Member Blog: Want to Open A Dispensary In Oklahoma? Here’s What You Need to Know. 

by Tommy Truong of KayaPush

In Oklahoma, the cannabis business is thriving. Yes, the controversial plant that users were prosecuted for using so very recently, is on a roll. You could even say, there is a cannabis rush.

In this article, we will cover how you can go about opening a dispensary, including how to acquire a license, and some laws you should be aware of. And we will also touch on how to set up your dispensary operations and software!  Let’s dig in!

What do you need to open a dispensary in Oklahoma?

The process of opening a dispensary should go smoothly if you fill out an application form and follow the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority’s guidelines. Although the costs of opening a cannabis dispensary in Oklahoma are significantly lower than elsewhere, it is critical to have accurate information and to review some of the most relevant regulatory constraints.

Let’s start at the beginning, if you intend to learn how to open a dispensary in Oklahoma for commercial purposes, you must be at least 25 years old before proceeding. You must also make the following items available:

  • Proof of Oklahoma residency
  • A tax ID number, as well as a general business license
  • Valid identification documents 

You’ll need to assess your commitment after you’ve got everything in place. Not only must you be informed of current cannabis production and sales regulations, but also of proposed legislation and revisions that may shortly come into force. 

Now that you’re certain you’re ready to make this big move, it’s time to proceed to the next step: finding a suitable property. 

You should check the following:

  • Rent cost
  • Cost of license
  • Licensing application fee
  • Employee salary
  • Transportation and storage of product
  • Security

How to get a dispensary license In Oklahoma.

Licenses for growers in Oklahoma come in the form of a certificate and are issued through the OMMA website. The charge to producers, processors, and dispensaries for applying for a license is $2,500. You must provide the following to apply:

  • A business plan
  • A financial plan
  • An inventory control plan
  • Patient education
  • Record keeping 
  • Security plans 

There are distinct rules in every state in the United States about opening dispensaries. Each state sets its own standards. You will need to study the rules that apply in Oklahoma.

The general requirement for opening a dispensary in Oklahoma is that you undergo marijuana dispensing training and acquire a license. 

How to keep your dispensary compliant in Oklahoma.

You must abide by all of Oklahoma’s strict marijuana regulations to keep your dispensary compliant. These include:

  • Complying with Metrc
  • Operating under a recognized license
  • Enlisting compliance software’s assistance
  • Consider a compliance manager

Marijuana dispensaries in Oklahoma are prohibited from selling more than the following amounts in a single transaction:

  • Three ounces of cannabis
  • Concentrate of one ounce
  • 72 ounces of cannabis

Oklahoma dispensary owners, like any other legitimate business, must pay taxes and ensure that they give the following information:

  • All cannabis-related information with other permitted firms
  • Details of batch numbers that show the weight of cannabis acquired at wholesale
  • The number of plants that have been approved for relocation to other locations
  • Batch numbers showing the weight of cannabis sold
  • Record of all items that have become obsolete

Substantial fines are imposed for noncompliance. There is a $5,000 punishment for a first infraction while a second offense will result in license revocation. Because of this, you are going to need the assistance of technology to automatically update you if the OMMA cannabis rules change. 

Understanding Metrc in Oklahoma.

Metrc is an integrated system for tracking and tracing marijuana products in real-time. Every plant and its wholesale shipment has a unique tag attached by licensees. To uniquely identify each plant, these tags use readable text, barcodes, and radio frequency identification (RFID) chips for easy identification.

Metrc is already being used in Oklahoma following the state’s legalization of marijuana. The OMMA can only see and track inventory once it has been entered into Metrc by a commercial licensee.

To get started with Metrc in Oklahoma you should:

  1. Watching their training videos and schedule training.
  2. Request online access and complete the New Business System Metrc training with your dedicated Metrc Account Manager.
  3. Connect all of your employees with Metrc and make sure they have the permissions they need for their jobs.
  4. Request Metrc plant tags, package tags, and other UID tags and document the physical receipt of requested Metrc UID tags.
  5. Assign UID tags to your cannabis items.
  6. Access the Beginning Inventory Guide in Metrc for proper guidelines and references to other important factors.

What are the dispensary laws in Oklahoma?

Cannabis laws in Oklahoma are the guidelines that every cannabis dispenser must heed while dispensing medical marijuana. Every prospective cannabis retailer will be guided by these same rules, and it is one of the first things you discover when learning how to operate a dispensary in Oklahoma.

Some of these rules include:

  • To legally sell cannabis, you’ll need a state-issued license, but CBD oil made from industrial hemp is permitted without one.
  • Patients must first obtain an authorized medical marijuana card to acquire and consume medicinal cannabis.
  • Possession of paraphernalia is a misdemeanor that carries a maximum sentence of one year in prison and a fine of $1,000.=
  • Individuals under the age of 18 are only allowed to enter a dispensary with an adult who has a valid medical card.
  • The sale of fewer than 25 pounds of marijuana is a felony punishable by a two-year prison sentence and a $20,000 fine. 

Who can your dispensary sell to in Oklahoma?

Only medical cannabis patients (or their caregivers) with valid patient licenses can shop at an Oklahoma dispensary. Medical cannabis is available to Oklahoma residents over the age of 18 who have a physician’s recommendation.

A physical medical marijuana ID card or the state’s database can be used to verify a patient or caregiver. Out-of-state persons or companies are not permitted to purchase medical marijuana from licensed dispensaries. Licensed processors can sell to other licensed processors and licensed dispensaries.

Oklahoma dispensary market size and opportunity.

Despite its accomplishments, the cannabis industry in Oklahoma is still in its infancy, and the environment is rapidly changing. Marijuana laws in the state are continually changing to make it more accessible. 

Another feature that distinguishes Oklahoma from other states is that it allows cannabis smoking and vaping anywhere that tobacco can be lawfully consumed, such as on the sidewalk or in a bar that allows smoking. As a result, Oklahoma has morphed into an industrial cannabis state with a variety of dispensary options. 

There are only a few challenges to overcome. Any sort of cannabis — from raw flowers to topical lotions, from oils and gels to vaporization and patches — can be sold by anybody who pays $2,500 for a dispensary license.

Cannabis legalization has resulted in a significant expansion in legal cannabis cultivation and distribution, as well as an explosion of related service providers in many states. Cannabis has become a lucrative business prospect for many inhabitants in the state.

What cannabis software do I need to run a dispensary?

To run a compliant dispensary in Oklahoma, you will need the following business software:

What should I look for in cannabis software? 

POS compliant system.

One of the most important technologies in a dispensary is a point-of-sale system. A compliant POS system will make sales transactions easier for your dispensary’s staff and provide the greatest payment options for customers. A POS can help run the following tasks:

  • Regulate inventory control and legal compliance
  • Manage customer check-in and ensure that your customers follow the daily sales tracking guidelines
  • Assists you in automatically rejecting transactions for people who are not authorized to buy.
  • Integrate with the Metrc system, and keep you compliant.
  • Integrate with your workforce management system and give you sales insights.
  • Integrate with your scheduling software and provide labor forecasts for scheduling.
  • Produce all sales and customer reports for the approval of cannabis authorities.

Dispensary payroll software.

Integrated dispensary payroll software will assist you in managing your employees’ pay. It manages all expenses and interfaces with other systems such as personnel administration and payroll tax deductions. It makes direct contributions to the IRS and compensates employees via direct deposit. 

Another benefit of using an integrated payroll system is that you can integrate your company’s payroll with the rest of your workforce management suite; performing tasks like approving clocked hours to payroll, and running payroll in the click of a button. Dispensaries who used this type of system report saving 5 hours per week on running dispensary payroll. 

Scheduling and time tracking software. 

Also known as workforce management software, integrated scheduling and time tracking software makes creating staff schedules, and managing staff hours very hands off. With this type of software, you are able to create schedules remotely, and staff can request shift swaps or time off. With time tracking, staff can sign into work using facial recognition technology, and staff-approved hours can be streamlined to payroll – so staff who clock into their shifts, get paid with the click of a button.

Dispensary HR software.

Recruiting, hiring, interviewing and onboarding can take up a lot of time. Especially when staff have important documents they need to sign, and criminal record checks that need to be completed. With dispensary HR software you can automate recruiting, and onboarding, by having staff onboard themselves and sign digitized documents. 

A Security system.

A good security software system with cameras to monitor what goes on inside and outside your dispensary should be paramount to ensure your dispensary remains compliant. You will need a system where you can monitor all the affairs of your dispensaries at one glance without being in different places at the same time.

Inventory management software.

You require some software to help you manage your inventory, and the process of placing orders and confirming inventory counts from your vendors. You’ll also need a system that will remind you when new orders are needed when it detects product shortages.

Website.

If you are in a state that allows e-commerce for dispensaries, a website should be a top priority for competing for top rankings in today’s market. Because of technological advancements, you may now open an e-store where customers can buy cannabis online and have it delivered to their doorsteps.

Your website should be able to collect KYC information from your consumers to verify their identities and eligibility to acquire cannabis products, so you can be confident you’re following the cannabis serving guidelines. If you deliver a cannabis product to someone who isn’t eligible for it, you’ll be breaking the rules guiding cannabis consumption, and this might be a huge risk for your new business.

Metrc. 

Metrc, also known as Marijuana Enforcement Tracking Reporting Compliance is a regulatory compliance system and was built to keep track of cannabis cultivation, preparation, and packaging. Basically, Metrc is a database for tracking cannabis from seed to sale, and identifying it using RFID tags. 

In Oklahoma, you must submit data to Metrc to run a compliant dispensary. Reporting to Metrc can be done manually, however cannabis-specific POS systems are offering a Metrc integration, meaning it is done automatically for you as you sell your product. 

What else do I need to know?

Now that we have covered all the technical and operational bases, the rest is up to you.
Other key parts of opening a dispensary include considering where your store might be located, what your brand value and vibe will be, and how your product and store will look.

Marketing should also be a consideration, as well as staff training, and company culture.
Many new cannabis entrepreneurs hire consultants to help them navigate these areas.
For now, we hope this has been a helpful way to get you started.


Tommy Truong is the Director of Partnerships at KayaPush; the cannabis software helping dispensary owners manage their HR, scheduling and payroll all from one easy to use platform. KayaPush also integrates with leading dispensary POS systems, giving you an end-to-end solution.
Tommy loves hot sauce, fried chicken, and running with his Boston terriers.

Member Blog: Reducing Risks In Cannabis With Supplier Auditing

By Maria Lam, Marketing Director of Isolocity

Suppliers provide a product or service to a business and have an essential role in the entire product cycle – from sourcing materials to production. Cannabis businesses rely on and work closely with them to deliver the best product or service in the market. 

With a newly regulated product like cannabis, there is even more scrutiny and cost that operators will have to deal with when it could be a supplier that fails or makes a mistake. Your entire operation could be compromised. To prevent this, it’s important for businesses to conduct supplier auditing. 

What is Supply Auditing and Why Do You Need It?

A supplier audit evaluates the vendor’s competency to deliver the best quality raw materials or services. It’s the best solution to determine whether a particular supplier is contributing to the growth of your business. With a good system in place, it should streamline business operations and maximize productivity. 

A company with a good supplier can deliver high-quality products and services. However, as the company grows, the risk does too. Whether it is for nutrients, soil, or other raw materials a regular audit may be needed to ensure that the supplier continues to deliver products that are of high quality or with up-to-date certification in order to be used for production or manufacturing. 

You may perform an audit at least once a year or when a supplier needs to be monitored or evaluated. If your final product or service is not of the best quality, it could be because of the raw materials from the suppliers. In this case, it’s a must to perform a supplier audit. Otherwise, it could negatively impact your business. Keep in mind that it’s not only about your monthly or yearly sales targets. As a company, it’s your responsibility to take care of your brand. If you consistently deliver low-quality products, it could also affect your business as a whole. 

Regular Auditing Ensures Suppliers Meet Your Standards

How do you know suppliers comply with your standards or contributes to the company’s main objectives? By regularly auditing them. All of your department’s operations must align with the company’s sales goals and that includes your suppliers. Keep in mind that they help you deliver the best products to your clients so it’s only right to make sure that they also deliver what was promised to you – and that is by providing you only with the highest quality raw materials for all of your products or services. 

Regular Auditing is Cost-Effective

When a supplier fails to fully deliver, that could lead to a loss of a company’s revenue. A regular audit can help businesses prevent this costly problem. Supplier auditing can help them track whether the suppliers comply with level agreements. You can also identify potential problems and be able to remedy them before they could become costly business problems. Through supplier auditing, businesses can create contingency plans. By preventing a major problem, businesses won’t have to suffer a loss of revenue. 

Regular Auditing Contributes to Quality Improvement

One of the most effective ways to find out if your company is consistent in delivering high-quality products is to audit your suppliers. As much as possible, make it a comprehensive audit to ensure that you have checked everything. Having a supplier quality checklist can surely help. 

The supplier checklist will not be the same for all businesses. It can vary, depending on what industry you are in. Your checklist could include human resources, purchasing, delivery, production process, inspections, health & safety, risk management, quality control, regulatory compliance, supply chain management, food safety, control of materials, handling and storage, and KPIs. The checklist will serve as a guide for inspectors to evaluate all the important areas. 

How Beneficial is Improving Supplier Quality?

Having a good supplier relationship can help businesses collaborate better with the suppliers. It provides complete transparency to both the company and the supplier. Regular auditing makes sure that the manufacturer or the supplier continues to meet business objectives. Other benefits include:

Customer Satisfaction

A business can grow or thrive in the cannabis industry if they know how to create awareness for their brand, reach out to their target audience and achieve their sales targets. And this takes more than just marketing, your production or manufacturing team also plays a role. When a business consistently provides the best and innovative products and services, rest assured that it will satisfy the customers. Customer satisfaction can help your brand. You will get repeat customers. With regular auditing, you are able to detect areas that may affect customer satisfaction. Before the problem turns into something serious or damaging, you would be able to alleviate it. 

More Profits

Your end goal isn’t only to make your products or service known but to make your business more profitable. By being able to manage risks and quality through supply auditing, your company can maximize productivity and continue to deliver high-quality products to customers. 

Investing in Compliance Automation Streamlines Business Operations

Digitalization can help your business effectively manage supplier compliance through automation. A cloud-based quality management software can help your entire staff become more efficient and effective by allowing teams to collaborate and raise actions against suppliers. Easily notify suppliers to submit certificates as they become due while conducting audits regularly and ensuring documentation is up to date.


Maria is the Director of Marketing & Communications at Isolocity. She first joined Isolocity at its inception as a marketing coordinator and has played a pivotal role in expanding the companies brand awareness across multiple industries. In her current role, Maria has aided in the development of strategic relationships and communications for the company. With Isolocity, she has been able to help cannabis companies streamline their quality compliance processes through digitization. Prior to joining Isolocity, she has also worked independently as a marketing consultant and in the consumer electronics industry. Outside of work, she enjoys spending her time with her watercolors or settling down with her partner to watch comic book films.

Isolocity’s quality compliance software holistically integrates over a decade of experience using quality principles from internationally recognized standards such as ISO 9001:2015, GMP, and more. It harnesses the power of automation to reduce work and resources needed by up to 50%. Its secure cloud technology allows users to implement and comply with complex quality control measures – from anywhere.

 

Member Blog: Cannabis Commoditization

by Claudia Della Mora, Black Legend Capital

What would it take for cannabis to become a commodity? To answer this question, we must first understand what a commodity is. Commodities are often raw materials, such as mineral ores, petroleum, sugar, rice, corn, wheat, etc., traded in large quantities, with little restriction, with prices fluctuating based on supply and demand. These commodities are often traded on exchanges to facilitate transactions, as price and availability are the main factors, not product differentiation or branding. Thus, standardization of the commodity and minimum quality standards are essential to commoditization. Currently in the EU and UK, hemp raw materials and finished goods must be compliant with the Novel Food Regime to be sold. To be compliant, manufacturers must apply for Novel Food status which will then be approved by the Food Standards Agency. This is a perfect example of standardization beginning to take place. However, globally, there are ~800 recognized strains of cannabis, although realistically, that number is likely in the thousands. This is in comparison to most commodity markets which usually have less than a dozen different variations. We can break this down into three main sub-sectors: industrial hemp, medical cannabis, and adult-use cannabis, and the challenges to commoditization for each.

Industrial hemp is cultivated primarily for its seeds or fibers to make clothing, paper, biodegradable plastic, building materials, etc. Most CBD extracts also come from industrial hemp, so the hemp farmers can potentially be seen as commodity producers while the buyers, who then use the CBD extracts to produce their differentiated products, are not. However, one major issue is the lack of price stability and transparency for differentiation seen in other commodities. In the United States, prices for high-CBD cannabis biomass declined up to two-thirds in value in 2020 compared to the previous year.

Medical cannabis, which can be over the counter or pharma-grade, has various medical applications, some still yet to be discovered. On the pharma side, GW Pharma has the only cannabis drug that has been approved by the FDA, which treats different types of epilepsy. Cannabis is also being researched for its effectiveness in treating Alzheimer’s, cancer, eating disorders, mental health disorders, seizures, and many more. However, firms focused on medical cannabis often attempt to produce products with specific ratios of THC and CBD through crossbreeding and generating unique terpene profiles. However, for a company to develop pharma-grade products, the product must meet the minimum standards required by its prospective country. These are usually for a particular type of treatment, making commoditization difficult.

Adult-use cannabis has seen tremendous growth and legalization in the past years; however, products differ between producers. While there are thousands of strains of cannabis, even the same strain can vary widely between producers depending on cultivation methods and conditions. Naturally occurring terpenes also allow for differentiation. It can come in a wide range of different potencies, even due to farming techniques, thus making it challenging to produce premium quality cannabis at scale consistently. At the same time, countries are beginning to implement minimum requirements for its products, like the EU and UK’s Novel Food Regime explained above. As countries continue implementing these requirements, the ability to differentiate products will decrease.

As you can see, the most likely to be commoditized would be industrial hemp, as standardization would be a massive obstacle for both recreational and medical cannabis. However, other factors need to be resolved before cannabis can reach commodity status, including price transparency and legalization. There are benchmark prices for commodity products that are easily accessible, and currently, a platform to publish these benchmark prices has not been fully developed yet. Regarding legalization, in the US, cannabis with a THC content over 0.3% remains federally illegal, despite individual states allowing growth, processing, and sale. Multi-state operators cannot transport THC products across state lines, preventing the national distribution of branded products. The problem with interstate commerce would disappear when cannabis becomes federally legal, but it is currently a challenge and simply put, for now, a surplus in California stays in California.

While there are still many hurdles for cannabis to become a commodity, many tailwinds could lead to its successful commoditization. Federal legalization in the U.S. would likely remove restrictions in transactions, allowing for the free trade of cannabis within the country. On a global scale, the real barrier to global trade centers around the United Nations Drug Treaty. In December 2020, the U.N. Commission on Narcotic Drugs transferred cannabis from a Schedule 4 to a Schedule 1 drug. Schedule 1 drugs are still prohibited substances but are seen as having medicinal value. For cannabis to trade freely, the United Nations must move cannabis to a U.N. Schedule II or III drug. This is because countries must be compliant with the 1961 U.N. Convention to import and export cannabis, which requires a narcotic license. Additionally, once regulators such as the FDA come out with specific rules, CBD will begin to act more like a commodity with significant supply and demand. One World Pharma, The Cannabis Mercantile Trading Exchange (CMTREX), Panexchange, and Canxchange have begun developing exchanges for cannabis to trade on, with One World Pharma even beginning to offer limited futures contracts. On the positive side, cannabis has a head start in testing to meet minimum quality standards. Most jurisdictions already require it, although the threshold levels needed to sell the product still vary between locations. The regulations between different countries vary greatly, as countries in South America and places like Canada and Israel are very open to cannabis. However, in others, such as most EU and Asian nations, there is still a lot of stigma surrounding cannabis, which will likely take much longer to gain widespread acceptance. While there are still many hurdles to cross until commoditization, the current Biden administration has shown a willingness to legalize cannabis federally, the first and most crucial step towards cannabis becoming a commodity.

Reference: Grower Talks


Ms. Della Mora is the Co-founder of BLC, a financial advisory and investment firm based in Los Angeles with satellite offices in Houston, New York, London, Hong Kong, and Melbourne. During her tenure at BLC, she successfully invested, assisted in the capitalization, and helped business develop small cap oil companies in Kentucky, Texas, Louisiana, Illinois, Colorado, California, Wyoming, North Dakota, and Alaska. She has also structured oil & gas partnerships in several U.S. states, and in Ecuador, Central America. Ms. Della Mora has been involved in many LNG (Liquid to Natural Gas) projects in the U.S., as well as many commodity trades worldwide. She has personally advised also Chinese conglomerates in their U.S. oil & gas investments.

Black Legend Capital is a leading Merger & Acquisition boutique advisory firm based in California with offices worldwide. Black Legend Capital was founded in 2011 by former senior investment bankers from Merrill Lynch and Duff & Phelps. We provide M&A advisory services, structured financing, and valuation services primarily in the cannabis, technology, healthcare, and consumer products industries. Black Legend Capital’s partners have extensive advisory experience in structuring deals across Asia-Pacific, Europe, and North America.

 

Member Blog: “Food Safe” Gloves Cause Cannabis Recall

by Steve Ardagh, CEO of Eagle Protect

A pesticide-free cannabis producer and processor from Washington was recently forced to issue a recall after the chemical o-Phenylphenol (OPP), traced back to their “food safe” gloves, was found on its products. OPP, listed under California Proposition 65 as a chemical known to cause cancer, was found in the food-safe gloves they were using to handle their crop.

In a statement announcing the recall, the company said, “Nothing ruins your day like testing your product, confident it will be clean, only to find it contaminated with some crazy, toxic chemical. The gloves were the last thing we tested, we just never imagined something sold as food safe could transfer such nastiness. The discovery was just the beginning… recalls are costly in more ways than one.”

Why “food safe” gloves can cause a recall

After initial approval, non-sterile FDA compliant food grade gloves are not subject to ongoing controls to ensure the reliability and consistency of raw material ingredients or quality processes during manufacturing. Opportunity exists for glove manufacturers to use cheap raw materials which lower glove durability and can introduce toxic compounds, which can transfer not only to products handled but also to glove users. 

Demand for lower costs from the end-user pressures glove manufacturers to sacrifice quality, and substitute other compounds to meet these demands. This can include increased levels of cyanide, fungicides, inexpensive phthalate plasticizers, or others on the Prop. 65 list of chemicals known to cause cancer.

Steve Ardagh, CEO of Eagle Protect, a specialist glove supplier explains, “People assume ‘food grade’ gloves are clean and toxin free, but that’s not necessarily the case. The actual FDA Compliance does not even require gloves to be tested clean or sanitary which surprises most people. Having tested 25 different brands of gloves, we’ve found everything from feces, fungicides, Staphylococcus, yeast, and mold,” says Ardagh, “due to putrid water sources and unhygienic manufacturing conditions.” 

Recalls & brand reputational damage

Single-use gloves, even those FDA compliant, can be a risk to product recalls and brand reputation. Peer-reviewed scientific studies have identified harmful toxins and contaminants in and on single-use gloves. These “food handling” gloves pose risks for companies producing consumer products, especially in industries such as organics and cannabis whose products must be clean if tested. 

Staff & consumer risks

In addition, staff wearing contaminated gloves are at risk of absorbing toxins, as are the consumers of products contaminated by gloves. The contaminants have often been identified as causing cancer, and reproductive and hormonal damage.

Mitigating glove contamination risks

Gloves are often purchased with little thought or foresight into their risks. Cost is commonly the determining factor in their procurement decision-making. However, sourcing gloves from established companies who partner directly with glove manufacturers to ensure consistent quality is essential for all cannabis companies. Gloves may seem trivial, but can cause fines up to $200,000, put consumers and staff at risk, and damage brand reputation. 

This is especially important currently in the post-COVID world as the glove market is being flooded with counterfeit and reject quality gloves. The new glove suppliers, traders, and brokers who came into the COVID PPE space with little or no experience, with an intention to simply trade and make quick money, are now bailing out of their poor quality junk gloves and dumping them into the U.S. market. Consider the following before purchasing gloves:

Is your glove supplier reputable, with a long history of glove sourcing direct from the manufacturer and proven quality control processes in place?

Can your glove supplier ensure your glove quality is consistently high through documented factory audits, HACCP compliance certifications and quality processes?

Have you undergone a commercial trial of products prior to committing to purchasing to ensure glove quality is consistently high?


After establishing Eagle Protect as an industry leader in New Zealand, where the company supplies approximately 80% of the primary food processing industry, Steve Ardagh relocated with his family to the U.S. in January 2016 and launched Eagle Protect PBC. Steve brought with him Eagle’s values of providing products that are certified food safe, ethically sourced and environmentally better. Steve is driven to keep consumers safe, one high-quality disposable glove at a time, and has been instrumental in developing Eagle’s proprietary third-party Fingerprint Glove Analysis glove testing program.

Eagle Protect, the world’s only glove and PPE supplier to be a Certified B Corporation®. Eagle Protect supplies disposable gloves and protective clothing to the food processing, food service, cannabis, medical and dentistry sectors in both the U.S. and New Zealand.

Eagle is implementing a proprietary third-party glove analysis to ensure a range of their gloves are of consistent high-quality, and free from harmful contaminants, toxins, and pathogens.

Video: NCIA Today – August 20, 2021

Committee Blog: Future-Proofing Cannabis Manufacturing Facilities

by NCIA’s Cannabis Manufacturing Committee

As the cannabis industry scales and more states legalize for adult-use, the demand for consumable cannabis products increases. To keep up with the demand, manufacturing facilities have to not only scale, but stay ahead of the curve as far as conserving resources, constantly innovating facility design to meet regulations and third-party compliance, e.g., ASTM Cannabis Certification Program and Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP).

Here are a few areas of environmental, product quality, and worker impacts to consider when planning for the future of your manufacturing facility. 

Energy

As with any manufacturing facility, cannabis manufacturers pull power from shared electrical grids, meaning there is increasing pressure to reduce energy usage as they scale their operations. There are many design strategies for facilities to consider, whether they retrofit or build new, to reduce environmental impacts and position their operation for a sustainable future. One example for the cannabis industry is to recapture and repurpose heat generated from the processing equipment used for manufacturing products. Another example is incorporating climate control technologies to reduce the amount of energy required in extreme environments. More and more energy companies are starting to incentivize cannabis operations to reduce their energy usage and offer guidance on how to do so. Furthermore, regulators are beginning to enforce energy usage requirements for manufacturing facilities. 

There are many ways to reduce your facility’s energy usage from efficient lighting to control system maintenance and making sure your odor and emissions control systems are designed to your facility’s specific emission load and mechanical design. Whenever possible, installing cloud-based smart systems with the ability to capture energy usage and system maintenance data will help to improve your facility’s energy efficiency. More areas of impact and best management practice guidance can be found in the NCIA’s Environmental Sustainability Report, released in October 2020.

Air Quality

Manufacturers of Infused Products, or MIPs, are Colorado’s manufacturing facilities, which is one example of a market segment facing regulatory enforcements for air quality control. The large-volume use of solvents for extraction leads regulators to monitor the volatile organic compounds (VOCs) emitted from the use of these solvents, as VOCs are contributors to low-level ozone formation, poor air quality, and public health issues. These solvents are also potential contributors to water contamination if wastewater is not discharged properly from the facility and are consequently on the radar for regulators to tightly monitor. The EPA statesthe main concern indoors is the potential for VOCs to adversely impact the health of people that are exposed. While VOCs can also be a health concern outdoors, EPA regulates VOCs outdoors mainly because of their ability to create photochemical smog (or low-level ozone) under certain conditions.

Luckily, smart technology such as cloud-based platforms using the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) for control equipment is increasingly being installed in manufacturing facilities, allowing for the collection and monitoring of facility data, such as emissions. Furthermore, the same technologies that are used for odor mitigation, such as molecular filtration systems (aka carbon scrubbers) also remove VOCs in the facilities’ air space from both the products and the solvents in the facility. The ability to prove this removal to regulators with real-time data will help reduce facilities’ contributions to VOC emissions when regulators require reporting.

Worker Health & Safety

In addition to environmental impacts from VOCs, along with other emissions inside of a cannabis manufacturing facility, there is also the issue of indoor air quality and worker health. There is not a lot known about the potential impacts of the processing of cannabis on indoor air quality. What is known is that terpenoids that are emitted in the cultivation and processing of cannabis can contribute, through a series of atmospheric reactions, to the production of known air pollutants. Terpenoids, such as monoterpenes (C10H16) and sesquiterpenes (C15 H24), are highly reactive compounds with atmospheric lifetimes ranging from seconds to hours. These compounds on their own are non-toxic. However, the atmospheric reactions they participate in can result in a range of low volatility products that create aerosols or ozone. These two compounds have clear implications for indoor air quality and thus occupational health. 

Uncertainty remains as to the extent of the formation of these pollutants since previous studies have been hampered by a lack of reliable data and are predicated on conditions and practices prevalent in illicit operations. Given that the methods employed in these illegal operations are driven by different needs, the methods currently used in legalized facilities may produce vastly different conditions. This speaks to the urgent need for rigorous new scientific research and evaluation to aid this new industry and relevant regulatory bodies in assessing the current occupational environmental threats of marijuana processing and provide solutions to mitigate those impacts.

Quality by Design

The competitive licensing process, regulatory requirements, and lack of knowledge on scaled cannabis production has contributed to facilities that were not designed to properly ensure control of environments, the process flow that minimizes risks of cross-contamination and the adequate storage for the many types of raw materials, work in process, and final products. The result is an inefficient operation that may have been spared significant Capital Expenses (CapEx), but requires significant Operational Expenses (OpEx) to maintain.

The concept of Quality by Design (QbD) was first developed by the quality pioneer Dr. Joseph Juran. It posits that quality should be designed into a product and recognizes that most quality issues are a result of poor initial design. It is supported by long-standing evidence that increased testing does not necessarily improve product quality. 

Currently, there is an overarching emphasis on final product testing as the determinant of whether cannabis products are safe for release into the marketplace. This has pitted labs, regulators, and producers against each other, leading to accounts of lab shopping, exclusive contracts, and other nefarious activities. This approach does not serve anyone, and is in stark contrast with the concept of Quality by Design.

Transitioning from a Quality Control Approach to Quality by Design

Transitioning from our current processes into a proactive Quality by Design approach requires an understanding of Good Manufacturing Practices or GMPs. The first set of GMPs for finished pharmaceuticals were established for enforcement by the United States FDA in the Federal Register in 1963. Since then, GMPs have been created for and adopted globally for nearly all products that can be consumed or applied for human and veterinary use –- categorized under dietary supplements, food, cosmetics, and of course, pharmaceuticals. GMPs represent the minimum sanitary and processing requirements to ensure safe and consistent products. Consider the road map and cross-over between major FDA cGMP (current Good Manufacturing Practices) by industry sector.

GMP regulations are written by the FDA and adopted in the code of federal regulations under the authority given to the FDA by various laws. Almost all of these regulations are performance standards. There are dozens to potentially thousands of substantially different products regulated under each category of GMP standards. It is up to each manufacturer to ensure their unique processes meet the GMP standards. In this way the regulations are flexible yet force all manufacturers to operate with a minimum level of rigor that includes programs that proactively mitigate risks that can lead to product failures and cannot be controlled simply through final product testing. They take a holistic approach to facility operations, starting with the facility culture, design, layout, placement, and selection of equipment, along with ongoing training, supplier qualification, environmental monitoring, and executive commitment.

The current status quo of manufacturing facility design has been built on a quality control approach. Most facility owners believe cannabis will be assigned a cGMP category based on the final product type and have been trying to build compliant facilities under this assumption. Some States have incorporated by reference the federal GMP regulations. However the competitive application process and focus on final product safety via testing has created an environment in which facility owners feel compelled to do as much if not more than the other facilities in order to meet regulator expectations and all focus is on the final product, not the process. In order to win the application, businesses want to look ‘better’ than the other applicants so they tack on as many hazard controls as they can think of. This has given regulators unrealistic expectations as to the best practices required to operate responsibly. Instead of quantifying hazards by collecting data and making informed decisions as to how to best eliminate risks, facilities are simply copying hazard controls they have seen used in other industries with hopes they meet the regulators’ expectations of what a GMP facility looks like. This culture of adding as many hazard controls as possible is a quality control approach focused on the final product, not a Quality by Design approach focused on the process. As a result, envelope in an envelope style facilities in which the manufacturing process is entombed in layers of energy and resource consuming hazard controls are commonplace.

There are other ways of designing compliant facilities; ways that could be more efficient and use less energy and resources. With a Quality by Design approach, these options become explorable. With quantified hazards the process can be approached holistically and significant design questions asked, e.g.. how much energy goes into the outer envelope and how much product quality/safety is gained from that?

In the Southwest deserts, there is consideration given to opening canopy/atrium style extraction spaces that would use less energy while providing the safety of unconstrained open atmosphere ventilation. The important question to ask when considering alternative facility designs is – How much energy/resources goes into containing human contamination versus the likelihood and the actual consequences? Perhaps manufacturing facility workers can wear long sleeves, pants, and hair restraints and that will be sufficient versus wearing a full body gown?

Quantification of Risks

Quantifying the processes and proven hazards of the cannabis manufacturing industry will allow for more informed design and operational choices versus prescriptive solutions that may potentially over-mitigate the risks and possibly introduce additional risks. Moreover, this data would provide validation that the design and operational choices made are in fact the best practices. Instead of scrambling to follow each standard in a quality control approach, Quality by Design considers the whole process, how the 10 principles of GMP standards apply and focuses on finding the most efficient strategies to eliminate risks.

A Way Forward

Training is vital for the manufacturers to know the next steps and why they are critical for the future of cannabis extraction and post-processing. Knowledge is required to put valuable technology, tools, and equipment in place with the least operational downtime. Further, it is necessary to accept guidance from verified knowledgeable support, such as from a vetted supplier. Lastly, risk mitigation education is necessary to highlight the reality of long-term savings and sustainability versus the common short-sighted tendency for immediate cost savings, which can result in significant consequences for a business such as TerrAscend Canada’s 2021 recall of infused gummies due to mold contamination.

 

Committee Blog: Re-Thinking Cannabis Track and Trace Models – How State-Mandated Track and Trace Integration Capability is Failing the Cannabis Industry

by NCIA’s State Regulations Committee
Contributing authors Jennifer Gallerani, Erin Fay, and Elise Serbaroli

This is the second in a three-part blog series. The first part can be read here.

Highly regulated industries typically require key information to be readily available to regulators related to the production, movement, and sale of products, which is the case in the cannabis industry. The two main reasons for “seed-to-sale” record keeping are (1) to reduce the diversion of cannabis products to the unregulated market and (2) to protect consumer health with an efficient track and recall product method. 

However, cannabis operators are facing many challenges with the state-mandated track-and-trace requirements, causing their business operations to suffer inefficiencies, delays, and sometimes even interruptions, which can ultimately impact consumers and patients. This is the second blog in a series highlighting the issues that cannabis operators and regulators are facing with the current centralized state-mandated track-and-trace model from NCIA’s State Regulations Committee, Technology and Compliance Sub-Committee. 

The point of frustration begins with the method in which the track-and-trace requirements are implemented. Most U.S. states with some form of legal cannabis sales (medical and/or adult-use) have selected a single mandated technology platform that all operators must use to track and trace their cannabis seeds, plants, and products. The track-and-trace system selected by the state is independently configured to match the adopted cannabis regulations for that region. Because each state has adopted different cannabis regulations, there are variations in what can and cannot be accomplished within the selected track-and-trace systems, even within the states that have selected the same technology provider.  

What is an API?

While the definition of an API may seem complex, at its most basic level, the API is the communication pathway between two systems. API stands for “application programming interface,” which means that it is a software intermediary that allows two systems to “talk” to each other, meaning communicating and sending or receiving information. The communication pathway is intended to be two-way, with third-party business management software being able to retrieve (“GET”) information in the track-and-trace system, as well as send (“PUT”) updated information back into the system.

Let’s turn to an everyday example of an API integration that most consumers would be familiar with: travel booking applications that aggregate flight information. Let’s say you are planning a flight for a summer vacation and you have two options: go directly to each airline website to search for and compare flight options, or use a third-party travel booking application to simultaneously access all flights across all airlines within your search parameters. The ability to search and review all the available flights, across many airlines, is because of the airlines’ and applications’ APIs.  When you use the travel booking application, it sends the search parameters to the airlines it is connected with via the API. The airline API then sends available flights, seats, and prices to the travel booking application. In the more sophisticated travel booking applications, you can also purchase the ticket for your flight through the travel booking application, which then also utilizes other APIs for your secure banking/payment information. If all of the APIs are open to send and receive data between the systems, then the transaction is seamless, and all of the required information (identity verification, payment method, etc.) is shared with the airline for your booking.

Understanding API Limitations in Cannabis 

State regulators intend for the cannabis track-and-trace technology to serve as a way to accurately collect and record information about the flow of goods in the cannabis industry from seed to sale. What is consistent across all states, regardless of the track-and-trace technology selected, is the acknowledgment from regulators that the mandated systems are not intended to serve as an operator’s compliance solution or business management software system. The state-mandated track-and-trace systems are not built in a way that would allow a business operator to manage day-to-day operations and transactions between operators and retailers to consumers.

This acknowledgment of the business management limitations within the track-and-trace systems and the need for interoperability with operators’ own software is often stated outright by regulators and policymakers and/or codified in regulations, such as in California’s Business and Professions Code (Clauses (b) and (c)). Instead of directly managing operations within the track-and-trace systems, cannabis businesses utilize third-party software that has been vetted and certified to connect with and communicate important transaction details to the state systems. Cannabis operators are then relying heavily on third-party software and API integrations for the communication and transmittal of that important information and data. 

State-Mandated Software Providers Set Regulators And Operators Up To Fail 

Now let’s think about how cannabis businesses utilize APIs on a regular basis: for example, point-of-sale (POS) software. Regulations require that the cannabis retailer record all sales in the central, state-mandated track-and-trace system, but the actual on-site transaction is conducted through POS software at checkout. The retailer is therefore encouraged to use POS software that provides the necessary sales tools and controls that make running the business manageable for all employees, while also providing API integration with state-mandated track-and-trace systems.

Without the API integration, a retailer would be forced to manually enter all of the details of all of the POS transactions into the track-and-trace system on a daily basis. Hundreds of daily sales without an API integration means many hours of data entry and countless opportunities for human errors in the track-and-trace system. Opportunities abound for inaccurate reporting in the track-and-trace systems with manual entry. Regulators rely on the track-and-trace system they selected to ensure compliance and consumer safety, although operators are essentially utilizing third-party software to communicate with the track-and-trace system. This is exactly why it is important that the cannabis industry has an open and operating track-and-trace system API at all times. Any time the track-and-trace API malfunctions (limited in communication pathways, delayed in responding to POS requests for information, or just completely down), the cannabis retailer operations are severely impacted, if not altogether halted.

In current situations where the state has mandated a specific software provider, the vendor approves specific POS and other software vendors, but the agreements the vendor has with the state does not allow for direct support to the approved vendors. This causes challenges as a licensee’s POS vendor cannot talk directly to the vendor to get API issues resolved. There is also no direct line of communication to the approved vendors about changes happening in the state-mandated software provider’s system that affects the API. These types of issues can cause the licensee (cannabis operator) to be out of compliance without even knowing it.

From The Operator’s Perspective

Imagine that you are a budtender trained on your employer’s POS software, compliance and track-and-trace requirements. Very rarely will you access the statewide system directly because the POS is fully integrated with the track-and-trace API. You are working during your daily shift processing retail transactions through the POS, but unfortunately, the track-and-trace API is experiencing high call volumes from all of the other retailers in the state, and the API is not responding to your POS requests. You cannot complete the transaction in the POS as usual, so you are forced to complete and track the transaction manually. Later on, you have to spend hours manually entering which unit of product came from which box in the back storeroom, along with all of the customer’s information and time stamps. This takes hours of labor and could lead to mistakes (hey, we’re human!). As we stated, manual records and entry invite human error. Now the inventory listed in your POS software does not match the statewide track-and-trace system. You spend many more hours trying to find and correct this mistake. The circle of conducting sales transactions, recording and tracking it manually, and fixing errors, widens, all putting your cannabis business at risk.

Because cannabis businesses at every point of the supply chain (i.e., cultivation, manufacturing, distribution, and retail) rely on third-party software to manage their operations effectively and efficiently, a hiccup in the track-and-trace API has ramifications for an entire statewide industry at once. While this sounds like a “perfect storm” scenario that only happens every once in a long while, in reality, track-and-trace API performance issues happen on a regular basis.

In California, a group of third-party software integrators reviewed track-and-trace API performance over a period of six months (April 2020 through October 2020) and found that the API was generally up and fully responsive approximately 91 to 98 percent of the time. While an API performance ranking in the high nineties may seem acceptable, the technology industry considers 99.999% uptime as the standard for high availability. An availability of 94 to 98 percent means 2-6% downtime, which is effectively 3 to 8 hours of downtime per week. More recently, the California Metrc API (CCTT-Metrc) experienced consistent outages for approximately 17 consecutive days (February 16, 2021 – March 5, 2021). This extensive outage caused all third-party software integrators serious Metrc-sync issues for packages, transfers, and more. Operators were forced to keep their staff on extensive overtime for more than two weeks in order to manually enter and/or correct information that was entered into the system while sync issues were occurring. As a result, cannabis businesses suffered as operations were interrupted, additional labor was required, and additional costs were incurred that had to be absorbed by the business.

From The Regulators’ Perspective 

Cannabis is a highly regulated industry and regulators are very concerned about the path from a cannabis seed to final sale to a consumer. The perceived public safety concerns are immense, which is what prompted the implementation of, and requirements, around track-and-trace. Put simply, regulators rely on the track-and-trace system they selected and the system is only as good as its uptime.

Many regulators focus on the track-and-trace server uptime reporting from their technology providers as an indication of how well things are running. If the server is up, then an operator can still access and update the track-and-trace system manually, and that is where most regulators stop in their understanding of the issues. API connectivity and performance is just as critical as track-and-trace server uptime in order to ensure business continuity and accurate data; and accurate data is the entire intent of the state’s mandated technology platforms. It is important that regulators assign key technical leads with the sole responsibility of reviewing track-and-trace API limitations and performance issues for their regulated industry.

Without skilled technical staff on the state’s side, when the track-and-trace API has issues, no one is aware of the problem besides technical teams at third-party software providers. The onus is on the software providers to notify all operators and inform the regulators. This leads to a delayed and fragmented flow of information to operators who are scrambling because their third-party business platforms are shut down. The responsibility of transparent notification around API performance should be on the state-mandated system provider, and no one else. The current lack of transparency on API performance and downtimes also leads to complete blind spots for the regulators, having also not been timely notified that cannabis operations in their state have halted due to API connectivity. The operators and the state should know the health of their track-and-trace systems at all times so that they can attempt to mitigate the amount of damage an outage inflicts on businesses. As with many other online platforms with APIs (i.e., SAP, Twitter, Intercom, etc.), this is typically done through the establishment of an API status page. At this time, there are no current API status pages for key track and trace vendors and, as stated above, performance issues are largely tracked and reported to regulators by the operators. In California, there are currently no performance reports required of Metrc for their system’s API availability (not including general server/equipment uptime).

Conclusion

The performance deficiencies of track-and-trace API’s are burdensome to the entire legal cannabis industry because it can cause third-party inventory management applications to collapse. Then operators are forced to duplicate and/or correct entries directly in the track-and-trace system. This amounts to countless hours lost and perpetuates inaccuracies of the data being entered into the system. Ultimately, the effectiveness of the track-and-trace system diminishes with any amount of downtime. Unfortunately, downtime and interruptions are all too common and the cannabis industry’s needs as a highly regulated industry demand a much higher success rate for its systems.

In our next blog in this series, we will compare the current centralized state-mandated track and trace model with the alternative distributed model.

Interested in joining us in establishing an effective and scalable track and trace framework for regulators and operators in the legal cannabis space? Click here to stay updated on the State Regulations Committee, and the efforts that its Technology and Compliance Subcommittee are taking to improve and advance track and trace nationally. Let’s close the information gap between operators and regulators, and help the entire industry move forward together.

Stay tuned for the next blog post in our multi-part series!

#cannabisindustry #legalcannabis #trackandtrace #wearethecannabisindustry #cannabiscompliance

Video: NCIA Today – August 6, 2021

NCIA Deputy Director of Communications Bethany Moore checks in with what’s going on across the country with the National Cannabis Industry Association’s membership, board, allies, and staff. Join us every Friday on Facebook for NCIA Today Live.

 

August Action Alerts for NCIA Members: CAOA and SMS

by Rachel Kurtz-McAlaine, NCIA’s Deputy Director of Public Policy

STOP what you’re doing and ask yourself 2 questions:

  1. Have I read the discussion draft or summary of the Senate bill to legalize cannabis at the federal level and now have an opinion on how NCIA should approach the bill? (Tell NCIA.)

  2. Has my SMS/text messaging service gotten more expensive, become unwieldy with rules, or been taken away altogether? (Tell NCIA.)

If you answered yes to one or both of these questions, please take a quick moment to let us know! Click on the unique link next to the relevant question. If you want to learn more about either issue, keep reading.

Senate Legalization Bill Discussion Draft: Your Thoughts?

Hopefully, by now you’ve had a chance to read the discussion draft of the Senate bill released a few weeks ago, detailed in Michelle’s last blog post, Crazy for Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act (CAOA). If not, at least read the summary so you understand what is happening with this potentially historic legislation.

We are at the precipice of federal legalization, but as you know, in such a highly regulated industry, how legalization gets implemented can have a significant impact on your business. So it’s important that your voice is heard when these laws and regulations are being discussed. We’ve created this simple form for NCIA members to easily give us feedback on the CAOA. If you’re a committee member, you can provide feedback through your committee as well.

Text Messaging Service Disruptions: the Cannabis Industry Can Fight Back

You may remember reading my article, Text Messaging (SMS) Crackdown Impacting the Cannabis Industry, published back in May, written when we were first learning the scope of the issue. Although many companies seemed to be able to move on with workarounds, we’re hearing even workarounds are disappearing. And even when businesses are still able to operate, they get charged high fees or are severely hampered in what they can do with the messages.

Because this issue has been affecting so many of our members in one way or another, we want to help, but we need to hear from you. This isn’t a law that we can lobby to change, it is a convoluted policy that telecommunications giants are enforcing on their customers, ostensibly to cut down on customers complaining about spam, but in some cases, they are applying blanket bans on cannabis companies.

As an industry, we can fight back. We are organizing a working group to take on the telecommunications giants, including a potential class-action lawsuit. If you want to be part of this or learn more, please email me.

Those workarounds going away, or extremely expensive and cumbersome. It can seem overwhelming to fight back.

At this point, time to organize and use strength in numbers against giant telecommunications companies.

 

Committee Blog: Cannabis Auto Insurance – Best Practices, Claims Processes, and More!

by Jesse Parenti, Programs Director of Nine Points Strategies, Stephanie Bozzuto of Cannabis Connect Insurance Services, Matthew Johnson, Vice President of QuadScore Risk Services, and Helkin Berg, CEO of Strimo
Members of NCIA’s Risk Management and Insurance Committee

If your company has an “auto exposure” such as delivery, distribution, or employees simply running company errands, your company needs a robust risk management program.

Managing a fleet is essential to ensure drivers are given the necessary tools to be safe and responsible while on the open road. Implementing a vehicle maintenance program is also a necessary component of fleet management.

Proper automotive risk management starts with driver guidelines on how you hire your drivers and what is required to qualify to be employed by your organization. Best practices on age, driving experience, motor vehicle reports, and training make for a great start. Even though your employees may think they are only delivering or transporting cannabis, they are commercial drivers, and they need to take that duty very seriously. Morbid as it may sound, death is not the worst thing that can happen…

Here are some best practices:

  1. Drivers should ideally be at least 25 years old with five years of driving experience. For the best insurance pricing and experience, you should hire drivers that are between 35-55 years old. Note that commercial drivers over a certain age will face increased pricing from insurance companies much like their youthful counterparts. Keep that 22-year-old with four speeding tickets off your policy, even if they are the business owner’s relative!

  2. Only hire drivers with squeaky clean driving records. Experienced drivers with a clean record are more likely to continue to drive this way when working for your organization. If you hire drivers with violations or points on their records, expect this level of driving to continue when working for you. Drivers don’t often change driving habits just because of their employment status. Note that age and driving records directly affect commercial auto rates.

  3. Set up an Employee Pull Notice Program or Motor Vehicle Report pull program through the DMV. A “pull program” ensures that you are aware of your drivers’ violations in real-time, whether the violations happen during or outside of work. Suppose a driver is out of compliance based on your insurance carrier guidelines. In that case, your insurer can deny a claim based on your driver’s record or violations that happened while employed by your organization, even if the violation occurred outside of work. If you are not monitoring your drivers, you would never be aware of these concerns or problems. Secured motor vehicle records (MVR) storage is also crucial to protect your employee’s personal information. Make sure you backup all your records in the cloud or a protected server network. Identity theft can happen quickly, and unprotected data will create cyber liability exposures if not protected correctly.

  4. Take cell phone, texting, or distracted driving violations very seriously. Distracted driving is the #1 cause of death and accidents since 2012 and is increasing yearly as time goes on. The NHTSA reports that an estimated 1.6 million accidents in 2020 were caused by distracted drivers too busy eating, texting, smoking, etc., to keep their eyes on the road. Suppose one of your drivers has a distracted driving violation. In that case, you can rectify it by having them take a distracted driver class to understand the gravity of such infractions. Then put that driver on probation with consistent monitoring of their MVR for 18-24 months to ensure they don’t continue to have these violations.

  5. Onboarding driver training must include how to drive defensively, what to do if you are held up for a robbery, and what to do if you are pulled over by the police. This training makes a world of difference when or if any of these take place. In addition to robust onboarding training, training needs to continue over time as safety never stops, and good practices always need to be reinforced.

Here are some examples of claims to give you an idea of what could happen to you:

  1. A large distribution company hires a driver and has them complete some training in a large, empty box truck. This training helps the driver understand how to drive and brake with a(n empty) truck. The next day the driver goes out with a full load of cannabis flower and concentrates in their truck. The driver notices that the truck is handling differently than when it was empty. A wind picks up just as the truck is taking a turn. The truck rolls onto its side and totals the box on the truck, damaging the product inside. The company could have avoided this accident had they trained their driver in real-life experiences, with actual loads.

  2. A driver is delivering cannabis to a customer’s home. While en route, the driver accidentally hits a pedestrian crossing a sidewalk on a poorly lit street. The driver did nothing wrong, but the accident still caused permanent disability to the man who was the head of the household, and the insurance company paid out over $7M. If the insured didn’t have the $10M in auto liability, they would have had to close their doors. 

You and your employees can do everything right, but accidents can and will still happen. That is why culture, safety, and accountability are essential when working in the transportation and delivery space. If you don’t take this seriously, your company will pay the price. To avoid these costly mistakes, work with your legal team, insurance providers, and software vendors to ensure ideal policies, training requirements, and data storage.

——————————————————————————————–

Nine Point Strategies is a national risk management firm specializing in all forms of commercial auto for the cannabis industry. We can help you with anything you need concerning hiring, training and maintaining all your required driver compliance you need to be a safe and profitable organization. Contact us to discuss how we can better protect your cannabis auto exposures.

QuadScore Insurance Services is the nation’s leading insurance provider for marijuana businesses. QuadScore offers comprehensive property & casualty solutions as well as a full  suite of risk management services for large cannabis companies around the United States.

The Strimo™ team is comprised of industry veterans. We are both practitioners in cannabis and long-time experts in software. We have supported companies in rapid growth and deeply understand that your software needs to grow with you. Strimo is the leading enterprise cannabis SaaS platform.

Cannabis Connect Insurance is a specialty division of Bozzuto Insurance, an insurance firm serving businesses since 1978 and part of Acrisure, LLC the 4th largest insurance brokerage in the United States. We specialize in connecting cannabis business owners with custom built insurance programs.Cannabis Connect was founded on basic principles of honesty, integrity, and trust. We are actively involved in the cannabis industry on both a local and state level. We are involved in multiple cannabis associations and continue to remain informed on policy forms and legislative changes to ensure our clients best interests come first. 

 

 

House Rules Committee Weighs In On Cannabis Appropriations Amendments

By Morgan Fox, NCIA’s Director of Media Relations

The process of approving the federal budget is moving full steam ahead, with the House Rules Committee considering several amendments related to cannabis to a series of funding bills this week. Amendments that pass this committee move on to a full vote on the House floor.

In terms of overall cannabis policy reform, the most prominent amendment is one that would prevent the Department of Justice from using funds to interfere with state adult-use and medical cannabis programs or target people and businesses that are in compliance with state cannabis laws. This amendment was offered by bipartisan congressional cannabis champions Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Tom McClintock (R-CA), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) and Barbara Lee (D-CA). The amendment was ruled in order Wednesday and will proceed to a vote, possibly as soon as this week.

Even though the DOJ has generally been respecting state cannabis laws in recent years, passage of this amendment in the final federal budget would add the force of law to that policy for the next fiscal year, providing peace of mind for tens of thousands of regulated cannabis businesses and millions of consumers across the country. This would also add significant momentum to congressional efforts to remove cannabis from the schedule of controlled substances and regulate it at the federal level in separate stand-alone legislation.

Provisions to prevent the DOJ solely from targeting state-legal medical cannabis programs and providers have been approved by Congress every year since 2014. With public support for medical cannabis at roughly 90%, these protections have become mostly a non-issue in Congress and have been included in the original base language of the relevant House appropriations bills since 2019.

The amendment extending those protections to state adult-use programs was approved by the House in the budget votes in 2019 and 2020. Unfortunately, it did not receive the same support in the Senate and was not included in the final funding packages approved by the previous Congress.

An amendment that would remove the renewal of medical cannabis program protections from this legislation, flying in the face of long-supported policy and unnecessarily taking up lawmakers’ time, was also introduced by Rep. Doug LaMalfa (R-CA) and ruled in order.

Rep. LaMalfa, a staunch prohibitionist, has also introduced several amendments to appropriations bills to increase DEA funding for eradication efforts. He made headlines recently when his office released videos of him joining law enforcement in bulldozing outdoor cultivation sites in Siskiyou County, California while grandstanding for the camera and ripping off quotes from the film Apocalypse Now. These sites were located in primarily Hmong communities, a Southeast Asian ethnic diaspora that alleges that the county has prevented its members from obtaining cannabis licenses and prevented water shipments to their communities with serious harm to the quality of life there. LaMalfa’s behavior in these videos is particularly offensive given that many Hmong fled their homes to settle in the United States during and following the Vietnam War after facing persecution for supporting America in that conflict.

Unfortunately, some positive cannabis amendments were ruled out of order by the committee this week and will not be voted upon in this legislation. Delegate Norton offered a pair of provisions that would have prevented the Dept. of Housing and Urban Development from using funds to punish residents of federally assisted housing for state-legal cannabis use in adult-use and medical states, respectively. These reforms are incredibly important, as people living in federal housing can be and are frequently evicted from their homes if they or anyone in their household exercises their legal rights or uses the medicine that works best for them. This leaves many people with no place to legally use cannabis, leading to increased public consumption in low-income communities and continued racial disparities in arrests and citations.

On the positive side, an amendment from Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-OR) to highlight the need for the Food and Drug Administration to establish regulations for CBD products was also ruled in order and approved.

Last week, another bad amendment, introduced by Rep. Debbie Lesko (R-AZ), to remove language from the original legislation that would allow federal funding for universities that are conducting cannabis research was ruled in order but voted down in the House.

The House appropriations bills have a broad range of other cannabis provisions related to topics like banking reform, research, law enforcement funding and grant programs, federal employment guidelines, and allowing the District of Columbia to finally regulate cannabis after it was legalized by voters in 2014. We’ll get into these in more detail in the coming weeks as we get closer to a full vote in the House. Stay tuned!

Crazy for Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act (CAOA)

Photo By CannabisCamera.com

By Michelle Rutter Friberg, NCIA’s Deputy Director of Government Relations

Last week was undoubtedly one of the most exciting weeks in federal cannabis policy ever! On July 14, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), along with Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Senate Finance Committee Chair Ron Wyden (D-OR), unveiled long-awaited draft legislation that would remove cannabis from the schedule of controlled substances while allowing states to determine their own cannabis policies. Let’s take a look at what we know:

What is it?

You’ll recall that back in February, the trio of Senators announced that they were working on a comprehensive cannabis bill. Since then, NCIA and other advocates have (im)patiently been waiting to see what shape that would take – I was calling it the best-kept secret in Washington! However, at long last, the discussion draft of the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act (CAOA) was released. 

A discussion draft is exactly what it sounds like – prior to introducing this language as formal legislation, the Senators have shared it in this form, allowing stakeholders, the public, and others the opportunity to weigh in and provide their expertise and feedback.

What’s in it?

As I mentioned above, the CAOA removes cannabis from the list of controlled substances, effectively legalizing it at the federal level while still allowing states to set their own policies. According to the bill’s detailed summary, it has a few goals:

“… [it will] Ensure that Americans – especially Black and Brown Americans – no longer have to fear arrest or be barred from public housing or federal financial aid for higher education for using cannabis in states where it’s legal. State-compliant cannabis businesses will finally be treated like other businesses and allowed access to essential financial services, like bank accounts and loans. Medical research will no longer be stifled.”

The bill also includes:

  • Restorative measures for people and communities who were unfairly targeted in the war on drugs. 
  • Automatic expungements for federal non-violent marijuana crimes and allows an individual currently serving time in federal prison for nonviolent marijuana crimes to petition a court for resentencing. 
  • An “Opportunity Trust Fund” funded by federal cannabis tax revenue to reinvest in the communities most impacted by the failed war on drugs, as well as helping to level the playing field for entrepreneurs of color who continue to face barriers of access to the industry. 
  • An end to discrimination in federal public benefits for medical marijuana patients and adult-use consumers. 
  • Respect for state cannabis laws and a path for responsible federal regulation of the cannabis industry. Like with federal regulations on alcohol, under CAOA, states can determine their own cannabis laws, but federal prohibition will no longer be an obstacle. Regulatory responsibility will be moved from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) to the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB), the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco Firearms and Explosives (ATF), as well as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to protect public health. 
  • A federal tax structure – CAOA would impose an excise tax on cannabis products in a manner similar to the tax imposed on alcohol and tobacco. The general rate of tax would be 10 percent for the year of enactment and the first full calendar year after enactment. The tax rate would increase annually to 15 percent, 20 percent, and 25 percent in the following years. 

What’s next?

The discussion draft comment and feedback process will be ongoing until September 1. Until then, NCIA will be working with our board, Policy Council, committees, and our members (particularly our Evergreen members!) to solicit their expert input on some of the areas the Senators have expressed interest in. After that deadline, the Senators will take their time to review submissions and subsequently formally introduce the revised language later this year. Stay tuned via our newsletter, blog, and upcoming events to learn the latest on this and how you can actually submit your thoughts to us! 

Member Blog: Does Your Cannabis Brand Need Social Media? Yes, But Not For the Reasons You Think

By Aaron Rosenbluth, Hybrid Marketing Co

Every cannabis brand needs social media. But, the reasons to be on social media, and how you should approach your accounts might surprise you.

Social media is a powerful tool for all businesses today. Even in the cannabis industry, where most paid advertising opportunities – including paid social – are off the table. 

It’s an effective way to communicate with customers directly. Social media lets your cannabis brand or dispensary start meaningful conversations – it’s a place to develop and nurture a community. But should you look at social media as a primary business driver? Probably not; hear me out. 

Five years ago, when I started managing social media accounts for cannabis brands, organic engagement wasn’t easy, but it was easier than it is today. Marketers (like me) remember the era of chronological Instagram feeds and simplified Facebook algorithms fondly. Five years ago, getting organic attention from your followers was more straightforward. It was also easier to build an audience quickly. 

Strict regulations are a constant battle for cannabis businesses marketing on social media. We’re violating every platform’s terms of service and community guidelines just by being there. Every cannabis brand wants social dominance. I’m here to deliver unfortunate news; social media dominance is off the table for most of you. 

Today, you can only expect to reach about 3% of your audience on most social media platforms. And that’s if your content is excellent. But even with amazing content, algorithms are your enemy, and hashtags only get you so far. 

It can feel like an impossible challenge. We’re tasked with bolstering brands but walk a tightrope of rules to keep posts and accounts from getting the boot. 

Do cannabis brands still need to be on social media? Yes. Here’s why. 

You can access a limitless direct-to-consumer digital platform if you can manage to grow and maintain a social media following. But, of course, it’ll take time to build an engaged community (for many of you, it’ll take years of hard and consistent work), and you need to be realistic – don’t put all of your cannabis marketing eggs in the social media basket; there are other ways (email and programmatic advertising for example). 

Still, social media is a business necessity today, just like printer cartridges or desk chairs. You must be there – even if the task is seemingly impossible. 

What makes excellent social media content? 

Every marketing “expert” on the internet will tell you the key to social media success is excellent content. And that’s true. But, what makes for awesome content is relatively subjective – it’s not for you or me to decide. So, who gets to decide what makes terrific content? Your customers, that’s who. 

How do you determine if your customers think your content is excellent? They’ll reward you with engagement. And engagement is virtually the only thing almighty social media algorithms care about. 

Maybe your customers love ridiculous memes; perhaps they prefer higher-brow lifestyle content. If you run a dispensary, your customers might love seeing their favorite budtenders highlighted on your feeds. If you’re a cultivator, your customers probably think drool-worthy strain content is excellent (be careful, Instagram is advanced enough to find flower images, and that violates TOS and community guidelines). 

Here are a few social media post types you should consider:

  • Expert Budtender Recommendations 
  • Cultivation Behind-the-Scenes
  • Aspirational Lifestyle Imagery and Content
  • Humorous Memes for Cannabis Enthusiasts
  • General Cannabis Education
  • Product Education
  • Consumption Tips and Guidelines

You need to deeply understand your customers (that’s why we’re persona development sticklers) and craft a content strategy explicitly designed for engagement. Of course, I’m vastly oversimplifying this process – it takes time and a lot of testing to determine what will work best for your cannabis brand. But the results are often worth the work. Let your customers tell you what they want. 

Even with excellent content, you need to be realistic. 

I’m going to break some hard news to you – even with genuinely excellent content, you can still really only expect to reach around 3% (as I mentioned earlier) of your total audience. So whoever told you that organic engagement on social media is easy lied to you. 

Most people think there’s one overarching algorithm controlling what we see on our social media feeds. But, in the case of Instagram, for example, several algorithms work together, making tiny decisions in real-time to determine the posts you see. 

Adam Mosseri (head of Instagram) talks about how their algorithms work in a recent blog

“One of the main misconceptions we want to clear up is the existence of “The Algorithm.” Instagram doesn’t have one algorithm that oversees what people do and don’t see on the app. We use a variety of algorithms, classifiers, and processes, each with its own purpose. We want to make the most of your time, and we believe that using technology to personalize your experience is the best way to do that.

When we first launched in 2010, Instagram was a single stream of photos in chronological order. But as more people joined and more was shared, it became impossible for most people to see everything, let alone all the posts they cared about. By 2016, people were missing 70% of all their posts in Feed, including almost half of posts from their close connections. So we developed and introduced a Feed that ranked posts based on what you care about most. 

Each part of the app — Feed, Explore, Reels — uses its own algorithm tailored to how people use it. People tend to look for their closest friends in Stories, but they want to discover something entirely new in Explore. We rank things differently in different parts of the app, based on how people use them.” 

Instagram wants to personalize content for users, so it’s constantly making small decisions to reach its goal. Your job (and ours, as marketers) is to understand our customers deeply enough to create unique personalized experiences (I prefer to use the word experience over content in this scenario). Still, the algorithms pose a challenge which is why you need to understand that it’s going to take a lot of time, a lot of trial and error, and more content than you think you can possibly create in a lifetime to build and manage a loyal – and engaged – community. 

It’s not impossible, but it’s not easy – many of you will fail. But still, you must be there because your customers expect you to show up for them in the places they hang out digitally. Of course, it doesn’t hurt to have the support of an experienced social media marketing team.


Aaron is Hybrid Marketing Co‘s Content Director, and he loves to write blogs. He’s written so many blogs that he’s lost count. And beyond his skills as a copywriter and storyteller, he’s an obsessive reader and researcher. Aaron writes on subjects ranging from cannabis to collaboration, social equity to HR software, interior design to cybersecurity. His words attract, engage, educate, and convert. Btw, Aaron hates the phrase “content is king” (even though content is king – and queen).

Hybrid Marketing Co is a Denver-based branding and marketing agency that specializes in building custom strategies that supercharge growth and drive revenue. Working with brands and businesses across the U.S. and Canada, Hybrid’s partners run the full-spectrum of the cannabis world including dispensaries, manufacturers, cultivators, and ancillary businesses. Visit hybridmarketingco.com to learn more about the Hybrid approach. 

 

Mid-Year Update on 280E and its Impact on the Cannabis Retail Sector

by Beau R Whitney, NCIA’s Chief Economist

The first half of the year was a strong one for cannabis revenues. After a strong first quarter, with $5.9 billion in revenue, cannabis retailers are experiencing continued growth in Q2 with preliminary results coming in at $6.2 billion to $6.5 billion.

If this trend remains in the second half of the year, the cannabis retail sales are projected to be $24.5 to $25 billion for the year. This would reflect another cycle of 35% year-over-year growth.

Source: Whitney Economics, Leafly

 

Strong growth in the first half of the year, does not necessarily mean huge profits for the cannabis industry.

While the industry has seen strong growth over the past year, this does not necessarily mean that the industry as a whole is in good shape. Retailers are struggling to make profits due in a large part to federal taxation. IRC 280E does not allow entities conducting business in federally illicit trade, such as cannabis, to write off common and ordinary deductions from their federal taxes. As a result, cannabis operators pay significantly more taxes than other businesses. This has long been an issue with the cannabis industry and organizations such as NCIA has been working tirelessly to address this, but as long as it remains a federal policy it will be negatively impacting the industry.

Cannabis retailers are taking the brunt of federal tax policy.

With over $12 billion in first-half revenues, cannabis retailers will be on the hook for $1.2 billion in federal taxes for the first half of the year alone. This is $756 million more than what “normal” businesses would pay. Cannabis retailers are forecasted to pay over $1.5 billion more in taxes in 2021 and, when combined with the rest of the supply chain, will pay over $2.2 billion in additional taxes in 2021.

280e Example of Impact on Retail Normal Business   280E Business Comment
Retail mid-Year Revenue  $12,000,000,000    $12,000,000,000  Based on data from Whitney Economics
Cost of Goods Sold (COGS = 50%) $6,000,000,000    $6,000,000,000   
Ordinary and Necessary Expenses (30%) $3,600,000,000    $3,600,000,000  Not allowed under 280e
Real Pre-Tax Profit w/o 280e $2,400,000,000    $2,400,000,000   
Taxable Profit $2,400,000,000    $6,000,000,000  Big difference in taxable rates
Fed Tax @21% * $504,000,000    $1,260,000,000  Retailers pay 150% more
Effective tax rate 21.0%   52.5% Some effective tax rates approach 60%-70%
Net Annual Profit (Before State Tax and Debt Service) $1,896,000,000    $1,140,000,000  A difference of $201,000 per year per retailer

Source: Whitney Economics
*Assumes taxed at C-corporation rates

The effective tax rate is forecasted to increase with corporate tax increases.

The effective tax rate increases significantly for retailers and in many cases exceeds 60% to 70%. The level of additional taxes that cannabis operators pay, over the course of the next five years, will increase by an average of $630 million per year for the industry if the business tax rates increase from 21% to 28%. Depending on how corporate tax policy negotiations are settled, things may go from bad to worse for cannabis retailers.

Cannabis retailers are struggling to make ends meet.

Based on sales data from 2020, there were over 7,550 licensed cannabis retailers in the U.S. with each retailer generating an average of $2.4 million per year. This is right around the amount of revenue required to be a sustainable retail business. In 2021, there have been roughly 1,000 more retailers licensed and even with an increase in sales, retailers are only forecasted to average $2.7 million per year.in sales. In fact, in 13 states, retailers are not projected to average the $2.4 million per year to remain viable. While retailers in some states may be OK, other retailers are not able to make ends meet. 

What do these numbers tell us?

IRC 280E will reduce cannabis retailers cash flow by $200,000 in 2021 and that $200,000 would go a long way in shoring up the finances and provide retailers with the breathing room they need to remain viable. 280E reform would allow retailers to pay for health care for more employees, hire more workers and expand their business. However, in the current environment, many cannabis operators will continue to struggle. 

The key message here is that retailers are under duress due to 280E and policy reform in the area of federal taxes may make the difference between success and failure. The time for reform is now, before it is too late.

Learn more in a recent NCIA Fireside Chat webinar with an all-star panel of accounting experts and operators to dive deep into all things 280E.

 

 

 

Supreme Court of Cannabis?

Photo By CannabisCamera.com

By Michelle Rutter Friberg, NCIA’s Deputy Director of Government Relations

While it’s become commonplace to hear cannabis come up in the halls of Congress, and increasingly so in the White House, there’s one branch of government that has been quieter on the topic: the Supreme Court (SCOTUS). However, this week, conservative Justice Clarence Thomas changed that when the court actually declined to weigh in on a 280E case. 

Towards the end of 2020, a Colorado medical cannabis dispensary decided to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to review a lower-court decision that allowed the IRS to obtain business records in order to apply the 280E provision of the tax code. (Fun fact: NCIA member Jim Thorburn, of the Thorburn Law Group, was actually the counsel on record for this appeal!) According to the filings, the IRS overstepped its authority and also violated the company’s Fourth Amendment privacy rights. Some of the questions the company took to the highest court in the land:

  • Does the Fourth Amendment protect taxpayers from having confidential information released to the IRS and federal law enforcement authorities?
  • Does the application of Section 280E to state-legal marijuana businesses violate the federal constitution? 

Again, while SCOTUS declined to consider this appeal, Justice Thomas took issue with the underlying state/federal discrepancy in the country’s cannabis laws and issued a searing statement. He specifically discussed a 2005 ruling by SCOTUS in a case called Gonzales v. Raich. In this ruling, the court narrowly determined that the federal government could enforce prohibition against cannabis cultivation that took place wholly within California based on its authority to regulate interstate commerce. Check out a few excerpts from Justice Thomas’ statement below: 

  • “Whatever the merits of Raich when it was decided, federal policies of the past 16 years have greatly undermined its reasoning. Once comprehensive, the Federal Government’s current approach is a half-in, half-out regime that simultaneously tolerates and forbids local use of marijuana. This contradictory and unstable state of affairs strains basic principles of federalism and conceals traps for the unwary.” 
  • “Given all these developments, one can certainly understand why an ordinary person might think that the Federal Government has retreated from its once-absolute ban on marijuana. See, e.g., Halper, Congress Quietly Ends Federal Government’s Ban on Medical Marijuana, L. A. Times, Dec. 16, 2014. One can also perhaps understand why business owners in Colorado, like petitioners, may think that their intrastate marijuana operations will be treated like any other enterprise that is legal under state law.” 
  • “As things currently stand, the Internal Revenue Service is investigating whether petitioners deducted business expenses in violation of §280E, and petitioners are trying to prevent disclosure of relevant records held by the State. In other words, petitioners have found that the Government’s willingness to often look the other way on marijuana is more episodic than coherent.” 
  • “This disjuncture between the Government’s recent laissez-faire policies on marijuana and the actual operation of specific laws is not limited to the tax context. Many marijuana-related businesses operate entirely in cash because federal law prohibits certain financial institutions from knowingly accepting deposits from or providing other bank services to businesses that violate federal law. Black & Galeazzi, Cannabis Banking: Proceed With Caution, American Bar Assn., Feb. 6, 2020. Cash-based operations are understandably enticing to burglars and robbers. But, if marijuana-related businesses, in recognition of this, hire armed guards for protection, the owners and the guards might run afoul of a federal law that imposes harsh penalties for using a firearm in furtherance of a ‘drug trafficking crime.’” 
  • “Suffice it to say, the Federal Government’s current approach to marijuana bears little resemblance to the watertight nationwide prohibition that a closely divided Court found necessary to justify the Government’s blanket prohibition in Raich. If the Government is now content to allow States to act “as laboratories” “‘and try novel social and economic experiments,’” Raich, 545 U.S., at 42 (O’Connor, J., dissenting), then it might no longer have authority to intrude on “[t]he States’ core police powers . . . to define criminal law and to protect the health, safety, and welfare of their citizens.””

Just to be clear, these statements don’t change the law of the land, nor do they indicate formal policy developments. They do, however, show that the constantly shifting public perception of cannabis is affecting the way we as a society think about marijuana, which will, at some point, translate into policy. It’s no small feat that one of the most conservative justices on the Supreme Court has weighed in so substantially on this topic. Continue the momentum and join the movement with NCIA!

 

 

Member Blog: Cannabis Compliance – 6 Tips To Avoid Dispensary Fines

by Tommy Truong, KayaPush

Cannabis Compliance is one of the things to which every cannabis dispensary must pay attention. Not only does compliance ensure that you have the legal right to carry out your cannabis-related operations but it also helps keep your business from unnecessary fines and sanctions.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has stipulated various regulations for cannabis-derived products at the federal level. In addition, there are regulations at the state level. Violating any of these regulations can land your cannabis business in trouble that could potentially lead to revoking your license.

Also, people generally have greater trust in regulation-compliant businesses, so compliance is healthy for your business reputation. It is important, therefore, to structure your business operations to align with the cannabis dispensary guidelines and regulations operational in your area. 

In this article, we will cover 6 tips and tools to help you keep your cannabis dispensary from incurring any fines or lawsuits, let’s dig in!

1 – Digitization of licenses and renewal

In an industry as critical as cannabis dispensing, unauthorized operations constitute a serious offense and may attract severe penalties. The reason should be obvious—cannabis and its products can pose a raft of risks when handled by the wrong people.

This is why your dispensary must be properly licensed by the appropriate government body to be fully authorized for cannabis operations. Your cannabis business is at the risk of heavy fines, suspension, or even total shutdown if you operate without a license.

Different states may have different requirements for obtaining dispensary licenses. There may also be local laws and regulations within the state. You need to ensure that you discover and comply with all the requirements applicable to your locality.

For instance, the State of Colorado requires that employees in the cannabis industry must possess a MED (Marijuana Enforcement Division) license. This means that if your dispensary is in Colorado you not only need to get licensed as a business but each of your employees must also obtain licenses.

You must also ensure that your business license and those of your employees (where applicable) are up to date.  The requirements for licensing evolve with changes in cannabis regulations and you will need to stay abreast with information about license requirements in your area in order to maintain your cannabis compliance.

Tracking your licenses and their renewals can be quite a task. But you can save yourself hassle and stress by using a digital HR system to store and manage your licenses.

With HCM software, you can manage your employee profiles and ensure that every worker has the necessary licenses to work in your company. This way, you minimize the risk of operating without a license and violating cannabis compliance regulations.

The software also lets you store and track your licenses and set up reminders to alert you when a license is coming due for renewal. This feature makes it easy for you to maintain up-to-date licenses and renewals. 

2 – Use state traceability with a seed-to-sale integrated POS.

One of the major concerns in the wake of the increased legalization of cannabis is the ability to monitor the product from seed to sale. From the top of the production and supply chain to the bottom, traceability is crucial to cannabis compliance.

Monitoring and tracking every single step of this supply chain helps to ensure that cannabis and its products do not fall into the wrong hands — and this goes a long way to ensuring that the product is not abused in any way.

Cannabis and its products can be exposed to contamination with toxic chemicals and other harmful substances via pests or unhygienic processes. Such contamination may pose serious health risks if not prevented or properly managed. With well-detailed traceability, you will be able to track each step to be sure all necessary safety measures are in place.

 Your license proclaims that you can be trusted with handling a product as sensitive as cannabis. One of the ways you can demonstrate this is by accurate accountability — and this comes naturally with good traceability. You should be able to give a proper account of every single cannabis product offered by your dispensary in case of audits or investigations.

Implementing adequate traceability is not as difficult as you might think. Compliant POS software that has this feature enables you to automate traceability with relative ease.

This type of software is integrated with the required traceability systems such as Metrc, BioTrackTHC, and Leaf Data Systems. With these, you can rest assured that your data reporting complies with the requirements of the U.S. government.

3 – Time clock software that uses facial recognition technology

Staying compliant in the cannabis industry requires that you commit your operations to qualified employees. Given that cannabis is a highly sensitive commodity and can easily be abused, you must establish a means of regulating who gets involved in your processes.

A time clock software product will help you keep track of your employees, their clock-ins, breaks, meal times, and other important indices. You can restrict and regulate who gets access to what, where, and at what time.

For instance, an underage person might attempt to clock in for a friend and get involved in your cannabis business operations. Also, chances are that someone in your company might attempt to punch in for a shift when it’s not their time. 

These buddy punching practices can sometimes land you in serious compliance violation trouble. Using software with advanced face recognition technology will help you control unauthorized employee clock-ins by granting access only to the right person in the right place — so you can be sure you are staying compliant as your workers have minimal chance of violating labor codes. 

Time clock software not only protects you from cannabis compliance risks but also from violating other laws that might lead to severe consequences. For example, violating the California labor codes — part of the laws in California — can lead to a lawsuit that may eventually cost you a fortune.

The California labor code provides that employees are entitled to a 30-minute meal break per five hours of work. This means an employee can potentially sue you with a PAGA lawsuit claiming that they have been deprived of meal breaks — a violation of a labor code. As trivial as this may sound, the lawsuit may eventually attract serious penalties to your business.

In this scenario, you can avert such lawsuits by providing proof that the employee clocked in and out for their meal breaks so gathering such evidence won’t be an issue. You can also automate your payment system to sort out necessary employee payments to ensure you stay compliant.

4 – Select POS software with purchase limit alerts and built-in ID

As part of cannabis regulations, different states in the U.S have different purchase limits. This means that you are not legally allowed to sell more than a stipulated amount of cannabis and its related products to a customer within a stipulated time.

For instance, both medical and recreational consumers can only purchase one ounce of cannabis per transaction in the state of Alaska. The limits are different in California where medical cardholders are allowed up to eight ounces per day, while recreational buyers are constrained to just one once daily.

If your dispensary does not pay attention to these purchase limit regulations, there is a high risk that you will be found to be violating the law and face dire consequences. Since it cant be difficult to manually track transaction limits, you can leverage POS software to set up purchase limit alerts.

Using POS compliance technology provides you with this very important feature. You can customize your system settings to alert your dispensary whenever a transaction goes beyond the stipulated purchase limit for a customer so, it becomes easier to set up your system to maintain your cannabis compliance anywhere you are in the United States.

Using a system with built-in ID features can also help you combat looping. Looping occurs when cannabis buyers purchase up to their limit, lay it off somewhere, and return for another purchase. It is usually done as a way to bypass the transaction limits.

With the built-in ID feature, you can link a customer profile to the transactions carried out by that customer. That way, you can easily detect the number of products a particular registered customer has purchased and set purchase limit alerts on their profile. So, no matter how many times they come, you will not be able to sell more to them if they have already reached their limit.

5 – Create customizable clock-in surveys

Clock-in surveys can help you ascertain some important details that enable you to maintain a compliant working environment. You can customize your clock-in surveys to obtain different information from different employees for different analyses and purposes.

For example, you can customize a clock-in survey to confirm that a new employee understands and remembers the compliance regulations applicable in your company. You can automate the survey to run for an employee’s first week at work to help them get accustomed to the regulations.

You can customize another clock-in survey to ascertain that your employees are up to date with the most recent legislative changes in cannabis compliance rules. This kind of survey can be automated to run at intervals, say once every 3 months.

Such clock-in surveys help you ensure that you leave nothing to assumption or chance. It goes a long way in keeping the consciousness of cannabis compliance very much alive in your dispensary.

6 – Hire a compliance manager

Given how important compliance is in the cannabis industry, it makes sense for you to prioritize ensuring that your dispensary is as compliant as possible. One of the most effective ways to do this is by hiring a compliance manager.

Notwithstanding, it is great to automate your operations to ensure compliance, it is also not a bad idea to employ a compliance manager to oversee your compliance-related issues.

Part of what a compliance manager does is to help you develop, implement, and review your internal operational policies to ensure they match the current compliance demands. In case any changes are made in compliance regulations in your area, your compliance manager will be devoted to enforcing those changes to keep your dispensary from violating the new rules.

Stipulating policies and regulations might not be sufficient. You may need someone who is committed to enforcing these policies among your employees. This is where employing a compliance manager can pay off.

With a compliance manager in place, you can focus on your business, its growth, and development while you can rest assured that you are not at risk of dispensary fines as a result of violating cannabis compliance regulations.


Tommy Truong is the Director of Partnerships at KayaPush; the cannabis software helping dispensary owners manage their employee HR, scheduling, and payroll. KayaPush also integrates with leading dispensary POS systems.

Tommy loves hot sauce, fried chicken, and running with his Boston terriers. 

Member Blog: How Cannabis Dispensaries Can Navigate The METRC System

by Gary Cohen, Cova Software

Cannabis dispensary owners must bear in mind that this industry operates under strict laws and regulations that set their business apart from conventional retail operations. State governments must balance public health and safety with the business needs of the regulated community, and that requires complete tracking of all marijuana products from seed to sale. Most states have already switched to METRC, the largest traceability system helping dispensaries from coast to coast stay compliant with the law. The goal of METRC is to easily retrace the steps from sale to seed and facilitate transparency in the legal cannabis industry. This post will help you understand better why METRC is required, how it benefits everyone, and how can you navigate the system while using the right technology to stay compliant.

What is METRC & Why it is Needed?

Marijuana Enforcement Tracking Reporting Compliance (METRC) is a cloud-based, state-mandated platform used by 15 states in the U.S. It facilitates real-time tracking and tracing of cannabis plants and products from seed to sale. METRC was first adopted by Colorado and early reports in 2014 indicated that this regulatory monitoring technology allowed for accurate quality control and ensured that the safety of the end consumer was prioritized.

In all METRC states, cannabis stores and dispensaries must use the system either directly or integrate it with their POS. All data about your dispensary is safely stored in the cloud and is only accessible by you or the state regulatory authority. State regulatory authorities use data inconsistencies in METRC to detect any diversions from the mandated regulations and if they find any discrepancies, they could conduct an investigation and impose hefty fines.

How to Prepare for METRC?

To gain access to the METRC system, all employees working at your dispensary must get certified. The process involves training, studying the terminology and workflows, and then taking a 40 questions multiple-choice test. METRC uses RFID tags as unique identifiers to recognize and monitor all transactions, these are not reusable and must be purchased in batches or bulk by dispensaries. 

Every dispensary must incorporate its own solution to work with METRC. One can navigate the system manually but it is a risky and time-consuming process, as it involves countless hours of data entry, auditing, and reconciling processes to deal with the errors that inevitably pop up. The most convenient way to implement METRC is to automate as much of the process as possible. Investing in a robust point-of-sale solution that integrates seamlessly with METRC will ensure complete compliance with state regulations.

What are the Daily Obligations?

METRC’s cloud-based software requires only an internet connection and computer or tablet to access and use it, and an advanced POS system can automate the whole process for you. METRC tracks all plants and products with Radio Identification Tags. The plant tag is used to track each plant from its immature phase through to the harvest, while package tags are available for harvest batches or packages of one kind of product. All these activities must be recorded by dispensaries and reported to state regulatory authorities on time.

METRC charges $0.45 per plant tag and $ 0.25 per package tag. The tags can be ordered directly from METRC’s online software system, and are custom-printed for each dispensary. These can not be returned once the printing process has begun, are non-refundable, and cannot be reintroduced into the supply chain. Recreational cannabis plant tags are blue while medical marijuana plant tags are yellow.

Manual or Automatic Reporting?

METRC is simply a reporting tool – an application that allows you to send data to the state to maintain compliance. In most states, reports about all activities must be submitted to METRC no later than midnight on the day they occurred. A cannabis-specific POS can facilitate reporting to METRC while providing a user-friendly interface. To get the best compliance solutions, look for a POS that offers 2-way integration. This ensures that reports are sent to METRC in real-time, manifest intake is automated, and inventory adjustments are automatically synced with the traceability system.

Manual reporting will require you to log in to your online METRC account at the end of every business day to enter all data from every single transaction and activity that occurred. This is a time-consuming option that can also result in errors, increasing the risk of compliance infractions, fines, or worse, loss of retail license. Automated reporting with a cannabis-specific POS solution will make your life easier as it integrates seamlessly with METRC and automatically sends all your inventory adjustments and sales transactions as they occur in real-time. Also, if there are ever any connectivity issues, all saved data automatically sync once you are back online.

METRC has standard operating procedures in all states, and dispensaries don’t have a choice but to comply with them. But dispensary owners do have the option of selecting the right POS system that can help their employees navigate the METRC system more efficiently. Download your free copy of ‘A Complete Guide to METRC Compliance for Marijuana Dispensaries’ by Cova, to learn in-depth about the different levels of POS integrations with METRC, how to work best with the system, and state-specific METRC differences.


Gary Cohen is the CEO of Cova Software, the fastest growing technology brand in the cannabis industry. Cohen’s focus has been driving the company’s overall strategy, including its vision, go-to-market plan, and strategic development. Since joining the cannabis industry in 2016 and launching Cova commercially in 4q17, Cohen has led Cova to dominate the enterprise sector for dispensary Point of Sale, while forging client relationships with hundreds of single-store retailers across North America.

In solutioning the POS platform, Cohen & the Cova team have met with over 1,900 operators and leveraged expert knowledge to provide retailers the support they need to get a license, pass inspection, launch a store, and improve operations. Cohen leads seminars on retail technology, compliance, business operations, and cannabis banking laws at the industry’s largest events, including the NCIA and MJBizCon. As Cova has become the predominate thought leader for cannabis retail tech, Cohen has established himself as a leading voice educating cannabis entrepreneurs as they build their own successful brands.

Committee Blog: The Asset We Wish We Knew Before 2020 – HACCP

by Trevor Morones, Darwin Mallard, Liz Geisleman
NCIA’s Cannabis Manufacturing Committee

Read on for insight and guidance for the vitally important topic of preventing, eliminating, or reducing microbial growth in cannabis edibles and packaging. 

It all starts with the HACCP (Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point) Principles. Gather your team to share the five preliminary steps of HACCP and develop a plan (figure 1). This management system was launched by Pillsbury along with NASA and the U.S. Army for food safety in space exploration in the 1960’s. Quality, safety and efficacy is obtainable and sustainable with the HACCP discipline. 

The objective is to PREVENT packaging from being a failure point and inhibit microbial growth in edible products. We know moisture (water activity), temperature, pH, and oxygen levels are primary microbial growth drivers. 

HACCP is an asset, not an expense. Food is medicine for some, and cannabis products are medicine for many. Resin cannabis products (RCP) must be safe, consistent, and reliable products continuously. To generate those results, learn the HACCP mindset. Practice being an advocate with HACCP discipline displaying the actions written in the programs. It’s a system for cannabis safety that encourages operations to have Emergency and Business Continuity plans before disruptive events occur, e.g., natural disasters, pandemics, etc.

  • Resin cannabis product – Any product, whether finished or a work in progress, containing or comprised of cannabis flowers or resins or both and includes, but is not limited to, the cannabis flowers and resins themselves, extracts/concentrates/derivatives thereof, and preparations therefrom.
    • And can be further classified as Adult-Use or Medicinal-Use and subclassified as Topical-Use.

Creating such a plan is important because exposure to microbes may result in allergic symptoms such as sneezing, coughing, wheezing, nasal congestion, and watery or itchy eyes. Consumers using cannabis products as medicine, such as cancer patients on chemotherapy, are even more susceptible to harm caused by microbes. Thus, it is critical to ensure your products do not have microbial growth. 

This is not only a health concern, but the financial impacts can be detrimental. How much did the February 2021 Canadian infused gummy recall cost? More than 330,000 packages of THC infused gummies, worth approximately 8.2 million Canadian dollars, were lost. Overhead costs go above and beyond. The global cannabis industry must learn from industry events such as this.

Effective HACCP management system ensures control. Empower your team through education and training on discipline of HACCP. Take the infused gummy recall from February 2021 as an example where cross-contamination, improper employee hygiene, and package permeability were failure points that led to loss of control. Lack of control during transport of the initially sterile packaging also contributes to contamination. Personal clothing worn by team members or visitors are also known sources of pathogenic fungus. 

Best practice is to address preventive controls and reducing/mitigating risks. For example, consider installing two-way humidistatic control devices in packaging, such as desiccant packs, to maintain water activity (Aw) in acceptable ranges to mitigate microbial growth. Reducing moisture prevents powdery mildew caused by Golovinomyces Cichoracearum (figure 2)

A great resource to mitigate risks can be found in the ASTM D37; Standard Guide for Cleaning and Disinfection at a Cannabis Cultivation Center; Aw ASTM Standards for Cannabis Flower: D8196 – Standard Practice for Determining Water Activity in Cannabis Flower; and D8197 – Standard Specification for Maintaining Acceptable Water Activity Range for Dry Cannabis Flower.

 Sanitary environments are critical from seed to sale.

Figure 2, Right. Powdery mildew development on leaves, stems, and flower buds of Cannabis sativa, caused by Golovinomyces cichoracearum. 2

Use the principles of HACCP to guide and maintain the integrity of your work. Each principle builds on the next to create a solid foundation to build and operate a safe and consistent management system. Establish storage conditions in your control and transport; determine the temperature and humidity for each product type (gummies do not tolerate heat, and certain ingredients are sensitive to humidity which could change the potency). This includes evaluating the stability of each of the ingredients when in final product form (how long do they remain potent). 

Depending on the ingredients used, i.e., the formulation, gummies can take on or reject water. Most typically let out the water, then that water has nowhere to go (trapped in the packaging), and the product molds. This is why commercially produced gummies are coated in wax, literally to trap the water inside the product. Inadequate gummy formulations lead to water permeability; change in cannabinoid content is the least of the concerns.

General chapter 659 on Packaging and Storage requirements published by the USP (United States Pharmacopeia and the National Formulary, USP–NF) is a great resource. Though not all cannabis products may be for the medical market, using the standards of excellence from the USP is the best way to minimize product failure and help ensure consumer safety. Packaging 659 states that packaging materials must not interact physically or chemically with a packaged article in a manner that causes its safety, identity, strength, quality, or purity to fail to conform to established requirements.

Empower your cross-functional team to apply and implement HACCP through your organization. In doing so, you will have the discipline and tools to mitigate risks and prevent costly downtime. Your consumers benefit by having safer, consistent, and quality products. Finally, collect the data and share the story. We all need to drive improvement and produce safe consistent products for our consumers. HACCP systems are a tried-and-true tool to achieve this.

Please note that prerequisite programs such as current Good Manufacturing Practices (cGMPs) are an essential foundation for the development and implementation of successful HACCP plans. This article is intended to level up your current manufacturing processes and mitigate your exposure to potential recall or unsafe products in the marketplace.

For resources on how to establish an effective HACCP system and other quality management related tools, consider adopting the best practices defined in ASTM D8250 – Standard Practice for Applying a Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points (HACCP) System for Cannabis Consumable Products and/or following the guidelines provided in ASTM D8222 – Standard Guide for Establishing a Quality Management System (QMS) for Consumer Use Cannabis/Hemp Products and ASTM D8229 Standard Guide for Corrective Action and Preventive Action (CAPA) for the Cannabis Industry.

 

Member Blog: Nevada and Las Vegas Cannabis Market Analysis

By Dr. Dominick Monacom, CLS Holdings

The state of Nevada has always been a unique place to do business. Not only is its economy fueled almost entirely by tourism, but its population is located almost exclusively within a few key urban centers. These factors influence nearly every type of business opportunity in Nevada – including cannabis. 

While Nevada’s economic and geographic constraints are unique in themselves, the type of tourist industry found here is one of a kind. Las Vegas is famously known as “Sin City.” It is a place where people flock from around the globe to indulge their vices, such as gambling and clubbing. 

As a microcosm of Nevada itself, the Nevada cannabis industry has its own set of challenges and opportunities.

Overview of the Nevada Cannabis Industry 

Nevada boasts both medical and adult-use cannabis markets. The state voted to legalize medical cannabis back in 2000, although their first medical dispensary did not open until 2015. While the medical cannabis space in Nevada began with a crawl, the adult-use industry has been quite different. 

Nevada voted to legalize adult-use cannabis in late 2016, with the first adult-use dispensary opening mid-2017. Nevada has both medical and recreational dispensaries, although certain stores service both customer bases. 

One of the more exciting facets of the Nevada cannabis market has to do with home cultivation. Its unique program allows people 21+ years old to grow at home if they live more than 25 miles from a dispensary. Nevada put these rules in place to accommodate citizens living in rural areas who cannot access dispensaries. 

Since Nevada’s legalization, cannabis has become a big business. Here are some statistics for the 2019-2020 fiscal year in the Nevada cannabis industry:

  • Total Sales: $684,959,149.00 
  • Cannabis Taxes: $105,180,947.00
  • Licensing & Application Fees: $5,212,557 

Nevada sales are ahead of other new adult-use recreational markets such as Illinois and Massachusetts to put these numbers in perspective. Nevada falls short compared to more established industries such as Colorado and Washington, but it holds promise for massive growth. 

What is Unique About the Las Vegas Cannabis Market? 

The tourism industry in Las Vegas makes for a unique market. Adult-use market regulations coupled with the global renown of the city lead to an environment where out-of-state visitors greatly influence cannabis sales. 

The structure of a cannabis market directly influences business opportunities. In medical cannabis, qualifying conditions and patient counts dictate potential market growth. Conversely, adult-use markets are only limited by people’s age. 

The interesting thing about the Las Vegas market is that anyone over 21-years can legally purchase cannabis – this includes out-of-state visitors. According to the Las Vegas Conventions and Visitors Authority website, the city saw 42,523,700 visitors in 2019 alone. These people spent over $10 billion in Las Vegas that year. Within these billions of dollars in tourist money lies an excellent opportunity for adult-use operators in Nevada. 

Another fact worth noting is that people flock to “Sin City” to partake in activities inaccessible in other U.S. states. Cannabis fits nicely into this package of taboo activities that can only be done in Las Vegas, NV. 

Is it Hard to Open a Cannabis Business in Las Vegas? 

While the tourist money in Las Vegas makes for a very intriguing adult-use market, it is not easy to acquire a cannabis business license. Unfortunately, Nevada has put a cap on the number of licenses available in the state, making it much more difficult to enter than other adult-use states like Colorado.  

There are five types of business licenses in the Nevada cannabis industry:  

  • Cultivation Facility
  • Distributor
  • Product Manufacturing Facility
  • Testing Facility/Laboratory
  • Retail Store 

It’s worth noting that both the medical and adult-use markets offer these same business licenses. Similarly, the licensing cap in the state includes both verticals. 

As of early 2021, the state of Nevada awarded 132 dispensary licenses. However, these licenses did not go to 132 different operators. Certain businesses acquired multiple licenses, with some able to open as many as seven retail stores. While Nevada has issued 132 retail licenses, there are only 80 dispensaries operational at this point. 

The licensing situation in Nevada is frustrating for local investors and outside interests alike. Namely, because studies show that the Nevada economy could support as many as 1,283 more dispensaries than it has issued licenses for. Aggravation mounts with a lack of expansion opportunities in the area. 

The state of Nevada only accepts additional cannabis business license requests during “application periods.” These short windows are scheduled by the Nevada Cannabis Compliance Board and stay open for just ten days. However, there has not been an application opportunity since 2018, and it doesn’t appear there will be one anytime soon. As such, it appears that plant-touching opportunities in Nevada are limited to current license holders.

Where is the Most Opportunity in Nevada Cannabis? 

While many believe there is ample room for new players in the Nevada cannabis market, the state does not agree at this point. As a result, if you are looking to get involved in the Nevada industry, you are well-advised to look into ancillary business models instead of plant-touching businesses.

With such promise in the Nevada market, you can rest assured that those cannabis companies that have won licenses will be extremely busy. Ancillary operators can take advantage of this climate by developing models that operate in the business-to-business (B2B) vertical. To help plant-touching companies in Nevada, both product-based and service-based ancillary businesses could prove profitable. Examples of product-based companies include business management software and cultivation technology, while service-based businesses work in marketing, staffing, and consulting.

Opening an ancillary cannabis company in Nevada gives you the ability to enter the market by circumventing the licensing process. Even more, you don’t have to worry about application fees, compliance mandates, and other stressors faced by plant-touching companies. You also have the option to operate across state and national borders if you so desire. 

Summary  

There is no doubt that the Nevada cannabis industry is one-of-a-kind. While there is a good deal of excitement surrounding the market, many feel it hasn’t even come close to reaching its potential. To this end, the adult-use market in Nevada was only 1.5 years old when the COVID-19 pandemic struck. The financial blow of the pandemic was cataclysmic in Las Vegas, as the tourism industry dropped to 50% below average in 2020.

With the pandemic on the downswing in 2021, there is an unmistakable air of excitement across the globe. Some economists feel that we are about to enter a new “roaring 20’s” period, where people celebrate by spending travel money that was unusable during COVID-19. With this celebratory outlook on the near feature, there is no doubt Sin City will see its share of visitors. With the casinos and hotels full again, maybe we will finally see what the Nevada cannabis market can really do. 


Dr. Monaco is the Director of Laboratory Operations for CLS Holdings’ newly opened approximately $4 million laboratory, and is responsible for all day-to-day operations inside the North Las Vegas facility. Dr. Monaco brings over 8 years of licensed & regulated cannabis experience, starting back in 2012 when medical marijuana first opened in Arizona, he has held numerous positions, with escalating responsibilities year over year. He graduated from the University of Arizona College of Pharmacy, in Tucson, Arizona, with a Doctor of Pharmacy in 2010.

Give Us MORE

Photo By CannabisCamera.com

by Michelle Rutter Friberg, NCIA’s Deputy Director of Government Relations

Last week, a long-awaited and much-anticipated piece of cannabis legislation was finally unveiled. On Friday, H.R. 3617, known as the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment, and Expungement Act, or the MORE Act, was reintroduced by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-NY). You’ll remember that back in December 2020, the House of Representatives made history when they passed the MORE Act by a vote of 228-164. Let’s take a look at the bill and break it down:

What:

H.R. 3617, the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment, and Expungement (MORE) Act

Who:

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-NY) is the lead sponsor, along with Reps. Lee (D-CA), Blumenauer (D-OR), Jackson Lee (D-TX), Jeffries (D-NY), and Velazquez (D-NY).

Status:

Just like the last session, the bill has been referred to a number of committees: In addition to Judiciary, it was also passed on to the Committees on Energy and Commerce, Agriculture, Education and Labor, Ways and Means, Small Business, Natural Resources, Oversight and Reform, and Transportation and Infrastructure.

Summary:

The MORE Act would remove cannabis from the federal Controlled Substances Act and attempt to undo the damage caused by racially and economically disproportionate enforcement of prohibition. It would also eliminate the conflict between federal law and states with regulated cannabis systems, and would require the expungement of past federal cannabis convictions. The bill would establish a Cannabis Justice Office to administer a program to reinvest resources in the communities that have been most heavily impacted by prohibition, funded by a graduated tax on state-legal cannabis commerce. It would also prevent discrimination based on cannabis consumption during immigration proceedings, and permit doctors within the Veterans Affairs system to recommend medical cannabis to patients in accordance with applicable state laws.

Background:

As I mentioned previously, during the 116th Congress, the MORE Act passed the House but was not taken up by the Senate. Now, during the 117th Congress, the calculus has changed a bit – on both the House and Senate sides. On the House side, the chamber is more Republican than the last time the bill was passed – meaning that advocates will have to work hard to ensure no more votes are lost and that support increases. On the Senate side, Democrats now maintain the majority by the skin of their teeth, but all legislation effectively needs 60 votes to pass – a difficult threshold. It’s also important to note that the MORE Act has not been introduced in the upper chamber as all eyes focus on Leader Schumer (D-NY) and Sens. Booker (D-NJ) and Wyden’s (D-OR) upcoming comprehensive bill.

Notable Changes & Provisions:

When the MORE Act passed out of the House back in December 2020, it contained a small but impactful section that was included at the last minute. This contentious provision related to discrimination against victims of cannabis prohibition in the permitting process. A section that pertained to applications for a federal cannabis permit stated that an application may be rejected and a permit denied if the Secretary of Treasury finds that the legal person (including in the case of a corporation, any officer, director, or principal shareholder) is “by reason of previous or current legal proceedings involving a felony violation of any other provision of Federal or State criminal law relating to cannabis or cannabis products, not likely to maintain operations in compliance with this chapter,” which would be a major blow to the intent of the legislation to undo the harms caused by prohibition. NCIA brought this provision and our concerns to the bill sponsors’ attention, resulting in them publicly committing on the House Floor to revisit and improve this section. That language was not included in the 117th Congress’ recently reintroduced version.

Also of note, the MORE Act includes tax language. When the bill was first introduced in 2019, it contained a tax section that set up a flat 5% sales tax on cannabis products at the federal level. That was later amended to be a graduated tax, beginning at 5% and increasing up to 8% in subsequent years post-legalization. The soon-to-be-reintroduced MORE Act has the same graduated tax levels.

What’s Next:

The bill has a long path ahead: as I pointed out, there are multiple committees of jurisdiction that will want to weigh in on this important legislation – I’d venture to say that both the Ways and Means (tax writing) and the Energy and Commerce Committees will have substantive edits. Another consideration is one I’ve mentioned in passing, and that’s the impending introduction of new, comprehensive cannabis reform legislation that will (hopefully) soon be unveiled in the Senate. It’s also important to note that the MORE Act is missing one critical thing: regulations, and we at NCIA believe that those can make all the difference when looking at what’s next for this legislation. 

We applaud Chairman Nadler and the other cosponsors of this legislation for tackling this topic, and congratulate them on the bill’s reintroduction! We look forward to continuing to work with their offices to improve and build support for this critical piece of legislation. Stay tuned on our blog, our NCIA weekly newsletter, and NCIA Connect to find out the latest on MORE! 

Member Blog: Eradicating Pesticide Use in the Cannabis Industry – Without Sacrificing Crop Quality 

By Carlos Perea, Co-founder and CEO of Terra Vera

One of the direst, yet infrequently discussed, issues in the cannabis industry is the lack of federal guidelines regulating pesticide use. Despite the adult-use cannabis market consistently expanding on a state-by-state basis, as long as the crop remains illegal on the federal level, much-needed national oversight will continue to be limited. 

The more states that legalize under a national prohibition, the more varying and convoluted state-by-state crop management regulations may become. Meanwhile, without standards firmly set in stone across the country, some cultivators have turned to hazardous chemicals to control pathogens and preserve their crop yields. Such cultivation solutions can compromise the safety of staff, the environment and, of course, the consumers. 

Health Hazards of Pesticides in Cannabis

Even when shopping at a licensed adult-use or medical dispensary, consumers today still cannot be 100 percent confident that the cannabis they are purchasing is completely safe and free of contaminants and unwanted components, such as pesticides, harmful microbials, heavy metals, and solvents. Emerging research from Colorado State University shows that contaminants in cannabis, including pesticides, “are imminent threats that directly impact public health and wellness, particularly to the immunocompromised and pediatric patients who take cannabis products as a treatment for numerous human disorders including cancer patients and those suffering from epileptic seizures.” With many consumers turning to cannabis for its health benefits, and because it’s a natural alternative to heavily processed pharmaceuticals, the cultivation process should honor cannabis’ medical use by being as safe and accountable as possible.

The pesticide issue is compounded when we think about how cannabis is often consumed: through inhalation. Additional research has shown that nearly 70 percent of the pesticides used in cultivation remain in the cannabis flower that consumers smoke. 

Even when these same pesticides are permitted in other types of American agricultural industries, this is a global anomaly. More than 25 percent of pesticides used in the U.S. are banned in other countries.

Moving Towards a Pesticide-Free Flower  

So how do we work towards a pesticide-free cannabis industry? Licensed businesses, regulators, and consumers need to band together to set standards and guidelines for pesticide use across each legal state, and eventually on a federal level. 

In 2020, Arizona took a page out of Oregon’s playbook by establishing a regulatory agency and adopting Oregon’s standards for limiting pesticide use in cannabis, setting a prime example for inter-state collaboration and accountability. Measures also need to be taken to lower the cost of testing cannabis products for pesticides and contaminants. And, of course, we need to embrace more sustainability and environmentally-minded education, and emerging technologies.

While testing does not necessarily prevent contaminants during the grow process, frequent, reliable, and standardized testing can help ensure contaminated products don’t make it to market. Unfortunately, testing requirements continue to differ by state, with some being more lenient than others. For instance, certain states only test for certain types of microbials, while others allow companies and cultivators to cherry-pick samples. This makes it easier for companies’ products to meet compliance, however, doesn’t ensure that the final products available for purchase will be safe for the consumer. Looking ahead towards inevitable federal legalization, testing requirements need to be uniform across all legal markets.

However, cultivators shouldn’t wait for federal oversight to hold themselves to the highest possible standards. There are inexpensive testing procedures currently available that cultivators can adopt before sending their cannabis products to the lab, which can help to better ensure what they are doing is working and catch a problem before it starts. 

There are also non-toxic crop management technologies available now, and in addition to seeking out vendors offering innovation-driven solutions to replace conventional pesticides, cannabis companies and their cultivators can embrace simple, preventative measures to minimize outbreaks of bio-contaminants. This includes controlling humidity at the grow site, plant spacing, adequate air circulation, and implementing a strict chain of custody throughout the supply chain. Successful prevention mitigates the temptation to turn to potentially toxic pesticides to eradicate contaminants. 

While federal legalization looms, it likely won’t happen this year. Therefore, state regulatory agencies should continue to be prepared with comprehensive outreach plans to communicate their pesticide and testing regulations to cultivators and their companies, ensuring that industry participants are fully informed. Planning and communication also sets the stage for the industry to have tried and true standards already in place by the time federal legalization does come to fruition. 

The good news is the cannabis industry has the potential to lead a paradigm shift towards a safer agricultural sector as a whole. In years past, the amount of information shared between cannabis and other agricultural industries was limited, cutting cannabis cultivators off from reliable best practices for cultivation and crop management. However, this is changing quickly. Cannabis is also pushing the envelope towards more sustainable practices, with more cultivation sites moving indoors and into greenhouses, complete with LED lighting and additional sustainable practices. Cannabis cultivators are becoming more cutting-edge and setting an example for the broader agricultural community. The industry should continue these forward-thinking approaches by embracing pesticide-free solutions on a broad, scalable level.


Carlos Perea is the CEO and Co-founder of Terra Vera, an agricultural technology company offering innovative solutions to replace conventional pesticides and increase product safety and consumer confidence within the agriculture industry. Carlos is a serial entrepreneur with a focus on the intersection of technology and social impact. Prior to founding Terra Vera, he formed MIOX Corporation, a technology company that treats water in a variety of applications and is distributed in over 30 countries. He is active as an advisor and board member with several early stage companies and social enterprises including YPO, where is he an active board member. Carlos has an MBA from the Stanford Graduate School of Business, and an BS in Mechanical Engineering from the University of New Mexico.

 

Video: NCIA Today – May 14, 2021

NCIA Deputy Director of Communications Bethany Moore checks in with what’s going on across the country with the National Cannabis Industry Association’s membership, board, allies, and staff. Join us every Friday here on Facebook for NCIA Today Live.

Text Messaging (SMS) Crackdown Impacting the Cannabis Industry

By Rachel Kurtz-McAlaine, NCIA’s Deputy Director of Public Policy

Has your text messaging (SMS) service had interruptions? Are you worried about more interruptions?

We forget how much we rely on text messages when we order things. Text messages keep us updated at every step so we know when things are ready for pick up or are there to be delivered. We also appreciate our favorite businesses texting us sales and discounts.

NCIA members have been making us aware of text messaging (SMS) service interruptions, or complete shutdowns, either for marketing or order fulfillment. We’re still gathering information to understand the full extent of the issue and what we can do to assist the industry with making sure we are afforded our rights.

A few SMS platforms, including At&t, Twilio, Avochato, & T-Mobile, have announced they are terminating services for cannabis companies. Twillio’s website makes it clear they don’t want to deal with cannabis-related companies.

“SMS or MMS messages related to cannabis are not allowed in the United States, as federal laws prohibit its sale, even though some states have legalized it. Similarly, messages related to CBD products are not permissible in the United States, as certain states prohibit its sale. Twilio policy is reflective of US carrier rules in this area, and there are no exceptions to this policy.

Twilio defines a cannabis-related message as any message which relates to the marketing or sale of a cannabis product, regardless of whether or not those messages explicitly contain cannabis terms, images, or links to cannabis websites.”

This crackdown has come on the heels of the implementation of 10DLC, new telecommunications regulations intended to address the pervasive problem of spam (not specific to the cannabis industry). Telecommunications companies have used it as an excuse to exclude legally regulated cannabis companies, or at least significantly interfere with their operations.

Unfortunately, Twilio is a huge SMS platform that has been used by some major players in the industry that provide niche technical platforms for such services as delivery, marketing, and loyalty points. Numerous businesses throughout the cannabis industry rely on those platforms to reach their customers and to better facilitate delivery and order pickups.

We know the impact has been widespread, but some companies have been able to find alternatives, either through workarounds or other SMS platforms that are not cracking down as hard. Alternative workarounds can include the service platform having extremely limited templates for what can be sent via text in order to make sure there is no language that can be perceived as relating to cannabis sales or any links that can be followed back to a cannabis website.

Some businesses have found alternative platforms, but those companies may charge more because they are willing to screen every message that gets sent prior to it getting sent out via SMS. Because of the time and labor involved, that option can really only be available for marketing texts and not the automatic texts that come with ordering and pickup or delivery. It is unclear if the big telecommunications companies will eventually shut those down as well.

While we would love for that not to happen and for the issue to work itself out, until we deschedule we know that these issues will continue to surface. Even if you personally have not been affected by the SMS crackdown, it is important to understand what is happening in the industry because it could affect your business next.

We have the ability to come together as an industry to address this issue. We have been working with legal experts to better understand what is happening, and we have the potential to fight this attack on the legal cannabis industry if there is enough interest.

We want to hear from you. Have you had an interruption in service? If so, have you found a workaround? Is the workaround satisfactory or a huge pain for your business? Are you worried about interruptions in your service in the future? Please contact Rachel if you have any information or personal stories to share. We will respect your privacy in these matters.

Committee Blog: Re-thinking Cannabis Track and Trace Models — A Sustainable and Scalable Approach

by NCIA’s State Regulations Committee
Contributing authors Jennifer Gallerani, Tim Gunther, Elise Serbaroli, and Erin Fay

The COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent recession powerfully demonstrated that the cannabis industry is providing essential medicine and products to countless Americans, as well as creating jobs and tax revenue. Retail sales of medical and adult-use cannabis in the United States were on pace to eclipse $15 billion by the end of 2020, and if you include ancillary products and services, the industry is estimated to reach $68.4 billion in 2021. The U.S. cannabis industry is experiencing rapid job growth, boasting an estimated 300,000 full-time jobs in 2020. Those numbers are expected to almost double by 2024. Over the next four years, the industry is expected to add nearly 250,000 full-time equivalent positions. By comparison, roughly 271,000 people currently hold beverage manufacturing jobs. These numbers demonstrate with sureness that the U.S. cannabis industry is on a high-growth trajectory, which makes it imperative that the market operate under a practical regulatory framework that benefits both regulators and operators.

Most states that have approved some form of legal cannabis sales (medical and/or adult-use) have also selected a single, mandated technology platform that all operators must use to track and trace their cannabis seeds, plants, and end products. Some iterations of the current track and trace model — which is primarily centralized approach — sets businesses, employees, and regulators up to fail. Of course, it also further limits the competitiveness of the regulated market with the unregulated market, and the ability for policymakers to be confident that cannabis consumers in their states are obtaining taxed, tested, and regulated products.

Local governments are missing out on tax revenue, and businesses (both large and small) are forced to spend unnecessary resources on a system that is fundamentally flawed. The centralized model, contracting with one specific software provider, and mandating operators to use that software provider in order to stay compliant, is wreaking havoc on the entire U.S. cannabis industry and is not sustainable for a federally-legal and global supply chain.

As a team, the National Cannabis Industry Association’s State Regulations Committee’s Technology and Compliance Subcommittee has spoken to regulators, operators, and international technology providers in the interest of presenting a practical track and trace solution to benefit the industry as a whole. This is the first blog in a series that will highlight the issues that cannabis operators and regulators are facing because of the current centralized state-mandated track and trace model. We propose that the U.S. cannabis industry operate under a more practical framework that has a higher probability of success for regulators and cannabis businesses through slight changes and improvements based on proven best practices.

The History of Track and Trace in the U.S. Cannabis Industry

Track and trace systems serialize assets to identify where assets are (track) and to identify where assets have been (trace). Track and trace is not something new. It is the globally acknowledged standard for product movement and reconciliation in both the Pharmaceuticals and Consumer Packaged Goods (CPG) industries. A secure track and trace system combines material security and information security elements to confirm assets are legitimately produced and sourced, following a pre-defined and auditable path.

As the regulated cannabis markets started to take shape and mature in 2012, one of the driving factors that shaped the need for a track and trace system was the 2013 U.S. Department of Justice Cole Memorandum (Cole Memo). The Cole Memo indicated for the first time that the federal government would only intervene in states that failed to prevent criminal involvement in the market, sales to youths, and illegal diversion to other states.

The first four states to legalize adult-use cannabis were Colorado, Oregon, Washington, and Alaska. All four of these states instituted a market-based licensing system to regulate the commercial activity of cannabis sales. The intentions of the newly instituted policies were two-fold: protect consumer health and minimize diversion, both of which align with the core principles of the Cole Memo. To meet these intentions, the states instituted procedures for inventory control and tracking documentation using a state-mandated centralized model, in an effort to create a transparent and controlled system of oversight within the cannabis industry.

As the industry has developed over the years, most states that have approved some form of legal cannabis sales have selected a single mandated technology platform that all operators must use to track and trace their cannabis seeds, plants, and cannabis products. As shown in Figure 1, the majority of legalized states have chosen METRC as their exclusive contractor of track and trace services.


Figure 1: https://mjbizdaily.com/metrc-sees-sale-tracking-opportunities-in-new-cannabis-markets/

A Scalable and Sustainable Track and Trace Solution

The legal cannabis market has changed significantly since 1996 and it is important for the industry to re-evaluate the intention and implementation of track and trace. Regulatory bodies contracting with one track and trace technology provider and mandating operators to use that specific provider in order to stay compliant is problematic for many reasons. Time has shown that the current centralized model is fiscally irresponsible and ultimately counterproductive, with significant negative externalities, including ethical concerns such as anti-trust issues. Most recently, an Oklahoma cannabis operator (seeking class-action status) initiated litigation against the state’s Medical Marijuana Authority (OMMA), alleging that the state exceeded its authority by requiring licensees to pay for a state-mandated track and trace program, and that the state’s contract with METRC creates an unlawful monopoly, among other claims.

To provide an analogy, let’s think about how businesses are required to report taxes. The IRS sets out certain rules and every business must report their income and assets according to that framework. Technology providers (such as TurboTax, Tax Slayer, H&R Block, etc.) have built scalable products to support businesses in reporting their taxes. The IRS does not mandate that businesses use one single specified software in order to report their taxes. Doing so would kill competition, introduce a monopoly, and eliminate any incentive for the technology providers to improve their product. By the IRS allowing free competition over the realm of tax preparation and processing software, the public benefits from the technology companies being incentivized to update and improve their software features and benefits.

The centralized model is crippling the entire industry as system failures are occurring on a more frequent basis, and its after-effects are causing a more detrimental and wide-ranging impact as the industry grows at an exponential rate. Most recently, METRC’s integration functionality (how third-party business operations software communicates to the state’s system) was down for more than fourteen days in California, causing significant problems in the nation’s largest cannabis market. One software provider and its tag-producing partners are benefitting, while setting industry regulators and operators up to fail. One software provider cannot meet the current or future needs of regulators and operators, especially not on a national level. Meanwhile, there are many excellent software providers that specialize in track and trace. The free market should determine the most efficient and user-friendly approach to allow businesses to stay compliant and accurately report to the appropriate regulatory authorities.

By leveraging the knowledge and experience the industry has gained over the last 20 years, we can incorporate best practices from other industries’ and other markets’ track and trace systems, and set regulators and operators up for success.

Join us as we dive deeper into the issues surrounding compliance and track and trace in the cannabis industry. Our multi-part blog series provides an in-depth look into the technical shortcomings of the current centralized approach and provides a roadmap for implementing a distributed model approach. Some of the disadvantages we will cover in the subsequent posts include:

Impact of System Failure: The current centralized model provides a single point of failure: if the system goes down, all licensee operations must stop operating entirely. In some cases, operators may manually record activity during a system failure, and then manually enter the activity when the system resumes. This introduces a high risk of human error. No backup system or alternative means of recording through the use of technology exists since the state relies on only one system.

Challenges with Scalability: The history of performance with centralized track and trace systems demonstrates that there are significant challenges in scalability because of multiple system failures and shutdowns. The system would benefit from a more advanced track and trace capability, specifically with its API (Application Programming Interface). Many times it is not the technology of the licensee system, but the technology design of the state-mandated systems.

Fiscal and Environmental Impacts: Licensees are required to purchase plant and product tags from the single state-mandated vendor, which creates a fixed price system that is typically not in favor of a licensee. It is also creating a sustainability issue in the industry, as the plant and product tags are single-use. More operators are speaking up about the waste it is generating in our cannabis industry.

Interested in joining us in establishing an effective and scalable track and trace framework for regulators and operators in the legal cannabis space? Click here to stay updated on the State Regulations Committee, and the efforts that it’s Technology and Compliance Subcommittee are taking to improve and advance track and trace nationally. Let’s close the informational gap between operators and regulators, and help the entire industry move forward together.

Stay tuned for the next two blog posts in our multi-part series!

#cannabisindustry #legalcannabis #trackandtrace #wearethecannabisindustry #cannabiscompliance

Committee Blog: Future-Proofing Cannabis Manufacturing Processes – Part 2

by NCIA’s Cannabis Manufacturing Committee

Despite prohibition, the cannabis industry is not behind the curve of sustainability progress. While other industries were inventing modern Cloud-based quality control/distribution systems and making stuff out of plastic, cannabis producers were maximizing yields per watt and creating stronger concentrates in attempts to get the most out of their value streams while staying under the radar. Now all industries are racing towards a more sustainable future and the cannabis industry has the opportunity to show that it can be a good example, even a leader in sustainability. Regardless if it is in preparation for competition or regulation, now is the time to start building more sustainable, energy-efficient, and overall lower footprint businesses.

As the manufacturing branch of the cannabis industry paves its way into the future, the processes involved need to be made environmentally sustainable and best practices need to be shared and standardized to ensure product safety and industry longevity. Collecting and sharing data from manufacturing facilities is the ideal way to achieve these sector goals.

Environmental sustainability is a multi-discipline effort. Experts in engineering, emissions, air quality, worker health and legal matters should be relied on for educating and guiding businesses into a more sustainable future.

The Data Vacuum Is Holding Back Environmental Sustainability Advancements

While cultivation is one of the main focuses of the cannabis sustainability effort, manufacturing procedures are also prime targets for sustainable advancements. Due to the nature of the organic chemical processes used to produce consumables, some of the materials and practices could have a negative impact on both worker and environmental health if not addressed and handled properly. As a best management practice, regulated cannabis manufacturers typically operate closed-loop systems, which greatly reduce certain dangers, but this can require other more energy-intensive systems. As these relatively new processing techniques are being pioneered, we need more data to understand how they can be made more efficient and sustainable. For various reasons — such as intellectual property concerns — advancements in sustainable practices are often not shared and therefore not visible to potentially become a standard process that ensures product and consumer safety.

Cannabis Science Outpacing Regulations

The scientific improvements for manufacturing cannabis into consumer products in high demand have outpaced regulations. From process design and equipment to processing material sourcing, the manufacturing branch of the cannabis industry has much to offer the future of sustainable cannabis products. In many jurisdictions today, regulators have hastily opted for vertical, prescriptive regulations which have left many manufacturing operations without the leeway required to innovate more sustainable process strategies. Even more businesses with the legal leeway simply do not want to push the envelope in today’s regulatory climate. More forward-thinking, regulation-savvy equipment manufacturers have begun focusing on lower energy-use in their newer products as a selling point. The industry as a whole could be making progress much faster if regulators focused on performance standards for manufacturing facilities.

Strategies inspired by building and process heat recovery offer dozens of basic possibilities when it comes to implementation in a cannabis manufacturing facility. Using the energy released during solvent condensation for solvent evaporation is a prime example. Connecting liquid-cooled equipment with the building’s central plant system is another. These are big ideas that could be implemented in different ways with different efficiencies. Intelligent use of insulation, exhaust recirculation, odor mitigation, ventilation minimization, demand-control ventilation for providing makeup air, etc. could also make significant differences. Data collected from actual operating facilities experimenting with different strategies will be the best guide going forward in determining what the best energy saving strategies are.

Cannabis Extraction Processes and Air Quality

In an effort to prevent unnecessary Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC) emissions it is important to maintain proper solvent transfer and storage, perform extraction equipment inspections, and ensure a maintained inventory and handling of solvents on site are a part of a facility’s standard operating procedures. Best practice for extraction and post-processing dictates the use of butane, propane, CO2, ethanol, isopropanol, acetone, heptane, and pentane as solvents to encourage safe consumer products.

Carbon filtration is also the best management practice for controlling cannabis terpenes (VOCs) and odor emissions. It is important to install properly engineered molecular filtration systems (aka carbon scrubbers) that are sized appropriately for a facility’s ‘emission load’ and don’t exceed the maximum cfm rating for air circulation through the filter. To prevent VOC and odor breakthrough, it is imperative to inspect and conduct regular maintenance of HVAC systems and carbon filters. A standardized method for measuring the lifespan of carbon is by using a Butane Life Test, which equips manufacturers with the data to know how to manage their carbon replacement schedule effectively, minimizing unnecessary carbon waste. Additionally, processors can conduct air sampling to detect and measure VOC and odor levels in their facilities and the data can be used to validate the impact of control technologies further protecting worker and environmental health.

Proper VOC and cannabis odor control from manufacturing processes helps reduce community odor complaints and improve neighborhood relations. It also improves public and environmental health by reducing local ozone concentrations. Proper emissions control when running cannabis manufacturing processes and handling chemicals helps to shift the industry at large toward sustainable and environmentally conscious business practices.

Preparing Your Business for the Next Stage

Cannabis manufacturers are seeing big changes on the horizon. Increased legalization brings increased competition and inevitable M&A activity. Whether a business aspires to compete on the world stage or to be acquired in one of the coming green waves, there are actions that can be taken today to help cannabis manufacturers maximize their value to both customers and potential acquirers.

One of the most important assets a company can have — both to compete effectively and to attract purchasers — is intellectual property. Intellectual property, or IP for short, is the term for an intangible asset that has been afforded certain legal protections to solidify the asset into a commodity that can be bought, sold, and licensed. IP can have a negative connotation in some circles, mostly resulting from misconceptions in the law but also rooted in IP abuses by unscrupulous “trolls.” In reality, IP is an important tool to help companies protect their hard work and, when properly deployed, intellectual property can increase transparency into cannabis manufacturing processes and open new avenues of scientific advancement.

Intellectual property broadly covers a number of different types of rights. Patents protect new inventions like processes, machines, compositions of matter, ornamental designs, and plant genetics. Patents can grant relatively broad rights to these ideas, but with substantial additional costs and scrutiny.

Similarly, copyright can protect creative works, like writings, drawings, and sculptures. But many do not recognize that copyright can also protect compilations of data that have been creatively selected or arranged. Data and algorithm copyrights are relatively nascent, but they promise to play a large role in the intellectual property landscape of the future cannabis industry.

Another sect of intellectual property, trademarks, is all about protecting a brand: the names, logos, slogans, and overall look that tells customers that a good or service is from a particular company. Federal trademark registration is unavailable for federally illegal goods and services, but that does not mean that federal trademark protection is unavailable to cannabis brands. Many companies are using the zone-of-expansion doctrine baked into federal trademark law to set up registrations on related legal products (smoking/vaping devices, clothing, and even CBD edibles) that can be expanded to cover THC products when federally legal.

The nuances and requirements of these property rights — along with other IP rights like trade secrets and trade dress — are highly fact-specific, so involve a good IP attorney to guide your strategy from the start.

Towards A More Sustainable Future

Now is the time to start building more sustainable, energy-efficient, and overall lower carbon footprint businesses and the emerging legal cannabis industry is well-positioned to be the leader. If manufacturers are incentivized to safely share processing data directly or through emerging data collection and tracking platforms, the industry will make major advancements towards more environmentally sustainable practices. Environmental impact areas, such as air quality, energy, water, soil waste, and community all need to be considered by the manufacturing arm of the cannabis industry. Regulators can help push the industry forward by reducing negative impacts in these areas though focusing on performance standards for manufacturing facilities and their processes. Lastly, understanding that IP, including trademarks, can in fact increase transparency into cannabis manufacturing processes and open new avenues of scientific advancement will help position operators for M&A activity coupled with proper legal representation. These factors work together to protect the environment and communities, as well as future-proof manufacturing operations setting up the rest of the cannabis industry for longevity and federal legalization.

 

Member Blog: GRAS Cannabinoids

Brad Douglass, Ph.D., EAS Consulting Group Independent Consultant

The Agricultural Improvement Act of 2018 (the “2018 Farm Bill”) helped to further define the pathway by which “hemp-derived” ingredients can be legally incorporated into food. Since then, hemp-ingredient companies have materialized selling purified cannabinoids that are found naturally-occurring in hemp. Despite the young market, these companies are facing difficult times as the buyers for these ingredients are few and manufacturers mostly compete on price. The GRAS path offers a route out of this conundrum.

What is GRAS?

The Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) for food-use pathway was established by the 1958 Food Additives Amendment to the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FD&C Act). It delineated how substances that are GRAS for their defined conditions of use in food are different from food additives.  

Others have previously delved into why firms might consider pursuing GRAS notifications and/or New Dietary Ingredient Notifications (NDIN) independent of hemp and hemp-derived ingredients so I will refrain from wholesale repetition. Two key points on specificity are nonetheless worth repeating: 1) a substance is deemed GRAS for a specific use under specific conditions and 2) a GRAS notification is specific to the company filing the notification.

Why GRAS?

There are a number of practical reasons why firms that produce cannabinoids would seek to pursue the GRAS pathway. Here are five:

Market Expansion

Currently, firms that produce purified hemp cannabinoids are mostly selling their wares to businesses operating in state-regulated delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) markets or to operations that may not be in full-compliance with dietary supplement regulations.  Almost all firms that produce food products, including beverages, and most dietary supplement manufacturers, will not use ingredients that do not have a history of use in food or that cannot be legally marketed.  

For ingredients such as purified hemp cannabinoids that do not have a history of use as articles used for food, the only way to open-up the food, beverage, and dietary supplement markets is via the GRAS/NDIN pathways.

Safety Demonstration

An integral part of any GRAS dossier is the basic demonstration of acceptable risk (cf. safety) for the named substance and impurities.  This includes any byproducts that may be introduced by the manufacturing process. Whether one is interested in pursuing a GRAS Notification for submission to FDA or for a self-affirmed GRAS conclusion, the process involves an evaluation of safety for the conditions of use (e.g. serving size, no-observed adverse event level, etc.).

Beyond the ethical necessity of understanding the hazards of a product meant for human consumption, pursuing GRAS helps protect a firm from product liability in the event that harm is created. But more importantly, GRAS helps guard against product liability by seeking to prevent the potential hazard in the first place. That is always good for business.

Avoiding Drug Preemption

FDA has described in numerous forums, including the Administration’s own website, why it has concluded that cannabidiol (CBD) cannot be used as an ingredient in food or dietary supplements. The key is section 201(ff)(3)(B) of the FD&C Act. This section disqualifies an ingredient from use in food or dietary supplement products if the ingredient is 1) an active ingredient in an approved drug or 2) if substantial clinical investigation of the substance as a drug has been conducted AND made public.  

While the situation remains unclear for CBD, the only way to avoid a similar murky situation for other cannabinoids (e.g. cannabigerol, CBG) is for those ingredients to be marketed as a food or dietary supplement prior to the public disclosure of clinical trials directed at the development of that substance as a drug.  

It is FDA’s position that “legal” marketing entails more than simple inclusion of the substance in marketed products — the substance must have been the subject of GRAS, food-additive, or NDIN pathways, if required, to be legally marketed. To that point, FDA is highly unlikely to conclude that legal marketing includes the marketing of products in state-regulated cannabis systems while THC remains federally illegal.

Side-Stepping Price Wars

The nascent hemp-derived ingredients market is experiencing significant downward price pressure. The reasons are simple. There is currently more supply than demand (see #1 above) and all commercial offerings are essentially generic.

The GRAS pathway is a mechanism out of this me-too trap. A GRAS cannabinoid would be a premium ingredient by virtue of GRAS status alone. Premium ingredients command premium prices. And the types of sophisticated customers that firms like to do business with do not mind paying premium prices for compliance.

Regulatory Intelligence

While we wait on FDA to draft regulations for manufactured hemp-derived products, it is difficult for businesses to make decisions about what products to pursue. Some firms may not care about internal FDA thinking for hemp-related issues like delta-8 THC or proposed New York State in-process hemp material THC limits of 3%, because they are going to seek to exploit the here-and-now.

For forward-looking firms, engaging with FDA through GRAS or other regulated ingredient pathways can help illuminate what lay around the bend. Effectively navigating bends in a fast-paced, regulated marketplace can be the difference between knowing when to brake… and going broke.  

How GRAS?

There are a few ways to go about this, but simply asking the question within your company and with your legal and regulatory counsel will help generate more of a groundswell. There are a few hemp- and cannabinoid-specific intricacies that must be navigated in practice, including FDA’s own policies on hemp. But there is no reason why this cannot be done. 


EAS Independent Consultant, Brad Douglass, Ph.D., evaluates FDA and FTC compliance of dietary supplement materials including review and audit of dietary supplement labels and labeling. He is experienced in multiple technical, quality, and formulation roles in the dietary supplement and cannabis industries which lends perspective not only regulatory requirements but also the realities of real-world business. Brad’s previous positions include VP of Regulatory Affairs and Director of Advanced Botanical Strategy at the Werc Shop in Los Angeles. He has a doctorate in Organic/Medicinal Chemistry from USC. EAS Consulting Group, a member of the Certified Group of companies, is a global leader in regulatory solutions for industries regulated by FDA, USDA, and other federal and state agencies. Our network of over 150 independent advisors and consultants enables EAS to provide comprehensive consulting, training and auditing services, ensuring proactive regulatory compliance for food, dietary supplements, pharmaceuticals, medical devices, cosmetics, tobacco, hemp and CBD. easconsultinggroup.com 

If you represent a firm that creates hemp-derived cannabinoids, are a regulator that has responsibility over products that incorporate non-THC cannabinoids, or are just an interested reader that has been intrigued by this blog post, do not hesitate to reach out to me at bdouglass@easconsultinggroup.com.

 

Member Blog: How To Choose A Point Of Sale System For Your Cannabis Dispensary

by Gary Cohen, Cova Software

The Canadian cannabis industry has witnessed great success since federal legalization in 2018. In the United States, 35 states authorize the use of medical cannabis, and 15 of them allow recreational marijuana consumption. Potential dispensary owners should bear in mind that the cannabis industry operates under strict laws and regulations that set this business apart from conventional retail operations. A robust point-of-sale (POS) system is one of the most important tools that a dispensary owner must invest in. However, it’s also crucial to remember that not all POS systems are created equal, and a cannabis industry-specific POS will always be a better choice than a generic POS. Following are some of the most important criteria that you should consider when selecting a cannabis POS:

Product Design and UX

A cannabis-specific POS created specifically to address the nuances and pain points of cannabis businesses is your best bet. A well-designed system helps you quickly process actual sales and facilitate better inventory management. An intuitive and easy-to-use system boosts the performance of your budtenders by making product information and customer data available to them on the fly, thus elevating the overall customer experience as well.

Compliance and Traceability

Compliance is the number one administrative burden dispensaries have to deal with because of the stringent laws and scrutiny the cannabis industry has to undergo. A well-executed cannabis-specific POS system empowers owners to stay compliant at every stage of their business. Most states in the US require tracking of inventory and sales through a state-mandated traceability system such as Metrc or BioTrack. Even among cannabis POS systems, the level of integration with the government tracking system varies, with many offering only batch reporting at the end of the day. Choose a POS that automatically sends every reported transaction in real-time to the tracking system, thus helping you minimize human errors and always stay fully compliant. Many legal cannabis markets also require digital age verification scanners for dispensaries to scan IDs at the point of entry. So ensure that your POS provider provides all these functionalities.

Reliability and Data Privacy

There have been instances of generic POS crashing when used by cannabis stores. Even popular cannabis-specific POS systems have had recurring performance issues. Learn more about each of the POS systems in consideration by reading reviews and customer stories to figure out how reliable they are. A cloud-based POS system entails storing data on remote servers operated and maintained by a third party. It poses a lower technical barrier to entry and is definitely a cost-effective solution, but you must ensure that your POS provider protects all your dispensary and customer data, as per government regulations.

Inventory Management and Reporting

A well-designed POS system offers inventory valuation and costing methods integrated into your POS to streamline your inventory management. A dispensary-specific POS will provide you the sales trends data you need to most accurately judge the weights, strains, and quantity of products you need to stock up. Many states in the U.S. expect you to have a clear paper trail on every legally grown gram of cannabis, from seed to sale, and your POS system must have efficient reporting capabilities for you to report that. Powerful analytics and a customizable mobile reporting dashboard will enable you to monitor the health of your store and submit reports in real-time from anywhere.

Hardware and Software Integration

How your dispensary POS integrates with your other services and technology is another factor. Consider all the physical hardware that is being used in various sections of your dispensary and whether the POS provider can sync them with its software. You will have to integrate your accounting, HR, workforce, and security software solutions with your POS as well to ensure smooth operations. In a fast-evolving industry, new platforms and innovative solutions can hit the market almost overnight, but you must only select a POS that seamlessly integrates just not with your hardware and software but also with online marketplaces like Leafly, Weedmaps, and Dutchie so that you can offer easy pickup and delivery services to your customers as well.

Product Development and Support

A cannabis-specific POS company that has extensive experience in the industry will remain an authority on the latest developments, and will regularly update its product to stay ahead of regulatory changes. Find out about the after-sales customer support system they have in place- many companies will help you launch quickly but will disappear when problems may arise and leave you to tackle software glitches on your own. Also, choose a dedicated system for your retail business that specializes in the cannabis sector you operate in and is not an all-in-one solution.

Scalability and Cost of Ownership

An enterprise-level POS allows you to manage stock across all stores, set up location-level pricing, perform bulk editing, and even assign granular employee security permissions. It gives you complete visibility and full corporate control of your business with centralized reporting- accessible from anywhere, on any device. A POS built for multi-location brands has a robust platform with open APIs to enable flexible, plug-and-play integrations for easy scalability. Choose a POS provider that has the cannabis industry expertise and the ability to grow with you. Even if you may have to pay a bit more upfront, you will benefit from the long-term ROI and reduce your overall cost of ownership.

This is not an exhaustive list of points to consider. Download your free copy of ‘10 things to consider when choosing a point of sale system for your cannabis dispensary’ guide by Cova Software, which will offer you comprehensive information and help you choose the right POS.


Gary Cohen is the CEO of Cova Software, the fastest growing technology brand in the cannabis industry. Cohen’s focus has been driving the company’s overall strategy, including its vision, go-to-market plan, and strategic development. Since joining the cannabis industry in 2016 and launching Cova commercially in 4q17, Cohen has led Cova to dominate the enterprise sector for dispensary Point of Sale, while forging client relationships with hundreds of single-store retailers across North America.

Cova designs and builds retail software solutions specifically for the cannabis industry. Our technology platform currently powers 20,000 retail stores and over 1000 cannabis dispensaries with virtually no downtime, even on 4/20, making us the most robust and reliable cannabis POS system available on the market. Our point of sale system and its suite of digital solutions make complex operations simple, so retailers can stay compliant, streamline their operations and deliver an amazing experience always.

Member Blog: Choosing The Right Physical Security System For Your Cannabis Facility

by Scott Thomas, National Director of Signature Brands, Genetec 

Securing your cannabis business: Think big from Day 1

In the last few years, the cannabis industry has exploded. Recent changes in the U.S. administration could speed up the approval for medical and adult-use cannabis usage, leaving policymakers rushing to keep up with this fast-changing industry.

As more states legalize both medicinal and recreational usage, demand will increase and lead to new cultivation and retail operations. Some of these new businesses will expand and grow, while others will get acquired by larger organizations.

Whether you’re new to the market or already established, you know that security is important. Keep reading to learn how to go beyond securing your people and assets, while also maximizing your operational efficiency, protecting your data, managing compliance including audits, and more.

Unified security for a centralized view

The cannabis industry is expanding fast. Growers, distributors, and retailers are all looking to build and extend their businesses into new markets and territories, which means physical security needs are constantly changing. Can your security system evolve with you?

A physical security platform that combines your IP security systems into one platform can give you true seed-to-sale visibility for all your products. It can combine required components like video monitoring, access control, and intrusion detection into a single, unified view of all on-site activity.

Compliance is crucial

Cannabis laws and regulations are complicated and can put stress on cultivators and retailers.

Although governments are becoming more accepting of cannabis, complicated regulations will continue to dictate how your product is produced, distributed, and sold. It’s important to be proactive and not wait until laws are finalized before taking the necessary steps to avoid fines, product recalls, or the loss of your license.

A physical security solution should do more than protect your people and assets. It can also help you maintain compliance by integrating policy and regulations within its platform. Then you can easily create security and operational reports and manage evidence for internal and external audits.

Open architecture for longevity

When referring to technology, the simplest way to explain the difference between open architecture and proprietary systems is that some manufacturers design products that only work with their hardware or software. This locks the customer into their product, whether that product meets their future needs or not.

With an open architecture platform, your physical security solution can support hundreds of different camera models, access control systems, license plate readers, visual and audible devices, input and output devices (IO devices), Programmable Logic Controllers (PLC’s), and more. When you combine all of these devices into a single unified platform, you can gain access to a constantly growing ecosystem of hundreds of systems, sensors, and applications like:

  • Energy consumption controls that help you reduce energy in your indoor growing facilities
  • Customizable rules engine for automation and workflows 
  • Map-based interfaces  for enhanced situational awareness 
  • Reporting tools for custom graphs, analysis, and long-term data logging 
  • Custom dashboards allowing for user and group-specific interfaces 
  • Stand-alone automated systems for custom applications and edge deployments

Securing your data

Securely storing your data can be challenging. Retail and online dispensaries need to keep sensitive patient and customer information safe to maintain trust. And cultivators need to keep research, intellectual property, and financial information secure. While many states have basic protocols around data and video storage, new federal and state regulations are quickly evolving as concerns over data privacy increase.

That’s why it’s important to have a provider that’ll continue to work with you as laws change and the threat landscape evolves. Your physical security system can help keep your data safe from people within your organization that shouldn’t have access, as well as mitigate your exposure to outside threats such as cyber attacks.

No shortcuts: what you need to think of when choosing a physical security solution

Trying to cut corners while securing your business can result in unexpected complications and higher costs in the long run. Think long term and prioritize a unified physical security solution that provides more than basic security and is a core component of your business operations:

  • Create security and operational reports and manage evidence for internal and external audits
  • Track your assets from seed-to-sale by integrating RFID tags or Barcode scanning into your security system to benefit from associated alerts, synchronization of assets, and inventory tracking
  • Control overall energy consumption in your indoor growing facilities to offset the energy costs related to plant cultivation
  • Combine different security steps that send alerts when triggered in sequence
  • Integrate restricted surveillance areas (RSA) for perimeter security monitoring to reduce the number of false alarms
  • Hardening tools to achieve greater cyber resilience
  • Manage identity and access rights for all of your major locations through one unified platform
  • Protect your video, cardholder, and system data with secure communications between clients, servers, and edge devices
  • Encrypt video in transit, at rest, and when exporting evidence
  • Automate health monitoring features to boost your system’s reliability, performance and to meet compliance regulation notifications

Scott Thomas has worked in the retail industry for over 27 years. Prior to joining Genetec Scott was a National Account Manager at Checkpoint Systems where he worked with numerous loss prevention and physical security technologies. Scott is a member of multiple Retail organizations and an active participant in the retail community.

Genetec Inc. is an innovative technology company with a broad solutions portfolio that encompasses security, intelligence, and operations. The company’s flagship product, Security Center, is an open-architecture platform that unifies IP-based video surveillance, access control, automatic license plate recognition (ALPR), communications, and analytics. Genetec also develops cloud-based solutions and services designed to improve security, and contribute new levels of operational intelligence for governments, enterprises, transport, and the communities in which we live. Founded in 1997, and headquartered in Montréal, Canada, Genetec serves its global customers via an extensive network of resellers, integrators, certified channel partners, and consultants in over 80 countries.

Video: NCIA Today – April 9, 2021

NCIA Deputy Director of Communications Bethany Moore checks in with what’s going on across the country with the National Cannabis Industry Association’s membership, board, allies, and staff. Join us every Friday on Facebook for NCIA Today Live.

Committee Blog: Fundraising Basics in the Cannabis Industry

by Deborah Johnson, MCA Accounting Solutions & James Whatmore, MAB Investments
NCIA’s Banking & Finance Committee

Part 1 of a 3-part series

So, you discovered a pain point in the cannabis industry while brushing your teeth. You go on to craft a business plan and begin to execute on a minimal viable product to prove your hypothesis and test the market interest in your product. To date, you have funded this by volunteering your time and convincing some other contacts to contribute their time as well. You still have your full-time job, but it’s time to create a formal entity and grow this thing. How are you going to fund this? Well, there are some options and some of them have greater odds depending on your demographic. Are you considered ‘touching the plant” or not? Are you male or female? Are you a person of color or not? Do you have a track record of building businesses and raising funds?  

Unfortunately, the data shows that it’s much more difficult to raise funds from angel and VC investors if you are a female or person of color. The following statistic is actually based on the traditional market, so level up the challenge if you are in cannabis:

 “Venture dollars invested in sole female founders in 2020 represented 2.4 percent of overall venture funding… the percentage of U.S. venture dollars that went to sole female founders in 2020 dropped dramatically by stage. At the seed stage, 7 percent of VC dollars went to startups with only female founders. At the early stage, that figure was 4 percent, and at the late stage, a mere 1 percent.” – Crunchbase News.  

Fortunately, the cannabis investment industry has approached this issue with several new funds and structures. We will touch on that later in this series.

Does your idea involve ‘touching the plant’? Currently, cannabis is illegal at the federal level. This comes with a whole host of challenges and opportunities. With federal illegality comes the opportunity for a startup to solve a problem before the more established, traditional market entities are willing to enter the industry. If you build it well enough, you are likely to be acquired once the market opens up. But you will have to deal with lack of access or restricted access to banking and processing, the IRS and 280E, the certainty of audits, and working within the boundaries of your state’s regulatory structure.  

Now you have an idea, so, how to fund? Well, the first thing anyone considering investing in you wants to know is, what is your investment in yourself? Do you have savings, credit cards, personal real estate?  For the earliest stages, this is often the first step. This is the “three peeps and a PowerPoint stage” — ideas and iteration come fast. There is no real cost for you to walk away. It is on your dime. You are living off of your day job and every resource you can apply for This shows commitment and the effort will be a key to demonstrating value in the future. Be scrappy.  

You will also need to establish a banking relationship. If you are touching the plant this can be quite the struggle. Federal banks have to comply with the KYC – or Know Your Customer – rules and most are unwilling to take on the extra tasks and time it takes to manage a cannabis account and file Suspicious Activity Reports (SARS). Be ready to navigate the business world in cash – which includes security and safety and paying your taxes. Many local-based credit unions are rising up to the challenge, but that often involves extra, costly fees. And even if you are ancillary, if you choose a “green” enough name you are exposing yourself to having your account closed. This goes for processing too. It really behooves you to be as honest and clear about what you are doing and establish a relationship with your banker.  NCIA has successfully advocated for the SAFE (Secure and Fair Enforcement) Banking Act (S. 1200, H.R. 2215) which provides a safe harbor to financial institutions doing business with state-legal cannabis providers. It sits in the Senate after having passed the House twice now, although now a new House version will still need to be approved.  

As your concept solidifies, its demands of capital increase, with personal, social, business, and financial needs starting to grow past what you can provide alone. You need help. If you have a buddy willing to put an LLC together for you, that’s bootstrapping. If she wants something in return, you are at friends and family time. This is a good stage to build your early financial network and can really help with those next steps.  This is a small round of insiders and is as much about personal capital as financial capital. A friend and family round is a direct contact on your part, and those relationships you made in the boot-strapping are good places to start. These early champions will build your social capital as they talk positively about you. Being a small group also creates scarcity. These subtle behaviors will help your valuation when it comes time for that. A good friend and family round will get you off to a right start with the resources for securing an accountant and other professional services to determine the right way to structure your company.  

For these early funding stages, bootstrapping and friends and family funding demonstrate your validity as an investable partner for later rounds. No matter your hurdles, starting your fund journey on the right path will pay off down the road.

In our next blog, we will discuss funding options such as debt, angels, and venture capitalists, and where to find them.

 

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