Hempbase's Kevin Choi on the Great Strides, and Lingering Challenges, in Cannabis

Plus, other brands he admires in the space

Kevin Choi is CEO of Hempbase, a DTC CBD brand providing a range of vapes, oils, gummies and creams that fulfill its heartfelt promise of honesty, transparency and quality, every time. Hempbase's ongoing mission is to increase access, bringing CBD's benefits to everyone for calmer tomorrows.

We spoke with Kevin for our interview series Higher Calling, where we chat with leaders in the cannabis space.

Kevin, tell us...

Your current role in the cannabis industry, and where you're based.

Founder and CEO of Hempbase, a CBD company based out of Orange County, California.

Your earliest cannabis memory.

In high school, I remember eating a quarter of a brownie that my friend had made without thinking much of it—until he told me he had used half a pound of weed to infuse one stick of butter, which was then used to make the brownie. I was high for three days. I remember thinking to myself, there is no possible way I can get higher than I already am. I was wrong. I remember starting to come down off the high the second day and it was euphoric.

A story about the positive impact cannabis has had on your life.

Have you ever felt underappreciated or devalued after pouring your heart into other people's projects? I have spent a majority of my life creating for other people's visions and their brands. Cannabis gave me the chance, for the first time, to pursue something I could call my own and be proud of the fact that I was building something that would ultimately add value to other people's lives. 

A favorite flower, edible, product or brand.

My favorite cannabis products are made by a group of Korean Americans who grew up in the same city as me. The brand is called STIIIZY and, in my opinion, they currently have the best cannabis oil and flower products in California. Their branding and cult-like following caught my attention when I first decided to enter the CBD industry. They were a major inspiration in the development of my own brand.

The biggest challenge cannabis marketers face today.

I believe there are two major challenges. The first is limited access to financial tools. I remember when we first started out, the banks were closing down our accounts because of the name of our business. We also could not sell anything online due to not having a credit card processor. We have been around for two years, but have only just been able to really start selling online without worry. 

The second challenge is that, for the small newcomers that are not funded to oblivion, affordable marketing channels are unavailable. In any other space, digital and traditional online advertising gives you a chance to compete with the guys that can place billboards on Sunset Millennium or sponsor concerts. In the cannabis industry, the methods of marketing are still extremely limited.

One thing you're excited about right now in cannabis branding, partnerships or marketing.

I think it is truly exciting to see how far cannabis branding and adoption has come, from brands featured on TV to celebrities endorsing and partnering with major cannabis brands. Ten years ago no one could have convinced me that this industry would exist the way it does today. What's more exciting is that this is just the beginning. I'm thankful to have been given a chance to be a part of it.  

A cannabis trade/social justice organization that you support and why.

Last Prisoner Project is an organization I support and stand behind. It just makes zero sense to me that people are still sitting in jail cells for marijuana-related offenses today. We are in one of the largest and fastest-growing industries, and a lot of the people who paved the way to make progress are still behind bars, which is just unacceptable.

A recent project you're proud of.

During the start of the pandemic and lockdown period. I started a project inside of Hempbase to send cases of CBD to first responders and caregivers all across California. I have family and friends who work in healthcare, and the stress and daily battles they were facing had taken a toll on their bodies and minds. This was a private project, but it was definitely a rewarding one.

Someone you admire in cannabis who's doing great things.

Peter Tang, founder of Plug Play. He is extremely hands-on with his brand. They have exceptional customer service and awesome products. Like me, he came from a completely different industry and created a product/brand that was extremely high quality and tasted better than most of the veterans in the industry.

A movie, TV show, music or food you most enjoy pairing with cannabis.

Lately, livestreams via Twitch. A lot of my favorite cannabis influencers are now streaming on platforms like Twitch that don't censor cannabis content. Some of my favorite influencers are Koala Puffs and Sashahippie. 

What you'd be doing if you weren't in the cannabis industry.

I would probably still be in the creative agency space. I actually rolled my small creative agency into Hempbase, so it wasn't a huge transition in terms of the people I work with. Regardless of industry, I am pretty sure you will always find me creating or developing something new.

Higher Calling is our new interview series where we chat with folks in the cannabis industry about their personal history and taste in cannabis and the future of cannabis marketing. For more about Higher Calling, and our Clio Cannabis program, please contact Michael Kauffman.

Tim Nudd
Tim Nudd was editor in chief of the Clio Awards and editor of Muse by Clio from 2018 to 2023.

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