For 45 years, I’ve searched the California cannabis world for a fellow New Yorker. No luck until last week, when I finally found him.
Ron Ferraro is the real deal. The quips about his Italian last name and his New York accent, which hit him soon after he arrived in Sonoma County, stopped when he rolled up his shirtsleeves, bought blackened lots and began to build homes in Fountain Grove and Coffey Park, two neighborhoods torched by the big fires of October 2017. Unwilling to be seen as a New York scammer, Ferraro didn’t knock on doors and persuade customers to buy houses sight unseen. He built models and then went out and sold them one by one.
At the same time, he threw himself into the legal cannabiz industry, and, with the help of lawyers, consultants, growers and his brother, Matthew, created his own company, Elyon. Pals back East thought he was in over his head. “My partners in construction in New York thought I was crazy,” he says from behind his desk, with an American flag looming over his shoulder. Ferraro had money in the bank and a business plan, though he didn’t know Californian ways, and like many others in the same or a similar boat, the constantly changing local and state regulations flummoxed him.
But Ferraro had both “a vision” that propelled him forward and the grit and determination of a New Yorker (a species as rare in the California cannabis industry as rain on the Fourth of July in Santa Rosa). Along with the vision and the grit, Matthew Ferraro’s marketing genius and savvy use of social media put Elyon on the cannabis map.
The Ferraro brothers are succeeding where dozens, if not hundreds, of similar entrepreneurs have fallen by the wayside. Perhaps because God is on their side. Indeed, the name “Elyon” is Biblical Hebrew and means “God Most High.” Yes, it’s esoteric, but it caught on big time, along with the company’s reputation for creating some of “the most potent cannabis products in California,” with strains such as “Blue Dream,” “Silver Sundaze” and “Lava Cake.”
Asked to explain his good fortune, Ferraro says, “Cannabis is my destiny.” He adds, “Something this monumental only comes around every 100 years—and we’re just getting started. What Silicon Valley is to the global tec industry, the state of California will be to the worldwide cannabiz.”
Ferraro says his dream is to make Elyon into the cannabiz equivalent of Constellation Brands, the international producer and marketer of beer, wine and spirits. Inside Elyon’s headquarters, near the Sonoma County airport, Ferraro’s Ecuadorian-born pal, Carlos Zambrano—a construction wiz who doesn’t smoke marijuana—says, “Ron’s head works faster than most other peoples’ heads, and he’s always a man of his word.”
Born on April 26, 1983, Ferraro grew up in Valley Stream on the South Shore of Long Island, about 45 minutes from the Empire State Building and 30 minutes from where I was born and raised. Marijuana wasn’t legal in New York when Ron was a kid. It still isn’t legal, but when he wanted it, he found ways to buy it on the black market. “I’ve always smoked weed, even as a teenager, though I wasn’t into it that much because I was an athlete,” he says.
He began to smoke more in college, and learned weed provided inspiration and helped him focus. “It gets me up, it’s my coffee,” he says. From his perch in New York he watched the growth of the cannabiz on the West Coast and decided Sonoma County was the place to put down roots. “The climate is great, there’s a big cannabis community here and it’s close to the Emerald Triangle,” he explains. At first, Ferraro bought cannabis by the truckload in Northern California and sold it wholesale in Southern California.
Then he decided to change direction and go retail in the San Francisco Bay Area, in part because Los Angeles was a hotbed of rogue pot shops. Ferraro aimed to be strictly legal. From business relationships with 50 farms, he cut back to four, all of them growing one acre with permits. Elyon has an acre of cannabis cultivated in a greenhouse in Sonoma County. The company has written contracts with its suppliers, and Ferraro keeps a close eye on the cultivation and harvesting practices of business partners.
He provides growers with financial or technical help when they need it. He also supplies laborers. In some cases he purchases a crop before it’s planted in the ground. The farmer gets money up-front, where it’s needed and Ferraro turns a profit after harvest. To know what weed is good, he looks at it, smells it, smokes it and tastes it. “It’s all about the genetics of the plant,” he says.
Ferraro has unlimited faith in the future of cannabis. “It’s a commodity, an industry, a culture and a lifestyle,” he says. “What more do you want? New people—old, young and in-between—are using it every day and, unlike the opiates which have destroyed many people in my generation, marijuana is not addictive or life-threatening.”
Andrew Smith, the Deputy Sonoma County Agricultural Commissioner, describes Ferraro as a “charismatic person and a good businessman.” He adds, “Ferraro wants a Sonoma County cannabis brand that’s marketed in the ways that wine and craft beer are marketed. I think that’s a great idea.”