In 2016, when Dylan Nunn was a 22 years old hotel and restaurant management student at the University of Delaware, he was arrested for distributing Colorado edibles—along with making his own creations—and selling them via his “start-up,” The Bakery. It was five days before graduation when police raided his apartment, discovering the clandestine operation and charging him with possession of multiple controlled substances, dealing marijuana, and other related crimes. While his sentencing was comparatively minor, Nunn recognized his privilege and embarked upon a life mission to mentor his millennial peers, including those still incarcerated for nonviolent drug offenses. We sat down with Dylan to learn more about his experience and to see what he’s up to today, learning more about his startups Mettā Club and MealTribes mentorship programs, and global efforts in environmentalism.
What’s your relationship with cannabis?
Cannabis came into my life when a good friend of mine shared his metal piece with me— you know, those retro looking ones with a tube and screw on bowl piece. Like so many other kids, we were hiding our young experimental instincts from our parents. Growing up in school, smoking was always really prevalent among the social circles, so if you were out doing stuff, meeting people or exploring, cannabis was around. For us, it was a tool that seemed to spur these innovative thought patterns especially while skateboarding, we’d just end up having more balls to throw ourselves down stair sets. My go-to method is combustion— I enjoy making it last. Each petal of the flower is as valuable as the next and it’s easier to manage in social situations. Although, I enjoy popping a gummy, as well.
When you attending the University of Delaware, you started a side business called “The Bakery” making edibles using the MB machine. What types of infused foods were you creating?
I’ve always had an entrepreneurial spirit, even in middle school I started a store out of my locker selling notebooks and snacks. The feeling just came from wanting to provide value to my friends when they needed anything. So naturally when I came up with the bakery, it was because I noticed a large void in the market. At the the time, we either had to take big risks by getting treats from Colorado or make them ourselves, except no-one was taking the initiative to make them with care or creativity. And most importantly, they weren't dosing and labeling them appropriately. I created desserts like coconut truffles, cereal bars, brownies, cookies and mango gummies. Although, I did experiment with salmon dinners from time to time.
What’s your favorite thing about creating edibles using the MB machine?
The process is special to me. It takes the fear out of doing it yourself and I get excited actually creating something out of nothing. It inspires me to make the business more fun by adding experiences like scavenger hunts, logo competitions and private dinners. At the end of the day, it was all about sharing treats with friends.
Care to share a favorite recipe?
Back in the day, I started experimenting with infused frostings, which no one was doing at the time. Most of the fun came from customizing the recipes with little touches like adding someone's favorite candy, personal birthday cakes, or gluten-free offerings. My all-time favorite recipe was a batch of superb Coconut Peanut Butter Banana Truffles.
Due to prohibition, cannabis is illegal in Delaware, which means you were arrested for carrying around cannabis infused edibles….
A friend and I had been hammocking in a park near school, minding our own business and enjoying the weather that day. When a park ranger confronted us, he claimed we weren't supposed to be there. He wrongly searched our bags and found squirrel shaped mango gummies that I claimed came from out West.
With two weeks left of school, I wasn’t going to let a small possession charge shut down what I had been building for the past year. Business was booming, and I was fully committed to reaching my goal and creating something that mattered. I knew that once I graduated, I would be able to move back to Washington DC where cannabis was legal.
What happened next?
The major setback happened five days before graduation when I picked up a call from one of my roommates. The police were already inside with a warrant to search my apartment. As I skated away from the library, my heart sank deeper and deeper, and all I could think about was how much I had let down my family. The police had been investigating me and were just waiting to make their move. They took my Magical Butter Machine. I was banned from campus, and not allowed to walk at graduation.
What lesson did you learn from this experience?
I want young business minds to learn that college teaches you the rules, but college doesn’t teach you how to break the rules. However, the rules are there for a reason. If you’re not honest with yourself and your family, your ego will block the warning signs that life is trying to tell you. I could have shut down the operation after that park ranger took down all my information. I could have moved everything out of my place and walked the stage with my friends and family watching. But ego and pride are dangerous attitudes that will hinder your presence and cloud decision making. This passage from Ryan Holiday’s Ego is the Enemy really sums it up:
“Here we are experiencing the trials endemic to any journey. Perhaps we’ve failed, perhaps our goal turned out to be harder to achieve than anticipated. No one is permanently successful, and not everyone finds success on the first attempt. We all deal with setbacks along the way. Ego not only leaves us unprepared for the circumstances, it often contributed to their occurrence in the first place. The way through, the way to rise again, requires a reorientation and increased self-awareness. We don’t need pity- our own or anyone else’s- we need purpose, poise, and patience.”
In the days after, I was flipping through a yearbook of messages I had been collecting when I turned to a passage written by a close friend, hours before everything went down: “Never lose your spark, because life will try to take it from you." These low points remind you what it means to be humble, to be respected, to be loved. You probably didn’t start at the top, so it’s important to be humble to those roots. Lastly “life is about being strategic, but it’s also about being honest. So don’t make the most of it, make the best of it. Life needs good people.”
Now that you’ve been through that experience, what are you doing to help advocate for legalization?
Currently, I’m continually teaching those around me about the benefits of balanced consumption, and that cannabis in all forms is a medicine. If we can place more emphasis on studying its effects and safely experiment how different strains like CBD affect our own bodies, we can get the general public behind legalization. I was really lucky to go through an experience like this relatively unscathed, and that my parents were able to find the money to pay for a good lawyer. There are people in jail today for the same crimes I committed. The system is not fair. We all need to work together to get those people out of jail and with the right mentors. I now have a duty to mentor anyone else who's been prosecuted for a drug related offense. If you're reading this and need some advice on getting back up and finding your purpose, please send me a note through my website. I have all the time in the world for others that need advice.
What are you up to now? Did you graduate? What business are you involved in?
After Delaware, I moved back to my hometown, Washington DC. In the year that followed, I felt very unmarketable and thought to myself, “Who’s going to hire me when they see my mugshot pop up on Google?” I knew jumping back into the cannabis industry wasn’t going to make my parents happy, but I didn’t have a clear direction on what I should do next. When you’re dropped to your lowest point and forced to crack open, you’re able to see what’s really inside. When you account for what you have left, you realize what really matters in life. I realized that cannabis wasn’t going to be the driving “why” of my businesses. What was important were my experiences catering for celebrities in high school, practicing hotel/restaurant service in college, and running this side business. What I'm focused on now is facilitating experiences that benefit the human condition, the environment, and the community. I do this through two startups I’ve co-founded:
- Mettā Creative is a benefit corporation that brings together a network of purpose-driven millennials and forward thinking companies through nightlife events to inspire others to live and act more sustainably. We encourage participants to “Party with Purpose.” This past year, we threw events benefiting environmental based nonprofits in New York City, Melbourne Australia, San Pedro Belize, and Washington DC.
- MealTribes is a potluck dinner platform and community bringing together awesome people, stimulating conversation, fostering authentic connections. This past year, we surpassed 750 signups, holding potlucks 3-4 times/month. We’re refining the user experience and then really pushing growth. Our overall mission is to empower people to belong in their communities.
To add to the positive ending of this story: after a year of discussions with the university, alcohol/drug classes, and personal growth, my school released my diploma and lifted my ban on campus. I hope one day I will be invited back to speak with students about my story as they embark on their own entrepreneurial journeys.