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With the legal cannabis market still in its infancy and projected to grow at roughly 27 percent a year, the opportunity is there for industry leaders to do good as much as do well. Or at least that’s how Nidhi Lucky Handa sees her role as founder and CEO of California lifestyle brand Leune. In our interview, she tells us how she began her mission to elevate cannabis culture, how a company like Uber inspired her, and why it’s important to maintain lofty goals.
What led you to launch Leune?
It was as a consumer. I’ve been a consumer most of my life, and when cannabis was legalized in California, I was so excited to go to dispensaries, but none of the brands spoke to me — it was an intimidating experience and not inclusive at all. So I saw an opportunity to solve the problem. I saw how the brand experience was bifurcating into two extremes, booty shorts and bikinis on one side and the other side wellness. Both are valid, but I thought, Who’s in the middle? Who wants to embrace legal weed, who isn’t ashamed of saying, “Hey, I’m not gonna have three drinks Friday night, I’m gonna get high.” Leune was borne out of that excitement, of wanting to build a brand that speaks to people like me.
How do you do that with your brand specifically?
The #1 problem we’re trying to solve is stigma. So I wanted very clear and transparent marketing, low footprint, eco-friendly packaging, and I wanted to cater 50-50 to a male-female audience. As a feminist, I don’t want to pay the “pink tax” that you often pay at the drugstore, like 20 percent more for a pink razor than a black one. Women make 80 percent of the spending decisions for the household, and that’s probably going to include the weed, so I wanted to build something aesthetic and thoughtful. I also want to be part of social justice reform and build something with an underlying mission without being performative. I think Leune today is a great example of a brand that does that — we’re thoughtful about our responsibility in this industry. People want to know, if they’re giving you their money, what are you doing with it? So it’s an interesting opportunity for a business to engage in those conversations.
Were there other brands, inside or outside the cannabis world, that particularly inspired you?
I think it’s an entrepreneur’s job to be lofty. I saw companies like Uber launched, and people would say, “Who’s gonna ever get into a stranger’s car?” But they had a lofty idea and changed how people think about things. So I’m inspired by the idea that when someone says, “That’s not possible, no one would go for that,” that there are these massive opportunities in a conscious, kind way. To this day, I still say to my team, our standards are not what’s in the industry, our standards are our own; we want to raise the level of conversation. Like, is weed just for getting high? No, we know it’s more than that. In this post-covid world, to be in an industry that addresses mental health and to elevate that conversation. Cannabis has been used for centuries.
What were some of the obstacles you faced getting to where you are now?
Supply chain, the cost, and availability of raw materials. It makes it complicated when supply chain is so up and down. This is not unique to California — it’s a trope of the industry — but we do live in a state where fire season has gotten worse every year, and all of these factors contribute directly to our business. Plus, there’s an ever-changing regulatory environment. It’s an industry that’s still figuring out which way is up.
Were there any cultural factors that came into play, either from the industry or from your own family and upbringing?
My journey with cannabis has been very similar to my journey with yoga and meditation. Each of these were part of my everyday life, and when I moved to LA thirteen years ago, white people tried to explain to me what yoga and meditation were about, and I’ve had a similar experience with cannabis. I wasn’t raised in the prototypically Indian, immigrant, conservative household — I was a child of entrepreneurs who left India to pursue their dreams, so they’ve been very generous about me doing the same. I’m a woman of color, but my heritage and my relationship with the plant go back a long way.
You mentioned social justice reform — can you tell us more about those relationships?
We have a relationship with Last Prisoner Project, and over covid we made reusable masks where all proceeds go to them. Separately, Leune is a sponsor of Momentum, an accelerator that supports social equity applicants to advance their businesses. So Leune is a sponsor, and I’ve also personally been a mentor in that program. The third thing is we support Broccoli’s Floret Coalition, which helps folks like us who want to contribute to social justice reform but don’t know where to best put our dollars. It raises money from different organizations in the industry and finds some of the best-run organizations to put money toward. My goal is always to have a product on the menu where 100 percent of proceeds go directly to a cause. This year, we have Hot Honey, where all proceeds go to Equality California, which builds awareness and education around the LGBTQIA community.
Any advice you’d like to pass on to other cannabis entrepreneurs?
We have to be lofty about our standards because we’re building this industry from the ground up. The beautiful thing about this opportunity is that we’ll all look back and be very proud of the choices we made or very regretful of the things we didn’t do. We get to set the standards, so that means we have to hold ourselves accountable to those standards.