The co-founders of Seattle-based cannabis and hemp product company Polite have multiple explanations for their startup name.
It’s about self care that includes THC- and CBD-containing products that address specific health concerns. It’s about replacing the “naughty” stereotype of marijuana with the “nice” alternative of their micro-dose products. It includes making science-backed claims about the tinctures, oral sprays, topical lotions and vaping devices that they’re selling.
“The spirit of Polite is really about treating yourself well and treating others well,” said Sue Tan, Polite co-founder and chief creative officer.
“We use cannabis for mental, physical, [and] social health and when we feel better as people,” she said, “in turn that has a knock on effect on our partners, children, our families, our communities.”
In January 2020, Polite launched its cannabis products containing THC, the intoxicating ingredient in marijuana. In April 2022 it began selling non-THC hemp goods with CBD. Products from both lines include a variety of cannabinoids — the biologically active components of cannabis and hemp — as well as other medicinal herbs.
Polite distinguishes itself by its focus is on health-related products, in contrast to purely recreational use.
With the legalization of marijuana, “patient-focused products were kind of ignored and thrown by the wayside,” said Yung Tan, co-founder and CEO. The health and wellness piece disappeared, he said, so “we put the ‘medical’ back into medical marijuana.”
The company is collaborating with physicians who study the outcomes for patients using these sorts of products and it’s applying this clinical information to develop its products. Polite partners with Seattle’s Advanced Integrative Medical Sciences (AIMS) Institute, a healthcare clinic that incorporates conventional and naturopathic approaches.
Its medical advisory board includes AIMS Institute co-founders Dr. Sunil Aggarwal and Dr. Leanna Standish. Both also hold positions at the UW School of Medicine and Bastyr University, a school of alternative medicine in Kenmore, Wash.
The company has competition. CBD products almost by definition are health-related. Other medically focused cannabis brands include Aunt Zelda’s and Mary’s Brands. But the sector does seem to give less priority to medical applications. A search on the cannabis platform Leafly, for example, doesn’t provide a clear path to finding low-dose THC-containing products for health needs.
Polite founders say their goal is to help customers discover which formulations and doses work best for meeting their health needs. That includes products to address chronic pain and inflammation, sleep, stress and anxiety, digestion and immunity, energy and focus, and joint and muscle pain.
It focuses on cannabis educational outreach to the public, healthcare workers, and “budtenders” who work in marijuana retail stores and often have only their personal experience to draw upon when recommending products.
“This issue is, forgive the pun, truly grassroots,” said Sue Tan. “You have patients going to their healthcare providers and saying, ‘I’m going to try this [cannabis product], whether you believe in it or not, because I’m out of options. Everything else has failed me.’”
While the company is engaged in research into cannabinoids, it is not conducting rigorous FDA-approved clinical trials and is not publishing studies in peer-reviewed journals. It does employ outside laboratories to test its products for ingredient concentrations and contaminants such as pesticides.
The company’s aesthetic and name are trying to walk the line of respectability — aiming to offer products that people would be comfortable providing to ailing elderly parents or leaving out on their nightstand — while not appearing intimidatingly pharmaceutical.
Polite is a brand within a parent company called Canvas Therapeutics, which has a second brand called Revida Labs. In addition to Sue and Yung Tan, who are siblings, Canvas’ other co-founders are Mary Brown Szomjassy, Jeffrey Freeman Jr., Adam Melero, Melissa Durkee, Mike Szomjassy and Suan Teo.
Prior to founding cannabis companies, Yung Tan was a corporate attorney at firms including Perkins Coie and a senior investment banker at banks such as Citigroup and Deutsche Bank. Sue Tan has done design work internationally and co-authored a book on innovation. Brown Szomjassy has a background in education and been a consultant in cannabis health education for 14 years.
Polite’s cannabis products are available in Washington and Arizona, two of the states where recreational marijuana is legal. The hemp items are sold nationally.
The company, which has approximately 15 employees, has been bootstrapped and not received outside financial support. As it expands its national and international customer base, the team will be pursuing capital from investors, said Yung Tan.