'Like a Jewelry Box' This Phoenix Business Designs Bags for Weed

John Hartsell knows what he does, even if you don't.
John Hartsell knows what he does, even if you don't. John Hartsell
It didn’t bother John Hartsell that people don’t necessarily understand what he does for a living.

“I typically just say I make boxes and bags for marijuana,” he said last week. “And then I have to explain that I mean retail packaging. It still takes a minute or two for them to understand what I do for work.”

What Hartsell and his business partner Jeff Scrabeck are doing is more than just packaging pot for dispensary sales. Their locally founded DIZPOT company has expanded to include troubleshooting and branding services for potential pot peddlers across the country.

Scrabeck is a former owner of Phoenix head shop Blaze Tobacco & Gifts, while Hartsell is a one-time political campaign worker and ad agency owner.

“My only real talent in the world is knowing people,” said Hartsell, who moved here from North Carolina in 2002 to work on Janet Napolitano’s gubernatorial campaign. “I know a lot of people.”

Many of them mispronounced the name of his company. “People usually pronounce the T,” he said. “But it’s really pronounced Diz-po, like in dispensary depot. It’s a double entendre because we do packaging and branding for pot. See?”

DIZPOT makes containers for all kinds of items, but its focus is on cannabis.

“We launched as a distribution company originally,” Hartsell said. “And we quickly realized this industry needed a branding and packaging company to put custom cannabis on a shelf at a dispensary.”

Hartsell thought he had a particular insight into marijuana packaging, and that his knowledge of weed helped him tailor packaging for some big-name national cannabis brands.

“I’m a heavy cannabis consumer,” he said. “I smoke concentrates and flower all day long, for my rheumatoid arthritis, so I know and understand the product in a way that’s special. Some of this stuff is $80 per gram, so you’re talking about not wanting to waste anything. You lose a tenth of that gram to leaching into the threads of a jar or falling out when you open it, and that’s the price of a cheeseburger you just lost there.”

In his line of work, Hartsell said, a lot of pot packaging ideas were stolen from other industries. “We get good ideas from cosmetics companies. Jewelry packaging is also applicable to cannabis packaging.”

But wrapping up pot product required ingenuity, he thought. “You have to think about how the consistency of a concentrate will vary. Or if you’re selling an edible that has butter or sugar or sauce. Do these things remain stable at different temperatures, so that they’re safe for the consumer to use but are held properly in the meantime?”

Hartsell isn’t surprised that marijuana is legal these days, and that pot fans can walk into a store to buy over-the-counter weed.

“My business partner is 60, and I’m 43, and we talk about this a lot,” he admitted. “We’ve decided it’s basically attrition that’s led us to this point where we have legal cannabis. Most of the stigma of pot is gone because more people living now have been regular consumers of it for a lot of their lives. So, I’m not surprised to see dispensaries open up in regular neighborhoods, right next door to Sprouts or whatever. It was unthinkable for a long time that we’d ever live in a world where you can legally use cannabis instead of opioids for what ails you, or just to have a more interesting time at the movies. But now we do. Now we do live in that world.”

Everyone, Hartsell said, wants to get into the cannabis business these days. “I always say, ‘Buy a time machine and head back a decade ago, and you sure can. You needed to be in on the ground floor ten years ago. Right now, the industry is big. And it’ll triple in the next couple decades. When I talk about what I do, there’s a ton of intrigue.”

There’s also some confusion. “But I don’t think that people understanding what I do for work is what defines me,” Hartsell said. “My job transcends all the other important things about me. Like what I do on the weekends, how I feel about my kids and my partner in life. I make boxes for cannabis to go in, but I’m not someone who can be, you know, put into a box myself.”
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Robrt L. Pela has been a weekly contributor to Phoenix New Times since 1991, primarily as a cultural critic. His radio essays air on National Public Radio affiliate KJZZ's Morning Edition.
Contact: Robrt L. Pela