Tag Archives: compliance

New Jersey Launches Adult Use Sales

By Cannabis Industry Journal Staff
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On Thursday, April 21, a handful of dispensaries in New Jersey begin selling cannabis to adults over the age of 21. The state has so far issued licenses for adult use sales to seven alternative treatment centers (ATCs), otherwise known as medical cannabis businesses already established in the state. In total, thirteen dispensaries in the state can sell cannabis to adults over 21.

The Capitol in Trenton, New Jersey

The reason why adult use sales could not start on April 20 is because of “unmanageable logistical challenges for patients and other buyers, surrounding communities, and for municipalities,” Toni-Anne Blake, communications director for the New Jersey (CRC) told The Philadelphia Inquirer. “Regulators and industry representatives agreed it was not feasible.”

The seven ATCs awarded adult use licenses are Ascend, Curaleaf, GTI, Acreage, Verano, Columbia Care and TerrAscend. The state’s roll out created a lot of controversy over allowing already established, larger medical cannabis businesses and multi state operators to begin adult use sales before smaller businesses and social equity applicants get licensed.

According to The New York Times, the CRC gave condition approval to 102 companies for cultivation and manufacturing, but they need local approval and real estate before commencing operations. Another 320 organizations have applied for licenses for the New Jersey adult use cannabis market, but could wait up to a year or more before they begin operating.

Regulators in New Jersey say the seven companies commencing sales will need to follow social equity rules, including providing technical knowledge to social equity applicants. “We remain committed to social equity,” says CRC Chair Dianna Houenou. “We promised to build this market on the pillars of social equity and safety. Ultimately, we hope to see businesses and a workforce that reflect the diversity of the state, and local communities that are positively impacted by this new and growing industry.”

Jeff Brown, executive director of the CRC, says they anticipate long lines and crowds. “We expect 13 locations for the entire state will make for extremely busy stores,” said Jeff Brown, executive director of the New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory Commission. “The dispensaries have assured us that they are ready to meet the demand without disrupting patient access, and with minimal impact on the surrounding communities, but patience will be key to a good opening day.”

Adults in New Jersey can purchase up to one ounce of flower, up to five grams of concentrates or up to ten 100mg packages of edibles. Click here for a list of the locations opening their doors for business.

State of the US Cannabis Payment Processing Market: An Interview with Executives at KindTap and Aeropay

By Aaron Green
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Federal regulations have made compliant credit processing in the cannabis industry difficult to achieve. As a result, most cannabis retailers operate a cash-only model, limiting their ability to upsell customers and placing a burden on customers who might rather use credit. While some dispensaries offer debit, credit or cashless ATM transactions, regulators and traditional payment processors have been cracking down on these offerings as they are often non-compliant with regulations and policies.

Two companies, KindTap Technologies and Aeropay, are addressing the cannabis industry’s payment processing challenges with innovative digital solutions geared towards retailers and consumers.

We interviewed both Cathy Corby Iannuzzelli, president at KindTap Technologies and Daniel Muller, CEO at Aeropay. Cathy co-founded KindTap in 2019 after a career in the banking and payments industries where she launched multiple financial and credit products. Daniel founded AeroPay in 2017 after a career in digital product innovation, most recently at GPShopper (acquired by Financial), where he oversaw the design and development of over 300 web and mobile applications for large scale Fortune 500 companies.

Green: What is the biggest challenge your customers are facing?

Cathy Corby Iannuzzelli, co-founder and president at KindTap Technologies

Iannuzzelli: Our customers include both cannabis retailers and their end consumers. As long as cannabis is illegal at the federal level, normal payment solutions such as debit and credit cards cannot be accepted for cannabis purchases. This has resulted in heavy cash-based sales and unstable, transient work-around ATM payment solutions that can be ripped out with little notice, disrupting the entire business. The lack of a mature payment network to support retail payments for cannabis purchases is a huge challenge for all stakeholders. Cannabis retailers bear the high cost and safety issues of operating a heavily cash-based retail business. Consumers encounter several friction points that require them to change their behavior when purchasing cannabis relative to how they purchase everything else.

Muller: Our cannabis business customers have faced a constantly changing and, frankly, exhausting financial services environment. From the need to move and manage large amounts of cash, to card workarounds, added to the disappointment from legislation around the SAFE Banking Act, these inconsistencies have acted as a roadblock to their potential growth and profitability. Aeropay is in the position to be a stable, long-term, reliable payments partner ready to help them scale their businesses. We believe these opportunities are limitless.

Green: What geographies have got your attention and why?

Daniel Muller, CEO and founder of Aeropay

Iannuzzelli: KindTap’s focus is on the U.S. market where federal policy has created the need for alternatives to traditional payment networks. KindTap is available in every U.S. state where cannabis is legally sold. In terms of our distribution channels, KindTap’s digital payment solution was brought to market during the COVID-19 pandemic when curbside pick-up and delivery became critically important. These channels are where the exchange of cash at pick-up posed the greatest security risk to employees and customers. Our early integrations were with e-commerce platforms focused on delivery and pick-up orders, and our integration partners have strong customer bases in California and the northeast. So, while KindTap can provide its “Pay Later” lines of credit and “Pay Now” bank account solutions anywhere, we have heavier penetration in those regions.

Muller: California, for its established tech culture and how it plays into the cannabis industry – your product simply has to live up to their tech standards to be heard. Also, Chicago, our headquarters, with its newly emerged commitment to financing the cannabis industry and bringing with it a more traditional business approach. In Chicago, you have to have elevated standards of professional practices in any industry you enter. And of course, we love to watch emerging markets like New York and Florida as they head towards adult-use and what shape cannabis and payments will take.

Green: What are the broader industry trends you are following?

Iannuzzelli: We continue to see a strong transition from cash and ATM transactions over to digital payments. Since KindTap has a fully-integrated payment “button” on e-commerce checkout screens, the adoption rate of end consumers to that one-click experience is quite strong. We are also seeing trends of more “express lines” in the retail environment – for those KindTap users who paid online/ahead – and faster/safer delivery experiences to people’s homes since there is no longer the need to collect any payment upon delivery. We are firm believers in the delivery/digital payments combination and a strong increase of that trend as more states allow for delivery.

Muller: The cannabis industry is starting to normalize payments and mirror traditional online and brick-and-mortar. With bank-to-bank (ACH) payments, cannabis businesses can now offer modern customer shopping experiences including pre-payment for delivery orders without the need for a cash exchange at the door, offering the option to buy online pickup in-store and contactless in-store QR scan-to-pay customer experiences. With these familiar and customer-driven options now available, we are seeing widespread adoption, as well as meaningful increases in spend and returning customers.

Green: Thank you both. That concludes the interview!

About KindTap: KindTap Technologies, LLC operates a financial technology platform that offers credit and loyalty-enabled payment solutions for highly-regulated industries typically driven by cash and ATM-based transactions. KindTap offers payment processing and related consumer applications for e-commerce and brick-and-mortar retailers. Founded in 2019, the company is backed by KreditForce LLC plus several strategic investors, with debt capital provided by U.S.-based institutions. Learn more at kindtaptech.com.

About AeroPay: AeroPay is a financial technology company reimagining the way money is moved in exchange for goods and services. Frustrated with the current, antiquated payments landscape, we believe there is a better way to pay and a better way to get paid. AeroPay set out to build a payments platform that works for all- businesses, consumers, and their communities. Learn more at aeropay.com.

FDAlogo

FDA Warning Letters: Stop Claiming CBD Prevents COVID

By Cannabis Industry Journal Staff
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FDAlogo

Once again, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued a number of warning letters to companies selling hemp-derived cannabidiol (CBD) products. This time around, the FDA sent these warning letters to companies that had statements on their website claiming CBD is an effective treatment or prevention of Covid-19.

In this latest round, the FDA sent a total of seven warning letters to:

Just some of the many hemp-derived CBD products on the market today
  • Greenway Herbal Products LLC
  • UPSY LLC
  • Functional Remedies, LLC dba Synchronicity Hemp Oil
  • Nature’s Highway
  • Heaven’s Organic LLC
  • Cureganics
  • CBD Social

Earlier this year, a slew of preliminary research studies went viral for shedding light on promising signs that certain cannabis compounds could help treat or prevent Covid-19. The conclusions from most of that research is: It is still too early to tell if any of these studies will show evidence of cannabis treating Covid-19, let alone if they mean cannabis products can be used as a treatment or preventative for Covid-19. However, the research is significant and we should keep an eye on any developments that come from those studies.

The hemp-derived CBD market has a history of clashes with the FDA over health claims. Since the Farm Bill legalized cannabis with less than 0.3% THC back in 2018, the hemp-derived CBD market has proliferated, with all sorts of companies seizing the opportunity. Jumping on the health and wellness trend, companies incorporated this messaging into their marketing campaigns. Over the past four years, the FDA has issued dozens and dozens of warning letters and threatened enforcement actions to companies making unsubstantiated health claims about CBD.

While CBD definitely does have medical benefits, such as being used as an anti-inflammatory or anticonvulsant, preliminary research alone is not enough to say it does. Products need to be approved by the FDA with a new drug application (NDA) in order to make those claims. Therefore when companies make unsubstantiated health claims about their CBD products, like claiming it can prevent Covid-19, they are violating the FD&C Act by marketing “unapproved new drugs” or “misbranded drugs.”

The bottom line is companies that are marketing CBD products need to ensure that their marketing materials and labeling comply with FDA requirements and avoid making unapproved drug claims.

How to Navigate Section 280E: Lessons Businesses Can Learn from Recent Court Outcomes

By Jay Jerose
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The cannabis business landscape is complex and is under constant review and control. Further, rules and regulations from both federal and state governments can pose additional challenges and barriers to business owners. For those unfamiliar, there is a section of Internal Revenue Code, Section 280E, that prohibits taxpayers who are engaged in the business of buying and selling certain controlled substances from deducting many typical business expenses that other businesses are able to freely deduct.

What is Section 280E and What Challenges Does it Pose?

A dispensary could deduct the cost of the product it sells, but due to Section 280E it would be unable to deduct necessary and ordinary business expenses such as building rent, insurance or employee wages. This can create a significant tax burden, as taxable income is calculated at the gross profit level instead of starting with net income. As a result, Section 280E has become increasingly relevant for cannabis businesses, which have grown substantially in recent years due to more states opting to legalize marijuana. But despite this trend towards legalization at the state level, cannabis with more than 0.3% THC remains illegal under federal law, which raises questions surrounding Section 280E.

In this article, we take a closer look at recent court cases that highlight challenges with Section 280E, the related outcomes and what it means for businesses in the cannabis space.

Challenging its Constitutionality

Patients Mutual Assistance Collective Corp. v. Commissioner, also known as the Harborside Case, partially involved legal arguments against the constitutionality of Section 280E under the 16th amendment. Harborside argued that income must be present for the IRS to levy an income tax, however Section 280E can frequently cause taxpayers to experience real losses along with taxable income. They argued that they were forced to pay taxes while losing money.

Two circuit courts before this case upheld that Section 280E did not violate either the 8th or 16th amendments to the constitution, leading to the court declining to even address the constitutionality claim. The court addressing a constitutionality issue could lead to unintended consequences for unrelated code provisions, leading this strategy to likely fail due to the mess it could unravel.

Attracting Customers with Freebies

Olive v. Commissioner involved a medical cannabis dispensary that also operated a consumption lounge. While the consumption lounge revenue entirely consisted of sales of medical cannabis, the business also provided services such as health counseling, movies, yoga, massage therapy and beverages at no additional cost. The business attempted to deduct the expenses of these free services as well as the cost of the cannabis itself.

The IRS denied the deductions for the additional services due to the sole source of revenue coming from cannabis sales. The court held that the expenses related to free services were designed to benefit and promote the sales of cannabis and induce further business from its customers.

The court did acknowledge that expenses can be allocated between two separate trades or businesses while still complying with 280E. However, distinct revenue streams need to be established to show the clear separability of the activities and care must be taken to document and support the expense allocations.

Co-mingling Cannabis and Non-Cannabis Enterprises

In the case of Alternative Healthcare Advocates v. Commissioner, the owner of a retail dispensary established a separate management corporation to provide management functions to the dispensary business. The two businesses shared identical ownership, and the management company solely provided services to the joint owner’s dispensary. The management company hired employees, advertised, and handled rent and other regular business expenses on behalf of the dispensary.

Despite the argument from the taxpayer that the businesses were separate entities, and that the management company did not own or “touch” cannabis in any way, the Tax Court ruled that both companies were in the business of trafficking illegal substances. This disallowed expenses on both entities. The IRS argued successfully that the operations of both companies were intertwined. The fact that the management company broke even on expenses and provided no services to any other unrelated entities meant that while legally separate, they were considered part and parcel to each other.

The Solution: Clear Documentation, Allocation and Separation

Californians Helping to Alleviate Med. Problems, Inc. v. Commissioner (CHAMP) involved a public benefit corporation that provided caregiving services along with cannabis to customers suffering from diseases. In this case, the taxpayer argued that they had two separate and distinct lines of service, being the sale of cannabis, and the sale of caregiving services.

While the IRS disagreed with this position and attempted to apply Section 280E to the entire entity, the Tax Court disagreed. It held that the taxpayer was operating with a dual purpose, the primary being the caregiving services, and the secondary being the sale of medical cannabis. The taxpayer’s customers were required to pay a membership fee and received extensive caregiving services, including support groups, one-on-one counseling, addiction counseling services, hygiene supplies and even food for low-income members. While the membership fee did include a set amount of medical cannabis, it was not unlimited. The Court held that the taxpayer’s extensive records and documentation clearly demonstrated two separate and distinct lines of business, with the caregiving being a primary service and the medical cannabis being secondary.

From these court cases and outcomes, it is clear that Section 280E can be confusing. The cannabis industry is a high-risk area, and the IRS has successful court cases to stand behind to back their legislation and agenda. These cases demonstrate two very simple concepts: first, businesses have attempted many creative ways of sidestepping Section 280E and failed; and second, clear documentation and detailed financial records are key, and will be paramount to support any tax positions related to Section 280E.

With the risks associated with conducting business in the cannabis industry, there is a strong likelihood that it will be high on the IRS’ radar over the next few years. Cannabis businesses should carefully consider their interpretation and application of Section 280E as it relates to the costs within their business. It will be important for businesses to utilize and consult with experienced attorneys and cannabis accountants to ensure they not only maintain compliance with federal laws, but also keep up with the changing regulations and court test opinions.


Disclaimer: The summary information presented in this article should not be considered legal advice or counsel and does not create an attorney-client relationship between the author and the reader. If the reader of this has legal questions, it is recommended they consult with their attorney.

Milan Patel, PathogenDx
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The Need for More Stringent Testing in Cannabis

By Milan Patel
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Milan Patel, PathogenDx

As the demand for legal cannabis continues to rise and more states come online, it is imperative to enact more rigorous and comprehensive testing solutions to protect the health of consumers. People use cannabis products for wellness and to find relief; they should not be susceptible to consuming pathogens and falling ill. Especially for immunocompromised consumers, the consequences of consuming contaminated cannabis or hemp are dire. Of course, there should be federal standards for pathogen testing requirements like we have for the food industry. But right now, as cannabis is not yet federally legal, testing regulations vary between states and in many states, testing requirements are too loose and enforcement is minimal. It is up to state legislators, regulators and cannabis operators to protect the health of consumers through implementing more stringent testing.

From the outset, the environmental elements needed to grow cannabis – heat, light, humidity, soil – make cannabis ripe for pathogens to proliferate. Even when growers follow strict sanitation procedures through the supply chain from seed to sale, contaminations can still occur. Cannabis companies need to be hypervigilant and proactive about testing, not just reactive. The lack of regulations in some states is alarming, and as the cannabis industry is highly competitive and so many companies have emerged in a short time, there are unfortunately unscrupulous actors that have skated by in a loose regulatory landscape, just in the game to make a quick buck, even at the expense of consumer health. And there are notable instances where states do not have enforcement in place to deter harmful manufacturing practices. For instance, there are some states that don’t mandate moisture control and there have been incidents of companies watering down flower so it has more weight and thus can be sold at a higher cost – all the while that added moisture leads to mold, harming the consumer. This vicious circle driven by selfish human behavior needs to be broken by stricter regulations and enforcement.

While in the short term, looser testing regulations may save companies some money, in the long run these regulatory environments carry significant economic repercussions and damage the industry at large, most importantly injury or death to customers and patients. Recalls can tarnish a company’s brand and reputation and cause sales and stock prices to tank, and since cannabis legalization is such a hotly contested issue, the media gloms onto these recalls, which opponents to legalization then leverage to justify their stance. In order to win the hearts and minds of opponents and bring about federal legalization sooner, we need safer products so cannabis won’t be cast in such a dangerous, risky light.

Certainly, there’s a bit of irony at play here – the lack of federal regulations heightens the risk of contaminated cannabis reaching consumers, and on the flip side recalls are used by opponents to justify stigmatizing the plant and keeping it illegal. Nevertheless, someday in the not-too-distant future, cannabis will be legalized at the federal level. And when that day happens, federal agents will aggressively test and regulate cannabis; they’ll swab every area in facilities and demand thorough records of testing up and down the supply chain; current good manufacturing practices (cGMP) will be mandated. No longer will violations result just in a slap on the wrist – businesses will be shut down. To avoid a massive shock to the system, it makes sense for cannabis companies to pivot and adopt rigorous and wide-sweeping testing procedures today. Wait for federal legalization, and you’ll sink.

Frankly, the current landscape of cannabis regulation is scary and the consequences are largely yet to be seen. Just a few months ago, a Michigan state judge reversed part of a recall issued by the state’s Marijuana Regulatory Agency (MRA) on cannabis that exceeded legal limits of yeast, mold and aspergillus, bringing contaminated cannabis back to shelves without even slapping a warning label on the packaging to inform consumers of the potential contamination. This is a classic case of the power of the dollar prevailing over consumer safety and health. Even in well-established markets, the lack of regulations is jarring. For example, before this year in Colorado, testing for aspergillus wasn’t even required. (Aspergillus inhalation, which can cause Aspergillosis, can be deadly, especially for people who are immunocompromised). Many states still allow trace amounts of aspergillus and other pathogens to be present in cannabis samples. While traces may seem inconsequential in the short term, what will happen to frequent consumers who have been pinging their lungs with traces of pathogens for 30 years? Consistently inhaling trace amounts of pathogens can lead to lung issues and pulmonary disease down the road. Look what happened to people with breathing and lung issues during the last two years with COVID. What’s going to happen to these people when the next pandemic hits?

We need state regulators and MSOs to step up and implement more aggressive testing procedures. These regulators and companies can create a sea of change in the industry to better protect the health and well-being of consumers. Just complying with loose regulations isn’t good enough. We need to bring shortcomings around testing into the limelight and demand better and more efficient regulatory frameworks. And we should adopt the same standards for medical and adult use markets. Right now, several states follow cGMP for medical but not adult use – that’s ridiculous. Potentially harming consumers goes against what activists seeking legalization have been fighting for. Cannabis, untainted, provides therapeutic and clinical value not just to medical patients but to all consumers; cannabis companies should promote consumer health through their products, not jeopardize it.

For best practices, companies should conduct tests at every step in the supply chain, not just test end products. And testing solutions should be comprehensive. Most of the common tests used today are based on petri dishes, an archaic and inefficient technology dating back over a century, which require a separate dish to test for each pathogen of interest. If you’re waiting three to five days to see testing results against fifteen pathogens and a pathogen happens to be present, by the time you see results, the pathogen could have spread and destroyed half of your crops. So, not only do petri dishes overburden state-run labs, but due to their inherent inefficiencies, relying on these tests can significantly eat into cannabis companies’ revenues. At PathogenDx, we’ve created multiplexing solutions that can identify and detect up to 50 pathogens in a single test and yield accurate results in six hours. To save cannabis companies money in the long run and to make sure pathogens don’t slip through the cracks, more multiplexing tests like the ones we’ve created should be implemented in state labs.

Right now, while the regulatory landscape is falling short in terms of protecting consumer health, better solutions already exist. I urge state regulators and cannabis companies to take testing very seriously, be proactive and invest in creating better testing infrastructure today. Together, we can protect the health of consumers and create a stronger, more trustworthy and prosperous cannabis industry.

Sports Sponsorships in Cannabis: The Long Legal Road Ahead

By Airina Rodrigues
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If legal cannabis isn’t already a key facet of American culture, it is well on its way. The multibillion-dollar industry is already ubiquitous in politics, and consumers are increasingly seeing various types of marketing from cannabis brands, from billboards to magazine ads to organic content on social media. It may not be long before sports fans see more of their favorite athletes talking up CBD products for pain management or even see a dispensary chain claim naming rights for a stadium.

The next big marketing frontier for cannabis brands is professional sports sponsorships. And in some respects, it makes sense that athletes might be natural brand ambassadors for an industry focused on pain management and mental health relief. But there are obstacles unique to the highly regulated cannabis market that, paired with the already legality-heavy proposition of sponsorship deals, mean a long road ahead. Here are some key considerations for cannabis and CBD brands looking to a future of sports sponsorships.

The Current Climate

Many leagues have already embraced sponsorship deals with CBD brands, from NASCAR to the United Soccer League. The four pillar sports in the U.S.—the National Football League, the National Basketball Association, the National Hockey League and Major League Baseball—have already relaxed their rules and testing protocols related to athletes and cannabis. In 2019, the NFL reached an agreement with the players’ union to study the pain management benefits of cannabis and in 2020, the NFL announced players will no longer be suspended for positive tests and increased the threshold of allowable THC for positive tests. And stars like powerhouse tight-end Rob Gronkowski and former Denver Nuggets Al Harrington in retirement have attached their names to cannabis and CBD brands.

After dismal profits through the COVID-19 pandemic, the “Big Four” sports leagues may want to consider opening an entirely new sponsorship category via cannabis and CBD. Additional pressure might come from athletes themselves, who want alternative treatments for pain and anxiety. As the public looked in from the outside as the MLB negotiated a new collective bargaining agreement and as leagues renegotiate CBAs generally, player pressure could continue to move the needle on league acceptance of cannabis products.

If sports leagues are expecting to allow cannabis sponsorships in the future, they are likely waiting for federal approval for cannabis

As much as this means less stigma for cannabis, it also illustrates the constant fragmentation that makes it difficult for cannabis businesses to operate like other companies. While the NFL, NBA, NHL and MLB have all eased up on players’ use of the substance, they haven’t embraced CBD sponsorships the same way other leagues have and currently won’t allow their athletes to seek CBD or cannabis sponsorship deals as individuals. Piecemeal state legalization, strict advertising rules, enduring federal prohibitions and a lack of FDA approval are the biggest barriers specific to the cannabis industry. And, while the “Big Four” leagues are not signatories to the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) Code, applying their own anti-doping policies, don’t look for cannabis sponsorships or endorsements of Olympic sports or athletes any time soon—WADA prohibits in-competition use of cannabis, although it is conducting a scientific review of the status of cannabis in 2022, indicating a softening may be forthcoming.

Paired with the issues typical to sport sponsorships generally, cannabis companies have much more to consider when seeking sponsorship deals.

Threshold Sports Sponsorships Considerations Relating to Cannabis and CBD 

As a threshold matter, if sports leagues are expecting to allow cannabis sponsorships in the future, they are likely waiting for federal approval for cannabis and specifically, FDA approval for CBD products. The agency decided not to allow companies to market full-spectrum CBD as a dietary supplement in August, and formal guidelines may be years away as medical and scientific data materialize either supporting or negating the health claims. In the meantime, companies and their spokespeople cannot claim certain health benefits in advertising without FDA approval.

Cannabis itself is also still a schedule 1 drug under the federal Controlled Substances Act and has historically been listed among most leagues’ anti-doping bans, although as discussed above, it appears attitudes might be beginning to shift. Even in states where adult use and medical cannabis are legal, taxes are high and advertising rules are incredibly strict. They also vary from market to market. When Connecticut legalized cannabis in 2021, state Attorney General William Tong moved to have all billboards advertising Massachusetts dispensaries removed for violating the state’s cannabis marketing restrictions. With a web of intersecting, and at times conflicting, state regulations at play, national marketing campaigns are highly challenging. The crisscrossing markets on game days and the national exposure of most athletes in the Big Four leagues will likely implicate multiple jurisdictions, and multiple sets of advertising regulations that don’t always mesh. And, even if a policy decision were made to allow some territory-restricted sponsorship deals in the cannabis space, it’s unclear if and how cannabis sponsors could exercise even local broadcasting rights—a key value driver for any sponsorship deal.

Specific Sponsorship Considerations Relating to Cannabis and CBD

In addition to the above, the host of legal and business issues generally applicable to sports sponsorships deals will likely take on a different flavor with respect to cannabis and CBD.

From a commercial perspective, one of the key issues in any sponsorship deal is whether a sponsor will receive exclusive rights in a category. It’s important that sponsors take a critical eye to how a league may have “sliced and diced” that category. For example, a would-be cannabis sponsor may not be expecting a competitor to take up rights in the CBD space. But without close attention to how the sponsorship category is defined, any oversight here could lead to sharing branding space with unwelcome neighbors.

One of the key issues in any sponsorship deal is whether a sponsor will receive exclusive rights in a category.

In highly regulated industry categories such as gambling/casino and sports betting, league policies mandate strict compliance obligations on the part of the sponsor. We should expect to see a similar approach if leagues approve cannabis sponsorships. For example, in gaming and sports betting, league requirements often demand that sponsors notify the team or league of any compliance issues—no matter how nonmaterial, and no matter if they affect any rights or activities in the sponsorship territory. If there are compliance violations, leagues and teams typically demand immediate termination rights. The compliance and disclosure obligations for a highly regulated sponsor can be onerous, and sponsors risk losing their sponsorship investment even for trivial issues that do not bear on the sponsorship. For example, should a minor casino compliance violation in Las Vegas result in termination of a sponsorship deal in New York? Similarly, if a dispensary in Seattle operating under an interstate brand receives a de minimus fine for an inadvertent sale to a minor, should that result in termination of that brand’s sponsorship deal in Colorado? While these types of compliance and termination provisions are typically negotiable to something approximating fairness, look for leagues to take a hard-line stance on compliance issues, and expect that some teams may mandate deal terms that are take it or leave it.

Similarly, leagues and teams often demand strict morals provisions allowing them to terminate if they determine, in their sole discretion, that the sponsor or its activities might cause reputational harm to the team. Although cannabis is rapidly destigmatizing, one might argue that the industry is at least historically aligned with illegality and perhaps inherently aligned with other “sin” industries like gambling, alcohol and tobacco. Teams and leagues know what they are getting into when they accept sponsorship money from these industries, and cannabis sponsors should demand that any such “morals” provisions be exercised by teams only reasonably, in good faith, and with an opportunity for the sponsor to cure any alleged issues.

Further, just like gaming and sports betting operators, cannabis businesses are restricted from marketing to minors. While state laws are a hodge-podge, sales to individuals under the age of 21 are generally prohibited, and cannabis businesses are also generally restricted from marketing to individuals under the age of 21, or even from publishing marketing materials that appeal to children—a subjective standard. These rules, of course, are likely to restrict the type of signage and activation that can occur in stadia. It also poses issues from a digital marketing and data-sharing perspective. Sponsors and teams often negotiate specific activations via social media, websites and email marketing lists. But the parties must keep in mind compliance issues regarding these activations, including taking care to scrub relevant marketing databases of users under the age of 21 and, possibly, “self-excluded” individuals. The gaming industry is familiar with self-exclusion sign-ups, which permit individuals to opt out of relevant marketing and be disallowed from entering gaming establishments. The cannabis industry may not be far behind. In 2020, the Illinois General Assembly introduced HB4134, which if passed would have permitted self-exclusion from targeting mailings, advertising and promotions and from entry into dispensaries. While this bill died, it’s conceivable that we will see efforts to pass similar bills.

Finally, in 2020-21, sponsors, teams and leagues collectively, and regardless of industry, combed through the thorny issues of the COVID-19 pandemic. We can expect to observe a continuing trend of extra scrutiny paid to force majeure and so-called “make good” provisions for missed games or unavailable benefits.

Beyond Compliance: Understanding and Combating Contamination

By Jill Ellsworth MS, RDN, Tess Eidem, Ph.D.
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As an emerging field in cannabis, contaminant testing remains a gray area for many businesses. The vast differences in state-by-state regulations, along with the frequent changes of previously established rules make testing a difficult, time-consuming process. But at its core, the science and reasoning behind why we test cannabis is very clear – consumer safety and quality assurance are key factors in any legal, consumer market. The implications of federal legalization make cannabis testing even more important to the future of the cannabis supply chain. Understanding the types of contaminants, their sources and how to prevent them is essential to avoiding failures, recalls and risking consumer safety.

When talking about cannabis contaminant testing there are four groups of contaminants: pesticides, heavy metals, foreign materials and microbes. The microbes found on cannabis include plant pathogens, post-harvest spoiling microbes, allergens, toxin release and human pathogens. While all of these can be lurking on the surface of cannabis, the specific types that are tested for in each state vary widely. Understanding the full scope of contaminants and looking beyond state-specific compliance requirements, cultivators will be able to prevent these detrimental risks and prepare their business for the future.

Environmental controls are essential to monitor and regulate temperature and humidity

Beyond just the health of the plant, both medical patients and adult use consumers can be adversely affected by microbial contaminants. To immunocompromised patients, Aspergillus can be life-threatening and both adult use and medical consumers are susceptible to allergic reactions to moldy flower. But Aspergillus is just one of the many contaminants that are invisible to the human eye and can live on the plant’s surface. Several states have intensive testing regulations when it comes to the full breadth of possible harmful contaminants. Nevada, for example, has strict microbial testing requirements and, in addition to Aspergillus, the state tests for Salmonella, STEC, Enterobacteriaceae, coliforms and total yeast and mold. Over 15 states test for total yeast and mold and the thresholds vary from allowing less than 100,000 colony forming units to allowing less than 1,000 colony forming units. These microbes are not uncommon appearances on cannabis – in fact, they are ever-present – so understanding them as a whole, beyond regulatory standards is a certain way to future-proof a business. With such vast differences in accepted levels of contamination per state, the best preparation for the future and regulations coming down the pipeline is understanding contamination, addressing it at its source and harvesting disease-free cannabis.

The risk of contamination is present at every stage of the cultivation process and encompasses agricultural practices, manufacturing processes and their intersection. From cultivation to manufacturing, there are factors that can introduce contamination throughout the supply chain. A quality control infrastructure should be employed in a facility and checkpoints within the process to ensure aseptic operations.

Microbial monitoring methods can include frequent/consistent testing

Cultivators should test their raw materials, including growing substrates and nutrient water to ensure it is free of microbial contamination. Air quality plays an important role in the cultivation and post-harvest processes, especially with mold contamination. Environmental controls are essential to monitor and regulate temperature and humidity and ensure unwanted microbes cannot thrive and decrease the value of the product or make it unsafe for worker handling or consumers. Developing SOPs to validate contact surfaces are clean, using proper PPE and optimizing worker flow can all help to prevent cross-contamination and are part of larger quality assurance measures to prevent microbes from spreading across cultivars and harvests.

Methods of microbial examination include air quality surveillance, ATP surface and water monitoring, raw materials testing, and species identification. Keeping control of the environment that product is coming into contact with and employing best practices throughout will minimize the amount of contamination that is present before testing. The solution to avoiding worst case scenarios following an aseptic, quality controlled process is utilizing a safe, post-harvest kill-step, much like the methods used in the food and beverage industries with the oversight of the FDA.

The goal of the grower should be to grow clean and stay clean throughout the shelf life of the product. In order to do this, it is essential to understand the critical control points within the cultivation and post-harvest processes and implement proper kill-steps. However, if a product is heavily bio-burdened, there are methods to recover contaminated product including decontamination, remediation and destroying the product. These measures come with their own strengths and weaknesses and cannot replace the quality assurance programs developed by the manufacturer.

Soapbox

How Fraud is Proliferating in the Cannabis Testing Market

By Cindy Orser, PhD
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With more and more states fully legalizing cannabis for medical and adult use, regulation has become a hot topic for the industry – and it won’t be going away anytime soon. The markets for virtually all cannabis uses (with the exception of industrial hemp, under the Farm Bill) have manifested at the state level without the benefit of federal oversight. One of the biggest consequences of state-based programs has been striking inconsistencies in assuring public safety through the establishment of testing requirements and the licensing of third-party, independent testing laboratories. Establishing legal cannabis programs on a state-by-state basis has been from the ground up. While some states have done a better job than others, it has not been an easy process; one that typically involves adjusting to yearly legislative changes. Third-party independent cannabis testing labs seem like a logical arrangement for public safety and defensibility at the state level given the illegal federal status of cannabis, and while this arrangement has undoubtedly prevented tainted cannabis flower, extracts and products from ending up on dispensary shelves, many caveats from this arrangement have emerged, including fraud.

While most states do require ISO 17025:2017 accreditation, no uniform testing methods nor uniform contaminant testing requirements exist, and they vary considerably. We see this in several examples including the list of pesticides required for screening varying from none to over 66, screening for microbial contaminants varies from a simple presence/absence test for two human pathogens to quantitative enumeration across several enteric and fungal categories and, finally, some states adhere to the American Herbal Pharmacopeia heavy metal limits for herbs, while other states have adopted the more appropriate US Pharmacopeia inhalation limits. Some states require rigorous demonstration of method validation before licensing, while other states hand out preliminary licenses prior to submission and review of validation data packages for each analyte category.

Fraud in laboratory testing facilities is well known in the clinical setting, especially where lucrative Medicare or commercial insurance claims tempt less than honest laboratory managers to falsify results or add tests that were not ordered by a physician costing taxpayers billions of dollars annually. Fraud within cannabis testing labs is not instigated by large insurance payouts but rather by survival within individual markets where competition for clients can be fierce. Cannabis testing fraud ranges from outright collusion of testing labs with growers and producers demanding certificates of analysis (CoAs) with specific, inflated THC numbers to a testing lab handing out sweeping passing marks for contaminants in an attempt to keep clients or steal clients away from a reputable lab not willing to inflate cannabinoid values or pass on the presence of, say, chlorpyrifos, a highly toxic organophosphate pesticide, in extracts or lead in outdoor-grown hemp.

labsphotoCannabis testing labs have had little power to influence state legislators or regulators to improve industry oversight and combat fraud. From the outset of a state cannabis program, the growers and producers are placed in the driver seat. They generate the products that end up in dispensaries and generate sales that create the tax revenue that propels the industry forward. A consequence of this hierarchical arrangement has let the growers decide that the concentration of THC equates with value. This translates to the higher the THC concentration, the higher the price both wholesale and retail. Sadly, this also has been taken to mean better products yet with zero medical justification since we know virtually nothing about THC dosing, save for how our endocannabinoid system functions, which is at the nanomolar range. Now the entire cannabis industry is stuck with this unsubstantiated marketing ploy around THC that no one can now seem to escape. It is as if cigarette makers had decided early on to market their brands by how much nicotine each cigarette contained. You can see how this would have quickly led to toxic levels of nicotine.

Where do we go from here? Placing THC content as the primary valuation of cannabis is not an easy problem to solve, as there is little incentive for change. Fraudulent labs provide higher THC numbers, which increases dollars to the growers/producers and state tax coffers fill up. It’s a multi-point problem that will require a multi-point solution:

  • State regulators could move the focus away from THC by placing limits on the concentration of THC in products, increasing oversight of cannabis testing labs, and requiring unscheduled round-robin testing and annual review of validation data packages.
  • Growers and producers could place a higher emphasis on public safety and education.
  • Ultimately, the solution lies with the cannabis consumer through education and awareness. Cannabis end-users need to familiarize themselves with the testing regulations in their state and understand that higher THC numbers does not mean a better or more effective product. Cannabis consumers also need to understand the product on the market may or may not be tested for microbiological contaminants protecting them from pathogens. In many instances, they are paying for higher THC numbers that are not reflected in the product they just purchased.

Until cannabis is federally legalized and therefore given federal oversight, piecemeal, state-by-state regulation is going to continue. How that regulation protects the American consumer is up to the work of the industry and what we continue to prioritize.

New York Launches Conditional Licensing Program

By Kristin Kowalski, CPA
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Progress and history are being made in New York for adult use cannabis. Recently, Governor Hochul signed an amendment to New York State Cannabis Law which permits the Office of Cannabis Management (OCM) to award conditional licenses to certain adult use cultivators and processors, allowing hemp farmers in New York to grow cannabis in the 2022 growing season. And now, the application period to obtain a conditional license is officially open and available for qualified candidates. New York is moving full speed ahead in the hopes of creating one of the most inclusive adult-use cannabis industries in the nation.

What Does a Conditional License Mean?

With this legislation, New York State is creating a new conditional adult use cannabis cultivator license, allowing hemp farmers to grow cannabis in the 2022 growing season – helping to fast-track the state’s adult-use cannabis program. Under the law, conditionally licensed cannabis farmers must meet certain requirements, including safe, sustainable and environmentally friendly cultivation practices.

Highlights of the Bill & Legislation

Industrial Hemp First

To qualify for an adult use cannabis conditional cultivator license, only companies and individuals currently licensed with the state for cultivation or processing of industrial hemp can apply for the conditional licenses. Applicants must have been an authorized industrial hemp research partner for the Department of Agriculture and Markets, and industrial hemp cultivators must have grown and harvested the crop during at least two of the past four years.

Growing Locations

Licensed cultivators will be authorized to grow indoors, outdoors, or a combination of both, subject to space and lighting limitations in the law. With a conditional adult use cannabis cultivation license, farmers can grow outdoors or in a greenhouse for up to two years from the issuance of the license. It also allows them to manufacture and distribute cannabis flower products without holding an adult use processor or distributor license, until June 1, 2023.

Expanding Abilities with License

Conditional licensees will have temporary authority to conduct additional activities not included in their license. Cultivators are allowed to both minimally process and distribute flower, and processors can distribute their products.

Requirements of Conditional License

Hemp farmers in New York could be licensed to grow cannabis for the 2022 growing season.

As listed in the bill, conditional licensees must abide by all regulations, including those issued after receipt of the license. Applicants must also participate in a soon to-be-developed mentoring program for individuals interested in joining the industry through the social equity component of the Marijuana Regulation & Taxation Act, as well as actively participate in an environmental sustainability program. And lastly, applicants must begin operations within six months of receiving their license, and grant OCM employees’ access to the premises for inspections to ensure all rules are being followed.

Future Outlook on Cannabis Industry in New York

With the opening of the application portal for conditional licenses, this advances the Governor’s first-in-the-nation Seeding Opportunity Initiative, which positions individuals with prior cannabis-related criminal offenses to make the first adult use cannabis sales with products grown by New York hemp farmers. While this news is a positive step, there remain many unknowns about how the conditional licensing process will unfold. Applications can be filed with the OCM for Conditional Cultivator Licenses through June 30, 2022, with a $2,000 non-refundable application and licensing fee. For hopeful applicants, gathering a team of professional advisors to plan for the application process and operating an adult-use business is essential. Consulting with an accounting team or financial advisors from a tax standpoint, will be critical to establish systems and controls to maintain separate accounting records for your industrial hemp and adult use activities.

Cresco Labs To Acquire Columbia Care

By Cannabis Industry Journal Staff
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According to a press release published last week, Cresco Labs has come to an agreement with Columbia Care Inc. to acquire the company. The $2 billion deal, expected to close in the fourth quarter of 2022, will create the largest multi-state operator (MSO) in the country by pro-forma revenue.

Cresco Labs is already one of the country’s largest MSOs with roots in Illinois. With a footprint covering a lot of the United States, their brands include Cresco, High Supply, Mindy’s Edibles, Good News, Remedi, Wonder Wellness Co. and FloraCal Farms.

Columbia Care is also one of the largest cannabis companies in the US, with licenses in 18 jurisdictions and the EU. They currently operate 99 dispensaries and 32 cultivation and manufacturing facilities. Their brands include Seed & Strain, Triple Seven, gLeaf, Classix, Press, Amber and Platinum Label CBD.

Under the agreement, shareholders with Columbia Care will receive 0.5579 of subordinate voting share in Cresco for each common share they hold. Columbia Care shareholders will hold approximately 35% of the pro forma Cresco Labs Shares once the deal goes into effect.

Coming out of the deal, Cresco’s total revenue will hit $1.4 billion, making it the largest MSO in the country. Their footprint will reach 130 retail dispensaries across 18 different markets. The companies already have the largest market share in Illinois, Pennsylvania, Colorado and Virginia and are of the top three market shares in New York, New Jersey and Florida, which gives them unique opportunities to capitalize on emerging adult use markets.

Charles Bachtell, CEO of Cresco Labs, says the deal is very complementary and they are excited about long-term growth and diversification. “This acquisition brings together two of the leading operators in the industry, pairing a leading footprint with proven operational, brand and competitive excellence,” says Bachtell. “The combination of Cresco Labs and Columbia Care accelerates our journey to become the leader in cannabis in a way no other potential transaction could. We look forward to welcoming the incredible Columbia Care team to the Cresco Labs family. I couldn’t be more excited about this enhanced platform and how it furthers the Cresco Labs Vision – to be the most important and impactful company in cannabis.”