marijuana.
I did for the patients. The problem was that the local government didn’t know. Their sensor has very few regulations. When the DEA came, they threaten me and they never prosecuted me with anything. They never charged me with anything.
That’s scary and a lot of people are facing that. I was about to ask what kind of other harassment from police or government you’ve been facing before full legalization?
That was the big one that I had to deal with. There were also several other people that I knew were growers that are dealing with similar situations. They were being pestered by the DEA. They were using the old drug tactics of the drug wars that have been happening for decades.
You were being harassed by police and DEA before it’s fully legalized, even you have a medical license to grow cannabis, you are still having these problems.
Once we got to the warehouse and we found a landlord that would rent to us, we had some scares there, but most of it was dealing with the city and getting them to understand. They started developing regulations while we were in that warehouse. We were fortunate enough that we were early enough like where you guys are. We were able to start our business in somewhat of the gray area, which allowed us to start quickly. Businesses have huge undertakings financially to go in and start one of these grows. When we started ours with $30,000, they have to go in with millions.
After that, you keep growing and wait for it to be recreational legalized and you’re already way ahead of other competitors.
There were quite a few people growing, but it was still small. When we decided we’re going into the warehouse then it was, “This is real.” I acquired a couple of business partners throughout that time period because we had vertical integration, which is you got to grow it and then you’ve got to sell most of it on your own. It’s like opening two companies. We had a partnership and they ran the retail side of the facility. Me and another business partner grew the product and then we manage the warehouse.
Compared to the situation and back then, in the early stages when you started that warehouse, the size of growing the farm is different. That was way bigger.
It would be considered in an extremely small grow, but back then, it was bigger than most people could imagine because it was legal. You had never seen legal growth happening like this. When we’re looking at Colorado, there are tons of outdoor grow. There’s an outdoor grow in Pueblo that’s 36 acres and it’s all outdoors. It is huge plants they’re doing, but there are still some smaller grows. The majority of them, I would say mid-range, the smaller guys are probably growing in 15,000 to 20,000 square feet of grow space.
Back then, you were 1,000 square feet and you’re biggest.
I was 1,000 square feet in my biggest and then I went from 1,000 to 5,000 square feet. That was a huge leap.
It’s way bigger. The technique we need to use is way different. Back then, you can water it by yourself, but you need bigger scale-up pieces of equipment.
There’s a lot of automation that’s involved in Colorado because it’s the most mature market. I’m sure people out there will probably disagree with me, people from California and Oregon. It’s definitely a commercial scale. We’re seeing mainstream big companies. Their little companies are consolidating into larger companies. They’ve got 40,000 square feet of indoor and then they’ve got a couple of acres of greenhouse as well. It’s much larger than it used to be.
The progress is impressive. As a pioneer of the industry, what’s your opinion on the naming system? Nowadays, we have a Strawberry Banana, we have OG Kush. We have different names, but are they a real thing or are they making it for marketing? What’s your opinion?
That’s one of the things that hasn’t been accurately transitioned. It’s not accurate. These are names that were passed down from generation of growers and a lot of them have been crossed with other strains and created new strains. These are names that people came up with. They made them up and what it needs to come down to. I imagine it’s going to happen with medically soon. They’re going to take it and they’re going to break down the CBDs and the THC. They’re going to name them and they’re going to come up with normal things like Ibuprofen. They’re going to have these things that come out of it that make sense because right now, they don’t.
When is your first time? How many years you’d be using marijuana? The reason why I’m asking this is I want to know, did you see any difference between marijuana nowadays and the early days?
I haven’t had anybody ask me that one yet, but I didn’t start smoking until my late twenties. I was 27. It was right before I started growing. I understood if all this isn’t that bad. You hear from the old days because I wouldn’t consider it, it’s only been fourteen years since I last smoked. The older generation says it’s much stronger. It doesn’t take that much anymore. There are some high THC strains and there are not. They’re not for everyone. I’m not a heavy smoker. I don’t need a lot to feel the euphoria of the TCH. Some people smoke a lot and there is some tolerance that’s building up in people’s system and they need a little bit higher THC level. That’s all up to your personal feeling and what works for you. I think trying to share that with people and saying, “Not because one person likes it, that doesn’t mean it’s perfect for you.”
You don’t feel like it’s much difference between the old days’ cannabis and nowadays, those different strains.
I think there is because we’re getting more of a variety than we ever used to. Back in the underground days, you might’ve only had one or two strains to pick from. Now you have 50 and the other thing is people are allowed to focus on multiple harvests consistently over the years. They’re getting better at growing that plant. Of course, they’re producing a better product, which probably has higher THC and higher CBD in it. If you want to get down to at the terpenes and everything else, the plants definitely evolved. I don’t know if it’s us that are evolving or the plant is because the plant’s been around for thousands of years.
It sounds like, after legalization, we create a lot of new strains but we don’t know what. Is that new or the made-up? Do you think one day this chaos would cling up?
They’re going to come to a point and I’m guessing it’ll come after full legalization in the US. There’s going to be some companies that they’re going to be like, “We’re a brand and we’re going to build some stuff that we know what’s in it. We’ll call it, especially if it’s medically. We will find medical names to call this product that the plant produces.” I think that’s probably what will end up happening. It’s going to take some people that are working in this industry for long-term goals. They will be like, “This whole name thing doesn’t make sense. We want to make sure that our customer gets the same thing every time. It’s going to take doing that testing and creating those specific guidelines like, ‘This is what falls into this category.’” That’s what it’s going to take.
Before, people who grew cannabis is more an individual grow or smaller farm. Nowadays, it’s becoming big enterprises, like MedMen and Planet 13. Those are big dispensaries. They probably have big enterprises. I don’t know if this is a conflict of ideas if marijuana grows by everyone and getting into big enterprises. I laugh a little bit when I see this capitalism getting involved in this a hippie laugh when freestyle plan. I feel a little bit weird, but I want to know about your opinion on that. Maybe in the future, when a big company patents certain trends and most central agriculturism that make small farmers difficult to survive. What’s your opinion on that?
It’s going to depend on what market you’re in. Some markets are going to allow for the home growers still to happen. I know Colorado is that way. I believe you can have six mature plants and six immature plants, which means they are not flowering plants. Each state is different. That’s what’s crazy about the US. We’re trying to legalize a plant and 50 different countries are deciding how they want to legalize it. There’s a lot of confusion that’s happening. Some states are going to allow it or some counties are going to say what’s fine to grow. Those states will have some leeway and somewhat keeping the corporations or the big industry out and some are going to say, “We want them to control it.” You’re also going to find that in different countries outside of the US. There will be countries that are going to allow 1 or 2 licenses for these big corporations because they think that they can control it better.
It’s a matter of if you want to keep it in the hands of the people, you should always allow them to be able to have some part in growing their own medicine if they want. I’m not one way or the other. They both have a place as long as if you want it in your local area, you should pay attention to your regulations and get involved. That’s one of the biggest things I learned throughout this whole process is understanding regulations and being able to make them work for the community, instead of work for the government. That takes us and everybody else out there getting involved and saying, “I want a say in this.” I feel that sometimes our society doesn’t get that anymore. They’ve lost a lot of that and they let lawmakers pass stuff really simple. Especially with something as big as cannabis legalization, everybody should be involved. Whether they’re forward or against it, they should be involved. It’s a part of America, it is a part of our society, so take advantage of what you have.
Tony, thank you for time. Thank you for having me.
Thank you, Zoe. I hope we brought something a little bit different for you guys. I know this has been unique for me. Go to PlantProblem.com and give me your comments. If you want me to ask some other questions to Zoe or maybe some other information that you’d like to get out there, reach out to her, leave it in the comments. I will see what I can do to get that answer for you. Thanks a lot. I hope you have a great day. I look forward to talking to you soon. Bye for now.
- Zoe Lee
- Green Party Taiwan
About Zoe Lee
Zoe currently works at her own practice, the Zhu Lu International Legal Office, where she represents a variety of clients, international and domestic, commercial and private, on exclusively cannabis and hemp-related cases. One particular area of focus is on the legality of CBD in Taiwan which remains in a gray area, where she works to clarify and pioneer these policies.
Besides representing clients in court, she organizes training and workshops with several different community groups. In addition to defending this new industry she also defends the environment.
As an attorney with Wild at Heart Legal Defense council she currently leads a case against offshore wind developers who violated terms of their EIA. She also represents Wild at Heart during offshore wind committee working group meetings. After returning from Paris she also worked at the Ill-Gotten Gains committee where she leads cases to support transitional justice.