Imagine a postcard-perfect day in Waikiki. The sun blazing against the bluest sky reflected on impossibly clear water and white sand beaches. You’ve just given your final surfing lesson of the day and you hop on your moped in flip-flops and a tank top without a worry in the world. Life is good.
The next thing you know you are sprawled across the warm earth, confused and in immense pain as a crowd begins to gather around you at the scene of the accident. Carefree days under the Hawaiian sun will soon be replaced by head trauma, bouts with PTSD, and dark and dangerous thoughts fueled by pharmaceutical drugs.
This was the reality for Dan Yoo in the early 1990’s and over time his road to recovery has evolved into a quest for perfection with Kaizen Medicinal and Pharmers Manufacturing and the role that they play with the Santa Cruz Veterans Alliance (SCVA) in the California cannabis marketplace and beyond.
NO RAIN, NO RAINBOWS
Though he was born in Hawaii, Dan and his family relocated to Southern California when he was in 2nd grade, planting their roots in Orange County in 1980. A self-described “spazzy kid”, Dan dabbled in weed here and there growing up in the SoCal scene, but his true passion was always surfing and many of his best memories are from shooting his way from a grom on the south side of the iconic Huntington Beach Pier to a respected regular over on the north side.
Once he got out of high school, Dan was growing a little weed of his own and was traveling to some prime surf spots to test his skills. But in his ultimate drive to test his will Dan’s path led him back to Hawaii, to Oahu, to chase some of the world’s largest waves.
That’s where we caught up to him at the beginning of this story, in the aftermath of a life-changing traffic accident on an otherwise glorious day.
The resulting physical therapy and medical treatments associated with the head and bodily injuries that he sustained that day led to prescriptions for various types of drugs, including one called Effexor that was supposed to help with Dan’s diagnosed PTSD from the accident.
Dan says he never felt like he had depression or PTSD prior to his experience with the prescription meds, but that he was “just bummed” that he wasn’t able to surf for a year due to his head injury.
Effexor is marketed as an aid for those who may suffer from depression or certain types of anxiety disorders, but the “Important Safety Information” found in the fine print states that “Antidepressants increased the risk of suicidal thinking and behavior (suicidality) in children, teens, and young adults compared to placebo.”
Sure enough, Dan began to experience a dark emotional imbalance that he was not familiar with. Fortunately, his mother recognized it during a phone conversation and staged her own intervention. Knowing her son would not want to leave the island, Mama Yoo arranged to have him stay at a local Buddhist Temple.
Going cold turkey off of a powerful antidepressant like Effexor can be dangerous but the strict daily regiment at the temple softened Dan’s fall so that rock bottom didn’t feel so bad, and his climb back out not so far.
GOING, GOING, BACK, BACK. . .
One can learn many lessons from the deep and dark inward experience of suicidal thoughts and the big takeaway for Dan was that he wanted nothing more to do with Big Pharma and its grip on western medicine.
He knew that he was a generally happy person and that a doctor-recommended pill had flipped that into the very real possibility of him ending his own life.
Now with a clear head and a mended body, Dan moved back to California in an attempt to start over and reluctantly grow up a bit.
With his green thumb from growing his own fair share of cannabis in the past, Dan landed a job at Scott’s Lawn & Garden where he excelled but his own curiosity led to enough research to convince him that his own moral compass did not align with their mission statement and so he left.
His next gig was at Trader Joe’s. There, too, he proved to be an exemplary employee and soon found himself communicating with top level executives in his expanding role with the company.
Still though, he dealt with uncomfortable levels of anxiety, particularly at night which led to insomnia. His doc gave him a synthetic solution, but Dan wasn’t down and instead he turned back to a love he had once known well – cannabis.
It was now 2006 and Dan was blessed to have a local friend who grew his own bud and had an abundance of it that he would share. It was on the way home from a visit with that friend that Dan saw that telltale red and blue in the rearview as he got pulled over by the police.
Now, Prop215 had been in place for a decade at this point in Cali, but Dan was not a registered patient, he wasn’t coming from a dispensary, and even so the cops probably would not have cared. They said they could smell weed in the car and asked him if he was in possession. Thinking it was all a formality, Dan was honest with the officers, telling them he had about a half an ounce under his seat.
Dan’s score was in fact right around a half ounce of flower, but since it was two separate strains he had roughly seven grams in each of two separate ziplock bags and that triggered the pigs and led to yet another skew in the orbit of Dan’s life.
The cops arrested Dan on the spot and he was charged with possession, transportation, and sales. . . for a half ounce of weed. . . in California. . .
Dan was tossed in a cell and his bail was set at $40,000 for a trivial amount of weed. He bailed out for around $4500 and on the day of his arraignment he denied the offer of retaining a public defender, confident that his charges were ridiculous and would get tossed regardless of his legal representation.
Once in front of the judge, however, Dan was made aware of just how serious the charges against him apparently were, and that he could be looking at 2-5 years behind bars if the case didn’t go his way. Given a second chance, he retained his own lawyer who was unable to make any headway with the local District Attorney, but was able to get the case relocated to a friendlier venue and court where the charges were dropped almost immediately in exchange for a $120 fine and a misdemeanor.
Dan was relieved, but after all legal fees he was also out well over $20k for nothing. That was money that he had saved by doing what he was told was the right thing to do – go to work, pay your taxes, mind your business. He had turned to cannabis to avoid the dangers of pharmaceuticals that he knew all too well, and now he was being punished for it.
Dan says, looking back, “If they want to label me, punish me, and ruin my life over cannabis, then I’ll become an advocate for it.”
With his passion for cannabis truly rekindled, Dan moved north to Santa Cruz, California where he planned to blend his experience from the corporate world with his skills from the streets to hopefully earn a living while spreading the word about the power of cannabis.
He began growing top quality flower for an outfit out of Santa Cruz called Capitola Healing Association. It was during this time that Dan was reintroduced to the new breed of cannabis concentrates. A far cry from the bubble hash and sifts that he remembered, the more recent butane-extracted and refined waxes and shatters that he now saw certainly peaked his interest.
The more he got into the extract scene, the more he realized that there were a lot of poorly prepared and purged products on the market and so he began to run his own trim and smalls with a focus on creating a safe, effective, and delicious headstash for himself and his closest friends.
As the popularity of his notoriously clean and powerful concentrates grew, Dan decided to brand the effort under the name Kaizen – a Japanese term that refers to ‘continuous improvement’ through a lean methodology.
“That’s how I’ve always been,” says Dan about the name, “I always try to educate, to learn, to keep practicing anything that I do to try to always improve.”
Kaizen was one of the pioneering concentrate companies to start voluntarily testing their product with SC Labs in an effort to maintain transparency, to educate consumers, and to hold themselves to the highest standards.
It was there at Capitola Healing that Dan and his colleagues came up with the “100ppm Or Under” standard for all concentrates. This new standard mandated that any form of hash that wanted to make it onto their dispensary shelf had to be lab tested and shown to contain 100 parts per million or less of residual solvents.
In his time at Capitola Healing Dan dealt with many veterans who had found relief for their own mental and physical issues using cannabis as he had, and though he was not a vet himself he found he could empathize with their struggles.
“That’s why I teamed up with the vets because they really need the cannabis. I can relate to them because I went through a weird time with pharmaceuticals and I know that the cannabis that they use can help them to not get into a situation like I felt I got thrown into just because I was young,” says Dan, “I grew up being told you can trust your doctor. If you’re sick your doctor will take care of you. But these days it seems they are only looking to take care of themselves and fill their pockets with money.”
Aaron Newsom and Jason Sweatt of SCVA used to pop into Capitola Healing on occasion and they soon befriended Dan who was a regular contributor to the SCVA veterans compassion program.
When trading childhood stories one day, Dan and Aaron realized that they had both grown up in the same exact neighborhood in Huntington, running with essentially the same crew, but Aaron was a bit younger.
When Dan and Jason started rapping, they too realized how small the world is when they determined that they were both teaching surfing lessons on the same strip of sand in Waikiki, separated by mere months mostly due to Dan’s accident. Their seemingly unconnected relocations to Santa Cruz also happened almost simultaneously, setting up their eventual friendship.
By then SCVA and their cultivation op were in full bloom and Dan was just as big of a fan of their top shelf flowers as they were of his high quality concentrates and so a collaboration between the two was a no brainer.
When California made the move to legalize and regulate an adult use recreational cannabis market in 2016, the foundation of trust that Dan’s relationship with SCVA was built upon made for another easy decision when choosing who to partner with for the next chapter in legal weed.
The structure and work ethic honed in their military experience attracted Dan to the veterans at SCVA as their mantra lined up with his own guiding force of kaizen.
Together they formed Pharmers Manufacturing in Watsonville, California, a licensed facility home to the award-winning Kaizen brand and Dan’s new headquarters.
Dan recognizes that in order to make high quality concentrates requires high quality starting material and that can often impact the final retail price. Though he vows to always offer that top shelf level of product he also strives to produce concentrates that clock in at lower prices without sacrificing much flavor or effect.
“I want to put a good quality product out there that is affordable and won’t break people’s bank,” says Dan, adding, “Both my parents worked when I was growing up, we weren’t rich. I’ve worked my whole life. Now I hear of people paying up to $25 for a pre-roll.”
At prices like that he wonders how anyone can even afford to kick a harmful prescription drug habit and that is why he wants to offer effective extracts at all price points.
His affordable and reliable concentrates, along with a very popular line of all-natural cannabis-infused topical lotions and consumable tinctures are a welcome addition to the roster of healing products offered under the SCVA banner.
When he is not donning his white lab coat and concocting the concentrates of the future, Dan loves to spend his time out on the water. A father now, his obsession with surfing has calmed but a newfound love for fishing with his kid has him hooked and his friends and family never have to pay for fresh fish.
We’ll be taking a closer look at some of Dan’s handiwork in an upcoming installment here at Beard Bros. Media but in the meantime you’d do yourself a favor to seek out Kaizen Medicinal products or request them at your favorite dispensary.