Bella Thorne, Boss
From Disney stardom to cannabis CEO, this 24-year-old force of nature is just getting started.
Driving up to actress and cannabis entrepreneur Bella Thorne’s hilltop mansion in the picturesque backcountry canyons outside of Los Angeles, one could be forgiven for thinking that they were instead somewhere much more off-the-grid. This is a discrete area of Los Angeles County—close to the action, but far enough away that people who don’t want to be seen all the time can duck into the hills for some fresh air, literally and figuratively. Homes here are perched atop and in the pit of canyons, but rarely at street level, and driveways are always gated, with properties obscured by vegetation. The message is clear: All who live in this beautiful place prefer to do so in solitude. Come in peace, but only if you’re invited.
It just so happened that I had an invite, courtesy of Thorne and her team of handlers, though it still felt like I was trespassing in some sense. For me, maneuvering my Mini Cooper on twisting dirt roads while treading up and down hills in the uncharacteristic pounding rain of our drought-plagued state reminded me of driving in Humboldt County in Northern California’s Emerald Triangle, oddly enough.
Humboldt County is, of course, California’s famed cannabis growing country, and it’s another stunningly pretty place where people are welcomed with open arms, so long as they have an invite. Just like in the Triangle, there’s the promise of weed at the top of the hills on my horizon. Only this time, my car swerved between hulking live oak trees, not redwoods. And instead of meeting a grizzled farmer, I’d be interviewing a bonafide celebrity who’s finding her footing in the newly legal weed industry.
When I arrived at Thorne’s house—a gorgeous structure that towers over the canyons below and offers faint ocean views, as well as ample hillscapes and the distant glitter of the City of Angels—it became clear that not only is there weed in these here hills, hell, there’s damn near an empire.
For the unacquainted—which means you’re not among her 51 million combined followers on Instagram, TikTok, Facebook and Twitter—Thorne is an actor that began her career in that most reliable of superstar Hollywood child actor factories: Disney. There, she took her co-starring turn as CeCe Jones on the Mickey Mouse network’s hit series, Shake it Up, back in 2010 and pivoted to a massive career that includes appearing in some 30 movies since her debut. Thorne’s latest turn is Amazon Prime’s Time Is Up, co-starring her now fiancé, Benjamin Mascolo.
In addition to acting, Thorne is also a writer (she’s currently working on her second memoir), model, musician, content creator, activist and, most recently, a legal cannabis entrepreneur. With all of this at just 24, she’s also recently added a “Forbes 30 Under 30 2022: Hollywood & Entertainment” designation to her long list of credits and accolades.
Today, Thorne is putting elbow grease into her cannabis brand, Forbidden Flowers, which launched in partnership with Santa Barbara County-based Glass House Farms in late 2019. Thorne’s brand is known for its greenhouse-grown cannabis flower sold in jewel-toned glitter jars with evocative strain names such as Midnight Thorneberry and Topanga Sunrise, which are intended to give the smoker an idea of what they’ll feel after toking up.
Some celebrities seem to start cannabis brands because it’s an obvious next step in their life plan for market domination. These days, and with a massive assist from any number of social media platforms, it’s easier than ever for celebrities to expand into consumer-packaged goods to further accentuate their personal brand. Cannabis is no different, with plenty of brands garnering labels slapped on by one famous person or another. The difference, in Thorne’s case, is that she’s a genuine cannabis enthusiast, dubbing herself an “indica girl.” She told me midway through a long, fascinating conversation that she actually started smoking weed at a young age for medical reasons. It helped calm her extreme social anxiety which at times even made her unable to keep down food.
“My body was kind of rejecting me at this time in my life,” Thorne says, reflecting on her teenage years. “And with anxiety not being really talked about…you know, that wasn’t something we ever talked about in my family. So, having none of these answers and feeling completely hopeless, weed helped me so much with that. It completely changed my life. I was coming to this point where doctors were putting me on pills, and I was so young.”
Thorne says that prior to trying cannabis for the first time, her doctors prescribed her the ADHD medication Adderall, which she said “obviously didn’t help” with her anxiety-induced eating and digestion problems. It also interrupted her sleep and didn’t get better with time. She resorted to asking her older brother for something to help her sleep and he suggested she try dabbing cannabis concentrates. This unexpected detail completely surprised me because dabbing isn’t exactly the first stop new users take on the cannabis train, particularly teenagers.
“‘Oh, this is going to help her really sleep,’” Thorne said, laughing hard and recounting what her brother said at the time. “It was hardcore! At the time I was like, ‘I’m never smoking weed again after this.’ Cut to now!”
Thorne explained that it took her a minute to come back to cannabis, particularly since her mom also wasn’t fond of anyone in the family smoking weed. These days, a lot has changed. Not only is her mom “totally with it,” but she’s also recognized the very tangible benefits cannabis brings to her daughter’s life. “She has really seen how much weed helps my anxiety,” Thorne says. “My mom has seen me where the symptoms really start to come on, I get upset and my breath gets really tight. She sees me smoking weed, sees what a capable human I am, and she gets it.”
Dabbing has also regained a place in Thorne’s heart and routine, though she maintains that, at her core, she’s truly a flower enthusiast, hence why Forbidden Flowers launched as a flower line first and foremost, with diamond-infused pre-rolls that launched earlier this year. But a peek into an alcove just off her kitchen reveals a stunning sight: a fully functional, beautiful dab bar bedecked in lush faux flora and garnished with large, lit-up marquee letters spelling out “D-A-B B-A-R.” A change of heart, indeed, though she says dabs are only an occasional indulgence at best. When juxtaposed with the other Alice in Wonderland elements adorning Thorne’s home—a wall packed with clocks, sparkles and bright colors aplenty and flowers, flowers, flowers everywhere you look—it’s clear that Thorne has aged out of her younger days with a sophisticated, discerning taste that still maintains its whimsy. Thorne’s home is both grand in scale and inviting: a deft trick, to be sure.
That extends to Thorne’s cannabis brand. Forbidden Flowers is special, Thorne says, because of the glass house it’s grown in. She’s referring to her cultivation and distribution partner, Glass House Farms, which grows cannabis flower in its proprietary, tech-heavy greenhouses that offer LED supplemental light when needed, but primarily rely on the sun. This technique provides the punch of indoor cultivation, like the potency and attendant climate controls, with the benefits of sungrown cannabis, which include lower energy inputs and outputs, as well as a wider spectrum of terpenes and other expressions depending on cultivar.
What makes Glass House special is the fact that they can do this at scale, which at this point is still an experiment in California’s legal cannabis industry, but one that’s working thus far. One only needs to try Forbidden Flowers’ weed to see that firsthand. Thorne works directly with the company’s cultivators, including president and lead cultivator Graham Farrar, to select the strains that go in her brand’s jars.
Glass House boasts an astonishing half-a-million square feet of total operating greenhouse space in their facility, located in SoCal’s Carpinteria Valley. With that kind of real estate, they’re easily one of the largest greenhouse cannabis producers in all of California.
The operation’s massive size, however, isn’t front of mind for Thorne. “You see how much love and care and attention is actually put into this flower; Glass House isn’t just making and making product, which was my issue with other brands,” Thorne says of other large cultivations, particularly strictly indoor grows.
She says she’s not only impressed by the attention the cultivators give to the plants—that is, how “committed to making beautiful things” and how laser-focused they are on the plants’ different sections—but also by the Glass House growers’ work ethic. That particular characteristic is especially meaningful to Thorne, who credits her Cuban heritage from her late father’s side for her own indefatigable work ethic. Hard-working is one attribute she’s more than comfortable designating to herself, but also one that she greatly admires in others, most importantly her business partners.
“I’d been approached by quite a few weed companies to start my own brand,” the actor says, sporting hair with an I-can’t-stop-looking-at-her vibrant orange hue. “Every time I visited these other farms, I was just like ‘…Oh…’ about the way that the cannabis was being handled on the inside—how rushed the process was only to produce more product to make more money for me. I just always thought that was gross because I’m like, ‘Bro! I’m smoking this! It’s going in my lungs!’ So, yeah. No thanks.”
The love goes both ways, according to Glass House’s Farrar. “My favorite part of working with Bella is that she’s a true stoner, knows her weed, appreciates sungrown and natural weed,” he says, of his partnership with the Hollywood standout. “Bella knows what she likes (indica, fruity) and what she doesn’t. She’s also a super nice person.”
Farrar also says that Thorne knows her cannabis and is choosy about what she likes.
“We select the strains by the flavors and tastes Bella likes,” he says. “Midnight Thornberry, a strain bred specifically for Bella, is for example a cross between Devil’s Johnson and Hell’s Fire OG. It’s an indica-heavy strain with a high potency, perfect for relaxing and melting away the stress that comes from a demanding schedule.”
So, Bella Thorne knows her way around the plant, sure, but is it working? In other words, how successful is this startup cannabis brand? According to Forbidden Flowers, the company is expecting to increase the top line by a full 50 percent in 2022 when compared to 2021.
After quality and strain selection were dialed in, Thorne’s next focus, her favorite part of owning a cannabis brand, is the marketing and branding, which she says she has a particularly keen eye for developing. The proof is in her entire existence—remember that empire?—and it extends to every inch of Forbidden Flowers, in tandem.
“One of my favorite things is how customers collect all of the jars,” Thorne says. “They collect them, and some people even make like ombré towers with all the different colors. Other people have started using the jars as lanterns for putting little tiny mini plants in the jars. They get so cute! People found such interesting ways to use this thing again, which is so great for our brand because we really pride ourselves on our jars.”
I can completely relate to this scenario, as it echoes my own behavior—and she’s right: These jars are great for business.
“You know,” Thorne continues, excitedly, “we make our own jars completely from scratch. We’re not white labeling jars, like most of the cannabis space really does,” she says, referring to the practice of contracting cannabis and packaging services while just slapping a label on the package and not being very involved in the actual product production. “I really fully designed these jars, so, I personally love them.”
It’s clear that one reason Thorne is so passionate about marketing, other than her natural prowess, is because it presents the most obvious challenges for her. Finding creative solutions—such as making packaging that people would buy just to re-use—is part of the game.
“Marketing, in particular, is one thing that makes the weed industry different from others,” she says. “The rulebook is very iffy when it comes to how you’re allowed to market cannabis. It’s very gray on what you can and can’t do. So, you could be the first to do something and you’re like, ‘This is amazing!’ and other people do the same thing and, all of a sudden, regulators come in and say, ‘Oh, now that you’ve done that, we’re going to change the laws. Thanks for bringing that to our attention, actually.’ It’s such a dick move!”
Her frustrations extend to social media as well, where Thorne says she feels like she can’t even fully step into her role as a cannabis executive, though that’s very much her function IRL, seeing as Instagram severely cracks down on so much cannabis content. “Even on Instagram, you’re restricted,” she says. “You’re not even allowed to sell anything or have any type of link to selling things on Instagram when it comes to weed. And even if I just post a photo, I get flagged, I get shadow banned; the [brand’s] account gets in trouble. It’s like, how do you expect us to even have an account? You might as well then just take weed down altogether because you’re not letting us do anything with it!”
She expects and hopes that’ll change some day, as the stigma around cannabis consumption continues to fade, which is something Thorne, predictably, feels passionately about. After all, she saw that conversion in her own life, most notably within her own family.
“I was smoking weed when that was taboo,” Thorne says. “I started a weed company when that was taboo; so, you know, people in the public are like, ‘Oh my god, this girl must be out here being crazy. She must be partying every night and…’ I don’t even know what they think! There are just a lot of crazy assumptions about me out there.”
And now? “People are like, ‘Oh, [Forbidden Flowers] is an actual business,’” she says, imitating people who have doubted her along the way. “Whatever they think a stoner is like, it’s not the best person in their opinion. They don’t think highly of it. But now they do. Now people say, ‘OK, she’s really a businesswoman. And this thing that I used to think was a dirty thing has built her a piece of her going-to-be empire.’ So, I think that really resonates. Cannabis becomes more acceptable. Some people may still frown on it, but if they realize it’s just a job, then it becomes OK.”
Challenge seems to be a natural draw for the cannapreneur, including her struggle to overcome dyslexia, a medical condition that juxtaposes letters making it excruciatingly difficult to read. Thorne actually credits her dyslexia for her clearly evidenced dogged perseverance since childhood that has resulted in her success. I ask Thorne if she chose to start a weed company because it was in an industry that still wasn’t federally legal yet. In other words, does Bella Thorne love a challenge?
Thorne paused for a beat and gathered her thoughts. “Yeah, I mean, I definitely don’t shy away from challenges,” she says calmly. “And there’s always going to be a challenge. So, I don’t know that I seek the challenge, though. I’m not like, what would be so hard to do? I’ll do that!” [Laughs]
She paused again. “I guess sometimes…yeah. No…yeah. OK. You’re right. That’s true,” she finally conceded, both of us laughing.
Even though “business is booming,” Thorne says, there’s no such thing as a free ride in the cannabis industry, especially not in California, where the market is crowded as ever, and the regulations are strangling far too many operators. Which means, yes, Thorne feels right at home, though it’s never easy. Still, it’s clear she’s psyched about what’s to come.
“Business is hot,” Thorne says excitedly when I asked how things were going with Forbidden Flowers. “I, of course, also trust Glass House, they’re my partners, I really trust them and listen to them. But as far as decision-making goes, where I’m all in is the design, the actual flower production—how it tastes, its quality. New products, too. We’re really looking to get into different areas of the cannabis industry because we’re killing it with our flower, so we’re ready to take it further. I’m overseeing all of that right now.”
Thorne says she’s involved “100 percent in marketing,” which includes what everything looks and feels like, “how the brand is perceived. That’s where I spend most of my time.”
“How do we keep elevating it?” Thorne asks hypothetically. “How do we keep getting people interested in different ways to keep them coming back? How do we introduce new people that aren’t in the cannabis space to our cannabis?”
To that point, Forbidden Flowers and Thorne, in turn, have quite a lot on the plate in the immediate future. A recent Valentine’s Day collab with a Santa Barbara chocolatier produced artisanal edibles. She’s also exploring getting into the “wax space,” she says of concentrates, as well as smoking accessories, which frankly should be de rigueur for someone whose impeccable aesthetics and vibes got her to near mogul status.
Thorne reveals she’s particularly excited about Forbidden Flowers’ rolling papers, which are colored and use natural fruit dye. “They’re healthier than normal papers, and I’m so proud that we were able to do that,” she says. “They work well, they’re beautiful and I just really want to see people with dope-colored joints all the time.”
As we wind down our conversation, I can’t stop thinking about the very first question I asked this multi-dimensional powerhouse: “Finish this sentence: Bella Thorne is…” While I waited for her response, she mumbled and thought out loud, clearly having trouble distilling herself into a single word or phrase. I understand her struggle. When trying to describe her, I come up with a multitude of adjectives, none quite encapsulating the space she so fully inhabits.
In the end, as she always seems to, the hardest working 24-year-old celebrity we know says, “Bella Thorne is…multifaceted.” I couldn’t agree more.
This story was originally published in the print edition of Cannabis Now.