Nestled in a corner of Lacey, a warehouse sits behind a nondescript business building and a large, barbed-wire fence. In a corner of the second floor, Ariel Payopay is hand-crafting something you may see at your next large scale event or might purchase for yourself as a special thank you for a job well done. He is creating art. He is making Leira Cannagars.
The Cannagar, essentially a cigar made of marijuana flowers, rosin and leaves (Cannabis + Cigar = Cannagar), is not a new idea. They were being made before Ariel tried his hand at it and can be historically traced to the Thai Sticks made popular in the 1960s and 70s. Mr. Payopay, however, believes his high quality and meticulously crafted, smokable art is far and away the better product.
“My Cannagars are made with organically grown cannabis from Gold Leaf Gardens,” says Ariel. Gold Leaf Gardens is a multiple award-winning cannabis company that is Clean Green Certified. This certification means a company has gone through a rigorous program and is regularly monitored. Everything that goes into a Leira Cannagar is cultivated and hand-crafted on site at The Garden.
Currently Leira has three different offerings of Cannagars. The original Corona is a six-inch cigar that costs $420.00. After hearing customers talk about interests in a smaller offering, Ariel developed a Cannarillo that is 3.25 inches long, contains 1/3 the amount of cannabis and costs $100.00. The third offering is a one-ounce, $1600.00 offering called the Ambassador.
Leira Cannagars are not constantly stocked at stores but instead are produced in limited runs. The first run was 100 Coronas and they sold out over one weekend. The most recent run contained 500 Cannarillos, 150 Coronas and five Ambassadors that were distributed to various stores throughout western Washington. To Ariel’s surprise, he has received requests for more Ambassadors than he has been producing and plans to up their production in the future.
Sometimes selling to smokers off the street can be difficult if they do not receive the proper information about Leira. Because of this, Ariel looks for stores that are willing to discuss his product and the benefits of purchasing such high-end cannabis products.
“We’re focused on the entire experience from the first time you see it to when you open it, smell it and smoke it,” Ariel explains as we tour The Garden. He was concerned in the beginning about how much a product like this was going to cost.
“I told myself no one is going to buy these cannabis cigars because they are going to have to be expensive. There’s a lot of labor that’s put into them. I didn’t want to fill it with poor material. I was looking for an organic garden that produced clean cannabis because I saw where cannabis should be,” Ariel says.
Not only did he know the quality of material he needed, with a background in graphic design and photography, Ariel also knew how he wanted to market his product. As a classy, special occasion smoke for professionals and those who want to enjoy not only the cannabis, but also the lifestyle it embraces, Leira Cannagars are unique. That marketing seems to have worked. Ariel is now able to claim professional athletes, Hollywood actors and large business owners among his growing base of clientele.
The success has not gone to his head too much, though. As an Army veteran, husband and father of two, Ariel works tirelessly for his business and fights to keep it his own. Ariel has had offers from outside investors, but he has never taken one. He fears losing creative control over his product.
“They wanted to own me,” explains Ariel. “They wanted to take my brand and make it theirs. I’m going to make it on my own. Everybody has their struggle story, and this is mine. I’m not going to take the easy way out.”
Part of the struggle is only having his brother, wife and sister helping with production. Being hand-crafted, the Cannagar requires a lot of work to try and meet the growing demand.
Another part of that struggle is a constant and consistent social media footprint. If you follow his Instagram, you will see Ariel attending events, spending time working and promoting the Leira lifestyle. You will also observe him and his wife in the gym often. Part of this is to show how different a cannabis user can be from the stereotypes most have grown up with.
Ariel is not against traditional marijuana culture. He says he is trying to tap into a market that, until now, has been left alone. He sees an opportunity and he is going to take it.
“Professionals are coming out and saying, ‘Yes, I smoke weed. I smoke Leira, and here it is,’” says Ariel.
What is Ariel’s most expensive creation to date? That would be a $3,600.00 Cannagar ordered by Seattle cannabis retailer, Diego Pellicer. It was later purchased by a wealthy Floridian who flew up just for the purchase. That customer regularly flies in to buy entire stocks of Leira at certain stores.
What is the next step for Leira Cannagars? Ariel would not say. Even off the record, he is still tight-lipped. All he would say is that they have products in the works that will blow my mind. Seeing first-hand his passion, dedication and devotion to his craft, I would expect nothing less. The horizon looks promising for Leira.