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Cannabis Conversation with Nina Fern, Founder of The Highly!

May 2, 2018

 

Your brand name is awesome. How did you come up with the name? What does it represent for you?


I set out to create what I wanted to see. A condensed guide featuring only the very best cannabis products and places by city. Initially it seemed fitting to name it Highly Recommended. I always gravitate toward something with a wink. I went full steam ahead with it—emails, business cards, urls— but as I lived with the name, it felt too witty with not enough heart, especially as the interviews were becoming so insightful. That’s how it morphed into The Highly. For me, it represents staying above it all and leading with integrity.


When we chatted you mentioned that you had a hard time finding quality cannabis when you traveled. Tell us more about what this is like (I know I can relate to this when traveling outside Canada) and how this sparked your idea to start The Highly.


I suffer from chronic pain, which I manage with cannabis. Once I realized that this new type of cannabis, i.e. organic and in different applications, was working, being the type A-plus-plus-plus personality that I am, I began traveling all over, determined to find where the absolute best stuff was.
Traveling is a real issue for people with chronic pain. The lugging of the luggage, the plane, the pillows, the hotel bed, the jetlag. I started realizing that knowing exactly where to go and what to get after landing was a very necessary convenience. The current model of reviews was too challenging. They were either too “stoner culture”-centric and not leading me where I wanted to go, or the few that were selective had no rhyme or reason as to why the product was good, other than it had pretty packaging.
When I finally found my go-to brands and places, it felt like such an accomplishment, which is how The Highly was born. The Highly simplifies the experience for people looking for the very best cannabis. We list dispensaries that we feel can be helpful and carries an excellent selection. And if our followers can’t get to the same dispensary, they still have the list that explains why these products are good and can buy with confidence regardless of where they are. I hope our reviews can inspire a new standard for dialogue between the consumer and merchant.


What can someone expect from following your website and social media 


On the site they can expect genuine (not paid for) reviews of only the very best cannabis brands and dispensaries, by city. We’ve done the research, visited the dispensaries, sampled the products in different batches— all multiple times for consistency. We also interview the people leading this movement—doctors, advocates, investors, and politicians. Because there is so much to talk about, the interviews are rich and long-form.
On Instagram we’re a bit more loose. We have art, humor, behind-the-scenes from our travels, and glimpses of what’s on our site.


Who is your target audience for The Highly and what do you hope it does for others? 


The Highly is for anyone as obsessed with quality as we are, and who wants to find the very best cannabis products a city has to offer as of today. I say as of today, because the market is making great strides very rapidly. My hope is that The Highly can set an example of what to look for in a brand, simplify the purchasing experience, and offer people a trusted useful cannabis resource.


What is your personal journey with cannabis?


It’s served me quite well in all different ways and at all different stages. I started working in finance in my teens. I would smoke before bed and wake up with this great pot hangover that made me feel calm, cool and collected during the yelling and screaming of the trading room.
Back then, I didn’t care about what was in it. I was young and everything agreed with me. Now at 47, I’m a fragile flower—I don’t take risks with my health.
When I became a mom, I barely used cannabis. Maybe once a year with a friend.

Then, in my late thirties, I took a tumble on concrete and slowly started experiencing chronic pain. So much so that at 41 I chose to retire from finance to take a good look at my health. I always understood cannabis was a medicine for me. Unfortunately during this time, I couldn’t get my hands on the “good stuff”. The bad stuff made me paranoid, so I went without.
After years of mystery issues and too much money spent visiting the best doctors and healers in NYC without improvement, I finally did get my hands on this “new type of cannabis”. Lab-tested and and in different applications. Once I realized this was working, I was determined to find the absolute very best stuff that existed legally. It took some time, but once I found it and taught myself how to dial it in properly— wow. It was a profound time in my life. I finally felt empowered around my health and became the best doctor on my team.
Today I mostly microdose to rid the aches and pains. It’s combined with a holistic lifestyle: good-tasting natural food, meditation, gentle functional movement and lots of journaling. Knowing exactly what I’m taking and feeling safe with it, is a luxury that takes the whole experience to another level.

Where do you live now? Is there still stigma around cannabis and do you see this evolving? What are the laws like there?


I live in New Jersey where it’s medically legal but with strict guidelines. We have a new governor and cannabis is expected to become recreationally legal. There’s certainly an excitement around it.
The stigma is changing everywhere. I have always been the only cannabis user in my friend group. As my friends began to see the difference in me, and I share with them how this plant is changing and saving lives, they are now officially interested. But again, everyone is afraid of bad stuff. When they ask me what they should get, my truth is, “You have to travel for the good stuff”. Hopefully this changes quickly.


What is the process for someone to be featured on your website? Here in Canada dispensaries are illegal, but this is a space of embracing recreation and medical. Have you been to any Canadian dispensaries? Thoughts?


People just have to introduce themselves. We love getting to know like-minded people in the space. The Highly is authentic and not paid for reviews—that’s the best part of it.
When we’re considering which brands to feature on The Highly, we have an in-depth internal review process. You can read it here. All the products are based on the best quality we can find in that city, but to whittle it down, the final decision is: Is this product something we would grab over and over again, and would we be proud to pass it to a friend, loved one, or first-time user? We come to this conclusion after we live with the product for a few weeks.
Canadian dispensaries are surprising today and I look forward to the expected change with legalization coming. There’s barely any culture around dispensaries compared to in the U.S. So far, The Village Bloomery in Vancouver is my favourite. It’s a charming, thoughtfully curated dispensary, and the owner, Andrea Dobbs, is quite the unicorn who can get the most reserved to spill it all on their ailments so customers are served properly.


From your experience so far, can you share with us your favourite place to visit? What are some dispensaries to look out for and what’s the area and cannabis like?


Hands down, Portland is my favorite place. Like with their craft beer, they take great pride in the cannabis craft and are enormously educated and creative. Farma is my favorite dispensary. I have a budtender, Ben, that I admire. He takes it very seriously. I love that.
You can read our full Portland guide here.


I can picture you using your information and creating a travelers’ handguide: the best transportation to use, where to eat, where to get quality cannabis, events, etc. Do you see yourself every creating something like this?


For sure travel is a part of the brand. We include it in our Instagram stories so our followers can join along on the journey. For now, we are solely focused on the reviews and interviews. Quality vs quantity.


What does the future hold for The Highly?


More and more city guides as legalization spreads. A natural progression will be offering the guides in print. We have a few interesting collaborations coming up that include ancillary products. And of course, since to us, cannabis culture is about creativity, playfulness and self awareness — art and humor will be introduced in fun interesting ways.


Any final words--info, tips, etc.?


I believe the choices we make around the cannabis products we buy and support are deciding the future of this industry as we speak. Let’s raise the bar together. I know it can be done.


What is the best way to follow you and your business and to contact you?


Thehighly.co
@TheHighly_ on Instagram
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