Replacing a marijuana industry icon: Q&A with Wana Brands President Joe Hodas

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Image of Joe Hodas

Joe Hodas (Photo courtesy of Wana Brands)

Before Joe Hodas became the chief marketing officer at Colorado-based marijuana edibles maker Wana Brands in March 2020, his career was at a crossroads.

The month before, he laid off nearly every employee, including himself, at Gofire, which had released its first metered cannabis dose inhaler in late 2019.

The industry was still reeling from the vape health crisis at the time, and supply-chain issues with product manufacturers in China were gradually surfacing as concerns of a mysterious virus intensified.

Plus, funding for cannabis companies had dried up.

Hodas, who spent four years as CMO with Denver-based marijuana products maker Dixie Elixirs, was at an inflection point, questioning his next move and assessing other opportunities outside the cannabis space.

By then, he had become good friends with Nancy Whiteman, one of the longest serving CEOs in the industry.

They met in early 2014, when Colorado became the first state to launch an adult-use retail market.

“As I began to reevaluate and take stock,” he told MJBizDaily during a recent Zoom call, “I realized I was too damaged to go anywhere else.”

During a college visit with his son in Indiana, just before lockdowns became a household term, he called Whiteman and told her he wanted to join Wana.

“That’s how we ended up coming together,” said Hodas, who was appointed Wana’s president last month, at the helm of the company she launched in 2010.

“That was a little over four years ago.”

Today, Hodas is in charge of arguably the most recognizable cannabis gummy maker in the country, overseeing about 130 employees nationwide.

The brand, which competes in 17 U.S. markets as well as Puerto Rico and Canada, generates nearly $300 million in annual sales.

Hodas discussed a wide range of issues with MJBizDaily, including his top priorities, lessons learned under Whiteman, the company’s potential return to the California market as well as his takes on such industry developments as mushroom sales at unlicensed New York retailers and hemp-derived products.

What are your immediate priorities in the new role?

No. 1 is clear for me, which is maintain the culture that we have here at Wana.

It’s something Nancy and I talked about a lot, and I take it very, very seriously because it is a big part of our success.

It’s a big task to take a company of about 130 people that are disparately spread throughout the United States and make sure that we maintain that sense of connectedness and culture.

How do you approach succeeding Nancy Whiteman, and what parts of her leadership do you view as essential to continuing the company’s legacy?

Image of Nancy Whiteman
Nancy Whiteman (Courtesy photo)

There’s a real reminder of the shoes I’m trying to fill.

Nancy has a very unique way of gathering and then distilling information and then making decisions.

She’s extremely patient and diligent about getting input and feedback and really workshopping things over and over.

That approach is something for me personally that I need to work on. I tend to be a little more like, “Decision made – boom! – let’s move on to the next thing.”

It’s early days for you, but talk about the mark you want to leave on the company and how you plan to do that.

I would be really happy if at the end of my tenure … there’s a very clear demarcation between the great things that Nancy did, and I took that and moved it even further ahead.

Some of the formulations we’re working on right now are so unique and specialized and really bridge the gap between cannabis as just a recreational product with cannabis (for specific uses) that are really going to help people live better lives.

If I can kind of move that forward, then job well done, in my opinion.

How does Wana look at market share? Obviously, it’s a state-by-state type of ballgame, but there are a few other major edible products makers, including Wyld and Kiva.

The problem is, that doesn’t really define success of a company.

Success means that we’re getting our product in the hands of as many people as we can. But secondarily that we are doing it profitably and not at the expense of our partners, our employees and the product quality.

We are not believers in the race to the bottom.

We’re never going to be the lowest price. And that’s how you gain market share, by being low price, giving away free products.

That’s not our game. That’s not our strategy.

So when you ask, “Is market share important?” It’s an important metric to be aware of, but it has to be balanced and has to be in context with everything else.

In Colorado, we look at that pretty regularly. It’s our home market, and Wyld is really strong here.

We look at, where’s Wyld, where’s Wana, where’s Dialed In (Gummies). It’s an important data point but not the be-all, end-all.

At one point, Wana had a line of disposable vape pens. Does the company still manufacture those and do you envision expanding into other product categories given your name recognition?

We had an exclusive on some technology that expired about a year into the relationship, and thereafter, the disposable vape market and the price points began to tank.

It was really challenging to find a differentiator.

Once that course had run, we decided vapes were no longer a viable market for us.

We like to play where we can clearly demonstrate value, we can clearly show a differentiator from everything else in the market.

That allows us to maintain that premium price point as a premium brand.

How do you and Wana view the low-dose, hemp-derived THC product space?

I don’t think you can be a product or brand in the cannabis industry currently and not be looking at that space and saying, “What’s going on, and what is feasible there?”

But there’s also a proliferation of fly-by-night and delta-8 companies that are in it for a quick buck and are potentially hazardous to the industry and hazardous to consumers that really could set us back in many, many ways.

We know that there is demand for lower dose.

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Are there certain markets or states that Wana is excited about?

Top of mind for me is New York. And our launch there is imminent.

It’s such an interesting market. New York is just massive and crazy and has its own ecosystem.

Yet, you also have this weird confluence of all these illegal trap shops.

Not only can you hit three of them within a one-block walk, but I walked into one and this guy in the back had a pina colada machine.

So, I could get a THC slushy from right there if I wanted.

And he had a whole mushroom section, including mushroom vapes.

What made us hesitant about jumping in was the illicit market and the competition there because you’re dealing with, in many cases, California brands and legal products sold in illegal shops.

How does Wana view California after exiting the market a few years ago?

One of our sister companies, Jetty, is obviously a big, big player in that market. We have pretty good intel from them. (In 2021, Canopy Growth Corp. acquired Wana for $350 million. Canopy’s newly formed American unit, Canopy USA, is folding Wana, Jetty Brands and Acreage Holdings under its banner.)

(The California market is) getting better. (But) it’s still not a market where we feel like we can go in and be successful with the model that that we like, which is where we don’t lose money.

We will be back there for sure at some point. We’re not quite ready.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Chris Casacchia can be reached at