Chris Ball, founder and CEO of cannabis company Ball Family Farms, sat down with Rachael H. Grochowski, principal and founder of RHG Architecture + Design, at WWD’s Wellness Forum. In a wide-ranging conversation, Ball discussed his journey with marijuana, creating his own brand and the future of weed within the wellness industry.
To kick off the conversation, Ball, a former professional football player, said as a kid he recognized weed “as a funny-smelling cigarette that my dad used to smoke after dinner.” Although Ball was growing up in the midst of Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” campaign, he never thought like that. “Ethically and morally, I grew up feeling like there was really nothing wrong with cannabis because everyone that I loved and cared about was partaking,” said Ball.
During high school, he tried to sell weed for his cousin, “the neighborhood weed guy,” but Ball wasn’t a natural drug dealer. “I actually probably sold maybe half of the ounce and gave the rest of it away,” he said. However, when Ball went to junior college, he needed a way to support himself. He teamed up with his cousin and began selling again. “I used it to put gas in my car. I bought my books, paid for my tuition. I was able to feed myself and take care of myself until I got my football scholarship to go to Berkeley,” he said.
When Ball graduated, he was drafted by the San Francisco 49ers but ended up playing for a team in Berlin. During this time, Ball was on a cannabis hiatus, until he moved to Vancouver, British Columbia, to play for the Lions.
There, one of his teammates introduced him to a cannabis grower. “This was the first time I ever saw weed from seed to harvest,” said Ball. “I got to see actual cultivation, and I fell in love with that process.” Ball began selling again, smuggling weed from Canada to the U.S. Eventually, he was convicted of illegal drug distribution and served a term in prison. However, he realized how passionate he was about cannabis and how profitable he could’ve been if he’d had his own business. “Had I just been growing this myself and doing this myself, it would have been worth sitting” in prison, Ball joked.
After serving his time, completing community service and holding retail jobs for four years, Ball still had one thing on his mind: cannabis. He eventually told his family, “I’m gonna go back to L.A., and I’m gonna re-enter the cannabis space, but I’m gonna enter it correctly this time.” “They all thought I was crazy,” he said. He returned to L.A., bought a 14-light grow and began cultivating medical marijuana. For the next several years, he worked as a caregiver for a book of patients and discovered all of the wellness benefits the plant could offer.
In 2018, two years after recreational cannabis was legalized in L.A., Ball applied to the state’s Social Equity Program “which allowed people who have been negatively impacted by the war on drugs to apply for a legal license.” “I didn’t think I would get it but you know, I’m an athlete. You can’t win unless you’re in the game. I filled it out. A few months later, lo and behold, I got an email, and Ball Family Farms was born,” Ball said. With the license, Ball was able to establish a premium cannabis brand and enter into the recreational space, meaning he could now sell in stores. Ball Family Farms became the first minority-owned, vertically integrated Social Equity cannabis company in L.A.
Ball joked he was able to create a successful brand quickly because he had amassed 10,000 hours of cannabis experience. “I understood good cannabis. I understood the culture of cannabis because I had been in it for so long. I understood what the consumer wanted,” Ball explained. As a caregiver, he’d also discovered how many concerns weed could address, including sleep troubles, muscle tension, migraines and even chronic illness. “This plant has so many different uses and so many different health benefits,” he said. “The plant really is wellness.” With well-being at the forefront of his company, he prioritized what consumers wanted and needed by creating quality product, providing education and implementing a vertically integrated business strategy.
To create a company that offered affordable, quality products for the sake of wellness, vertical integration was key. “If I have my own cultivation, my own distribution, my own manufacturing and my own retail location, now I get to control it all the way from the time I cut it down and package it up all the way until I get it into my user’s hands. And then I get to educate my user on why you’re picking my product,” Ball explained.
Ball posited that wellness and social equity go hand in hand. For him, it’s important his story and his business shift the conversation around marijuana and create a space for more equitable programming. “There’s millions of other Chris Balls in the world who maybe use cannabis or something like this to just provide a better situation for themselves,” Ball said. “I used it as a means to provide a better life for myself.”
As Ball Family Farms continues to expand, Ball wants to destigmatize the conversation around weed and educate people about its medical benefits. “I see myself trying to just be an advocate. I’m the bad guy according to society. I’m the guy who sold drugs and went to prison and all these things, but as you can see, I’m pretty well educated, and I have a pretty good head on my shoulders. I see myself trying to educate as many people as I can about this plant and about my brand,” he said.