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european union states

The Economics of Ex-Im In Europe

By Marguerite Arnold
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european union states

You have read the press releases. You may have heard about such ideas at a recent cannabis conference in and around the EU of late. Or you may have encountered new distributors coming into the game with a German presence and a decidedly interesting ex-im plan that sounds a bit, well, off the map.

No matter how geographically creative some of these plans are, the problem is that many of these ideas literally do not make economic sense. Either for the companies themselves (if not their investors), and certainly not for patients. Not to mention, truth be told, the looming price sensitivity issues in the European market that North Americans, for starters, seem to still just be waking up to.

Some Recent Examples….

Yes, exports from Denmark have been much in the news lately (including into both Germany and Poland). Truth be told, however, this makes about as much sense, economically, as importing ice to eskimos. Why? Denmark, for all its looser regulations and less-uptight approach to the cannabis discussion generally, is one of the most expensive labour markets in Europe. Fully automated production plants are one thing, but you can build those in other places too. Especially warmer climates, with lots of sunshine. German production, as it comes online, will also make this idea increasingly ludicrous.

Who on earth got on this bandwagon? It seems that the enthusiasm in the room began when Denmark began to import to Germany (where the disparities in wages in production are not so noticeable). However, lately, several Canadian companies with a Danish footprint have been eying Poland of late.

And on that particular topic – there are many who are doing the math and trying to figure out, as the alternatives get going, if even Canada makes much sense, or will in a few years.

Low Wage Markets With Sunshine Are Hotspots For European Cannabis Production

Like it or not, the European market is extraordinarily price sensitive – namely because it is not “just” consumers called patients picking up the tab but health insurance companies demanding proof of medical efficacy.

That starts, a bit unfortunately, with understanding wage economics across Europe. The warmer the climate, in other words and the further east on the map, wages drop precipitously. That is “good” for an industry looking to produce ever cheaper (but more compliant) product.

It is also good, at least politically, for countries whose elected leaders are being forced to admit that cannabis works, but are less than copacetic about encouraging local production. See Germany for starters, but places like Austria, Poland and most recently France (which has just embarked on a first of its kind medical cannabis trial).

Here, no matter the temporary buzz about Denmark, are the places that cannabis production makes sense:european union states

Portugal: The country is a newcomer in the cannabis discussion this fall, although in truth, the seeds of this reality were sown several seasons ago when Tilray began to build its production plant in the country in 2017. They are far from the only company who has seen the light, and these days, farmers are getting hip to the possibilities. Especially if they are already exporting crops throughout Europe.

Spain: The industry that can afford GMP certification is getting going, but everyone else is stuck in a limbo between pharmaceutical producers and the strange gray market (see the patient clubs in Barcelona). That said, political groups are beginning to discuss cultivation as an economic development tool, if not sustainable food and medication strategies.

Greece: The weather is warm, and the investment climate welcoming. Of all the countries in the EU, Greece has embraced the economic possibilities that cannabis could bring. How that will play out in the next years to come is an intriguing story.

Italy: The southern part of the country in particular is ripe for cannabis investment and it’s full of sunshine. However, as many have noted, organized crime in this part of the world is a bit fierce and starts with the letter M.

Malta: The island is a comer, but does importing cannabis from here really make economic sense? There are trade routes and economic treaties tying the island both to the apparently Brexiting British and Europe. Why not, right? Just remember that along with labour, transportation costs are in the room here too.

And Just Outside The EU…

The country now (sort of) known as North Macedonia and struggling to get into the EU if France would just get out of the way is also going to be a heavyweight in this discussion for years to come. Wages, of course, will increase as part of EU membership, but in general, this country just north of Greece is going to play a highly strategic role in exports throughout Europe.

Poland Gets Cracking (Sort Of)

By Marguerite Arnold
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One of the surest ways to understand that you are entering not just another country, but what is called an “emerging market” is when you travel from Germany to Poland by train.

There is only one “intercity” option from Berlin Hauptbahnhoff – a far cry from the modern, internet-connected, fast ICE trains that go West. This line is run by the Poles. By the time you reach Warsaw five hours later, however, it is clear at least some parts of this country are booming. The skyscraper construction in the center of town rivals London and Berlin.

Like every emerging market, there are vast disparities in wealth and income, if not opportunity here. And into this discussion, now is coming the entire cannabis discussion. Visiting, as an American, in particular, one is reminded of a city that could be East Berlin 15 years ago.

As a cannabis journalist, it feels, from this perspective, like every American state in the 1990’s. Reform is on the tip of everyone’s tongue. But not quite realized yet, except for a few elites. Beyond such realities which are common in the world of cannabis, how very, well, Iron Curtain.

The difference of course, these days, is that the conversation next door in Germany, as well as other places, is finally forcing the Polish government to face reality. But it is clear, from interviews with activists and patients in particular, as well as the nascent newcomers from abroad testing the cannabis waters, that this fight is not going to be easy on the ground.

Then again, when and where has it ever been?

The Patients….

As always, real reform and market opening is driven by the sheer numbers of sick people who brave arrest to gain access to the plant. Some do it for themselves. Many do it for their children (of all ages). An elderly, boomer couple who talked to Cannabis Industry Journal about their ordeal also see it as a form of justified struggle. And Poles are no strangers to that, far from the cannabis kind.

That ethic is much in the room among the nascent industry that is also struggling to find respect. The Polish side of the discussion is looking at hemp. And growing THC illicitly, just like elsewhere.

But the budding movement here is highly organized, including on the business end, with hundreds of thousands of members. How this translates into a legal industry (besides media and hemp products) is of course, still up for grabs.

That is very much in the minds of those who brave the struggle daily. The patient collective in Warsaw is also highly organized – providing free and non-profit product to those most in need. It is an impressive operation. And further one that is increasingly distrustful of foreigners seeking “market share.” If not the already floating “suits.” Just knowing how to speak Polish, as the activists are, at least realizing, is not a guarantee that they will not be dealing with cannasharks only interested in their contacts and mailing lists. Patients over profits is a phrase you hear a lot here. This has nothing to do with not wanting to support a legit, safe industry. But when you are poor, you find ways to improvise. Including getting your medication.

The Foreign Companies…

Aurora and Canopy Growth are already in the room and there are other Canadians lining up to follow. However, these two are the only ones so far who have been able to get their products registered locally and even then, availability is still in the offing.

european union statesThese are also highly expensive products. And do not begin to compete with producers now eying the Polish market from North Macedonia and the rest of Eastern Europe.

The foreign companies, in other words, are already broadly falling into two camps. North American curiosity seekers (at this point), and companies, mostly from the East and South, who are looking to Poland to be the “next Germany.” Especially because their product is so price and geographically convenient.

A Battle For Poland’s Emerging Market

It is clear that at least the Canadian companies are already lining up against more home grown and patient interests. Just as what happened in Germany and the rest of Europe so far. And not even on purpose, but more on matters of price.

Like other pre-commoditized markets, the Polish industry is still trying to be (relatively) equal and fair, as much as there is a huge amount of positioning already just below the surface. Everyone is tired of struggling. Dreams of cannabis riches are enticing just about everywhere.

Of course, add to that, patients are dying here, and that always sets the tone – especially when only the richest and lucky few can afford to access the drug through legitimate channels. Face pain, unpleasantness or death or buy in the black market? For the Polish industry on the forefront of the debate, in other words, the stakes are high, the government is moving glacially, and those on the ground are organizing to meet the winds of change.

Foment for another kind of Green Perostroika? Perhaps.

There will, almost certainly as a result of these forces, be a call for a Polish bid – and further one that allows for local producers to enter the medical market.

But the bottom line is that this strange, and exciting and certainly new market is going to be as volatile, and wild west as any in Europe for the immediate future. Expect interesting things, if not more of the same.

Aphria, Inc. Implements Quality Management Systems

By Cannabis Industry Journal Staff
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According to a press release published today, Aphria Inc. has implemented Rootstock Software’s cloud Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) solutions and ComplianceQuest’s Enterprise Quality Management System (EQMS). Aphria, one of the largest cannabis companies in the world, trades on both the Toronto Stock Exchange and the New York Stock Exchange.

Rootstock’s cloud ERP software includes things like order processing, production management, supply chain management, lot and serial number trackability and traceability, compliance reporting, costing and financial management. ComplianceQuest’s EQMS software provides support for GMP compliance and can help improve efficiencies in operations. The EQMS focuses on quality and risk management across Aphria’s business platforms, from sourcing to manufacturing to supply chain management.

Aphria is using the entire EQMS platform, which includes software to handle documents, training, changes, inspections, nonconformance, corrective actions (CAPA) and customer complaints which integrates to Rootstock’s ERP. According to the press release, the company is currently working to roll-out audit, equipment, incident and supplier management functions and will be fully live with the entire quality system in the next few months.

According to Tim Purdie, chief information officer & chief information security officer of Aphria Inc., both platforms delivered on their implementation. “Grounded in the scalability of the force.com platform, CQ transformed our quality management operating capabilities overnight and we are delighted at the fully integrated partnership result,” says Purdie. “We now have fully digital real-time informatics and ability to implement change in a highly transparent manner to meet the demands of our high growth business.”

Adding that Rootstock ERP will help facilitate their company’s production, inventory and supply chain management, Purdie says both platforms will enable Aphria to be increasingly responsive to market needs. “Aphria is setting the standard as a worldwide leader in the cannabis industry through a diversified approach to innovation, corporate citizenship, strategic partnerships and global expansion,” Purdie says. “With these system implementations, we’re now technologically equipped to take our competitive advantage to new levels of market leadership.”

Rapid Pathogen Detection for the 21st Century: A Look at PathogenDx

By Aaron G. Biros
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In 1887, Julius Petri invented a couple of glass dishes, designed to grow bacteria in a reproducible, consistent environment. The Petri dish, as it came to be known, birthed the scientific practice of agar cultures, allowing scientists to study bacteria and viruses. The field of microbiology was able to flourish with this handy new tool. The Petri dish, along with advancements in our understanding of microbiology, later developed into the modern field of microbial testing, allowing scientists to understand and measure microbial colonies to detect harmful pathogens in our food and water, like E. coli and Salmonella, for example.

The global food supply chain moves much faster today than it did in the late 19th century. According to Milan Patel, CEO of PathogenDx, this calls for something a little quicker. “Traditional microbial testing is tedious and lengthy,” says Patel. “We need 21st century pathogen detection solutions.”

Milan Patel first joined the parent company of PathogenDx back in 2012, when they were more focused on clinical diagnostics. “The company was predominantly built on grant funding [a $12 million grant from the National Institute of Health] and focused on a niche market that was very specialized and small in terms of market size and opportunity,” says Patel. “I realized that the technology had a much greater opportunity in a larger market.”

Milan Patel, CEO of PathogenDx
Photo: Michael Chansley

He thought that other markets could benefit from that technology greatly, so the parent company licensed the technology and that is how PathogenDx was formed. Him and his team wanted to bring the product to market without having to obtain FDA regulatory approval, so they looked to the cannabis market. “What we realized was we were solving a ‘massive’ bottleneck issue where the microbial test was the ‘longest test’ out of all the tests required in that industry, taking 3-6 days,” says Patel. “We ultimately realized that this challenge was endemic in every market – food, agriculture, water, etc. – and that the world was using a 140-year-old solution in the form of petri dish testing for microbial organisms to address challenges of industries and markets demanding faster turnaround of results, better accuracy, and lower cost- and that is the technology PathogenDx has invented and developed.”

While originally a spinoff technology designed for clinical diagnostics, they deployed the technology in cannabis testing labs early on. The purpose was to simplify the process of testing in an easy approach, with an ultra-low cost and higher throughput. Their technology delivers microbial results in less than 6 hours compared to 24-36 hours for next best option.

The PathogenDx Microarray

Out of all the tests performed in a licensed cannabis testing laboratory, microbial tests are the longest, sometimes taking up to a few days. “Other tests in the laboratory can usually be done in 2-4 hours, so growers would never get their microbial testing results on time,” says Patel. “We developed this technology that gets results in 6 hours. The FDA has never seen something like this. It is a very disruptive technology.”

When it comes to microbial contamination, timing is everything. “By the time Petri dish results are in, the supply chain is already in motion and products are moving downstream to distributors and retailers,” Patel says. “With a 6-hour turnaround time, we can identify where exactly in the supply chain contaminant is occurring and spreading.”

The technology is easy to use for a lab technician, which allows for a standard process on one platform that is accurate, consistent and reproduceable. The technology can deliver results with essentially just 12 steps:

  1. Take 1 gram of cannabis flower or non-flower sample. Or take environmental swab
  2. Drop sample in solution. Swab should already be in solution
  3. Vortex
  4. Transfer 1ml of solution into 1.5ml tube

    A look at how the sample is added to the microarray
  5. Conduct two 3-minute centrifugation steps to separate leaf material, free-floating DNA and create a small pellet with live cells
  6. Conduct cell lysis by adding digestion buffer to sample on heat blocks for 1 hour
  7. Conduct Loci enhancement PCR of sample for 1 hour
  8. Conduct Labelling PCR which essentially attaches a fluorescent tag on the analyte DNA for 1 hour
  9. Pipette into the Multiplex microarray well where hybridization of sample to probes for 30 minutes
  10. Conduct wash cycle for 15 minutes
  11. Dry and image the slide in imager
  12. The imager will create a TIFF file where software will analyze and deliver results and a report

Their DetectX product can test for a number of pathogens in parallel in the same sample at the same time down to 1 colony forming unit (CFU) per gram. For bacteria, the bacterial kit can detect E. coli, E. coli/Shigella spp., Salmonella enterica, Listeria and Staph aureus, Stec 1 and Stec 2 E.coli. For yeast and mold, the fungal kit can test for Aspergillus flavus, Aspergillus fumigatus, Aspergillus niger and Aspergillus terreus.

Their QuantX is the world’s first and only multiplex quantification microarray product that can quantify the microbial contamination load for key organisms such as total aerobic bacteria, total yeast & mold, bile tolerant gram negative, total coliform and total Enterobacteriaceae over a dynamic range from 100 CFU/mL up to 1,000,000 CFU/mL.

Not all of the PathogenDx technology is designed for just microbial testing of cannabis or food products. Their EnviroX technology is designed to help growers, processors or producers across any industry identify areas of microbial contamination, being used as a tool for quality assurance and hazard analysis. They conducted industry-wide surveys of the pathogens that are creating problems for cultivators and came up with a list of more than 50 bacterial and fungal pathogens that the EnviroX assay can test for to help growers identify contamination hotspots in their facilities.

Using the EnviroX assay, growers can swab surfaces like vents, fans, racks, workbenches and other potential areas of contamination where plants come in contact. This helps growers identify potential areas of contamination and remediate those locations. Patel says the tool could help growers employ more efficient standard operating procedures with sanitation and sterilization, reducing the facility’s incidence of pathogens winding up on crops, as well as reduction in use of pesticides and fungicides on the product.

Deploying this technology in the cannabis industry allowed Milan Patel and the PathogenDx team to bring something new to the world of microbial testing. Their products are now in more than 90 laboratories throughout the country. The success of this technology provides another shining example of how the cannabis market produces innovative and disruptive ideas that have a major impact on the world, far beyond cannabis itself.

A Year In Review: Canadian Recreational Reform Year 1

By Marguerite Arnold
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There is certainly, in retrospect, much to be proud about in Canada – home of one of the most disruptive international cannabis industries in the world. And certainly an early mover.

That starts with having the national mojo to begin this journey in the first place, not to mention pivot and even admit faults along the way. For all the complaints and whinges, however on the ground, most Canadians are proud that they tackled the canna question at a federal level.

As the industry now does a bit of an annual review and revisit, what are some of the largest accomplishments, takeaways (and let’s be honest, major f*ckups) so far? And where is this all headed as the industry at least tries to gear up for another year, if not quite Cannabis 2.0?

The Big Bravos

Launching in the first place. Yes Full Monty Recreational was scary, and delayed a few months last year. And even though there have been many problems (retail outlets, online sales, privacy, supply chain issues in every direction, ex im, foreign markets and etc.), it is up and running.

In comparison, the Brits have been haranguing over Brexit for the last three years and are still not really there.

Further, it is also apparent that the agencies in charge of the new industry are themselves giving a bit of a shake after CannaTitanic (CannTrust). That was embarrassing for them too, although of course, while a bit of a negative compliment, the recall system seems to work.

Even if it needs a few jump starts via whistleblowing.

That in and of itself is a fact that is still in the room, although perhaps the pancaking of the stock price of most of the public industry of late was also another much needed wakeup call.

The Devil In The Details

Domestic Requirements. Health Canada is getting hip to the fact that the industry needs a bit more of a heavy hand. See the book thrown at CannTrust. No matter what, Canadians are demanding to know where their cannabis comes from, and further are also demanding that it be at least free of pesticides that can harm them.

Licensing. Many cannapreneuers are complaining, still, about the delays in licensing, particularly for retail outlets in the provinces who are taking the cannabull by the horns.  That said, there are still lots of enterprises who are perfectly happy to dodge the requirements all together and sell to the black or gray market. No licensing fees, and no taxes is a wonderful dream, but that is not exactly how regulated democratic capitalism works – at least at this level.

Supply Chain Logistics and Related Technologies. Canadians are struggling to implement a regulated industry in a country where patient home grow is constitutionally protected, and in an environment where who can sell what, and to whom including online, is still evolving. Predictably, no matter how groovy the solution works at home, (or the U.S.), no it will not fly in Europe. See GDPR regs, for starters.

Seed Culture (Aka Strain Protection). No matter how much the lawyers in the colonies are gearing up to sue each other over Huey’s Half Baked, in Europe, there are tomato and pepper farmers who are laughing, literally, all the way to the bank on this one. While hip to be a “strain defender,” the reality in a medical market looking for cheap cannabinoids is rather different. Effective, clean product, which can be reproduced reliably and cheaply, is the name of the game. Girl Scout Cookies, and such ilks will be a long time in coming as anything but highly expensive, niche products you can find in a Dutch Coffee Shop.

GMPDomestic Requirements Vs International Export. Canadian standards, so far, have been widely divergent in an environment where exports to Europe in particular are part of the story for the biggest companies. That said, GMP, and in particular EU GMP, has become at least a buzzword if not a standard to live up to.

Privacy. California might be considering its own form of GDPR (European privacy legislation) but so far, the industry has largely failed to protect consumers (from themselves). Ideas about owning huge data troves on cannabis users for someone else’s profit are still very much in the room. After all, data is the new oil, whether people know their data is being harvested or not. And just like big oil has done for most of its existence, those in the driver’s seat so far show little compunction about harvesting personal information, to become in the words of the now departed CEO of Canopy Growth Bruce Linton, “the Google of Cannabis.” Won’t happen. Starting with the fact that in not just Europe but now even California, people, far beyond pot users are tired of a world where privacy is a second class right.

While the issue first hit in Canada on the recreational side, the reality is that companies know who their clients and patients are in a way that is not only disturbing but increasingly being challenged.

A Second Chance: CannTrust To Destroy Inventory & Plants

By Marguerite Arnold
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The beleaguered CannTrust has been given a way out of the perilous mess that executive management created for the company – but such a salvation comes at a high cost. That said, the company was already in deep water with regulators and clients. Health Canada, in fact, cancelled the company’s license to produce and sell cannabis in September – essentially mandating mass returns two months after a whistleblower instigated what is probably the legal industry’s most egregious scandal to date.

Efforts to regain regulatory approval also include plans by the company to recover cannabis that was not authorized by its license, and improve inventory tracking – the full details of which will be delivered to Health Canada by October 21.

While the beleaguered pot company’s stock predictably surged again on the public markets, the question lingers: can CannTrust ever be trusted again? These were egregious violations.

A Changing Industry

As with most things in business, the issues plaguing CannTrust were not isolated to one company. This has ranged in the past from pesticide use to creative accounting. Not to mention all sorts of creative endeavors on the financial side that are, depending on which stock market you look at this from, less than legit or just this side of shady.

It was easy to throw the book at a company like this – not only for these specific violations, but also as a warning to others tempted to engage in similar tactics (or fail to clean those up that still exist).

CannTrust in other words, was a clarion bell about the change in the weather, driven not only by international treaties but the legitimization of the drug, on the ground. Globally. When large health insurers get involved (see Europe), the conversation begins to change. And it is, fairly drastically.

On the ground in Germany, there are two more cultivation sites underway with one now certified and functional. BfArM (the German equivalent of the FDA) is now on the front lines of a battle that so far, at least in Canada, has not been addressed at a level Europe requires. That said, this reality too is changing. One of the largest distributors in Germany, CC Pharma, now owned by Aphria, has started a supply chain compliance check that is overdue. And further, while focussed on the cannabis industry, in truth, is a problem that plagues pharma far from cannabinoids.

However, as this is the cannabis industry, the scandals that rip through headlines are that much more visceral.

Seed to sale traceability, and further in a model unseen in the industry so far, will also become a watchword that is still rippling through an international industry chafing at any sort of standards, let alone standardization required for pharmaceutical acceptance. The bar, in other words, has just been set much higher. And there are many who will not make the grade.

CannTrust, certainly, was a victim not only of internal mismanagement, but a shifting environment that is rapidly upgrading on a level not seen so far in the entire North American industry – with a few notable exceptions. 

Pharmaceutical Grade Is The Standard To Beat

Here is the reality now facing an industry coming into its own and on an international basis. The standards are tightening. The rules are not only being written but being enforced. And while there are sure to be a few more scandals along the way, the kinds of basic problems found at CannTrust are probably, finally, going extinct in the part of the industry that now knows it is being held accountable to far higher standards.

The reason? Medical grade and national food standards are in the room for every exporter now eyeing Europe. And that alone is resetting the debate everywhere. No matter how treacherous the path may be.

So no matter how harsh the penalties are now facing one company, even the regulators know that this is shifting territory. CannTrust, after all, is being given a second chance.

european union states

Safeguarding Your International Supply Chain: The Brave New World Of Cannabis Compliance

By Marguerite Arnold
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european union states

The CannTrust story may have shocked the uninitiated, but it hit almost every bogeyman the legitimizing industry has both feared and suffered from, particularly of late.

Here, generally, is the issue. Especially in Europe (even more especially in places like Germany, the UK and other emerging markets), budding cannapreneurs need each other. A distributor in Germany, for example, cannot get their final (federal) licenses allowing them to do business without establishing a relationship with an existing producer. That producer also needs relationships with established distributors to get their licenses.

In a fraught world, where all parties are evolving rapidly (and this also includes the “Big Boys” from Canada and several U.S. states including California), supply chain logistics, and even contract agreements if not licensing beyond that requires a level of honesty, integrity and transparency the industry, largely has not achieved yet.

That said, there are also parties, if not individuals and companies determined to set themselves on the straight and narrow – and play by the emerging “rules” – and then there are also clearly companies which, well, do not.

Being out of compliance, at any step of the chain, including when your product is sold via government agencies, is already a recipe for disaster.What this brave new world of cannabis requires, however, and from everyone – from grower, to manufacturer, packager, distributor and service delivery – is that all ecosystem partners must be in compliance.

Ensuring that can be a full time job. But what it also means is that to have a fully compliant product, every party in the chain bears responsibility for upholding standards that so far have proved hard to reach for many.

The time has come, in other words, where that is no longer an option.

The First Step Is Certification…

GMPIn a world where every member of the diverse cannabis ecosystem requires certification, determining what, and from whom is the first hurdle – both for buyer and seller. If one has GMP-certified product, that is awesome. But there are also treaties in the room that only allow some GMP certifications to be considered equal to others. If you are in Lesotho right now, for example, far from Europe, your biggest concern is not just looking to the EU but figuring out a way to export your crop into your neighbouring (and surrounding) country – namely South Africa.

This example, while seemingly far away, in fact, is the biggest bugbear in determining who can sell to whom even within Europe (let alone countries just outside and far beyond the region).

Determining cert presence, if not validity, however, is only the tip of the iceberg. And depending on who you are, that path alone is not a one time dalliance with authorities, but multiple certifications that must all also be kept current.

But It is Not The Only One…

The second hurdle, of course, is also checking the verity of everyone you do business with. For a producer, this includes making sure that processing, packaging, and even transportation are in compliance. In Canada, of course, this has been short circuited by the ability of producers to ship directly to patients.

In Europe, however, this is far from the case. And that is also why the entire conversation is also getting not only much more granular, but expensive. Pharmaceutical regulations are actually what guide the rules of the road here.

european union statesWalking floors, and checking, in person, may or not be mandated by international treaties at this point. However, most of the young producers on the ground here are implementing policies of personal visits to their vendors. In Massachusetts of late, this is also on the drawing board. Albeit on a “state” level, the reality is that both federal, state and more local training is a watchword, if not a must, now on the roadmap.

Being out of compliance, at any step of the chain, including when your product is sold via government agencies, is already a recipe for disaster.

And while that obviously is a challenge, companies must step up to the plate internally to commit to the same. It is too dangerous to ignore such steps. Including the easy to reach ones, like staff background checks and decent cybersecurity safeguards. The former has blown several enterprising cannadudes out of the driver’s seat already in Europe over the last few years. The latter is an emerging threat in a region that is also home to GDPR regulation (and growing fines).

For that very reason, certainly on the ground in Germany if not across Europe and in those countries and companies that wish to supply the same, supply chain verification, that is constant, consistent and verifiable, is the path for the industry both as of now and in the immediate future.

The Best Way to Remediate Moldy Cannabis is No Remediation at All

By Ingo Mueller
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Consumers are largely unaware that most commercial cannabis grown today undergoes some form of decontamination to treat the industry’s growing problem of mold, yeast and other microbial pathogens. As more cannabis brands fail regulatory testing for contaminants, businesses are increasingly turning to radiation, ozone gas, hydrogen peroxide or other damaging remediation methods to ensure compliance and avoid product recalls. It has made cannabis cultivation and extraction more challenging and more expensive than ever, not to mention inflaming the industry’s ongoing supply problem.

The problem is only going to get worse as states like Nevada and California are beginning to implement more regulations including even tougher microbial contamination limits. The technological and economic burdens are becoming too much for some cultivators, driving some of them out of business. It’s also putting an even greater strain on them to meet product demand.

It’s critical that the industry establishes new product standards to reassure consumers that the cannabis products they buy are safe. But it is even more critical that the industry look beyond traditional agricultural remediation methods to solve the microbial problems.

Compounding Risks

Mold and other microbial pathogens are found everywhere in the environment, including the air, food and water that people consume. While there is no consensus yet on the health consequences of consuming these contaminants through cannabis, risks are certainly emerging. According to a 2015 study by the Cannabis Safety Institutei, molds are generally harmless in the environment, but some may present a health threat when inhaled, particularly to immunocompromised individuals. Mycotoxins resulting from molds such as Aspergillus can cause illnesses such as allergic bronchopulmonary aspergillosis. Even when killed with treatment, the dead pathogens could trigger allergies or asthma.

Photo credit: Steep Hill- a petri dish of mold growth from tested cannabis

There is an abundance of pathogens that can affect cannabis cultivation, but the most common types are Botrytis (bud rot, sometimes called gray mold) and Powdery Mildew. They are also among the most devastating blights to cannabis crops. Numerous chemical controls are available to help prevent or stem an outbreak, ranging from fungicides and horticultural oils to bicarbonates and biological controls. While these controls may save an otherwise doomed crop, they introduce their own potential health risks through the overexposure and consumption of chemical residues.

The issue is further compounded by the fact that the states in which cannabis is legal can’t agree on which microbial pathogens to test for, nor how to test. Colorado, for instance, requires only three pathogen tests (for salmonella, E. coli, and mycotoxins from mold), while Massachusetts has exceedingly strict testing regulations for clean products. Massachusetts-based testing lab, ProVerde Laboratories, reports that approximately 30% of the cannabis flowers it tests have some kind of mold or yeast contamination.

If a cannabis product fails required microbial testing and can’t be remedied in a compliant way, the grower will inevitably experience a severe – and potentially crippling – financial hit to a lost crop. Willow Industries, a microbial remediation company, says that cannabis microbial contamination is projected to be a $3 billion problem by 2020ii.

Remediation Falls Short
With the financial stakes so high, the cannabis industry has taken cues from the food industry and adopted a variety of ways to remediate cannabis harvests contaminated with pathogens. Ketch DeGabrielle of Qloris Consulting spent two years studying cannabis microbial remediation methods and summarized their pros and consiii.

He found that some common sterilization approaches like autoclaves, steam and dry heat are impractical for cannabis due the decarboxylation and harsh damage they inflict on the product. Some growers spray or immerse cannabis flowers in hydrogen peroxide, but the resulting moisture can actually cause more spores to germinate, while the chemical reduces the terpene content in the flowers.

Powdery mildew starts with white/grey spots seen on the upper leaves surface

The more favored, technologically advanced remediation approaches include ozone or similar gas treatment, which is relatively inexpensive and treats the entire plant. However, it’s difficult to gas products on a large scale, and gas results in terpene loss. Microwaves can kill pathogens effectively through cellular rupture, but can burn the product. Ionizing radiation kills microbial life by destroying their DNA, but the process can create carcinogenic chemical compounds and harmful free radicals. Radio frequency (which DeGabrielle considers the best method) effectively kills yeast and mold by oscillating the water in them, but it can result in moisture and terpene loss.

The bottom line: no remediation method is perfect. Prevention of microbial contamination is a better approach. But all three conventional approaches to cannabis cultivation – outdoors, greenhouses and indoor grow operations – make it extremely difficult to control contamination. Mold spores can easily gain a foothold both indoors and out through air, water, food and human contact, quickly spreading into an epidemic.

The industry needs to establish new quality standards for product purity and employ new growing practices to meet them. Advanced technologies can help create near perfect growing ecosystems and microclimates for growing cannabis free of mold contamination. Internet of Things sensors combined with AI-driven robotics and automation can dramatically reduce human intervention in the growing process, along with human-induced contamination. Natural sunlight supplemented with new lighting technologies that provide near full-light and UV spectrum can stimulate robust growth more resistant to disease. Computational fluid dynamic models can help growers achieve optimal temperature, humidity, velocity, filtration and sanitation of air flow. And tissue culture micropropagation of plant stock can eliminate virus and pathogen threats, to name just a few of the latest innovations.

Growing legal cannabis today is a risky business that can cost growers millions of dollars if pathogens contaminate a crop. Remediation methods to remove microbial contamination may work to varying degrees, but they introduce another set of problems that can impact consumer health and comprise product quality.


References

i. Holmes M, Vyas JM, Steinbach W, McPartland J. 2015. Microbiological Safety Testing of Cannabis. Cannabis Safety Institute. http://cannabissafetyinstitute.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/Microbiological-Safety-Testing-of-Cannabis.pdf

ii. Jill Ellsworth, June 2019, Eliminating Microbials in Marijuana, Willow Industries, https://willowindustries.com/eliminating-microbials-in-marijuana/#

iii. Ketch DeGabrielle, April 2018, Largest U.S. Cannabis Farm Shares Two Years of Mold Remediation Research, Analytical Cannabis, https://www.analyticalcannabis.com/articles/largest-us-cannabis-farm-shares-two-years-of-mold-remediation-research-299842

 

Steven Burton

A Regulatory Tsunami is Washing Over the Canadian Cannabis Industry

By Steven Burton
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Steven Burton

On August 29, 2019, Health Canada finally published a guidance document on the official interpretation of Part 5 of the Cannabis Regulations concerning “Good Production Practices” that comes into force just seven weeks later on October 17, 2019. For those watching with the experience of the food industry, it is safe to say that few license holders fully appreciate the magnitude of the new requirements and fewer yet are prepared for what will be required in less than two weeks.

An Uncertain Road to Cannabis Compliance

Since Canada legalized recreational cannabis in October 2018, there has been considerable uncertainty about the road to compliance in this totally new legal market. Health Canada faced the daunting challenge of defining the requirements for a whole new industry, and so they were understandably silent on the issue of Part 5 until this guide was published in August.

GMPMany larger companies eager to get their foot in the door of the multi-billion dollar industry tried to be proactive in anticipating impending government regulations by seeking Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) certifications. This would likely have been fine under the previous regulations, which were myopically focused on ensuring that product wasn’t diverted from or to the black market. With the legalization of edibles only one year away, however, it was obvious to those in the food industry that GMP was just not going to be enough. Gentle prodding at various speaking engagements on our part wasn’t enough to convince these companies to seek higher levels of certification or at least to proactively develop the organizational culture required to support a higher-level program.

The Inevitable Necessity of Food Safety

It was clear to us that since edibles are essentially a food product, safety necessarily had to become a primary focus. This reality has, in fact, materialized in section 5 of the new guide, which outlines prescriptive requirements that are very well developed and require that companies develop a complete set of Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for sanitation, employee hygiene, testing, inventory, pest control and more. Furthermore, cannabis companies must be able to produce documentation that proves they are actually following these procedures.

There are many, many other requirements that also apply, but the really interesting ones are those related to hazard analysis (5.2.13) and preventive control plans (5.2.14): manufacturers who produce extracts or edibles must undertake hazard analyses on each input, processing step and traffic flow. The language will be familiar to those who have been exposed to Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) methodology. HACCP is the standard in the food industry and goes far beyond simple GMP.

Very much like HACCP, license holders will be required to analyze each biological, chemical and physical hazard, determine controls, identify critical control point, along will all the validation, reassessment, verification and deviation protocols required. Interestingly, the fraud and bioterrorism hazard types that have recently been introduced for the food industry have been omitted, presumably an oversight that will be rectified in future versions.

How to Catch Up Fast with Tech

Satisfying these regulations using traditional manual methods takes months or even years in some cases. Today in Canada, license holders have only weeks to get their facilities to compliance, and the government is quick to crack down on any mistakes. The only way to possibly meet this deadline is to start yesterday and use the best tools you can find to expedite the process.

HACCPThose who have been busy implementing GMP programs are going to have to look far beyond their current objectives. Those just starting out should build with these requirements front of mind, both to satisfy inspectors and auditors and also to avoid the pain of the organizational change required to move to a higher level of quality and safety.

Ultimately, these changes will be of benefit to society and provide a competitive advantage to those who can move the fastest, especially when major retail chains become the dominant wholesale market. My advice is to start working on your HACCP-based compliance program immediately and, if you’re in Canada, seek a high-level certification like SQF as soon as possible.

It’s fair to say that the food industry’s recent experiences with more stringent regulations clearly foreshadow what will be required for the cannabis industry. Right now – when the margin of error is razor thin – is the time for companies to make the decisive move and focus on their success – and survival.

Navigating Cannabis Staffing and Hiring Challenges

By Michael Coleman
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With more cannabis staffing and recruiting challenges than ever before, building a healthy pipeline of top candidates can be an uphill battle. From a lack of qualified candidates and working capital to the haze of lingering stigma and industry volatility, cannabis hiring and retention challenges are more apparent than ever.

Understanding the pain points of cannabis staffing and how to flip them in your favor is critical for attracting the talent you need to grow your business.

Emerging Candidate Concerns

Low unemployment coupled with high demand for qualified talent has led to fierce competition among cannabis hiring managers and HR professionals. This means finding candidates with the right skills and industry experience can be exceptionally difficult.

Dispensary and budtender jobs are some of the most popular entry-level cannabis employment opportunities. But since these are customer-facing roles, the requirements to work in a dispensary span a range of skillsets.

Not only do candidates need excellent interpersonal skills, they should also have a deep understanding of the differences and synergies in strains, terpene profiles and cannabinoid contents. The starting hourly pay for these retail dispensary jobs is only about $12-16 per hour. Finding candidates with relevant dispensary experience at such a low rate is not an easy feat.

Source: Vangst

Then there are the extractors and directors of extraction. While these positions are higher-paying than dispensary jobs, they are more dangerous and require a more specific skillset. Engaging qualified candidates for this high-risk position can take a lot of time and effort. In addition, employers also have to assume liabilities and higher compensation demands.

Source: Vangst

Other cannabis employment types that staffing departments and agencies have to hire are highly specialized.

Source: Vangst
Source: Vangst

Not only do you need talented and knowledgeable salespeople, marketers and accountants, there are also laboratory workers, trimmers, cultivation laborers and supervisors, master growers, dispensary managers and delivery drivers to account for.

Lack of Working Capital

With market demand continuing to rise, having the manpower in place is vital to remain competitive. But hiring costs money. Recruiting, advertising and interviewing requires adequate cannabis funding and/or working capital. Unfortunately, obtaining and securing capital to grow and hire is difficult in the industry today.

Making the wrong hiring decision can be costly. If you break any laws during the recruiting process, you can get hit with a hefty lawsuit. The majority of industry players today are startups with limited financial resources. A lawsuit can mean shutting down shop and going out of business.

The Volatile Nature of the Industry

The advancement and adoption of cannabis legislation are rapidly underway for medical use, recreational use and everything in between.

With shifting public sentiments, state-specific cannabis laws and licensing requirements, the industry is in a constant state of change. Even the requirements to work in the cannabis industry vary from state to state.

The ever-rising tide of volatility makes it difficult for companies to find enough stability to make responsible hiring decisions. One regulatory revision can require a company to pivot its branding, product line and entire marketing strategy from top to bottom. A shift in strategy can mean a shift in employee requirements and skillsets. This instability tends to be unappealing to candidates who are accustomed to a well-established workplace structure and culture.

With so much volatility and uncertainty, prioritizing employee relationship management seems like a wise decision. But in-house cannabis human resources is just not in the cards in many cases. Instead, cannabis staffing, recruiting and HR tend to be outsourced along with accounting and compliance.

Lack of Suitable Cannabis Recruiting Platforms

While perceptions are changing, misconceptions about the industry are still pervasive.

Lingering market stigma presents a grave challenge for cannabis staffing and hiring. In fact, many mainstream recruiting platforms are unwilling to partner with cannabis companies. Fortunately, there are some relatively new cannabis HR agencies and platforms to help solve some of the challenges of hiring in cannabis. Vangst GIGS, for example, is the first and only fully-compliant cannabis staffing platform. The CBD staffing agency has been up and running for just a few years now.

Future of Cannabis Staffing and Hiring Demands

While hemp-derived CBD has been legal since the signing of the 2018 U.S. Farm Bill, marijuana-derived CBD is still illegal. But this may change sooner rather than later.

There is growing bipartisan support for the legalization and regulation of cannabis. Beyond improving quality assurance and resolving the disconnect between state and federal laws, federal cannabis legalization will have a profound impact on the U.S. economy.

In fact, New Frontier Data projects federal legalization will create $128.8 billion in additional tax revenue and 1.63 million legal cannabis jobs in the U.S. by 2025.

Cannabis payroll deductions could also increase to $9.5 billion by 2025 because more legal entities, customers and employees would be participating in the market.

With federal legislation likely coming in the near future, knowing how to navigate and scale cannabis human resources, including hemp staffing, are more important than ever. You need the right people and processes to take advantage of the market opportunities legalization would create.

Companies that adapt to industry changes will be better at recruiting top talent and mitigating future staffing shortages. Forward-looking companies and fund managers are already obtaining cannabis business loans and ramping up HR preparations and organizational structuring to get a jumpstart on the pace of change.