Marijuana Facts

Nathaniel Rateliff gets into the weed business — with help from Willie Nelson

Willie’s Reserve, the Denver-based cannabis brand from singer-songwriter Willie Nelson, recently unveiled its first partnership with a Colorado musician.

Soul-revival band Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats has lent its name to a line of Willie’s Reserve vape pens made with “a high-quality strain of cannabis, known as Cherry AK.” The 500-milligram distillate cartridges are available at eight LivWell shops in Denver, Garden City and Fort Collins, according to Willie’s Reserve.

“(Willie) met the guys at Farm Aid 2016, which was their first year playing that event, and that day was all a conversation about agriculture. And nothing has energized agriculture in America like the legalization of cannabis,” said Elizabeth Hogan, a co-founder of GCH Inc., the company that owns and runs the Willie’s Reserve and Willie’s Remedy brands. “Ever since then, we’ve talked about what it means, and they’ve expressed interest along the way in doing this.”

Willie’s Reserve was looking to partner with a band making an impact with both its music and its advocacy, Hogan said. Rateliff’s act — which rose to national prominence in 2015 with the upbeat single “S.O.B.” — fit that bill, thanks in part to The Marigold Project, a nonprofit Rateliff founded to work for social and economic justice.

“We are such fans of what those guys are doing in the world,” Hogan said. “It’s impressive that this band on the big rise is taking the time and effort to have those conversations.”

The timing of the Cherry AK cartridge debut is no accident, either. Having released a pair of studio albums and a live album from Red Rocks Amphitheatre, Rateliff and his band also opened for The Rolling Stones at Broncos Stadium at Mile High on Aug. 10 and have an already sold-out two-night headlining stint at Red Rocks on Aug. 21 and 22. Harnessing the publicity surrounding those events helps not only potential Colorado sales but also sales in future markets.

“They’re excited to launch their project in Colorado because it’s their home, but the intention is to bring this collection to other states,” Hogan said.

Colorado is currently the No. 1 market for Willie’s Reserve products. Since launching in August 2016, more than 1.2 million Willie’s Reserve Ready Roll joints have been sold here, and the brand is currently available in about 180 shops statewide, according to the company. Moreover, the volume of Willie’s Reserve vape products sold in Colorado has grown 120 percent year-over-year, the company said, although it declined to share revenue numbers.

“Our best-moving items are half-gram vape cartridges and eighths of packaged flower, but ready-rolls have been really, really popular, and we’re bringing new edibles pretty soon,” Hogan said.


The growth plan extends to Willie’s partnership with Rateliff & the Night Sweats. Although Willie’s Reserve currently sells products in six states, it’s launching the Nightstache Collection (as it’s called) in Colorado first so the band can connect with local farmers before adding more products. For example, the Cherry AK in Rateliff’s vape pen is grown by AJ’s Craft Cannabis, based in Boone, in Pueblo County.

“We’re launching with this half-gram vape cartridge because that product does really well in Colorado, and it meets the needs of a lot of different types of consumers,” Hogan said. “But we anticipate following up with other Nightstache products like flower and ready-roll, and some strain selections.”

But will it sell? There’s a lot of competition in the world of celebrity weed brands. As musically accomplished as Rateliff and his bandmates are, they’re not exactly known as stoner heroes — here or anywhere else.

“I don’t worry about a stoner reputation being necessary for this project,” Hogan said. “And maybe the idea of being a stoner is being replaced by more interest and use of cannabis for how people are living. Working with Willie, we see all kinds of opportunities for translating a big cannabis reputation into a big cannabis brand. I mean, he started this conversation (about cannabis) years ago. But what we’re seeing with younger artists is not just about the substance, but about all the things it represents and the conversations they can have around it.”

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