by NCIA’s State Regulations Committee
If you want to open and operate a regulated cannabis business, there’s no avoiding local government. Every state grants different amounts of power to towns and cities, with some allowing localities to ban cannabis businesses outright, and others simply giving them the same power over time, place, and manner of operations that they have for other businesses. But since cannabis can be a hot-button issue, a proposal to open a cannabis facility often attracts far more attention than opening any other type of business.
To help NCIA members and other cannabis entrepreneurs navigate local government, we at the State Regulations Committee have launched a series of blog posts, with each taking a close look at a different type of cannabis license. Last month, we published our first post, “Working With Your Local Government as a Cannabis Cultivator.”
Today, we’re moving one step down the supply chain and talking about cannabis processors (sometimes also called manufacturers or infusers). Since state programs vary widely, with some licensing cannabis processors independently and others combining processing with cultivation (or even a single vertically integrated license), we will be focusing on the operations rather than the licenses themselves. If you’re seeking a combined license, be sure to read the blog for each activity your business will be allowed to engage in — while there is some overlap, there are also some major distinctions in how different operations can most effectively interact with municipal officials, and you will need to be well-versed in answering questions unique to each phase of your business.
Like the three rules of real estate being “location, location, location,” the three rules of economic development are “jobs, jobs, jobs.” When proposing a new business in a town or city, local officials are going to want to know how many jobs it will bring, as employment can put money directly into the hands of their constituents and have ripple effects throughout the local economy.
In addition to the raw number of jobs your business will create, it’s also important to highlight the qualifications for those positions. Processing facilities often need to have highly qualified individuals with PhDs or other certifications to manage production processes, and officials will be happy to see the salaries that come along with such positions. Entry-level jobs, such as working production lines, are also worth talking about — even though they have lower salaries than someone with a doctorate, it’s usually much easier to hire local talent for these positions. Any commitment to hiring locally as much as possible is usually a big plus to politicians. Additionally, be sure to mention how much these new employees will add to the local economy, through all the typical living spending they will do.
Setting up and maintaining your facility will also have a major economic impact, especially in smaller communities. If you’re constructing a building to suit, get estimates from your contractors about the jobs your project is supporting, and let officials know how much you’re investing in the build-out. If you’re moving into an existing space, you’ll almost certainly be doing significant renovations to meet the state’s strict safety standards, which is also worth talking about. Towns and cities that are struggling economically will often be very happy to see unused commercial space become occupied, especially if those properties are being improved. If possible, also identify local contractors (like electricians) or suppliers (like lumberyards) you will use for construction.
Finally, there are direct payments to the local government. While officials love to see any sort of economic development, they still have services to provide and a budget to balance, and will want to know what the municipality will be receiving directly. Calculate your building’s expected property taxes, both on an annual basis and 5-10 years out — since cannabis licenses are usually very difficult to re-locate, emphasize that you are in it for the long haul. Be sure to understand your states’ tax structure, and know whether there are any local taxes that the town will receive, or if towns that host cannabis licensees receive any portion of state tax revenue.
The top public safety issue in local officials’ minds when it comes to cannabis processing is almost surely to be butane fires and explosions. This is for good reason — while hydrocarbon extractions can be very safe and effective when done properly, when done improperly they can be incredibly dangerous. City councilors or fire chiefs may have read some of the many headlines about butane-related accidents over the past few years, and it’s up to you to address these concerns directly and honestly. Of course, before diving into these conversations, check to see if the municipality or county has already banned such extraction methods, as some state laws allow local control in this area.
If you’re not planning to perform hydrocarbon extractions at your facility, be sure to tell that to your local officials. They may not realize that there are many other types of cannabis extracts that do not present such safety risks, such as CO2 extracts (carbon dioxide is not flammable, and similar processes are used for decaffeinating coffee) or bubble hash (which uses only cold water). If you have zero interest in ever using hydrocarbons in your facility, putting this agreement into writing may make local officials even more comfortable.
If you do plan to perform hydrocarbon extractions, educating officials on the risks and safety measures is paramount. Most states have extensive regulations on how extraction labs must be set up, which you can email or print out for meetings to demonstrate what you’ll need to comply with. Since the vast majority of butane-related accidents have come from illegal labs with makeshift equipment, show officials the equipment you’ll be using, emphasizing the price and professional quality. The manufacturers may even have fact sheets or other information you can share to demonstrate the safety of their equipment. As you educate officials on your methods and equipment, be sure to keep open lines of communication with the fire chief and building inspector, who will have the most expertise and authority on this aspect of public safety.
Beyond the processing-specific concerns about fires and explosions, all cannabis businesses will have to deal with officials’ concerns about theft. These may be particularly acute for processors since your end products have a much higher value-to-weight ratio than raw cannabis plants. To address these concerns, explain the security requirements in state laws and regulations, and any areas where you are going above and beyond what is mandated. Things like external security cameras and floodlights can both protect your own business and your neighboring community, making a cannabis business a net gain to public safety.
Once economic development and public safety have been considered, local officials will wonder about the broader community impact of your cannabis business in areas like odor or traffic. This is an easy topic for processors, as they arguably have the smallest impact of any type of cannabis operation.
Processors are generally much smaller than cultivation facilities, and since they’re not full of growing cannabis plants, they also have much less odor to address. Unlike a dispensary or retailer, processors are not open to the public, so town planners won’t need to worry about an influx of traffic. Once you explain how you’ll be operating, local officials should be able to rest easy knowing that to an outside observer, your business will be virtually indistinguishable from a commercial kitchen or light manufacturing facility. If there are still concerns about odor, inform them that modern odor mitigation technology can completely eliminate any odor from leaving your facility.
Once you’ve explained what you’d like to do and how you think your facility would fit into the local community, the conversation isn’t over — it’s just beginning! If the local government needs more time to consider your proposal, then it’s good to keep in close touch and address any additional concerns they have as they arise. If the local officials are already comfortable with your business and are welcoming it into their community (or if your state law doesn’t give local officials the power to stop you from opening up), it’s still great to build that relationship and keep an open dialogue.
Elected officials usually need to know a little bit about everything, but don’t have the bandwidth or in-house expertise to go very deep on most subjects. That’s where you, someone working full-time in the cannabis industry, come in — you almost certainly know more about state laws and regulations than they do, which is a great opportunity for you to serve as a resource. If you hear about changes in the law or proposed bills that could impact their town or city, send over news articles or bill text to help keep them informed.
Once you’re open, it’s always great to offer tours of your facility. This will help officials gain first-hand knowledge of what you actually do, and in municipalities where legal cannabis is new, it can help dispel negative stereotypes and demonstrate how professional you and the rest of the regulated cannabis industry are.
Be sure to stay tuned for future installments in this series, where we will be addressing other cannabis license types. Our next blog will focus on retail.