Committee Blog: Regulations in the Inhalable Cannabis Space – A Call for Sensible Flavor Regulation for Cannabis Vapes

Published on behalf of NCIA’s State Regulations Committee (SRC)


As the cannabis industry continues to evolve, so do the discussions around regulations, particularly concerning flavor additives in inhalable cannabis products. This blog post represents the members of NCIA’s State Regulations Committee current reflections on the successes and shortcomings of existing cannabis vape regulations, focusing on flavor limitations, safety considerations, quality specifications, and labeling practices. While technical, this topic has a tremendous impact on cannabis brands and consumer safety. 

First, for those who might question the need to add flavors to cannabis vapes, it’s essential to highlight the following points regarding why flavors are added and the benefits they bring: 

Restoration

In some cases, such as with cannabis distillates, processing or manufacturing techniques can alter or remove natural cannabis flavors from vape liquids. Adding cannabis flavors back simply returns the final product back to nature’s intended taste profile, providing consumers with a comprehensive vaping experience.

Mimicking Smoking Sensation

For individuals transitioning from traditional smoking to vaping, flavors can mimic the sensations and tastes they are accustomed to, making the switch more enjoyable and satisfying.

Customizing Preferences

Consumers have diverse preferences, and adding flavors allows them to customize their vaping experience based on their personal taste preferences, whether they prefer fruity profiles or classic cannabis flavors. Akin to aromatherapy, consumers may also predict the mood impression they will experience by vaping a particular flavor. 

Providing Consistency

Consumers often expect certain flavors in products based on their product familiarity so it is important for brands to be able to deliver a consistent vaping experience wherever their product is sold despite changes that the consumer may otherwise notice due to harvesting variability of the cannabis or limitations on strain availability across borders.  

Meeting Market Demands

The vape industry is driven by consumer demand for a wide variety of flavors. Adding flavors allows vape manufacturers to meet market demands and cater to the preferences of different consumer segments. In regions where certain flavors are restricted or banned due to regulation, the legal vape industry is challenged to compete with the illicit market, where flavors would continue to be available. However, these illicit market alternatives may not undergo the same safety and quality standards as legal vape products, potentially posing risks to consumers’ health. By offering a wide range of flavors, the legal vape industry can provide consumers with safer alternatives and help combat the proliferation of potentially unsafe, unregulated products.

Personal taste aside, the dangers of unsafe flavors in unregulated products are real, as was demonstrated in 2019 through cases of EVALI (E-cigarette or Vaping Associated Lung Injury). As detailed in this piece, manufacturers need to follow best practices to protect vaping consumers no matter if they are in regulated cannabis, unregulated cannabis, or the CBD/hemp markets. 

Flavor Limitations

Overall, the addition of flavors to cannabis vapes is not just about enhancing taste but also about meeting consumer expectations and improving consumer safety. Flavors create consistency in products and are common across consumer products we already enjoy daily. Consumers are trained to expect flavor variety and consistency in traditional e-cigarettes, and cannabis vapes should be no different. 

What’s Working?

We commend states like Oregon for taking a pragmatic approach by allowing a broad range of natural, artificial, and cannabis-specific flavoring ingredients while rightly prohibiting scientifically known inhalation hazards. This approach provides broad room for innovation while protecting the public from valid safety risks.

What’s Not Working?

Conversely, restrictions on flavor ingredients to only natural sources, as seen in states like Nevada, California, and New York, are unnecessarily limiting and not scientifically justified. Further limiting flavoring terpenes to being cannabis or hemp-derived, like in Connecticut, also hinders creativity, imposes higher costs, and potentially pushes consumers towards unregulated alternatives. Likewise, enforcement actions to prevent adolescent access to vapes should be prioritized over regulations to limit flavors or labels thought to be more appealing to adolescents. 

Safe Flavors

Everyone’s goal should be to provide consumers with the safest possible experience when using inhalable products containing flavors. What’s safe to eat isn’t always safe to inhale.

What’s Working?

Responsible suppliers implementing robust quality and regulatory pre-qualification measures for all flavor ingredients is a positive step. Vendors should be vetted, approved, and responsible for the products they supply. Encouraging manufacturers to develop comprehensive toxicological programs tailored for inhalation safety is also crucial.

What’s Not Working?

Requiring flavors or flavor ingredients to be listed on the pharmaceutical FDA IID for inhalation is inappropriate and does not guarantee a safer flavor. The only reason flavors or flavor ingredients may be in the FDA IID is because they already exist in pharmaceutical products that went through a safety review process. However, the flavors themselves haven’t been evaluated independently for inhalation safety (emphasis added)

Instead of mandating a specific database of flavors, it’s more appropriate to regulate the process of sourcing and validating ingredients. 

Quality Specifications

Once a desirable and suitable flavor has been identified,  manufacturers need to understand how to maintain quality. 

What’s Working?

Adhering to the approach of FDA’s Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) for quality plans is best practice, ensuring hazards are identified and controlled by qualified individuals at each manufacturing stage. 

What’s Not Working?

Overly broad testing requirements for non-cannabis-derived flavors or multi-ingredient cannabis products are redundant and economically unviable, particularly when hazards are effectively controlled through quality plans at earlier or later stages of a supply chain.

Labeling Practices

Finally, it’s important to examine how manufacturers should disclose when flavoring has been added to products. Consumers have a right to understand if a product is flavored. 

What’s Working?

Simple, consumer-friendly labeling, such as using common terms like “Natural and Artificial Flavors,” aligns with other industry standards and will be recognized by the common consumer.  Adopting labels familiar to the conventional Consumer Packaged Goods (CPG) industry effectively bridges the gap between industries and aligns with how consumers already make these decisions across all products they buy.

What’s Not Working?

Listing the chemical names of all flavoring ingredients, as mandated in Oregon, New York and Missouri, is excessive and may confuse or intimidate consumers. Consumers are not qualified to assess risk from formula information. Unregulated products that do not list flavor ingredients may become more appealing to some consumers that are intimidated by the chemical names on the flavor label of the licensed product. 

Recommendations

Having reasonable and consistent regulations across the country will help to create a safe and level playing field for manufacturers and brands to compete for consumer market share. While nuanced, these regulations materially impact the ability to bring a product to market or make a product economically viable. 

Starting with flexible flavor definitions allows for a wide range of internationally recognized flavor ingredients, including natural, artificial, and cannabis-inspired isolates.

Banning known risks is common sense best practice. This process must be dynamic and listen to science. For example, Diacetyl, once a popular popcorn flavoring, was banned after research concluded it was unsafe for inhalation. A known, published inhalation hazard list is critical. 

Implementing a safety certification policy based on thorough toxicological risk assessments specific to inhalation exposure ensures accountability. 

Finally, adopting simple and recognizable labeling terms like “Natural and Artificial Flavors” and aligning allergen disclosures with established FDA and EU regulations make sense and protect intellectual property. We are advocating for consistency. 

These effective regulations prioritize safety without stifling innovation or burdening stakeholders. We welcome ongoing dialogue and collaboration to develop pragmatic, science-based regulations that benefit consumers and the industry.

Committee Blog: Harnessing the Potential of Partnership Between the Cannabis Industry and Academia

Published by NCIA’s Education Committee (EC)



Although cannabis companies are limited in the scope of their business activities awaiting much needed descheduling, it hasn’t stopped the need for educating and preparing the cannabis workforce. For some states cannabis tax dollars are appropriated to education, violence prevention and workforce development and often developed through the lens of social equity. Ohio,
 Colorado, Illinois, and Michigan for example, each invest in cannabis literacy in some way. Cannabis programs such as Oaksterdam University offer learners certificates or degrees for every aspect of the supply chain. Departments shape cannabis curricula with the support of faculty members and subject matter experts from both the private and nonprofit sector. These diverse educators instruct to prepare employees to fill the expected 1.5 million to 1.75 million cannabis jobs by 2025 as estimated by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Partnering with academia

Legacy growers and professionals from more mature markets like California and Colorado find themselves advising academic partners on the type of information most needed by the first generation of cannabis employees. Amanda Reiman, PhD MSW serves as the Chief Knowledge Officer for New Frontier Data and instructor of Implications of Legalization of Cannabis: Policy and Compliance for Excelsior University, she believes legacy knowledge, paired with academic research, will help address the gaps in knowledge created by prohibition. For decades, academic institutions had to stay an arm’s length from cannabis due to its legality. Now, with state laws changing, it has opened up an opportunity not only for academic institutions to offer coursework to support the emerging industry, but to learn from those who have been growing and working with cannabis prior to legalization,” Reiman says. 

Using the state laws as a baseline for cannabis literacy, programs structure certificates and degrees to prepare learners to understand the complexities of the cannabis industry. For cannabis businesses working with the academic sector is a way to keep the pulse on emerging local talent, remain aware of the effectiveness of educational approaches and in some instances, earn an income. Positioning your business in academic networks is best when it’s both mutually beneficial and ethical.

It is important to keep in mind that programs can lead to good-paying jobs for those who’ve suffered from the war on drugs and justice-impacted populations. 

Some programs are of no cost to students, while others compensate students for their participation. Certifications and degrees however don’t ensure employment. Most importantly cannabis businesses providing subject matter expertise must also continue to learn how to have a favorable impact on student populations that require learning how to serve them best. 

Teaching

When teaching cannabis student populations will vary. It is important to approach the various topics with a sensitivity to the historical injustices and disparities that have existed within the cannabis industry. Some students may have faced disproportionate barriers to entry into the industry due to systemic discrimination and lack of resources. Other students may have different experiences related to health and wellness that when discussing need to be facilitated with great diplomacy, discretion and protection of privacy.

Instructors must provide accurate and unbiased information about cannabis, but sourcing materials may be challenging. It is recommended to identify the most credible and accessible resources for courses.It is also important to acknowledge the potential for exploitation and exploitation of vulnerable communities in the cannabis industry, and to educate students on how to navigate these challenges and protect their rights.

I came into cannabis from teaching urban ecology, urban agriculture and environmental justice concepts and I was quite familiar with learning and teaching novel concepts to diverse audiences. But what I noticed is that it was challenging for my peers. I had helped write our Illinois legislation and also had a professional cannabis network. Industry experts were invaluable for me to be successful in teaching this material and without those trusted peer mentors I doubt I would have been able to create meaningful coursework and identify high quality resources to do so,” shared Mila Marshall, PhD, NCIA Education Committee Chair.

Furthermore, it is crucial to empower social equity students to advocate for themselves and their communities within the cannabis industry. This may involve providing resources and support for networking, business development, and community engagement that are embedded in the course material and syllabi.

Teaching is a skill above and beyond knowing the subject. For subject matter experts to be effective teachers, they should gain knowledge around differential learning styles, student engagement and effective communication,” shared Dr. Reiman. She contends that being a cannabis expert is only part of what is needed to be an effective teacher in the cannabis space. Overall, teaching cannabis with social equity students should be approached with an ethical and inclusive mindset, recognizing the unique challenges and opportunities that these students face in the industry. By promoting transparency, empowerment, and social responsibility, educators can help to foster a more equitable and just cannabis industry for all. Instructors play a key role in unlocking the potential of cannabis learners and there is a learning curve for instructors. Dr. Hemant Kumar has worked many years as a medical cannabis educator and is the Program Director of M.S. in Biotechnology and Office of Online Education and Expanded Programs at Morehouse School of Medicine. He has realized that it’s important to understand the student audiences and their level of knowledge of cannabis. He promotes remaining aware that academia is just as susceptible to the dynamic and fast paced nature of cannabis as an industry. “Scientists are globally publishing cannabis discoveries daily, shared Dr. Hemant. We see there also is a fast growing demand for business and entrepreneurial courses with potential for career pathways; manufacturing, tech start-ups, data analytics, marketing and even healthcare,” Dr.Kumar shared. 

Advisory councils

Programs benefit from the strategic advice of cannabis businesses and social equity advocates. Advisory councils are often informal in nature and independent from state regulation oversight. Council members provide insight on everything from hiring of educational professionals to establishing events and bringing in additional resources to construct greenhouses or implement hands-on internships. Commitments can vary from a single semester to an entire year or more.

Academic Advisory councils provide feedback and direction for long-term goals and strategic planning. With cannabis more in the academic spotlight than ever, it is crucial we start developing programming and educational strategies to highlight cannabis career opportunities.

As cannabis is a continually evolving industry, there are opportunities for subject matter experts to collaborate with the academic community. The cannabis industry intersects with so many different aspects of the workforce that span multiple sectors and academic degrees. Yet there are often missed opportunities for securing talent from junior colleges, trade schools, and research universities.  

Cannabis organizations’ presence at career fairs ideally should be used for visibility and awareness in the cannabis space. This allows future employees and the canna-curious an opportunity to view this industry as a legitimate career path with ample employment opportunities. It closes the communication and educational gaps and offers opportunities for subject matter experts to collaborate with the academic community.

Cannabis companies, like other industries, are part of our nation’s workforce. To normalize our booming industry, it’s important to spread awareness that the medical cannabis space is a thriving industry in need of graduates, interns, and talent from all walks of life, to help fill a myriad of different positions within the cannabis space.

Our industry is unique in that it encompasses so many different fields of study across such a vast range of subject matter.  Educating academia is crucial to paving the way for research and the normalization of this industry. We must empower and support entrepreneurs and their communities by creating an equitable and sustainable cannabis industry. By aligning with academia, we unite with community and industry leaders to achieve cannabis normalization for our communities.

Committee Blog: Unwrapping the Complexities – The Plastic Packaging Predicament

Written by: Karen Quinto, MS Environmental Science, Willow Industries

Balancing Protection, Sustainability, and Safety in the Packaging Industry

In 2012, child-resistant packaging legislation prevented access to children while the legal cannabis market began to open up but the issue persists over a decade later and the topic is still controversial to some.

“CR [Child-resistant] packaging on flower products makes no sense. On edibles sure, but flower? Not to mention that alcohol has no CR, and I’d argue is 100x more harmful to a kid who gets into it…. It feels like a piece of legislation to make regulators feel good about themselves but is a frustration to everyone else,” voiced Tyler Works on his LinkedIn page. 

Works, the Director of Account Management for Cannabiz Media, is not alone on this sentiment.  The delicate balance between protecting products and ensuring consumer safety is continuously challenged by concerns over its efficacy and common sense. 

“When we worked on these rules, this was considered but it was more important to satisfy the minds of the people terrified of kids getting into cannabis,” chimed Gus Green, who helped states adopt the Code of Federal Regulations for the Poison Prevention Packaging Act due to cannabis being a Schedule 1 drug, therefore automatically deemed harmful to children.  “Now is a better time to breach the subject. The Poison Prevention Packaging Act states that any product deemed toxic for a child under 5 years old should be in child- resistant, and senior-friendly packaging. I worked with state agencies around the country to adopt these. The rule is a bit more specific than that if you dive in though, it’s about the ability for a child to ingest a toxic amount within a specific timeframe…[For example] travel-size Listerine bottles are not always CR, but the large bottles are always CR.My specialty was child-resistant, or specialty packaging. Packaging specialists should be the ones rewriting these rules but I often see committee members with no background in the field attempting to write them.”

CFR 16 PART 1700 refers to Title 16, Part 1700 of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), which specifically deals with Poison Prevention Packaging. This regulation focuses on the packaging requirements for substances that are potentially hazardous or poisonous, especially to children. The key objective is to prevent accidental ingestion by children and reduce the risk of poisoning incidents.

The regulation outlines standards and specifications for packaging design and labeling to ensure that products posing a poisoning risk are packaged in a way that makes it difficult for children to open or access the contents. This includes child-resistant closures and barriers to entry. The goal is to enhance the safety of household products, medications, and other substances that could be harmful if ingested by young children. Compliance with CFR 17 PART 1700 is essential to meet safety standards and protect consumers, particularly children, from accidental poisoning.

It seems straightforward enough but there are many problems inherent in adopting a rule that was not specifically made for the cannabis industry.

The Dose Makes the Poison

Works’ earlier sentiment is essentially that “the dose makes the poison”. This fundamental concept in toxicology states that any substance can be harmful in large quantities but may be safe at lower levels. 

Proponents of this sentiment argue that cannabis flower contains THCA, which is a non-psychoactive cannabinoid, meaning it does not produce the “high” associated with THC and cannabis use. THCA is a precursor to THC through decarboxylation, which converts THCA to THC with the application of heat, typically when it is smoked, vaporized or cooked. Therefore, ingestion of THCA is unlikely to cause intoxication in a child. Moreover, Works argued that requiring child-resistant packaging for THC flower is inconsistent with the treatment of other potentially harmful household items that are not subject to the same level of regulation, such as bottles of alcohol that do not require child-resistant packaging despite their inherent availability and quantity in a household.

Advocates for the deregulation of child-resistant packaging of flower might suggest that just like for alcohol, home environment control would suffice in controlling cannabis as a safety measure for children. Storing THC flower in an inaccessible location followed by strong educational measures urging parents to responsibly store and prohibit access could be effective in preventing accidental ingestion.

While these points are presented for the sake of argument, it’s important to reiterate that child-resistant packaging regulations are designed to prioritize child safety. The potential risks associated with accidental ingestion of THC or other substances are serious, and any discussion around exemptions should carefully consider the well-being of children. Public health and safety regulations are typically enacted with the aim of preventing harm and protecting vulnerable populations. But this is not the only issue people have in mind regarding packaging. 

Child-resistant packaging for flower not only seems problematic because it is incongruent with regulations for other harmful household substances including alcohol but also because it creates trash. A lot of it.

The Single-Use Abuse

The Sustainable Cannabis Coalition estimated that in 2020, the US Cannabis Industry used almost one billion pieces of single-use plastic that mostly ended up in landfills.  Research and testing activities–including those for the cannabis industry–adds up to over 12 billion pounds per year. The majority of these plastics cannot be recycled due to their diverse material composition. A whopping 40% of total emissions are attributed to our procured goods and services.

Packaging materials, particularly plastics, are composed of various substrates such as polyethylene, each with distinct properties. Sustainability concerns arise as certain laminated plastics prove difficult to recycle. Challenges persist, especially in the context of single-dose packaging and restrictions on child-resistant reclosable plastics.

“People want to recycle bioplastics but they don’t have good barrier properties,” Gus Green states. “There is also a problem with the idea of biodegradables because they are designed to break down. Biodegradable plastic is not allowed in child-resistant reclosable plastics because the mechanism will fail because the material is frail, but laminated plastics that have great barrier properties cannot be recycled.” 

The Sustainable Cannabis Coalition blog announced that in 2021, CULTA, a cannabis company, partnered with The High 5 Initiative, a non-profit company that’s working to keep Polypropylene #5 plastics out of landfills through recycling. Patients can return packaging to CULTA, where the initiative team sorts and processes the materials, recycling over 95% and transforming #5 plastics into Post Consumer Resin (PCR) for manufacturing other products.

Despite the environmental benefits, transitioning to eco-friendly packaging faces challenges, including cost implications. For instance, CULTA notes that switching to eco-friendly cellulose packaging would increase costs, making it economically challenging for cannabis companies, coupled with perceived quality issues with thinner and more pliable cellulose bags (which may seem cheaper, thus impacting consumer acceptance).

The Future of Plastic Waste in Cannabis 

New metalized child-resistant compostable cellulose film bags have entered the market for the first time and offer the opportunity for both home and industrial composting, including the cannabis industry.

“In Canada, Wyld has adopted child-resistant compostable pouches. Many edibles brands are moving to an inner-outer pack combo with individually-wrapped pieces inside a mother bag, similar to many traditional candies.  Think caramels, Starburst, cough drops, Hershey’s Kisses, Reese’s cups, etc. – cannabis consumers want fresh products, and individual wraps accomplish that.  To avoid more single-use plastics, NatureFlex is seeing significant, promising interest,” Elisha Hedin, a regional sales manager from Futamura, manufacturer of NatureFlex explained. “Compostable films can actually have a very good barrier and NatureFlex is an ideal packaging material for both gummies and flower.  There’s a perception in the industry that compostable materials are low quality and that’s simply not true.”

Wyld, a Climate Neutral Certified brand, offers the cellulose-based packaging made from cellulose film laminated to a biosealant for their gummies. In home composting, this metalized compostable film degrades completely in 12-16 weeks. In industrial settings, it takes twice as fast to convert the cellulose into water, CO2, biomass, and mineral salts in just 6-8 weeks.

Meanwhile, in the research industry, Polycarbin has touted itself as the world’s only circular economy for single-use lab plastics. This California-based company helps labs achieve their sustainability goals by diverting these valuable materials from landfills and incinerators into the next generation of low-carbon lab products.

“Much like with food-tech and biotech, the cannabis industry is driven by a growing dependence on single-use plastics. From the harvest fields to the QC and QA laboratories, it is more important than ever that this industry consider the carbon footprint associated with its supply chain,” James O’Brien, CEO of Polycarbin emphasized. “Through responsible waste stream management and sustainable procurement, the cannabis laboratories can significantly attenuate the environmental impact of a major source of its scope three emissions—fossil fuel-derived, single-use plastics.

As the packaging and research industry grapples with the complex interplay of material properties, sustainability challenges, and stringent safety standards, a delicate balance must be struck. Navigating the evolving landscape requires continuous innovation, collaboration, and adherence to regulations, ensuring that the packaging not only safeguards products but also contributes to a sustainable and secure future.

Committee Blog: A Guide to Navigating Cultivation Environmental Requirements

Navigating environmental requirements and reviews can be one of the most challenging and costly aspects of obtaining a cannabis cultivation license. Environmental standards and regulatory requirements differ from state to state and within local jurisdictions. While regulations may vary, cannabis operators encounter similar environmental requirements nationwide. Environmental reviews and impact assessments require an evaluation of cultivation policies and operations for sediment and erosion control, water usage, wastewater discharge, energy efficiency and carbon footprint, air quality, and odor control. This guide will aid operators in establishing the best practices for these environmental concerns to create a smoother environmental review process for the cultivator. 

Sediment and Erosion Control

Sediment and erosion control methods are required for outdoor cultivation to ensure the facility has a comprehensive mitigation plan to prevent adverse effects the outdoor crop may cause to the land. Sediment controls are structural measures intended to complement and enhance the implemented erosion control practices and reduce any sediment discharge. Erosion control is a soil stabilization process consisting of mitigating measures to prevent soil particles from detaching and moving into stormwater runoff. Ensuring this compliance may include implementing Best Management Practices (BMPs) for Sediment and erosion control. These BMPs should be implemented before the onset of the rainy season, typically in October. Sediment and erosion control devices and measures should be replaced when they deteriorate. 

Sediment Control BMPs

  • Silt fences
  • Fiber rolls
  • Hydroseeding
  • Sediment Trap
    • Inspect the trap on a routine schedule for litter and debris
    • Remove the sediment built up in the trap and sprinkle it lightly over vegetated areas to increase soil fertility
  • Gravel bag berms
  • Sandbag barriers
  • Straw bale barriers
  • Observation station on the property for visual monitoring of sediment pollution
  • Add gravel to dirt roads
  • Add stormwater detention basins

Erosion Control BMPs

  • Vegetative Swales & Buffers
    • Swales should be trimmed to prevent restriction of flow
    • Routinely monitor for any debris and overflow
    • Buffers should be added to the edges of parking lots and storage areas
  • Placement of straw mulch over disturbed land
    • Should be replaced often
  • Soil binders
  • Vegetation preservation
  • Vegetation replacement for any disturbed areas that will not be in use
    • Seed mixes containing native grass and wildflowers
    • Hydroseeding
  • Earth dikes

Waste Usage and Wastewater Discharge

Water usage and wastewater discharge management plans are required to ensure the cultivation facility legally and efficiently obtains its water and that no hazardous water is dumped onto the land surface, directly into the ground, or into another body of water where it could negatively impact the environment. Water usage may require obtaining documentation demonstrating you own the water rights to your facility or property. Cultivations connected to their municipalities’ water district may only need to report that information to meet this requirement. Such a facility may also need to contact its water provider to create a water rights letter showing the operator has the right to use that water. Cultivations that use other water supply methods, like wells, may need to provide a detailed report of their water quality and have well flow testing performed. Depending upon your state, you may also need to show how your water will be conserved. A cultivator may be required to create a water conservation plan detailing the procedures implemented at the cultivation site to conserve water. Wastewater discharging typically will require a cultivation site to apply for a Wastewater Discharge permit. Wastewater discharging plans that thoroughly explain how the cultivation will discharge any hazardous wastewater and what mitigating practices will be implemented to prevent wastewater from entering the environment untreated are also frequent requirements for this process.

Water Conservation Methods

  • Recycling irrigation systems
  • Automated irrigation systems
  • Precision emitters
  • Watering more frequently throughout the day in smaller amounts
  • Planting pots 
  • Divert the dehumidifying and cooling system’s piping into a holding tank to reuse the water for irrigation
  • Use organic mulch around each plant to prevent moisture loss
  • Rainwater harvesting, if allowed in your area
  • Substrate sensors to monitor water saturation

Wastewater Discharge Measures

  • Using planting pots to prevent excess runoff
  • Vegetative swales and buffers to capture wastewater
  • Recycling irrigation systems with reverse osmosis and ultrafiltration or thermal evaporation 
  • Recycling systems that don’t have a filtration system can hold any hazardous wastewater in a holding tank and have it transported to an approved wastewater treatment facility
  • Substrate sensors for the prevention of excess runoff
  • Stormwater runoff prevention
    • Store pesticides, chemicals, and fertilizers indoors and away from any outdoor growing areas and in approved containers
    • Covering wastebins 
    • Divert stormwater away from any stockpiled materials

Energy Efficiency and Carbon Footprint 

Cultivation energy efficiency and carbon footprint reporting are becoming more popular among regulators as the country moves toward environmentally friendly practices. Energy efficiency may require the cultivation site to comply with specific requirements for equipment and lighting. Many licensing bodies also require an energy efficiency plan that details what mitigating measures the operator will implement to reduce energy costs. Carbon footprint reporting may require greenhouse gas emission (GHG) reporting, which can require a cultivator to purchase carbon offsets. Green energy plans are sometimes required; these plans demonstrate how the cultivation will utilize green energy options to reduce their carbon footprint. 

Energy Efficiency

  • LED lighting 
  • Automated irrigation systems
  • Automated blackout curtains for greenhouses 
  • On-site composting 
  • Low-flow fixtures
  • Split ductless air condition
  • Chilled water systems for dehumidification
  • Modulating hot gas reheat forced air systems
  • Sensor motion lighting in rooms that aren’t frequently entered
  • Adjust lighting schedules based on the weather if using mixed-light
  • Installing solar panels
  • Request an energy efficiency review from your utility provider 

Carbon Footprint

  • Sign up with a clean energy provider that partners with your utility company and reinvests the funds from the program into clean energy initiatives in your state
  • Avoid generation use wherever possible
  • Install renewable energy sources at your facility, like solar panels 
  • Replace pesticides with biocontrols using predatory insects
  • Use recycled or biodegradable packaging, even for wholesale flower
  • Cultivate companion plants that deter pests and attract beneficial insects
  • Reduce or eliminate lighting requirements by establishing a greenhouse or outdoor cultivation facility

Air Quality and Odor Control 

Air quality reviews may be triggered for cultivation facilities, including the requirement to obtain an air permit. Air permits allow an operator to release a limited amount of pollution within certain restrictions. Air quality reviews for cultivations are triggered by several factors based on the state requirements, some of which may include drying, processing, generator use, fugitive emissions, and pesticide application. If a cultivator is required to obtain an air permit, they will be licensed to perform those activities. Cultivations going through air quality reviews may need to provide an Air Quality Control Plan outlining the mitigation efforts the cultivator will make for air quality pollution. Odor Control Plans are one of the most common regulatory requirements for cannabis businesses. If your environmental review includes odor control and you operate an outdoor cultivation site, you may be required to conduct an odor control study on your facility. These studies use wind patterns to measure the distance the odor from your cultivation will travel. Based on your state or local jurisdiction’s requirements, an odor control study may require you to move the border of your canopy. Conversely, an odor control study may prove that your cultivation will not be a nuisance due to odor pollution, and no mitigating measures will be required. Odor control plans should detail precisely what mitigating measures the cultivator will implement and, if available, data on how effective those measures will be. 

Air Quality Control Plans

  • Wetting the surface of dirt roads during the dry season
  • Encourage ride-share amongst your employees
  • Reduce VOCs wherever possible 
    • This can include timing harvesting to reduce ozone impact
  • Include a chemical usage plan that describes how pesticides, fertilizers, and other agents will be stored and disposed of in alliance with the manufacturer’s recommendations
    • Detail how you will maintain Safety Data Sheets (SDS) on all chemicals at the facility 

Odor Control Plans

  • Indoor cultivations and greenhouses can implement the following measures:
    • Use carbon filters 
      • Explain in your plan how carbon filters work, provide data on their filtration rates, which you can locate in the manufacturer’s guide, and how often you will replace them
    • Use wet scrubbers for indoor cultivation or greenhouses
      • Explain how the air is treated when it passes through the scrubber
    • Implement biofiltration measures
      • Explain how the air will pass through soil, mulch, or other organic matter to filter the air
    • Use oxidization treatments through your facility’s ventilation system 
      • Explain how the process of oxidization removes odor 
    • Have open communication with your neighbors regarding odor 
      • Explain how you will speak with your surrounding neighbors about any odor concerns and request your neighbors contact you if they do smell odor so you can begin an assessment into structural or equipment failures and, if needed, implement further mitigating measures to your plan
  • Outdoor cultivations can implement the following methods:
    • Hire a professional to do an odor study to prove your facility’s compliance
    • Plant fragrant flowers around the exterior of the site 
    • Use oxidization treatments through high-pressure misting devices around your cultivation area 
      • Explain how the process of oxidization removes odor 
  • All cultivation types should have open communication with surrounding neighbors regarding odor
    • Explain how you will speak with your surrounding neighbors about any odor concerns and request your neighbors contact you if they do smell odor so you can begin an assessment into structural or equipment failures and, if needed, implement further mitigating measures to your plan

As regulatory requirements vary across the country, cultivators should carefully read their regulations and contact state and local departments for guidance on requirements specific to their operations. A thorough understanding of what plans must be created, studies performed, and special permits obtained will create a smooth environmental review process. Join the upcoming NCIA webinar from the Cannabis Cultivation Committee to dive deep with industry professionals on navigating environmental reviews across the United States.

Committee Blog: Discovering the Potency of Data – How Cannabis Brands Can Harness Audience Insights to Elevate Success

In the rapidly evolving landscape of the cannabis industry, understanding your audience is critical to staying ahead of the curve. For brands, this can be difficult given retailers hold the keys to their customer data. However, through the utilization of digital marketing, cannabis brands have the opportunity to glean invaluable insights from their audience data. In this comprehensive breakdown, we’ll explore how cannabis brands can leverage audience data from programmatic advertising, email campaigns, SEO and more to gain a deeper understanding of their customers and enhance their overall success.

The Power of Data in the Cannabis Industry

Data is the cornerstone of informed decision-making, and in the cannabis industry, with its regulatory restrictions and shifting consumer preferences, its importance cannot be overstated. By harnessing audience data from digital marketing campaigns, cannabis brands can move beyond conjecture and gain actionable insights into their customers’ behaviors, preferences, and needs.

Analyzing Audience Demographics

One of the primary benefits of digital marketing is the ability to gather detailed demographic information about your audience. Through tools like Google Analytics, social media insights, campaign reports, and customer relationship management (CRM) platforms, cannabis brands can paint a vivid picture of their customer base. From age and gender to location and interests, this demographic data provides invaluable insights into who your customers are and how best to engage with them.

Understanding Consumer Behavior

Beyond demographic data, digital marketing campaigns offer a window into consumer behavior. By tracking website traffic, engagement metrics, and conversion rates, cannabis brands can gain a deeper understanding of how customers interact with their brand online. This insight allows brands to identify trends, uncover pain points, and optimize their digital presence to better meet the needs of their audience.

Personalizing the Customer Experience

One of the most powerful applications of audience data is in personalizing the customer experience. By segmenting their audience based on demographic information, cannabis brands can tailor their messaging and offerings to resonate with individual customers. Whether through targeted email campaigns, customized product recommendations, or educational content, this level of personalization not only enhances the customer experience but also drives engagement and loyalty.

Optimizing Marketing Strategies

Audience data also serves as a compass for guiding marketing strategies in the cannabis industry. By analyzing the performance of various marketing channels, content types, and messaging approaches, brands can identify what resonates most with their audience and allocate resources accordingly. Whether it’s investing more heavily in content creation, refining digital advertising tactics, or experimenting with email campaigns, data-driven insights enable brands to optimize their marketing efforts for maximum impact.

Predicting Trends and Forecasting Demand

In addition to informing day-to-day marketing decisions, audience data can also provide valuable insights into larger industry trends and consumer preferences. By analyzing macro-level data trends across their customer base, cannabis brands can identify emerging market opportunities, anticipate shifts in demand, and stay ahead of the curve. Whether it’s launching new product lines, expanding into new geographic areas, or pivoting to meet evolving consumer needs, data-driven forecasting empowers brands to make informed strategic decisions.

Enhancing Product Development

Finally, audience data can play a pivotal role in shaping product development strategies within the cannabis industry. By soliciting feedback from customers through surveys, reviews, and social media interactions, brands can gain valuable insights into product satisfaction, preferences, and needs. This feedback loop not only informs the development of new products but also enables brands to refine existing offerings based on real-time customer input, ensuring that their products remain relevant and competitive in a rapidly evolving market.

Conclusion

In conclusion, audience data is a potent asset for cannabis brands seeking to unlock the full potential of their marketing efforts. By analyzing demographic information, understanding consumer behavior, personalizing the customer experience, optimizing marketing strategies, predicting trends, and enhancing product development, brands can gain a deeper understanding of their customers and elevate their overall success in the cannabis industry. As digital marketing opportunities continue to evolve, brands that harness the power of data will undoubtedly emerge as leaders in this dynamic and rapidly growing market.

Committee Blog: The Importance of Insurance and Risk Management for Early State Applicants

Published by NCIA’s Risk Management & Insurance Committee (RMIC)


2024 is shaping up to be a bang-up year for cannabis whether its constant news about the potential for federal action regarding rescheduling, or multiple states expanding their current cannabis markets or entering the cannabis space for the first time. As exciting as all this is for prospective cannabis business owners and operators, there’s an issue which we in the cannabis industry often encounter time and time again.

There’s plenty of businesses seeking to enter the industry who overlook the importance of insurance and risk management. This may not be the most exciting topics when thinking about cannabis, but its one of the most important and often sidelined. Here, we’ll dive into how insurance and risk management can impact your cannabis business and why it’s important not to delay this vital step in your business development. 

Insurance and Cannabis 

Due to the current federal illegality of cannabis, just the process of getting insurance for your cannabis business can be a headache. But just because it can be frustrating to get, doesn’t mean that this important business step should be forgotten about or ignored. If anything, starting early on your cannabis insurance path will help set you apart from others in early licensing phases and can often help with getting a license itself. 

All states which have their own cannabis market require some form of insurance, and many require insurance documentation as a requirement for the licensing process. This can often be any form of insurance—from fire protection to property—so long as it’s up to date and follows the state regulations and guidelines. 

What Are the Risks? 

Perhaps no bigger risk in working with cannabis nowadays is the federal side of business. While we are eager about the prospects for rescheduling and with that, hopefully, some banking regulations such as some version of the SAFE Banking Act, there is always the federal risks. The odds are low that the federal government is going to step in and shut down all cannabis operations in states, but they aren’t entirely eliminated risks either. 

Of course, when it comes to risk management, the federal government and their response to cannabis business isn’t the only thing business owners need to be concerned with. There’s the risks of theft of cash, diversion of cannabis and cannabis product, and even high turnover of staff. These are all inherent risks that should be managed and assessed when pursuing a cannabis license. This is also the case for businesses which may be up and running, though it is most critical to assess the risks and your own handling of them as early as possible.   

Early Steps to Take 

Let’s say you’re interested in opening your cannabis business. Maybe you’ve received a provisional license from the state, or perhaps you’re waiting for an application licensing round to open. What should you do when it comes to insurance and risk management? 

Simple; start sooner than you anticipate. Over the years, clients have asked me countless times, “When should I get to work?”. It never hurts to be over-prepared, but it can torpedo your chances at licensure or opening a compliant cannabis business if you delay or rush some of the most important and necessary business functions. Insurance and risk management may not be what gets people into cannabis (I’m a nerd and think both these areas or interesting but even *I* wouldn’t say they’re what got me into this industry!) but they are essential. Start early and begin doing your own research in these areas.

Thankfully, there are insurance providers who will work with “plant-touching” businesses such as a dispensary or cultivation facility. They may not be the easiest to come by, but they are out there and are familiar with cannabis operations and the risks associated with insuring a business like yours. 

And when it comes to risk management, identify your own risks through a thorough SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) or a detailed risk assessment. Find professionals who can guide you through this too if needed, as they’ll be the ones who can highlight what are some of the unique and individualized risks your business may have. For example, an outdoor cultivator has different risks than an indoor cultivator or a hoop-house cultivator. 

When it comes to insurance and risk management, it’s never too early to begin discussing and meeting with professionals who can help and this is an area which shouldn’t be ignored or put onto the back burner for too long.

Committee Blog: Crash & Grab – Hitting the Brakes on a Cannabis Burglary Trend

Published by NCIA’s Risk Management & Insurance Committee (RMIC)

Contributors:

Ben Taylor, Executive Director of the Cannabis Information Sharing & Analysis Organization

Matthew Johnson, Risk Consultant at AssuredPartners

Haley Glover, Senior Security Consultant at Sapphire Risk


So, you run a cannabis business. You’ve spent years and years going through the licensing process, finding a suitable facility, hiring qualified employees, and growing top shelf buds to impress sophisticated buyers. 

It hasn’t been easy – and it hasn’t been cheap. But that feeling you get when you help a sick customer find their new favorite medicine – well, that makes it all worthwhile. After all that hard work, nobody wants to see it all slip away in the middle of the night (and sometimes broad daylight) due to theft.

We have long known cannabis businesses’ perceived abundance of cash on hand has attracted criminal activity. This is evident with the industry’s issues of armed robberies and the silent scourge of employee theft, targeting everyone — well-known brands like Cookies to mom & pop shops. This blog will examine a recent trend which has been on the rise, criminals utilizing vehicles to breach facilities in the act of a burglary. 

Dude, Where Did This Car Come From?

Have you recently seen a headline like “Thieves Crash Stolen SUV into Seattle Marijuana Dispensary During Burglary,” or “Five Arrested After Stolen Vehicle Involved In Cannabis Dispensary Robbery Crashes,” and think you were having déjà vu? Unfortunately, those two incidents happened months apart, in two different states last year. The fact is that criminals are increasingly utilizing vehicles as the primary means of breaching cannabis facilities to obtain cash & product. 

While not a new technique, vehicle rammings have risen in prevalence over the past few years, sparked in part by a TikTok trend known as the Kia Boyz. As the Cannabis Information Sharing & Analysis Organization (Cannabis ISAO) detailed for The Blunt, the trend starting picking up within the industry in 2022 as social media spread details on how to easily start non push-button ignitions on certain makes and models utilizing a USB charger.

It is important to understand crime trends like this to evaluate a changing risk landscape, which can impact how resources are deployed. But for this blog, how a criminal obtained a stolen vehicle and breached your outer security isn’t the most relevant question. We will focus both on mitigation strategies, as well as how to respond to such incidents.

Let’s Hear From A Security Professional

With years of experience in cannabis (not to mention jewelry stores and pawn shops), the Sapphire Risk team are bona fide experts in security. Though they prefer to be involved as early as the application/buildout process, Sapphire’s team frequently gets called in after break-ins to help operators fortify their facilities.

We spoke with Sapphire Risk’s Senior Security Consultant Haley Glover, who shared the following advice about preventing unauthorized vehicular-assisted entry. “Implementing physical barriers like bollards or security planters placed strategically around the exterior of the building are great ways to prevent a vehicle from successfully driving through your location.” Bollards can be tremendously effective at stopping an errant vehicle in its tracks. Keep an eye out and you’re likely to notice them around federal buildings, banks, and high-end retail stores!

Another area of concern for cannabis businesses are the entryways. Haley advises, “A business can utilize the strongest and most secure door, but without a frame to match it, the door is useless, so it’s important to consider all aspects of a facility when securing it and identifying where threats and vulnerabilities could be present.” Don’t put a strong door in the middle of some cheap drywall!

Beyond Walls, Bars & Guards

While Warden Norton from Shawshank Redemption felt the only way to spend tax-payers’ hard-earned money was to get “more walls, more bars, and more guards”, adding additional physical barriers is not the only deterrence strategy that cannabis operators should be considering to safeguard their facilities.

Washington State’s Senate unanimously passed a bill that would increase penalties for anyone who utilizes a vehicle to gain entry into a cannabis retailer. Senate Bill 6133, sponsored by state Sen. Jim McCune, R-Graham, would have a new “special allegation” to seek an additional year of custody for the convicted criminal. Prosecutors could also charge the suspect with either first-degree or second-degree robbery – a class A or class B felony, respectively. (A PDF of the bill can be viewed here.)

NCIA’s Risk Management & Insurance Committee recently spoke with Senator McCune’s staff to learn more about this initiative. It is important to note that while this bill’s genesis from legislative recognition of a growing safety problem, there is now a model for industry professionals in other states to help drive legislation that will serve as a proactive deterrent.

While the passing of the Integrity, Notification, and Fairness in Online Retail Marketplaces for Consumers (INFORM Act) by Congress last year made headlines as a major win in the fight against Organized Retail Crime (ORC), it’s mainly addresses the problem of reselling stolen merchandise via online marketplaces, which is not the destination of stolen cannabis products. This is further proof cannabis businesses need to lean into their State legislatures to get support that is currently unavailable at the Federal level. Efforts like the Robbery Tracker that has been put together for several years by Uncle Ike’s Ian Eisenberg can help demonstrate to legislators the need for additional crime deterrents.

Dive into Insurance Mumbo Jumbo

Let’s talk about Protective Safeguards endorsements on cannabis property policies. These endorsements will exclude losses if all the described protective safeguards (security guards, alarms, cameras, vault, etc.) aren’t in place and/or properly functioning. Imagine having a house fire and getting your claim denied because you didn’t replace the batteries in your smoke detector. Well, it’s the same thing for cannabis. 

Protective Safeguards endorsements can be as simple as a burglar alarm or as demanding as needing a follow car, two way radios, and telematics in place for your cannabis delivery vehicles. Another common provision is for product on display – most insurance policies required product to be stored in a safe/vault while a store is non-operational, with a sublimit only allowing around 25% of stock to be on display at any given time. Whatever the situation, best to make sure you read the policy thoroughly and understand what is required of you for coverage to respond.

One should also be familiar with the coverage sublimits in their policy and adjust them regularly to adequately reflect stock on hand. In another scenario, a cannabis business has all of their security systems and protective safeguards in line. Robbers come by and steal millions of dollars worth of cannabis products — but the business only has a $100,000 sublimit for cannabis inventory! Imagine the frustration of following all the rules and only walking away with a partial reimbursement after a huge loss. 

Incident Response

As with any incident, things go more smoothly when you have a plan in place and everyone knows their roles and responsibilities. This can help ensure to both expedite the process, while also making sure vital steps are not overlooked. 

Some items that should be contemplated in the plan might include:

  • Contact local law enforcement
  • Gather and maintain written event logs
  • CCTV video storage and maintenance
  • Appropriate follow-up steps depending on the situation 
    • security weak-spot reviews, 
    • HR interviews, 
    • medical follow-up, or
    • filing an insurance claim

By having formal guidelines in place for event response, you’ll save valuable time and money getting the business operational again — while minimizing the confusion that your employees face during a time of crisis. 

Conclusion 

The RMIC advocates for a proactive approach to risk management that emphasizes the importance of informed decision-making. When in doubt, contact a trusted insurance professional and get a second set of eyes on your coverage — and your protective safeguards!


 

Committee Blog: Navigating Cybersecurity Risks in the Cannabis Industry

Cannabis Industry Cybersecurity threats are on the rise, and organizations that don’t take a proactive approach to information security may see themselves increasingly targeted. In this blog, members of National Cannabis Industry Association’s Risk Management & Insurance (RMIC) details key considerations to help cannabis organizations enhance their network security. Throughout the blog there are hyperlinks for further information on certain topics, and for those organizations just getting started on their cannabis industry cybersecurity journey, two free resources to consider investigating are the Small Business Administration’s (SBA) Cybersecurity Guide and the Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency’s (CISA) Cyber Essentials Starter Kit.

A Business Case for Cybersecurity Investment.

Like with any business investment, increasing cyber defense resources must provide a sufficient ROI for the business. When considering cybersecurity, it may be best to define that as Regret Of Inaction. Consider that according to IBM’s 2023 Cost of a Data Breach Report the average cost of a breach has reached an all-time high of $4.45M. The old adage, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” is certainly applicable to security measures.

Cybersecurity risks are not just applicable to large enterprises, Accenture’s Cybercrime study reveals that nearly 43% of cyber-attacks are targeted at small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs), and 60% of small businesses close within 6 months of being hacked.

Cannabis Industry Cybersecurity Starts with People

Any cultural shift at an organization needs to start from the top, and that includes security. Security culture needs to be driven from the top. Adopting proper policies and procedures to properly safeguard organization networks and personnel is key. This includes regular employee training. As many as 95% of attacks are caused by human error.

Being a Victim Stinks- Elevate Your Basic Cyber Hygiene

The National Cybersecurity Alliance just completed Cybersecurity Awareness Month, where they stressed four of the key principles which can help better secure organizations. We’ll touch on each below, and for additional best practices check out the Cannabis Information Sharing & Analysis Organization’s (Cannabis ISAO) blog from 420 where they asked 4 cybersecurity experts to compile 20 tips for the cannabis industry.

Navigating Cyber Insurance

The world of business insurance, especially in the cannabis sector, can be quite complex. However, with the insights provided here, you can navigate your policy purchasing process with confidence and ensure your business is fortified against potential risks. By understanding policy forms, adhering to safeguards, and adapting to local regulations, you can lay a resilient foundation for your business’s growth and success.

“In Cannabis, we don’t get many options when it comes to cyber insurance providers, so it’s important we put our best foot forward when seeking or renewing cyber insurance policies. Work with your broker early to understand any changes upcoming to policies and the expectations being set by your insurers. When you can, hire a dedicated team that is focused on securing your digital estate, and leverage well known guidance frameworks such as NIST CSF, CIS Top 20, and HIPAA, and work with an independent party to verify your progress, which help keep your premium costs down long-term and reduce the risk of you having an incident that requires you to file a claim in the first place.”- Chris Clai, Director of Information Security, Green Thumb Industries

Stay up to date on Cannabis Industry Cybersecurity threats and trends

Cyber criminals are opportunistic and will look for any advantage to beat cannabis industry cybersecurity systems or trick employees. Holidays can be a prime time for attacks because of employees taking time off and being more distracted than usual. Holidays and major newsworthy events can also lead to a spike in phishing and other scam activities. In the same way FEMA often warns people to look out for scams after natural disasters, consider what industry news may cause a lot of buzz that could also be used in phishing campaigns. Announcements related to a new state legalizing adult use, or legislative updates around SAFER Banking could all be hiding malicious links.

Being involved in communities that actively sharing information about ongoing threats can be very beneficial. A member of the Cannabis ISAO recently shared details of cash management company who had been a victim of a Business Email Compromise (BEC) which led to fraudulent wire transfer requests being sent out. Days later MJBizDaily reported a similar incident which resulted in the loss of funds totalling nearly $650K for MariMed. Keeping up to date on these types of incidents can help inform employees of the current threat landscape, and boost organizational resilience.

Incident Response

Responding to a cybersecurity incident is not the first time you want to be considering what your response processes are. In response to the recent high profile MGM and Caesars ransomware incidents, National Cyber Security Alliance Executive Director Lisa Plaggemier stated “the best way to deal with a ransomware attack is to practice having one, to do tabletop exercises.” Having plans and procedures in place are important, but it’s equally important to test and validate those plans.

In the event of an incident, it may be necessary to utilize a digital forensic vendor. Consider having one on retainer, or at least establishing a relationship ahead of time to enable a speedy response. In some cases your cyber insurance company may have preferred vendors for this type of work.

Conclusion

The RMIC advocates for a proactive approach to risk management that emphasizes the importance of informed decision-making. By evaluating an insurer’s claims experience, comprehending legal nuances, and staying attuned to the evolving threat landscape, you can empower your business with robust protection, ensuring a resilient foundation for growth and success.

Published by NCIA’s Risk Management & Insurance Committee (RMIC)

Contributors: 

Ben Taylor, Executive Director of the Cannabis Information Sharing & Analysis Organization

Matthew Johnson, Risk Consultant at AssuredPartners

Committee Blog: Leveraging Business AI Tools for Scaling Cannabis Companies – Strategies and Implementation

Produced by: NCIA’s Retail Committee

Introduction

The cannabis industry has experienced remarkable growth in recent years, as both regulatory landscapes and public perceptions shift. As the market expands, cannabis companies face increasing pressure to scale their operations while maintaining compliance and meeting customer demands. In this era of digital transformation, Business AI tools, such as ChatGPT, offer innovative solutions that can empower cannabis companies to streamline processes, enhance customer experiences, and drive growth. A tremendous benefit is it takes little skill to learn how to use AI for a beginner or one could work with an expert in AI. In this article, we will explore the potential of AI tools in the cannabis industry and delve into strategies for their effective implementation to achieve desirable business outcomes.

The Power of Business AI Tools in the Cannabis Industry

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is transforming various industries, and the cannabis sector is no exception. Business AI tools encompass a range of technologies, including natural language processing (NLP), machine learning (ML), and data analytics, all of which can be harnessed to address the unique challenges faced by cannabis companies seeking to scale.

  • Enhanced Customer Engagement: One of the critical aspects of scaling any business is effective customer engagement. AI-powered chatbots, like ChatGPT, can provide personalized, round-the-clock support to customers, addressing inquiries, guiding purchasing decisions, and even providing product recommendations. These chatbots create a seamless and responsive customer experience, fostering loyalty and increasing sales.
  • Data-Driven Insights: AI tools can analyze vast amounts of data to extract valuable insights that can inform strategic decisions. For cannabis companies, this could mean analyzing customer preferences, tracking market trends, reviewing internal operations management, and optimizing supply chain management. These insights enable businesses to adapt quickly to changing market dynamics and stay ahead of competitors.
  • Process Automation: Tedious and time-consuming tasks can hinder scalability. AI-powered automation can optimize inventory management, order processing, and regulatory compliance, allowing employees to focus on higher-value activities. This not only increases efficiency but also reduces the risk of errors.
  • Predictive Analytics: Predicting demand and optimizing production are crucial for scaling operations. AI can analyze historical data to forecast market demand, ensuring that companies can maintain sufficient inventory levels and avoid overstocking or shortages.
  • Regulatory Compliance: Navigating the complex and ever-changing landscape of cannabis regulations is a significant challenge. AI can assist in monitoring compliance by cross-referencing business practices against current regulations, minimizing the risk of legal issues.

Implementation Strategies for Business AI Tools

While the potential benefits of AI tools are clear, effective implementation is key to realizing those benefits. Here are some strategies for cannabis companies to consider when integrating AI technologies into their operations:

  • Identify Pain Points and Goals: Begin by identifying the specific pain points your cannabis company faces in its scaling efforts. Whether it’s customer service bottlenecks, inventory management challenges, or regulatory compliance hurdles, pinpointing these issues will guide your AI implementation strategy.
  • Certified Professionals and Agencies: Collaborating with certified AI professionals or agencies that specialize in your industry can provide invaluable expertise. These experts can assess your business requirements, recommend suitable AI tools, and tailor solutions to your unique needs. Their experience ensures a smoother and more effective implementation process.
  • Data Collection and Preparation: AI thrives on data, so ensuring clean, accurate, and comprehensive data is crucial. Collaborate with your AI partner to define data requirements, gather relevant information, and organize it for analysis. This step forms the foundation for accurate predictions and insights.
  • Customization and Training: Generic AI models can be a starting point, but tailoring these models to your cannabis business is essential. Work with your AI professionals to fine-tune algorithms, customize chatbot responses, and train the system to recognize industry-specific nuances.
  • Continuous Monitoring and Improvement: Implementing AI tools is not a one-time task. Continuously monitor AI performance, gather feedback from customers and employees, and refine your AI systems accordingly. This iterative process ensures that your AI tools evolve with your business needs.
  • Change Management and Training: Introducing AI into your company may require employees to adapt to new processes. Effective change management, including training programs and clear communication, can help employees embrace AI technologies and use them to their full potential.

Desirable Outcomes and Future Considerations

The successful implementation of Business AI tools can yield a multitude of desirable outcomes for cannabis companies:

  • Scalability: By automating processes and optimizing operations, cannabis businesses can scale their production, distribution, and customer base more efficiently.
  • Improved Customer Experiences: AI-powered chatbots provide prompt and personalized customer service, enhancing the overall experience and fostering brand loyalty.
  • Data-Driven Decision-Making: AI-driven insights enable data-backed decisions, reducing uncertainty and enabling proactive responses to market changes.
  • Regulatory Adherence: AI tools can help ensure compliance with evolving cannabis regulations, minimizing legal risks and potential setbacks.
  • Innovation and Competitive Edge: Embracing AI technologies positions cannabis companies as forward-thinking, innovative players in the industry, setting them apart from competitors.

As the cannabis industry continues to evolve, it’s important to consider potential future developments and challenges. These may include:

  • Ethical Considerations: As AI becomes more integrated into business operations, it’s important to address ethical concerns surrounding data privacy, transparency, and bias.
  • Regulatory Changes: The cannabis industry’s regulatory landscape is dynamic. AI tools must adapt to new rules and compliance requirements, requiring ongoing monitoring and adjustments.
  • Advanced AI Capabilities: AI technology is advancing rapidly. Cannabis companies should stay informed about emerging AI tools and consider how they can further enhance business operations.

Conclusion

In the ever-expanding cannabis industry, the integration of Business AI tools holds immense potential for companies aiming to scale their operations and achieve sustainable growth. From enhancing customer engagement to optimizing processes and predicting market trends, AI technologies like ChatGPT offer tangible benefits that can drive innovation and success. By partnering with certified professionals or agencies and following effective implementation strategies, cannabis businesses can navigate the complexities of AI adoption and position themselves as industry leaders. As the industry evolves, a thoughtful and strategic approach to AI implementation will be essential for cannabis companies looking to thrive in a competitive market.

Committee Blog: Navigating Cannabis Insurance – 10 Essential Insights for Buyers

Produced by: NCIA’s Risk Management & Insurance Committee

Contributing Authors: Stephanie Bozzuto, Cannabis Connect Insurance, Acrisure Partner | Merril Gilbert, Trace Trust | Shay Aaron Gilmore, The Law Office of Shay Aaron Gilmore | Matthew Johnson, AssuredPartners

Navigating the labyrinth of insurance coverage can be daunting for any business owner, especially within the emerging cannabis industry. Questions like “What coverage do I need?” and “How do I ensure my policy covers my exposures?” are common and crucial. The National Cannabis Industry Association’s Risk Management & Insurance Committee is here to guide cannabis business operators in protecting both personal and business assets.

Below are ten key insights and considerations to guide you when purchasing your next insurance policy. Whether you have a policy in place or are exploring multiple policies, it’s crucial to ensure they align with your intended coverage.

  1. Understanding Policy Forms, Endorsements, and Exclusions

Policy forms, endorsements, and exclusions are pivotal during a claim. For instance, some policies sold to cannabis companies in the US have outright ‘cannabis business exclusions’. It’s crucial to read and understand these documents to avoid jeopardizing your business.

  1. Compliance with Protective Safeguards

To ensure theft coverage response in a loss, understand and comply with the protective safeguards on your property insurance policy. For example, non-compliance with a Central Station Alarm Warranty can exclude coverage after a robbery.

  1. Landlord Insurance Requirements

Understand the insurance coverage required by your landlord before signing any contract. If a triple net lease is required, you, as the lessee, will need to insure not only your business but also the building, which can be costly.

  1. Local Insurance Requirements

Each city, state, and county permitting cannabis will have its own insurance requirements, often including general liability, product liability, commercial auto insurance, and workers’ compensation.

Some states have created specific requirements not present in other states (looking at you, Michigan!). Consult with an attorney to fully understand and meet these requirements.

  1. Facility Maintenance

Maintain and update your facilities, especially if they are older than 20 years, to avoid limited property coverage and being forced to buy an “actual cash value” policy versus “replacement cost.” Updates to your HVAC, plumbing, roofing, and electrical systems are well worth the investment.

  1. High-Risk Area Considerations

If your facility is in a high brush area, be prepared for limited property insurance options and a list of exclusions due to tighter wildfire insurance availability. Your insurer may offer expanded coverage if you’re willing to invest in wildfire defense systems.

  1. Evaluating Insurance Companies

Know the financial strength of your insurance company before purchasing. Consider whether the company is admitted or non-admitted and research their reputation and claims experience.

  1. Claims Experience

Inquire about the carrier’s claims handling experience, conditions of coverage, and the duration it takes to receive a payout from a covered loss. If your broker doesn’t have claims experience with a given carrier, feel free to ask someone on the NCIA’s Risk Management & Insurance Committee.

  1. Legal Concepts and Types of Insurance

Understand the legal concepts involved in property and liability insurance and familiarize yourself with the different types of property insurance policies available on the market. For instance – are you purchasing an admitted or a non-admitted insurance policy? Are you on an ‘all risk’ or a ‘named perils’ coverage form?

  1. Grasping Liability Insurance Distinctions

Liability insurance is crucial, acting as “third-party” coverage, contrasting with “first-party” coverage like property insurance, which protects against damage to one’s own assets.

  • Duty to Defend vs. Duty to Indemnify
    • Understanding the difference between the duty to defend and the duty to indemnify is vital. The former is broader, obligating the insurer to defend the insured in lawsuits, even if allegations are baseless. The latter only kicks in if the insured is found legally liable for damages.
  • Defense Inside/Outside the Limits
    • One should also inquire about defense inside versus defense outside the limits of a liability policy. A policy with ‘defense outside’ considers all legal costs separate from the total liability coverage, while legal fees will erode the total liability limit for a ‘defense inside’ policy.
  • Insurable Interest
    • An insured must have a direct financial interest in the preservation of the property and be exposed to monetary loss as an immediate and proximate result of its destruction. The interest must not be contingent or expectant. Interest in anything not founded on an actual right to the property is uninsurable.
  • Scope and Importance in Cannabis Industry
    • The scope of liability insurance, covering legal costs and payouts, is essential, especially in the cannabis industry, where legal landscapes and associated risks are continuously evolving. Adequate coverage is paramount to mitigate potential financial losses due to unique legal challenges and risks, such as product liability claims.

Conclusion

The world of business insurance, especially in the cannabis sector, can be quite complex. However, with the insights provided here, you can navigate your policy purchasing process with confidence and ensure your business is fortified against potential risks. By understanding policy forms, adhering to safeguards, and adapting to local regulations, you can lay a resilient foundation for your business’s growth and success.

The proactive approach advocated by the National Cannabis Industry Association’s Risk Management committee emphasizes the importance of informed decision-making. By evaluating an insurer’s claims experience, comprehending legal nuances, and staying attuned to industry developments, you can empower your business with robust protection, ensuring a resilient foundation for growth and success.

Committee Blog: Cannabis Cultivation Facilities vs. Cannabis Retail Facilities – Disparities and Economic Impact

Published by NCIA’s Cannabis Cultivation Committee (CCC)

The cannabis industry has experienced a significant transformation in recent years, with the legalization and decriminalization of cannabis in many regions around the world. This shift has led to the emergence of two distinct yet interconnected sectors within the cannabis market: cultivation facilities and retail facilities. While both play a vital role in the cannabis supply chain, they exhibit notable disparities that have a substantial impact on the economy.

Cultivation Facilities: Nurturing the Green

Cannabis cultivation facilities are the backbone of the industry, responsible for the growth and cultivation of the cannabis plant. These facilities are typically large-scale operations that require advanced horticultural techniques, specialized equipment, and a controlled environment to ensure the optimal growth of cannabis plants. Cultivators must navigate various factors such as lighting, temperature, humidity, and nutrient levels to produce high-quality yields.

One of the most significant disparities between cultivation and retail facilities lies in their resource requirements. Cultivation facilities demand substantial capital investment for equipment, real estate, utilities, and staffing. High-quality lighting systems, advanced climate control mechanisms, and nutrient delivery systems contribute to the significant start-up costs associated with these facilities.

Beyond the financial aspect, cultivation facilities often face regulatory challenges. Licensing requirements, zoning restrictions, and compliance with state and local regulations add another layer of complexity to their operations. However, despite these challenges, cultivation facilities have a direct impact on job creation, local economies, and tax revenues. They provide employment opportunities in rural and urban areas alike, stimulating economic growth and revitalization.

Retail Facilities: The Consumer Experience

On the other end of the cannabis supply chain are retail facilities, where consumers can purchase various cannabis products, including flowers, edibles, concentrates, and topicals. Retail facilities offer a diverse range of products to cater to the preferences and needs of consumers, enhancing the overall cannabis experience. These establishments range from dispensaries to specialized stores and require a different set of considerations compared to cultivation facilities.

Unlike cultivation facilities, retail establishments tend to have lower start-up costs. However, they face their own unique challenges. Navigating a complex web of regulations regarding product labeling, packaging, and sales is crucial for compliance and consumer safety. Retail facilities must also provide a safe and welcoming environment for customers while ensuring age restrictions are strictly enforced.

Retail facilities play a pivotal role in shaping public perception and acceptance of cannabis. As these establishments become more mainstream, they contribute to the normalization of cannabis use and promote responsible consumption practices. This normalization, in turn, has implications for the broader economy.

Economic Impact: Cultivation vs. Retail

The economic impact of cannabis cultivation facilities and retail facilities extends far beyond the cannabis industry itself. Both sectors contribute to job creation, tax revenues, and local economic development. cultivation facilities often require a larger workforce due to the labor-intensive nature of plant cultivation and processing. These jobs span across various skill levels, from horticulturists and technicians to administrators and security personnel.

Retail facilities, while generally employing fewer people per establishment, create job opportunities in customer service, retail management, and education about cannabis products. Moreover, both cultivation and retail facilities contribute to the local economy through real estate demand, leasing agreements, and utilities consumption.

From a taxation perspective, both sectors generate significant revenue for local and state governments. Cultivation facilities are subject to cultivation taxes and other regulatory fees, contributing to state coffers. Retail facilities, in addition to sales taxes, often face excise taxes on cannabis products. These revenues can then be channeled towards public services, education, infrastructure, and social programs.

It’s All Economics

Having more cultivation facilities and fewer retail facilities can have detrimental effects on economic stability. The balance between suppliers and retailers plays a crucial role in maintaining a healthy economy, and an excessive skew towards either end can lead to negative consequences as we are realizing in the current economic state.

A robust economy thrives on competition, which drives innovation, efficiency, and lower prices for consumers. When there are an excessive number of suppliers combined with fewer retailers, this can create challenges in distribution and logistics. Retailers act as intermediaries between suppliers and consumers, helping to streamline the flow of products and information. When there are fewer retailers, distribution networks can become strained, causing delays, inefficiencies, and potential shortages.

Economic stability relies on a balanced employment landscape. An overabundance of suppliers with limited retailers may lead to job losses in the retail sector, affecting consumer spending and the overall labor market. This can create ripple effects across various industries and reduce the purchasing power of consumers, ultimately slowing down economic growth.

Moreover, concentration of power among a few suppliers can lead to monopolistic tendencies, stifling competition and limiting consumer choice. Monopolies can dictate prices, control supply, and hinder market dynamics, negatively impacting economic stability.

Closing Thoughts

The disparities between cannabis cultivation facilities and retail facilities highlight the intricacies of the evolving cannabis landscape. While cultivation facilities require substantial investments in equipment and compliance, retail establishments focus on creating a positive consumer experience and normalizing cannabis use. Together, they form a symbiotic relationship that drives economic growth, job creation, and tax revenues.

As the cannabis industry continues to mature, it is crucial for stakeholders, policymakers, and entrepreneurs to recognize the importance of both cultivation and retail facilities. Striking a balance between these sectors will be vital for achieving a sustainable and prosperous cannabis market that benefits not only those directly involved in the industry but also the broader economy and society at large.

Committee Blog: The New York Cannabis Market Landscape – A Real Time Analysis with a Social Equity Call to Action

Published by NCIA’s Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Committee (DEIC)

The burgeoning New York State Cannabis Market has been able to launch in record time compared to more mature markets like California and Illinois. The time between state legalization and the actual opening of licensed cannabis medicinal retail and more recently adult-use dispensaries is within one year! This is a great feat to be proud of by any metric though we are in the beginning stages.

With an indelible New York State of Mind, cannabis industry advocates, ancillary technical/professional services stakeholders and regulators created well-informed introductory regulations to get the ball rolling. The New York Social Equity Roundtable examined the best and worst practices of other programs and weighed in on current regulations in our recommendations to the NY Office of Cannabis Management (OCM).

The New York Social Equity Roundtable is a diverse gathering of industry stakeholders along the cannabis industry supply chain with a mission to be a catalyst in the building of an equitable and inclusive cannabis that reflects the ethnic, cultural, social, and economic diversity of New York State. The Roundtable is committed to gathering and sharing valuable industry insights and invites collaboration with other advocacy organizations and individuals to develop solutions. 

This article is a followup to The Pathway to Greater Equity in New York’s New Adult Use Cannabis Market and serves as a compendium of the work this Roundtable has executed on over the past year since that article was published.

I would like to point out that while the news cycle has brought to light certain aspects of the New York market, the public should also be made aware of the ongoing, painstaking battle it has taken to fight for equity in New York. 

Below are snapshots of the NY market landscape and some of the major challenges facing current and aspiring cannapreneurs that will hopefully inspire further conversations on the matter. Our hope is that this article helps not only provide understanding of what it has been like in the Empire State, but also provides new states with an understanding of the massive undertaking that cannabis legalization requires in order to be executed upon equitably.

In this article:

  • Comments on the impact of unregulated smoke shops
  • Comments on bad faith lawsuits
  • Legacy Operator definition
  • A note on Supply Chain Opportunities
  • July 31st Public Comments on Adult Use Rules 
  • January & February Public Comments
  • Letter recommending an Advisory Board focused on Economic Inclusion & Expansion
  • Letter to the Governor urging Pardons for ALL Nonviolent Cannabis Offenders

Unregulated Smoke Shops / Grey Market thwarting the growth of licensed retailers

Frederika Easley, The People’s Ecosystem, MCBA Board Member: New York’s goal must be to create a regulated market that is so enticing and easy to navigate that operating in both the gray and legacy markets feels like unnecessary risk. The smoke shop owners who have decided to be greedy and harmful in many cases offering tainted products and appealing to the youth must receive consequences that educate, penalize and offer opportunity for redemption.

Stephanie Keeffe, Etain: Allowing smoke shops to operate without the appropriate licensure sets a dangerous precedent and undermines the efforts to establish a safe and legitimate cannabis industry in New York. It is in the best interest of everyone, including consumers, businesses, and the government to ensure that all businesses follow the appropriate licensure procedures and comply with regulations. Safety should always be paramount.

Tavian Crosland, Social Equity Empowerment Network: Gray market operators are a reality in any transitioning market and we don’t want to have a second wave of cannabis criminalization. We also want to give the people most impacted by prohibition a chance to profit from the plant. With priority CAURD licenses issued we have taken a step towards restitution and equity and without the step of enforcement we may be setting them up for failure. This is the most hostile environment a new business, in a new market could traverse. Enforcement doesn’t have to mean criminalization and we’ll miss our mark if we don’t reign in non compliant operators. We won’t get a second chance to get it right.

Scheril Murray Powell Esq, JUSTUS Foundation:  The MRTA is very clear that priority should be given to those who have been significantly harmed by the criminalization of cannabis.  The typical Grey market participant is not from these disproportionately impacted communities and have the financial means to open these storefronts.   The individuals that have not directly experienced the harm referenced in the MRTA should recognize that they are trying to skip ahead of those who qualify for equity and have been harmed.  There will be thousands of retail licenses in NY and plenty of opportunity for everyone to participate, but the grey market actors need to wait their turn.  This is not judgment, but an appeal to their moral compass.

Hawaii Mike: The grey market shops are causing the biggest obstacle on the pathway to a thriving legal market. The lack of clear laws and regulations make this an almost impossible battle without using extreme measures to force these businesses to cease operations. Until these shops are closed permanently there will be confusion amongst the consumers and unsurmountable competition to legal operators.

Raina Jackson, NCIA DEI Committee Organizer: NY needs an Advisory Board that is more representative of the cannabis supply chain as operators and ancillary providers with direct applicant/operator interaction. Too many assumptions are made about what operators want without a robust survey of what we say we actually need.  More than just money is needed. would help illuminate pain points and to keep the conversation focused on how to resolve unintended consequences arising from any venture this new under regulation. The current configuration does not represent stakeholders disproportionately targeted and excluded.

Lawsuits Attempting to Circumvent the Equitable Rollout of Cannabis Retail Licenses 

The recent CARCS lawsuit is reminiscent of lawsuits launched in Illinois by general market operators disregarding the need for the prioritization of those disproportionately harmed by racially motivated cannabis prohibition tactics. Guided by greed, their intentions are to use the courts to stall progress and eliminate competition.

Mike Lomuto (former Head of DEI at the NCIA): While New York has an uphill battle as it navigates the unregulated market and integrates Legacy operators into the regulated space, OCM has ensured that the first set of licenses in New York go to individuals deemed disproportionately impacted by the war on drugs. It appears as if this lawsuit is a tactic we have seen in other states, where the small handful of multistate licensees who were part of a highly exclusive rollout of the Medical market are attempting to push themselves into the Adult Use market, under the guise of promoting equity while in actuality furthering the harm of the war on drugs and continuing the exclusion of justice-involved licensees.

Raina Jackson, NCIA DEIC Organizer, Policy & Regulatory subcommittee chair: As a reminder to companies that have unloaded these spurious lawsuits against well intentioned cannabis programs, be on notice that we see you and have documented what you have been doing to undermine equity, progress, and fairness. When you end up on the wrong side of history, no one will buy your revisionist historical accounts. The influential Millennials and GenZ populations that you seek as customers demand a higher level of corporate responsibility and may not be so forgiving. Before it’s too late I hope you find that it’s more rewarding to cooperate and coexist rather than to try to conquer. It is proven that well run companies that prioritize equity, inclusion, and transformation reap the benefits in the bottom line, including employee retention and community goodwill, no matter what industry.

Discussion of the ASTM Legacy Operator Definition

Legacy operators have been maligned and misunderstood in the regulated The definition of Legacy is Definition – as an added layer to help readers understand the situation

ASTM Definition of Legacy Operator

  • “A Legacy Operator is an individual who:
    • 1) Commercially for the majority of their income, or sacramentally, or ceremonially distributed cannabis
    • 2) Outside of the Legal Framework
    • 3) During the period of Prohibition 
    • 4) For a minimum of 5 years before legalization”

Lack of Education on Supply Chain Opportunities and Licensing Timelines

We notice that the infrastructure focus on brick and mortar retail is often to the detriment of other license types that don’t get as much attention but are more financially attainable. 

  • Lack of education provided on license types within the supply chain outside of retail and cultivation, including ancillary opportunities without a need for licensure. There is a need for real or hypothetical case studies illuminating the financial and business steps and resources necessary to succeed. Expectations need to be tied to realistic timelines and financial inputs.
  • Resolutions and Opportunities. Need for heightened levels of Technical assistance and ancillary service/product providers

Public Comments Submitted on July 31st Regarding Adult Use Rules

The Office of Cannabis Management put out a request for public comments in May of this year, on its latest round of Adult Use rules. Over the course of several Roundtable discussions and countless hours of document review, comparison to previous Rules, and several debates over specific language, our Roundtable produced a set of public comments we are very proud of, that we believe if adopted would provide for a more equitable industry.

This is an excerpt of the full document, which can be found here.

Part 121 – Social and Economic Equity

§ 121.1 Qualifications for a Social and Economic Equity Applicant. (a) (b) 

RECOMMENDED TEXT
(a) General Qualifications. To qualify as a social and economic equity applicant, an applicant shall demonstrate, through the mandatory production of documents and other information described in this Part:
       (1) that sole control of the applicant is held by:
              (i) an individual from a community disproportionately impacted by the enforcement of cannabis prohibition;
              (ii) a minority-owned business;
              (iii) a women-owned business;
              (iv) a distressed farmer; or
              (v) a service-disabled veteran owned business.
(b) If sole control of the applicant is held by a woman who is also a minority-group member or women who are also all minority group members, the applicant may qualify as a minority- owned business, a women-owned business, or both.
       (1) Applicants qualifying for both a minority and women owned business shall have extra priority status in processing  applications. 

RATIONALE 

We have added (b.1) because there needs to be a prioritization of Black, (Afro-Latin), and Indigenous women within women-owned businesses. Otherwise social equity disproportionately benefits White women, as selective affirmative action has often done in the past. 

Due to Prop 209 in CA, race could not be used as a qualifying criterion for equity. As a result in San Francisco, equity grant funds were distributed among an even number of Black and White applicants/operators. CA is unique because of the history of white legacy operators upstate yet this was not equitable funds distribution. NY should avoid the same mistake. 

Public Comments Submitted in January and February 2023

Earlier in 2023, our Roundtable also submitted public comments on an earlier version of OCM’s Adult Use rules, as well as its rules regarding marketing and packaging. Internally, our Roundtable faced the challenge of transitioning into a new year and a new committee term at the NCIA. The fact that our public comments were the most robust document we had completed to date was a testament to the resilience and collaborative nature of our Roundtable.

These documents can be found here.

And here.

Letter Recommending Advisory Board, Re-submitted to OCM September 2023

In September of last year, our Roundtable submitted a letter to OCM, recommending the creation of an Advisory Board that would be community-based and focus on Economic Inclusion & Expansion. This was modeled after a similar initiative that has produced successful in Michigan, with Eric Foster, M4MM’s National Policy Director, serving as the bridge between our Roundtable and the Michigan Social Equity Task Force.

You can read the full letter here.

Letter to Governor Hochul Urging Pardons for Nonviolent Cannabis Offenders

A very strong unifying factor of our Roundtable is everyone at the table’s commitment to the repair of the harm inflicted by the War on Drugs. With that in mind, we submitted a letter to Governor Hochul late in 2022 urging her to pardon ALL nonviolent cannabis offenders, effectively taking the lead of President Biden, but going an imperative step further to set New York as a leader to undo some of the harm it has itself inflicted. As this action has still not taken place, our Roundtable has resubmitted this letter to the Governor.

The full letter can be read here.

In Conclusion

This is just the beginning. Unfortunately, it is necessary for us to always remain diligent in our work for true equity, not only in cannabis but in society. At least until the overall momentum of society is moving in that same direction. Until then, we encourage you to keep going strong, to tap into collaborative groups doing the same work, to draw on one another’s strengths, as well as wisdoms, experiences, and collective resources.

The fight to create an equitable industry in New York and other states will continue on, and the members of the New York Social Equity Roundtable will be here until our mission is achieved.

Committee Blog: Production of Cannabis Infused Products – A Guide to Optimal Facility Design and Workflow

Published by NCIA’s Facilities Design Committee

The burgeoning cannabis industry continues to grow and diversify. One sector that’s seen significant expansion is cannabis-infused food production. In this industry, meticulous facility design is crucial to ensure product quality, worker safety, and regulatory compliance.

This article discusses key design considerations for creating an efficient, safe, and regulation-compliant cannabis food production facility.

Begin with the End in Mind

This may seem more philosophical than operational but adopting this mindset early in your design process can help you avoid common pitfalls that seem to plague even experienced cannabis professionals. So, what does it mean to “begin with the end in mind?” It simply means that you need to define a lot of aspects of your business before you begin design. A very simple example of this is: What product(s) do you want to produce in this facility?

This might seem like a simple question, but there is tremendous complexity lurking just below the surface. While a commercial kitchen in a facility such as a restaurant might be a very flexible space allowing for the production of multiple products using the same space and equipment, food manufacturing of shelf-stable products requires a bit more specificity. Let’s pick a single product as an example: Gummies. Here are a few questions and decision points that need to be addressed before diving into design specifics:

  • Do you have a recipe for your gummies?
  • Does your recipe require specific equipment for production? Does that equipment require ventilation (i.e., a hood)?
  • Have you set throughput and volume targets for production (i.e., how many gummies do you want to produce per hour/day/month, etc.?)
  •  How will your product be packaged?
  • Will more than one type of product be produced in this same room/area?
  •  If so, how do you plan to mitigate cross-contamination risks?
  •  Have you defined a facility workflow that maps a product’s process from component parts (ingredients) to processing to packaging to storage and delivery?

This is a very incomplete list but demonstrates the fact that a simple product decision comes with a multitude of related decisions that must be made to successfully implement the production process. For example, your decision on your facilities throughput goals directly impacts your equipment choices. Are you doing artisanal, hand-crafted gummies in small batches or are you producing gummies at scale for maximum throughput?

Do you plan to start with one product and eventually expand to other products? Knowing this in advance allows you to strategically plan for those potential line-extensions. The design of an area in your facility to produce one kind of product does not necessarily effectively translate to the production of a different product. The equipment, space-planning, and process-planning for the production of gummy products is very different from the production of baked edibles or chocolate edibles for example. Knowing what you ultimately want to do can help you strategically design for the future and avoid potentially costly retrofits. There is no “one-size-fits-all” cannabis kitchen design.

Another important consideration is the development of Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs). SOPs are a key component of developing Good Manufacturing Processes (GMP) which is becoming increasingly critical to manufacturing in the cannabis industry. Understanding and documenting how things should be done will give you key insights into what is needed in your overall facility design.

This mindset of working backwards from your goal can be applied to almost every aspect of your operation. This includes things such as labor schedules, purchasing guides, order scheduling, storage, packaging, delivery and more. Define your goals and outputs and then work backward from there.

Space Planning

The first crucial consideration is space planning. It is imperative to account for all operational aspects of the facility, from storage and production to packing and shipping. Ensuring there is adequate space for these activities contributes to the workflow efficiency and helps maintain a safe work environment.

Storage areas should be designed to accommodate raw materials, finished products, and waste materials separately. Temperature-controlled areas may be necessary for perishable ingredients or to maintain product stability.

Production areas need sufficient space to house specialized equipment for cannabis food production. These can include extraction machines, distillation other laboratory equipment, infusion systems, and commercial kitchen appliances for food preparation. The areas should also facilitate the movement of employees and materials.

Packing and shipping areas need to accommodate packing materials, finished product cases, and space for shipping operations. Depending on your scale, this may include room for pallets, forklifts, or other necessary equipment.

Workflow Design

An optimized workflow is critical for efficiency and safety. The design of the facility should facilitate a streamlined flow of materials from receiving to shipping. This ‘one-way’ flow can help prevent cross-contamination and reduce movement of personnel and materials.

Special consideration should be given to the workflow around extraction and infusion processes. These are complex and sensitive steps that involve precise control over temperature and pressure. The facilities should be designed to allow for these activities to be conducted safely and efficiently.

Equipment Planning

When planning for equipment, several considerations come into play. Firstly, understanding the power requirements for the extraction, infusion, and food production equipment is paramount. Adequate electrical infrastructure needs to be installed to meet these demands.

Drainage is another critical consideration. Extraction processes can produce significant waste that needs to be safely disposed of. Furthermore, commercial kitchen operations require a professional-grade drainage system.

Lastly, space must be set aside for regular equipment maintenance and potential upgrades. The rapid pace of innovation in the cannabis industry means equipment can quickly become outdated and need replacement.

Food Safety Best Practices

As a food production facility, following best practices for food safety is a must. This includes implementing Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) plans to identify potential hazards and establish procedures to mitigate them.

Facilities must ensure appropriate hygiene measures, including handwashing stations and employee changing areas. Special attention should be given to allergen management, considering the diversity of ingredients that could be used in cannabis-infused foods.

Proper ventilation is a key factor in maintaining air quality and controlling odors, which can be a significant issue in cannabis production facilities. An effective ventilation system will also help control humidity, which can impact both the quality of the product and the longevity of the equipment.

Putting It All Together

The design of a cannabis food production facility is a complex task requiring a clear understanding of the production process, equipment requirements, safety considerations, and regulatory compliance. Through thoughtful planning and design, producers can build a facility that not only meets these demands but is also flexible enough to adapt to the ever-changing landscape of the cannabis industry.

Committee Blog: International GxP Considerations When Cultivating Cannabis – Part 1

Published by NCIA’s Facilities Design Committee

As the global cannabis industry continues to expand, the importance of international GxP standards becomes increasingly vital. GxP is an umbrella term used to describe the various forms of compliance/standards available: GMP, GACP, GMCCP (Bedrocan), etc. While GMP is typically associated with the manufacturing of pharmaceuticals and other consumer products, it can also be applied to plant cultivation (GACP). These guidelines were developed by the World Health Organization (WHO) in 2003; they help ensure the quality, safety, and consistency of products, fostering consumer trust and facilitating international trade. In this blog post, we will explore the key considerations and requirements for cultivating cannabis in accordance with international GxP standards, allowing cultivators to meet the stringent regulatory expectations across borders.

GMP vs. GACP: What’s the difference?

First, it is important to explain the difference between GMP and GACP: GMP (Good Manufacturing Practice) is a set of quality management and manufacturing guidelines and regulations that ensure pharmaceutical, food, and medical device products are consistently produced and controlled according to quality standards. It aims to minimize risks involved in production and ensures the safety, efficacy, and quality of the final product. GACP (Good Agricultural and Collection Practices) is a set of guidelines and principles used in the cultivation and harvesting of medicinal and aromatic plants. It ensures that the plants are grown, collected, and processed in a manner that maintains their quality and prevents contamination, ultimately ensuring the safety and effectiveness of herbal products derived from these plants. 

GxP Best Practices for Cannabis Facilities

Generally speaking, GACP applies to the “cultivation zone” and is less expensive to implement; GMP standards should be used in all “post-harvest zones” and is considered pharmaceutical grade. Below you will find a set of considerations and best practices used in most compliant cannabis facilities. 

  • Compliance with Regional Regulations: Before embarking on cannabis cultivation, it is essential to understand and comply with the specific regulations governing cannabis production in a specific region. Different countries have varying laws and requirements surrounding cannabis cultivation/export, including licensing, permitted cultivation methods, quality control, and product labeling. Familiarize yourself with the applicable regulations (in the country you intend to cultivate in and the country you intend to supply) to ensure full compliance with international GxP standards. Then organize a meeting (pre-audit) with your local audit provider (e.g. ASTM) to develop a proper gameplan.
  • Facility Design and Maintenance: A crucial aspect of GxP compliance is having a well-designed cultivation facility that prioritizes cleanliness, efficiency, and product integrity. Considerations include proper airflow and cannabis specific HVACD systems (e.g. InSpire.ag or Ceres GH Solutions), dedicated cultivation and processing areas, appropriate lighting, appropriate drying space, automation and adequate pest control measures. Maintaining a clean and organized facility with strict hygiene protocols is essential for preventing contamination and ensuring the quality of the final cannabis products. Water quality, flexible cultivation integration, and sustainability should be top priority when in the design phase of your project.
  • Crop Management System (CMS): Incorporating an all-inclusive CMS into your agricultural practices brings numerous benefits to crop monitoring and management. Real-time data collection, remote monitoring, disease detection, true seed-to-sale tracking, employee workflow tracking, certificate of growth analysis, predictive analytics, automated irrigation (based on real time plant weight), and historical data analysis collectively enhance a cultivator’s ability to monitor crop progress effectively. By making informed decisions based on accurate data and insights, cultivators can optimize crop growth, increase productivity, and promote sustainable farming practices. Embracing a good CMS (e.g. WeightSense Adapt), while leveraging the power of a Building Management System (BMS) is undoubtedly the best step forward towards advanced compliance, safer product and higher consistency/quality.
  • Seed and Genetics: Selecting high-quality seeds or clones with desirable traits is vital for successful cannabis cultivation. When sourcing genetics internationally, it is crucial to consider the origin and reputation of the supplier. Ensure that the genetics comply with regional regulations and are free from pests, diseases, and genetic abnormalities. Match phenotypes with your specific environment to naturally defend against some of these risks. Proper documentation and traceability of seed sources are essential for GxP compliance and product consistency. In-house tissue culture labs bring a host of complexity to your propagation department although provide true consistency and reduced disease if carried out properly.
  • Cultivation Practices: GxP-compliant cultivation practices focus on ensuring consistency, purity, and traceability (e.g. CMS) throughout the cultivation process. Considerations include standardized cultivation techniques, such as appropriate nutrient management, integrated pest management (IPM), water quality control, and sanitation procedures. Documentation of cultivation activities, such as crop inputs, environmental conditions, and pest management interventions, is essential for traceability and quality control purposes. As an example, under-canopy lighting (e.g. Thrive Agritech) can help reduce pests, disease, and labor input, all while increasing your yield and product quality.
  • Post Harvest Practices: GxP in post-harvest forms the cornerstone of ensuring the quality and safety of agricultural products after harvesting. These practices use a range of vital considerations, including stringent hygiene and sanitation protocols to prevent contamination, comprehensive worker training to uphold proper handling techniques, implementation of effective traceability systems for accountability, meticulous quality control measures for sorting and grading, and the maintenance of optimal storage conditions encompassing temperature and humidity control. The integration of pest and disease management strategies, robust packaging selection, documentation upkeep, and cross-contamination prevention further validate the post-harvest GMP framework. By focusing on these key principles, producers safeguard product integrity, enhance shelf life, and contribute to the overall safety of cannabis in the supply chain.
  • Quality Control and Testing: International GxP standards emphasize robust quality control measures throughout the cultivation process. Implementing comprehensive testing protocols for cannabinoid potency, microbial contaminants, heavy metals, residual solvents, and pesticide residues is crucial. Regularly analyze samples from each batch to ensure compliance with international quality standards and regulatory requirements. Establishing relationships with accredited testing laboratories can aid in obtaining accurate and reliable test results. Consider SAP analysis and run-off testing if you would like to maximize your situational awareness and plant health.
  • Documentation and Record Keeping: Accurate documentation and record-keeping are essential components of GxP compliance. Maintain detailed records of cultivation activities, including seed sourcing, cultivation inputs, environmental conditions, pest management, testing results, and batch-specific information via proper SOP (standard operating procedures) development. These records serve as evidence of adherence to GxP standards and facilitate regulatory inspections, product recalls, and traceability in the event of any issues. Most importantly, they help cultivators maintain a safe and stable facility.
  • Additional Considerations Include: Worker training, regulated plant-tracking system, inventory control, storage conditions, packaging, handling and cross-contamination practice, waste management and continuous improvement. 

In part two of this GxP blog, we explain the matrix between these interlocking subject matters and how/where they relate to GxP based on department (so keep a look out for part two). 

GxP Standards: Bringing It All Together

Cultivating cannabis in accordance with international GxP standards is crucial for ensuring the quality, safety, and consistency of cannabis products across borders. Adhering to regional regulations, designing and maintaining a GxP-compliant facility, selecting high-quality genetics, implementing standardized cultivation practices, conducting rigorous testing, and maintaining comprehensive documentation are all integral to achieving international GxP compliance. And of course, engage a local GxP specialist with experience in the cannabis field to help navigate your team to success. By prioritizing these considerations, cultivators can position themselves for success in the global cannabis market while meeting the requirements of regulatory authorities and ensuring consumer confidence in their products. It’s time to be a part of the solution, and help break the stigma that comes with cannabis cultivation and manufacturing. 

Committee Blog: Your Voice Matters – Advocate for Crucial Changes in the American Hemp Industry

Published by NCIA’s Hemp Committee

The Hemp Industry needs your help. The 2018 Farm Bill, which made it legal to grow and process hemp, was a big step forward for the larger Cannabis industry. After the bill passed, lots of growers, processors, and manufacturers started building the Hemp Industry. Like any new industry, it’s had its ups and downs. But there are some big roadblocks that Congress can remove to help the Hemp Industry grow and set the stage for better rules around all Cannabis in the future.

2023 is a crucial year for American hemp producers as the 2018 Farm Bill is due to expire. Congress is now drafting a new Farm Bill that will direct our agricultural and food systems for the next half-decade. During this critical period, the NCIA Hemp Committee is working tirelessly to rally support for amendments that will not only benefit the industry but also our customers. Our requests are as follows:

  1. Update the legal definition of hemp to allow for up to 1% Total THC: This would offer critical protection for farmers and processors, as the current legal limit can sometimes be exceeded naturally in the crop growth process, leading to crop loss and financial hardship.
  2. Support the Growth of the Hemp Industry by Encouraging Banking and Lending Services: The Treasury department should provide written guidance for banking and lending services to hemp-related businesses, removing barriers to growth in this burgeoning industry.
  3. Support HR 3755 for Non-consumable Hemp: By recognizing the distinction between consumable and non-consumable hemp products, we can encourage the development of a wide range of industrial applications for hemp, from textiles to building materials. 
  4. Prevent Misuse of THC by Teens and Young Adults: This requires comprehensive educational initiatives to provide accurate information about THC and its potential effects. In doing so, we can ensure that the growth of the hemp industry does not inadvertently lead to misuse of THC among young populations.

During the recent NCIA Lobby Days, we had constructive meetings with influential decision-makers, including members of the Agricultural Committee and their staff. Our team left these sessions with a sense of hope and determination, having shared our top four priorities and discussed other important issues. Now, we’re calling on you, the supporters of the Hemp Industry, to make your voices heard and contact your members of Congress to showcase broad support for these initiatives.

“NCIA Lobby Days provides the stage and podium, and you bring the voice. We meet with decision makers (congressional staff) who ARE interested in our real-life scenarios, and it educates them to educate their Senate and House of Representative leaders.  Education is power. It (Lobby Days) also provides an environment to meet like-minded people in the cannabis industry, share our stores, learn/educate, and collaborate.  I plan to attend each year as it is enlightening and empowering!” Jillian Johnson

How can you help?

Remember, members of Congress are elected to represent the interests of their constituents – that’s you. But they can only effectively do so when they’re fully informed about the issues that matter to you. Your voice is powerful and essential to our democratic process. By speaking up, you can provide important insights and help shape the future of the Hemp Industry.

  1. Send an email to your members of congress.
  2. Reach out directly to your Representative and Senators

Committee Blog: Why 1% Total THC Could Open New Doors for the Hemp Industry

Published by NCIA’s Hemp Committee

As we look forward to the 2023 US Farm Bill, there’s a substantial opportunity to modify the regulations around hemp cultivation and usage. Adjusting these regulations can stimulate the growth of the hemp industry while still ensuring consumer safety. The potential of hemp as an agricultural product is vast, with applications including food, fuel, fiber, building materials, grain, and medical use. It’s important to note that while cannabinoids often dominate the headlines, they make up only a small slice of the industry’s potential size.

Experts predict that incorporating hemp into cosmetics, construction materials, and textiles could catapult the industry to over $1 trillion in annual sales. However, the current regulations pose significant challenges to this innovative industry’s expansion, especially for conscientious farmers. The fear of having their crops destroyed because of slightly exceeding a set THC limit is a serious obstacle.

At present, the definition of hemp rests on a Total THC limit of 0.3%, a figure chosen in the 1970s for classification purposes, not for assessing the plant’s psychoactive effects. Bumping this limit up to 1% Total THC would have a negligible impact on impairment but could have a monumental effect on farmers’ operations.

Research from 2020 by the University of Illinois, University of Wisconsin, Michigan State University, and Purdue demonstrated that more than half of the common hemp varieties could surpass the Total THC limit under certain conditions. However, this research also revealed that only 4% would breach the limit if it were raised to 1%.

Growing hemp that exhibits desirable traits for industrial uses, like a long straight stalk, high fiber, or high seed yield, requires the plant’s full maturation. This maturation is often linked to higher THC profiles. Unfortunately, the current strict conditions and genetic variation restrictions severely limit the plant’s potential applications.

While responsible hemp growers are in favor of state-led regulations for cannabinoid extractions that can cause impairment, it’s clear that an unrealistically low THC limit isn’t the best approach. Other nations, such as Thailand, Mexico, and Switzerland, have already updated their regulations, defining hemp as containing up to 1% Total THC.

By making a small change to the legal definition of hemp, we can unlock the industry’s potential. It will allow farmers across the nation to make the necessary investments to keep pace with an industry set to grow from being worth billions to trillions of dollars. By encouraging this change, we can foster American innovation and boost rural economies, reinvigorating the manufacturing sector in the process. Now is the time to recognize and adapt to the potential of this versatile plant.

How can you help?

Remember, members of Congress are elected to represent the interests of their constituents – that’s you. But they can only effectively do so when they’re fully informed about the issues that matter to you. Your voice is powerful and essential to our democratic process. By speaking up, you can provide important insights and help shape the future of the Hemp Industry.

  1. Send an email to your members of congress.
  2. Reach out directly to your Representative and Senators

Committee Blog: Banking in the Cannabis World

By: Shawn Kruger, Avivatech
Contributing Authors: Paul Dunford, Green Check Verified | Todd Glider, MobiusPay Inc. | Kameron Richards, Kameron Richards Esq.
Produced by: NCIA’s Banking & Financial Services Committee

The Landscape

With recreational marijuana legalized in 23 states, Washington D.C. and Guam, the public continues to broadly favor legalization for medical and recreational purposes. Why then, is it still a challenge for the cannabis industry to access financial services? The short answer: cannabis banking is risky for financial institutions (FIs), and bankers are committed to avoiding unnecessary risk. Historically, FIs have worked to keep funds associated with illegal activity out of their banks and credit unions, so FIs are sensitive to conflicting state and federal cannabis laws. For example, many FIs are regulated by federal agencies, but marijuana is a Schedule I controlled substance.

Navigating the Challenges

However, there are many banks and credit unions that have taken this risk for a variety of reasons, including creating new sources of income, a desire to serve the unbanked in their communities, and supporting the social equity initiatives in the cannabis industry. These FIs are usually discreet about their cannabis banking programs, and it’s often hard to identify them through your typical approach: prowling websites, Google searches or even trade shows (although this has improved over the past 12 to 18 months). 

Fortunately, the best approach is also a well-trusted option: word of mouth. Contact lawyers, accountants and bookkeepers in your area. If they represent or work with other local marijuana related businesses (MRBs), they may know who they are banking with or know someone who does. You should also consider contacting the FIs directly, even if you don’t know if they are working with MRBs. You might be surprised to find that they do, and if they don’t, they might redirect you to another FI in the area. Finally, organizations like the PBC Conference team, provide resources to aid your search, including a Cannabis Banking Directory published annually.

Focus your search on credit unions, community banks, and regional banks. We are entering a new phase of cannabis banking with some FIs offering more than just a place to park your cash. A growing number now offer loans, payroll services, business insurance, etc., so take time to see what’s available, compare multiple FIs’ programs, and find the best match for your cannabis-related business’ (CRB) needs. 

Be Prepared

Every action taken by an FI, regardless of their location or asset size, is closely scrutinized by state and federal banking regulators, and law enforcement agencies. They want to make sure that banks and credit unions are only working with legitimate and legal state CRBs. Therefore, you can expect an FI to require a combination of the following:

  • Driver’s license or other acceptable state-issued identification for all account holders
  • Information on all beneficial owners of the company, not just those who own a percentage of the company above a certain percentage threshold (such as 20%)
  • Tax returns for the previous year for both the company and the beneficial owners
  • Financial information such as profit and loss accounts and capitalization tables
  • A copy of any required state licenses
  • Operational data such as projected annual sales and number of patients/customers
  • Corporate formation documents such as articles of incorporation and business plans
  • Sales transaction data (store reports or invoices) for the past thirty days

Behind the scenes of cannabis banking, FIs must do a lot to ensure that they are onboarding only legitimate CRBs; from collecting and analyzing market transactions to conducting reporting. This means that FIs often have additional staff to fulfill their compliance duties and they invest in software to automate some of their monitoring. FIs invest heavily in banking cannabis and account fees help offset those expenses. This means you can expect to pay account setup fees and monthly account maintenance fees to help cover these costs. Prices have come down in recent years. The days of paying $5,000 per month for an easy deposit account are long gone, but the fees will remain high as long as a lot of oversight and reporting falls on FIs.

Embrace the Journey

FIs are far savvier about detecting MRB activity among their existing customer/member accounts. At this point, it’s not a question of “if” your FI will find out you’re an MRB, but when. Few things are more disruptive to a business than getting a letter from your FI informing you that your account will be closed in thirty days. Don’t put yourself in that position.  Additionally, you may be missing out on vital financial and business services by staying “under the radar” and not having a transparent relationship with a bank or credit union.  Start looking for a cannabis-friendly bank or credit union today!

Committee Blog: Exploring Anti-Counterfeiting Packaging Solutions

The cannabis industry has seen success and achievement in recent years. However, with this success comes a challenge: counterfeiting. Counterfeit cannabis products pose serious risks to consumers and can damage the reputation of legitimate businesses. To preserve authenticity and protect consumer safety, solid anti-counterfeiting measures can be implemented. One crucial aspect of anti-counterfeiting efforts is using packaging solutions that are both secure and reliable. Let’s take a closer look at the types of counterfeiting and the packaging options available to protect brands and consumers. 

What is Counterfeiting?

There are two main types of counterfeiting that we’ll focus on:

Packaging Impersonation: Occurs when fraudsters recreate the packaging of popular and trusted brands. The aim is to deceive consumers into believing they are purchasing authentic products from a brand. Counterfeit packaging can closely mimic the design, colors, and labeling of genuine products, making it difficult for consumers to differentiate between authentic and counterfeit items. This poses a risk to a brand’s reputation if counterfeit products are being sold under their name because these fake products usually do not meet a brand’s standards for safety and quality. 

Product Tampering: Product tampering involves attempts to alter, manipulate, contaminate, or compromise cannabis products. This poses significant health and safety risks to consumers, especially if harmful contaminants are introduced or if the potency of the product is affected.

Anti-Counterfeiting Options

To combat packaging impersonation, there are a myriad of solutions available. Most solutions aim at making packaging replication difficult. Using holograms on packaging is one option that will increase the difficulty fraudsters will face when trying to duplicate packaging accurately. Holograms can also incorporate additional security features like microtext and unique serial numbers. This further increases the complexity and uniqueness of the package. The complexity, specialized equipment, and materials required to create convincing holograms may deter counterfeiters from even trying to replicate that specific package, as it increases the cost.

Additionally, color changing inks, specifically tamper-indicating inks, can provide a visible indication of tampering. If someone attempts to move or reposition a label, the tamper-indicating ink is triggered and will display a different color indicating that the product may not be valid. Another type of color changing ink technology is photochromic inks. This color changing ink technology can act as an invisible layer of protection. They are only visible under specific lighting conditions and fraudsters may miss adding these to counterfeit packaging. Lastly, digital watermarking is a great option to combat packaging impersonation. These are not visible to the naked eye, but are embedded within your packaging design, for example in your logo. When these watermarks are scanned with specialized software, devices or cell phones, it can allow for verification of authenticity. Not only do digital watermarks help with authenticity, but can add customer interaction as well. When a customer scans the watermark with their smartphone, they can be taken to the brand’s website, a special landing page, and more. To take the level of protection even further, with digital printing it is possible to put a different code in each package which creates unique IDs for one product. These watermarks can even contain important information such as batch numbers, production dates, and more to enable product tracing. 

To combat product tampering, a simple solution is using tamper evident bands on containers. Tamper-evident bands fit snugly around the closure of a container and are applied when the product is sealed. The only way the product can be opened is if the band is removed. Tamper evident bands provide visual evidence of tampering to the consumers and also help prevent the container from being refilled and sold. Similarly, tear notches on flexible packaging provide the same benefit that temper bands do. These are small indentations or perforated areas on flexible packaging that provide a visual indicator to consumers if a product has been opened. Both tamper bands and tear notches instill confidence in consumers by ensuring that the product meets brand’s standards for quality and safety. Lastly, using a tamper-evident seal which incorporates color-changing inks to indicate unauthorized access to a package. When the seal is intact, it will remain the original color, however if someone attempts to peel off or break the seal, the ink changes color providing evidence of potential tampering. This technology helps to safeguard products during storage, transportation, and distribution, providing assurance to consumers and protecting against counterfeit or tampered goods. 

Best Practices and Conclusion

In addition to implementing the anti-counterfeiting options above, brands in the cannabis industry should consider adjusting their labels and packaging designs to increase the difficulty for replication. Furthermore, educating consumers about the key elements to observe on a brand’s package or label can enable them to detect subtle indications of tampering. By protecting both the packaging and the product, the cannabis industry can preserve its reputation and ensure the success of legitimate businesses.

Committee Blog: The Best Way to Do the Worst Thing – Quick Tips for Demonstrating Empathy in Layoffs

Layoffs are unpleasant for all involved. Not only is it painful for a supervisor to part ways with someone they have hired and trained to be a productive part of the team, but jarring as an employee to suddenly learn that you are unemployed. Although there is no scenario where a layoff is a positive experience, here are some helpful ways to ensure you approach it with empathy and humanity.

 

Yes, we know it is business, but it is also personal (especially to the employee being laid off).

Think about each person individually and how to make the situation as comfortable as possible. If they work remotely generally, or have a significant commute, consider a virtual meeting. While in-person has generally always been perceived as better, in today’s flexible work environment some employees might be upset about being asked to come into the office, just to be terminated and then drive back home. Think about the physical location you have the conversation (if in-person), as you do not want to put the person in a position to walk past their peers on their way out and offer to ship their personal things to avoid the public packing of the box. Cater your choices to the person being impacted.

If possible, have HR present and give the employee time with HR after the supervisor delivers the news so the employee can ask specific questions about next steps that they may not feel comfortable asking while on the phone with their now previous supervisor. If your company doesn’t have a HR department, consider contracting with someone who can support you if the layoffs impact more than a few people.

Does your benefit plan run until the end of the month after termination? If so, consider planning the separation date toward the beginning of the month so the employee has access to benefits through the rest of the month. Not every company is in the position to provide lucrative separation packages. However, providing a week or two of remote transition time in addition to the severance paid, provides a better transition for the company and also gives the impacted employee more time to job search.

Start the conversation off with letting the person know the discussion will be a difficult one, as this will provide them the opportunity to prepare for the bad news. It can feel disingenuous to have dialogue about work projects, sports, or the weather, and then get into the topic at hand. It is ok to tell an employee who did a great job and contributed a lot, that you appreciate their contributions and that the layoff is not due to their performance. This can matter when they are later reflecting on what transpired.

The communication shouldn’t end after the termination conversation.

Anticipate that it is difficult to process the news that you’ve lost your job and retain what you’ve heard about next steps. Commit to immediately providing the details over email after the discussion so that they can review them whenever they are ready.

Have a separation package prepared that contains all the important information someone might need post-separation. They will want to know about accessing their W2, rolling over their 401k, how long their benefits are active until, how to use their Health Savings Account funds, how to access your HR or payroll system for pay stubs, etc.

Layoffs impact more than those who left.

Make it safe for employees to reach out to those impacted and offer their support and care. When informing stakeholders of the changes, let them know that you wish their colleague well and encourage anyone that wants to reach out, the opportunity to reach out and offer support.

Promises of safety usually cannot be made during times of uncertainty. Often employees will ask “Is that it? Are we done?” These are tough questions in times of uncertainty and caution should be taken when answering them. The worst thing would be to say that there will be no more layoffs, and then someone else gets laid off or terminated. Even if the termination was performance related, it can impact the credibility of leadership if employees feel like the promise was broken.

Encourage leaders to have personal conversations with their team members about how they are feeling. When you are feeling uncertain, you want to hear from the person you trust most. Of course, this needs to come with guidance and support from senior leaders. Senior leaders should role model this, and then their leaders should pay it forward. Tell your most critical players that their role and contributions are important to the organization. If appropriate, explain why the decision was made to reduce or eliminate certain groups so employees can understand the rationale and decide whether that provides them comfort in their position.

Generally, position reductions result in the remaining employees picking up additional tasks. Handle this with care. Have conversations with employees about their workload and include them in the process of solutioning how to cover the tasks.
Unfortunately, “what not to do” lessons are generally learned the hard way when it comes to layoffs, however, through research and reading employee feedback, you can learn a lot from others’ mistakes. If you lead and plan your layoffs with empathy and compassion, you are more likely to avoid major pitfalls.

Committee Insights | 7.13.23 | Know Your Hazards – Occupational Health and Safety Considerations in Cannabinoid Ingredient Manufacturing

NCIA’s #IndustryEssentials webinar series is our premier digital educational platform featuring a variety of interactive programs allowing us to provide you timely, engaging and essential education when you need it most.

In this edition of our NCIA Committee Insights series, originally aired on July 13, we were joined by members of NCIA’s Cannabis Manufacturing, Scientific Advisory and Hemp Committees for an in-depth discussion highlighting the occupational health and safety considerations to make during the manufacture of cannabinoids and provide recommendations for mitigating risk.

There is no mistaking that manufacturing cannabinoids is here to stay. It is more and more prevalent to see historically plant/naturally derived bulk ingredients being manufactured in a controlled environment in the lab or through innovative processes like precision fermentation. It is likely that bulk ingredient manufacturing of cannabinoids will go this route too.

For cannabinoids like HHC, that do not exist naturally in the plant or in high enough quantities to be commercially viable for extraction, it is most certainly the case that manufacture of these compounds will occur in the lab. To produce these compounds safely, we can luckily look toward existing regulations and occupational health and safety guidelines for producing novel ingredients for use in foods and non-foods.

Learning Objectives:

• Recognizing common occupational safety hazards associated with manufacturing cannabinoids and recommendation to mitigate these hazards

• Learning the different occupational safety considerations between isolation and purification of naturally occurring cannabinoids and the manufacture (synthesis) of cannabinoids in the lab

• Understanding the special safety considerations that processes like hydrogenation and others have and why these are critical to mitigating liability for your business

Panelists:

Jacob Enslein
Consultant
AJ Cannabis Consulting

Rhiannon Woo
Co-Founder & CSO
TraceTrust

Tenay Woodard
Director of Safety & Security
KIVA Brands, Inc.

Tucker Holland
Co-founder, CFO and Processing Director
Entourage Cannabis

Keith Butler
CEO
OP Innovates / Naturia+™

This is the fourth of five in a multi-part series of #IndustryEssentials webinars. You can watch Parts I-V at the links below.

Defining the Conversation: Minor, Novel & Synthetic Cannabinoids (Part I): https://bit.ly/3D2LReB

Meet the Minors (Part II): https://bit.ly/3qUD8Ip

From Lab to Label: Safeguarding Consumers in the Cannabinoid Product Landscape (Part III)https://bit.ly/3Xc9Lx6

Know Your Hazards – Occupational Health and Safety Considerations in Cannabinoid Ingredient Manufacturing (Part IV)https://bit.ly/3rEUeKP

Concepts for Regulatory Consideration – Shifting the Conversation from “Cannabis vs. Hemp” to “The Cannabinoids” (Part V): https://bit.ly/3P3r5AW

Committee Blog: Defining Legal Hemp – It Isn’t Always Simple Math

By: Todd Glider, Chief Business Development Officer, MobiusPay Inc.
Contributing Authors: Paul Dunford, Green Check Verified | Shawn Kruger, Avivatech | Kameron Richards, Kameron Richards Esq.
Produced by: NCIA’s Banking & Financial Services Committee

If you are a cannabis-related business, and are looking to accept credit cards, it is only possible to do so if you are selling a product that is defined as legal hemp by the 2018 Farm Bill. 

 The 2018 Farm Bill provides that:

“The term ‘hemp’ means the plant Cannabis sativa L. and any part of that plant, including the seeds thereof and all derivatives, extracts, cannabinoids, isomers, acids, salts, and salts of isomers, whether growing or not, with a delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol concentration of not more than 0.3 percent on a dry weight basis.”

For the most part, it’s pretty cut-and-dry. Marijuana is a schedule 1 drug. Hemp is not. If your product has less than .3% Delta-9 on a dry weight basis, it’s not marijuana, it’s hemp. And since it’s hemp, it’s federally legal. And since it’s federally legal, it can be purchased with checks, credit cards, or debit cards. Hemp products are, reductively, as incendiary as a stick of butter.

Of course, there is the law and there is how acquiring banks—banks that offer merchant accounts—interpret the law. Across the U.S., there are hundreds of acquiring banks. Of those, only six or seven offer merchant accounts to hemp businesses.

That’s it, plus payment service provider Square.

The immediate problem for the few acquiring banks that have, laudably, said, “Yes,” to hemp is, “how do we distinguish products that are .3% Delta-9 or less (and therefore, yawningly legal) from those that are over .3% Delta-9 (and therefore, illegal as angel dust)?”

Enter the Certificate of Analysis, or COA, or lab report. While there is nothing in the law stating that COAs are required to prove that a product is within the federally legal limit, their role is sacrosanct during the boarding process. For every hemp-derived product, there must be a corresponding COA proving that the product being sold is hemp, and not marijuana. 

Fortunately, there are labs across the nation. The U.S. Department of Agriculture website lists 85, as of May 2023. Manufacturers and businesses ship their samples to these labs. The labs run their tests and the COAs are issued. 

Simple, right?

Not really.

There are no standards in place for these reports. No templates. Every laboratory’s COAs—while substantively providing the same information—look a little different.  Furthermore, most bankers haven’t seen a lab report since high school chemistry, and you’ve got a recipe for confusion or misunderstanding (frequently both).

This COA, when it was initially presented to the bank, was rejected. To the underwriter, it was an open and shut case. 

When the bank opened its door to offering acquiring to hemp businesses, its policy was to reject anything with greater than .3% Delta-9 by weight. 

The top of this COA showed an instance of Delta 9 that read .189%. That passed muster, certainly. However, when he delved further into the analyte detail, he noted additional Delta-9 figures in excess of the .3% limit:

  • 10.368 in the mg/unit cell
  • 1.892 in the mg/g cell

It was not clear to the bank’s underwriter which of the two—per-unit or per-gram—corresponded with the by-weight percentage he was to be mindful of, but both were certainly over the .3% limit.

So, open and shut case: DECLINED

The salesperson that brought the merchant to this bank was surprised by the rejection. He hadn’t looked at the COAs very closely, but it seemed unlikely that this merchant had been selling products on her website that were in excess of .3% Delta-9.

Why? Because if the merchant had been selling products on its website in excess of .3% Delta-9,  it would have been engaging in egregious felony drug trafficking. The salesperson doubted that was the case.

The salesperson did something he didn’t normally do: he took out his calculator.

He wanted to know why it read .189% Delta 9 at the top, but 10.368 in the analyte table. He noted the unit size at the bottom of the page was a gummy weighing 5.480g. 

For the sake of simplicity, he multiplied that by 1000 to convert it to milligrams. That made it 5480 mg

Then he entered the onerous 10.368mg from the mg/unit figure in the analyte table and divided it by 5480mg. The resulting calculation netted the following total: .0018919. 

Next, he converted it to a percent, and found that the result was .189%, which matched the figure at the top of the COA, exactly.

The next day, the salesperson presented the COA to the bank, with the markings and The Equation just as shown here.

It was an open and shut case: ACCEPTED

This situation is an example of why banks and credit unions unknowingly reject compliant hemp businesses from merchant processing solutions. As stated, a simple mathematical calculation was the difference between being accepted or rejected for necessary merchant processing services. Without proper merchant servicing not only are cannabis businesses’ profitability affected because they can only take cash; cash is also not as traceable or auditable as electronic transactions.

In general, businesses providing services to the cannabis industry are often challenged with disentangling legal risks with the benefits of their necessary services providing more transparency. With enhanced knowledge of the cannabis industry and its parameters, the cannabis industry will recognize a greater participation by all businesses necessary for the life of the industry thereby enhancing cannabis businesses’ likelihood to succeed but also enhancing the legitimacy and regulation of the industry.

Committee Blog: Optimizing the Cannabis Dispensary Experience – An In-depth Look at Terpenes, Cannabinoids, and THC for Superior Customer Service

Image of cannabis retail dispensary

By: Pete Longo, Founder & CEO, The Phinest Kind
Contributing Authors: Larina Scofield, Sweed POS | Nicole Rivers, Northern Light Cannabis Co. | Richard Fleming, Altered State Cannabis Company
Produced by: NCIA’s Retail Committee 

The cannabis industry has experienced rapid growth in recent years, with more and more states legalizing its use for medical and recreational purposes. As a result, cannabis dispensaries are becoming increasingly popular, with many people visiting them for the first time. For dispensary owners, managers, and budtenders, it’s essential to provide a positive customer experience to build brand loyalty and attract repeat business. This blog will discuss the importance of focusing on the customer experience at cannabis dispensaries and how understanding terpenes, cannabinoids, and THC percentages can improve the overall experience for both new and experienced users.

Understanding the Customer Experience

What makes a great customer experience at a cannabis dispensary?  A positive experience can be characterized by:

  • Knowledgeable Staff:

    Budtenders and other staff members should be well-trained and able to provide accurate and easily digestible information on various cannabis products, including their effects and appropriate dosages.

  • Welcoming Atmosphere:

    Dispensaries should be clean, well-organized, and aesthetically pleasing, making customers feel comfortable and at ease during their visit.

  • Product Selection:

    A wide variety of high-quality cannabis products should be available to cater to the diverse preferences and needs of customers.

  • Personalized Recommendations:

    Budtenders should be able to make personalized recommendations based on the customer’s preferences, desired effects, and level of experience with cannabis.

Terpenes, Cannabinoids, and THC: Key Components of Cannabis

To provide an exceptional customer experience, it’s essential for dispensary staff to understand the key components of cannabis, including terpenes, cannabinoids, and THC percentages. These components play a significant role in the overall effects of cannabis and can help staff make tailored recommendations for customers.

  • Terpenes:

    Terpenes are aromatic compounds found in many plants, including cannabis. They give each strain its unique aroma and taste, and they can also have therapeutic effects. There are over 100 different terpenes in cannabis, with some of the most common ones being myrcene, limonene, and pinene. Understanding the terpene profile of a specific strain can help staff recommend products based on the desired flavor and aroma, as well as the potential therapeutic benefits.

  • Cannabinoids:

    Cannabinoids are the chemical compounds found in cannabis that interact with the body’s endocannabinoid system, producing various effects. Many Cannabis products advertise “full-spectrum” CBD, meaning that the product not only contains CBD, but can also contain the other cannabinoids as well as terpenes, essential oils, and up to 0.3% THC. There are over 100 different cannabinoids in cannabis, with THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (cannabidiol) being the most well-known. THC is responsible for the psychoactive effects of cannabis, while CBD has various therapeutic effects without causing a “high.” Dispensary staff should be familiar with the different cannabinoids and their effects to help customers choose products based on their desired experience.

  • THC Percentages:

    The THC percentage of a cannabis product indicates the concentration of THC, which largely determines the psychoactive effects of the product. Generally, higher THC percentages lead to more potent effects. However, it’s important to note that the overall effects of a cannabis product are influenced by other factors, such as the terpene profile and the presence of other cannabinoids. Dispensary staff should be able to explain the significance of THC percentages and guide customers in selecting products with appropriate potency levels.

Educating Customers and Tailoring Recommendations

Dispensary staff should prioritize educating customers about terpenes, cannabinoids, and THC percentages to help them make informed decisions about their purchases. By understanding these components, customers can better tailor their cannabis experience to their preferences and needs.

For example, a customer looking for a relaxing experience may be interested in a strain high in myrcene, a terpene known for its sedative and relaxing effects. In contrast, someone seeking a more uplifting and energizing experience might prefer a strain with a higher concentration of limonene, which is associated with elevated mood and increased energy. Additionally, customers with little to no experience with cannabis may prefer strains with lower THC percentages to avoid overwhelming psychoactive effects.

When assisting customers, dispensary staff should ask about their preferences, desired effects, and experience level with cannabis. Based on this information, they can recommend strains and products that align with the customer’s goals while considering the terpene profile, cannabinoid content, and THC percentage. This personalized approach can help customers feel more confident in their purchases and lead to a more satisfying experience.

For HR Professionals: Training and Development

To ensure that dispensary staff can effectively educate customers and provide tailored recommendations, it’s crucial for HR professionals to invest in comprehensive training and development programs. Training should cover a wide range of topics, including:

  • Cannabis Fundamentals:

    Staff should have a solid understanding of cannabis basics, such as the differences between indica, sativa, and hybrid strains, and the various forms of cannabis product, methods of ingestion and their varying timing of effects (e.g., flower, edibles, concentrates, tinctures, and topicals, vaping, eating, and drinking).

  • Terpenes, Cannabinoids, and THC:

    As discussed earlier, staff should be well-versed in the role of terpenes, cannabinoids, and THC percentages in determining the effects of cannabis products.

  • Customer Service Skills:

    Staff should be trained in effective communication, active listening, and empathy to better understand and serve their customers.

  • Compliance and Regulations:

    Dispensary staff should be knowledgeable about state and local regulations regarding cannabis sales, as well as safety protocols and best practices for handling cannabis products.

By providing thorough training and development opportunities, HR professionals can ensure that dispensary staff are equipped to deliver an exceptional customer experience.

The Role of Technology in Enhancing the Customer Experience

As the cannabis industry continues to grow and evolve, technology is playing an increasingly important role in enhancing the customer experience at dispensaries. In this section, we’ll explore several innovative technologies and tools that can help dispensary owners, managers, and staff provide an even better experience for their customers.

  • Point-of-Sale (POS) Systems:

    Modern POS systems designed specifically for cannabis dispensaries can streamline the sales process and improve the customer experience. These systems can track customer preferences, manage inventory, calculate taxes, and ensure compliance with state and local regulations. By investing in a robust POS system, dispensaries can provide a more efficient and personalized service for their customers.

  • Digital Menus:

    Instead of relying on printed menus that can quickly become outdated, dispensaries can use digital menus to display their product offerings. These menus can be easily updated to reflect current inventory, and they can also include detailed information about each product, such as terpene profiles, cannabinoid content, and THC percentages. By providing customers with easy access to this information, digital menus can help them make more informed decisions about their purchases.

  • Online Resources and Mobile Apps:

    Dispensaries can enhance the customer experience by offering online resources and mobile apps that provide valuable information and tools related to cannabis consumption. For example, they can develop educational content about terpenes, cannabinoids, and THC percentages or create interactive tools that help customers determine their ideal dosage based on their preferences and experience level. By providing customers with access to these resources, dispensaries can support them in their cannabis journey and help them make more informed decisions.

Customer Engagement and Community Building

Another crucial aspect of providing an exceptional customer experience at cannabis dispensaries is fostering a sense of community and engagement among customers.

  • Events:

    Hosting events such as product launches, tastings, and guest speaker sessions can provide customers with an opportunity to learn more about cannabis, sample new products, and connect with other like-minded individuals. These events can also help establish a dispensary as a trusted source of information and a hub for the local cannabis community.

  • Educational Workshops:

    Dispensaries can offer workshops that focus on various aspects of cannabis, such as understanding terpenes, cannabinoids, and THC percentages, cooking with cannabis, or cultivating cannabis at home. These workshops can help customers gain a deeper understanding of cannabis and its various uses, ultimately improving their overall experience.

  • Social Media:

    Actively engaging with customers on social media platforms can help dispensaries stay connected with their audience, provide real-time updates on products and promotions, and gather valuable feedback. Dispensaries can also use social media to share educational content, answer customer questions, and participate in industry-related conversations.

  • Loyalty Programs:

    Dispensaries can implement loyalty programs that reward customers for their repeat business, encouraging them to return and further engage with the dispensary. Loyalty programs can include discounts, exclusive promotions, or early access to new products, and can be an effective way to strengthen the customer-dispensary relationship.

Focusing on the customer experience at cannabis dispensaries is crucial for building brand loyalty, attracting repeat business, and maintaining a competitive edge in the growing cannabis industry. Dispensary owners, managers, and budtenders must prioritize educating customers about terpenes, cannabinoids, and THC percentages to help them make informed decisions and tailor their cannabis experience to their preferences and needs. HR professionals play a key role in ensuring that staff receive comprehensive training and development, enabling them to provide exceptional service and create a positive customer experience. By investing in the customer experience, dispensaries can set themselves apart and thrive in the competitive cannabis market.

Committee Blog: Searching Through the Weeds – Identify, Attract, and Retain the Top Employment Prospects

By: Richard Fleming, Founder & CEO, Altered State Cannabis Company
Contributing Author: Tony Trinh, Royalty Grown Consulting
Produced by: NCIA’s Retail Committee 

Cannabis is one of the most heavily regulated industries, which brings a few more challenges that increase the difficulty locating prospects. This can make finding people who have the right skills and experiences a tricky endeavor, often fraught with risks. Small startup endeavors, vertically integrated companies and even MSO’s can run the gamut in terms of who is doing what day to day. Since we do not yet have the type of standardization that exists in more mature industries, it can be challenging to figure out who to hire, and with what titles.

Here are some tips, tricks, and best practices to attract the best prospects and hire suitable candidates that will bring value, commitment, and success to your business.

Try Not to Rush

Whether creating a new position, replacing an employee, or even expanding operations, the tendency is to want to fill a job with someone competent and available as soon as possible. But in order to find the best person, to not only perform the duties of the job but also enhance your workplace culture, grow, and evolve with your business, it takes time.

Clearly Define the Position

When posting a job listing, include more than a simple description of the duties to be performed. Instead, clearly define what the job entails, include what qualities a viable candidate should possess, and outline the culture and values of your business that you believe a potential hire should share. This structure will allow candidates to grasp a complete understanding of the job and match their strengths and interests to the description of the ideal candidate. Producing a clear understanding for both employer and employee about what is expected and how to excel.

Recruit Through Multiple Channels

Since so many qualified candidates could come from a wide range of other industries, it is vital to cast a wide net when searching for potential applicants. There are job boards that specialize in the cannabis industry, such as Viridian Staffing. Others like Indeed are effective places to get a lot of traffic on your job listings. Using social media like Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn can raise your visibility and reach those already in the job market. You could also connect with those that may be open to changing their career path but are not aware of the many opportunities available in the cannabis industry. Also, networking through cannabis-related events and membership associations such as the NCIA can also yield knowledgeable and ambitious candidates.

Looking at Comparable Industries and Transferable Skills

Business owners and recruiters can benefit from looking within a highly regulated sector to find talented employees with a solid knowledge base. The banking, pharmaceutical, alcohol, tobacco, and gaming industries have been around much longer than regulated cannabis. Recruiting talent from these comparable industry models can provide your business with relatable business perspectives and best practices that can benefit your workplace and complement your staff.

Much like the consumer-packaged goods industry, the cannabis industry sells products to the public and needs to hire talent in areas including sales, marketing, retail/distribution, HR, finance/accounting and legal/compliance. Some cannabis companies have often recruited and hired professionals who developed their skill sets in other industries.

Perform Pre-employment Screenings

In any industry as highly regulated the way cannabis is, having stringent pre-employment screenings and background checks is essential to ensuring your business remains compliant with all state laws and restrictions. Hiring unqualified employees can result in fines, penalties, and closures, so it is paramount that your business put procedures in place to screen any potential candidate. Pre-employment screenings should include:

  • A criminal and civil records search.
  • Restricted party search.
  • Professional license investigation.
  • A National Sex Offender Registry search.
  • A National Record Locator search.
  • A review of any previous compliance issues at past cannabis-related businesses.

Human Resources

During the recruiting process, identify candidates who have an established personal brand and who differentiate themselves. Employees will need to have a robust work ethic, attention to detail, able to work effectively in a team environment and possess the ability to merge their ambitions with the goals of the team and the company. Identifying and targeting candidates with and without cannabis industry experience can lead to recruiting success. This approach can broaden your recruiting net, differentiate your cannabis company, and provide the ‘edge’ you need to stand out from other potential employers.

Wages, Benefits, and Culture

One of the most essential steps is to ensure that your base salary, bonus structures and benefits packages are current and comprehensive is critical to attracting talented professionals that can take your business to the next level. Cannabis companies should look for candidates who understand the importance of your company’s specific goals and demands.

Training and Engaging

Your core employee onboarding compliance training package and continuing education plan offers a foundation to build upon. Significant areas of the industry are grappling with high turnover rates, particularly among those who do not succeed in the first few months of employment. Employee training and onboarding will help stem those departures.

A safe environment is created by assessing risk and using proper equipment, policies, and procedures to reduce or stop events or situations that could happen. As a security professional in the cannabis market, you will need a solid knowledge of security systems. Understanding the cannabis marketplace and the required security is essential to running a problem-free operation.

Closing

Remember that most people who are being hired don’t have any cannabis experience, or have very limited cannabis experience, or have legacy market cannabis experience. These individuals don’t yet understand all the compliance nuances and requirements that are needed to operate in a licensed business. Sometimes it’s the soft skills, personal qualities, and cultural fit that may make a candidate a better fit for a role than someone with more regulated cannabis-specific experience. A unique approach, clearly defined roles, a wide recruiting strategy, and transferable skills are the name of the game.

The Equity Workshop Tour: Impactful Conversations with Regulators

by Mike Lomuto, NCIA’s DEI Manager

Part 1 of a Blog Series Recapping the Equity Workshop Tour – Spring 2023

I believe that the cannabis industry needs intimate and dynamic events, particularly if we are to build in an equitable and diverse fashion, and that’s why I embarked on the Equity Workshop Tour, navigating countless obstacles along the way.

After completing the four workshops that comprised the Tour, that belief has been validated, with several additional takeaways.

As part of each workshop, we conducted panel discussions with representatives of state and city regulatory agencies and advocacy organizations.

These conversations were especially illuminating for me, as I got to witness firsthand the ways in which regulators and advocates have been working together in each of these states, with the same mission of equity front and center.

NEW JERSEY

In New Jersey, the Cannabis Regulatory Commission (CRC) recognizes the need for input from stakeholders, and our intimate panel discussion, with a high level of audience participation, offered exactly that. 

Hearing the “origin stories” of CRC Vice Chair Samuel Delgado and CRC Commissioner Charles Barker is a large part of why I believe we have a chance at an equitable industry. Because at the end of the day, we have solid allies within the halls of government, who share our mission.

I was very encouraged to learn about a state that appears to be outpacing other states in the drive to stand up an equitable industry. There does, however, appear to be a lot of work that needs to be done on the municipal level. This is where advocacy organizations, like NCIA, and stakeholders must work together to educate local regulators in order for expeditious and equitable permitting processes to unfold. I believe that NCIA’s committees can provide support in this area, as we have previously, by providing written or verbal testimony on specific matters that municipalities are still unaware of.

It was also illuminating to understand the role that service-disabled veterans play in the industry, as pointed out by Osbert Orduna (of NHCC and SDVICA). Nichelle Santos (M4MM) also contributed valuable insights to this panel discussion.

ILLINOIS

Illinois is a state that has drawn the ire of many. While the legislation was the first to include equitable provisions, the implementation has been challenging, and many people have lost a lot. 

That said, as opposed to the nascent and scattered approach of advocacy I witnessed here a few years back, it’s very encouraging to see advocacy organizations working together on the same page, developing a collaborative working relationship with one another and the regulators. A big shoutout to Cannabis Equity Illinois Coalition (CEIC) for their role in this. (check out this recent Catalyst Conversation to learn more about their work)

It seems that a consolidation of Cannabis oversight into a singular agency with its own power to regulate the industry is needed. There are currently 17 agencies with a role in Illinois’ industry, and the state’s Cannabis Regulatory Oversight Officer serves as a limited version of a centralized agency, without the power to enact the implementations everyone seems to know are needed.

I encourage you to tap in with CEIC, SEEN, and ULCIA to learn more about how you can help with the priorities they’ve identified are necessary to create an equitable industry in Illinois.

NEW YORK

In New York, there is a need for more transparency, which it seems the Office of Cannabis Management recognizes and is headed in that direction. I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it here. OCM has a difficult job, balancing the directives from those above it, with the needs of the stakeholders. As Tabatha Robinson, OCM’s Deputy Director for Economic Development Policy and Research, pointed out during the panel, OCM is made up of several dedicated people who go above and beyond because they believe in creating an equitable industry. As advocates, our challenge lies in balancing the above understanding while also ensuring that the government is held accountable for its promises

Shanduke McPhatter, a CAURD licensee who represented the NY CAURD Coalition on the panel, said it best when he advocated for greater transparency in the process. He reminded us that patience is not the issue for those who have served time, as they’ve learned patience the hard way already. But while being patient, there is a need for greater transparency from the state. A large part of this has to do with the major lack of transparency from the Dormitory Authority of the State of NY (DASNY), which also impacts OCM and their ability to operate properly. It seems like it’s time for Ruben McDaniels and DASNY to stop playing games, but I’m not stating anything that everyone in New York doesn’t already know. 

Lastly, I appreciated Dr Adrian Adams (M4MM) and Scheril Murray Powell (JUSTUS) pointing out the importance of the industry to work together to find creative solutions. These types of discussions are a great starting point, but it’s how we collaborate on action items moving forward that will define our path forward.

MICHIGAN

In Detroit, our panel included NCIA Board Member Rebecca Colett, who has founded the Detroit Cannabis Project (DCP) as a mentorship group to support cannapreneurs on their journey. Thus far, that journey has mostly consisted of staying relevant and advocating properly while the myriad of municipal challenges have unfolded.

What stood out to me was the way in which Kim James and the City of Detroit’s Homegrown Cannabis Office have partnered with DCP, recognizing the need to support mentorship from the municipal level. As Detroit comes online, and as capital markets open back up to fund these new cannapreneurs, the participants in Detroit’s cannabis program will have a leg up on where they would’ve been without this type of holistic support.

Another interesting topic of conversation was led by Scheril Murray Powell, who provided an update on the work to support Legacy operators being conducted by ASTM and the JUSTUS Foundation. This includes advocating for a universal definition of “Legacy operator”, of which NCIA’s DEI Program is very supportive:

“An individual who: 1) Commercially for the majority of their income, or sacramentally, or ceremonially distributed cannabis; 2) Outside of the Legal Framework; 3) During the period of Prohibition; 4) For a minimum of 5 years before legalization.”

As part of the beginning of what will hopefully be a robust dialogue on this topic, NCIA Cultivation Committee member Joseph Smith pointed out the potential challenges for adopting such a standard in the state of Michigan, which had a caregiver program for a decade or so prior to legalization. 

I can’t wait to get back out to Michigan to see this constantly-evolving program.

WHAT IT ALL MEANS

My biggest takeaway is that no matter how many of these types of conversations we have, we need to continue having them and to continue pushing the ball forward. Cannabis is going to take several years to stand up properly, and equitably, so dialogue between advocates, business owners, and regulators is invaluable at this stage in the game. 

And the more cannabis entrepreneurs realize the importance of advocacy at this early stage, the more an equitable industry is possible.

My hope is that these panels, in the setting of the workshops, provide a forum for the right type of conversations, as well as inspiration for business owners as to how to advocate for themselves and others in a successful manner.

THANK YOU

Special shoutout to our partner organizations, all of whom are working tirelessly to advocate for a more equitable industry. This includes: Cannabis Equity Illinois Coalition; Minorities 4 Medical Marijuana; JUSTUS Foundation; National Hispanic Cannabis Council – Tristate Chapter; NYC NORML; Social Equity Empower Network; Service-Disabled Veterans in Cannabis Association; United Latino Cannabis Industry Alliance; Detroit Cannabis Project; NY CAURD Coalition; and Minority Cannabis Business Association

And big thank you to our sponsors, who understand the importance of creating these intimate conversations, for the sake of a resilient and equitable industry. Platinum Sponsor Dao Mastery; Gold Sponsors Grow America Builders and Etain; and Silver Sponsors Zenco Payments, Indiva Advisors, Cova, Jeffrey Hoffman & Associates PLLC, Mary Jane Consulting Group, Illinois Equity Staffing, Mackewich Legal Counsel, and Cannas Capital

Equity Member Spotlight – Back to D.C. for Lobby Days

by Mike Lomuto, DEI Manager

For the second time in nine months, NCIA’s DEI Program organized a DEI Delegation as part of our annual Lobby Days on Capitol Hill. 

The DEI Delegation consists of some of the foremost advocates for Social Equity from across the country. Their leadership within their state and local communities, as well as within NCIA’s Committee structure, greatly bolsters the lobbying efforts of our organization as a whole, all year round.

Our Delegates weighed in on the organization’s talking points ahead of the event, and then provided an important perspective on the Hill.  As part of NCIA’s lobbying on behalf of the industry, our members focused on SAFE Banking, 280E Reform, Comprehensive Legalization, Veterans Affairs, and more.

Thanks to TILT Holdings and Evergreen Market for sponsoring this very important initiative. 

As stakeholders in the cannabis industry, it is important that we learn how to also properly advocate for ourselves and for others from diverse communities around the country.

We’ve already begun raising funds for next year’s DEI Delegation. If you want to ensure the return of this initiative, while also receiving year-round recognition, reach out to mikelomuto@thecannabisindustry.org

2023’s Lobby Days DEI Delegation:

Raina Jackson, Purple Raina; DEI Committee Organizer and Policy & Regs Subcommittee Chair
Dr. Adrian Adams, CGO at Northeast Extracts; NCIA’s DEI Committee; M4MM’s NY State Director
Vanessa Valdovinos, HUSH; NCIA’s Marketing & Advertising Committee Organizer
Anthony Jenkins, Next Level Edibles; NCIA’s Cannabis Manufacturing Committee

 

This is your first year as a Delegate. Why was it important to you to participate?

Vanessa:

Participating in Lobby Days allowed me to contribute my personal experiences, expertise, and insights as someone running a small business in a highly regulated market. I wanted to have a voice in shaping legislation related to crucial topics that are important to me like providing an equitable pathway in the cannabis space. By being present at Lobby Days, I could truly contribute to the development of policies that would essentially help shape policies that promote a safe, inclusive, and thriving cannabis industry for the benefit of all.

You were a member of last year’s Delegation. Tell us why you chose to return this year, and how your experience last year influenced your game plan for this year.

Dr. Adrian:

Last year was more about figuring out who in each office was the one driving the cannabis policy car, if you will, meeting them where they were, and schooling them up. This year we did a better job as a small group in each office using each of our bios to tell an impactful story regarding the impact of SAFE Banking and 280E, and tying it to what some offices have done in their home district.

Raina:

It was a wonderful experience to participate in Lobby Days 2023, especially after attending last September for the first time and learning so much. I appreciate that this year’s meetings were extended over two days, following in-person training at the glorious Michael Best Strategies office penthouse.

Like last year, I found that most Congressional staffers are quite open-minded and seek to understand our points of view to correctly convey them to the lawmakers they serve. I learned that we don’t have to agree on every single detail to come to a compromise, especially since the People have spoken and demand some form of safe cannabis access and decriminalization nationwide. Bipartisan efforts must match public opinion.

What were the main takeaways from your experience on Capitol Hill?

Raina:

Most staffers were not familiar with 280E and how it disproportionately burdens cannabis businesses with paying upwards of 50 to 70% of revenue towards federal, state, and local taxes without the tax write-offs other industries enjoy at a 30% standard rate.The new proposed Small Business Tax Equity Act eliminating 280E for cannabis businesses would greatly improve the economic landscape, while still representing a net gain for the national economy. This credit would allow more businesses to stay afloat and continue to pay taxes at a more equitable rate over a longer period. Everybody wins!

Dr. Adrian:

SAFE Banking could potentially happen sooner than I thought if it originates from the Senate side. 

Anthony:

My main experience in Capitol Hill taught me that with planning and footwork, it is possible to reach elected officials, even highly ranked officials like US Senators.  And from the feedback we received from both Democrats and Republicans, most representatives are on board with all 3 (hemp updates, 280e reform, SAFE Banking).

Vanessa:

One of my main takeaways from this experience was the immense value of hearing personal stories that shed light on the diverse perspectives within a highly regulated market. By listening to the struggles and triumphs shared by individuals, I gained a deeper understanding of the challenges we all face on a day-to-day basis. I also realized that by sharing our own truths and insights, we can provide invaluable perspectives that others can learn from. Personal stories have the ability to bridge gaps in understanding and create empathy, which are crucial for the progress of any industry.

Mike:

An important component of Lobby Days is the in-person training session. This year, Reggie Babin provided some great insights. As the former Chief Counsel to Senator Charles Schumer, who worked directly on the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act, his words resonated throughout the room and our lobbying efforts over the ensuing two days. One thing that stuck with me is when Reggie compared the ten years it had just taken to get reform through on a non-cannabis issue. That bill had strong sentimental support and near-unanimous public opinion on its side. Given that context, it made it clear that we’re on schedule for SAFE Banking. It also means we need to be pushing on other legislation that may likewise take many years to push through.

He also pointed out how any one conversation that we have could be the one that flips the vote that is the final domino on passing legislation. That’s why our stories are so important.

What did you learn from your experience that you’d like others to know?

Raina:

As NCIA DEI Delegates we must control our own narratives and help illuminate the state of our industry by putting names and faces to our stories and sharing our triumphs and pain points. I’m glad we are revisiting the SAFE Banking Bill, which is vital to public safety and economic growth along the supply chain. It is paramount that the bill is passed in any version initially, with room for amendments to weave PLUS equity initiatives into the fabric. 

Dr. Adrian:

The circle of leaders at the top of the cannabis industry is relatively small and many of those folks attend the lobby days of groups like M4MM and NCIA. Your attendance is good for business as well as for the creation of informed public policy. 

Vanessa:

Another important lesson I learned was the significance of building relationships. Engaging with lawmakers directly and sharing my own personal experiences and insights was a driving force for me. It was inspiring to witness their genuine interest in hearing directly from industry professionals. Establishing meaningful connections with policymakers is key so that our industry is properly understood and represented.

Anthony:

I learned that an impassioned personal message goes a lot further than you think. Which is why we need you next year. Because we need our officials to hear your story, and how these issues affect you, your business, and your family daily.

What’s something you loved about visiting D.C. outside of the Lobby Days activities?

Vanessa:

It was the opportunity to connect with my fellow members on a deeper level that truly resonated with me. During our time together, I had the privilege of hearing their unique personal stories and gaining a deeper understanding of what had motivated them to participate in Lobby Days. These stories were inspiring and just reminded me of the incredible passion and dedication within our community.

The personal stories, the camaraderie, and the bonds we formed have created a network of support and friendship that extends far beyond the event itself. It was a truly special aspect of the trip that I will cherish for years to come.

Dr. Adrian:

Just seeing the unique D.C. cannabis market in action with entrepreneurs like Barry Doyle/Embers and others holding unique events. As Anthony Jenkins from San Francisco put it, “it was like seeing the future of cannabis in the U.S.”

Raina:

I appreciated that this year my group had time between and after meetings to visit D.C. landmarks like the Botanical Garden, the Dr. Martin Luther King Memorial, and the Washington Monument. I even extended my stay to experience the phenomenal National Museum of African American History and Culture.

Anthony:

The botanical garden was dope!

P.S. Something else I’d like to note is that in the weeks leading up to Lobby Days, I embarked on the Equity Workshop Tour, a series of workshops held in four cities, bringing together industry stakeholders, leaders, advocates, and regulators. This experience was highly informative for me to hear all these stories prior to our lobbying work in D.C. It was also great to see some of the same faces that I had seen across the Tour again in D.C!

Committee Blog: How Can Retailers Improve the Customer Experience?

by NCIA’s Retail Committee
Contributing Authors – Ace Castillo, Brian Anderson, Tony Trinh, Pete Longo, Nicole Rivers, John Kent, Larina Scofield, and Brian Hart

In a competitive market the customer experience is one of the biggest factors in the success of a company. This begs the question as to how to improve the customer experience? In one simple word, service. But what can retailers do to provide service to the customers? After consulting several members within the NCIA retail committee, here are a few takeaways.

Education

This applies to both the customer and the employee. While there are certainly customer-facing employees who have strong knowledge and have made a great impression on customers, a common trend is there is a lack of consistency with employee knowledge and communicating information. One can go into a retail location and ask the same question to four budtenders and get five different opinions. This is often a reflection of the lack of standardized and consistent training provided by management. There are certainly challenges regarding the high turnover of employees in the cannabis industry however management needs to find solutions to ensure every employee is trained in the same way so there is a standard of cannabis knowledge. Once that standard is in place, customer-facing employees can provide consistent and well-informed information to the customer. Examples include communicating the properties of the plant like that of the different cannabinoids and terpenes, their effects, and which cannabis products can maximize the desired effect of the customer.

Engagement

Engaging customers and the community improves the overall customer experience. Often when applying for a license a retail location has a community engagement plan that looks promising but doesn’t get executed. It is understandable there are a litany of tasks needed to be performed but if a retail location wants to improve the customer experience, engage the customer and community. Host events where a retail location can get to know the customer and community and provide value in these events through education. Engage community leaders and people who have concerns about a retail location in their area. This does not mean people will change their opinions however if they feel they are being listened to and have respectful communication then the overall reputation of a business will be improved upon. A good business reputation will improve interactions with customers. Also, have retail employees engage customers, this goes back to sharing information about the plants and products.

Process Development

Evaluate and improve the customer experience. If one trains employees and engages customers, leverage these experiences to improve the process. One conversation can provide valuable insight as to how to improve service. Another conversation may provide insight as to what products customers find value in or importantly detract value. It could be that too many customers find the explanations provided by trained retail staff are too detailed or too vague. If that is the case, make the appropriate changes to improve the process. Customers will notice when changes are made for their benefit and this strengthens their desire to return to the retail location.

Data Analytics

Observe quantifiable patterns and this doesn’t need to be over complicated. What are customer flow-through rates? Is there a time of day where there is an influx of customers and could there be a correlation as to what they are buying? Is there a time of day that many customers come in for a specific item and through this observation can changes be made to make the process easier and the overall experience better? It could be that customers at a specific location prefer a specific brand or type of product and by having the right levels of inventory a retail location won’t run out of products and disappoint the customer. Conversely if there are products that are not selling and could potentially serve as an unwanted distraction to customers, it could be possible the customer experience would be improved upon by removing the product. Reviewing data about customers does not need to be intrusive and can be viewed at a high level. 

Company Values

Does a retailer have a list of values, are they authentic, and is it followed? Keeping to company values provides direction and commonality between the company and the customer. Is there a retailer that genuinely cares about kindness and is it practiced throughout the company? If the owner of the company treats a manager with kindness and the manager treats customer-facing employees with kindness, there is a greater likelihood the customer-facing employee will treat the customer with kindness. Whatever the values of the company are, they need to be announced and if practiced, customers will see it in everyday interactions and that can make the difference from good to great.

As one may notice, the aforementioned tips are not revolutionary or the first of their kind. Instead, these are ideas that can be practiced daily and make small but incremental improvements. We encourage you to try these tips out and through consistency over time, these incremental improvements will compound and improve the customer experience. 


Brian Hart is a consultant and entrepreneur in the cannabis industry and has both academic and practical experience within the cannabis industry. Having written his master thesis using a neoclassical economics model to conduct an industrial analysis of the Colorado Cannabis industry, Brian grew and sold cannabis and has consulted on the industry for several years nationally as well as internationally.

Committee Insights | Meet the Minors (Novel, Minor, Synthetic Cannabinoids – Part II)

In this edition of our NCIA Committee Insights series, originally aired on May 11, 2023, we were joined by members of NCIA’s Cannabis Manufacturing, Scientific Advisory and Hemp Committees for an in-depth discussion of the most talked about minor, novel, and synthetic cannabinoids.

What scientific publications exist for each compound? What do we know about each molecule’s physiological, psychoactive, and therapeutic effects?

You’ll find out during this informative session featuring leading chemical experts, manufacturers and product development specialists. Along with audience members they explored these compounds from various perspectives to examine their implications for consumers, medical practitioners, patients, producers and regulators.

Learning Objectives:

• Molecular Structures and Identification of novel, minor, and synthetic compounds
• Published Physiological and Psychoactive effects of these compounds
• Perceived therapeutic effects
• Opportunity to ask about other new compounds not in presentation.

Panelists:

Cassin Coleman
Founder
Cassin Consulting

James Granger
Chief Political Officer
Clintel Capital Group

John Murray
President
Sustainable Innovations

Scott Seeley
Patent Attorney & Intellectual Property Lawyer
Eastgate IP

This is the second of five in a multi-part series of #IndustryEssentials webinars. You can watch Parts I-V at the links below.

Defining the Conversation: Minor, Novel & Synthetic Cannabinoids (Part I): https://bit.ly/3D2LReB

Meet the Minors (Part II): https://bit.ly/3qUD8Ip

From Lab to Label: Safeguarding Consumers in the Cannabinoid Product Landscape (Part III)https://bit.ly/3Xc9Lx6

Know Your Hazards – Occupational Health and Safety Considerations in Cannabinoid Ingredient Manufacturing (Part IV)https://bit.ly/3rEUeKP

Concepts for Regulatory Consideration – Shifting the Conversation from “Cannabis vs. Hemp” to “The Cannabinoids” (Part V): https://bit.ly/3P3r5AW

Committee Blog: Hop Latent Viroid (HLV) – Overview of Pathogen Biology, Spread, Control, and Testing

by Sarah Taylor-Laine (NCIA Education Committee, NCIA Cultivation Committee)

Hop Latent Viroid (HLV/HpLV), sometimes referred to as “dudding” or “stunting”, is one of the most pressing biological threats facing the cannabis industry worldwide. In the United States, HLV was first detected in California in 2017. Subsequent research by Dark Heart Nursery indicated that 90% of Californian facilities tested at the time were positive for the pathogen. The Dark Heart Nursery research team estimated that an HLV epidemic could result in up to US$4 billion in losses to the cannabis industry annually. To add insult to injury, HLV-infected cannabis may be linked to cannabis hyperemesis syndrome (CHS), which affects both adults and children.

As the name suggests, HLV was first detected in hops (Humulus lupulus; Cannabaceae). Outside of the United States, HLV has been detected in hops in New Zealand, the United Kingdom, South Korea, Japan, Brazil, the Czech Republic, Poland, Slovenia, Germany, China, Belgium, Turkey, and Canada. Within the United States, HLV has been detected in hops in Washington, and in cannabis in California, Colorado, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington. However, these are only officially-published reports and given the worldwide occurrence, HLV is likely to be endemic to many locations not listed here.

Viroids are subviral pathogenic RNA molecules which replicate within host plants and are only approximately 1/50th the size of the smallest viruses. Specifically, HLV is a circular RNA molecule of approximately 256 nucleotides in length, which can assume a rod-shaped secondary structure. In hops, HLV has been shown to interact with other viruses and alter the gene expression patterns of host plants. HLV has been found to not only infect hops and cannabis, but also Dianthus deltoides, Chenopodiastrum murale, Dysphania pseudomultiflora, cowpea (Vigna unguiculata), common bean (Phaseolus vulgaris), and stinging nettle (Urtica dioica). Notably, by subjecting hop plants to heat stress, researchers have been able to induce “thermomutant” HLV variants which could then infect both tomato (Solanum lycopersicum) and Nicotiana benthamiana, opening up the possibility that HLV could spread to new plant species under climate change-induced warming scenarios.

HLV often does not produce obvious symptoms in hops, and where they do occur there may be a long latency period, making control difficult. In hops, HLV is often detected early in the season at the plant base, where it gradually spreads up the plant and can be detected in all aerial tissues by mid-season during the flowering period. In cannabis, HLV causes brittle stems, a horizontal growth habit, and the destruction of flowers and trichomes. In both hops and cannabis, HLV may cause pathology in host plants through RNA interference (RNAi). HLV infection is reported to reduce THC content by 50-70%, which is not surprising as glandular trichomes are the source of THC in cannabis. In hops, HLV infection has been shown to reduce the content of terpenes and other secondary metabolites in susceptible varieties. It is currently unknown whether HLV infection decreases the terpene content in cannabis, but it is very likely.

In hops, HLV is not readily transferred by seeds, but may be transferred in uninucleate pollen. However, activating pollen nuclease HBN1 was shown to eliminate HLV in mature pollen. “Real world” transmission of HLV appears to primarily occur through the use of contaminated cutting tools, the use of infected plant materials, or from plant-to-plant. However, as an obligate pathogen, HLV requires living host tissue in order to survive and propagate. HLV has been confirmed to be transmitted between hop plants by potato aphid (Macrosiphum euphorbiae), green peach aphid (Myzus persicae), and hop aphid (Phorodon humuli), and may also be transferred by other herbivorous insects. Planting cannabis on sites previously planted with infected host plants is likely to be a source of infection, although this has not been experimentally verified.

In hops, chilling plants at 2-4 °C (approximately 35-40 °F) for 8-21 months prior to harvesting meristem tips for propagation has been shown to reduce or eliminate the spread of HLV, although the effect may be variety-specific. In addition, subjecting hop mericlones to heat treatment cycles (25-35 °C/77-95 °F for two weeks) has been shown to reduce HLV incidence by 70-90%. In terms of waste management, anaerobic fermentation at 70 °C (158 °F) causes HLV degradation, although standard ensiling does not appear to be effective. As with most viral and viroid diseases, there is currently no cure available to disinfect mature host plants. However, researchers are currently studying whether RNAi may have utility in cannabis crop protection against viral and viroid infections. Therefore, it is currently recommended to test all stock plants to confirm that they are pathogen free and to destroy all infected materials.

Plant materials can be tested for HLV infection using several molecular techniques, including DNA barcoding, RNA sequencing (RNA-seq), recombinase polymerase amplification (RPA), quantitative real-time polymerase chain reaction (qRT-PCR), reverse transcription PCR (RT-PCR), dot-blot hybridization, tissue print hybridization, in situ hybridization, and enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA).

It is unknown how many, and which, lessons learned in hops will be transferable to cannabis. Both susceptibility and control of HLV in cannabis is likely to be variety-specific. To enable the breeding of HLV-resistant cannabis varieties, future research should focus on characterizing the molecular mechanism underlying HLV pathogenicity and host susceptibility. However, the situation remains that HLV is likely endemic in many cannabis growing regions and cultivators should focus on targeted biosanitation efforts to thwart HLV infection in their crops. These efforts should include testing all propagation materials for infection, destroying infected materials, sanitizing cutting tools and work surfaces, and limiting herbivory by sap-sucking insects such as aphids.


Sarah Taylor-Laine is a plant science polymath. Sarah has taught and developed college-level courses related to general biology, plant biology, and cannabis sciences at several institutions, most recently at Beal University. She has also worked across many industries including agriculture, horticulture, and arboriculture, performing diverse work in research, quality control, product development, regulatory affairs, scientific communication, and field-based consulting.

Equity Member Spotlight: Taking Events to the Next Level

by Mike Lomuto, NCIA’s DEI Manager 

Events are a major way in which the culture of cannabis is preserved and evolves. With 4/20 upon us, we felt it appropriate for this column – which is all about staying true to the culture – to focus in on some of our members who specialize in innovative cannabis events.

For this celebratory month of 4/20, we’re checking in with:

Michael Webster, Founder & Managing Member of Falling Leaves Events, and new member of NCIA’s Banking & Financial Services Committee

Toni, Founder of Toni Consulting and Wellness, member of both NCIA’s Health Equity Working Group and Education Committee

And the ladies of HUSH

Kay Villamin, Co-Founder and Creative Director, and Chair of NCIA’s State Regulations Committee

Vanessa Valdovinos, Co-Founder and Director of Events, Organizer of NCIA’s Marketing & Advertising Committee

Michael shares his infused fine dining and networking series. Toni spreads wellness through the community with her movement-based events that balance the endocannabinoid system and educate the mind. And Hush brings an innovative and highly professional approach to elevate cannabis experiences through their immersive events. 

We asked these three cannabis companies some questions about their events and the mission behind them. The journey is always part of the destination, and in this spotlight we get to hear about how these industry groundbreakers are bringing positive innovations to the culture, transforming it with each event. Read to the end to find out where to catch them next. 

What type of events do you throw?

MW: Our offerings have evolved with the Michigan adult-use market. While our early events were consumer-focused, we’ve become much more industry-focused, situating ourselves as a B2B connector in the event space. Our current event series, The Falling Leaves Infused Dinner Series, brings together operators, influencers, stakeholders, and allies of the Michigan cannabis industry for infused networking and fine dining. We are also working on a B2B cannabis industry expo to connect the many brands, cultivators, and processors here in Michigan.

Toni: I offer wellness events in the community that provide education highlighting the numerous wellness benefits and usages of the plant. My events are rooted in creating community awareness and solutions around the necessity of cannabis health equity policies.

HUSH: We host and produce high-level experiential events focused on providing immersive experiences with cannabis through interactive design, entertainment, and customized activations that provide creative ways to engage with the plant. From networking events to large conference afterparties and trade shows, we produce a wide range of experiences for brands in the industry.

What makes your events unique? 

MW: In a word – or two – Form Factor. Our choice to offer consumption via infused food and beverages is what truly sets us apart from other consumption events. Our networking component offers the opportunity to connect with other members of the industry, and has become quite an attractive feature. Our events feature a carefully curated guest list of folks targeted by sponsors to be in the room so the deals can get done. We have replicated the diplomatic dinner table, where, traditionally, wars have been averted, treaties signed, and industry deals secured. Instead of the smoky, tobacco-filled back rooms, we’re providing smoky, cannabis-filled rooms that feature equity and transparency.

Toni: I curate events that provide education in a way that helps to destigmatize the plant while highlighting its various wellness benefits and usage options, delivered through storytelling, movement, stillness, creative expression, and reflective practices.

HUSH: Every aspect and layout of our events is intentionally designed with the goals of innovation and impact. Our guest experience is first in mind from beginning to end – from accepting an invitation to when they leave the doors to go home – we think of every detail involved. We think of how we want our guests to feel when they enter and guide them in their entire journey, as well as how they can interact with the brands and sponsors we work with. We attract high-caliber, global majority leaders in the industry from all over the country.

How do you roll your mission and advocacy into your events?

MW: Beyond our core mission of equity in the regulated cannabis industry, championing normative integration of mindful, responsible public cannabis consumption remains our cause celebre. Having, in some ways, been chased from the licensed, regulated consumption event space by burdensome insurance regulations that render Michigan’s cannabis event organizer license effectively unviable, we have pivoted to the private event space as our front in this war against normalization. 

We perform a critical role in the Michigan cannabis ecosystem for the benefit of all. Our push for normalization eases pain points up and down the industry supply chain, from municipal hearings considering licensure to breaking stigmas and gaining acceptance from important community organizations intent on preventing harm outside of the supply chain.

Toni: My wellness events are rooted in creating community awareness and solutions around the necessity of cannabis health equity policies.

HUSH: Whether it’s our own hosted event or in collaboration with another brand, our goal is to highlight, serve, and work with fellow BIPOC and social equity brands in the industry. With this intention since inception, we’ve cultivated an audience that believes in the same mission. As part of our mission, we create world-class experiences that bridge the gap between small and big operators to collectively provide environments where we can normalize the consumption of cannabis. 

What can sponsors or attendees expect from the experience?

MW: Expectations from our sponsors and guests are high because that’s exactly where we set them. We operate on the more sophisticated end of the cannabis consumption event spectrum. Much like our dear friends over at HUSH Chicago, we seek to deliver an immersive experience that is powered by cannabis but involves much more. Sponsors can expect the highest level of quality engagement possible with attendees. A quote from Chris Hammond, Senior Sales Director at Kairos Labs, LLC, best captures expectations – This past weekend I went to an event hosted by Michael Webster MSc. The food was amazing, the ambience was perfect, and I got more quality contacts in one night than I have in a week at MJ Biz. Very excited for the next event!”

Toni: Sponsors and attendees can expect to learn about educational needs and ways to support wellness initiatives in communities most affected by the “war on drugs.” My goal is to spread knowledge for the betterment of communities, utilizing the old African proverb; Each One, Teach One. 

HUSH: Sponsors and attendees can expect to have all senses engaged when attending a Hush event. Each experience is different from the next as we create new ways to engage our guests. For our sponsors, we think of creative ways to activate their brand while keeping their goals in mind, and measuring metrics that will prove their return on investment. Guests and sponsors alike can expect a stark improvement on what was once considered a cannabis consumption event. Attendees should expect to pull up to the intersection of cannabis consumption and decadence, be greeted by grown folk maturity, and be prompted that it is indeed time to go home after our event, no matter how much they wish to stay.

How has being an NCIA member helped the development of your events?

MW: NCIA membership has been transformational. The ability to tap into a national network of eco-partners from disparate cannabis markets gets us out of our silos. We are influenced by empathy and shared resources. We are nurtured by the collective and dream with the expectation of an eventual common market in which to operate. Our events truly are the manifestation of the old African adage – “if you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

Toni: NCIA has helped me identify the need for cannabis education and wellness initiatives in marginalized communities.

HUSH: Being part of NCIA has allowed our company to extend our reach beyond local and regional markets. Being a member of committees has enabled us to build relationships with a national group of leaders in the industry who became supporters and sponsors of our events. We have also received great mentoring and advice from other members. 

When and where should we expect to see you in the coming months?

MW: We continue to operate on a monthly cadence in the Metro Detroit area, but we are expanding into other municipalities in Michigan as well. In May we expect to take our show on the road and into the Show Me state. As a brand-new market, Missouri has tons of potential and can benefit from a healthy event market. Check out our website – fallingleavesevents.com –  and follow us on social @fallingleavesevents to learn about our upcoming events.

Toni: I have a new offering every other Tuesday in Oakland, CA at Snow Park. I will be leading Community Wellness Yoga where we experience movement for the endocannabinoid system with a live saxophonist. 

  • April 11th & 25th
  • May 9th & 23rd
  • June 6 & 20th

You can also catch me on my youtube channel or follow me on instagram @cannabisnursetoni for healthy-infused recipes, movement, and your daily dose of wellness. 

HUSH: We are hosting an afterparty for NECANN in Illinois on June 2nd and we are also excited to be working on a large cannabis career conference with 40Tons to take place at Malcolm X College in Chicago on Jun 19, 2023 Lookout for an announcement for a fun event in Q4 when we will be celebrating our 5th year anniversary!

Committee Blog: The Benefits of Partnering with a Security Provider and What to Consider When Choosing One 

By Casey Mitchell, Vector Security
Member of NCIA’s Facilities Design Committee

As the cannabis industry continues to grow, security has become an increasingly important concern for consultants and business owners. From seed to sale, the cannabis industry faces a unique set of security challenges including permitting and compliance,  systems design, theft, and inventory loss.  

Add to these challenges a myriad of state laws and regulations that need to be followed.  But, if you partner with the right security vendor, they can help you navigate regulations to make sure your business is compliant, as well as offer detailed security plans that  integrate with your business goals. 

Below are some benefits an experienced security provider can offer cannabis  consultants and business owners, and tips on how you can choose a partner that’s right  for you: 

Dedicated Team with Experience in State and Federal Regulations

An important factor to consider when choosing a security provider is their experience in the cannabis industry as well as security as a whole. How long has the company been in business? Do they have a team dedicated to the cannabis industry? How well-versed are they in cannabis laws and regulations? Do they provide comprehensive support from seed to sale? Look for a security provider that has a dedicated cannabis team that understands the regulatory landscape. 

Permit Application Support and Permit Drawings 

One of the most challenging aspects of the cannabis industry is permitting and design.  An experienced security provider can review your state application to verify regulations  are met in order to maximize your score. They should be able to provide the narrative  for the permit application related to your security plan. Consider if they are able to  design a comprehensive security plan showing location of devices, rough-in, power  requirements, standard operating procedures and network requirements. Look for a  security partner that provides these services, and inquire if these services are free or if  there is an additional charge. 

Trade Coordination 

There’s a lot of moving parts that go into getting a cannabis business up and  running…and even beyond. A good security provider can coordinate with builders,  construction companies, power companies/utilities, architects, and other partners for  streamlined deployment of systems.

Enhanced Security and Asset Protection 

Cannabis businesses tend to deal with large amounts of cash and valuable products that make them a target for internal and external theft, as well as other security threats. An experienced security integrator can design, install and implement a comprehensive security plan that includes video surveillance, access control, panic buttons, and monitored intrusion and fire alarm systems. Make sure your security provider can offer a range of products and services that will protect your business and your staff during and after business hours. 

Alarm Monitoring 

An essential part of security is protecting inventory from internal and external theft as  well as environmental threats like fire. Rapid response and quick emergency dispatch are key should an incident occur. Look for providers that offer 24/7/365 in-house alarm  monitoring, redundant communication capabilities, and ask if their monitoring centers  are U.L.-listed. They should also have false alarm protocols in place so your business can  avoid costly fines associated with false dispatch. 

Increased Operational Efficiencies 

Working with a security provider can help cannabis businesses increase their operational efficiencies. For example, with a comprehensive security plan in place and a  security partner that can proactively advise on best practices, you can focus on running your business knowing that your people and product are protected. Additionally, video analytics can supply valuable data and reporting to help you optimize operations such as identifying areas for improvement, opportunities for growth or additional employee training; spotting violations to help avoid compliance and permitting infractions; and analyzing traffic patterns to maximize store layout performance and ensure adequate staffing during peak business hours. 

Access to the Latest Security Technology 

The security industry is constantly evolving with new technology being developed to address emerging threats. Working with a security partner gives cannabis consultants and businesses single-source access to the latest products. By leveraging these advanced technologies, you can stay ahead of potential threats. Choose a security vendor that has well-established relationships with trusted equipment manufacturers.  Your provider should be able to offer curated devices that integrate with each other and that can be controlled via a single platform, such as a mobile app, so you can control all aspects of your security system anytime, anywhere. Some security providers even have dedicated in-house product teams that continually source and evaluate the latest technologies. Consider how your provider stays on top of new trends and technologies. 

Ongoing Service and Support 

Even if your business is operational, you’ll still benefit from the ongoing support an  experienced security partner can provide. If the security vendor provides a single point  of contact, it’s easier to schedule service, inspections, monitoring, and other critical 

needs, ensuring your facilities remain fully functional. Ask if your security partner provides post-installation service and support including ongoing testing and inspections  to remain compliant with the authority having jurisdiction. 

Whether you’re a cannabis consultant or a business owner, look for security providers with industry experience; permitting, compliance and design expertise; customized security solutions; reliable alarm monitoring; and cost-effective solutions. By choosing the right security partner, cannabis businesses can mitigate security risks and ensure compliance with state and federal regulations.


Casey Mitchell is an enterprise account manager for Vector Security’s dedicated cannabis solutions team. He has more than 22 years of experience designing security and communications systems for the U.S. Department of Defense and other highly-regulated industries, like cannabis. 

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