Tag Archives: CA

Cannabis Beverage Distribution: A Q&A with Jason Vegotsky, CEO of Petalfast

By Aaron Green
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The cannabis beverage market is expected to reach $2 Billion by 2026 and is growing at a rapid pace. In Canada, the market share of infused beverages grew nearly 850% since 2020, according to a recent Headset report, the trend is expected to follow in the States. Some traditional beverage companies are hesitant to jump in due to the niche branding and supply chain models needed to capture significant market share. Other adult beverage companies such as Vita Coco and Pabst are dipping their toes into the cannabis beverage market to capture early market opportunities.

Sales and marketing agencies like Petalfast, with a core team stemming from the natural foods and beverage industries, have already started cracking the code for cannabis brands by implementing systems straight out of those industry’s playbooks. This includes disrupting the CA market by becoming the first to implement a traditional three-tier distribution model. 

We caught up with Jason Vegotsky, CEO of Petalfast to learn more about the cannabis beverage distribution market. Prior to Petalfast, Jason was Chief Revenue Officer at KushCo Holdings (now Greenlane Holdings), a role he took on after selling his butane supply company to KushCo.

Aaron Green: How did you get involved in the cannabis industry?

Jason Vegotsky, CEO of Petalfast

Jason Vegotsky: I began my career in wine and spirits distribution, but I always knew I wanted to work for myself. My first foray into launching a business, raising capital and brand building was through my beef jerky company, Lawless Jerky, which I built and sold after five years. Drawing on my food and beverage experience, I quickly entered and understood the cannabis market. I launched a company called Summit Innovations that sold butane to producers making oil. I eventually sold Summit to KushCo Holdings, Inc. (now known as Greenlane Holdings, Inc.) and became their President and Chief Revenue Officer. Through that experience, I began to notice gaps in the cannabis distribution model. Petalfast was built to fill that gap, providing clients with exceptional go-to-market strategies, leading to increased revenue and customer loyalty.

Green: How does experience in natural foods and traditional beverages translate to the cannabis industry?

Vegotsky: The route-to-market strategy is similar to that of cannabis, and the industry can benefit from the knowledge and experiences of those who work in natural foods and beverages. The extensive regulatory history and long-standing distribution models of these industries can provide a framework that those in the cannabis industry can capitalize on.

Green: What is the current distribution model for the majority of cannabis beverage companies today?

Vegotsky: Cannabis beverage companies face significant regulatory hurdles regarding distribution. Transportation restrictions, state-by-state differences in THC serving sizes and packaging requirements, retail display and storage limitations, and consumer adoption are just a few examples of what cannabis beverage brands run into when looking to enter, compete or scale in a given market.

At Petalfast, we offer a tiered distribution model, and our clients get phenomenal distribution through our logistics partner, Nabis. Products are circulated to all of California’s dispensaries and delivery services, allowing brands to focus on what matters most: creating the highest quality cannabis products on the market.

Green: What is a three-tier distribution model? Why do you think the cannabis beverage market is ripe for this model?

Vegotsky: The three-tier distribution model is commonly deployed by alcohol and other traditional food and beverage companies as it provides each tier to scale their operations and focus on their specific services. The three tiers include the brand, the wholesaler (sales + distribution), and the retailer in this distribution model. Because cash flow is such a significant challenge in the cannabis industry, adding an extra tier by separating your distribution and sales is advantageous to brands as it decreases overhead and allows brands to have the ability to scale.

Green: What are the opportunities for smaller brands looking to carve out a niche?

Vegotsky: One of the benefits of working in an emerging market is the opportunity to get in on the ground floor, learn as much as possible about the industry and find where gaps exist. Brand building in this space requires a deep understanding of the consumer and the overall culture — something that most brands are still trying to crack. If a smaller brand can effectively target a base within a distinct product category, it can be very effective in scaling within its niche.

Green: With big players from adult beverages dipping their toes in the cannabis beverage space, is consolidation inevitable? 

Vegotsky: At a certain level, yes. Well-established companies will seek out acquisitions of smaller, successful companies, especially ones that are capital constrained, but buyers need to be aware that capital alone will not be enough. The culture of cannabis is very different from alcohol or other adjacent beverage categories, so the success of these big players in adult beverages will be linked to their ability to locate and understand the consumer and implement branding strategies accordingly. Adult beverage companies entering the cannabis market must also realize that the flow of product to retailers is not the same as in alcohol, so they will need to adjust accordingly. The cannabis-infused beverage market is expected to reach $2 billion by 2026, so alcohol companies looking to join this movement should start exploring their options now.

Green: What trends are you following in cannabis beverages? What does the future of cannabis beverages look like?

Vegotsky: Canna-tourism has grown to a $17 billion industry. With the rise in cannabis-infused beverages, we’re seeing an increase in creative consumption offerings, from tastings and food and beverage pairings to dispensary tours and bud-and-breakfasts.

Cannabis beverages are attractive to newcomers as they allow for easier control of the effects. Businesses that provide an experience similar to that of a wine or brewery tour can capitalize on new consumers looking to explore the benefits of cannabis in a controlled environment.

The modern consumer is also more health conscious, and with the increased availability of legal cannabis, many are replacing alcoholic beverages with the plant. There has been a reported decrease in alcohol consumption since the 1980s, and many now believe cannabis is safer than alcohol. This belief is especially prevalent among younger generations, leading to more users incorporating cannabis-infused beverages into their daily lives. How we socialize or unwind at the end of the day will start to look different, and brands will become market leaders by speaking to the varied needs of consumers.

Green: How does the industry get there?

Vegotsky: For one, federal decriminalization and removing cannabis as a Schedule I drug on the controlled substances list would help. Cannabis companies don’t have access to the traditional marketing playbook to promote their brands due to TV advertising and social media restrictions. To build brand awareness, businesses should focus efforts on the retail level. Engaging with consumers in-store allows brands to grab their attention and drive faster sales until other avenues open up. At Petalfast, we decided to invest in field and trade marketing to bring brands to life at the retail level. We do this better than anybody else, and we do it at scale.

M&A in Cannabis: A Guide for Buyers and Sellers

By Abraham Finberg, Rachel Wright
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Mergers and acquisition activity in the cannabis space tripled from 2020 to 2021, and that pace is on track to continue in 2022. With big players entering the global cannabis market, we’re fielding more questions about mergers and acquisitions of cannabis businesses.

In this guide, we look at the evolution of the U.S. cannabis industry and some best practices and considerations for M&A deals in this environment.

The New Reality of Cannabis M&A Activity

The industry has evolved since adult use cannabis was first legalized in some U.S. states in 2012. More cannabis companies have a professional infrastructure—legal, financial and operational—with executive teams and board members ensuring the organization establishes proper governance procedures. Investors and private equity firms are showing more interest, and some cannabis companies have celebrated their first IPOs on the Canadian Securities Exchange (CSE).

At the same time, we are seeing a kind of “market grab” by multistate operators (MSOs) looking to acquire various licenses and expand their market share. MSOs tend to understand the current state of the market. For example, in California and some other states, there is a surplus of cannabis on the market for various reasons, partially due to so-called “burner distribution”—rogue distributors using licenses to buy vast amounts of legally grown cannabis at wholesale prices and selling the product on the black market, thereby undercutting retailers and other legal cannabis businesses. Another reason for the surplus is simply the entrance of many legal cultivators into the market over the past year.

Due to these trends, MSOs are interested in acquiring the outlets to be able to sell the surplus cannabis within California and other new markets.

Transferring Cannabis License Rights

One of the biggest challenges to M&A activity in the cannabis sector is the difficulty of transferring or selling a cannabis license.

Different types of cannabis licenses in California

Cannabis licenses are not expressly transferable or assignable under California law and many other states. However, the parties involved aren’t without options. For example, a business that is sold to a new owner may be able to retain its existing cannabis license while the new owner’s license application is pending, as long as at least one existing owner is staying on board. At the state license level, a change of up to 20% financial interest does not constitute a change in ownership, although the Bureau of Cannabis Control (BCC) must be notified and approve the change.

This process can take a while—often a year or more—since licensing involves overcoming hurdles at the local level as well as the state level with the BCC. It’s crucial to talk with legal counsel about the particulars of the license and location early in the process to best structure the terms of the agreement while complying with state and local requirements.

Seeking a Tax-Free Reorganization in the Cannabis Space

In many cannabis mergers and acquisitions, the goal is to accomplish a tax-free reorganization, where the parties involved acquire or dispose of the assets of a business without generating the income tax consequences that would result from a straight sale or purchase of those assets.

IRC Section 368(a) defines various types of tax-free reorganizations, including:

Stock-for-stock exchanges (IRC Section 368(a)(1)(B)

In a stock-for-stock reorganization, all of the target company’s stock is traded for a portion of the stock of the acquiring parent corporation, and target company shareholders become minority shareholders of the acquiring company.

Often, it’s tough to meet the requirements to qualify for this type of tax-free reorganization because at least 80% of the target stock must be paid for in voting stock of the acquirer.

Additionally, companies may be saddled with too much debt. If the acquirer assumes that debt, it may be classified as consideration paid to the seller and therefore disqualify the transaction as a tax-free reorganization.

In other M&A deals, the acquiring corporation may be unwilling to assume the debt of the target corporation—perhaps because showing these items on its balance sheet would impact its debt-to-equity and other financial ratios.

Stock-for-asset exchanges (IRC Section 368(a)(1)(C)

Rather than acquiring the target company’s stock, the acquirer may purchase its assets. In a stock-for assets exchange, the buyer must purchase “substantially all” of the target’s assets in exchange for voting stock of the acquiring corporation.

A stock-for-assets format offers the buyer the benefit of not having to assume the unknown or contingent liabilities of the target. However, it’s only feasible if the acquirer purchases at least 80% of the fair market value of the target’s assets AND all or virtually all of the deal consideration will be stock of the acquirer.

Tax Consequences Arising from Sale of Assets

If the sale price doesn’t consist primarily of the buyer’s stock, the transaction may be a standard asset sale. This leads to very different tax results.

If the seller is a C corporation, it will typically face double taxation—paying tax once on the sale of assets within the corporation and again when those profits are distributed to shareholders. If the target company has net operating losses (NOLs), it can use those NOLs to offset the tax hit.

If the seller is an S corporation, it won’t have to pay corporate tax on the transaction at the federal level. Instead, shareholders will pay tax on the gain on their individual returns.

For the buyer, the benefit of an asset sale is that the assets acquired get a “step-up basis” to their purchase price. This is beneficial from a tax perspective, as the buyer can depreciate the assets and may be able to claim accelerated or bonus depreciation to help offset acquisition costs.

Reverse Triangular Merger

Often, in practice, we come across what is termed as a reverse triangular reorganization. In this type of merger,

  1. The acquiring company creates a subsidiary,
  2. The subsidiary merges into the target company before liquidating,
  3. The target company then becomes a subsidiary of the acquirer, and
  4. The target company’s shareholders receive cash.

Structuring the deal this way may work to overcome the hurdle of transferring the license but may not qualify as a tax-free reorganization.

Bottom Line

The circumstances and motivations for mergers and acquisitions in the cannabis industry are diverse. As a result, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to structuring the transaction. In any event, it’s crucial to start the process early and seek advice from legal counsel and tax advisors to minimize the tax burden and ensure that both parties to the transaction get the best deal possible. If you need assistance, contact your 420CPA strategic financial advisor.

The Inflated THC Crisis Plaguing California Cannabis

By Erik Paulson, Josh Swider, Zachary Eisenberg
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Fraud

The THC content you see on a label when you walk into a dispensary? There is a very good chance the number is false.

In every state with regulated cannabis, there is a requirement to label the potency of products so consumers can make informed purchasing and medicating decisions. The regulations usually state that the THC/cannabinoid content on the label must be within a particular relative percent difference of the actual tested results for the product to be salable. In California, that threshold is +/- 10%.

The problem is, with all the focus on THC percentage in flower and concentrate products, enormous pressure has been placed on cultivators and manufacturers to push their numbers up. Higher numbers = higher prices. But unfortunately, improving their growing, extraction and formulation processes only gets companies so far. So, they proceed to ‘lab shop’: giving their business to whichever lab provides them the highest potency.

There are roughly 50 Department of Cannabis Control (DCC) licensed labs in the state, and competition is fierce to maintain market share in a maturing and plateauing industry. Whereas competition used to be healthy and revolved around quality, turnaround time and customer service, now it’s essentially become a numbers game. As a result, many labs have sacrificed their scientific integrity to chase what the clients want: higher THC potency results without contaminant failures. The practice has become so prevalent that labs openly advertise their higher potency values to gain customers without fear of recourse. Here are two examples:

 

Over a year ago, a few labs fed up with what was happening got together to determine the extent of the potency inflation issue. We proactively purchased and tested over 150 randomly chosen flower samples off dispensary shelves. The results were staggering. Eighty-seven percent of the samples failed their label claims (i.e., were >10% deviant of their labeled values), with over half of the samples >20% deviant of their labeled THC values (i.e., over 2x the legal permitted variance). Additionally, our labs found multiple cases of unreported category 1 pesticides in some of the analyzed samples at multiple times the legal limit – a significant public health concern. The deceit was not limited to small cultivators trying to get by but also some of the industry’s biggest brands.

The same issues and economic conditions are in play for concentrates. Manufacturers of these products also hunt for the highest D9 THC values because wholesale prices for distillate are determined by THC content: <86% for the lowest value, 86-88%, 88-90% and >90%, with a new price point for over 94%. As a result, consumers can walk into a dispensary and find concentrates like the one shown below that report>99% total cannabinoids (>990mg/g) and contains almost 10% additional terpenes. You don’t have to be an analytical chemist to realize those numbers add up to well over 100%, which is physically impossible.

Blame

Everyone can agree that the system is broken, but who is at fault? Should the blame be placed on dispensaries, many of whom use THC % as their only purchasing or marketing metric? Or on cultivators, manufacturers and distributors, who seek the highest results possible rather than the most accurate ones? Or on the labs themselves, who are knowingly reporting inflated results?

Ultimately, the individual businesses are acting in their own self-interest, and many are participating in this practice simply to stay afloat. Dispensaries can’t reasonably be expected to know which results are inflated and which are not. Cultivators and manufacturers feel obligated to use labs that provide them with the highest results; otherwise, they’re putting themselves at a disadvantage relative to their competitors. Likewise, labs that aren’t willing to inflate their numbers have to be ready to watch customers walk out the door to maintain their principles – an existential dilemma for many.

The primary reason why potency inflation has become so prevalent is that there have been no negative repercussions for those that are cheating.  

The axiom is true – don’t hate the player, hate the game. Unlike most businesses, testing labs operating with integrity want meaningful regulations and oversight to assure a level playing field. Without them, the economics force a race to the bottom where labs either have to inflate more and more or go out of business. Since 2016, the DCC (formerly BCC) has taken zero meaningful actions to discourage or crackdown on potency inflation— not a single recall of an inflated product or license suspension of an inflating lab— so predictably, the problem has gotten progressively worse over time.

So, to answer the question above – who is at fault for our broken system? The answer is simple: the DCC.

Inaction

In the Fall of 2021, we began engaging with the DCC to address the industry’s potency inflation concerns. The DCC requested we provide them with direct evidence of our accusations, so we collected and shared the flower data mentioned above. The Department tested the same batches off the shelf and confirmed our results. Somehow not a single recall was issued – even for the batches containing category 1 pesticides.

We pushed for more accountability, and DCC Director Nicole Elliott assured us steps were being taken: “The Department is in the process of establishing a number of mechanisms to strengthen compliance with and accountability around the testing methods required of labs and will be sharing more about that in the near future.”

Instead, we got a standardized cannabinoid potency method (mandated by SB 544) that all labs will be required to use. On the surface, a standardized methodology sounds like a good thing to level the playing field by forcing suspect labs into accepting generally accepted best practices. In reality, however, most labs already use the same basic methodology for flower and concentrate cannabinoid profiling and inflate their results using a variety of other mechanisms: selective sampling, using advantageous reference materials, manipulating data, etc. Furthermore, the method mandated is outdated and will flatly not work for various complex matrices such as gummies, topicals, beverages, fruit chews and more. If adopted without changes, it would be a disaster for manufacturers of these products and the labs that test them. Nevertheless, the press release issued by the DCC reads as though they’ve earned a pat on the back and delivered the silver bullet to the potency inflation issue.

Here are a few more meaningful actions the DCC could take that would help combat potency inflation:

  • Perform routine surveillance sampling and testing of products off of store shelves either at the DCC’s internal lab or by leveraging DCC licensed private labs.
  • Recall products found to be guilty of extreme levels of potency inflation.
  • Conduct in-person, unannounced audits of all labs, perhaps focusing on those reporting statistically higher THC results.
  • Conduct routine round-robin studies where every lab tests the same sample and outliers are identified.
  • Shutdown labs that are unable or unwilling to remediate their potency inflation issues.

For some less disciplinary suggestions:

  • Remove incentives for potency inflation, like putting a tax on THC percentage
  • Set up routine training sessions for labs to address areas of concern and improve communication with the DCC

Fight

Someone might retort – who cares if the number is slightly higher than it should be? No one will notice a little less THC in their product. A few counterpoints:

  1. Consumers are being lied to and paying more for less THC.
  2. Medical cannabis users depend on specific dosages for intended therapeutic effects.
  3. Ethical people who put their entire lives into cultivating quality cannabis, manufacturing quality products and accurately testing cannot compete with those willing to cheat. If things get worse, only the unethical actors will be left.
  4. Labs that inflate potency are more likely to ignore the presence of contaminants, like the category 1 pesticides we found in our surveillance testing.
  5. This single compound, delta-9 THC, is the entire reason why this industry is so highly regulated. If we are not measuring it accurately, why regulate it at all?

We will continue to fight for a future where quality and ethics in the cannabis industry are rewarded rather than penalized. And consumers can have confidence in the quality and safety of the products they purchase. Our labs are willing to generate additional surveillance data, provide further suggestions for improvement in regulations/enforcement, and bring further attention to this problem. But there is a limit to what we can do. In the end, the health and future of our industry are entirely in the hands of the DCC. We hope you will join us in calling on them to enact meaningful and necessary changes that address this problem.

Lab Shopping: Highlighting the Need for Checks and Balances in Cannabis

By Josh Swider
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Cannabis, we have a problem. Legalizing adult use cannabis in California caused the demand for high-potency cannabis to increase dramatically over the last several years. Today, many dispensary buyers enforce THC minimums for the products that they sell. If smokeable flower products don’t have COAs proving the THC levels are above 20% or more, there is a good chance many dispensaries won’t carry them on their shelves. Unfortunately, these kinds of demands only put undue pressure on the industry and mislead the consumer.

Lab Shopping: Where the Problems Lie

Lab shopping for potency analysis isn’t new, but it has become more prevalent with the increasing demand for high-potency flower over the last couple of years. Sadly, many producers submit valid, certified COAs to the California Bureau of Cannabis Control (BCC), which show two to three times the actual potency value.

At InfiniteCAL, we’ve purchased products from dispensary shelves and found significant discrepancies between the analysis we perform and the report submitted to the BCC by the producer. So, how can this happen? Several factors are creating the perfect storm in cannabis testing.

Problems with Potency

Many consumers still don’t understand that THC potency is not the only factor in determining quality cannabis, and they are unwittingly contributing to the demand for testing and analysis fraud. It is alarming for cultivation pioneers and ethical labs to see producers and profit-hungry testing facilities falsifying data to make it more appealing to the unaware consumer.

Basically, what’s happening is growers are contacting labs and asking, “I get 30% THC at this lab; what can you do?” When they see our COA reporting their flower tested lower than anticipated, they will go to another lab to get higher test results. Unfortunately, there are all too many labs that are willing to comply.

I recently saw a compliant COA that claimed that this particular flower was testing at 54% THC. Understanding cannabis genetics, we know this isn’t possible. Another product I reviewed claimed that after diluting an 88% THC distillate with 10-15% terpenes, the final potency test was 92% THC. You cannot cut a product and expect the potency to increase. Finally, a third product we reviewed claimed 98% total cannabinoids (while only looking at seven cannabinoids) with 10% terpenes for a total of 108% of the product.

These labs only make themselves look foolish to professionals, mislead laymen consumers and skirt under the radar of the BCC with basic mathematical errors.

The Pesticide Predicament

Frighteningly, inflating potency numbers isn’t the most nefarious testing fraud happening in the cannabis industry. If a manufacturer has 1000 liters of cannabis oil fail pesticide testing, they could lose millions of dollars – or have it retested by a less scrupulous lab.

Photo: Michelle Tribe, Flickr

As the industry continues to expand and new labs pop up left and right, cultivators and manufacturers have learned which labs are “easy graders” and which ones aren’t. Certain labs can miss up to ten times the action level of a pesticide and still report it as non-detectable. So, if the producer fails for a pesticide at one lab, they know four others won’t see it.

In fact, I’ve had labs send my clients promotional materials guaranteeing compliant lab results without ever receiving a sample for testing. So now, these companies aren’t just tricking the consumer; they are potentially harming them.

An Easy Fix

Cannabis testing is missing just one critical factor that could quickly fix these problems – checks and balances. The BCC only needs to do one of two things:

Verifying Lab Accuracy

InfiniteCAL also operates in Michigan, where the Marijuana Regulatory Agency (MRA) has already implemented a system to ensure labs are maintaining the highest testing standards. The MRA will automatically flag all COAs which test above a certain percentage and require the product to be retested by multiple labs.

labsphotoLabs are required to keep a back stock of material. So, when test results come back abnormally high from Lab A, then Labs B, C and D are commissioned to retest the material to compare data. If Lab A reports 40% THC, but the other labs all report 18%, then it’s easy to see Lab A has made an error.

Secret Shopping

By simply buying products off the shelves and having them blind-tested by other labs, it would be simple for the BCC to determine if the existing COA is correct. They already have all the data in Metrc, so this would be a quick and easy fix that could potentially solve the problem overnight.

For example, at InfiniteCAL, we once purchased 30 samples of Blue Dream flower from different cultivators ranging in certified COA potencies from 16% to 38%. Genetically, we know the Blue Dream cultivar doesn’t produce high levels of THC. When we tested the samples we purchased, nearly every sample came back in the mid-teens to low 20% range.

Labs Aren’t Supposed to Be Profit Centers

At InfiniteCAL, we’ve contacted labs in California where we’ve uncovered discrepancies to help find and flush out the errors in testing. All too often, we hear the excuses:

  • “If I fix my problem, I’ll lose my clients.”
  • “I’m just a businessman who owns a lab; I don’t know chemistry.”
  • “My chemist messed up; it’s their fault!”

If you own a lab, you are responsible for quality control. We are not here to get rich; we are here to act as public safety agents who ensure these products are safe for the consumer and provide detailed information about what they choose to put in their bodies. Be professional, and remember you’re testing for the consumer, not the producer.

Learning from The First Wave Part 3: Seven Basic Questions About Local Cannabis Ordinances & Real Estate

By Todd Feldman
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Part One of this series took a look at how the regulated cannabis market can only be understood in relation to the previous medical market as well as the ongoing “traditional” market. Part Two of the series describes how regulation defines vertical integration in California cannabis.


If you are considering getting involved in California cannabis, imagine the following sentence in ten-foot-tall letters made out of recently ignited $20 bills:

Before you put any money down on property, carefully examine the local cannabis ordinance and tax rates. 

This article is written in the form of advice to a newbie cannabis entrepreneur in California, but it will discuss issues that are also of significance to investors, as well as (to various degrees) cannabis entrepreneurs in other states.

Here are seven basic questions that you need to ask about local regulations (in order, except for Number 7).

1. What’s Your Jurisdiction?

If you’re in city limits, it’s the city. If you’re outside city limits, it’s the county.

2. Does the Jurisdiction Allow Cannabis Activities?

If the answer is yes, go to the next question. If the answer is no, pick another jurisdiction.

3. Where Does the Jurisdiction Allow Cannabis Activities?

A zoning ordinance will limit where you can set up shop. The limitation will probably vary by license type.

4. How Does the Local Ordinance Affect Facility Costs?

The short answer is: in many ways. Your local ordinance is a Pandora’s box of legal requirements, especially facility-related requirements.1 Read your local cannabis ordinance very carefully.

Generally speaking, the cannabis ordinance will set out two types of requirements – those that are specific to cannabis and those that apply generally to any business.

Looks great but . . . where are the sprinklers? Does it need a seismic upgrade? How about floor drains?
Photo by Wilhelm Gunkel on Unsplash

Cannabis-specific requirements:

  • Typically incorporate state cannabis laws by reference.
  • Have significant overlaps with state cannabis laws. For example, the state requires commercial-grade locks and security cameras everywhere cannabis may be found on a given premises. Local ordinances generally include similar requirements – keep in mind that you will need to comply with a combined standard that satisfies both state and local requirements.2
  • Vary greatly according to type of activity. For example, manufacturers will need to comply with Health & Safety Code requirements that can have a major impact on construction costs.
  • Vary greatly by jurisdiction when it comes to equity programs.

General requirements:

  • Include by reference building and fire codes, which can require very expensive improvements. Note that this means your facility will be inspected by the building department and the fire department.
  • Can include anything from Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requirements to city-specific requirements, such as Design Guidelines.
  • Will be zealously enforced because you’re a cannabis business.

5. What is the Enforcement Policy?

It may be that your local jurisdiction will give you temporary local authorization after meeting some, but not all, of the requirements. For example, you may be able to begin operations once you’ve provided your city or county with your cannabis permit application, a zoning clearance and a business permit. In this jurisdiction, you would be able to bring your building up to code sometime after you begin operations.

On the other hand, your local jurisdiction may require you to meet every requirement – from cannabis-specific security requirements to general building code and ADA requirements – before you can begin operations. Depending on the type of cannabis business (and facility condition), this might be inconsequential. Or it might mean that you will have to pay more than a year’s worth of rent (or mortgage) before you can start making money.

6. Can You Choose a Facility That Saves You Time and Money?

Of course, you won’t have to spend much time or money bringing your facility up to code if it’s already up to code. How likely it is that you will find such a facility varies wildly according to the type of cannabis activity in question. In general:

  • Service-side activities (delivery retail, storefront retail, distribution) are in many respects similar to their non-cannabis counterparts. From a facilities standpoint, the major differences come from security requirements. So, it may be possible to save time and money by choosing a facility that is already up to code for a similar use.
  • Manufacturing activities are trickier, since you will need food-grade facilities and equipment. You may be able to save money by setting up shop in a commercial kitchen.
  • Extraction with volatile solvents is a special (and particularly expensive) case, since it is inherently dangerous and requires special facilities.
  • Outdoor cultivation may be relatively unproblematic if it has an appropriate water source.
  • Indoor cultivation is expensive because of climate-control and lighting requirements. Buildings potentially suitable for large-scale indoor grows frequently come with significant problems. Former warehouses will typically require major power upgrades, while former factories may have inconvenient architecture and/or hidden toxic waste. In all cases, internal reconstruction is likely to be necessary, and will trigger all sorts of building and fire code requirements.

7. What Are the Local Cannabis Taxes?

Cannabis tax rates may be determinative. For example, Oakland imposes a 6.5% gross receipts tax on manufacturers that have gross receipts of less than $5M, and 9.5% on manufacturers that have gross receipts over $5M. In comparison, Santa Rosa only imposes a 1% gross receipts tax on manufacturers.

Local cannabis ordinances and taxes can make or break your business, so you need to understand them before you commit to a location. The seven basic questions listed above are designed to get you started.

This article is the opinion of the author and is not intended to be legal or other advice.


References

  1. For example, see Part II of the City of Oakland’s Administrative Regulations and Performance Standards, and The City of Los Angeles’s Rules and Regulations for Cannabis Procedures No. 3 (A)(14).
  2. For example, compare 16 CCR § 5044 (“Video Surveillance System”) with The City of Los Angeles’s Rules and Regulations for Cannabis Procedures No. 10 (A)(7).

Flower-Side Chats Part 1: A Q&A with Sam Ghods, CEO of Connected

By Aaron Green
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Flower continues to be the dominant product category in US cannabis sales. In this “Flower-Side Chats” series of articles Green interviews integrated cannabis companies and flower brands that are bringing unique business models to the industry. Particular attention is focused on how these businesses navigate a rapidly changing landscape of regulatory, supply chain and consumer demand.

Connected is a vertically-integrated cannabis company based out of Sacramento, CA and one of the most sought-after brands in California and Arizona. Having formed as a legacy operation in 2009, Connected has created a cult-like following over more than a decade in business. According to BDS Analytics, Connected Cannabis and their acquired brand Alien Labs now boasts the highest wholesale flower price in any major legal market – their average indoor flower wholesale price is 2x the CA average – yet also has the highest flower retail revenue.

We spoke with Sam Ghods, CEO of Connected to learn more about his transition from tech to cannabis, how Connected thinks about product and his vision for future growth. Sam joined Connected in 2018 after getting to know the founders. Prior to Connected, Sam was a co-founder at Box where he stayed on for 3 years after their successful IPO.

Aaron Green: How did you get involved in the cannabis industry?

Sam Ghods: I originally came from the tech industry. I co-founded Box, a cloud sharing and storage company, in the mid 2000s with three other friends. We grew that from the four of us to eventually a multi-billion-dollar public offering in 2015. I stayed on a few more years after that until I took some time off trying to decide what I wanted to do next. I looked at a number of different industries and companies, but personally I always had a real passion for artisan and craft consumer goods. It’s a really big hobby of mine. Whether it’s going to Napa or learning about different kinds of premium consumer goods, I really had a deep love and never knew cannabis could be like that.

When I first met Caleb, the co-founder of Connected, he instantly got my attention by telling me that they had been selling out of their product in the volume of millions of dollars a year at more than two times what everybody else was selling for. That really piqued my interest because creating a product that has that level of consumer passion and demand is maybe the single hardest thing about building a consumer goods business. For them to have been so successful in what was a very difficult and gray market to operate in at the time – this was mid 2018 that I was speaking with him and he had been building this company since 2009 – is a really big challenge, and really impressive.

Sam Ghods, CEO of Connected

So, I started spending time with Caleb and the Connected team and learned a lot about the business. Everything I learned got me more interested and more excited. The way that they thought about the product, the way they treated it was with a reverence and level of sophistication I had no idea was possible.

I was so excited to just learn about the space. I mean, honestly, it feels like the internet in the 90’s- The sheer possibility and excitement. The only difference here is that the market already has existed for 100 years plus: the gray and underground markets for this product are actually phenomenally mature. And now we’re lifting up billions of dollars in commerce that’s already occurring and attempting to legalize all of it in one fell swoop, which creates such an interesting set of challenges.

I first got involved as an advisor on fundraising and strategy. And then a few months later, they were looking for a CEO and I joined full time as CEO in September 2018.

Aaron: What trends in the industry are you focused on?

Sam: It may seem basic, but I think product quality in the broader cannabis markets nationally and internationally is really underrated. Because of the extreme weight of the regulatory frameworks in so many different markets, it’s resulting in a lot of product being grown and sold just because it can be by the operators that are doing it. In many markets, they count the number of producers by the handful, instead of being measured in hundreds or thousands like in California or Oregon. And in that kind of environment, you’re not really having competition, and you’re not really able to see the quality that has existed in this category for years and years and years.

That’s one of the things that really sets us apart – the quality is first above all else, as well as the innovation and time that has gone into it, and not many existing brands in the legal market can say that. With some of the “premium” brands on the market, it would be comparable to just jumping into the wine industry one day and thinking that you can become a premium brand, without having any knowledge of the history of the product or the industry itself. At Connected, we have a team that’s been doing this for over a decade. We did a back of the envelope calculation: there’s over one thousand lifetime harvests between our team. We’ve also brought in specialists from Big Ag and other industries to complement that experience.

Cannabis is a very, very difficult plant to grow at a very high level. It’s much more like high-end wine or spirits than other fruit or produce. I think in the cannabis community, that’s extremely acknowledged, and appreciation for that is the reason we get by with the highest prices in the legal market. I think in the broader investor and financial community, this point hasn’t really hit home, because the limited license markets aren’t mature enough, and there isn’t enough competition in many of them.

Our focus is continuing to make the best product we can, which has fed and developed our brands [Connected and Alien Labs] into what they are today. That is our number one focus, and we think it’s pretty unique to the space of not just cultivating a great quality product, but also as far as breeding, pushing the bar higher and higher on what can be done with the genetics of the plant. 

Aaron: How do you think about choosing testing labs?

Sam: So, the number one criterion is responsibility and compliance. We must be completely confident that they’re testing accurately, safely and exactly to the specifications of the state. Then from there, it is really cultivating about a partnership. There’s a lot of nuance in the relationship with a testing lab. We note things like: Are they responsive? Are they sensitive to our needs in terms of either timelines or requirements we have? It does come down to timelines and costs to a certain extent, like who’s able to deliver the best service for the best cost, but it really is a partnership where you’re working together to deliver a great product. Reliability and consistency are big pieces as well.

Aaron: Industry estimates for illicit market activities are something like 60% of the California market. From your perspective, how do we fix that?

Sam: I think it probably comes down to funding for the efforts to discontinue those activities and opening up the barrier to entry, incentivizing “illegal” operators to make the investment in the cross-over. I think the most successful attempts to tamp it down was when there were initiatives that were well-orchestrated and well-funded, allowing for legacy growers to actually cross over to the “legal” industry. You can’t launch an industry with such an extreme amount of regulation, set a miles-high barrier to entry, and then penalize legacy growers for continuing their business as-is. If the illicit market continues to be fueled by rejection, you’re not going to achieve the tax revenue that you’re expecting to see, that we all want to see. There needs to be an attitude that every dollar put into transitioning illicit markets into regulated markets is returned many times over in tax revenue to the state’s citizens.

Aaron: So, I understand you sell wholesale. Do you sell direct to consumer?“Once they hit the shelves, we blow people away again, beyond their expectations of what they had before.”

Sam: We own and operate three retail stores, so we do sell direct to our consumers, but at this point the majority of our product is sold through third party dispensaries.

Aaron: Do you make fresh frozen?

Sam: We do. On the cultivation side we have indoor, mixed light and outdoor. We fresh freeze a portion of our outdoor harvest every year, and then we use that fresh frozen for our live resin products, for example, our recent live resin cartridge. It creates a vape experience really unlike any other because we are using our regular market-ready flower, but instead we’re taking that flower and actually extracting, not just using the distillate and mixing a batch of terpenes with it. We extract the entire plant’s content across the board, from cannabinoids to terpenoids and everything in between, and then you have our live resin cartridges.

Aaron: How do you think about brand identity and leveraging the brand to command higher prices?

Sam: The cycle we’ve effectively created is that every time we do a release of a new strain or a new batch or harvest, the quality is generally going up. That quality is released under our brands, and then the customer is able to associate that increase in quality and reputation with those brands. Then for our next launch, we have an even bigger platform to talk about the products and to ship and distribute and sell the products. Once they hit the shelves, we blow people away again, beyond their expectations of what they had before. That continuous cycle keeps fortifying the brand and fortifying the product. From our perspective the brand is built 100% on the quality of the product. The product will always be our highest priority and the brand will come downstream from that. 

Aaron: Tell me about Alien Labs.

Sam: Alien Labs was an acquisition. It was a company that had built their brand really successfully in the gray market through 2017 and Prop 215 in California and had an incredible level of quality, a really loyal and dedicated fan base, not to mention a tremendous Instagram presence and following, which is where 98% of cannabis marketing happens today. We really loved the spirit of what the founders were bringing to the table. In 2018, we decided basically to join forces with them and bring them on board, creating a partnership where they leverage our infrastructure and the systems and processes we’ve built, but still keep their way of cultivation and their product vision. To this day, Ted Lidie, one of the founders, continues as the lead brand director for Alien Labs.

Aaron: In what geographies do you currently operate?

Sam: Our primary offices and facilities are based out of Sacramento, California, but we have facilities throughout the state. Last year, for the first time we launched operations in a new state, Arizona. As you may know, you’re not allowed to take cannabis products across state lines at all, so if you want consistent product in multiple markets you really have no choice but to rebuild your entire infrastructure in each state you want to open up.

There are many brands that are expanding and launching in more markets more quickly, but they’re doing so by taking product that’s already existing and putting their brand name on it. That is something we’ve decided strategically that we will not do. We’ve spent years building a high level of trust with our customers, so we’re only going to put our brand name on products that are our genetics, our cultivation, our style, our quality of product. When we launched in Arizona, we did it with a facility that we leased and took over and now operate with our staff. We’re replicating the same exact product that you can get in California in Arizona, which is really exciting.

We launched just this past November, which has been incredibly successful. Our dispensary partner Harvest saw lines of dozens of people out the door.“We consider ourselves a flower company first and foremost, so for us, that was a very calculated strategic move.”

Aaron: Any new geographies on the horizon that you can talk about?

Sam: We’re constantly evaluating new opportunities. I don’t have anything particularly specific to announce right now, but I will say we look for states where we believe there’s a competitive environment where the product quality is going to really stand out and be appreciated.

Aaron: Do you notice any differences in consumer trends between California and Arizona that stand out?

Sam: Not too many yet. We don’t have a retail location in Arizona, so we don’t have as much direct contact. However, we have heard consistently that the Connected customer demographics – as you would imagine most interested in our product – are those looking for something special, unique, different and have a really superior quality to everything else out there. We ended up launching in Arizona with the highest price point for flower in the state, and we say that’s just the beginning. The market is still so young and immature, both nationally and internationally, that this category is going to develop into one that’s really taste-driven.

Aaron: What’s next in California?

Sam: Continued growth and product development. We want to keep blowing away our customers with more and more incredible products, different product types and categories. For example, the cartridges were a really big launch for us because we don’t really consider ourselves a vape company. We consider ourselves a flower company first and foremost, so for us, that was a very calculated strategic move. We were only going to launch the product if we could fully replicate what the consumer gets from the flower experience. We are very unlikely to ever release a distillate pen, for example.

Aaron: What are you personally interested in learning more about?

Sam: We, as a society, really don’t know very much about the cannabis plant. Pretty much all meaningful research around cannabis stopped in the early 1900’s with prohibition. In the meantime, we’ve performed millions of dollars of studies and research on almost every other plant that we grow commercially. We understand these plants extraordinarily well. Cannabis science is stuck back in agriculture of early 1900s. The most interesting conversations I have are around how the plant works, how it doesn’t work and the ways in which it is so different from all other plants with which we are familiar. Our head of cultivation comes from Driscolls, the largest berry company in the world, and even he is frequently surprised by the way the cannabis plant reacts to things that are commonly understood in other plants. So, the way the actual plant responds to different environments is truly fascinating and something I think we’ll be learning about for decades and decades to come.

Aaron: Okay, great. That concludes the interview. Thank you, Sam!

Learning from the First Wave Part 1: How Law Shapes the California Cannabis Industry

By Todd Feldman
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As a cannabis lawyer, I spend a lot of time thinking about the ways that regulations affect a cannabis company’s bottom line. Since I’m in California, the ways are many.

In late 2017 I became the chief compliance officer for an Oakland startup that carried out delivery, distribution, cultivation and six manufacturing operations. A big part of my job was preparing my company, along with several equity cannabis companies, for California’s First Wave of cannabis licenses.

For the most part, First Wave licensees came from California’s essentially unregulated medical cannabis market, and/or from California’s by-definition unregulated “traditional” market. When California began issuing licenses in January 2018, many First Wavers were unprepared because their businesses practices had evolved in an unregulated market. A big part of my job was to help them adapt to the new requirements. As a result, I saw the regulations, and the effects of regulations, in sharp relief.

Regulation touches virtually every aspect of the legal cannabis industry in California. So anyone who wants to understand the industry should have at least a basic understanding of how the regs work. I’m writing this series to lay that out, in broad strokes.

Some key points:

  • The regulated market must be understood in relation to the previous unregulated (medical) market as well as the ongoing traditional market.
  • Regs define the supply chain.
  • Regs are designed to ensure product safety and maximize tax revenue.
  • Many regulations mandate good business practices.
  • Local enforcement of building, health and safety codes tends to be zealous and costly.

A Tale of Three Markets

California’s regulated cannabis market can only be understood in relation to the medical market that preceded it, and in relation to the traditional market (illegal market) that continues to compete with it.

The Before Times

California’s legal medical cannabis market goes back to 1996, when the Compassionate Use Act passed by ballot measure. One fact that shaped the medical market was that it was never just medical – while it served bona fide patients, it also served as a Trojan horse for adult-use (recreational) purchasers.

Another fact that shaped the medical market was a near complete lack of regulation. On the seller’s side, you had to be organized as a collective. On the buyer’s side, you had to have a medical card. That was it.

Meanwhile, the cannabis supply chain was entirely unregulated. This tended to minimize production costs. It also meant that a patient visiting a dispensary had no way of verifying where the products had been made, or how.

The Regulated Times

Licensing under the Medical and Adult-Use Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act (the “Act”) began on January 1, 2018. It was the beginning of legal adult-use cannabis in California. It was also the beginning of the Regulated Times, as the Act and accompanying 300-plus pages of regulations transformed the legal cannabis market.

 For example:

  • The Act defines the cannabis supply chain (as a series of licensees).
  • Across the supply chain, the internal procedures of cannabis companies are subject to review by state agencies;
  • Cultivators and manufacturers cannot sell directly to a dispensary – they must go through a distributor;
  • All cannabis must be tested for potency and a long list of contaminants by a licensed testing laboratory before it may be sold to consumers;
  • And beginning in 2019, all licensees were required to participate in the California Cannabis Track and Trace (CCTT) program, which is designed to track all cannabis from seed to sale.

Just as importantly, the Act establishes a dual licensing system – that is to say, in order to operate, a cannabis company needs a local permit (or other authorization) as well as a state license. In fact, local authorization is a prerequisite for a state license. And your local jurisdiction will have its own rules for cannabis that apply in addition to the state rules, up to and including a ban on cannabis activities.

Needless to say, operating in the Regulated Times is a lot more complicated and expensive than it was during the Before Times.

Especially when you consider the taxes. For example, in the City of Los Angeles, sale of adult-use cannabis is taxed at 10%, which means that any adult-use purchase in L.A. gets a 34.5% markup:

  • 15% state cannabis excise tax, plus
  • 10% Los Angeles Adult Use Cannabis Sales tax, plus
  • 5% sales tax.

Note that the distributors must collect the excise tax from the retailer, so the 15% markup is not necessarily visible to the consumer. Similarly, consumers are generally unaware that there is a cultivation tax of $9.65 per ounce (or about $1.21 per eighth) of dried flower that the distributor has to collect from the cultivator.

Theoretically, all of this might be unproblematic if licensed retailers were only competing with each other. Which brings us to:

The Traditional Market

The traditional market is the illegal market, which is to say, the untaxed and unregulated market.

Legalization of adult-use cannabis was supposed to destroy the traditional market, but it hasn’t. As of early 2020, the traditional market was estimated to be 80% of the total cannabis market in California. This is not surprising, since the traditional market has the advantages of being untaxed and unregulated.

The traditional market has a pervasive negative effect on the legal market. For example, the traditional market tends to depress prices in the legal market and tends to attract talent away from the legal market. Some of these effects will be discussed in the following articles.

This article is an opinion only and is not intended to be legal advice.

CA Health and Safety Warning Laws Have Changed: Are You In Compliance?

By Megan Caldwell, Lindy Martinez
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A new California Proposition 65 mandate took effect on January 3, requiring health warning labels for all cannabis products sold in the state. Failure to comply with the requirements can and will result in enforcement against cannabis producers and sellers, resulting in hefty penalties. Here’s what you need to know.

Some Background on Proposition 65 and Cannabis

California’s Proposition 65, also known as the “Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986,” requires various parties in the supply chain for consumer products to provide warnings on products they sell in the state if exposure to certain chemicals in those products will pose a significant risk of cancer or reproductive harm. Proposition 65 applies to any company that sells products in California, regardless of whether the business is headquartered or manufactures products in California.

This is an example of a Prop 65 warning label. They might look familiar because we tend to see them on a lot of common goods and products.

Cannabis (Marijuana) Smoke” was listed under Proposition 65 in 2009 because of the potential that it contains ingredients or emits chemicals known to cause cancer. These chemicals include toxins such as arsenic, benzene, cadmium, formaldehyde, lead and nickel. In January 2020, Delta-9-Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) was added to the list of toxic chemicals under Proposition 65 because of THC’s potential to cause reproductive harm. Now, both THC and cannabis smoke are listed under Proposition 65 and require warning labels.

What This Means for You and Your Company

The updated chemical list, which includes THC, became effective January 3, 2021, so the clock to come into compliance is ticking if you are not already complying. Many cannabis companies selling in California already comply with Proposition 65 by including warnings on their products that emit cannabis smoke. However, now companies that have previously issued a consumer warning regarding cannabis smoke must expand their warnings to include both the potential risk of cancer and the potential risk of reproductive harm. Additionally, products that previously did not require a warning for cannabis smoke will now be subject to Proposition 65 for exposure to THC.

The listing of THC implicates a broader range of cannabis products because it affects any product that contains detectable levels of THC, including products that contain less than 0.3% THC in compliance with the 2018 Farm Bill. Under the THC listing, a wide range of cannabis and hemp-derived CBD products, including products that do not emit smoke, such as edibles, topicals and other concentrates are subject to the Proposition 65 labeling requirements.

The agency that oversees Proposition 65 has provided so-called “safe harbor” levels for many listed chemicals that allow companies to forego a warning label if exposure to the chemical occurs at or below a certain threshold. However, no safe harbor level has been established for cannabis smoke or THC, and so the burden falls to the business to determine if the levels of the chemical pose a significant risk to the consumer. This determination typically requires extensive and costly testing that is not practical for most businesses. Thus, parties in the cannabis supply chain should work to properly label all cannabis-related products at this time. Failure to do so is risky. Proposition 65 “bounty hunters” team up with individuals to enforce Proposition 65 by sending notice of violation letters and then often filing lawsuits against businesses they believe are in violation of the statute. Many of these demands and lawsuits settle, as the cost to litigate is expensive. Settling, though, can be expensive, too.

Updates in Employment Law: CA, WA & CO

By Conor Dale
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A number of laws have gone into effect in 2021 which may have a major impact on cannabis industry employers; clearly understanding the changing legal landscape is essential to avoid and limit potential liability in the new year and beyond. Below is a brief summary of some relevant new employment laws in cannabis friendly states:

California:

  • Expansion of family and medical leave: California has long required employers to provide job protected medical and family leave if an employee worked at a jobsite with 50 or more employees within a 75-mile radius.
  • Senate Bill 1383 now requires all employers with five or more employees to provide up to twelve weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave for employees to bond with a new child or to care for themselves or a family member suffering from a serious health condition. To be eligible for the leave, an employee must have at least 12 months of service with the employer and have performed at least 1,250 hours of work in the previous 12-month period. While on leave, employees are entitled to continue to participate in an employer’s health insurance plan and to return to their job or a comparable position at the conclusion of their job-protected leave. Previously exempt small employers should be aware of these obligations moving forward.
  • Employer Pay Reporting Requirements: Under Senate Bill 973, employers with 100 or more employees that are required to file an annual Employer Information Report, colloquially known as the EEO-1 report, must submit annual information on its employees’ pay data to the state’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH). The report must include the number of the employer’s employees by race, ethnicity and sex in specific job categories and pay ranges and their associated work hours and earnings.
  • The first report is due on March 31, 2021, and the DFEH has prepared an online portal to assist employers in submitting this information. These reports can be complex and address highly sensitive information, so employers are strongly advised to contact counsel for assistance in preparing and submitting their first report.

Washington

  • Increased pay requirements: Washington’s inflation-based minimum wage system has increased the minimum wage to $13.69 per hour in 2021. Employers with 50 or fewer employees must also pay salaried employees at least $827 per week (or $43,004 per year) and employers with more than 50 employees must pay at least $965 per week (or $50,180 per year) starting January 1st.

Colorado

  • Equal Pay for Equal Work Act: Beginning in 2021, all employers with at least one employee must: (1) provide formal notice to Colorado employees of promotional opportunities; and (2) disclose pay rates or ranges in job postings that could be performed in Colorado (this includes virtual or remote work positions).
  • The Equal Pay for Equal Work Act generally requires employers to take reasonable efforts to promptly announce, post, or otherwise communicate all opportunities to all current employees prior to making a promotion decision. An employer must communicate promotional opportunities when it has or anticipates a vacancy or a new position that could be considered a promotion for current employees in light of pay, benefits, status, duties or further potential promotions.
  • Under the law, job postings must also include: (1) the rate of pay or pay range for the position; (2) a general description of bonuses, commissions or other forms of compensation offered with the job; and (3) a description of the employment benefits associated with the position.

Cannabis industry employers face a range of new laws, even absent the continued legal burden of managing employees during the COVID 19 pandemic. Employers should consider carefully reviewing all applicable laws and seeking guidance from counsel when needed.

The Evolution of Cannabis Entrepreneurship

By Jonathan Monk
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Cannabis presents a plethora of challenges for entrepreneurs not seen in more traditional industries. Akin to the dot-com boom of the early 2000s, the cannabis industry has seen an astonishing flurry of business over the past decade. Within this dynamic landscape, new cannabis companies come and go on a near-daily basis.

To capitalize on novel markets’ potential, hopeful entrepreneurs from all walks of life have “jumped headfirst” into the cannabis space. This new breed of entrepreneurs must not only be smart, but they must also be challenging. Yet, as the cannabis industry evolves under the forces of legalization and innovation, our understanding of what defines cannabis entrepreneurs continues to change.

Cannabis businesses are shaped by the regulations, challenges and opportunities of specific market niches. As such, cannabis entrepreneurs have evolved with the environments in which they do business.

California & Proposition 215   

California paved the way for the industry of today by legalizing medical cannabis in 1995. Since the passage of historic Proposition 215, cannabis has continued to gain momentum across the globe. This progress has happened through the visions and hard work of small business owners.

The early days of legal cannabis in California are now criticized for their lack of regulation. During the late 1990s and early 2000s, all you needed to start a cultivation business in California was a place to grow a garden. While early dispensaries did need local business licenses, they could legally purchase and sell untested products from unlicensed growers.

The genealogy of the modern cannabis industry can be traced directly back to the days of California’s Prop 215. During this era, the first cannabis dispensaries were founded – this model has since been replicated thousands of times. Also, the Prop 215 model gave rise to America’s first legal, commercial cannabis farms.

Cannabis entrepreneurs in California’s medical space focused primarily on developing the blueprints for a brand-new industry. To this end, they did not have the time or luxury to finetune the businesses for such things as operational efficiency and brand awareness. Even more, these people did not have to deal with such complexities as employee screening, product testing and seed-to-sale tracking.

Medical Cannabis Entrepreneurs

New medical markets stand in stark contrast to those seen in the early days of California. To this end, today’s medical markets operate within a web of stringent government regulations. For entrepreneurs, these rules set forth major emphases on both compliance and technology.

The Pennsylvania medical cannabis industry provides an excellent platform for understanding how the regulatory system of a market shapes entrepreneurial paths. For instance, medical cannabis cards are only issued to patients that meet the minimum criteria of 23 qualifying conditions, including severe conditions like aids, cancer and epilepsy. Beyond that, cannabis dispensaries in Pennsylvania must meet a slew of challenging criteria to operate and pay large sums of money in licensing fees.

To handle the regulatory requirements in places like Pennsylvania and remain profitable, medical cannabis entrepreneurs are incredibly dependent on technology. To this end, dispensaries utilize point-of-sale (POS) and seed-to-sale software to track inventory and stay compliant carefully. Even more, they use state-of-the-art security systems to safeguard their operations.

Cannabis entrepreneurs in medical markets must be able to run compliant operations and support their businesses with requisite technology. These elements stand in stark contradiction to the “wild west” mentality that pervaded the early industry. As such, it’s safe to assume that the rules of today’s markets force entrepreneurs to be more professional than in the days of CA Prop 215.

Adult-Use Cannabis Entrepreneurs

The most considerable difference between medical and adult-use cannabis companies has to do with their available customer base. Importantly, adult-use cannabis companies are only bound by minimum age requirements and state borders. Furthermore, limited restrictions on licensing create highly competitive markets that require sophisticated sales and marketing operations.

As there are no limits on potential customers, and limited regulations on license counts, business opportunities in adult-use markets are primarily directed by supply and demand rules. Because competition is the driving force in adult-use markets, entrepreneurs in this vertical have a good deal in common with peers outside the cannabis industry.

Perhaps the most defining characteristic of adult-use entrepreneurs is an emphasis on branding and marketing. As adult-use markets mature in places like Colorado, a phenomenon known as “brand concentration” occurs when a few companies come to dominate a majority of the market. As smaller companies fight for market share, they must develop professional brands that appeal to a broad customer base.

Cannabis entrepreneurs in adult-use markets must master the skills required in medical cannabis while also expanding their knowledge base in modern business dealings. Of these, the development of professional brands is one of the most defining characteristics of adult-use entrepreneurs.

It’s astonishing to see how much the cannabis industry has grown and matured looking back just a few short years. As business opportunities come about with new legalization efforts, entrepreneurs quickly rise to take advantage of untapped markets. As the cannabis business continues to evolve with the times, entrepreneurs must pivot to stay compliant, relevant and successful.

While the early Prop 215 market in California barely resembles today’s industry, it’s important to remember where we came from. Namely, our understanding of the contemporary cannabis business results from everyone who came before us. As the industry progresses, we will continue to complement established best practices with the requisite innovations that come with new opportunities.