Who would have thought that Maryland, the historic and in my vision, a deeply conservative state located only a few hundred miles south of New Jersey. Would they allow cannabis? Well it’s true, Maryland does allow medical cannabis and companies like Curio Wellness are setting the bar extremely high for this nascent industry. Wellness is the name of their craft and their goal in healing ills.
But first, what kind of healing are we discussing? That would be healing with cannabis, if you hadn’t caught the gist of this article. Cannabis is well-tested, for thousands of years! Further adherence to healing resonates to me as more than a metaphor, I too am a patient in the New Jersey medical cannabis program. My practice is to appreciate when others are able to find relief, in the form of medical -grade cannabis. Curio Wellness says it all with the simple and succinct words, “cutting-edge plant science.”
I couldn’t have said it any better myself. Thank you, Curio Wellness for introducing Maryland to medical cannabis and the relief it provides to so many truly ill people.
WB: Please tell me about your company. What do you do which is different, therefore better than your competition? What is your 6 & 12 month goals?
Michael Bronfein=WB: At Curio Wellness we are committed to cultivating a better way of life. Our goal is to reimagine wellness to better serve patients with targeted, effective and reliable cannabis-based medicine. Everything we do here is scientifically driven, utilizing state-of-the-art technology and cutting-edge plant science to meet a wide range of patient needs, from addressing sleep disorders to helping cope with cancer.
We’re committed to unparalleled quality for our products. In fact, we’re the only medical cannabis facility in the state whose products meet cGMP standards, the same quality standard set by the FDA for the world’s leading pharmaceutical companies to ensure that consumer products meet the most stringent quality and efficacy guidelines. And, we announced our official cGMP certification in the spring of this year.
Our immediate focus remains on best serving patients across the state of Maryland, particularly during these difficult times, which includes finding ways to continue to meet the growing demand of more patients interested in Curio products. To do this, we recently submitted plans to expand our cultivation capacity in Maryland. Our plans include a 40,000 square foot sealed greenhouse and a 5,000 square foot research laboratory to conduct industry-leading agricultural research and related drug discovery.
Looking beyond that, we are positioned for growth outside of Maryland, bringing our innovative cannabis-based medicines to patients throughout the country. We’re currently evaluating opportunities to expand into states along the East Coast and Midwest with strong medicinal programs and expect to be in a few new markets by 2021.
To ensure our long-term success, we’ve built a team comprised of traditional industry veterans with decades of proven experience, ranging from product innovation to manufacturing and compliance to pharmaceutical development. Together, they bring important functional experience across the pharmaceutical, nutrition, healthcare, manufacturing and distribution. We built our team looking to the future. I’m proud to say our employees could successfully compete in any healthcare realm but are committed to bringing safe effective and reliable medicinal products derived from cannabis to the markets we serve.
WB: Why Cannabis? What was your path to the plant?
MB: I didn’t find my way to the cannabis industry on my own. My daughter, Wendy, who is the co-founder of Curio Wellness with me, is the reason I am in this business. After she completed her MBA from NYU in 2013, she came to me with the idea to start a medical cannabis business as Maryland was launching its medical program. She knew her expertise in marketing and business, paired with my background starting up and running pharmaceutical distribution companies, could be a winning combination. Turns out she was right. I’m proud that today we are the market leader in share and brand preference in Maryland.
At first, I was skeptical. I didn’t know much about the plant. My background in the pharmaceutical industry was focused on providing clinical and distribution services to patients with chronic conditions – diabetes, heart disease, cancer, etc. I wasn’t familiar with alternative medicines, but once I did my research, the efficacy of cannabis to treat a broad array of ailments and symptoms intrigued me. But I wanted to get an expert’s opinion on cannabis before I committed, so I reached out to a Dr. Solomon Snyder, a dear friend and the Chairman of Neuroscience at Johns Hopkins Medical School. He’s a renowned neurologist and I knew he would be straightforward. Dr. Snyder told me that cannabis wasn’t just legitimate, it was a “miracle plant.” I learned that unlike many other pharmaceutical products, cannabinoid-based treatments address a wide array of ailments and symptoms and have far less adverse effects than many traditional pharmaceutical products. At that point I was sold and knew I couldn’t turn down the opportunity to build something new and transformative for patients – and even better, get to do it alongside my daughters.
WB: Do you have a mentor? What about stigmas? What is the market that you want to penetrate the most, yet has the most stigmas?
MB: I’ve been fortunate to have a number of mentors throughout my life, both professionally and personally. My chief mentor will always be my father. He taught me the value of an abiding system of ethics, both in life and in business: about how important it was to keep your word and display integrity. Other members of my family were instrumental as well. As a young man I worked for my uncle Herb Beckenheimer and cousin Bernie Meizlish. As merchants themselves, they taught me how to make customers your main focus and helped me better understand the ins-and-outs of running a business.
Maybe the most influential and important manager I ever worked for was Alan Leberknight during my time at Signet Bank. Working under him gave me an unparalleled education into how to assess, develop, and managed high-performing teams – an insight that could be applied to any industry or business. Lastly, Willard Hackerman, a well-known philanthropist here in Baltimore who passed in 2014, taught me the value of being a good corporate citizen. He had a fundamental understanding of why business leaders not only could – but needed to be – deeply enmeshed in their communities and the causes that inspire them. He taught me that you always needed to live up to your commitments and do everything possible not to disappoint your customers or employees.
Understanding the history of cannabis in this country, is understanding the stigma that surrounds it. So it’s no surprise that I realized early on how many other pharmacology experts were held back by the same stigma I faced. Dr. Ed Rudnic, Chairman of our Scientific Advisory Board (SAB) and a pharmacologist with over 55 pharmaceutical patents, told me he wasn’t interested the first time we spoke. But after speaking with me and our SAB Chairman Emeritus, John Holaday, he joined our scientific team. Today, Ed is a strong advocate for medicinal cannabis and has led the development of a new clinically trialed product we’ll be launching in the fall.
And another is Dr. David Casarett, the well-known author of the book Stoned: A Doctor’s Case for Medical Cannabis and currently serving as the Chief of Palliative Care for the Duke University Health System. He was also originally skeptical, and much of his book chronicles his journey from skepticism, to acceptance, to now advocate.
Ed, David and I shared a similar trajectory in understanding medical cannabis. Once upon a time, each of us were uneducated about cannabis, but over time, as we got better acquainted with the power it had to help patients, we realized the enormous, untapped potential.
WB: Do you cook? Who taught you? Do you have a food memory you’d like to share? Favorite (pre-covid19) restaurant, where?
MB: I’ll be honest, I’m great at clearing the table and washing dishes but not cooking. However, food plays a big role in my life and my family. The best example is Thanksgiving. Every year, my wife and daughters start cooking the Tuesday before – a big spread that was a tradition of my mother-in-law, which she passed on to my wife. My responsibility is making sure we have a good supply of red wine – both for the Thanksgiving Day meal and for the days that follow. I am no wine expert myself, but I’ve always loved California Cabs and Italian Amarone’s. The meal is certainly gluttonous, but it’s really about family – by Labor Day every year, everyone is already talking about and looking forward to Thanksgiving.
My favorite restaurant is Linwood’s in Baltimore. Its run by a local chef (named Linwood) and his wife, who opened the restaurant 30 years ago. Pre-Covid, as empty nesters, we ate their regularly. In quarantine, we were able to support it through takeout. It’s a local spot that delivers incredible food every time. And they’ve got a great bar, with a bartender who knows how to serve a healthy pour!
WB: What is your passion?
MB: Outside of creating organizations that improve people’s health through innovation, my passion has always been music. I get it from my dad. As a young man, he was awarded a full-ride scholarship to Juilliard for music. But my grandfather – a first generation immigrant – said no way, his son was going to go to college and become an accountant, so that’s what he did. But he always loved music. When he turned 50, he created a swing band – they would do shows for events and holidays, New Year’s Eve parties, that kind of thing. I’ve played the drums since I was 7. We had a drum set in the house, and I played throughout college and beyond – jazz bands, school orchestras, musicals, everything. I can read music, but I play by ear, buying CDs and playing along with them.
I just started taking lessons with jazz drum legend Dave Weckl. It’s like getting to take golf lessons from Phil Mickelson – it’s been a dream come true. And music is something that I think is important beyond my personal enjoyment. Music brings people together – no matter who you are, when you hear good music it nourishes your soul, everybody engages and appreciates it. I think we need that as society, today, more than ever.