Highlighting Vireo’s Minority-Owned Business Partners: Otha Smith III, CEO of Tetragram
At Vireo Health, we are very proud of our own internal diversity initiatives, led by our Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Council. We are proud of the work that we do to promote diversity and inclusion in our industry, including our recent expungement events in Maryland and Arizona, plus a variety of trainings and other internal programming to promote better understanding, acceptance, and open conversations around diversity, equity, and inclusion.
As another part of our commitment to promoting minority voices and interests, we proudly work with a variety of minority-owned businesses. We are very excited to spotlight some of these amazing businesses over the coming weeks and months.
First up is Tetragram, started by the amazing Otha Smith III. We already partner with Tetragram at our Frederick, Maryland Green Goods dispensary and suggest it to our patients looking for a convenient way to track their experience.
Tetragram is an app with customizable journaling and rating features that helps patients and users document which cannabis products and strains best help their unique symptoms, all in a private and secure platform.
We had a chance to catch up with Otha and ask him a few questions about Tetragram and the cannabis industry.
Tell us a little about yourself. Where are you from? Where do you live now? Do you have any family you want to mention?
I’m originally from Southern Anne Arundel County, Maryland, located twenty minutes south of Annapolis. Oddly enough, it wasn’t until years later, while I was in high school, that I found out Southern Anne Arundel County was notoriously known for people growing cannabis. I currently live in Bowie, where I graduated from Bowie State University, a HBCU, in 2006. My parents have always been my role models; my mother has a doctorate in education, and my father was a computer programmer for the US Government and instilled in me the need to work hard and pursue your dreams.
Tell us about Tetragram?
Tetragram is a mobile platform that empowers medical cannabis patients and recreational users with the ability to track, rate and share their personal experiences using cannabis with others. In addition, we partner with dispensaries, growers and processors to help them tell their product’s story and connect directly with consumers.
Why did you start the company?
Since cannabis remains Federally illegal, there is very little research for people and doctors to rely on to understand the effects of cannabis. In addition, since cannabis affects everyone differently, it’s vital for people to keep track of products purchased and the consumption method associated with those products in order to draw conclusions about which product works best in addressing a medical condition. With the average dispensary carrying over a hundred products to choose from, it can become very frustrating and expensive to find the right cannabis product to address one’s medical needs. More importantly, I’ve worked in dispensaries and understand how challenging it is for doctors and dispensary staff to make accurate product recommendations to customers. Therefore, we wanted to create a platform where consumers can document their personal experiences with the various products they experiment with.
What made you originally interested in the cannabis industry?
I’ve always been a fan of cannabis throughout high school and college. So, once states started to legalize cannabis for medicinal and/or adult use, I knew cannabis was an industry that I wanted to be part of.
What are some of the challenges unique to the industry?
Two things: First is the lack of banking options available to cannabis businesses. Again, since cannabis is Federally illegal, most traditional, large player banks don’t provide banking services to cannabis companies. Secondly is the lack of diversity within the cannabis industry. Currently, 90 percent of cannabis companies are owned by white men. People of color have historically been the prime target in the war against drugs and are four times more likely to be arrested for cannabis versus whites. There needs to be far greater opportunities for people of color to enter the cannabis industry to right the wrongs of a failed drug policy.
What do you like about working with cannabis?
The passion people have for helping others understand the medicinal value of this amazing plant. I always find it refreshing to hear how cannabis has improved a person’s quality of life.
How does it make you feel to help patients?
It’s an incredible feeling knowing that Tetragram is helping people across the country have a better understanding of which products and consumption methods work best in treating their medical condition. Never before in my life have I developed something that has a direct, positive impact on a person’s life.
What are your favorite activities or hobbies outside work?
Many who are close to me will tell you that work is my hobby! But I enjoy running 5k and 8k races, biking and swimming.
Any other quotes or stories about working in cannabis or at Tetragram that you want to share?
I feel it’s important make sure people know that I as well as my two business partners are medical cannabis patients and take pride in stating that, “Tetragram was built for patients, by patients.”
How can people connect with you and with Tetragram?
Thanks, Otha for taking the time to speak with us. Be sure to check out Tetragram!