AE Global’s Derek Thomas on Cannabis Credibility and Sustainability
Where you grew up and where you live now.
I grew up in Jupiter, Florida when it was a small beach and fishing town. After living in Washington, DC, Los Angeles and Europe, I am now back in South Florida, living in Fort Lauderdale.
Your current role in the cannabis industry and where you live.
My current role is Director of Growth for AE Global, a comprehensive packaging and supply chain solutions provider focused on custom solutions for MSOs, SSOs and cannabis brand owners. Our headquarters are in Miami, and we have team members in major markets across the country to better serve our customers.
A story about the positive impact of cannabis on your life.
I was already a strong cannabis advocate and worked in the industry for almost eight years when I was diagnosed with celiac disease. The allergy and symptoms I was experiencing came on suddenly in my early thirties and were sometimes so severe that I had to work from home. It took a year of following a new restrictive diet and taking supplements religiously to get my gut back on track.
I had never been into edibles, but decided to try them for localized pain in my stomach and GI tract during this time. Most cannabinoid-infused edibles have provided some relief, and I have found gummies infused with a THC:CBD ratio of 2:1 or 1:1 to reduce my pain and inflammation to almost imperceptible levels and reduce my worst symptoms. The edibles I consumed that year returned my quality of life to what it was before my celiac disease onset, and midway through my activist and cannabis career, I found a new deep connection with the plant.
A favorite flower, edible, product or brand.
Wyld makes a 2:1 THC:CBN elderberry flavored sleep gum. When I have trouble falling asleep, these gummies are the best remedy I’ve found for a restful night without the feeling of sleepiness in the morning. Plus, they taste great.
The biggest challenge facing cannabis marketers today.
Cannabis marketers face a myriad of challenges. Fluid regulations in each state can render a campaign ineffective or even illegal. Major media organizations in broadcast and internet media, such as television and social media platforms, do not allow cannabis content, ban ghost content, or arbitrarily remove entire campaigns. Not to mention, this is a crowded space, so standing out even with these tools mainstream companies have is a monumental challenge.
In my opinion, the biggest challenge facing cannabis marketers is fighting misinformation. It has been around since the beginning of our fledgling industry and is the byproduct of a century of misinformation, legal prohibition, and cultural stigma. It has been compounded by bad actors in the industry making false claims about the effects of cannabinoids, terpenes, their growth process, formulations, sustainability, and social justice efforts. It’s an unfair reality that cannabis operators doing everything in their power must address, and it likely requires a collective effort between brands, regulators, and cultural influencers.
One thing you are passionate about right now in branding, partnerships or cannabis marketing.
We have seen a significant increase in awareness from brand managers and marketers who recognize that the cannabis industry has a growing sustainability issue. The collective desire to seek solutions that will help solve the waste problem, not whitewash it, is increasingly at the forefront of conversations. I am hopeful that the cannabis industry can evolve and become one of the most sustainable and environmentally friendly industries in the world.
A cannabis trade/social justice organization that you support.
In 2012, I was arrested for possession of cannabis in Miami Beach. I only received a written arrest, so I quickly moved on from the ordeal with a check to a local attorney. But the experience opened my eyes to the vast disparity in treatment and outcomes that BIPOC encounters when arrested for possession of marijuana and all drugs.
In 2020, I became aware of The Weldon Project, a local Los Angeles-based organization that works to free prisoners convicted of non-violent marijuana-related crimes. The story of Angelos Weldon is a maddening example of the perversion of justice surrounding marijuana laws. After Weldon’s release from federal prison and the subsequent pardon of then-President Donald Trump, Weldon founded The Weldon Project. He began working to free other victims of the federal legal status of cannabis. I love their local approach and their campaigns focused on direct results for prisoners.
A recent project you are proud of.
AE Global recently launched its Amplify beverage enhancer for water-based nano and emulsified liquids and oil-based tinctures. Amplify is a child-resistant plastic squeeze bottle that features a pour spout for controlled portions, a leak-proof screw cap and a clear “dosing cap” with 1-5ml markings for those who prefer a dose of accuracy. Its colors and sizes are fully customizable, and it’s the perfect size for travelling.
Someone else’s project you admired recently.
Curaleaf recently launched a new product for its Select brand called Select Squeeze, which AE Global helped bring to life. While the liquid in the product itself is excellent, I found the development of their latest delivery format particularly admirable. Select Squeeze is an all-new delivery format for liquid and tincture products for the cannabis industry. The bottle has a precise dosing mechanism in the cap, which means you can serve the exact amount suggested on the label, and you can also “pour free” the liquid if you wish. It’s a big upgrade from the standard dropper used to dispense tinctures and other liquids. I find it impressive that they launched the new product format with 56 different SKUs simultaneously in 14 markets during Chinese New Year and in the midst of the Covid pandemic.
Someone you look up to in cannabis who is doing great things.
I first walked into the Simply Pure dispensary in Colorado in 2017 and quickly heard about the founder and CEO, Wanda James. Since then, she has remained in my mind as a thought leader, influencer and worthy of admiration for her work on behalf of the cannabis industry. Wanda is a badass. She was the first – and for a long time the only – owner of an African-American dispensary in Colorado. She’s a former Navy lieutenant, worked on President Obama’s National Finance Committee, and served on the Amendment 64 task force that laid the groundwork for cannabis regulation in Colorado.
What you would be doing if you weren’t in the cannabis industry.
I would no doubt be involved in environmental conservation efforts in some way.