JoAnn Bellanti: Making A Dream Into Reality

JoAnn Bellanti’s product, Pot Pockets, arose from a need expressed by her sister Carol. Carol was diagnosed with cancer and recommended medical cannabis. She needed a discrete way to carry her treatment around with her, so Bellanti developed a carrying case for her.

“Pot Pockets was started [as a business] after a nurse at the Dana Farber Center saw one of the Pot Pockets I had made for my sister, Carol; and so my story begins,” stated Bellanti.

Bellanti and her sister had had a close relationship, so she was devastated when her sister died.

“I started making Pot Pockets three years ago, after being in a slump over losing my younger sister, Carol, to the horrid disease of cancer,” Bellanti said. “She worked alongside me at the travel company and she was one of my favorite people in the world.”

Bellanti took this experience and turned into something that will help others. The idea developed from the idea that other patients and cannabis smokers could use a product like this. Bellanti started her small cannabis accessory business in Wrentham, Massachusetts.

“I went on Craigslist and purchased some used woodworking tools for $300,” said Bellanti. “I had no prior experience with most of the tools. Along with my husband and some friends, [I] slowly began making the templates and jigs that would enable us to produce the Pot Pockets in our barn. Our barn became Pot Pocket headquarters. With some trial and error and a little luck, we were on our way.”

Bellanti took her product to the first-ever New England Cannabis Convention in Boston in 2015. “You have to remember that there were no dispensaries opened yet in Massachusetts and everything was still in a grey area surrounding cannabis,” said Bellanti. “We all thought we were going to get arrested for selling our goods. Well, we survived and sold over 300 Pot Pockets. They were a hit!”

Once Bellanti knew she had a great product idea, she then had to deal with officially setting up her business in an anti-cannabis environment. Even though she was selling hand-carved wooden boxes, the government still frowned on the endeavor. Government entities caused Bellanti a few problems, but she found a creative way to work these issues out.

“There were so many struggles in setting up a company in Massachusetts that was affiliated with cannabis. Even though my product was made from wood,” explained Bellanti, “it was considered paraphernalia. I went to my local bank to set up a company bank account under Pot Pockets and they wouldn’t allow it. So I left and went across the street  to another bank and set it up under Johnny Road King Company. My husband and I are big motorcycle enthusiasts—hence the name.”

“I decided to start the process of getting it trademarked,” continued Bellanti. “It was a long and expensive process, as we were first denied due to the word pot. The trademark office said since it is federally illegal they would not allow it. We went back and forth for over two years and we were finally registered and approved in July of [2017]. We said that the word POT stood for Personal Organizational Tool, and I had to make some adjustments on my website showing them used for rolled cigarettes.” Taking the word cannabis out of the design appeased the government entities.

Pot Pockets started as a side job for Bellanti and her group. In the beginning they had regular day jobs, but that was before they became busy. “Now it is a full-time gig, whether it is making them or selling them, and everything else that goes along with it,” Bellanti stated. “We are always working on them. [My husband and I]—along with our right-hand man Kevin and our tie-fly girl Sandra. It certainly does take a village to do this.”

Pot Pockets look like a flat wooden boxes, but when the sections are bent they open up to reveal joint-sized spaces. “We use all different types of wood to create them,” said Bellanti. “We source  the wood from all different outlets and that is a job in itself. We purchased an entry-level CNC machine this year to assist us with the routing of them as well as drilling the holes for the elastic. Everything else is still done by hand, including the hot branding of our Pot Pocket logo on them.”

Pot Pockets also offers a custom design option. Custom logos and digital designs can be added to the boxes. “We do it a few different ways,” said Bellanti. “The most cost-effective way is using an ink stamp. Otherwise, we can have a brass brand head made so that we can burn the logo into the wood. We sell them to dispensaries and smoke shops, as well as on our website.”

“We make three sizes: regular, large, and phat,” continued Bellanti. “We sell all three sizes for $20 on our website. The reason we sell them for the same price is because my husband [wears an] XXL t-shirt, and he was always mad that he had to pay a few dollars extra for his size. So we decided not to discriminate on size and sell them all equally depending upon your smoking preferences.”

“A Pot Pocket is a discreet way to carry your rolled joints and blunts,” said Bellanti. “You just roll, load, and go!” Bellanti continued to discuss the benefits of her product, “ I think the nicest part about them is that you can place a lit joint into one of the separate chambers and just close it. It will automatically go out … so you can save it for later. I know when I smoke a joint I do not smoke the whole thing, so it’s a nice way to keep track of your half-smoked joints. In the long run, it will you save money because you do not have to stub it out and lose some of it or lose the whole thing altogether.”

“We are all about keeping the fun in smoking weed,” said Bellanti. “It seems that it is getting way too serious lately. So that’s our story, and we will keep rolling along and see what the future holds for us and our love of our Pot Pockets.”

“Massachusetts still does not have any recreational stores opened yet,” stated Bellanti, in discussing the cannabis climate in Massachusetts. “We did [legalize] it in 2016, and they are scheduled to open in July of this year.”

“It certainly is an exciting time for all us weed smokers,” continued Bellanti. “Never in my life would I [have thought] this would happen. We do have an opioid crisis here in Massachusetts, along with the rest of the world. We are losing so many people over it. I am hoping that cannabis is the answer for a lot of it. We have to get people off the big pharma drugs. I do a lot with New England Veterans Association—NEVA—and their motto is ‘Cultivate or Die.’ It is that simple.”

For more information about Pot Pockets, visit www.potpockets.us.