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The Unlikely Cannabis Mogul: Darren White of PurLife Management Group is On the Move

Prior to becoming the Co-founder and CEO of PurLife Management Group (PurLife), native New Yorker Darren White spent the majority of the first 30 years of his working life in a variety of military, law enforcement and high-level public service roles. In many ways, you could have described him as a prohibitionist. He has shifted 180 degrees over the last 5 years.

Along with Ryan Gomez, Head of Cultivation, his son Darren“Indy” White, Head of Retail Operations, and Long Duong, Head of Business Development, PMG is, based on year over year growth, the fastest growing medical cannabis company in New Mexico and second in revenues passing iAnthus Holdings local operations. UltraHealth is the top revenue producing operator in the state currently but, according to White, their per store location revenue is well behind PMG’s current run rate.

After attending college on a baseball scholarship, White left school early and joined the Army in 1983 where he served as a paratrooper in the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division. His tour of duty lasted until 1985 when a parachuting accident and injury ended his tour.

White joined the Houston Police Department in 1986 as a beat cop and then moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico (NM), in 1987 where he worked as sergeant in the police force. The move to his ex-wife’s hometown proved fortuitous.

His work on Gary Johnson’s gubernatorial campaign in 1994 positioned him for a much larger public service role. White was named Cabinet Secretary in 1995 of the Department of Public Safety, making him the states Drug Czar. “I was a drug warrior,” White (a registered republican) told CBE even though he recognized at the time that the US was failing in its “War on Drugs.”

In 1999, after Governor Johnson announced publicly that he was in favor of legalizing all drugs including heroinmethamphetamine, and marijuana, White resigned his post as secretary of the New Mexico Department of Public Safety in a highly public disagreement with Johnson over legalizing marijuana and other controlled substances.

He went to work as a news reporter for a local TV station before throwing his hat in the political ring in 2002 to run for Sheriff of Bernalillo County, NM. He won and was re-elected in 2006. While Sheriff, NM legalized medical marijuana in 2007 with Governor Bill Richardson’s signature, making the Lynn and Erin Compassionate Use Act law.

After running for the US Congress in 2008 (he lost a closely contested race), shortly after, White was appointed the Chief Public Safety Officer overseeing the Albuquerque police department and fire department in 2009. He retired from that position after leaving the role in 2011. 

For the next couple of years, White was vice president at The Downs Racetrack & Casino before starting his own security firm in 2013.

Along the way, orthopedic injuries, including back and knee problems that White had developed over the years, were having a profound effect on his quality of life. A friend recommended that he try cannabis under the NM MMJ program, which he did, and the former prohibitionist gained first-hand knowledge and exposure to marijuana’s benefits.

White was introduced to the opportunity to apply for the second wave of vertically integrated licenses offered by NM Department of Health by firefighter friend and PurLife Partner, Ryan Gomez in 2014. Open to the idea, Gomez, White, Jason Bowles, a former assistant U.S. Attorney, his son, and an out-of-state partner, Foxstreet Wellness of Colorado, put together a 1,400 page application and came in second, winning one of the 12 newly issued vertically integrated licenses. 

After winning the NM license in 2015, the PurLife team set out with a few simple goals in mind.

  • Build a grow facility that would accommodate the state’s limited allowed plant count
  • Grow and deliver the highest quality product to medical patients
  • Create a professional and comfortable dispensary environment
  • Create a reputation and brand experience that would thrive over the test of time.

In January of 2016, PurLife began their efforts with a small 3,000 sq. ft.

Ryan Gomez, PurLife

indoor and a small outdoor grow that provided their first product (and some product that they purchased wholesale) at the dispensary which would open in Albuquerque in Julyof that year. They used the outdoor grow biomass and outsourced manufacturers to diversify their product mix based on the extracted oils. 

The patient driven retail experience that they envisioned generated nearly $650,000 in revenues in 2016 and they reinvested into their grow and began searching for a second retail location. They opened their Montgomery Blvd. location, which was discovered by White’s wife; it had plenty of parking and they were able to negotiate a lease with a conservative owner. The location’s consumer base, the first in Northeast Albuquerque, was a bit more affluent and performed well, helping PurLife generate close to $3,000,000 in 2017 revenues.

The application experience/process proved useful as well. White and his son Indy, who is a lawyer by training, began consulting for licensee applicants in New York, Ohio (6 applications and 5 license awards, PurLife also has a minority interest in a dispensary), Rhode Island (where they were successful in winning a vertically integrated medical license), and Louisiana (where they won as well).

PurLife ‘s success in their first year and a half of their NM operations set the stage for the acquisition of MJ Espress O. In October of 2018 they closed the deal which added three additional stores to their footprint in New Mexico, a second grow facility, and highly respected Long Duong to the PurLife management team. 

PurLife now has over 17,000 sq. feet of indoor grow space and White is proud of the 35,000 sq. ft. state of the art facility that PurLife is spending over $2 million to upgrade and update outside of Albuquerque.

Designed by Co-Founder and master grower Ryan Gomez, with Duong’s assistance, these state-of-the-art grows have been strategically designed to be the most efficient cultivation facilities in the state, with features including:

  • the latest cultivation technology and equipment capable of supporting up to 3,500 plants;
  • innovative layouts and floor plans developed for optimum production and performance;
  • amenities for employees such as a gym, break rooms and meeting areas; and
  • top of the line security infrastructure.

“PurLife has built a reputation around delivering the highest level of patient-centric care, which starts with producing apex products,” says Gomez. “Producing apex products requires top-notch facilities, and since our founding in 2015, we have been committed to exceeding the industry standards for excellence across all of our cultivation centers. The redesign and expansion project has better-positioned our New Mexico operations for the future and will allow us to better serve the communities where we operate.”

PurLife uses clones to produce their high-quality flower and their trim is used to create their line of concentrates, salves, & vape products. They only use cold water extraction currently.

The team opened a sixth retail location in Farmington, New Mexico in July and plans on opening an additional three dispensary locations by the end of 2019.

PurLife has had a good track record in hiring and retaining new employees. In lieu of a full benefits program, PurLife has created a fun, patient centric and rewarding work environment. Their staff of 102 employees and growing has bought into PurLife ‘s vision and goal to be the #1 operator in New Mexico. White tells CBE that they will be rewarded shortly with a more robust total compensation plan including full benefits.

The personal and diverse approach that his staff has taken with their medical patients has helped them generate one of the highest sales revenue-per-store ratios in the state. White tells CBE that PurLife treats quite a few ex-law enforcement professionals in its stores. Cannabis has become a useful alternative to alcohol and opioids to help them cope with injuries and the stresses of their careers.

In Q2 2019, PurLife announced revenues of nearly $4 million in NM, up nearly 150% since last year and they are on track to hit $16,000,000 in revenues by year-end in the state.

With their toes in the water with an ownership stakes in Ohio, White and the PurLife team is excited to look at other out-of-state opportunities. But he insisted that PurLife ‘s growth strategy is focused on New Mexico where they have created an attractive footprint that is sure to gain the attention of the larger multiple state operators. They also have their eye on expanding sales into the future adult-use market that will eventually make its way in the state.

They also have their eye on building their CBD processing and retail business through their CannaCare subsidiary. They will continue to assist license seekers in emerging states and ownership stakes leveraging the experience that they have generated over the last 5 years as vertically integrated operators.

Not bad for a the onetime “Drug Warrior” and the PurLife team.

______________________________________________________________________________

Cannabis Business Executive Background Information

Company Name:  PurLife Management Group

Year Founded:  2015

Ownership Structure/Operating Entities:  

PurLife, Inc. is managed by PurLife Management Group (“PurLife”). In the company’s home market of New Mexico, PurLife operates the vertically integrated licenses of PurLife and MJ Express O, both non-profit medical cannabis producers. PurLife also owns a minority interest in 5 dispensary licenses in Ohio.

Additionally, PurLife owns and operates its own CBD processing and retail business through its CannaCare subsidiary.

Through its advisory service offerings, PurLife consults legal cannabis and CBD companies around the United States, providing services that include application support, infrastructure development, cultivation and dispensary management consulting.

Owner/Chief Executive Officer:  Darren White, Co-founder and Chief Executive Officer

Management Team:     

Ryan Gomez, Co-founder and Head of Cultivation

Darren “Indy” White, Esq., Co-founder and Head of Retail

Long Duong, Head of Business Development

Robert Jason Bowles, Esq., Co-founder and legal advisor

Headquarters:  Albuquerque, New Mexico

Website:  www.PurLifeNM.com

Industry Segment/Category:  Legal cannabis (medical markets only) producer, processer and dispensary retailer; CBD processer and retailer; and advisory services.

Current Markets/States Served:  New Mexico (2 vertically integrated licenses — 6 dispensary locations, 2 cultivation centers and 1 processing facility); and Ohio (minority interest in 5dispensary license/location).

  • CBD: Sold through 1 retail location in New Mexico and across the United States through the company’s website.
  • Advisory Services: Across the United States, including Colorado, Louisiana, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Ohio and Rhode Island.

Number of Locations:  6 retail locations in New Mexico, 2 cultivation centers in New Mexico and 1 processing facility in New Mexico; and 5 dispensaries in Ohio (minority interest).

Number of Licenses by State:  2 vertically integrated licenses in New Mexico; and minority interest in 5 dispensary licenses in Ohio.

Current Number of Employees:  102

Market Strategy/Goal:  To be the #1 player in the company’s home market of New Mexico, (i.e. the leader in overall sales, sales-per-unit and brand recognition); nationally the goal is to bring the PurLife and CannaCare brands/operations to emerging markets with high growth potential; and with the advisory services, the goal is to continue to expand the offerings throughout legal markets in the United States and Canada. 

2016 Revenues:  $647,000

2017 Revenues:  $2,997,500

2018 Revenues:  $6,178,000

2019 Projected Revenue:  +$16,000,000

Expansion Plans:  

In the company’s home market of New Mexico, where it is currently the #1 fastest growing medical cannabis company and the 2nd largest based on overall sales, PurLife is aiming to have 15 stores operational by the end of 2020, all in markets with strong demand and patient bases, and fully supported by the company’s 2 cultivation centers in Albuquerque.

Additionally, the company is exploring national expansion opportunities through its advisory service offerings, future application processes and potential M&A, initially focusing on the Southwest and Northeast regions of the United States.

Financing strategy:  Self-funded both the initial start-up and continued growth.

Rob MeagherRob Meagher

Rob Meagher

Rob Meagher, CBE’s Founder, President and Editor-in-Chief is a 30 year veteran of the media world. His career has spanned from stints representing the Washington Post, USA Weekend, Reader’s Digest, Financial World & Corporate Finance to the technology world where he worked at International Data Group and Ziff Davis where he was part of the launch team for The Web Magazine, Yahoo Internet Life, Smart Business and Expedia Travels before starting his own marketing and Publisher’s Representative Firm. He also ran all print and online media sales and marketing for the Society for Human Resource Management before partnering with Forbes and then Fortune to create Special Sections covering a variety of topics. Rob, who started CBE Press in 2014, can be contacted at [email protected]

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