Scott Berman began his career journey at a jewelry store, yet his ambitious spirit and jack-of-all-trades success led him to become a co-founder and investment advisor of an advisory firm navigating the cannabis industry, a Buddhist-and-Zen-focused podcast host, and the head statistician for the Philadelphia 76rs.
In this episode of TechTalk Podcast, Brad Cost, Dr. Jay Greenstein, DC and Scott Berman sit down to discuss:
The similarities and differences of the cannabis and alcohol industries, in terms of scalability.
Experiencing Buddhism as a way of life, as a religion and as a podcast focus.
Philadelphia 76rs stats and common overlooks from coaches.
3:00 – A man of many talents. “After graduating, I started off in a family business, where we sold jewelry and manufactured it. During that journey of about 10 or 12 years, I started getting into online advertising and became interested in AdWords. The light bulb went off. If I knew how to do AdWords, it didn't matter whether I was selling jewelry or medical services. I had a landscape client. Digital marketing was the thing I wanted to do, and I began that in the early 2000s. I've also been working with the Philadelphia 76rs for a couple of decades by keeping their game stats. The analytical and data-driven aspects excite me. In 2008, I co-founded a company. We did digital advertising in the healthcare space and political campaigns. While I was involved with that, the fight for cannabis legalization arose and I recognized it as a political issue that was changing rapidly. My partners and I were entrepreneurs, and we started looking at that space in fascination. We started messing around in the cannabis space in about 2014 and it's still evolving to this day.”
5: 49 – Cannabis vs alcohol industries. “Going back to college, I realized early on in college that drinking was not great for my grades. I would go out, drink a lot, and wouldn't want to go to class the next day. At some point, I started using cannabis and weed, and noticed I felt better and my grades were improving. It made me question: if alcohol is legal, why is cannabis illegal? I spent the next 20 years or so, smoking weed undercover, but I knew eventually it would be legalized. It started in California with medical marijuana in 1996, so we began looking at the rest of the country and the history of the legalization of alcohol in the 30s. What happened in the next 20 to 40 years in the alcohol industry? We saw a lot of the same things happening in cannabis. The size and opportunities of this industry started to become pretty apparent to us.”
7:11 – Making the cannabis industry scalable. “There's a company called Southern Wine and Spirits, and I researched how they started their business. They were selling bourbon to stores in one state, and then they bought another distributorship in another. Little by little, they built this massive distribution network. I started thinking about how this will be inevitable for the cannabis industry soon. There are stores, producers, and a demand to get from point A to point B and to establish brands. Nobody knows brands because we've all been buying weed in unmarked plastic bags forever. Now we have packages with labels, just like alcohol has bottles with labels. I saw the evolution of branding and forms in the space too. We all know about flower, but now there's oils, tinctures, and edibles.”
8:14 – Cannabis as a healthcare product. “There is also a medical side. I mentioned that we were in the healthcare and advertising business, working for pharma companies, and we would target people based on an ailment or a prescription that they were taking. I realized that cannabis was a good substitute for about half of those things. Instead of ambient for sleep, have an edible. I started thinking, what if marijuana were legal everywhere? How many people would consume cannabis instead of X prescription? I figured that was going to happen repeatedly with a lot of different types of consumers where cannabis would become a healthcare product.”
11:06 – State licensing differences. “Well, it's different in every state. Your state, Oklahoma, is one of the worst in terms of licensing because they gave out licenses too easily. There are way too many people doing it in Oklahoma and it is tough to make money there I imagine. In comparison, you can look at my state, Pennsylvania, which is a limited license state. There's a lot less retailers and growers, so the ones that are open, and in good location, are doing quite well. It really is interesting how every state has a different evolution. Jay, Maryland just went to adult-use like last year, so the DC, Maryland, Virginia area is starting to become important. It really does depend on where you are.”
15:37 – Genesis of The Game of Zen. “My interest in Buddhism started a long time ago. My uncle was a Buddhist and he talked to me about it in my 20s. I was interested, but I didn't spend a lot of time on it. Fast forward to when I was almost 50. I had a health situation, and it built a lot more spirituality. Then COVID started. I ordered a bunch of books to read in my free time, and I started reading Buddhism books. I became more interested in it and, right around that time, I met a guy named Paul Augustinelli. He's a Zen teacher, entrepreneur and executive coach in Boulder, Colorado. It was perfect timing, so I signed up for coaching with Paul on his website, ZenAtWork.org. We started working together and got along really well. Not only was I super interested in the Buddhist philosophies, but the more that I learned, the better it helped me. In other words, the results amplified my life, professionally and personally. I started using these philosophies every day, and I was much more mindful and content. It's just been a journey. Paul and I worked together for a couple of years and one day I suggested that he start a podcast to reach more people. He immediately asked me to do it with him. That's kind of how it started.”
18:13 – Religion or way of life? “That's a great question and I think people look at it differently. First, I believe in Judaism as my religion, but my way of life is Buddhism. Buddhism can really help your life and accentuate your current beliefs. In other words, you don't have to discard all your previous religious beliefs to become Buddhist. That's the way I look at it. However, many people look at Buddhism as a religion and I respect that.”
20:54 – Buddhist book recommendation. “Yeah, definitely. The book is called The Miracle of Mindfulness by Thich Nhat Hanh. Hanh is a Vietnamese Buddhist monk who has a monastery in France. He died recently at 95 years old, but during his lifetime, he inspired people around the world. Buddhism can be intimidating and confusing to people, but Hanh has a way of making it very simple and practical and gives good tools to exercise. I learned a lot of practical tips for my daily activity about how to bring this into my life. As I got further along, I started reading more detailed and older teachings, but I highly recommend Thich Nhat Hanh.”
22:27 – Podcast conversations. “On our podcast, Paul and I take these Buddhist philosophies, like the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism, and figure out how to pick them apart and apply them to our personal or professional life. It's all part of trying to help the other person with their suffering. One big thing I’ve learned is the First Noble Truth of Buddhism is everybody has suffering. How do we identify that suffering and get past it in our own life? How do we help other people with their suffering? The fact that I could say something that I learned from a book could help someone with their day. It affects a lot of different things that I do, and it's really been a gift.”
23:45 – The meaning of Zen. “That’s a great question and there's no great answer. Zen is a lineage of Buddhism that started in China and migrated elsewhere. It came to the West maybe 30 or 40 years ago, but it's a very practical part of Buddhism. There's a lot of different definitions. Buddha was 2,500 years ago. Since that time, there's been a lot of different interpretations of his teachings. Zen was more practical, and it's supposed to teach you a lesson with little anecdotes.”
29:48 – Advocacy work moves mountains. “Back when I first worked with the cannabis industry, we worked for a company called Marijuana Policy Project. This company went around from state to state to advocate for changing laws. They've been doing it for 25 years and their work is not done. In the beginning, it was getting patients access to medicine. Medical marijuana was legalized because we were able to prove that people were using it for medicine, and it was helping them. Each state had a list of conditions that you would need to meet to be eligible for cannabis. That varies greatly from state to state. We were going to each state capital, meeting with state representatives, and explaining why it was time to legalize cannabis. We now have 38 legal medical states and I think 21 adult-use states, which is great. There's still plenty of places where you can't get it, so we need to keep advocating. We need to get this fight with the federal government over with. To learn more about the advocacy work for cannabis, visit Marijuana Policy Project’s website, MPP.org. MPP.org is the main organization for cannabis. They've been leading the charge for a lot of years, so help them as much as you can. I don't work with them anymore, but I love what they do.”
33:01 - The future of plant medicine. “It's exciting what's happening now. Back in the 70s, there was a lot of progress and research on this at Harvard. They were having good success, but then people freaked out that people were going to go nuts off this stuff and it was outlawed along with its research. That was a big problem. Now, we are at this place where there's a lot of medical research and the results are phenomenal. Psilocybin, especially, has been proven to be excellent for PTSD, depression, suicidal thoughts, end-of-life issues. Now I believe that, with the clinical work, we're going to be replacing Zoloft, Lexapro and more with low-dose psilocybin. Back to the Big Pharma situation, there's better alternatives here. Plant medicine is healthier for you, it's not addictive and it works better. I look at it in two ways. There's a lot of people out there that have severe mental issues where plant medicine could be a game changer. I'm not just talking about psilocybin. Ketamine and MDMA are also very popular now. They help people that have a lot of issues, but also help with the betterment of well people, as Michael Pollan says. I feel like I'm basically a well person, but I enjoy these journeys too. I get to a higher level of consciousness. I have more of a connection with friends. I can tell mentally it's helped me over the years as well. If we figure out the right treatment for the right type of person, I think this could be a game changer.”
41:18 – Sixers’ stats. “I'm a head statistician for the Sixers since 1988. My partner and I have a touchscreen computer and we record every point, rebound, foul, and turnover at every home game, and log it all. That's the job and it hasn't changed in all these years. I really enjoy the data aspect of it. I enjoy looking at the box score during time outs or at halftime and figuring out like why the Sixers are winning or losing, why their field goal percentage is low, points off the turnovers or points in the paint. There are all these interesting stats that come up that tell the story of the game. When you listen to the game with the broadcasters or read the newspaper the next day, they're quoting data from the box scores all the time. It’s cool to be a part of it.”
45:56 – Overlooks of the coaches. “They pay attention to this more now, but the plus minus is really important in basketball, and I think a lot of people overlook it. Plus minus is the stats behind how the team performs when a player is on the court. For example, if the game was tied, you sub in, but you're back out five minutes later and your team's up by four points, you're a plus four. I think that is an important stat because you can affect the game in different ways. You don't necessarily have to score. If you play good defense, if you rebound and your team takes a lead while you're on the court, you're a really good player. Over time that number means a lot.”
47:38 – Sports Report – The National Title.
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