Member Blog: Nevada and Las Vegas Cannabis Market Analysis

By Dr. Dominick Monaco, CLS Holdings

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

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

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

Overview of the Nevada Cannabis Industry 

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is Unique About the Las Vegas Cannabis Market? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where is the Most Opportunity in Nevada Cannabis? 

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

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

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


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

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

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

Give Us MORE

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

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


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


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


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


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


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

Notable Changes & Provisions:

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

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

What’s Next:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Health Hazards of Pesticides in Cannabis

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

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

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

Moving Towards a Pesticide-Free Flower  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Video: NCIA Today – May 14, 2021

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

Text Messaging (SMS) Crackdown Impacting the Cannabis Industry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Figure 1:

A Scalable and Sustainable Track and Trace Solution

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#cannabisindustry #legalcannabis #trackandtrace #wearethecannabisindustry #cannabiscompliance

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

by NCIA’s Cannabis Manufacturing Committee

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

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

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

The Data Vacuum Is Holding Back Environmental Sustainability Advancements

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

Cannabis Science Outpacing Regulations

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

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

Cannabis Extraction Processes and Air Quality

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

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

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

Preparing Your Business for the Next Stage

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

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

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

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

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

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

Towards A More Sustainable Future

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


Member Blog: GRAS Cannabinoids

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

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

What is GRAS?

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

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


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

Market Expansion

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

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

Safety Demonstration

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

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

Avoiding Drug Preemption

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

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

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

Side-Stepping Price Wars

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

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

Regulatory Intelligence

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

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


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

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

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


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

by Gary Cohen, Cova Software

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

Product Design and UX

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

Compliance and Traceability

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

Reliability and Data Privacy

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

Inventory Management and Reporting

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

Hardware and Software Integration

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

Product Development and Support

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

Scalability and Cost of Ownership

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

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

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

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

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

by Scott Thomas, National Director of Signature Brands, Genetec 

Securing your cannabis business: Think big from Day 1

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

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

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

Unified security for a centralized view

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

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

Compliance is crucial

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

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

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

Open architecture for longevity

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

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

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

Securing your data

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Video: NCIA Today – April 9, 2021

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

Committee Blog: Fundraising Basics in the Cannabis Industry

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

Part 1 of a 3-part series

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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 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.


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: 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!


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. 


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.


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. 


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

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.

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.



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