Kerby Coman runs his business by his personal motto: “If your dreams don’t scare you, you’ve got to find bigger dreams.”
His brand, Green Degree, encompasses cannabis retail and cultivation sites; CBD through Hempire Co.; Trich Productions, through which Coman and his brother Cody Coman put on community events geared to the cannabis community; and Khitz 107.1 radio.
Kerby Coman recently partnered with Anchorage bar Chilkoot Charlie’s to put a dispensary in its swing bar. At the heart of all of these enterprises is the desire to educate Alaskans about the benefits of cannabis, he said.
“My passion is trying to put this plant out there how it should be perceived,” he said. “We’re out to change the public perception of this plant. It all boils down to people being ill-informed. We want to educate them in a professional manner.”
Coman was one of the first people in Alaska to get cultivation and retail licenses. Over the past few years, he’s watched some of the early businesses consolidate and close their doors.
“It’s a natural balance,” he said, adding that many of the people who got into cannabis just for the money didn’t last. “But anyone that’s growing good-quality products, has good customer service and good retail, you shouldn’t have a problem.”
To be viable, Coman said, “you have to be integrated and keep things as much in-house as possible.”
Vertical integration is the business model he’s following. Green Degree includes three limited cultivation sites, and Coman has his eyes on expansion. He recently opened a cultivation facility in Mat-Su that consists of giant insulated hoop-houses and is licensed for 50,000 square feet.
The technology “is kind of a proprietary product for us,” he said. The hoop-houses are in use year-round and are heated using infrared heat. The first crop from Coman’s first 10,000-square-foot site was under flower in February is slated for harvest in March.
Another hoophouse is under construction, with plans for two more after that.
One of his cultivation sites is what he calls the mothership — it houses all of Green Degree’s mother plants, from which clones are harvested and transplanted at the other sites to mature. Currently, Coman is growing 23 different strains, all of which he wants to move through his retail shops.
“It’s really about moving as much as we can in-house,” he said. He is looking at manufacturing options, so that he can use his own products instead of relying on outside sources for manufactured products.
Early interest in cannabis
Coman has been interested in cannabis since he was 13, when he started growing his own plants. “I was not quite the perfect-behaved kid,” he said wryly. He grew cannabis off and on, but became very interested in the plant’s medical effects when his mother was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
“I believe it helped my mom in her later days,” he said. He said he believes that if his mom had been a regular user of CBD and cannabis, she might still be alive.
“There’s still a really negative stigma that cannabis still has around it,” he said. “It ends up being people’s last resort instead of sort of a dietary supplement that can benefit them.”
Educating people about the benefits of cannabis has become his passion, he said.
the cannabis business
Coman traveled to a dispensary in Pueblo, Colorado, after cannabis was legalized in that state to talk to the owner about getting into the business. He was advised that he would need at least a couple of million of dollars. At the time, Coman was working on the North Slope and didn’t have anywhere close to that kind of a nest egg, he said.
About that time, momentum was ramping up in Alaska for legalization in 2014.
“I really jumped on the bandwagon, advocating for Measure 2 and registering people to vote,” he said. He said he spent a lot of time talking people at the University of Alaska Anchorage campus about the benefits of cannabis. When the measure passed, he applied to be on the Alaska Marijuana Control Board, but wasn’t chosen.
A rough start in Mat-Su
Coman did get one of the first licenses for a limited cultivation facility. No sooner had it been approved, however, than the Matanuska-Susitna Borough put a moratorium on cannabis businesses.
“We had already been renting out a facility while our license was going through AMCO,” he said. “We had opened the brand Green Degree, but selling only CBD products.”
Lots of customers stopped in looking for marijuana products. Coman told them he’d love to be able to stock it, but they would have to go out and vote down the moratorium.
“We spent four months really advocating and working with the local cannabis businesses,” he said. “We were in this limbo factor not even knowing if we could be licensed for seven months.”
Then, in January 2017 Green Degree finally got its limited cultivation license. But Coman’s troubles weren’t over.
“The same day AMCO came in to get our limited cultivation license, they seized all of our CBD — $30,000 of my products,” he said. “I was growing the inventory and they really ripped my feet out from beneath me.”
By the time he got his CBD products back, a lot of it had expired and he had to throw it out. Meanwhile, he was trying to get his cultivation facility and dispensary on track, working 70 to 80 hours per week.
“I took out a second mortgage, maxed out the credit cards,” he said. “We had four months of that before we opened our doors on 420 three years ago.”
Green Degree experience
Coman employs about 58 people under the general Green Degree umbrella, which includes Hempire Co., Trich Productions and the other enterprises.
“Our biggest thing is education,” he said of the Green Degree dispensaries, two of which are in Wasilla. He also owns a third retail outlet in Sutton, which still has its original name of Hilltop Premium Green, for now.
The first Green Degree dispensary is a low-key beige building on Knik Goose Bay Road in Wasilla, festooned with a string of green lights and the business’s logo.
Visitors enter a lobby area where they hand their ID to an employee. The ID is handed through a small window to a budtender and each individual is called back one at a time to the retail area, which is staffed by three or four budtenders at a time and features a window into the attached cultivation facility.
“Plenty of people haven’t been to a dispensary before,” Coman said. “People get called back one at a time so you have personal time one at a time with a budtender. It’s a pretty tight space in there. I’m surprised we get as many people as we do.”
Favorite products include Green Degree’s Mr. Clean strain, which has a “really heavy taste, a clean taste that customers love,” Coman said. A strain called Diable also has a lot of promise, Coman said, noting that he rarely consumes cannabis. He prefers CBD, specifically one called Jacked Up. “It’s a sativa dominant -- a cross between Jack Frost and Euphoria. It’s really pleasant, nice and not overwhelming. It’s an energetic sativa, but it doesn’t make you anxious.”
In addition to business, Green Degree also does a lot of community outreach, supporting veterans, sponsoring coat drives and food drives for local nonprofits. Green Degree also sponsors Grayson snowmachines, as well as local race cars and mushers.
“My No. 1 love language is gift-giving,” he said. “I’m a Christ believer. This has to do with God’s love inside of you. It’s really something of a full circle that comes back around.”
Contact staff writer Julie Stricker at jstricker@AlaskaCannabist.com