Tea & THC: Lady Entrepreneurs Aim to Take Your Happy Hour Higher

Amanda Jones (l) and Jennifer Chapin (r) co-founded Kikoko, a start-up serving mildly marijuana-laced teas designed to appeal to women like themselves.

Amanda Jones (l) and Jennifer Chapin (r) co-founded Kikoko, a startup serving teas mildly laced with marijuana designed to appeal to women like themselves. (Rachael Myrow/KQED)

On a recent evening in Palo Alto, roughly 50 women arrived in a festive mood. For one thing, they were told to dress for a tea party, so they were all wearing gorgeous, 1950s-style dresses and great big hats. For another, they were expecting to get high.

With retail sales of recreational marijuana expected to go legal in California on Jan. 1, one small startup is building its client base with marijuana-laced tea parties around the Bay Area.


For the brainy, well-to-do set in Palo Alto, nothing goes over quite so well as cucumber sandwiches, macarons and a witty, educational talk about the history and science of marijuana.

“One hundred million of us [Americans] live with chronic pain. I’m one of them. I have back issues,” co-founder Amanda Jones tells the attentive crowd during a brief but comprehensive slideshow. “We have a huge problem with prescription medications.”

They look like any other line of teas at a gourmet grocery store, but these pack a punch, albeit a modest punch. Each contains a modest amount of marijuana, just enough to take the edge off of a range of ailments, including anxiety and sleeplessness.
They look like any other line of teas at a gourmet grocery store, but these pack a punch, albeit a modest punch. Each contains a modest amount of marijuana, just enough to take the edge off a range of ailments, including anxiety and sleeplessness. (Photo: Rachael Myrow/KQED)

If this sounds a little sedate … well, that’s the idea. Kikoko, the company sponsoring this tea party, is targeting women. That is to say, women looking to take the edge off before bedtime, not to get baked on the couch with a pizza, watching Netflix.

Kikoko co-founder Jennifer Chapin explains, “We realized we were on to something when we talked to so many women who were reliant on pharmaceuticals, and not necessarily happily. If we could come up with a reliably dosed product, we’d have a winner.”

It wasn’t as easy as you might think, says Jones. “We went through three, I think, science teams? Before …four? Before we actually cracked the nut.”

There was also quite a bit of — cough — personal research to fix on a product that would stand out from the crowd of options available now on the medical marijuana market: mints, gummy bears, tinctures, et cetera. Jones says, “Just put it this way: In the last three years, we’ve done a lot more weed than we ever, ever did before in our lives.”

Pick a cup, any cup.
Pick a cup, any cup. (Photo: Rachael Myrow/KQED)

They finally landed on water-soluble tea blends laced with a tiny bit of THC, the psychoactive ingredient in cannabis that gets you high: 3 to 10 milligrams, tops; “micro-dosing,” they call it.

Partygoer Lori — let’s just call her Lori, shall we? — says she is not looking for a new addiction.

“I am not a big, uh, marijuana person.”

I ask her what I ask everybody at the party who responds in this fashion: “Did you use it in college?”

“Yes,” she replies, before going on to assure me she’s not a regular user now. For some women, this is doubtlessly true. Others at the party are concerned about the judgment of their bosses or clients. After all, recreational marijuana is not legal yet.

Kikoko's Chelsea McKrill explains the products' properties. Because it takes longer for the body to process the THC in edibles, some people will consume too much, thinking “Nothing is happening!” Then, all of a sudden, too much is happening. “Start low and go slow,” is the company mantra.
Kikoko’s Chelsey McKrill explains the products’ properties. Because it takes longer for the body to process the THC in edibles, some people will consume too much, thinking “nothing is happening!” Then, all of a sudden, too much is happening. “Start low and go slow” is the company mantra. (Photo: Courtesy of Tara Kaplinksy)

But Lori would like a little help getting better sleep and, sweeping her arm to include the rest of the room, Lori says she suspects others want the same. “We’re all looking for the magic pill, I guess.”

Kikoko’s teas run the gamut from herbaceous to fruity, and like its marijuana-free competitors, each promises to address a different issue; or should I say desire. Chelsey McKrill sizes up one guest and suggests she try a cup of Sensuali-Tea.

McKrill explains, “It’s 7 milligrams. It has rose petals, cardamon, hibiscus, cloves, lavender. It’s not caffeinated so it’s going to enable you to go to sleep later and have some fun in the meantime.”

This is not a product your teenager will want to steal from the cupboard, unless it’s for the flavor.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Chapin explains she and Jones were originally inspired by the difficulty they observed a friend experience trying to find a medical marijuana product that would address her physical suffering without wiping her out.

Got the munchies yet?
Got the munchies yet? (Photo: Rachael Myrow/KQED)

“Our friend Jan had ovarian cancer and she was using cannabis to medicate for sleep, pain, appetite. On the one hand, she had great results with it. On the other, she’d be knocked on her butt and she’d be crawling on her hands and knees.”

Small dosages may also be a better fit for customers either just beginning to use recreational marijuana, or coming back to it for the first time in many years.

“We’re seeing cannabis consumers coming out of the closet, and they don’t look like the traditional 18-21-year-old male. They span every race, every ethnicity, both genders, as well as all income brackets,” says David Downs, cannabis editor at the San Francisco Chronicle.

He adds, “Prohibition drove up the potency of these products and legalization is going to drive them back down, as companies seek to reach bigger and bigger markets. Most of those markets have very low tolerance for cannabis.”

From left to right: Jacqueline Turner, Jennifer Chapin, Linda Jackson, and Amanda Jones. Jackson, aka "Ganja Mamma," is a nurse who has spent the last 25 years specializing in helping seniors learn how to use medical marijuana.
From left to right: Jacqueline Turner, Jennifer Chapin, Linda Jackson and Amanda Jones. Jackson, aka “Ganja Mamma,” is a nurse who has spent the last 25 years specializing in helping seniors learn how to use medical marijuana. (Photo: Rachael Myrow/KQED)

To purchase Kikoko teas today, you do have to have a medical marijuana card. In January, the game changes, and Kikoko’s potential market expands. The question is: Are they ready for expanded competition?

Downs worries that all the new regulations and red tape coming down the pike in California will quickly drive out small players like Kikoko. “Cannabis is in a period of intense capitalization, and it goes without saying that the people with the most access to capital in America tend to be white males.”

Don’t tell that to Jones and Chapin. They have no illusions about gender bias in business, but they’ve managed to raise more than $3 million so far, from investors who trust they know best how to market to people like themselves.

Tea & THC: Lady Entrepreneurs Aim to Take Your Happy Hour Higher 18 November,2017Rachael Myrow

  • Greg Feneis

    Enjoyed this one on the radio. Lots of word play.

Author

Rachael Myrow

Rachael Myrow is KQED’s Silicon Valley Arts Reporter, covering arts, culture and technology in San Mateo, Santa Clara and Santa Cruz Counties. She regularly files stories for NPR and the KQED podcast Bay Curious, and guest hosts KQED’s Forum.

Her passion for public radio was born as an undergrad at the University of California at Berkeley, writing movie reviews for KALX-FM. After finishing one degree in English, she got another in journalism, landed a job at Marketplace in Los Angeles, and another at KPCC, before returning to the Bay Area to work at KQED.

She spent more than seven years hosting The California Report, and over the years has won a Peabody and three Edward R. Murrow Awards (one for covering the MTA Strike, her first assignment as a full-time reporter in 2000 as well as numerous other honors including from the Society of Professional Journalists, the Radio Television News Directors Association and the LA Press Club.
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