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.

 

Member Blog: Cannabis Compliance Pains and How to Solve Them

by Frank Nisemboum, c2b teknologies

Amid increased anxiety and stress resulting from one of the most turbulent years in recent history, Americans everywhere have been turning to cannabis products to help them make it through. Bearing witness to a 71% increase in cannabis product sales nationally, according to industry experts at Leafly, the U.S. cannabis industry grew beyond expectations in 2020.  

While dramatic increases in product demand may seem like a cannabis business owner’s dream, maintaining compliance with unstable and unstandardized cannabis regulations can bring on more than a few nightmares. Every state seems to have different guidelines, requirements, and procedures than the next, with some in-state laws differing even between municipalities. 

Although maintaining compliance may seem like an unnecessary challenge without an immediately obvious return on investment, the real nightmare for cannabis operators begins once they’re found in violation. Non-compliance consequences usually include huge fines, the temporary loss of business, and even business license forfeiture. 

As a cannabis professional, you know that regulatory compliance isn’t optional and instead, an absolutely critical function of every cannabis operation. From cultivators and manufacturers to distributors and retailers, no business in the seed-to-sale supply chain can expect longevity in this industry without a plan that ensures adherence to local, state, and federal laws. 

The Most Common Cannabis Compliance Issues

One of the most common complaints regarding regulatory compliance involves the amount of time you have to spend on compliance: maintaining adherence, staff training, and preventing non-compliance violations. Let’s face it, this is a burden that doesn’t seem to directly correspond to a return on investment, particularly if you are a smaller cannabis business operating on thinner margins than some of the big guys. When time is among the most valuable things you have, wouldn’t you rather focus on front-end concerns that yield the more obvious benefits to the bottom line? 

Often it’s the level of cannabis regulation complexities that takes so much time and energy to overcome. Without approval and regulation on the federal level, requirements can drastically vary by state, subject to rapid changes by state and local legislatures. Maintaining compliance becomes a more significant challenge if you are a growing business with an eye toward expansion into more than one location in multiple jurisdictions. 

Together with medical privacy requirements, food safety, occupational safety, tax regulations, and other conditions, it seems like you’re spending more time investing in learning and implementing compliance initiatives than in product, facilities, or operational investments. 

COVID-19 certainly didn’t make any of this easier. These regulations have proven to be the most unstable, with many state and municipal governments behaving inconsistently, seemingly unsure of what they were doing week to week. 

On top of existing regulations before the pandemic, many cannabis businesses found ways to quickly adapt to new health regulations, mandatory facility closures, and point of sale changes. Dispensaries once focused on efficient customer service in limited-space shops now have to ensure social distancing, customer turnover, enhanced sanitation, and new capacity limits. 

Alleviating Compliance Pains through Preparation

The hard truth of the matter for cannabis businesses moving forward is that regulatory compliance will continue to be one of the most critical leadership focus areas. With more states poised to follow legalization trends in the next few years and lasting changes from an ongoing pandemic, the complaints concerning regulatory compliance are likely to get louder and more frequent. 

However, you can meet these challenges through systematic planning and the right cannabis tools to continue growing within the industry while striving for perfect compliance records. 

The most impactful steps you can take as a cannabis business include acknowledging the significance and planning for 100% compliance. Not only does compliance protect your business from incurring hefty fines and licensure consequences, but regulations also work to protect the safety of customers and staff. 

Regulatory compliance isn’t just about avoiding fines and protecting a business’s finances — it’s about providing a quality product consistently in a safe and secure environment. Tainted products can injure consumers, while children and animals are at risk of accidental consumption resulting from insufficient packaging. 

As a cannabis operator, once you adequately acknowledge the implications of maintaining compliance, you can begin developing a plan to make it happen. Depending on the scope and size of your operation, requirements specific can vary from one cannabis business to the next. If you run a cannabis business with front-end sales, for example, you may be required to follow regulations that a delivery-only company would not be required to follow. 

Ensuring your compliance plan focuses on the applicable statutes for your business type will save time, energy, and vital resources. Consulting with cannabis compliance experts is an economic investment every cannabusiness owner should make. They’ll teach you about meticulous record-keeping while helping you examine local regulations and understand the requirements specific to your business type. 


Vice President of ERP Sales, Frank Nisenboum, is a trusted advisor at c2b teknologies who has guided organizations of all sizes enabling them to establish a technology presence and expand their business through technology. His proven ability to analyze the current and future plans of a company and work with team members to subsequently bring technology solutions to the organization result in improved processes and controls that assure continued growth and profitability. 

Frank has worked in the ERP and CRM software selection, sales and consulting industry for almost 25 years. His strong ability to understand, interpret and match the needs of an organization to the right solution make him an asset to all of his clients. 

c2b teknologies integration and engineering experts have partnered with leading cannabis industry experts to develop a software solution that provides a complete cannabis operations system. The best-in-class solution not only handles tracking of seed-to-sale activities but encompasses your entire cannabis operations with compliance needs handles along the way. Our passion for solving problems drives us to deliver innovative solutions for everyone we work with. Visit c2btek.com for more information. 

Committee Blog: Manufactured Product Safety — Vaporizer Delivery Devices

by NCIA’s Cannabis Manufacturing Committee 

Product safety isn’t an endpoint, it’s a journey. That’s what we told you in the 2021 series premiere, and it continues to hold true. In the last post, we revisited the Vaporizer Liquid Formulations portion of the NCIA’s policy council white paper to provide guidance to the industry. This time, we’re republishing the Vaporizer Delivery Devices section below. We’ve learned more about EVALI since its original publication, and while some of the specifics may be a little dated, the principles remain relevant to helping you understand vapor product safety.

Over the course of the next several months, we’ll bring you new content with the following working titles.

The Importance of Testing Vapor Products as a System

Edibles Stability – Microbial Growth Due to Insufficient Packaging

Terpene Limits Across Multiple Product Formats 

So, while we wait with bated breath for this exciting new content, enjoy the excerpt below!

Excerpted from The Key To Consumer Safety: Displacing The Illicit Cannabis Market Recommendations For Safe Vaping. Access the full report and citations.

Background 

While the technology used to vaporize cannabis extracts have been around for many years, advancements in vaporization technology and supply chains over the past decade have led to widespread adoption and growth of vaporization as a preferred method of cannabis consumption. Vaporizer devices offer the benefits of being discreet, allowing for metered consumption, and eliminating carbon associated with combusting cannabis flower. However, not all vaporizer devices are created equal and manufacturers should develop an understanding of the nuances of different vaporizer devices to ensure the delivery of a safe and high-quality experience. Aside from considering experiential qualities such as taste and the amount of vapor produced, manufacturers should consider at least the following three categories of issues that can present safety risks.

Physical Design Considerations

Vaporizer devices should be mechanically and electrically safe. This starts with relatively basic considerations that include ensuring the device is mechanically sound, does not leak alkaline or heavy metals, and is not configured in a manner that presents a safety hazard. In the early 2010s, there were many reported instances of vaporizer devices exploding. This was primarily due to improper electrical design and battery cell protection. Battery cells that are not protected from drawing current beyond their rated capacity or are allowed to drain too deeply present a safety risk. In fact, this risk led to the development of the UL 8139 standard for e-cigarette battery safety and the FDA recently relaxed its prohibition on e-cigarette battery changes in order to allow manufacturers to comply with this standard. UL 8139 is applicable to vaporizer devices and anyone who sources or develops a vaporizer device for the cannabis market should voluntarily comply.

Contamination by Hardware

Vaporizer device hardware should be tested for the presence of heavy metals. Currently, some manufacturers use Restriction of Hazardous Substances (RoHS) testing or rely on vendor representations that the components and materials being used are certified as FDA food-grade. The California Bureau of Cannabis Control mandated heavy metals testing standards for the three categories of cannabis products, including inhalable cannabis products, starting on December 31, 2018. 

Vaporizer device hardware that comes into contact with cannabis formulation should also be free of other contaminants. It is important to consider both contaminants that could be immediately detectable in vaporizer devices as well as those that can be released or created over time. Vaporizer devices are designed using a variety of industrial manufacturing processes, some of which can leave residual oils, biological agents, or other substances in the device. It is important that device manufacturers clean incoming components, assemble them in a clean environment, then store and ship them in a manner that prevents re-contamination. Depending on the nature of the component, one or more of a cleaning bath or ozone treatment may be used for cleaning. After cleaning, assembly of vaporizer components should be performed in a cleanroom environment under appropriate current Good Manufacturing Practices (cGMP). Unfortunately, simply asking a device manufacturer whether it operates in such a manner is not sufficient to be certain that it does. There is no substitute for first-hand inspection of manufacturing processes. While it may not be practical for U.S.-based cannabis manufacturers to maintain a constant presence in the country of manufacture, it is possible to hire local agents who are skilled in audit practices and can perform unannounced inspections to verify that desired practices are implemented within the supply chain. 

As noted above, hardware may also introduce contamination into the formulation over time, either through the process of leaching heavy metals or through chemical reaction. Leaching is a process whereby soluble constituents that may be present in materials dissolve into a formulation. A well-known example was the discovery that plasticizers present in certain plastic food and beverage containers were leaching and then being consumed. As a result, new types of plastics were developed for improved food safety. Vaporizer components that contact cannabis formulations may present a similar issue and leaching may be tied to metals, ceramics, plastics, or other materials. In addition to leaching, certain materials may react with cannabis formulations, especially those with high terpene content which tends to be more volatile. Moreover, metal components in contact with formulations may be especially susceptible to leaching and lead to contaminants such as heavy metals in the formulation.

The good news is that it is possible to address this risk of leaching through the use of appropriate base materials and or plating. Base materials such as stainless steel are good candidates because of their low tendency to react with formulations. Plating other materials with corrosion-resistant metals is also possible; however, care must be taken to specify the right material and plating thickness while also ensuring the plating is not damaged during assembly.

With proper material selection and design, it is possible to reduce the risk of such contamination, including through conducting stability tests. In a stability test, a formulation is placed into the vaporizer device for a period of time, then removed and tested for contaminants. A good guide is to design the stability test to align with the desired shelf life of the product. That doesn’t necessarily mean the test needs to be as long as the rated shelf life. Typically, elevated temperature tests are used to determine stability and can cut the duration of the test to 50% or less of the desired shelf life. In addition, by taking measurements at intermediate intervals, stability can be better characterized and the point at which contaminants would exceed their respective limits can be projected.

Device Impact on Formulation: Control the Heat

The most fundamental, yet perhaps the most underappreciated aspect of vaporizer devices is how they vaporize cannabis formulations. Setting aside dry herb vaporizers, all liquid cannabis vaporizers basically work by bringing the formulation into contact with a hot surface in order to heat it and thus create vapor. While this may seem straightforward, there are a number of subtleties that affect the outcome. First, the temperature of the hot surface must be hot enough to heat the liquid, yet not so hot as to cause components of the formulation to degrade into byproducts that could be harmful. In fact, one study demonstrated how changing the voltage, and thus the temperature of an unregulated vaporizer device can affect the production of such degradants. While more advanced vaporizer devices attempt to control vaporization temperature by using heating elements made of specific materials that indirectly measure temperature and regulate the power delivered to the heating element, the majority do not.

Different formulations have different compositions and contain constituents that vaporize and degrade at various temperatures. This means that to fully control vaporization, the vaporizer device must be configured precisely to the requirements of the formulation in use. Second, many vaporizer devices do not heat uniformly. Rather, the heated surfaces heat unevenly, creating hot spots that can locally trigger thermal degradation. Temperature control circuits typically measure an average temperature and do not prevent such hot spots. Finally, the majority of vaporizer devices, whether they contain fiber wicks or ceramic, rely on capillary action to bring the formulation into contact with the heated area or surface. During a puff, capillary action is also what replenishes the formulation at the heated surface, and such capillary replenishment takes time. Depending on the viscosity of the formulation and the duration of the puff, a heated surface that was initially saturated with the formulation can become dry and hot during the course of a puff. Experienced users sometimes refer to this as a “dry hit,” which can be perceived when a cartridge runs dry or during a long puff. Dry hits can result in increased thermal degradation.

Armed with this understanding of the nuances of vaporizer devices, one can appreciate how the common business model of selling cartridges with a universal 510 threaded connection that can be used in conjunction with any number of batteries, any number of power settings, and filled with a variety of formulations makes it difficult to guarantee what is produced during vaporization. In order to understand and control the output of a vaporizer device, the system should be designed, configured, and tested as a whole; cartridge and battery, plus formulation. Closed systems with proprietary connectors and one-piece designs do not face the cartridge-battery mismatch challenge, but should still be tested in conjunction with the target formulation using a reasonable worst-case puff duration. And while new systems under development that employ non-contact heating methods may not present the same temperature control challenges, they too should be validated as a whole.


The Cannabis Manufacturing Committee (CMC) focuses on reviewing existing business practices and state regulations of concentrates, topicals, vaporizers, and edibles, ensuring the manufacturing sector is helping shape its destiny.

Committee Blog: Crafting a COVID-19 Vaccination Policy for Your Cannabis Company

By NCIA’s Human Resources Committee

COVID-19 vaccine policies are just the latest challenge for employers as the world continues to adapt to life after coronavirus. COVID-19 has forced employers to be much more actively engaged in monitoring our employees’ health and your company’s approach to a vaccine policy may continue to reflect the unusually intimate partnership between employers and employees in protecting the health of our communities.

Business owners may be eager for operations to return to normal after nearly a year of intense focus on disruptive business practices made necessary while we responded to the COVID-19 pandemic and its implications for the workplace. While a widely vaccinated public has been promoted as the light at the end of this tunnel, over a third of Americans are reluctant to get the vaccine. This is where employers can make a difference in the trajectory of our national vaccine project by encouraging, and even requiring, employees to be vaccinated. Cannabis industry operators should be especially concerned about crafting a careful approach to vaccine policy as many of our workers have been declared essential throughout the pandemic and we provide services to some of the most vulnerable in our communities including those with chronic illness, the elderly, or those with compromised immune systems. Yet, in many states, cannabis business owners and human resources departments continue to struggle with unclear guidance about when our employees will be able to get the vaccine.

What role do cannabis employers play in vaccination against COVID-19?

Employers will have to navigate a number of competing interests and obligations to craft a sound and responsible vaccine policy. On the one hand, employers are obligated to provide a workplace that is “free from recognized hazards” (OSHA General Duty Clause), i.e. persons infected with the coronavirus. On the other hand, employers are generally more hands-off when it comes to personal health decisions like whether or not to get vaccinated against certain illnesses, and indeed we have an obligation to protect our employee’s privacy and right to refuse vaccination due to a religious objection or medical condition. There is no shortage of advice available to cannabis companies but much of this advice fails to explore the real-world challenges that HR practitioners and business owners will face as they navigate vaccine issues with employees on the ground over the coming months, partly because we are wading into uncharted waters. Below is a brief summary of what information is available to guide employers right now.

Employers must be prepared to take a position on vaccines

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has provided guidance for employers navigating their approach to vaccination at the workplace. In general, the EEOC supports employers’ right to encourage or require employees to get vaccinated against COVID-19, as well as take other precautionary measures recommended by the Centers for Disease Control. There is a persuasive business necessity to, at a minimum, encourage employees to get vaccinated against COVID-19, and cannabis companies may find that their employees are relatively prioritized in many state vaccine distribution plans due to the prevalence of designating cannabis workers as essential, though guidance specifically pertaining to cannabis workers is slow-coming and vaccine availability has gotten off to a rocky start with an uncertain supply of vaccines. At least for the time being, multi-state employers will have to continue to adapt to a patchwork of various approaches to state vaccine distribution plans just as they have for managing the workplace throughout the pandemic.  

Be ready to accommodate legitimate objections

Employers must also proceed cautiously when responding to employees who refuse vaccination. Some employees who resist vaccination will have a legitimate right to be accommodated due to a sincerely held religious belief or a medical condition that prevents them from taking the vaccine. Employers must be ready with a flexible policy that allows qualified personnel to engage in an interactive process with these employees to discover and document the nature of their objection and then to negotiate a reasonable accommodation. For those positions that have already been eligible for temporary work from home arrangements, for example, an extension of this arrangement might be a reasonable alternative to vaccination. Other accommodations can be made for employees who must interact with the public or their coworkers to perform their essential job functions, such as leave of absence, but how soon such an employee would be excluded from the workplace given the scarcity of vaccine availability and under what conditions this employee would be allowed to return to the workplace are still open questions.

Vaccines remain one of many tools employers have to reduce risk

The Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM) published research earlier this month revealing that the majority of employers plan to encourage but not require their workforce to be vaccinated against COVID-19. This approach seems to dodge some of the more troubling aspects of rolling out a mandatory vaccine program and reflects the reality that many employers can use a combination of other means to reduce the risk of transmitting the virus such as the continuation of work from home policies, virtual services, contactless product delivery, etc. A mandatory program would force a confrontation between those employees who are unwilling to get vaccinated and the company’s managers tasked with tracking vaccination, avoids potential workers compensation claims that might arise from adverse reactions to the vaccine, and provides relief for the potential administrative burden of tracking employees’ proof of vaccination. A voluntary vaccine policy also restores some of the onus for making an informed decision about vaccines on the employee rather than the employer assuming all the responsibility, and potential liability, for forcing a decision to become vaccinated on the workforce. Keep in mind that even under mandatory vaccination policies, some employees will inevitably not get vaccinated and the company will need to work with those individuals on a case by case basis to determine what reasonable accommodations, if any, can be made for those workers. Employers who mandate vaccines as a condition of employment will also likely need to pay for vaccination if there is a cost in the future as well as provide paid time off for employees to go to vaccine appointments. A voluntary policy may make it easier for the employer to be flexible and compassionate toward the varying needs and attitudes of our employees while navigating the continually evolving state of vaccine availability and public health advice. 

Expect to adapt to new information

Throughout the pandemic, employers have operated with ambiguity and uncertainty. This (hopefully) final stage of the pandemic will be no different. As we craft our vaccine policies, we should be prepared to deal with the unexpected and adapt to change as new information is available or revised. This is where I believe that cannabis companies have a real advantage. In this industry, flexibility and innovation are essential skills and we as professionals in this industry are well-practiced at pivoting with little notice. I am confident that cannabis operators will rise to the challenge of navigating vaccine distribution while protecting our workers and our customers with the same aplomb that has helped our industry thrive during the challenging last 12 months. 


Melissa Hafey is the Director of Human Resources for Blackbird. Blackbird is a software and services company that provides marketing tools and transportation solutions for cannabis operators. Melissa is a passionate advocate for creating meaningful work in rewarding work environments.  Her experience includes change management, benefits administration, HRIS implementation, recruiting, workplace diversity initiatives, and human resources management across multiple states including California.

Member Blog: Reducing Labor and Trichome Degradation with Drying and Curing Solutions

by Michael Williamson, Director of Cultivation at Pipp Horticulture

Cannabis production strategies may differ from one facility to another, but most facilities share a common goal: to produce the highest quality product at the lowest cost. One area of the cultivation cycle that is often overlooked but has great potential for optimization is the drying and curing process.

Many cultivators use bins or totes to harvest, weigh and transfer cannabis plants to the drying room. The plants are then manually hung one by one on wire, pipe, hangers, hooks, and/or racking.

Once the product has been dried it is then manually unhung plant by plant and placed back into the bins or totes. These are then transferred to trimmers to process into the finished product. These transfer events have significant labor costs and more importantly can reduce quality by degrading trichomes and associated cannabinoid and terpene content.

In lean farming and manufacturing, we refer to these actions as non-value adding touch points. The process outlined above is not only cost-intensive for the producer, but also one that reduces quality and value to the end consumer, who should be at the center of every decision a cannabis producer makes.

Let’s take a look at two options that allow operators to reduce labor and associated costs while producing a higher quality product. Below, we introduce you to drying carts and drying racks solutions for your operation. 

First thing’s first: Ditch the Bins

Many growers use plastic bins or totes to help them harvest. An inexpensive and simple solution, binning plants has been a common method amongst growers.

Unfortunately, it greatly increases labor requirements due to the many staff and non-value adding touch points with the plants. These touch points also negatively impact the final quality of the product as the terpenes and trichomes are disturbed each time.

Bins or totes also present additional and unnecessary cross-contamination, workflow, and labor challenges. They need to be cleaned and sanitized after each batch or during daily use. Many facilities are not set-up or staffed appropriately to properly clean and sanitize bins and totes regularly.

In addition, bins and totes take up a tremendous amount of space, which is often not taken into consideration during the facility design process. They are often stacked or nested one on top of another. If these bins are not cleaned and have been dragged on the floor, operators risk contaminating their cannabis plants and dried flowers that come in contact with the inside of the bins.

Labor is the biggest cost for a cultivation operation. And as it so happens, the harvest and post-harvest team is often the largest department by headcount.

By introducing equipment such as drying carts or racks, operators can decrease their labor costs while increasing product quality, all without the use of bins or totes.

Optimize Your Drying Process

The first step in optimizing your drying process is to evaluate the space in your facility. There are two unique solutions to meet cultivators’ drying needs: mobile drying carts and mobile drying storage racks.

An easy way to tell them apart is to remember this: drying carts bring work to the workers while drying racks bring workers to the work.

Drying carts are mobile by design. Staff roll the drying carts into the flowering room being harvested and hang plants directly on the drying carts without the need for hangers or hooks.

The drying carts are then transferred to the drying room. Once the plants have dried, the carts are then rolled into the trimming room. The product moves efficiently around the facility with little to no touching of the actual plants.

Drying racks differ in that staff must still bring plants to the racks where they manually hang from the rack. A mobile drying cart can still be used for the transfer to eliminate the use of bins or totes. However, what sets these drying racks apart from common drying setups is that the racks can span the full height of the room, taking advantage of not only total available square feet but cubic feet as well.

There are pros and cons to both options. Ultimately, your operation’s capacity, efficiency, and labor demands will be the deciding factor.

Space Requirements

If space is not an issue, the ideal choice is drying carts for the points mentioned above: lower labor costs and higher quality product. The carts must be stored when not in use, and you’ll also need adequate space in your flower room for the carts to roll through the aisles. We recommend a minimum of 28” width aisles.

If you’re already tight on space in the drying rooms and are using trellis or cable wire, installing mobile drying racks will greatly optimize your room’s plant-drying capacity. Drying racks can help transform a tight, restricted space into an efficient one that supports your scaling business. 

To get an idea of how much space is required for either racks or carts, we crunched some numbers for you below. Here, you can see how much square footage of drying space is required for each equipment option.

For this example, let’s consider 1000 harvested cannabis plants. The following space is required in your drying area for each solution (the range accounts for plant size and density):

  •     2-tier drying carts: 300-600 sq. ft.
  •     3-tier drying carts: 200-400 sq. ft.
  •     Mobile drying racks (4-tiers): 200-400 sq. ft.

You can see that the available space in the facility is the main consideration here. Let’s take a deeper dive into the pros and cons of drying racks vs drying carts. 

Drying Carts

 The Pros

  •     Ideal for purpose-built cultivation facilities that can dictate the size of the drying rooms
  •     No ladders or lifts required
  •     Drying carts have options for two or three levels of cantilever-style finger hooks, which eliminate the need to use hooks, zip ties, coat hangers
  •     Improves operational workflow by reducing non-value adding plant touches
  •     Improves trichome and terpene preservation by eliminating non-value adding touch points
  •     Eliminates the and use of bins/totes
  •     Brings the work to the workers
  •     Plants can be defoliated on drying carts if desired
  •     Less expensive than investing in drying racks
  •     Anti-fungal/bacterial coating option
  •     Easy to clean and sanitize
  •     Reduces labor to clean and sanitize drying rooms as room can be cleared of carts and equipment

The Cons

  •     Drying carts do not maximize cubic or square feet when compared to mobile drying racks. 
  •     Drying carts that do not nest, break down easily with minimal tools
  •     Can be challenging to create linear queues in drying rooms
  •     Increased risk for finger and hand injuries

Drying Racks

(show image: “09 Pipp Hort Redbud mobile drying system Redbud Roots”) Photo Caption: Mobile Drying Rack Storage System 📸 Redbud Roots

The Pros

  • Drying racks are ideal for:
  • Existing cultivation facilities with suboptimal sized drying rooms looking to retrofit
  • New facilities that undersized their drying room and need to maximize every cubic foot
  • Pre-operational facilities that are in the design phase and need to free up space for other areas of the design
  • Typical racking height up to 16′ with 6 tiers
  • Typical racking width options: 24″, 36″, 48″
  • Drying racks support multiple hanging options from hang bars that allow for use of hooks and coat/plant hangers, wire grid, and fingers hooks
  •  Most efficient solution to maximize square and cubic feet
  •  Ability to scale by adding tiers based on phases or increased yields
  •  Anti-fungal/bacterial coating option

The Cons

  • Requires lift or ladder to hang as well as take down
  • More touch points, which leads to degradation of THC and terpenes
  • Higher labor cost
  • Racks bring workers to the work which involves the use of bins and totes and increased non-value adding plant touches
  • Less efficient to clean and sanitize, compared to drying carts

Now that you’ve made it this far, you’re probably getting a good idea of which option (drying racks or carts) might work best for your grow space. 


Michael Williamson is the Director of Cultivation at Pipp Horticulture. Pipp Horticulture is the industry-leading provider of vertical farming and space optimization solutions. Our vertical mobile cultivation racks, Greenhaus grow trays, and innovative cart systems, create and optimize space for commercial agricultural facilities. We manufacture, design, and install products to optimize operational space throughout the cultivation, post-harvest, and distribution stages. For assistance in selecting and implementing the best drying solution for your operation, contact the team at Pipp Horticulture today!

Committee Blog: Property Insurance – The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. 

by NCIA’s Risk Management & Insurance Committee

How a Hardening Market is Limiting Coverage and How to Be Prepared. 

2020 was one heck of a year. The insurance industry has experienced more claims this year than in the history of insurance with over a billion dollars in intentional property destruction alone. With the catastrophic claims from COVID-19, record-setting wildfires, civil unrest, and theft, expect property insurance rates to spike this year — and even more so if you’ve experienced a property claim. 

Should an insured party that does not have a loss on their record expect an increase in their premium upon renewal? Simple answer, YES.

What is “commercial property”?

In the insurance world, commercial property is a lot more than just physical property — like cultivation equipment or a brick building. Commercial property coverage also includes (but is not limited to): loss of income, equipment breakdown, business property or equipment, inventory of others and finished stock that has been processed, packaged and ready for sale. 

Commercial property insurance is not required but is highly recommended — your business could close due to a fire, theft, natural disaster, or other catastrophic loss. If your brand-new cultivation facility burns to the ground, you don’t want to be the one paying to build a new one out of your own pocket. 

Property insurance is still an essential component of your insurance portfolio. There are many forms of property insurance that need to be considered. Property coverages include but are not limited to: 

  • loss of income (sometimes known as business interruption), 
  • tenant improvements, 
  • real property such as the building, 
  • business personal property, 
  • manufacturing equipment, 
  • cannabis inventory,
  • signage, 
  • and property of others (in this case, any cannabis stock or equipment you may hold for another licensed operator). 

Also, it’s important to understand the different forms of coverage available in property insurance. You can learn and understand the forms by looking at the property declaration page. There is basic, broad and special. Here is a breakdown of what each form generally covers: 

Basic: fire, lightning, explosion, smoke, windstorm, hail, riot, civil commotion, aircraft, vehicles, vandalism, sprinkler leakage, sinkhole collapse, and volcanic action.

Broad: Covers basic perils and more – fire, lightning, explosion, smoke, windstorm, hail, riot, civil commotion, aircraft, vehicles, vandalism, sprinkler leakage, sinkhole collapse, volcanic action), plus the following additional perils: falling objects; weight of snow, ice, or sleet; water damage (in the form of leakage from appliances); and collapse from specified causes.

Special: This is considered all risks coverage: coverage for loss from any cause except those that are specifically excluded. This is the BEST form of property insurance.

What people often don’t realize is that when you buy property coverages, these differences between Basic, Broad, and Special determine if you have coverage or not for your loss based on the peril that caused the loss.

Example: In a brush or fire area, getting Special coverage is almost impossible which is exactly what an operator in that environment needs. But when an insured asks for coverage, they usually are required by a lender or lease to have property coverage. They are usually not requiring a special form, just property coverage per the specific limits per the contract. At this time, the insureds are not concerned about Basic coverage, but that is all that they can get due to brush zones caused by recent fire areas throughout the U.S. Fire is covered, but not much else.

Any defense you can provide your property when located in these high brush areas is essential to surviving in these harsh environments. Clearance of 100 feet minimum from all structures is always recommended where possible. Water storage and proper access throughout the property is also recommended. This will help with personal defense and help support the efforts of your fire department in case a fire comes your way.

Wind and Hail coverage is another example that you need to address concerning property in the Midwest and East coast. Make sure this is addressed in your property policy if you live in these areas. These policies will have either a flat deductible or a % deductible based on the policy that is written. A flat deductible could be $5K-100K and the deductible will range from 1-5% of property coverage based on the geographics and coverage written for the policy.

Knowing it’s a hard market with higher pricing shouldn’t steer you away from purchasing this coverage — but that knowledge should make you more aware of the initial costs to properly safeguard your property. 

The reason why property insurance is getting pricier isn’t that the insurance companies are out to get you… it’s that they’re busy paying for your neighbor down the road whose dispensary was targeted by criminals or whose building burnt up in a wildfire. With that in mind, savvy insurance customers are taking steps to reduce their risk profile (and their corresponding insurance premiums). If you haven’t already, take some time to check out your property and do what you can to protect yourself from fire, theft, hail, or other local worries.


Content provided by Jesse Parenti of PCF Insurance Services- Nine Point Strategies, Stephanie Bozzuto of Cannabis Connect Insurance Services, Helkin Berg of Strimo, Michael DeNault of Charles River Insurance, Summer Jenkins of Cannasure Insurance Services, and Matthew Johnson of QuadScore Insurance Services on behalf of NCIA’s Risk Management & Insurance Committee.

 

Member Blog: Cannabis Partnerships – The Importance of Building a Successful Business

By John Shearman, VP of Marketing, Cannabis, Applied DNA Sciences

The grass roots of the cannabis industry fostered, often through necessity, a strong sense of community and encouraged innovation and sharing of techniques and methods to cultivate the various strains of cannabis. Learning from what has come before and working together in a sense of community is still as applicable today as the industry becomes more commercialized across the globe. The pioneers of this community have evolved into a more diverse group of entrepreneurs, across many dimensions that provide a rich base of skills and knowledge that has been shared and cultivated into a matrix of businesses and relationships.

Applied DNA Sciences entered into the cannabis space in 2018. We joined NCIA and exhibited at our first NCIA trade show, Cannabis Business Summit & Expo, in San Jose that year. I wasn’t sure what to expect and the type of conversation that may occur. The doors opened on the first day, and our molecular spaying chamber attracted attendees, which led to an engaging discussion about the platform and its benefits. The surprising aspects were the various businesses at the show, researchers-PHD level, cultivators, processors, dispensaries owners, new license holders, state government, and others. They also represented a range of how many years they are involved in cannabis, from over 20 years to just getting involved, and there to learn. This first show demonstrated how important it is to be very engaged in the industry and associations like NCIA, but equally important are the partnerships that you need to form to provide solutions that are required to meet the needs of industry and consumers alike.

Partnerships form across many aspects of the cannabis business. While our technology may have been at first intimidating, as we shared our vision with this expanding network we have been fortunate to find businesses, entrepreneurs and subject matter experts who share our passion about what this industry needs to become. We have teamed up with several companies ranging from cultivation specialists, software platforms providers, business and government consulting entities, just to mention a few. The key to these agreements is the complementary nature both entities can provide to address business needs such as regulatory compliance, material and product traceability, brand differentiations, IP protection, risk mitigation, anti-counterfeiting and diversion, proof of origin, and a host of others.

As the industry continues to grow we know not every partner will remain static in their business goals, or even if they can survive the ever-changing landscape of regulation or the fluctuations of the market. The key to strategic alignment however comes from working with partners who share the vision of what the industry can be; safe for everyone, transparent in both chain-of-custody and financials, and most importantly accessible for those who need it. Companies in this space must be nimble, adapt to both the present conditions but remain steadfast in their ultimate goals.

So you think you found a strategic partner, who shares your vision. Now what? The complicated patchwork of U.S. legalization does not make your next steps as easy as it should be. Especially when you are considering moving your brand or differentiated products into new states and territories. The great hands-on experience, craftsmanship, and care of what makes your product special cannot be transported beyond the narrow lines of where it has been licensed, so often you are rebuilding or replicating with a partner in a new market. Possible of course, but often met with unforeseen issues in supply chain control and distribution. Even in the case where you are using technology unrelated to the physical product (cultivation systems, seed to sale, or logistics), each state or even county may require a different tracking system, API, or competing system to connect with. The multifaceted mosaic that makes up the community of growers, farmers, and entrepreneurs in the cannabis community is a hotbed of passion and innovation, finding opportunity is not the problem, translating this to success is the work.

Outlining a list of mutually agreed-upon goals and milestones is critical to success. Establishing a set of metrics to evaluate the progress of the partnership allows for quick adjustments if required. A critical tactical approach that may seem insignificant is to have a set weekly status call to help with relationship building and reviewing the progress plan will help keep the momentum moving forward. Also, having executive leadership involved provides quick decision-making, adjusting strategies, and deploying both human and financial resources effectively against prioritized engagements.

The cannabis industry is maturing each year and will see faster advancements when regulations sort out over the next several years. It’s essential to establish your partnering strategy now, so you can get critical relationships in place with solid execution plans and prepare to implement your joint solutions with minimum friction.


John Shearman is Vice President of Marketing and Cannabis Business Lead at Applied DNA Sciences, and has over 30 years of deep enterprise and advertising agency experience across all marketing, sales and IT disciplines. John’s experience allows him to advise on structuring sound strategies that address business goals and objectives. His extensive technology background stems from working with several leading technology companies throughout his career. John spearheads Applied DNA Sciences Cannabis vertical leading the vision, strategy, and product development for this emerging market. John also oversees the marketing for the entire company driving the marketing strategy for its other core verticals.

 

Committee Blog: Everything You Need to Know About ADA Compliance for Your Cannabis Website

by Kavya Sebastian, Content Marketing Associate for Cannabis Creative
NCIA’s Marketing and Advertising Committee

When the legal cannabis industry began making waves in the late ’90s, there was still a major stigma against cannabis users. Although the federal status of the plant has yet to change, a Pew Research survey shows that around nine-in-ten Americans favor legalization for adult-use or medical purposes.

As more consumers enter regulated cannabis markets, the industry continues to evolve and be held to higher standards. Given its diverse history, the cannabis industry does not only aim to be an inclusive space – it is expected. 

From social equity programs to ADA compliance, cannabis businesses and markets are increasingly standing out from the crowd with their efforts to be more broadly accessible. 

What is ADA Compliance?

The ADA, or Americans with Disabilities Act, is a law that prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in all public spaces. ADA website compliance expands upon this and refers to meeting the standards set by the Americans with Disabilities Act Standards for Accessible Design. This act describes the accessibility of information technology, such as the Internet and its websites (as opposed to physical locations).

In other words, your cannabis website’s ADA compliance characterizes whether or not the site is deemed accessible to people with disabilities as outlined in the ADA’s guidelines.

Why does my cannabis website need to be ADA compliant?

Nearly every registered and operating business needs to follow ADA. It is required that any business, regardless of size, make all reasonable efforts to accommodate customers with disabilities.

More importantly, as a business owner, you want to provide everyone, online or offline, with the same positive experience and level of accessibility. As we continue to become a more technology-based society, website accessibility will become more important to your business as well as consumers.

Now that you understand why your cannabis website needs to be ADA compliant, it’s important to learn how

Before you touch your website, we recommend reviewing the Website Content Accessibility Guidelines. These guidelines explain how to make web content more accessible to people with disabilities, from the text, images, and sounds on your website to the code or markup that defines structure, presentation, etc.

Once you have a complete overview of what makes website content accessible to all users, you can begin to go through your site and evaluate it for needed changes. Here is a checklist of features you should have to make sure your website is following best practices: 

  • Keyboard navigation is supported.
  • Your website can be easily navigated without a mouse. 
  • Fonts are easy to read. 
  • Screen readers can accurately interpret and read your site content.
  • Text can be scaled without distorting the page. 
  • The contrast between the text and the background is sufficient for easy legibility.
  • Website design is consistent and intuitive. 
  • Calls to Action are clear and concise. 
  • Alt tags, closed captions, and descriptions are provided for all image and video assets. 

For additional reading, check out the ADA Tool Kit for Website Accessibility.

Frequently Asked Questions About ADA Compliance

With all the existing rules and regulations surrounding the cannabis industry, especially when it comes to cannabis marketing, it can be overwhelming to think about more to add to the pile. However, ADA compliance will not only show your customers that you are committed to creating inclusive spaces both in-store and online, but it will also protect your business. 

Is ADA compliance mandatory?

In short, yes. 

Although there are no clear ADA regulations that define what makes a website compliant, courts have overwhelmingly ruled that websites are considered places of public accommodation. Therefore, under Title III of the ADA, accessibility is mandatory for websites that affect interstate commerce and fit under 12 listed categories.

These 12 categories include sales establishments, like retailers and dispensaries, as well as service establishments, such as any cannabis ancillary business. 

Additionally, if your website fails to meet ADA standards, you risk lawsuits and large fines. First-time violations typically receive a $55,000 – $75,000 fine, while repeat violations come with a $150,000 fine. In fact, federally funded organizations that are not compliant can lose funding.

Can I be sued if my cannabis website is not ADA compliant?

Absolutely. The more commercial in nature your website is, the more you become vulnerable to lawsuits. This is especially true if your website is connected to a physical location. However, even if your website is only web-based, you can absolutely still be sued. 

In fact, online-only businesses with no physical presence are increasingly being swept up in ADA compliance litigation. So whether you’re a dispensary, a CBD brand, or a B2B cannabis business, you should be testing and mediating your cannabis website for ADA compliance.

How do I test ADA compliance?

There are a number of ways to test whether or not your cannabis website meets the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) standards. 

Firstly, you can use online tools to evaluate your compliance. This could include something like Web Accessibility’s URL Scanner, WAVE’s Web Accessibility Evaluation Tool, or the Lighthouse open-source automated tool. These sites help web developers and creators make their content more accessible to site visitors.

Another way to test your cannabis site’s ADA compliance is by conducting a manual audit. Completing a website audit by yourself means evaluating every page of your site for accessibility using the WCAG standards and checklists like the one above. It can also include testing your website using assistive technology, such as a screen reader, to be sure all barriers have been remedied.

Partnering with an innovative website accessibility tool can also help you achieve ADA compliance in record time.

The bottom line is that your cannabis website should be ADA compliant – and not just because of the legal requirements. To take meaningful steps towards a more equitable and inclusive industry, we must all be proactive in making all touchpoints of our businesses more accessible. 

 

Member Blog: The Most Common Gotchas When Calculating Dispensary Sales Tax in California

by Daria Nagal, CPA, EA, at Red Eye CPA

California dispensary sales tax seems easy. After all, what can be difficult about sales tax? However, the cannabis sales tax formula is extremely confusing and contradictory. Cannabis accountants argue with cannabis attorneys about interpreting the CDTFA and California Code of Regulations.

But let’s start with the basics. Who pays dispensary sales tax in California, when is it paid, and how? You can manually set up the calculation of sales tax in your point of sale system. If the POS setup is correct, the dispensary customer ends up paying the correct sales tax. If the POS setup was done incorrectly, the client ends up paying the wrong amount and the responsibility for overwithholding or underwithholding lies on the cannabis dispensary. The dispensary is required to remit gathered sales tax to the CDTFA. The bill can be paid online, as long as the dispensary has a business bank account. The CDTFA will also accept cash. Depending on the size of the dispensary, the CDTFA sets up different payment plans. Bigger dispensaries are required to remit sales tax monthly. This arrangement is called the “prepayment plan.” The dispensary remits its tax each month, but files its tax return only a month after each quarter ends. Smaller dispensaries are not required to make monthly payments. They only need to pay four times a year to account for each quarter. 

The CDTFA welcomes phone calls. Anyone from customer service can look up your account and answer basic questions. You don’t need to have a power of attorney for informational phone calls. However, the CDTFA assigns individual tax specialists to all of their big cash cows. And if you are one of those successful dispensaries, you need to know that out there you have your own business tax specialist that overlooks your activity and watches your steps. Only that specialist can waive interest and penalties on your account. To talk to him or her, you will need a signed POA.

Before we get into the boring tax calculation rules, I want to let you know that I have already written about this topic in my blog. The blog has visual instructions and is much easier to digest. You can find it here: https://redeyecpa.com/blog/california-dispensary-sales-tax/

Now let’s get in the dirty tax work and figure out how the dispensary sales tax is calculated. The cannabis sales tax is levied on the product’s cash price plus its excise tax. So, you can’t calculate your sales tax unless you know the correct excise tax. Currently, the excise tax is 15% of the retail price. For example, if you sell your product for $100, your client would have to pay $15 of the excise tax. Your sales tax will be calculated based on $115 ($100+$15). There is also a minor detail: non-cannabis products are taxed with the sales tax but are exempt from the excise tax. This means that you may mistakenly over-collect the sales tax if your POS is set up to levy the excise tax on non-cannabis products.

Furthermore, another aspect of sales tax computation: cannabis sales with medical state cards are not subject to sales tax. However, if a customer shows a doctor’s recommendation letter, he or she is still required to pay sales tax. Only state cards allow waiving of the sales tax requirement. Also, make sure that your product is being taxed net of all discounts. Discounts bring down the product’s price, and we always base our tax calculation on what the customer pays out of pocket. You should consider all of this when setting up the dispensary’s point of sale system. Boring and complicated, right? We are not even close to being done. 

Now let’s talk about sales tax rates. The sales tax rate is determined by the zip code of the dispensary. Things get more complicated if you decide to deliver products to your clients. In case of the delivery, the sales tax rate will be based on the zip code of your customer. Therefore, you must update the POS with the correct sales tax rates for your delivery area. Also, according to Revenue and Taxation Code Section 6102, you must levy sales tax on delivery and safety fees if you charge those to the customer. As you can see, the home delivery option may jack up your customer bill. I recommend you inform your customer about his/her total bill price before delivery. Otherwise, you risk angering the person and losing them as a client.

Any mistake on the sales tax calculation lies on you, the cannabis dispensary. The CDTFA won’t chase unsuspecting customers. The agency will come directly to you, and you would have to provide reasoning for your calculations. If you under-collect from your customers, you will end up paying up the difference plus penalties and interest. If you over-collect the tax, you will end up remitting it to the CDTFA as well. You cannot keep over-collected cash. You didn’t earn this money, and should your customers or competitors find out, you will be at risk of a liability suit. 


Daria Nagal is an Enrolled Agent and Certified Public Accountant in California. She is the founder of Red Eye CPA, an accounting firm specializing in Cannabis accounting and taxation. When not reading NCIA blogs, she enjoys spending time with her family, walks on the beach, and baking brownies with Mary Jane.

 

Member Blog: It’s Still Snowing – But is Jersey’s Grass Finally Green?

by Charles J. Messina, Esq., Jennifer Roselle, Esq., and Daniel Pierre, Esq. of Genova Burns LLC

The seeds are planted: Earlier this week, Governor Murphy finally signed the enabling legislation for adult use into law. Although voters approved a referendum to legalize adult use of cannabis back in November, lawmakers’ efforts to draft the enabling legislation often went up in smoke. Until recently, the governor’s office and legislative leaders couldn’t decide how to address underage possession and use of cannabis. Now, lawmakers agree that minors should be subject to a three-tiered warning system in lieu of hefty fines.

But for adults, the Governor’s signature does not allow for immediate access to or use of recreational cannabis. Even with the passage of the recreational use law, residents cannot grow their own cannabis at home or legally purchase it without a medical marijuana card. Presently, there are no dispensaries authorized to sell adult-use cannabis. 

Medical dispensaries, however, are expected to be the first access point for the adult-use cannabis market. There are 13 medical dispensaries serving the 100,000+ medical patients in the Garden State, and 24 new medical marijuana licenses are expected to be announced soon, many of which will be designated as dispensaries. Once the existing medical dispensaries demonstrate to the CRC that they have satisfied the medical needs of their patients, and that they have municipal approval for adult-use sales, they should be the first to sell to adults 21 and over.

In order for the Garden State to grow a recreational market, the CRC requires the appointment of two more members. Once all five members of the CRC are appointed, it has a specific timeframe to promulgate the rules that will regulate New Jersey’s recreational use industry. The CRC must, for example, fully develop the criteria and application process for the following six classes of recreational licenses that applicants can apply for: 

Class 1 Cannabis Cultivator license — permits growing, cultivation or production of cannabis in New Jersey. Cultivators are also permitted to sell and transport cannabis to other cultivators, manufacturers, wholesalers or retailers, but not to consumers.

Class 2 Cannabis Manufacturer license — permits the manufacturing, preparing and packaging of cannabis and selling it to other cannabis manufacturers, wholesalers, retailers, but not to consumers.

Class 3 Cannabis Wholesaler license — permits the storage and sale of cannabis strictly for resale to another wholesaler or retailer, but not to consumers.

Class 4 Cannabis Distributor license — permits the intrastate transportation of cannabis in bulk from one licensed cannabis establishment to another licensed cannabis establishment. Distributors may also engage in the temporary storage of cannabis as necessary to carry out transportation activities.

Class 5 Cannabis Retailer license — permits the sale of cannabis directly to members of the public from a retail store. Cannabis retailers may also operate cannabis consumption areas for consumers.

Class 6 Cannabis Delivery license — permits courier services for consumer purchases of cannabis by a cannabis retailer directly to consumers.

Once established, we anticipate applications for licensing to be announced. This will certainly happen after the epic snowfall melts, but many New Jerseyans and others are already starting to get their fertilizer ready…


Charles J. Messina is a Partner at Genova Burns LLC and Co-Chairs the Franchise & Distribution, Agriculture and Cannabis Industry Groups. He teaches one of the region’s first cannabis law school courses and devotes much of his practice to advising canna-businesses as well as litigating various types of matters including complex contract and commercial disputes, insurance and employment defense matters, trademark and franchise issues and professional liability, TCPA and shareholder derivative actions.

Jennifer Roselle is Counsel with Genova Burns LLC and Co-Chair of Genova Burns’ Cannabis Practice Group.  She has unique experience with labor compliance planning and labor peace agreements in the cannabis marketplace. In addition to her work in the cannabis industry, Jennifer devotes much of her practice to traditional labor matters, human resources compliance and employer counseling.

Daniel Pierre is an Associate in Genova Burns’ Newark, NJ office and a member of the Cannabis and Labor Law Practice Groups. In addition to labor work, he likewise assists clients in the cannabis industry, from analyzing federal and state laws to ensure regulatory compliance for existing businesses to counseling entrepreneurs on licensing issues.

For over 30 years, Genova Burns has partnered with companies, businesses, trade associations, and government entities, from around the globe, on matters in New Jersey and the greater northeast corridor between New York City and Washington, D.C. We distinguish ourselves with unparalleled responsiveness and provide an array of exceptional legal services across multiple practice areas with the quality expected of big law, but absent the big law economics by embracing technology and offering out of the box problem-solving advice and pragmatic solutions.

Given Genova Burns’ significant experience representing clients in the cannabis, hemp and CBD industries from the earliest stages of development in the region, the firm is uniquely qualified to advise investors, cultivators, processors, distributors, retailers and ancillary businesses.

 

Committee Blog: Manufactured Product Safety – 2021 Series Premier

by NCIA’s Cannabis Manufacturing Committee 

Product safety isn’t an endpoint, it’s a journey. And let’s face it, there is years-worth of research left to do on the safety of cannabis products. That’s why it’s important to stay up to speed on the latest thinking from leaders in the industry. In 2021, the National Cannabis Industry Association’s Cannabis Manufacturing Committee intends to help you do just that by providing information and approaches aimed to help you continue to improve the safety of your manufactured cannabis (marijuana and hemp) products while providing your customers with increasingly trusted experiences. This Manufactured Product Safety Series will consist of blogs, podcasts, and expert panel discussions focused on providing insight into topics relevant to a wide range of manufacturers. 

Over the course of the next several months, we’ll bring you content with the following working titles.

Vapor Liquid Formulations 

The Importance of Testing Vapor Products as a System

Edibles Stability – Microbial Growth Due to Insufficient Packaging

Terpene Limits Across Multiple Product Formats 

But while we’re busy crafting these new pieces, we want to take advantage of our past publications to keep important safety topics front and center. Back in January of 2020, in response to the then-emergent EVALI outbreak, NCIA’s Policy Council created a whitepaper to provide guidance to the industry and regulators. We’re republishing portions of this whitepaper starting with the Vaporizer Liquid Formulations section below. We’ve learned more about EVALI since its original publication, and while some of the specifics may be a little dated, the principles remain relevant to helping you understand product safety.

Disseminating our knowledge of this topic also helps promote better regulation. Examples of what can go wrong are the Oregon Liquor Control Commission’s (OLCC) recently adopted regulations that effectively ban the use of propylene glycol (PG). Granted, they were addressing a difficult issue and made some good decisions, but had they read this piece, they might have better understood that PG “degradation has been shown only with temperatures in excess of what is typically produced by well-controlled hardware.” Even in studies where the temperature was not well controlled, thermal degradants were detected in amounts that are lower in the vapor stream when compared to combustion and inhalation of plant products, such as cannabis flower. And given that PG has been “used at up to 90% concentration in e-cigarette products for the past decade without reports to date of significant health issues,” it is unwise to ban an ingredient option that may turn out to have a better safety profile than even certain native terpenes, some of which may have to be added at abnormally high concentrations in order to achieve the desired viscosity, without further research.

So with that in mind, stay tuned for the next piece in the series and enjoy the excerpt below!

Excerpted from THE KEY TO CONSUMER SAFETY: DISPLACING THE ILLICIT CANNABIS MARKET RECOMMENDATIONS FOR SAFE VAPING

Access the full report and citations.

Cannabis Ingredients

The cannabis-derived ingredient in cannabis oil vaporizers is a concentrate that is produced by extracting the cannabinoids and other compounds from the plant. With the exception of supercritical CO2 extraction, most other common extraction methods use butane, alcohol, or hexane as solvents for the extraction of cannabis oils used in vape pens. Extraction processes using these solvents may result in a small presence of the solvent in the extracted oil. Any residual solvent must ultimately be removed prior to any product being sold to consumers. States that have legalized and regulated cannabis typically have specific requirements regarding allowable concentration levels of these solvents. These states also require full analytical testing by licensed independent labs, including reporting of residual solvents, to ensure that only safe levels of any solvents are present in the final formulation of cannabis vape products.

The type of cannabis concentrate used in a vaporizer is important to consider. Some require diluents or other additives to be effectively vaporized while other types of concentrates (eg: live resin) have the appropriate viscosity to be used in vaporizers without adding any diluting non-cannabis ingredients.

Non-Cannabis Ingredients

Propylene Glycol (PG), Vegetable Glycerin (VG) aka Glycerol, and Polyethylene Glycol (PEG)

Similar to what we are seeing in the commercial e-cigarette industry, some manufacturers of cannabis extract-containing vape pens choose to add ingredients that help adjust the viscosity of the cannabis oil. This allows the oil to flow evenly through the atomizer when heated. Some of these additives may also contribute to a vapor “cloud” when exhaled. PG, VG, and PEG are the most commonly used cosolvents or diluents. PG and VG are on the FDA’s Inactive Ingredient List for inhalable drug products and are allowable only at fairly low concentrations in drug products, but have been used at up to 90% concentration in e-cigarette products for the past decade without reports to date of significant health issues. PEG is not on the FDA’s list and less is known about its inhalation toxicity. Therefore, PEG should be viewed with more caution, even at lower concentrations.

The state of Colorado has paved the way for the industry on forward-thinking cannabis regulations and remains an industry leader. Governor Polis, his cannabis advisor, and the Marijuana Enforcement Division should be commended for creating an environment in the state that fosters business development while simultaneously protecting consumers. After discussions between Colorado regulators and stakeholders about additives, and given the lack of sufficient safety reviews of these ingredients, the state of Colorado prohibited Polyethylene glycol (PEG); Vitamin E Acetate; and Medium Chain Triglycerides (MCT Oil) in inhalable concentrates and products effective January 1, 2020. Colorado further banned non-botanical terpenes, any additive that is toxic, and any additive that makes the product more addictive, appealing to children, or misleading to patients or consumers. Other states should consider following Colorado’s lead.

The creation of degradants through overheating is also an important consideration. For example, overheating PG and VG may result in their degradation into molecules with established toxicity profiles such as glyceraldehyde, lactaldehyde, dihydroxyacetone, hydroxyacetone, glycidol, acrolein, propanal, acetone, allyl alcohol, acetic acid, acetaldehyde, formic acid, or formaldehyde. However, this degradation has been shown only with temperatures in excess of what is typically produced by well-controlled hardware. Because PEG is a polymer of glycerin, its degradation upon heating is similar to that of VG and it forms the same unwanted toxic molecules.

Vitamin E Acetate and Tocopherols Inhalable Safety Profile Has Not Been Evaluated

Investigators at the FDA and CDC recently found that some cannabis-containing vape products from the illicit market contain a molecule called vitamin E acetate (VEA), also known as Tocopheryl acetate. Vitamin E is a common name for several similar types of chemicals called “tocopherols.” Vitamin E occurs naturally in certain foods, such as canola oil, olive oil and almonds, but also can be made synthetically. Tocopherols are used as nutritional supplements, and manufacturers put tocopherols in food and cosmetics. VEA is the acetic acid ester derived from vitamin E and is also not known to cause harm when ingested as a supplement or applied to the skin.

VEA’s safety when inhaled has not been evaluated. Numerous published studies indicate that the inhalation of vaporized oils, including certain tocopherols, are harmful to the lungs and numerous cases of lung injury after their inhalation have been documented since 2000. Tocopherols such as VEA adhere to an important fluid in the lungs called lung surfactant. Lung surfactant enables oxygen to transfer from air into your body. Studies have shown that tocopherols impair gas transfer in the lungs. Currently, it is believed that inhalation of significant amounts of certain tocopherols can lead to the death of lung cells and initiate a massive inflammatory reaction that can further contribute to lung damage and functional impairment. Accordingly, VEA should not be used as an additive in any inhaled product. Following the FDA and CDC’s investigation, Colorado added VEA to their list of prohibited ingredients in inhalables to their regulations effective January 1, 2020.

Artificial Flavorings Have Not Been Fully and Scientifically Evaluated.

Some manufactures of cannabis extract-containing vape pens choose to add flavoring agents to the cannabis oil to give them a distinctive flavor, similar to products in the electronic cigarette industry. These additives tend to produce flavorings that are appealing to some consumers. While a number of flavorings have been used for many years without incident, the safety of the majority of flavorings when added to vaporized products – alone or in combination with cannabis extracts – have not been fully and scientifically evaluated.

In one study, certain chemicals that are used in flavorings for vanilla, cherry, citrus, and cinnamon can create compounds called acetals when they are mixed with solvents such as PG and VG. Acetals are known to cause irritation when inhaled and can lead to chronic inflammation in the lung. The long-term

effects of these flavoring agents on lung function are unknown. A separate study showed that some popular flavorings may increase the risk of cardiovascular disease when inhaled, although several other studies show no negative effects.

As approximately 17 million Americans use vape products, many of which contain flavors, and only around 2,000 cases of e-cigarette, or vaping, product-use associated lung injury (EVALI) are currently being reported, it appears unlikely that all flavoring agents in all hardware devices are linked to EVALI. However, until more detailed safety studies have been completed on these product lines, manufacturers should proceed with caution.

Some Terpenes are Safe (GRAS); Some Can be Harmful When Heated

Terpenes are a class of molecules found in many plants, including cannabis, that are responsible for the aroma of the plant. Plants evolved to make terpenes to attract pollinators and to deter herbivores and unwanted pests. Terpenes are biologically active and help contribute to many of the physiological effects of inhaled cannabis. Isolated terpenes have been widely used as fragrances in perfumes in the cosmetic industry and in medicine, such as aromatherapy. Although many terpenes are considered “Generally Regarded As Safe” (GRAS) by the FDA, some terpenes are toxic when inhaled/ingested at high concentrations. While most cannabis goods on the market contain levels of terpenes similar to those that occur naturally in the cannabis plant (~1-5%), some products contain terpenes at much higher concentrations (upwards of 25%). High levels of terpenes and other molecules can also occur if chemical procedures such as distillation are used to concentrate cannabis or hemp oil.

In general, terpenes are benign at low concentrations; however, overexposure to concentrated terpenes has the potential to lead to negative effects, including hypersensitive (allergic) reactions in chemically sensitive people. Additionally, some vape pens do not have the means to adequately control the temperature and can heat the cannabis oil to a very high temperature. In certain instances, this has been shown to lead to thermal decomposition of some molecules in cannabis extracts, such as terpenes, resulting in the formation of new molecules with established toxicities. It is also worth noting that even when these new molecules have been shown to form, they have been detected in amounts that are lower in the vapor stream when compared to combustion and inhalation of plant products, such as cannabis flower, or tobacco leaf.

Cannabis-derived Terpenes

Cannabis contains terpenes, such that cannabis oil extracts used in vape products typically also contain these molecules, depending on the extraction method. Typically, the distillation process causes a loss of terpenes. Some vape manufacturers now recover cannabis-derived terpenes during the distillation process and then re-introduce them back into the final formulated product. Because of poor process control, one potential safety concern from this procedure is that these cannabis-derived terpenes have an undefined molecular composition and the specific concentration of any terpene in the crude mixture likely varies from batch-to-batch due to numerous experimental variables. For example, many manufacturers that are producing large volumes of vape products by necessity must make the oil extracts from a mixture of cannabis strains. Since every cannabis strain contains different terpene profiles, this means that formulated products made from these strains will also vary in their terpene profiles from batch-to-batch.

The potential for terpene profiles changing during the manufacturing process could pose a potential safety concern. Additionally, new isomers, oxidative by-products, or degradative terpenes may be present in these captured terpenes, which could possibly present hazards never presented by merely combusting and smoking the cannabis plant. Some states that have regulations on cannabis require analytical testing of formulated products, including the reporting of terpene concentrations, but this is not yet the universal standard. Vape manufacturers must exercise caution and be required to analyze terpene profiles of products they make in order to begin to develop a better understanding of this subject. Adhering closely to terpene concentrations known to be present in cannabis flower is a good practice.

Non-Cannabis Derived Terpenes Can Contain Residual Solvents and Pose Dangers

One widespread misconception in the cannabis vape industry is that cannabis-derived terpenes are somehow safer or better for you than non-cannabis-derived terpenes. There are few cannabis-specific terpenes because most terpenes are also present in other plants. Most cannabis vape manufacturers that operate at a large scale, therefore, prefer to use terpenes isolated from non-cannabis sources to introduce into their formulated products. There are several reasons why this is popular in the industry. High purity terpenes (e.g. >99% pure) are sold by numerous retailers, which allows these terpenes to be re-introduced into cannabis vape products at defined and safe concentrations. Also, the cost of using non-cannabis-derived terpenes is far lower than the cost of isolating and using cannabis-derived terpenes.

For example, the terpene D-Limonene is present at extremely high levels in citrus fruits, and therefore can be isolated to high purity easily and inexpensively from them. In contrast, in most cannabis strains D-Limonene is only found at relatively low concentrations, and therefore one would have to use massive amounts of cannabis material to isolate significant quantities of this terpene required for companies that are operating at scale.

The origin and concentration of non-cannabis-derived terpenes that manufacturers use in their formulations is nevertheless important. Non-cannabis-derived terpenes from overseas often have several residual solvents in them, including ethanol, hexane, xylenes, benzene, butane, and toluene. Moreover, some retailers of non-cannabis-derived terpenes do not list the actual concentration or purity of terpenes in their products. It is imperative that cannabis vape manufacturers purchase and use non-cannabis derived terpenes that are accompanied by a COA that reports the purity of the terpene, any solvent(s) that may carry the terpene, and be required to adhere to the same purity standards and mandatory analytical testing requirements as cannabinoids. Reputable companies will also supply a safety data sheet (SDS) that describes the known toxicities of that terpene by different routes of ingestion, including inhalation.

Cannabis manufacturers that make formulated vape products should be aware of any toxic liabilities of non-cannabis-derived molecules introduced into these products. Vape products should also undergo analytical testing for cannabinoids, terpenes, and contaminants. Finally, analytical tests for aerosolized cannabis, similar to those used in the e-cigarette industry, should be developed, implemented, and mandated to address safety concerns. The industry needs to build the volume of inhalation safety data required for all of these ingredients, hardware, and end product combinations.

Member Blog: High Five – The Top Ways an Integrated Cannabis Technology Solution Supports your Business 

by Daniel Erickson, Director of Product Strategy, ProcessPro

Anyone involved in the cannabis industry is well aware of its exponential growth and the corresponding pressure for companies to increase performance, enhance quality, optimize operations, and maintain data integrity and control. In this complex environment, reliable technology and the use of disparate and manual systems not only affects profitability but also creates a competitive disadvantage in the market. Progressive cannabis companies are finding the potential that a single, comprehensive business system can bring to their operations to streamline processes. An integrated enterprise resource planning (ERP) solution’s features and functionalities support cannabis businesses in five key areas.

Cultivation Management 

Cannabis ERP software with cultivation management functionality enables cultivation, manufacturing, and dispensary operations to manage, log, and report on every movement of individual plants throughout the entire supply chain in one platform, tracking growth and production to assist with regulatory compliance. Greenhouse recording and package IDs management within the solution can include recording activity costs, quality checks, audit trails, inspections, strain tracking, harvesting techniques, plant health, growing conditions, and batch yields. Evaluation of this data helps determine ideal conditions for maximum plant growth and yields to improve productivity as well as provide information to run a cost-efficient operation. 

Regulatory Compliance 

The highly regulated cannabis industry requires companies to maintain detailed, accurate, and real-time records to mitigate the consequences of non-compliance with state regulators, auditors, and law enforcement agencies. Constantly changing state laws and specifications require businesses to keep pace with these developments as well. It is predicted that federal legislation for the cannabis edibles market will closely align with current FDA regulations in the food and beverage market, and adopting the current manufacturing practices utilized in those industries can make the transition seamless for proactive cannabis manufacturers.

Cannabis ERP tracks, measures, documents, and reports on compliance initiatives including licensing requirements, waste disposal protocols, transportation records, compliant packaging and labeling, and tax payments – accommodating multiple locations, jurisdictions, countries, and intra-industry verticals. A solution with integrations to state government-approved software, such as METRC, Biotrack THC, and Leaf Data Systems, helps to ensure reporting is accurate and timely.

Seed to Sale Traceability

Critically important to the cannabis industry, tracking of accurate inventory and locations of valuable cannabis products mitigates theft and controls regulatory risk. A cannabis technology solution provides real-time seed-to-sale visibility of the supply chain by managing and automating transactions and lot tracking and traceability capabilities – ensuring security and accountability by utilizing user-based software permissions to validate employee transactions.

Inventory control monitoring tracks appropriate stock levels, monitors shelf life, and documents product loss due to damage, shrinkage, and accidental or purposeful destruction. To facilitate production and purchasing, the integrated functionality of material requirements planning (MRP) allocates the use of resources to ensure there are sufficient raw materials and ingredients to meet customer demand. An ERP solution helps prove the chain of custody, establish and uphold safety standards, increase accountability, and limit factors leading to compliance and health risks – reducing the possibility of unsafe products entering the marketplace.

Formula and Recipe Management 

Comprehensive and tight management of formulas and recipes is essential in this consumer-driven market in which product quality and consistency in regards to taste, texture, appearance, potency are correlated to a company’s brand. Cannabis ERP maintains raw material data, production notes, versions, and revisions within each Bill of Material. The solution should also calculate nutritional information to include ingredients and allergens to produce accurate labeling, reporting, and product packaging necessary for consumers of cannabis edible products – providing traceability and a documented labeling history to identify items quickly in the event of a product recall. To support new and innovative delivery methods and products, research and development functionality within a cannabis ERP solution streamlines new product development and introduction into the market. The ability to experiment and test in a sandbox environment without affecting current production allows for easily transitioning approved products to live production. 

Reporting and Analytics 

By gathering data from all areas of the business in a centralized database, cannabis software makes it possible to analyze what is working within the operation and what is not. In the area of cultivation, adjustments to nutrients or other conditions can improve yield and lead to improvements in financial performance. Businesses can benefit from the ability to track consumer purchasing fluctuations in regards to holidays and seasonal trends to help navigate supply chain challenges and forecast demand. When data is collected throughout the life cycle from seed to sale, businesses are able to identify patterns, predict trends and changes in consumer taste, and help plan for the future – allowing companies to make data-driven business decisions.

Integrated features such as cultivation management, regulatory compliance, seed-to-sale traceability, formula and recipe management, and reporting and analytics offer a competitive advantage for cannabis businesses. In the dynamic cannabis marketplace, the functionality available in cannabis ERP provides the technological tools that companies need to thrive in a world with increasingly tighter profit margins and regulations.

 


Daniel Erickson, Director of Product Strategy, has been with ProcessPro since 1999. As the Director of Product Strategy, Daniel focuses on driving overall market success by ensuring products meet both current and future market demands. Leveraging his extensive understanding of process manufacturing, the unique business trends of this industry and information gathered from market analysis, customer feedback and regulatory compliance, he drives product decisions. Daniel has a passion for connecting the benefits of ProcessPro’s ERP solution and analytics software packages to batch process manufacturers and helping to effectively solve their key business challenges. Daniel has held a variety of positions within ProcessPro, including implementation, account management, product consulting, product management and sales, which has provided him an aptitude for manufacturing and the nuances within the food and beverage, nutraceutical, personal care, pharmaceutical, cannabis and chemical industries. His diverse experience with the customer base and within ProcessPro provides a strong foundation for his position.

 

Committee Blog: Trust In Cannabis – Why It Matters More Now Than Ever

by Tara Coomans, CEO of Avaans Public Relations
Member of NCIA’s Marketing and Advertising Committee

As a country, the U.S. is experiencing what can best be described as the “age of distrust.” While public distrust in institutions has been escalating for at least a decade, according to the annual Edelman Trust Barometer which has tracked trust in media, governments, businesses, and nonprofits since 2000. Social unrest and a global pandemic have escalated this distrust. Never has the public eyed institutions or businesses with such suspicion. 

Meanwhile, in our industry, the vaping crisis of summer 2019 hit our industry below the belt, aided by some bad actors knowingly flooding the illicit market with products that couldn’t meet stringent state testing. That crisis created a crisis of confidence in the overall cannabis industry-leading it into a bleak period which was only partially buoyed by the declaration that dispensaries were considered “essential businesses” during the COVID-19 pandemic, pro-cannabis outcomes in both voting booths and Congress, many thanks to NCIA’s national and local efforts. By supporting NCIA, you’re signaling industry commitment and that you value growing trust within the industry. 

Now, against the national backdrop of distrust and a COVID-19 vaccine that offers a glimmer of hope, it’s time to evaluate ourselves and our industry’s actions. Never has it been more crucial for all brands, but particularly our industry, to lean into actions and communications which consistently and powerfully earn the trust of investors and consumers. As an industry, we’re on an important precipice, what we do next will either ensure our credibility or tarnish it for years to come.

Consumers (and therefore investors) are looking at brands in a more holistic manner. Trust will be the single most valuable brand attribute.

Trust is defined on two spectrums: competence and ethics. 

For CEOs, CMO’s, and experts in our industry, the time is now to act and communicate from a place of authentically aligned communications. This alignment will require hyper levels of empathy and a constant pulse on the state of affairs affecting your customers. Consumer behavior is in flux now. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed consumers and now is the time for brands to align. According to the Edelman Barometer special report, Brands Amidst Crisis

  • The role of brands in reflecting the consumer’s desire to be viewed as a tastemaker or trendsetter has decreased 9%
  • Up 38% is spending time with family
  • 86% of consumers expect brands to solve both societal and personal problems, including proper treatment of employees and making product in a domestic market
  • The only values more important than trust to consumers are price and quality

Because consumer behavior is in flux, it’s never been more important to ensure internal and external values and communications align. Ironically, ensuring alignment supports the flexibility needed to respond quickly to changing behaviors or unexpected upheaval. 

Aligned communications means we act internally and externally in a consistent and emotionally intelligent manner that earns trust. It’s not just good for our industry, trust in brands has very real bottom-line implications including increased sales, increased investor opportunities, and reduced customer acquisition costs. In fact, according to Edelman Trust Barometer, high trust consumers have 75% more brand loyalty. 

Outstanding packaging and even quality products are the minimum expectations for today’s brands. But even those choices come under scrutiny from consumers if they don’t mirror consumer expectations and lifestyle. Therefore, earning trust starts at the very beginning. The earliest choices are powerful signals to consumers about brand values. 

It isn’t enough to simply sponsor a campaign or align with a social movement. While those choices can be powerful quivers in your trust arsenal, it feels and sounds hollow when the brand is suddenly thrusting itself into a conversation without looking at itself first. Consumers are increasingly aware of “trust washing.” 

92% of employees expect their employer’s CEO to speak up for issues ranging from income inequality to diversity and training for future jobs. An aligned trust-based strategy starts on the inside. Take a solid look at the ethos and ethics within your own company.

What are your company’s values?
What do you stand for?
How do you signal trust internally and how do you reward it?
Does your internal communication stand for your values?

The reason this internal step is critical is no matter what, your brand ethos is distilled into consumer interactions and communication, whether those communications are with dispensary workers or directly to the consumer, the experience will always stay with the brand. Imagine a dispensary worker making recommendations to a new-to-cannabis buyer, naturally, the dispensary worker has a huge amount of influence on the consumer’s impression of a new brand. And new-to-cannabis buyers are most likely to be loyal to their first brand, assuming the product meets expectations. 

Personal experience is the number one way to build trust with consumers. 59% of customers say personal experience matters the most.

What consumer interactions signal trust?
How do you manage poor reviews?
How do you handle customer inquiries?
How does your owned media reflect not only your brand values but those of your customers?

Personal experience is absolutely about product experience and brand interactions. Brand interactions at events will take on more importance in cannabis. Consumers will want to engage in an experiential way with cannabis brands and it won’t be at cannabis events exclusively, consumers will expect to see cannabis brands in all the same places they see alcohol brands, even if sales and sampling aren’t available, which means experiences will need to be multi-sensory and strongly personal. Choose your experiences carefully based on your brand audience and ethos. 

Earned media is second only to personal experience incredible trust-building. During the COVID-19 pandemic, trust in publications increased by 7%. Brands should look for opportunities in earned media that reflect their values. Branded content is another area where brands can use the credibility of publications. 

Experts are still considered credible sources (52%) and they far surpass celebrities (35%) and influencers (36%). As you consider brand strategies in 2021, take a careful look at who you’re leveraging and what role they play. Choose your experts carefully and ensure they are fully vetted. NCIA’s Marketing and Advertising Committee is developing an “experts directory” of carefully vetted industry professionals, this will be a key resource not only to event organizers, but CEOs and CMOs looking for credible, authentic experts. 

Our industry has so much to offer consumers, we provide very real opportunities for consumers to enhance their lives. We have been active on numerous social justice fronts from the very beginning. We may come from a historical place of rebellion, but often, even that rebellion came from a place of empathy and not just income. Consumers today are responding to companies who double down on trust and an aligned brand value system. There’s every reason to think the cannabis industry can do this better than anyone. Together, let’s lean into our values and seed trust not just in our companies, but in our industry. 

*All statistics come from Edelman Trust Barometer 2020, unless otherwise noted. 


Tara Coomans is the CEO of Avaans Media (formerly known as Primo PR), which has been working with hemp and THC brands and services since 2015 from startup through IPO.  Founded in 2008, Avaans Media brings a digitally forward and purpose-driven perspective to public relations. Avaans Media is based in Los Angeles with clients and team members distributed around the country including Washington D.C., New York and Denver.

Coomans is on NCIA’s Marketing & Advertising (MAC) committee and leads the MAC Experts Directory subcommittee for 2021. Coomans is a frequent writer and speaker on public relations, marketing, and social media topics.

Member Blog: 6 Human Resource Tips For Your Cannabis Company 

by Jacob Carlson, Co-founder and CEO of EZHire

The cannabis industry has been growing exponentially over the last few years and plenty of job opportunities are coming with it. As businesses grow, they need to increase staff… and that takes time and money.

Not only do companies have to find and interview clients, because of all the legal matters tied to the industry, they also have to run background checks. The onboarding process and paperwork is another important matter to be dealt with. 

Cannabis businesses must stay on the right side of the law by making sure their hiring process is done correctly, and that’s where human resources comes in. Here are some human resource tips you should be aware of when you are hiring to meet your company’s needs. 

Considering Partnering with an HR Company

If you don’t have an HR department, hiring one comes with its own set of complications. Instead of bringing on yet more employees, considering partnering with an HR company that offers these services.

There are many HR companies that specialize in working with cannabis companies. They are familiar with all the legal requirements and they will make sure that all your I’s are dotted and your T’s are crossed. They also have advanced software to ensure processes are as efficient as possible. 

Know About Upcoming Changes in Federal Banking and Payroll

For years, the legal gray areas associated with cannabis companies kept them from having access to federal banks, mortgaging and financing. Now federal policymakers are coming closer to passing legislation to give businesses access to federally insured banks. Once that occurs payroll processing will become easier. 

It is advisable to partner with an HR company that is aware of what the new legislation will entail so they can make the transition as seamless as possible. 

Each Employee Should Know What’s Expected of Them

Every company should communicate with employees so they know exactly what’s expected of them. This is especially important in a cannabis company where there are stricter rules and regulations. If an employee does not follow the proper procedures, the company may have to deal with legal issues. 

An employee should be aware of their responsibilities early on. This should be clearly explained in the job description and it should come into play in the training. Additional materials and meetings should be provided if updates are made. 

Run Background Checks and Make Sure I-9’s are Filled Out

When an employee is hired, he or she must complete an I-9 Employment Eligibility form. This ensures their identity and ability to work in the United States. It is necessary in every industry. The form must be held on to for a few months and it may be asked for during an audit. 

A background check is not always necessary but it’s a good move, especially in the cannabis industry. A clean background check gives you the confidence in knowing your employee will be honest and competent. 

Classify Employees Correctly

A cannabis industry typically has a variety of employees that can include part-time, full-time, 1099 contractors, seasonal, interns, and so on. Seasonal jobs are especially common as trimmers and holiday sales reps may not work for the company year-round. 

It is important to know how each employee should be classified so you can give them the proper paperwork during the onboarding process. 

Here are some steps you should take to ensure you are classifying your employees correctly.

  • Know the Difference Between Employees or Independent Contractors: If you are not sure how to tell the difference, there are resources available that can provide you with information. 
  • Know the Difference Between Exempt and Nonexempt Employees: Exempt employees are entitled to overtime while nonexempt employees are not. Their status depends on the type of work they do and how much they make. Different states handle this differently.

A good HR company will help you classify your company correctly to keep you from incurring penalties. 

Encourage Employee Retention

The hiring process takes time and money. In order to avoid hiring new employees, companies should integrate fair practices within the workplace. This includes: 

  • A Smooth Onboarding Process: Employees should be made to feel welcome during the onboarding process and they should be well trained so they know what’s expected of them. 
  • Create an Employee Handbook: This will provide additional clarification concerning an employee’s duties and the workforce procedures.
  • Pay a Fair Salary: Compensating workers fairly will boost retention.
  • Offer Opportunities for Upward Mobility: Workers should be given opportunities for promotion as well as training that can help them advance in their career field. 

The cannabis industry is growing in leaps and bounds. If your company is expanding, these tips will ensure that your hiring and payroll processes are above board. Which practices do you enforce to avoid penalties in your cannabis business?  


Jacob Carlson is the Co-Founder and CEO of EzHire Cannabis. EzHire is a talent engagement platform designed for the cannabis industry. Jacob is a serial entrepreneur having previously co-founded a corporate event service (Just Enjoy!) and social media automation tool (RapidCrowd), and he is primed for scaling his next venture with his team of technology veterans.

Hiring in the cannabis industry is hard, EzHire Cannabis makes it easy. We help businesses in the cannabis, CBD and hemp post jobs, review qualified candidates profiles with video interviews and share them among their team. If you are tired of weeding through thousands of unqualified applicants or struggling to find someone with specific experience, we can help

 

Committee Blog: Future-Proofing Your Business – 2021 Series Premier

by NCIA’s Cannabis Manufacturing Committee 

The future is coming and the cannabis (marijuana and hemp) industry is uniquely positioned to offer innovative approaches to best management practices in its manufacturing sector. In 2021, the National Cannabis Industry Association’s Cannabis Manufacturing Committee formed a new group focused on addressing sustainable practices, legal protections, and policy considerations to future-proof your cannabis manufacturing business. The series, Future-Proofing Your Business, will consist of blogs, podcasts, and expert panel discussions focused on providing insight into the coming regulations, processes, facilities, and consumable products. 

Extracts

With the coming vaping emissions and vape product potency regulations, the Future Proofing subcommittee will offer their expertise on what to expect and what manufacturers can do to support compliance and help protect the environment and public health. The outbreak of vaping-related respiratory illness in late 2019 demonstrated the damage a few bad actors can do in a marketplace where regulated and unregulated producers compete for consumer dollars. The committee will discuss these issues and more as manufacturers and regulators work together proactively to protect consumer health.

Processes

Manufacturing processes are evolving as the scientific understanding of cannabis consumables and their various effects and treatments deepens. In their efforts to protect environmental and worker health both inside and outside of the processing area, manufacturing best practices are changing. Regulators are also beginning to determine the standardization of these various processes in an effort to retain product quality without jeopardizing human and environmental health and safety. And new forms of competition will demand an increased focus on protecting intellectual assets. This second part of the Future-Proofing Your Business series will unpack sustainable manufacturing process design including software, equipment, and materials offering recommendations for regulatory approaches. 

Facilities

Building on the processes deployed in the future of manufacturing cannabis (marijuana and hemp) products, facilities will also need to consider more efficient design strategies to reduce the use of energy & waste, increase product safety, and safeguard worker and community health. The rapid pace of energy efficiency technologies development for all utilities means most industries, not just cannabis, are playing catch up. Automation is redefining the best practices surrounding product and employee safety. Increasingly stringent testing standards are demanding greater care for waste and community health. The committee will offer their insights into the technologies and practices that are becoming popular in this multi-industry-wide push for sustainability

Biosynthetic Manufacturing

The final topic to be addressed by the new Future-Proofing subcommittee in their 2021 series, will take a detailed look into the future of manufacturing techniques, specifically the use of biosynthetic manufacturing and how this will impact the industry. Tune in to learn more about bioreactors and their application for the concentrate market and genetic modification to cannabis (marijuana and hemp) consumable products.

Prepare to check out the first part of this integral Future-Proofing Your Business series brought to you by the Cannabis Manufacturing Committee

Coming, February 2021.

The 117th Congress – What To Watch

Before we dive into what to watch this Congress, we’d like to acknowledge the totally unacceptable and disgusting violence that besieged the Capitol recently. You can read NCIA’s statement on the insurrection here.


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

Photo By CannabisCamera.com

We’re barely halfway through January, and it already feels like so much has happened in 2021! We at NCIA anxiously watched along with the rest of the country to see who would be victorious in the Georgia Senate races and, subsequently, which party would control the U.S. Senate. Both of the Democrats, Rev. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff defeated their Republican opponents and won their races —- ensuring that the Senate will be split 50-50 with Vice President-elect Harris being the tiebreaker.

The 117th Congress has barely begun, but after Inauguration Day on January 20th, things will really take off here in the nation’s capital. Keep reading to see my answers to FAQ’s for the new Congress:

Whatever happened to the SAFE Banking Act?

During the 116th Congress, the SAFE Banking Act (H.R. 1595/S. 1200) became the first cannabis-related bill to be passed by a chamber of Congress. In September of 2019, SAFE came to the House Floor under a suspension of the rules and passed by a whopping 321-103. While the bill had a hearing in the Senate Banking Committee back in the summer of 2019, it never received a markup or moved further than that. In addition to the bill itself, the SAFE Banking Act was also included in not one, but two COVID-19 relief packages passed by the House, colloquially known as HEROES I & II. 

This session, the SAFE Banking Act will be back, and with even better chances to pass! The bill will be reintroduced in both the House and Senate in the next 1-2 months and we expect little to no changes to the text. Additionally, we’re also continuing to work with our Hill champions on this issue to see if we can get the language included in the next COVID-19 relief package — something that both President-elect Biden and Democratic leadership has said is pretty much priority number one. 

In the meantime, keep an eye out for reintroduction and for how many cosponsors the bill has when it’s dropped — when the 116th Congress ended, SAFE had already passed the House as but also had 33 Senate cosponsors — that’s one-third of the entire chamber!

What’s next for the MORE Act and comprehensive cannabis reform? Is legalization on the horizon?

Cannabis policy ended the year on a high note (no pun intended!) when the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment, and Expungement Act (H.R. 3884), commonly known as the MORE Act, passed out of the House of Representatives by a vote of 228-164. 

As I mentioned earlier, all eyes were on the Georgia Senate races as we strategized over what could be possible for the 117th Congress depending on the outcome. With the results in, we now have a better idea about what’s possible with comprehensive reform, but there’s still a lot of unknowns.

We know that the MORE Act will be reintroduced sometime in the coming months in both the House and Senate. In the Senate, the lead sponsor was Kamala Harris, who is now Vice President-elect, which means another Senator will have to pick up the torch. I can’t share with you who it’s going to be just yet, but trust me when I say they will be a wonderful lead and are a true champion for cannabis reform! 

A reintroduced MORE Act will likely have a good number of edits and changes, but the underlying intent of the bill will be the same: to remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act and help repair the harms the war on drugs has done — specifically to communities of color. 

We also know that comprehensive reform, in general, has a better chance of advancing given that Democrats now control the Senate. Sen. Schumer (D-NY) was quoted in October as saying if he’s reinstalled as Majority Leader he “will put this bill in play,” and “I think we’ll have a good chance to pass it”, talking about his own bill, the Marijuana Freedom and Opportunity Act (S. 1552)

All of that being said, legalization, or the passage of comprehensive reform is far from a done deal. Legislation requires 60 votes for passage in the Senate, and we have a lot of hard work to do to get to that level of support in the upper chamber. In the House, Democrats have an even slimmer majority now than during the 116th Congress, so we also have to make sure we don’t lose support there.

What about appropriations?

You’ve been involved in cannabis for a long time if you remember when the appropriations process was the only way to get Congress to talk about this issue. But now, with Democrats controlling both chambers, you may be hearing more about these amendments again.

Appropriations bills are legislation in Congress that “appropriates,” or sets aside, federal funds to be divided between specific federal government departments, agencies, and programs. Read more about this process and why it matters for cannabis here

Over the last few years, the House has continued to pass marijuana-related amendments but were unable to get through the Senate due to Republican control and a “gentleman’s agreement” between the Chair and Ranking Member of the Senate Appropriations Committee. But now, all of that will change. 

In the past, appropriations amendments have been introduced that touch on a multitude of issues: research, veterans, medical and adult-use cannabis, hemp, banking… the list goes on! In this session, expect to see cannabis-related amendments included in the final budget. Just remember that budget bills must be passed annually, so anything that comes into law this way must be renewed again next year!

What’s going to happen at the committee level?

If you’re following cannabis policy at the federal level, definitely keep your eyes on what’s happening in various congressional committees. Given who controls both chambers, all of the committees will now be chaired by Democrats, which means you’re going to see a lot of cannabis-related bills come up for hearings and markups. Some I’ll be keeping my eye on, including both chambers’ appropriations, financial services, tax, and judiciary committees. 

The opportunities for reforming our outdated cannabis laws have never been brighter than they are right now as we begin the 117th Congress. Bills are going to begin dropping left and right — and that’s because there’s a ton of excitement, enthusiasm, and optimism about what we can accomplish over the next two years.

Want to learn more about what’s possible? Make sure your company is an active member of NCIA and register for our next members-only webinar with our government relations team on Wednesday, January 27, or, if you can’t make it, hop on over to NCIA Connect to chat with us and learn more about what we’re working on in D.C.!

Member Blog: How to Launch a Marijuana Gift Card Program for Your Dispensary

by Gary Cohen, CEO of Cova Software

Gift cards are an excellent way to increase brand awareness and an opportunity to generate new customers for your dispensary. Research shows that these tiny pieces of plastic can boost revenue by up to 40%. They are indeed invaluable tools for upselling as well, as 75% of recipients tend to overspend on the value stored in their cards. Starting a gift card program requires minimal investment and is a proven tool to stimulate bottom-line revenues and enhance the customer experience.

Benefits of Gift Cards

A well-oiled gift card program has the potential to bring at least two customers into your store — the buyer and the receiver. A study by First Data showed that 11% of gift card receivers noted they had never or rarely visited the merchant location before receiving the gift card, and over a third became regular customers after redeeming the card. Also, if your loyalty program offers gift cards as an incentive, a customer will be encouraged to spend more money when receiving points redeemable for a gift card in the future. These cards don’t just boost your retail profits but also serve as tiny billboards for your brand.  

Following are five important points to consider when launching a gift card program for your cannabis retail store:

#1. Choose and Configure the Best Solution

Choosing a gift card program that integrates seamlessly with your existing POS system is the most reliable solution. If your POS does not offer any gift card functionality, consider an upgrade to a more modern cloud-based cannabis POS system. You may also opt for standalone third-party gift cards that can be sold through your POS as SKUs, but this solution is not recommended as there is a risk of data slipping through the cracks. 

#2. Create a Gift Card Strategy

Developing a gift card strategy is a crucial step in designing your program. Is your gift card-program meant to cover your bases across major holidays and slower seasons? Or is it supposed to be an all-encompassing component to your loyalty program and upsells? It is necessary to plan and design a program to meet your requirements and customer needs for gift card sales and redemptions at your cannabis dispensary. Also, choosing customizable branded gift cards will allow you to have total control over the look, logo, and design.

#3. Stay Compliant with Regulations

Cannabis is a highly regulated industry, and retail gift cards must fall in line with specific marketing and advertising restrictions. However, with an easy to manage, activate and track gift program that ensures end-to-end compliance as per local regulations, you can sell more gift cards and add to your revenues without the risk of any legal ramifications.

#4. Plan Gift Cards Orders and Sales

Your supply of gift cards must meet demand, and you must never run low on its inventory. Estimate demand based on your sales volume, holiday season, and target demographics, and plan your order accordingly. Placing gift cards at the payment counter is a great way to capitalize on impulse purchases. Train your staff to recommend gift cards to customers when appropriate, and establish incentives for them to sell the most cards.

#5. Promote, Track, and Report

Marketing online and organizing giveaways on social media are excellent tactics to build brand awareness. Capitalizing on holiday season sales and occasions that focus on gift-giving will further propel your cannabis gift card sales. You must also track, measure, and report your program’s results regularly against other established KPIs for your business. An integrated reporting system provides you with insights easily extracted from data within your POS so that you can focus on making your gift cards program a success.

Gift cards are one of the safest and most convenient ways to improve cash flow without increasing COGS. A branded gift card that is fully-integrated with your POS system is simple to set up, easy to manage, flexible, and affordable. However, just implementing a gift card program is not enough, and you must have a robust marketing and sales strategy for your gift cards as well. With the complexity that comes with shopping for cannabis products, your marketing campaigns must enhance brand visibility and be able to communicate to customers that the best gift they can give is the gift of choice.

Download your free copy of the Ultimate Guide to GIFT CARDS for Cannabis Businesses by COVA, which is a comprehensive guide to the best ways to use gift cards in the cannabis industry, with detailed information on how to scale and sustain retail growth through a gift card program.


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.

 

Member Blog: Hemp Production, Testing, and the FDA

by Charlotte Peyton, Independent Consultant, EAS Consulting Group

The new U.S. Domestic Hemp Program will approve cultivation plans issued by states and Indian Tribes and can approve plans submitted by producers that live in a state or Tribe where plans are not already submitted and where hemp production is not forbidden. According to the USDA website, 28 states and Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands have had their hemp plans approved by the USDA, 11 states have plans under review, 5 states have obtained a license from USDA, 5 are electing to continue under the 2014 Hemp Pilot Program, Colorado is resubmitting their plan, Alaska is drafting their plan, and Idaho is awaiting state legislation. What is surprising is that some of the biggest hemp growing states, such as Montana (44,910 acres), Colorado (20,330 acres) and Kentucky (18,910 acres) do not yet have their plans approved by the USDA. Montana is choosing to operate under the 2014 Hemp Pilot Program, Colorado is resubmitting their plan to USDA and Kentucky’s plan is still under review.

While there has been a rush to plant hemp by farmers eager to cultivate a high-priced crop with enormous demand, there has not been the same rush to set up extraction facilities. This is a critical step for the manufacture of cannabidiol (CBD) raw material. Hemp must be dried properly before extraction or it will rot so cultivating a plant that is susceptible to rot without an assigned material manufacturer (extractor) is risky. The impact of the differences between hemp and typical crop cultivation for farmers and the lack of extraction companies has been disastrous for some farmers. Hemp must be monitored for THC levels as the crop grows because any hemp harvested with an amount of THC over 0.3% must be destroyed. This is completely different from soy or cotton cultivation. And when the cost of clones to plant in a large field is included, the potential loss increases dramatically. 

Then there are the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) hemp/CBD product issues. While there has been positive movement towards the legal sale of hemp products on the USDA cultivation side, the FDA has authority over foods and dietary supplements, and the FDA’s position is that the addition of hemp/CBD to a food or dietary supplement is “violative.”  There is speculation that dietary supplement FDA rules are imminent but until the FDA makes those rules public, sales of finished product is still illegal.

In a Consumer Update statement revised on November 25, 2019 the FDA clearly stated that “it cannot conclude that CBD is generally recognized as safe (GRAS) among qualified experts for its use in human or animal food.” Numerous warning letters have been issued by FDA to CBD manufacturers for disease claims about their products. Whether sold as dietary supplements, conventional foods, cosmetics, animal food, so of the violative disease claims include pain relief, anti-inflammatory, diabetes, acne, anxiety, depression, and cancer. For example, one Warning Letter issued by FDA on November 22, 2019, cites 45 diseases. FDA has stated that CBD in products sold as dietary supplements does not meet the definition of a dietary ingredient in the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (321(ff)(B)(i)(ii)). This provision clarifies that a dietary ingredient cannot be a substance that has been approved as an active ingredient in a drug. FDA has approved CBD as an active pharmaceutical ingredient in the drug Epidiolex. Although the FDA is only taking enforcement action on companies making products that contain disease claims, once the disease claim is made the FDA will cite other regulatory enforcement issues. Companies not making disease claims have not been targeted for enforcement yet. Several states, including New York and Oregon, are following the FDA’s lead by banning some products containing CBD, mostly infused food. 

In addition to these challenges, there have been a series of class-action lawsuits filed against hemp/CBD manufacturers. These are based on the fact that the FDA has stated hemp and CBD is illegal in food and dietary supplements. The lawsuits claim the plaintiffs suffered economic loss because the products were not dietary supplements according to the FDA. The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals is allowing the consumer injury requirement necessary to sustain a complaint to be satisfied by the allegation that an FDA product is “illegal.” This ruling may open the floodgates for more class-action lawsuits.

All testing of hemp must be performed by a laboratory with a Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) license. This is because hemp that does not meet the less than 0.3% tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) does not fall under the industrial hemp definition and is still under the jurisdiction of the DEA. A list of U.S.-based licensed laboratories is available on the DEA website and also on the USDA website. Pesticide screening is one of the tests dictated for hemp in the US Domestic Hemp Program. Ten pesticides have been approved for use on hemp by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).  The latter is a notable step since the EPA could not do this before the removal of hemp from The Controlled Substances Act. Nine of the allowed pesticides are biopesticides and one is a conventional pesticide.

Then there is the matter of CBD as either a full-spectrum oil vs. an isolate. Unlike marijuana flower which is a very popular product, hemp flower is very rarely sold at the retail level. Full-spectrum oil is extracted from the plant, and depending on the solvent used, produces an oil with the same, or close to the same, naturally occurring chemicals from the plant. The oil, therefore, includes all the cannabinoids present along with any terpenes, lipids, or other compounds present in the plant. Full-spectrum oil is a botanical extract and is a dark thick oil. Isolate is produced by separating the constituents of the full spectrum oil by molecular weights or boiling points to have very pure chemicals in the 95%+ purity range. CBD isolate is a white crystalline substance and bears the greatest resemblance to synthetic raw material and at its purest form cannot be distinguished as coming from a plant in the dirt or a synthesized chemical. Full-spectrum oil bears the greatest resemblance to a botanical dietary supplement. It remains to be seen what the FDA will allow in the future.

I believe in this industry and I am rooting for the pioneers who have taken all the risk thus far, but am concerned about the lack of understanding over FDA’s authority particularly as this industry aims to transition to a regulated future. Most don’t understand FDA’s purview or don’t think it applies to them or their products. When that day comes, bringing the hemp industry into compliance with federal regulations will be challenging. 

Hemp pioneers deserve to benefit from their labor and the risk they have taken. For those hemp product companies that do not think compliance is worth the effort or cost, there are many FDA compliant human food, animal food, dietary supplement, pharmaceutical, or cosmetic companies that are waiting to take your business…


Charlotte Peyton supports EAS Consulting Group hemp, CBD and hemp clients as well as that of dietary supplement and pharmaceuticals. As an independent consultant she assists with projects ranging from startup through manufacturing and support. Her expertise includes quality, regulatory and management, method development and method validation for FDA regulated drug, dietary supplement, and bioanalytical samples. She has extensive experience in writing validation protocols, reports and SOPs and assists with implementation of stability programs and report writing for finished products.

EAS Consulting Group, a member of the Certified family 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. www.easconsultinggroup.com

Committee Blog: Future-Proofing Your Business – How Adopting Industry Standards Improves Your Bottom Line and Reduces Your Risks

by NCIA’s Facilities Design Committee

By developing and adopting standards now, operators in the cannabis space can avoid unnecessary future expenses they might incur when needing to rework established facilities to meet upcoming federal standards or third-party compliance

Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle in 1905 led to the Pure Food and Drug Act in 1906. The food sector has matured through additional governmental regulations, industry-led initiatives, consumer and trade guidelines and standards, and more recently, the Food Safety Modernization Act. Over one hundred years of progress helped to ensure what is arguably the safest food supply in the world. By comparison California, in 1996, 24 years ago, legalized Medical Cannabis. Since then, 36 states have legalized cannabis for medical or adult use. Confusingly, that is 36 different sets of regulations, none harmonized. And no consensus on how FDA will regulate cannabis when it is descheduled.

But investors and producers in the cannabis sector are seeking direction on how to future proof their businesses so they can manage the transition from fragmented state-level regulations to rigorous federal oversight. Developing and adopting cannabis industry best practices may be the greatest insurance available. 

NCIA’s Facility Design Committee is one of the few groups beginning this effort. The group has representatives from operations, regulatory compliance, quality, equipment vendors, design and construction, and allied industries. 

Standards can focus on several areas. Because the cannabis industry deals with substances that are ingested into the human body, standards that support consumer health and safety are paramount. Much of the current practice in the food sector, organized under the topic of current Good Manufacturing Practices (GMPs), can port over to Cannabis with some adjustments. These practices protect consumers and your brand. GMPs have, as a foundation, many aspects of facility and process design, but standards for these don’t yet exist. However, by developing and adopting standards now, operators in the cannabis space can avoid unnecessary future expenses they might incur when needing to rework established facilities to meet upcoming federal standards or third-party compliance. They also can control their own destiny, in effect, by establishing approaches that later can be considered as regulators write the rules in the future. 

As operators themselves, a number of our committee members have felt the direct impact of product recalls due to a lack of clear delineation at the intersection of cannabis and food safety regulations. Depending on the scope of the recall, a company can be crippled by not properly understanding and adhering to a common set of standards across the industry, especially when concerning safe food handling practices and similar regulations that control consumable product manufacturing. For example, one of our committee members had to recall a batch of infused gummies because public health regulators used safe food handling regulations to determine that the gummies were exposed for too long in a potentially contaminated environment during the setting process. Had the operator adhered to standards commonly used in food production, they would have avoided the costly impact of the product recall. With nearly 15% of flower failing tests for yeast and mold in Colorado, the cannabis industry has become no stranger to costly recalls.

Standards not only minimize risk to the consumer and the business, but also improve quality and consistency. Improve employee NPS (Net Promoter Scores). Reduce cost and production downtime. Increase the inherent value of the business. And offer a brand message that increases sales. 

Nearly all related industries follow best practices, known as cGMPS (current Good Manufacturing Practices), which can be adopted for our industry. If we look to examples from the food sector, you find mature and professional regulations at the federal level and experienced inspectors from USDA, FDA and state departments of Health or Agriculture, as well as global standards from the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and the World Health Organization (WHO), initiatives from trade customers such as Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI), equipment certifications from European Hygienic Equipment Design Group (EHEDG), NSF International, and 3-A Sanitary Standards. This constellation of resources is not yet published for the cannabis sector.

But the work is beginning with NCIA’s Facility Design Committee. Groups including 120-year-old ASTM International have established the D37 Committee on Cannabis, Safe Quality Foods (a GFSI scheme) is working on a Cannabis Supplement program, and Underwriters Laboratories (UL) and ISO recently announced the launch of a standards initiative at the end of November 2020. 

Join us in this exciting journey. Become involved, and stay aware of and ahead of the pending regulations. We don’t have 114 years to get this right! 


The Facilities Design Committee (FDC) focuses on providing NCIA members and regulators a framework and information about facilities design options through which legal producers can plan for GMP level production as the market transitions from a state to a federally regulated industry.

 

 

Committee Blog: An Introduction to HVACD for Indoor Plant Environments – Why We Should Include a “D” for Dehumidification

by NCIA’s Facilities Design Committee

Transpiration and VPD are two fundamental components of plant vitality, and heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems are one of the most critical considerations for an indoor cannabis cultivator. HVAC alone doesn’t tell the full story of environmental control for cultivation facilities. The term HVAC is typically used to refer to the cooling, heating, or ventilation systems in a building, and while it technically includes dehumidification in most forms, it does not directly highlight the significant dehumidification requirements necessary to maintain optimum plant health inside indoor cultivation spaces. In order to emphasize the importance of dehumidification in the mechanical equipment sizing and selection process, the controlled environment horticulture industry would benefit from moving toward the concept of heating, ventilation, air conditioning, and dehumidification (HVACD) as the common term for these systems.

“HVAC” Challenges

The term HVAC is typically used to reference conventional air conditioning and heating systems designed for temperature control to provide a comfortable environment for people. This is clearly demonstrated in the very design of these systems – for example, sensible heat ratios of commercial HVAC equipment are pretty high in order to meet the loads generated by people, lighting, and miscellaneous equipment found in offices. Plants grown in enclosed spaces have different needs than people do. Of particular interest is the large amount of dehumidification that needs to be performed on a daily basis to maintain an optimum vapor pressure deficit (VPD). 

When you apply a standard HVAC system to indoor horticulture, the instant the sensible load is removed from the space (i.e. the lights turn off), the air conditioning unit reaches the lower deadband of the specified temperature set point and shuts off. In the process of bringing the temperature down, we have raised the relative humidity to the detriment of the plants. Further, despite being mostly sensible cooling machines, conventional HVAC systems provide most of the dehumidification capacity in an indoor cultivation space, and that capacity is now inactive during the dark period.

Traditionally, growers would install stand-alone, pocket dehumidifiers to handle the moisture removal requirements that the air conditioning units cannot meet. There are a handful of challenges with this approach that can negatively impact plant health when scaling into industrial-scale operations. Most standalone dehumidifiers dry the air with mechanical refrigeration and in the process add hot air into the room, which then needs to be cooled by additional cooling equipment to maintain temperature. Another challenge is the numerous condensate drains throughout the growing space that are high risk for clogging and quickly leading to pest and pathogen proliferation which are potential GMP and GFSI compliance risks. The separate cooling and dehumidification systems typically do not have communication and control amongst them and ultimately “fight” against each other for temperature and relative humidity setpoints. Additional pest vectors can come into play when the HVAC contractor enters the cultivation or curing space to make repairs on mechanical equipment that is mounted above plants. Above all, maintaining cleanliness in the space can be challenging with many mechanical units perched above a dynamic plant canopy.

Dehumidification, or removing humidity from a room that is filled with water vapor as a result of plant transpiration, is arguably the biggest environmental challenge in controlled environment horticulture. When you size an HVAC system for human comfort or server rooms, the primary focus is temperature control (or sensible load). When selecting and sizing an HVACD system for plants to thrive, it’s all about the latent load, plant transpiration and VPD. Excess humidity is roughly twice as difficult to remove as excess heat from lights, so an effective system needs to be designed as a dehumidifier first and an air conditioner second. Integrated dehumidification needs to be at the beginning of every HVAC conversation, and a primary focus of every system.

The benefits of including dehumidification as a critical component

To maximize plant vitality, two fundamental components to understand are transpiration and VPD. Put simply, VPD is the humidity difference (or deficit) between the inside of a leaf and the environmental conditions surrounding that leaf. It is this humidity difference that draws water from the roots of a plant, through the stem and out of the leaf tissue, otherwise known as transpiration. This process is critical to photosynthesis and optimizing plant production, and it’s all directly related to the levels of humidity in a given room. As humidity is drawn out of the leaf, dehumidification must be used to remove the humidity from the environment and maintain appropriate VPD levels. Without dehumidification, humidity builds inside the room, plant growth and plant health are negatively impacted, and conditions become ideal for pests and pathogens. 

Properly-designed dehumidification creates consistent and precise environmental conditions across the plant canopy, mitigating risk against issues like powdery mildew and botrytis. Well-executed dehumidification allows growers to control their VPD and drive plant health. At the end of the day, a stable climate sets a strong foundation of cultural control for a facility to maximize quality biomass while limiting crop loss associated with pest and pathogen issues.

Why does this all matter? Because properly sized and commissioned HVACD systems empower the cultivator to maximize production efficiency, reduce the risk of production downtime, and promote growth. 

HVACD will change industry standards and best practices

Collectively updating the industry’s knowledge and understanding surrounding dehumidification highlights the true challenges of growing plants indoors, and the need for purpose-built equipment and controls that optimize the environment based on every stage of the plant life cycle. Plants are living organisms that have different needs at different times, and mechanical equipment should be designed and manufactured around this concept. 

We can draw a comparison to this concept by looking at indoor horticulture lighting systems. When the industry began to develop new terms like Photosynthetic Photon Flux Density (PPFD), the phrase “PPFD for plants because lumens are for humans” came to be. Meaning that if we are measuring lumens, we are prioritizing people in the space as opposed to the plants. This same mindset should apply to all mechanical equipment involved in a cultivation facility.

Now that more scientific studies and data are becoming available on topics like plant transpiration, dehumidification, and VPD as a driving force in plant vitality, it is clear that there is a better way to think about climate control when applied to controlled environment horticulture. HVAC focuses on the sensible (or temperature) cooling that keeps people happy indoors, while HVACD focuses on the latent cooling (or moisture removal) that keeps plants happy indoors. Both are critical concepts that must be considered during the design of an indoor cannabis cultivation facility to ensure both people and plants are happy indoors.

Critical Dehumidification Requirements for other Rooms in an Integrated Cannabis Grow/Manufacturing Facility

Extending the discussion downstream of horticulture to other areas of the facility, humidity control plays a critical role in profitability, food safety, asset utilization, and operating efficiency. 

Humidity control in the Curing Room and the awareness of any air exchange with building areas adjacent to Cure is important. More broadly, any room-to-room pressure differentials can transfer air with different humidity levels. 

Food safety is enhanced by considering humidity control, usually dehumidification. Any cold surfaces below the dew point of the room can cause condensation, which can lead to microbiological growth. Room environments controlled so that the water activity (aW) of the cannabis is maintained between 0.55 and 0.65, will also help limit mold growth and the associated mycotoxins. 

In many cases, there are special dehumidification requirements, such as in an equipment drying room after warewashing, or to dry out a room and return it to operation after washing and sanitizing. HVACD designers need to coordinate closely with process or manufacturing specialists to be aware of any process exhausts, combustion air requirements, or high outside air exchanges. That additional outside air and the humidity carried in with it, must be considered. 

And for Marijuana Infused Products (MIPs), specifically gummies and chocolates, the primary food safety control is low water activity, rather than a robust kill step, so precise humidity control is again a critical issue.

Even further, packaging machinery operates more efficiently if the flow characteristics of the cannabis are a key operating parameter. Moist cannabis will adhere to machinery and create other problems that slow run rates and cause downtime. This problem can occur with any weight fillers or the pre-roll machines. 

All told, moisture can be both your friend and foe in a wide variety of cannabis endeavors. The ability to maintain the appropriate relative humidity, in addition to temperature, in each different type of room in a cannabis production facility is a key factor in a successful operation.


The Facilities Design Committee (FDC) focuses on providing NCIA members and regulators a framework and information about facilities design options through which legal producers can plan for GMP level production as the market transitions from a state to a federally regulated industry.

 

 

Member Blog: Augmented Reality CBD, Cannabis Product Labels – Entertainment Paves Path to Education

by Gary Paulin, VP of Sales and Client Services at Lightning Labels

Everyone loves good, entertaining stories. In part, their value lies in information — and education — sticking with recipients long after the storytelling has ended.

There’s a correlation in this to the value of Augmented Reality (AR) CBD and cannabis labels — which provide a novel, entertaining way to capture and keep audience attention. Along the way, product-makers have an opportunity to provide credibility-enhancing education about products, trends, quality control, and the like.

More than ever, consumers want to feel their products protect them. Likewise, cannabis and CBD manufacturer reputation and revenues hinge on consumers feeling safe using their products, and clear about proper (and improper) uses.

Augmented Reality brings interaction and product labeling together, using smart device apps, and even your smart phone’s camera to create an enhanced user experience. When viewers download a related smartphone app and point it at the product’s label, they can see an array of different options including videos, 2D/3D content, social media sharing options, and content that enables seeing how products appear in the real world. A web-based interaction can be launched using your phone’s camera – just open your camera app and point it toward a QR code.   In either case, the AR experience is initiated, and interacting with brand labels this way is fun, interesting, and can be extremely educational.

In many ways, it’s like hearing and seeing a story. When connected to useful, practical educational information, AR can fully address common and compelling consumer concerns at a time when fears about safety and health are at an all-time high.

In turn, this can assist manufacturers looking to gain another competitive edge when it comes to consumer awareness, preference, and sentiment. This further strengthens the labels’ role as the front door to product marketing and sales.

TrendHunter.com, dedicated to trend identification, notes that AR is gaining popularity in a variety of industries, ranging from food and beverage to cannabis. Regarding labels, the site notes: “The food and beverage industry adopts augmented reality-based labels… The use of AR in food labels is on the rise, with brands using such technology to both engage and educate their customers on the products they’re considering, or have already purchased. Such items cater to consumers’ continued interest in gamification, and add an element of interactivity that tends to be limited in product packaging.”

TrendHunter.com continues: “Though consumers tend to go online and research the details pertaining to products they purchase, the amount of information to sort through can be overwhelming. Thus, having brands do some of the work in relation to product education allows consumers the freedom to purchase in-person. With tech-integrations into labeling and packaging, this process is streamlined for consumers.”

Specifically targeting cannabis, TrendHunter.com emphasizes: “Virtual and augmented reality enters the cannabis space… The merging of augmented and virtual realities with the cannabis industry is on the rise as brands look to offer immersive experiences for connoisseurs and beginners alike. These platforms offer benefits like virtual product libraries and augmented package engagement — prioritizing both informative and creative experiences for viewers… For novice consumers, being informed about this emerging space is crucial in order to alleviate some of the apprehension they feel when they’re considering consuming a substance that was once attached with stigma and misinformation.”

Here are some hands-on, straightforward ways that AR-powered cannabis and CBD product labels can engage and educate consumers:

  • Show products being manufactured, establishing quality controls, purity and other credibility-building examples along the way;
  • Relate customer stories and reviews endorsing products, benefits and efficacy;
  • Address claims and controversies within the industry or involving the company itself;
  • Document complete tracking of products from seed to shelf, proving authenticity and quality control;
  • Provide ways (and encouragement) for consumers to interact with a brand via AR;
  • Offer easy social media sharing options, so that individual consumers can become brand information hubs via their networks.

Gary Paulin is VP of Sales and Client Services at Lightning Labels, a Denver-based custom label printer that uses state-of-the-art printing technology to provide affordable, full-color custom labels and custom stickers of all shapes and sizes. Contact: sales@lightninglabels.com; 800.544.6323 or 303.481.2304.

 

Commmittee Blog: NCIA’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee Offers Critiques and Recommendations for Illinois Social Equity Dispensary Licensing Process

Illinois Cannabis shutterstock_1229211757

by NCIA’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee

We are NCIA’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee (DEIC), comprising experienced professionals representing a diverse range of backgrounds. In response to the early results of the Illinois Adult Use Dispensary application process, and with the interest of supporting Illinois’ Social Equity efforts, we felt compelled to reach out and offer our analysis and recommendations.

While the creation of the Social Equity Program in the Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act and Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulations (“IDFPR”) implementation of the licensing scheme was well-meaning and intentioned, the recent litany of lawsuits and outcry from advocacy groups following Illinois’ inaugural issuance of cannabis licenses indicates heavy criticism. As demonstrated thus far, the Social Equity Program appears limited in its ability to capture a sufficient representation of persons most harmed by the War on Drugs in Illinois in business licensure and ownership, or to generate the opportunities for restorative justice and building generational wealth for such persons as hoped. 

Our intention with this letter is to state our express desire to lend the expertise and resources of NCIA’s DEIC to support Illinois legislators in crafting Illinois’ licensing and regulatory systems in a manner that reflects the Social Equity Program’s laudable mission of reducing barriers to cannabis business ownership, and establishing a legal cannabis industry that is equitable and accessible to those most harmed by the disparate enforcement of drug-related laws in Illinois.  Furthermore, we hope to lend support to local organizations building toward that same goal, and to form a coalition as we all strive to rectify the harmful effects of prohibition and the War on Drugs.

At this time, and pending further collaboration with local officials, NCIA’s DEIC makes the following recommendations for your consideration.  For further understanding of the analysis supporting these recommendations, please see the attached report.

For IDFPR to move forward with license scoring and issuance as soon as possible, we suggest the following:

  • Removing the required possession of premises and overhead to hold on to property (not required of dispensary applications and may bankrupt existing applicants awaiting results)
  • Ensuring oversight of KPMG (the 3rd-party firm hired by the State of Illinois to score the applications) by persons of color and social equity representatives
  • Allowing for a documented appeals process internally with KPMG results before issuing them to all applicants
  • Scrutinizing Operating Agreements in the rubric and gradient to ascertain and avoid predatory or straw-man agreements

Moving forward, reasonable transparency would include knowing what the makeup and process was for KPMG in making their first evaluations, and what the process will look like for the re-scoring to avoid conflicts of interest. Specifically, IDFPR can ensure transparency by making the following information public: 

  • Evaluation Rubric
  • Composition of the Reviewers
  • Scoring Process and Determination of Grading
  • Frequency of KPMG Meetings
  • KPMG Public Relations Contact
  • Timeline of Events During the Scoring Process
  • Lessons Learned and Plan for Improvement on Future Scoring Rounds 

For future rounds of applications, we offer these recommendations:

  • Pre-qualifying social equity applicants for state funding to ensure economic empowerment in the application process
  • Providing a path forward for those who are not (yet) qualified to operate a cannabis business, but are qualified as social equity applicants
  • Allowing for 100% Social Equity Applicant owned businesses to qualify for cannabis experience points without partnering with a multi-state operator (“MSO”)
  • Issuing delivery licenses for social equity operators 

We also express our support for the recommendations made by the Cannabis Business Association of Illinois’ Minority Access Committee, in their October 5, 2020, letter to Governor Pritzker. (see here)

Finally, we appreciate the efforts taken by Governor Pritzker, the Illinois legislature, and IDFPR thus far to address disparities in the application process and commend Governor Pritzker for taking leadership on this important issue. Allowing this first generation of applicants to address deficiencies in their applications, as it was originally intended to allow them to do, offers another opportunity to enter the lottery system, which we recognize and appreciate. 

Additionally, the commission of a disparity study is commendable and should prove helpful in understanding what went wrong and how to improve. If anything, we hope our expertise and professional experience will assist in this process and in the effort to improve upon the mistakes of the past to achieve a more diverse, inclusive, and socially equitable future. 

Thank you for your time and attention to this matter. Please let us know if we can assist in any way. 

Sincerely,

The National Cannabis Industry Association
Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee

The full letter and analysis can be found here.

Member Blog: Rolling Out Legal Cannabis in New Jersey – 15 Key Points from the Proposed Law

by Charles J. Messina, Esq. and Daniel Pierre, Esq. of Genova Burns LLC

Many are thrilled that the Garden State will finally allow recreational use of cannabis for adults aged 21 years and older. Before recreational use can become legal, however, we have to wait for Trenton to pass a law that will regulate New Jersey’s cannabis marketplace. Determined to get the ball rolling, Senators Nicholas Scutari and Stephen Sweeney recently introduced a 200+ page bill, S-21, to start the process for legalization. This article highlights major points from the bill you should know if you’re looking to join this emerging industry. 

  • Is adult-use (recreational) of cannabis currently legal in New Jersey?

No. Although New Jersey voters approved the referendum that amended the State Constitution to legalize the recreational use of cannabis for adults age 21 years and older, recreational use is not legal until New Jersey lawmakers pass a bill that regulates recreational use of cannabis.

  • When will New Jersey lawmakers pass the enabling law? 

It is uncertain when the enabling law will pass. But Senator Nicholas Scutari said he wants the bill to hopefully pass before the end of this month. Two days after the referendum passed in New Jersey, he and Senator Stephen Sweeney introduced Bill S-21 – “New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory, Enforcement Assistance, and Marketplace Modernization Act.” If passed, the bill will legalize the personal use of cannabis for adults subject to regulation by the Cannabis Regulatory Commission. 

  • What is the Cannabis Regulatory Commission (CRC)? 

The CRC is a panel of five appointed individuals who will be responsible to oversee the development, regulation, and enforcement of use and sale of cannabis in New Jersey. The CRC will also implement the legislation that Governor Murphy will ultimately sign to legalize recreational use within the state.

  • Who are the CRC members? 

As of today, only two appointees have been named – Dianna Houenou, who will serve as the CRC Chair, and Krista Nash as a member. Although we are still waiting for the remaining three members to be named, we know that Jeff Brown – the Assistant Commissioner of the Department of Health, who currently leads the medicinal marijuana program in New Jersey – has been tapped to become the first Executive Director of the CRC. 

  • What are the CRC’s powers? 

The CRC has the authority to, among other things, adopt, amend or repeal regulations that control the cannabis marketplace. It can also grant, refuse, suspend, revoke, cancel, or take actions otherwise limiting licenses or conditional licenses related to cannabis. 

  • What are the different types of cannabis licenses contemplated in the proposed legislation? 

Currently, there are six classes of licenses:  

  1. Class 1 Cannabis Grower license – permits growing, cultivation, or production of cannabis in New Jersey. 
  2. Class 2 Cannabis Processor license – permits manufacturing, preparing, and packaging of cannabis. 
  3. Class 3 Cannabis Wholesale license – permits the storage and sale of cannabis strictly for resale. 
  4. Class 4 Cannabis Distributor license – permits the intrastate transportation of cannabis in bulk. 
  5. Class 5 Cannabis Retailer license – permits the sale of cannabis directly to members of the public. 
  6. Class 6 Cannabis Delivery license – permits delivery of cannabis from a retailer to the public. 

Also, the bill was recently amended to allow the CRC to create a new license category. 

  • Can individuals or small businesses apply for any of the licenses? 

Yes. Under the current version of the bill, at least 25% of the total number of licenses in each class are reserved solely for microbusinesses. “Microbusiness” is defined as a person or entity with business operations that employ no more than 10 employees. Reserving 25% of licenses for small businesses is intended to, among other things, prevent interstate megabrands from completely dominating the marketplace in New Jersey. 

  • Are there any restrictions placed on microbusinesses? 

Yes, in order to qualify as a microbusiness under the proposed legislation, you cannot process more than 1,000 cannabis plants each month, operate a cannabis establishment that occupies more than 2,500 square feet, or acquire more than 1,000 pounds of cannabis in dried form for retail, resale, or processing each month. 

  • Can I personally grow cannabis from my house for personal use or retail? 

No. There is currently no “home grow” component to the bill.

  • Can I hold two classes of licenses concurrently? 

As currently written, there are certain restrictions with respect to holding two classes of licenses concurrently. In particular, once retail sales of cannabis begin, there is supposed to be an 18-month limitation on the number and classes of licenses any one licensee may hold. During this 18-month period, the current bill prohibits a licensed grower, processor, wholesaler, distributor, or delivery service licensee to also become a licensed retailer, and vice versa. Also, a grower or processor may only concurrently hold two licenses – either another grower or processor license – for now.

  • How do I apply for a license? 

Not so fast…first, the remaining appointment of the CRC Commissioners needs to happen along with the promulgation of regulations by the CRC. Then at some point in 2021, an application round for licenses should be announced. Each application for an annual license to operate a cannabis business must be submitted to the CRC.  A separate license or conditional license will be required for each location where a cannabis establishment seeks to operate (or for the location of each premises from which a cannabis distributor or delivery service seeks to operate). Renewal applications for another annual license may be filed up to 90 days prior to the expiration of the establishment’s, distributor’s, or delivery service’s license.

  • What should I be doing now to prepare for obtaining a license?

Too much to write in one paragraph! But, after forming your application team and getting your corporate formation ducks in a row, one of the first things you should be thinking about is location. 

  • Does that mean municipal approval is required in order to open a cannabis business? 

Good guess. The CRC will require proof of local support for the suitability of the location of your proposed cannabis business. There were 70+ municipalities that were intending to ban canna-businesses. This number is likely to drop as municipalities should be able to charge up to a 2% tax on cannabis sales, which can help plug the deficit gap related to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and further other social justice initiatives.

  • Speaking of taxes, how will cannabis be taxed once regulated?

According to the referendum, cannabis products would be subject to New Jersey’s sales tax (i.e., 6.625%), in addition to the potential local tax of up to 2%. As the bill is currently drafted, the sales tax revenue is supposed to be used to administer the cannabis program and reimburse police departments for training costs associated with enforcing the law. There may also be an additional tax imposed on cultivators, and that revenue would likely be directed to social equity initiatives.

  • Will the CRC prioritize applications based on location? 

Yes. The CRC is supposed to prioritize applications on the basis of impact zones, for which past criminal marijuana enterprises contributed to higher concentrations of law enforcement activity, unemployment, and poverty. The bill defines an “impact zone” as any municipality that has a population of 120,000 residents and ranks in the top 40 percent of municipalities in New Jersey for cannabis related arrests. 


Daniel Pierre is an Associate in Genova Burns’ Newark, NJ office and a member of the Cannabis and Labor Law Practice Groups. In addition to labor work, he likewise assists clients in the cannabis industry, from analyzing federal and state laws to ensure regulatory compliance for existing businesses to counseling entrepreneurs on licensing issues.

Charles J. Messina is a Partner at Genova Burns LLC and Co-Chairs the Franchise & Distribution, Agriculture and Cannabis Industry Groups. He teaches one of the region’s first Cannabis law school courses and devotes much of his practice to advising canna-businesses as well as litigating various types of matters including complex contract and commercial disputes, insurance and employment defense matters, trademark and franchise issues and professional liability, TCPA and shareholder derivative actions.

For over 30 years, Genova Burns has partnered with companies, businesses, trade associations, and government entities, from around the globe, on matters in New Jersey and the greater northeast corridor between New York City and Washington, D.C. We distinguish ourselves with unparalleled responsiveness and provide an array of exceptional legal services across multiple practice areas with the quality expected of big law, but absent the big law economics by embracing technology and offering out of the box problem-solving advice and pragmatic solutions.

Given Genova Burns’ significant experience representing clients in the cannabis, hemp and CBD industries from the earliest stages of development in the region, the firm is uniquely qualified to advise investors, cultivators, processors, distributors, retailers and ancillary businesses. 

Video: Member Spotlight – HAL Extraction

NCIA recently visited with our members HAL Extraction based in Golden, Colorado. While social-distancing with the team there, we learned more about their extraction rooms, booth, and labs, and how operators can get their cannabis extraction production facility up and running. The company’s Chief Engineer, Josh Gladfelter, gave us a tour and demonstration of the capabilities of their product offerings, while Sales Manager Emma Byrnes explained how the company works with customers to find solutions to their specific needs. As explained by the company’s President, Patric Galvin, HAL Extraction is focused on leading the way for industry’s safety standards, helping facilities achieve compliance, and the longevity of our industry. Learn more and take a tour in this NCIA member video spotlight. 

Member Blog: Five Reasons to Use a High-Speed Smart Safe for Your Cannabis Business

by Bobby Combs, Kisan America Corporation

There are many challenges to running a successful cannabis business, including finding the correct product to sell, hiring and training qualified budtenders, dealing with state regulations, accepting cash payment, and depositing cash into the limited number of banks and credit unions that accept cannabis business. Although many economists and magazines believe cash is going away with the recent introduction of digital and app-style payment solutions, in the cannabis space, cash is king. Cash payment is really the only form of payment for many states except for the rare occasions an app can be used. The questions that have been asked for years are what does the cannabis industry do with the cash payments they receive, how is the cash counted and secured, and how can it be deposited into the business bank account?

Cannabis businesses are always looking for ways to effectively count cash and make deposits in their retail locations while simultaneously trying to lower labor cost, increase accountability and productivity, and reduce risk. Traditional deposit preparation methods have not drastically evolved in the last 50+ years. A budtender will pull their till from the drawer and count down to the starting till amount, leaving the remaining funds as the deposit. In addition, it is also common practice for businesses to incorporate dual authentication practices, essentially double counting, or counting in the presence of a witness to ensure the count is correct. While dual authentication can give the impression of good quality control and insurance, unfortunately, it raises the cost of counting the deposit inside the store by tying up at least two employees’ time and attention on trivial cash counting responsibilities. Granted the store manager is a salaried employee, but the downside is the store manager is managing for time to count cash instead of the daily sales, however, there is a much better, faster, and more accurate way to make deposits in the cannabis industry.

A high-speed smart safe is faster than counting by hand and a more secure way to deliver cash deposits to the select banks. The reason is, at the end of the night, the procedure of making a deposit at the bank location is a dangerous one and is why many organizations will have utilized the same type of dual authentication to drive to the bank to make the deposit in the night drop box. Again, there is an illusion of safety with having two people make a deposit in the night drop. Here are five of the many reasons to use a high-speed smart safe in a cannabis business:

Accountability:

The smart safe provides individual user accountability, by capturing critical transactional data: who is making a deposit, the date and time stamp of the transaction, and the total value of the deposit. Individual user accountability allows customers to abandon the need to deploy dual authentication practices, allowing managers to reallocate their time and attention towards revenue-building responsibilities: supervising employees, training employees, inventory, customer service, etc.

Remote Visibility:

An online dashboard provides detailed transaction statements, trend/behavior tracking potential, and simplified reconciliation reporting. Reports can be accessed online from any device, downloaded/exported, and shared across your network, which improves the efficiency of accounting and loss prevention departments. The online dashboard will have different reports ranging from daily deposit, transactional history for the day, and a monthly deposit report for easy reconciliation.

Deposit Accuracy:

Incorporated bill validators will count and authenticate each note before securing funds into their final depository, thus creating a closed-loop system-cash is deposited, not dispensed.  

Security of Funds:

By incorporating drop policies that align with the placement of the cash management device, customers can achieve an efficient and secure deposit process, but also reduce unnecessary cash exposure that may accumulate within a till drawer or within the back office. Smart safes are designed to only allow the Cash In Transit Company to pick up all deposited cash thus reducing the risk of theft.

Provisional Credit:

Provisional Credit is an online credit to the business bank account prior to the removal and secondary validation of funds offsite. In conjunction with your banking relationship, a smart safe has the ability to transmit a daily electronic file to the bank where said bank will give credit on the day’s deposit.

With the proper smart safe in place, it will allow cannabis business owners to manage the cash deposits more efficiently and reduce risk inside the location, and to reduce lower/short deposits. The smart safe gives each owner the ability to log in to the online dashboard from any device connected to the internet and see all the transactions from all smart safes across all their cannabis locations. Just imagine having the ability to see all deposits and transaction history in one convenient place to allow for better transparency and reconciliation. With the CARES Act being introduced and voted on, if passed, it would afford for more banking partners and offer more options for the smart safe to send provisional credit to your bank.


Bobby Combs is National Account Executive at Kisan America Corporation. He has over 6 years of experience in the cash automation industry and utilizing previous experience to formulate best practices and redesign cash handling procedures to maximize efficiency and reduce risk and labor. Kisan provides cash management solutions through smart banknote deposit and sorting systems. 

 

Member Blog: Risks and Values Right Under Your Feet – M&A Real Estate Considerations

by Mark Hefner, CEO of MGO Realty Advisors and Dustin Grizzle, MGO Tax Partner

In the cannabis and hemp industries, capturing the true value of real estate holdings in an M&A deal can be both elusive and central to the overall success of the transaction. Difficult-to-acquire licenses and permits are essential for operating, which often drives up the “ticket price” of property, ignoring operational and market realities that suppress value in the long run. On the flip side, real estate holdings are sometimes considered “throw-ins” during a large M&A deal. These properties can hold risks and exposures, or, in many cases, are under-utilized and present an opportunity to uncover hidden value. 

Both Acquirers and Target companies must take specific steps toward understanding the varied layers of risk and opportunity presented by real estate holdings. In the following, we will address some common scenarios and provide guidance on the best way to ensure fair value throughout an M&A deal.

Real estate as a starting point for enterprise value

Leaders of cannabis and hemp enterprises must understand that real estate should be a focus of the M&A process from the very beginning. All too often, c-suite executives are well-acquainted with detailed financial analyses for other parts of the business, but have a limited or out-of-date idea of their enterprise’s square footage, details of lease agreements, or comparable values in shifting real estate markets. Oftentimes it takes a major business event, like an M&A deal, to spur leadership to reexamine and understand real estate holdings and strategy. Regrettably, and all too often, principals come to that realization post-closing and realize they may have left money on the table.

In an M&A deal, the party that takes a proactive approach to real estate considerations gains an upper-hand in negotiations and calculating value. Real estate holdings can provide immediate opportunities for liquidity, cost-reduction, or revenue generation. At the same time, detailed due diligence can reveal redundant properties, costly debt obligations, unbreakable leases, and other red flags that would undermine value post-closing.

For both sides of the M&A transaction, real estate strategy and valuation should be a core consideration of the overall goals and value drivers of the deal. A direct path to this mindset is to place real estate holdings on the same level of importance as other assets that drive value – human capital, technology, intellectual property, etc.  Ensuring that real estate strategy aligns with business goals and objectives will save considerable headaches and potential liabilities in the later stages of negotiating and closing the deal.

Qualify and confirm all real estate data

One of the harmful side-effects of a laissez-faire attitude toward real estate in M&A is that the entire deal can be structured around data that is simply inaccurate or incomplete. This inconsistency is not necessarily the result of an overt deception, but too often it is simply an oversight. Valuations can also be based upon pride and ego, without supporting market data.

Let’s visit a very common M&A scenario: The Target company has real estate data on file from when they purchased or leased the property (which may have been years ago), and that data says headquarters is 20,000 sq. ft. of office space. Perhaps they invested heavily into improvements like custom interiors that did nothing to add value to the real estate. The Target includes that number in the valuation process and the Acquirer assumes it is accurate. Following the deal, the Acquirer moves in and, in the worst case, realizes there is actually only 15,000 sq. ft. of useable space. Or it is equally common that the Acquirer learns the space is actually 25,000 sq. ft. Either way, value has been misrepresented or underreported. M&A deals involve a multitude of figures and calculations, and sometimes things are simply missed. But those small things can have a major impact on value and performance in the long run.

The only solution to this problem is to dedicate resources to qualifying and quantifying data related to real estate holdings. When preparing to sell, Target companies should review all assumptions – square footage, usage percentage, useful life, etc. – and conduct field measurements and physical condition assessments (“PCA’s”). This will help your team understand the value of your holdings and set realistic expectations, and perhaps just as importantly, it saves you from the embarrassment of providing inaccurate numbers exposed during Acquirer’s due diligence—and getting re-traded on price and terms. That reputation will ripple through the marketplace.

From the Acquirer’s side, the details of real estate holdings should come under the same level of scrutiny as financials, control environment, etc. Your due diligence team should commission its own field measurements and PCA, and also seek out market comparables to confirm appraisals. It is simply unsafe and unwise to assume the accuracy of any of these details. Performing your own assessments could reveal a solid basis to re-negotiate the M&A, and will help shape post-merger integration planning. 

Tax analysis will reveal risks and opportunities

The maze of tax regimes and regulatory requirements cannabis and hemp operators navigate naturally creates opportunities to maximize efficiencies. This is particularly the case when it comes to enterprise restructuring to navigate the tax burden of 280E. 

For example, it may be possible to establish a real estate holding company that is a distinct entity from any “plant-touching” operations. By restructuring the real estate holdings and contributing those assets to this new entity it may be possible to take advantage of additional tax benefits not afforded to the group if owned directly by the “plant-touching” entity. This all assumes a fair market rent is charged between the entities.

Recently, operators have looked to sale/leaseback transactions to help with cash flow needs and thus these types of transactions have gained prominence for cannabis and hemp operators. It is important that these transactions be carefully reviewed prior to execution to ensure they can maintain their tax status as a true sale and subsequent lease, instead of being considered a deferred financing transaction. If a Target company has a sale/leaseback deal established but under audit the facts and circumstances do not hold up, this could open up major tax liabilities for the Acquirer.

When entering into an M&A transaction, it is important that the Acquirer look at the historical and future aspects of the Target’s assets, including the real estate, to maximize efficiencies of these potentially separate operations. It is also equally important to review pre-established agreements/transactions to ensure the appropriate tax classification has been made and that the appropriate facts and circumstances that gave rise to the agreements/transactions have been documented and followed to limit any potential negative exposure in the future.

Contract small print could make or break a deal

An area of particular focus during due diligence should be a review, and close read, of the Target company’s existing property leases and other contracts. There are any number of clauses and agreements that seem harmless and inconsequential on the surface but can have disastrous effects in difficult situations. In many cases, the lease/contract of a property is more important than the details of the property itself. For example, if the non-negotiable rent on a retail location is too high (and scheduled to go higher), there may be no way to ever turn a profit.

The financial distress resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic has brought these issues to the forefront in the real estate industry. Rent payment and occupancy issues are shifting the fundamental economics of many property deals and contracts. If, for example, you are acquiring a commercial location that is under-utilized because of market demand or governmental mandate, you must confirm whether sub-leases or assignments are allowed at below the contract price. If not, you could be stuck with a costly, underperforming asset amid quickly shifting commercial real estate demand. 

In many leases and contracts, there are Tenant Improvement Allowance conditions that require the landlord to fund certain property improvement projects. If utilizing these terms is part of the Acquirer’s plans, you may need to have frank and open conversations with landlords about whether the funds for these projects are still available, and if those contract obligations will be met. Details like these are often penned during times of financial comfort without consequences to the non-performing party, but a landlord struggling with cash flow may not have the capability to meet contract standards.

These are just a few examples from a multitude of potential real estate contract issues that can emerge. It is recommended to not only examine these contracts very closely, but have dedicated real estate industry experts perform independent assessments that account for broader social, economic, and market realities. That independent analysis will help your executive team formulate a real estate strategy that better aligns with core business objectives.

Dig deep to uncover real value

There are countless scenarios where issues related to real estate make or break an otherwise solid M&A transaction, whether before or after closing the deal. The only path forward is to treat real estate holdings with the same care and attention paid to the other asset classes driving the deal. The cannabis and hemp industries have recently endured micro-boom-and-bust cycles that have left many assets under-performing. As Target companies offload these assets, and Acquirers seek out good deals, both parties must undertake focused efforts to establish the fair value of complex real estate assets and obligations.

NOTE: This is an excerpt from the MGO Cannabis M&A Field Guide

Access The Full Guide Here


Mark Hefner, CEO and Shareholder of MGO Realty Advisors, is a real estate investment professional with over 30 years of experience supporting occupiers and investors as they navigate commercial real estate markets. Mark focuses on providing strategic advisory, transaction advisory, capital markets guidance, and ownership formation support for all types of commercial properties, both nationally and globally.

Dustin Grizzle, CPA, Tax Partner and Office Managing Partner of MGO’s Boca Raton, has over 15 years of experience providing tax planning and compliance services to real estate management and investment companies, manufacturing companies and high-net-

worth individuals. Dustin focuses his practice on tax compliance and real estate structuring, as well as tax consulting for entities with large inventories and manufacturing-related needs. He also manages tax programs involving investment funds, corporate structuring and IRS examination representation.

About MGO

One of the top 100 CPA firms in the country, MGO has a 30-year history of providing trusted accounting and advisory services to many leading public corporations, private companies and government agencies. The MGO team has developed a suite of proven solutions to help operators, regulators and institutional investors navigate the complexities of the cannabis and hemp industries.

About the Cannabis M&A Field Guide

This serialized multi-media project is an educational resource for cannabis and hemp operators and investors. It focuses on the evolving market conditions driving mergers and acquisitions, and provides first-person insight on best practices for strategy, structuring, valuation, and other topics behind successful M&A transactions.

Member Blog: Designing and Purchasing a Greenhouse with Rebates and Incentives in Mind

By Josh Holleb, Co-Founder and Co-Owner of Ceres Greenhouse Solutions

What if the highest performing cultivation facility isn’t the most expensive?

The highest producing cultivation facility is probably the most expensive, right? Highly productive and efficient cultivation facilities can be more financially accessible than you may think. Rebates and incentives provide business owners the option of turning otherwise high dollar projects into affordable, highly efficient grow operations. 

Rebates/Incentives

An Incentive is a provision intended to motivate further growth, while a Rebate is a refund or discount that is returned to the client after the purchase has been made.

Rebates and incentives can be hard to classify because the process varies between utility providers. That being said, it is worth understanding the basics of how they work and how they can influence your overall construction budget.

Utility providers often have programs in place to incentivize the purchase of higher quality, and more efficient materials and equipment for your facility. These programs allow the utility to achieve their stated goals of energy efficiency, while providing power to more customers without having to increase their infrastructure/capacity. Because your efficient equipment is beneficial to the utility they may pass some of their savings on to you.  

LED Lighting

LED lighting is the easiest place to start. Most utilities have an “efficient lighting program”, which is usually offered as an incentive. This means you submit your lighting plan and the lights you are going to use, and they compare your lighting layout and power needs (how much power your efficient LED plan will use) vs. a standard HID light, usually a double ended 1000 watt HPS bulb. Based on the equation they use, we have seen between 25% and 100% of the cost of the lighting being paid for by the utility. Often, this is paid upfront by the utility company (the client doesn’t have to pay full price and wait for a check). Once the facility is operational the utility will make sure the lights are being used as described.

Building Envelope and HVAC

Building envelope and HVAC equipment are also eligible for savings, but this usually comes in the form of a rebate. Normally, a utility will set a baseline for a greenhouse (i.e. all walls 8 mm polycarbonate, R-1.4 insulation value), and then compare the operational cost savings of a more efficient design vs. the baseline to calculate a rebate amount. We have seen rebate amounts between $100k – $750k for high efficiency sealed greenhouse facilities (up to a 15% reduction in costs on a new build).

The Design Process

It is important to know if rebates/incentives are available before beginning the design process for your cultivation facility. Understanding the entire process of design, build, and rebates/incentives when designing and budgeting a new cannabis grow can have a huge effect on capital expenditures. Sunlight grown cannabis with indoor environmental controls is emerging as the best way forward for cultivators looking to grow high-quality cannabis with lower operating costs, and rebates/incentives are a great way to help make the best option a more affordable one.

The most efficient option?

While sealed greenhouses tend to fall in the middle in terms of capital expenses, when compared to a newly built indoor grow (most expensive) and a vented greenhouse (least expensive), much of the equipment required to build a highly efficient sealed greenhouse can be expensive.

A highly insulated, well designed, sealed facility can be an expensive option because both the value of the structure and the systems within it are of the highest quality. An uninsulated sealed greenhouse, on the other hand, might cost less money upfront, owing to cheaper materials and possibly lower quality systems. This is where incentives/rebates can become a major cost-saving avenue for your bottom line, allowing you to build the best facility at a more affordable cost. Once built, the higher quality structure will continue to save money in operational costs–a win-win.

Conclusion

In mature cannabis markets, smokable flower continues to demand high prices, especially high-quality flower. Consumers and brokers have learned to recognize quality, and price per pound has adjusted accordingly. The ability to produce high-quality flower, at a low cost per pound, is the future of cannabis production.

Given the accessibility of rebates and incentives and the general trajectory of the market, we are living in a moment where the highest quality option may also be the most affordable. 


Josh Holleb is co-founder, co-owner, and senior solutions architect at Ceres Greenhouse Solutions. Since starting at Ceres 7 years ago, Josh has created the cannabis division, bringing more than a decade of experience in both construction, cultivation, and dispensary management. Josh approaches his job with an interdisciplinary understanding of systems, architectural design, and problem-solving. His goal is to create a whole-systems approach to both greenhouse design and environmental controls, resulting in the most efficient systems and highest quality product. He has been featured in Marijuana Venture Magazine as one of the “40 under 40” rising stars in the cannabis industry in 2018.

 

Member Blog: Top 8 IT Concerns for the Cannabis Industry

by Sean Dawson, Director of IT Solutions at Office1 

Integrating and measuring innovation for cannabis businesses can be daunting, mostly because cannabis has been considered illegal for decades. Luckily for the cannabis industry, the laws prohibiting the use of marijuana and marijuana products are tumbling down, and windows of opportunities are opening for people to integrate information technology with their cannabis businesses. As in other industries, information technology is shaping the cannabis industry as a frontier of opportunities for professionals in many exciting ways.

Despite being stereotyped and demonized for close to a century, the marijuana industry is swiftly reconstructing itself, thanks to cutting-edge technology that’s ensuring inventions, innovations, and progress. IT remains the ultimate lever for changing how people view and relate to the cannabis industry. Over the last few years, IT revamped the cannabis industry and transformed how marijuana is grown, processed, distributed, purchased, branded, and consumed.

Despite the remarkable progress, there are a few IT concerns for the cannabis industry. Here are the top 8 IT concerns for the emerging cannabis industry: 

Automated Cultivation 

Marijuana grow-boxes with fully automated grow technology for high-quality yields are a potential game-changer for the cannabis industry. A perfect example is a home-grow technology that allows people to discreetly plant a seedling or two in every corner of their houses. Every bit of the home-grow technology is highly guided and fully automated. This gives growers a deep personal satisfaction of growing their own marijuana without having to go through the taxing learning curve that other farmers have to endure to get the best quality yields. With this technology, you don’t even need an outdoor garden. 

On a larger scale, there are tech-driven innovations in seed genetics and breeding as crucial aspects of cannabis cultivation. This technology modifies the DNA of cannabis to develop a cultivar with rich taste and more resistant to pests, diseases, and harsh elements of weather. 

On the applications frontier, cannabis farmers now have access to customizable apps that allow them to configure cannabis cultivation to their geographical locations, soil texture, climate, and desired outcomes, among other considerations. 

 Automated cultivation is a growing concern for the cannabis industry as IT companies are striving to improve the cultivation technology even further, and growers are looking to leverage the best technology to gain more control over the quality and quantity of their yields.

Access Control

Cannabis dispensaries face the need to ramp up security within their premises. These dispensaries mostly deal with large cash transactions, which expose them to crime. These businesses are vulnerable to burglary, forgery, and robbery, necessitating advanced security options.

The need for improved security has led these dispensaries to incorporate stringent security options that effectively prevent malicious activity. For instance, to protect their crucial product, processing plants and growers utilize remote and cloud-based access control to the facilities.

Cannabis dispensaries normally take advantage of the flexibility that comes with current security systems to ensure that only authorized persons can access various areas within their facilities. To enhance security and access, these systems combine various security applications within one package, making them robust and efficient. 

For instance, an access control system that grants keyless entry also combines with surveillance cameras, alarms, and the check-in systems to store a proper record of all personnel who visit specific areas within their premises. This ensures a safe work environment where the company maintains trust with their staff while simultaneously reducing liability. Remote access control also triggers rapid growth since it facilitates the management of many branches from a single point.

Automated Vending and Online Recommendation

With advances in computing and robotics, various companies have been experimenting with non-human point of sale vending technologies. The cannabis industry has not been left behind. Artificial intelligence has allowed companies to aggregate HIPAA compliant data thus allowing for the creation of platforms where doctors and patients to better predict treatment outcomes as well as managing analytic data points from seed to consumption. Enter, opportunity. Companies have now been utilizing this to innovate the way cannabis is being purchased. Through the creation of search engines designed off the AI data aggregation, consumers are now able to find the best available strains for their desired use case in both a medical and recreational use case. 

Such technologies revolutionize the supply and delivery of the product as they help users make informed decisions regarding consumption methods and available strains, and therefore pivotal IT concerns for the cannabis industry.

Artificial Intelligence

Artificial intelligence (AI) has significantly transformed the way every industry does business, and the cannabis industry is not lagging far behind on this. The grade and strain of cannabis produced majorly depend on the environment in which it was grown. Artificial intelligence helps growers to enhance the plants’ genetic makeup and CBD/THC concentration to produce popular strains. 

AI also helps in optimizing the supply chain, ensuring efficient and fast delivery of marijuana products. Companies are diligently exploring ways in which AI can help improve how quickly and efficiently the product can be moved, from the growers to the processors and, finally, the consumer. 

For example, a California-based startup, Eaze, collects consumer data relating to consumption and delivery. The data is then processed, analyzed, and leveraged to help dispensaries keep track of demand and update their stock.

Other companies use artificial intelligence to forecast price changes, fluctuations in product supply, and to analyze trends within the cannabis Industry. 

AI is, therefore, a critical concern for the cannabis Industry.

Retail, eCommerce, and Delivery

Retail, too, has benefited from advances in delivery technology. Today, you can order a product or service with the click of a button, pay for it remotely, and have it delivered at your doorstep. The cannabis industry is already in on these advances. In states where marijuana consumption is legal, there are apps you can use to order a marijuana product and expect a home delivery in minutes. 

Marijuana dispensaries have also turned to technology to help educate the public on cannabis production and consumption. For instance, some dispensaries are adopting the use of augmented reality to guide consumers through the available strains and their effects on the human body. There are also tons of education programs that cover everything from how cannabis functions in the body, growing options, and the best strains for different types of consumers.

Customized Consumption

Technology has revolutionized how we consume the product. Unlike the previous years, when smoking was the most popular means of consumption, modern consumers have a wide range of options. These include skin patches, e-cigs, and dosed inhalers. These technologies have disrupted the cannabis industry, and are paving the way for even safer options.

No doubt, modern technology has led to the invention and discovery of safe practices in the consumption of marijuana. For instance, it is known that different consumers react differently to various methods of marijuana delivery. Today, it is not uncommon for a doctor to take a swab of saliva to determine the best strain and delivery method for a particular user.

Electricity Storage and Consumption Monitoring

Marijuana growers attest that one of the highest costs of marijuana production arises from the use of electricity. The use of LED lights and climate control are responsible for these power costs. One way to reduce these costs involves the use of storage batteries. Growers can buy electricity during off-peak times when power is cheaper, store it batteries and use it during peak times. This also calls for the use of energy monitoring solutions to determine power consumption trends within the cannabis farms.

Seed-To-Sale Technology

With the growth of the marijuana industry, producers and growers seek ways to improve efficiency in the cannabis production process, following the laid-out regulations and maximizing profit. Seed-to-sale technologies equip producers with all knowledge regarding their product supply chain. This way, marijuana growers function the same way as any legitimate pharmaceutical or distribution chain.

Seed-to-sale software allows for vertical integration, which means the grower can track the product through various phases of distribution (manufacturing, supply, and dispensing). Point of sale software can combine with the company accounting software to create a fully-fledged Enterprise Resource Planning system, making it easy to manage the product like any other business.

Seed-to-sale software also helps with the documentation of cannabis transactions, which helps with compliance management, inventory management, and analysis of consumption trends.

The Bottom Line with Cannabis and Technology 

With the increased decriminalization of cannabis comes unprecedented growth, which attracts investors. This growth has brought with it some industry shifts, especially in technology. This article has explored various IT concerns that have spurred growth in the marijuana industry. Legalization has also helped debunk myths formerly associated with the cannabis industry, which has encouraged IT startups to create solutions for the marijuana supply chain. This way, growers and suppliers can focus on developing high-end products, while technology helps with compliance, bookkeeping, and product improvement. 

The relationship between IT and marijuana growth will spur developments that propel it into a multi-billion-dollar industry in the coming decades.


Sean Dawson is the Director of IT Solutions at Office1. Office1’s mission is to innovate and progressively modernize the inefficient business landscape by providing a proactive, personalized, and eco-friendly office technology solution from planning to implementation and optimization. One solution from one company – Office1. Sean seeks to understand the heart of a challenge and then focuses on creating practical and timely solutions. He is an avid DIYer, gardener, and master house re-doer who loves spending his free time with his wife, four children, and six chickens. 

 

Member Blog: Pivoting Your Cannabis Business During COVID-19

By Lindsey Griffith, Creative Content Specialist at ThrivePOP

Life has changed, and businesses are in panic mode. Consumer income suddenly becomes uncertain, and we begin to face our own economic vulnerability. Luckily for the cannabis industry, they were deemed as an “essential” business during the COVID-19 pandemic. And while this meant they were still excluded from federal funding, they were allowed to operate and service their consumers based upon differing state rules and regulations. 

While some cannabis companies’ first instinct may be to cut costs to marketing, there are several reasons why that should not be the case. Not only does marketing need to continue for your cannabis business to stay thriving, but it also needs to be amped up. Here we’ll discuss some reasons why you should keep marketing efforts rolling and just how you can pivot your tactics during a pandemic. 

Make The Most Of Your Time Online

On a normal day, the majority of the population is online. Now that many companies have transitioned their employees to work from home, or shut down altogether, even more people are spending time online. More people are on social media trying to interact with their clients and audience, and those that may have downtime are spending it on the web. COVID-19 brought sudden closing to in-person cannabis services across the globe and many businesses found themselves scrambling to get online. Social distancing practices suddenly transitioned daily activities to a completely digital life, so increasing your digital marketing efforts is a good way to continue to bring revenue to your business.

Now that your cannabis business may be limited to curbside, it is necessary to make your new purchasing process transparent online. Create a pickup process graphic for your website or pin directions to the top of your Facebook page. The easier you make it for your consumers to purchase your cannabinoids products during COVID-19, the better. Being online and consistently updating your content across the board is essential to keeping your cannabis business afloat.  

Focus On eCommerce

During times like these, people are stuck inside – so naturally, everyone wants to shop online. By transitioning your cannabis  sales to an online market, you will be able to maintain stability in uncertain times. eCommerce is a highly beneficial and successful way to keep your business active and making money during an economic crisis! It’s called retail therapy for a reason, right?

Luckily there are many resources to list your products online within the cannabis industry that expose you to a much larger audience than your website alone. Leafly maximizes your cannabis or CBD business presence through targeted advertising on its website. It’s also equipped with an easy to use online ordering system that allows customers to easily order in advance for pickup at your location. Another resource often used as an eCommerce platform within the industry is Weedmaps. Equipped with a mobile application, Weedmaps also makes it easy for consumers to easily search for cannabis brands and products near them. These are just a few of the resources available for you to legally list your products online. 

While these external resources are extremely beneficial, all of these should work in conjunction with your own cannabis domain. Having your own domain and website for your business is essential to succeeding and staying on top of Google search results during COVID-19. Using search engine optimization and regularly adding new content to your website are just some of the ways to continually rank for related cannabis search terms. Don’t expect immediate results, however, as it often takes several weeks for Google to analyze and formally rank your website changes. 

Build Your Email Marketing List

Now more than ever is a great time to build your client database. With the influx of people online and more time on their hands, it means that your offers can reach more people with the right marketing strategy. Setting up a marketing campaign with insider exclusives is an amazing way to keep people interested in your business and keep you at the forefront of their minds once things return to normal. 

This can be done in the form of an email newsletter signup, social media contest, or even lead generation quizzes. Just make sure you’re following current web and social media contest rules and regulations. When creating these campaigns, consider what is valuable to your consumer, as this won’t be the same across all cannabis businesses. Do your consumers want to be educated? Are they interested in the latest products or strains in store? Does the majority of your business come from recreation or medicinal sales? Use what you know about your target audience to carefully curate exclusive offers that are unique to your brand. 

Utilize All Of Social Media’s Tools

Adults are using social media up to 51% more than before the pandemic. Increasing your cannabis brand’s social media presence is key to staying in front of your audience during COVID-19. While you are currently not allowed to do any paid social media advertising (social media companies abide by federal law) there are many free tools available to grow your page organically. Making use of Instagram stories polls, questions, and countdowns are easy ways to give your audience a chance for them to interact with your page, therefore feeding into the algorithm. 

Confused as to how that works? It’s actually pretty simple. Every time someone interacts with your Instagram story it signals to the algorithm that the user is engaged with your content. The more they interact, the more Instagram deems your content important to that user. Therefore, bumping you right to the top of their news feed!

Using micro-influencers on social media is also a very cost-effective way to market your cannabis business on social media. Their small circle of dedicated followers is more likely to convert into a customer for your business than a larger influencer account. Just make sure the partnership aligns and makes sense for both parties involved. 

Reassessing Your Long-Term Strategy

How often do businesses get to press the reset button? If there is one silver lining during COVID-19, it’s the ability for businesses to adjust their marketing strategies. Now is the perfect time to develop a cannabis marketing plan that implements the standards of a “new” normal. When you do this you are able to reconsider your 4 P’s of marketing:

Product: Does my product serve my audience well during COVID-19?
Place: Is my product or service easily accessible to my audience during COVID-19?
Price: Can consumers afford my product or service during this economic crisis?
Promotion: Will consumers respond to marketing tactics as they had before COVID-19?

Marketing can’t just be turned on and suddenly leads and conversions pour in. It’s a long road with twists and turns that lead you to your destination. Dropping marketing efforts turns that car around immediately, reversing all efforts to obtain leads and increase sales. This may be a difficult and confusing time in the cannabis industry, but remaining strong in your marketing strategy will keep your business stable and active during and after a crisis.

Moving forward, consider how your marketing campaigns can now enter your consumer’s psyche. Keep your campaigns focused on your cannabis brand and don’t look to gouge worried consumers. Let’s be ethical about all this, while also remembering how marketing and staying in front of your audience is important, pandemic or not. Eventually, things will return to normal, so being smart and socially conscious and putting your best marketing foot forward will carry your business through!


Lindsey Griffith is the Creative Content Specialist at ThrivePOP, a West Michigan based Digital Marketing Agency. As a copywriter, Lindsey has experience in creating and implementing content across several digital platforms including podcasts, webinars, blogs, and social media profiles. During her cannabis career, she has worked with several cannabis manufacturers on search engine optimization through blogging to drive traffic to their website and assist in organic social strategies to gain new followers. Lindsey received her Bachelor’s Degree in Marketing from Grand Valley State University and her work has been published across several cannabis industry platforms.

Member Blog: GMPs – A Way Ahead for Hemp and CBD Firms

by Charlotte Peyton, Independent Consultant, EAS Consulting Group

The hemp industry is the marijuana industry’s half-sister. Both are variations of the plant cannabis sativa and both were made illegal in 1937 with the passing of The Marijuana Tax Act. Flash forward to the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 (known as the 2018 Farm Bill) that was signed into law by Congress on December 20, 2018. One year later, The USDA issued interim regulations that entitled Establishment of a Domestic Hemp Production Program for the cultivation of hemp on October 31, 2019. Both were huge steps forward for public access to hemp and hemp products. FDA legalized the growing of hemp in states with a state-mandated hemp program and removed hemp and its derivatives from Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Schedule I status and the U.S. Domestic Hemp Program aims to approve cultivation plans issued by states and Indian Tribes. 

Even so, then FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb issued a statement hours after the signing of the Farm Bill reiterating that “Congress explicitly preserved the agency’s current authority to regulate products containing cannabis or cannabis-derived compounds under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FD&C Act) and section 351 of the Public Health Service Act.” 

Still today, two years later and counting, FDA only permits CBD products submitted as an Investigational New Drug (IND) Application as a pharmaceutical and there remains only one such accepted CBD product, Epidiolex, manufactured by G.W. Pharma. All other CBD products are illegal for interstate shipment.

In-state production and sales may be a different story, provided that state has a mandated hemp program. In those cases, provided state law is followed, production and sales are legal and protected, but the minute products cross state lines, they become the jurisdiction of the federal government and, more specifically, the FDA. At least 47 states have enacted legislation to establish hemp production programs or allow for hemp cultivation research.

Section 10113 of The 2018 Farm Bill states that (c) Nothing in this subtitle shall affect or modify:

(1) the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (21 U.S.C. 301 et seq.);

(2) section 351 of the Public Health Service Act (42 U.S.C. 262); or 

(3) the authority of the Commissioner of Food and Drugs and the Secretary of Health and Human Services- ‘‘(A) under- ‘‘(i) the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (21 U.S.C. 301 et seq.); or ‘‘(ii) section 351 of the Public Health Service Act (42 U.S.C. 262); or ‘‘(B) to promulgate Federal regulations and guidelines that relate to the production of hemp under the Act described in subparagraph (A)(i) or the section described in subparagraph (A)(ii).” 

The mission of the FDA is “to ensure the safety, effectiveness, and security of human and veterinary drugs, vaccines and other biological products for human use, and medical devices.” As such, FDA categorizes every product for sale in the U.S. which is either ingested or applied to a human or animals into categories. That means hemp-derived CBD products will have to lawfully fit into one of those categories, however, while there has been positive movement towards the legal sale of hemp products on the USDA cultivation side, the FDA has authority over foods and dietary supplements, and the FDA’s position is that the addition of hemp/CBD to a food or dietary supplement is “violative.” In a Consumer Update statement revised on November 25, 2019, the FDA clearly stated that “it cannot conclude that CBD is generally recognized as safe (GRAS) among qualified experts for its use in human or animal food.”  

That being said, FDA has indicated it would be open to review of safety data for submission of a cannabinoid as Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) for Food or as a New Dietary Ingredient (NDI) in a supplement as the lack of any federal regulation runs the potential of putting people at risk. That has sent the industry scurrying to design and initiate studies in the hopes of demonstrating levels of safety that meet FDA’s satisfaction. 

In the meantime, those currently operating in states where hemp manufacturing is legal, must ensure Good Manufacturing Practices (GMPs) are adhered to closely. Should the FDA ever allow hemp products with CBD to be sold in the future, a manufacturer’s ability to demonstrate understanding and compliance with GMPs will be critical. Each FDA regulated industry has its own set of GMPs for the development and implementation of quality systems. 

  • 21 CFR 117, Current Good Manufacturing Practice, Hazard Analysis, and Risk-Based Preventative Controls for Human Food
  • 21 CFR 507, Current Good Manufacturing Practice, Hazard Analysis, and Risk-Based Preventative Controls for Food for Animals
  • 21 CFR 111, Current Good Manufacturing Practice in Manufacturing, Packaging, Labeling, or Holding Operations for Dietary Supplements
  • 21 CFR 210, Current Good Manufacturing Practice in Manufacturing, Processing, Packing, or Holding of Drugs; General
  • 21 CFR 211, Current Good Manufacturing Practice for Finished Pharmaceuticals
  • FDA Draft Guidance for Industry, Cosmetic Good Manufacturing Practice, June 2013

As the industry waits in the hopes that FDA will come on board with those states that have already legalized CBD’s use in products, it important to take the necessary steps to develop GMP protocols and quality systems as part of documented Standard Operating Procedures and record-keeping that those procedures are being followed, products are being tested and those tests are being validated. 

Ensure as you begin to develop or strengthen your GMP programs that you do so with a full understanding of the requirements set forth in 21 CFR 111. Whether these programs are designed in-house or with the assistance of an outside consulting firm, ensure your GMPs are specific to your manufacturing procedures as opposed to a stock one-size-fits-all program. A reputable consulting firm with demonstrable expertise in FDA regulations and in helping to develop these GMPs is a good place to start, one that listens to your questions and concerns before providing you their stock answer. A good consulting firm can walk you through your unique processes.   

Ensure your quality systems are robust and documented, including your demonstrations that your cGMPs are being followed. 


Charlotte Peyton supports EAS Consulting Group CBD and hemp clients as well as that of dietary supplements and pharmaceuticals. As an independent consultant, she assists with projects ranging from startup through manufacturing and support. Her expertise includes quality, regulatory and management, method development, and method validation for FDA regulated drug, dietary supplement, and bioanalytical samples. She has extensive experience in writing validation protocols, reports, and SOPs and assists with implementation of stability programs and report writing for finished products.

EAS Consulting Group, a member of the Certified family 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. 

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