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Nate Russell: Michigan Is the Best Cannabis Market in the World

How he has survived (and thrived) in the cannabis industry despite taking some hits along the way, like robbery, litigation and a mountain lion attack.

This week, Nate Russell, CEO of The Lab and VP of AE Global Midwest, joins the Cannabis Equipment News podcast to discuss how he has survived (and thrived) in the cannabis industry despite taking some hits along the way, like robbery, litigation and a mountain lion attack.

Nate Russell moved to California when he was 19 years old. He was studying to be an engineer in Milwaukee, but the winds of change took him west. He transferred to Humboldt State University and made cannabis a focal point of his studies, immersing himself in cannabis culture and taking any job he could find in the murky industry. He really pushed the envelope with the botany department.

He found work on some big outdoor farms and even found himself doing some early butane extraction, which at times was a "bit scary." He had two loves in his life, cannabis and Phish, the American jam band with a fervent fanbase. Russell went to a few Phish shows and soon became a part of the touring marketplace often found in parking lots.

He came up with an idea to sell lapel pins while on tour. Russell developed a business plan and won a $25,000 grant that helped fund his startup. From about 2013 to 2018, he was the king of pins. After years making pins, he felt like he was aging out of the business and started looking for something new.

He soon started The Lab, a Michigan-based co-packing business specifically focused on pre-rolls, and AE Global, a custom cannabis packaging operation.

The Lab currently manufactures 200,000 pre-rolls per week, but Russell hopes to scale to 300,000 by the end of the year. Pre-rolls, he says, have the highest potential for market growth with convenience sparking sales, including the companies top seller, 50 packs of 1 gram pre-rolls. The Lab is the company behind the successful Road Trip brand.

Russell plans to increase production, but maintain quality, which has proven difficult at times. As he says, the industry is still a long way from a machine that rolls the perfect pre-roll every time.

Russell has "taken some hits" throughout his career. He was robbed twice: once was a cannabis heist and another a hand sanitizer caper during the pandemic. He wound up in a legal battle with a lapel pin partner. He was even attacked by a mountain lion. Still, he has persevered and remains confident, particularly in the Michigan market, which he claims to be the best in the world.

Jump around:

  • Early days working with butane extraction. (12:15)
  • Getting robbed in the unregulated market. (15:06)
  • Surviving a mountain lion attack. (22:32)
  • The Lab. (24:55)
  • AE Global Packaging. (27:22)
  • The current state of pre-rolls. (31:03)
  • Plans to increase production while maintaining quality. (35:51)
  • The equipment he can't live without. (39:48)
  • The success of the Road Trip brand. (47:33)
  • Why Michigan is the best cannabis market in the world. (53:35)
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