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Meet the Big Tree team: Eric Cozens, CEO

12/09/2020
Meet the Big Tree team: Eric Cozens, CEO

By Rae Lland

From speaking with Eric Cozens, it’s clear to see he views the world with a meticulous eye, finding all the little details, and pulling forth the attributes that elevate and inspire. He’s both a big picture, and a small picture kind of guy, and he is not afraid to keep moving forward.

CAREER PATH OF CANNABIS

Cozens has been working as Big Tree Grading’s CEO since 2018, and his prior work history in the cannabis industry is extensive and impressive. Though he has a corporate background in restaurants, fine wine and specialty coffee, he eventually moved away from these industries and started his cannabis career as Director of Operations for a tier three facility in Washington which he helped take from medical to recreational in 2015. He directed a team of 40 people, all aspects of production, distribution processing, packaging and sales distribution, supply chain solutions and more.

From there, Cozens was recruited by Privateer Holdings in late 2015, who were licensing and distributing big name brands such as Marley Natural. Cozens was in charge of creating supply chain solutions and sourcing medical cannabis in Northern California for the brands. From there, with all the experience Cozens had gained and the confidence he felt in his abilities, he started a consulting company to help manage people’s licenses for them, assisting with operations management, contract labor and helping promote industry connections.

Then one day, Big Tree’s now partner Tamerlane Trading came out on a snowy January day to a cold barn to see some cannabis Cozens had. In preparation for their visit, he took his prior background in specialty coffee and fine wine and applied it to cannabis.

“I set up the product viewing like I would a coffee or wine tasting. I had it all out, all the bins out, some product trim, some flower with the yields on it. I had the notes, I had notebooks for them to take notes in. They walked in and they're like, ‘oh, no one's ever done this before.’”

This impressive initiative and dedication to elevating excellence, combined with his wealth of experience and graduate degree in supply chain logistics, sparked what would become a great partnership between Cozens and the team at Tamerlane, eventually growing into the formation of Big Tree Grading with Cozens at the helm.

These days, Cozens doesn’t spend as much time in the field, instead directing a team of graders around the state who go out and visit suppliers onsite to talk about their product, standardization practices and provide Big Tree’s certificate of grade. Cozens also manages Big Tree’s relationships with brokers like Tamerlane Trading, who use their services to provide quality verification for the product their clients put on the marketplace.

While COVID has made work-from-home necessary for Cozens’ position, he does miss the days when he was able to be on the ground more often.

“It was nice getting out there and being in the field; getting your hands dirty. I enjoyed that part of it. I've been in probably 500 farms and in three countries over the last five years or so.”

RITUAL AND REGULATIONS

When I asked Cozens what his favorite part of working in the cannabis industry is, he paused thoughtfully and then gave a measured and evocative answer.

“I like the process and ritual, and I think what drew me to cannabis was the same thing that drew me to the coffee and wine industry -- you have an agricultural product that is grown with care, put through many layers of process, handed down through the supply chain and then in the end a ritual is performed to bring people closer together. If you grind your own coffee and brew your own French press and share it with people, or make it for people, that’s kind of a ceremony. Wine is similar, there is a ritual around opening a bottle and you consume it with groups of people over food or whatnot; that brings us together. With cannabis too, you've taken an agricultural product, put it through a process, applied something that has changed it -- in this case it would be heat or fire, and you've created a ritual or a community.”

While Cozens speaks with such passion about an industry he clearly loves, he also isn’t afraid to shy away from the issues that need to be addressed when I ask what surprised him about the industry.

“The most surprising thing is after we've come this far, we see this industry happen in front of us and our government has not embraced it or woken up to the fact that this is a healing plant. These are business professionals. This is a mainstream product consumed by mainstream people. The fact that they haven’t taken the steps to normalize this, release people from jail and to let entrepreneurs be entrepreneurs is surprising.”

Cozens also expresses a desire to see those who fought for the cannabis industry included in its current successes. “The things that have disappointed me is that the people that really made this industry happen, fought for it, lost property and livelihoods, aren’t always the ones benefiting from it.”

E IS FOR EXCELLENCE

Born and raised in Seattle, a true Washingtonian, Cozens is a family man, married with two young boys aged one and three. Cozens’ wife is in the beverage distribution and fine wine industry, making it clear that between the two of them there must be no shortage of excellent taste in the house. His favorite wine currently? Argentinian Malbec.

Cozens hopes to see the things he admires about the wine industry become a reality for the cannabis industry one day. He speaks of education and hospitality, and a future when there can be open tours on cannabis farms, educational onsite learning, and hospitality experiences not unlike wine tastings at vineyards.

“When people see a cannabis farm for the first time, it's pretty amazing. It feels taboo; maybe you saw one in a closet in college or something like that. Then you’re walking through 30,000 square feet of plants. It’s pretty amazing.”

Cozens passion for immersion and education around cannabis is further exemplified in a class he helped develop and teach at Excelsior College called CBC 601: Complexities of Cannabis as Commerce.

When he’s not working or dreaming up new ways to elevate the industry, Cozens likes to spend his free time with his family or enjoying the great outdoors.

“The hikes and the mountains here in Washington state -- it's one of my favorite things, either snowboarding or hiking or rivers; I love rivers. I was a river guide when I was younger, we’d get a group of six or eight people in a boat and go down the rapids. When I’m spending time with my family it's been a lot of cooking lately. We have ‘Fancy Friday’ dinners, where we cook something fancy on Friday. I do all the cooking at home. Then there’s also playing in the yard with the kids, that’s really how I spend my free time.”

Cozens’ love of cooking comes from a background owning restaurants, but also once again from his love of community ritual. He speaks of taking the raw food, applying heat and cooking it as though it is alchemy, while also noting it’s much easier to cook than most people think, and how with the basic ideas down, you can really make anything you want.

His favorite dishes to make lately? Short ribs and smoked salmon. His favorite cuisine?

“Southwestern Mexican, that's my comfort food. Meat, cheese and tortilla -- any combination is always going to hit the spot. You can get fancier too and do some carne asada or really fancy fish tacos with cabbage slaw, or I can just shred some chicken in a Crock-Pot and eat it in a tortilla. That's amazing too.”

When it comes to ‘me-time,’ Cozens says he likes to watch the Seattle Sounders and Seahawks and read books by authors like Neal Stephenson.

As for what Cozens is looking forward to most next year, he speaks to a feeling that resonates with many. “I wouldn't mind a boring, normal year where we get to hang out with friends and family and do some socialization, have stability and get people back to work -- a lot of people are hurting right now -- so get people back to work and getting all our social lives back is going to be the key for 2021. Hopefully.”

The cannabis industry is undeniably unique, but it still shares similarities with its cousin industries and Cozens identifies these aspects with the fine tooth comb in his mind. It’s this attention to detail which truly helps him succeed in elevating Big Tree’s business practices, goals, client services and mission. For a company that is all about quality verification, it’s clear to see clients are in good hands with Cozens’ eye for excellence.

Rae Lland
Rae Lland
Writer

Rae Lland is a writer, journalist and editor with a focus on culture, music, health and wellness. In addition to her extensive catalogue of work for Leafly, she has also been featured in numerous online cannabis publications as well as print editions of Cannabis Now Magazine. Follow her on Instagram @rae.lland