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legacy cannabis beverage brand cq enters mass market

CEO Kenny Morrison raps about first venture outside of California

The team at CQ talks a big game, and understandably.

Their beverages have rocked the California market for a decade, and weathered “multiple raids by law enforcement and DEA” in the process.

Also pretty cool is that the founder of CQ’s parent company, VCC Brands, is Kenny Morrison, a former kid actor who starred in The Never Ending Story II among other films and shows including Growing Pains.

With CQ entering the Mass market—the brand’s first expansion outside of California, and its first time making carbonated drinks—with Blackberry Lemon Lime and Mandarin Dream among other treats, we asked Morrison about their Bay State endeavor …

“It’s been a long time coming to manifest these drinks on the East Coast, we’re excited to make it happen,” he said. “I’m from California but my dad is from Maine. To launch the drinks into his corner of the country feels special to me. New Englanders have embraced canna-beverages in a way that even Californians have not, and cannabis drinks are still disallowed by the regulations in Florida. We all know that cannabis beverages are the future, so it’s nice to see Massachusetts lead the way in many respects.”

Our complete interview follows …

Regarding CQ being the first cannabis beverage on the market back in 2012, that really seems like a lifetime ago. Please briefly transport us back to that time and place and tell us what it was like when it finally came out.

The product was released in late 2012 to the first few stores. Then, we were voted the best drink at the 2013 High Times Cannabis Cup. That really put us on the map. A long list of CA stores called the next day to order the product for the first time. In 2014, we won Best Drink in the state of Washington at Dope Magazine’s Dope Cup. We just won Best Drink at a 2022 contest at the Coachella Music Festival this year that was put on by LA Weekly, a local paper here in Los Angeles. Ten years of being called potent and delicious makes us feel really good.

What’s an experience you had in the wild west of cannabis that is unlikely to repeat itself in a market like Mass? 

Being raided by 100 law enforcement officers including the DEA. Having almost a million dollars seized by them. Having them illegally sell stock from the personal brokerage account of one of our employees, empty out the bank accounts of employees, even our parents’ retirement accounts, completely unrelated funds. It wasn’t just company money that they seized, it wasn’t just company cash in our safe. They froze the bank accounts of anyone they wanted.

And they did all of it without ever even making one arrest. At the end of the day, we were following state law so they couldn’t figure out what to arrest us for. They took the money simply because they could, because with the way the law was worded at the time, the industry had no arrest protections. Licenses were not being issued yet. Civil asset forfeiture still exists, and is still a huge problem in this country, but I don’t see this happening over some cute little carbonated beverages in Mass…

What’s something you have learned about bringing the brand into new markets? Tell us about your co-packer Wemelco and why you chose them … 

The industry requires grit and commitment, despite what anyone thinks, it’s not a get rich quick scheme. We felt Wemelco had the determination and vision to succeed despite the inevitable unknowns that arise in overly regulated industries. The principals over there have a solid work ethic and a solid background in compliance.

Cannabis Infused Beverage

Cans design created by muralist and illustrator Priscilla C. Witte

With there already being some competition on the ground, what’s a way that you are trying to distinguish CQ? 

We don’t focus too much on what others are doing in beverages to distinguish ourselves. We’ve been making the best tasting drinks for a long time. We’ll challenge anyone to a taste test.

Why did you go with the flavors you’re bringing here? I’m looking forward to the Watermelon-Cucumber.

Watermelon Cucumber is super refreshing. It got second place at the LA Weekly contest I mentioned this year (one of our other flavors got first). Half of the Mass flavors are our best sellers or winners from California. Mandarin Dream and Vanilla Pear Cardamom are exclusive to Massachusetts. Then we’ll have some fun seasonal offerings in the fall and winter. Out in Cali we drink this stuff year-round, but I’ve learned that Massachusetts folks can’t survive on seltzer alone. I get it, let’s celebrate the seasons. I dig that sentiment. It’s too bad we barely have them in California.

And finally, how has your acting inspired and influenced your career in cannabis? Has it opened doors? Do you have other actor friends who are now in the industry? 

No and no on the last two … haha! But how has it influenced my cannabis career? Working on movies requires insane dedication and long hours. You work until you get everything done that was planned for the day regardless of how long it takes. Everyone is fully committed, confronting obstacles with a sense of joy and purpose. People on set usually love what they do for a living, and have to totally give themselves to their profession. I got my work ethic and love of collaboration from the film industry. I try to approach creating drinks as a bit of an artform too.

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