Tag Archives: consumer

Challenges Abound for Cannabis Industry Growth in 2023

By Jay Virdi
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With an adverse regulatory environment, labor shortages, supply chain disruptions and the always-present threat of property damage and product recalls, cannabis operators are fighting an uphill battle to stay viable in today’s environment.

According to Politico, more than 20 of the largest publicly-traded cannabis companies lost about $550 million on revenues of nearly $4.5 billion in the first half of 2022. High taxes and barriers to interstate commerce continue to challenge the industry as well, while lenders and investors are demanding more detailed proof of future profitability. Those pursuing new capital must show how they will grow financially and present their risk management strategy for insuring themselves against losses.

Higher costs for fertilizer, building materials, packaging and more, along with rising inflation are hurting the industry’s bottom line as well, but the industry is hesitant to raise prices.

These challenges are expected to continue in 2023. However, the industry’s fast pace of growth, myriad opportunities for product development and increased access to insurance capacity offers the cannabis industry every reason for optimism.

Prioritize risk strategies

Cannabis facilities face hazards from the very components and systems required to cultivate plants, including high intensity discharge lighting, chemical exposures and butane in oil extractions. As a condition of insuring a property, underwriters are inspecting the equipment used in production and fire suppression systems.

Property policies typically don’t cover out-buildings for cannabis growers located near a hurricane or wildfire zone, and more carriers are limiting or excluding coverage for losses from large-scale natural disasters. Even coverage for crop losses from catastrophic events is limited and often prohibitively expensive.

Cannabis companies are shoring up their risk strategies and analyzing policies to ensure they’re aware of any gaps in coverage and planning how to address them. This includes adding cyber insurance, as cyber also remains a significant loss-driver in the industry.

Beware of new risks

The cannabis industry is introducing products to the market at a breakneck pace, causing new challenges to emerge. New products — such as THC-infused beverages, sugar-free cannabis tarts and cannabinoid-containing baking staples— require additional research and development for extraction, packaging, storage and distribution. And many products require refrigeration and bottling, adding complexity to distribution.

The continued growth of the cannabis edibles and beverages market is also driving companies to create new formulas, products, and strengths. But this innovation does add risk. States issued dozens of recalls in 2022 for marijuana edibles, including mislabeling and mold and salmonella contamination. These incidents have attracted the attention of plaintiffs’ attorneys, who have filed suits on behalf of consumers claiming injury from these mislabeled or contaminated products.

Invest in your staff

Although the number of jobs in the cannabis industry grew 33% between 2021 and 2022, and the need for new workers shows no signs of slowing, cannabis companies are experiencing high turnover rates and a skilled labor shortage. This is forcing operators to spend additional time and money to attract and retain employees.

Personalized benefits programs offer a partial answer. Personalizing benefits to meet individual employee needs results in positive employee experiences, helping build a workplace that attracts and retains workers. Many companies are adding health insurance and offering 401(k) plans, raising wages and adopting other worker-friendly practices to attract and retain workers.

control the room environment

Cannabis companies with solid risk management plans and advisors to help ensure their insurance policies cover exposures, will be well-positioned to overcome industry challenges, grow, and succeed in 2023. Here are four considerations to help develop a tailored strategy that will protect your bottom line, support your workforce, and build resiliency next year.

  1. Be transparent with your broker. Let your broker know what changes you’ve made to the business, so there are no surprises during renewal. Review exposures and insurance needs at least 90 days prior to policy renewal, so your broker can identify the best options.
  2. Prepare for a product recall. The odds of experiencing a product recall are high. Your first line of defense is your internal policies and procedures, and that includes thoroughly vetting your vendors and partners. Be thoughtful about the general liability and product liability coverage you purchase and ask your broker to clearly explain the differences in coverage.  
  3. Build resiliency within your company. With more carriers offering specialty coverages for the cannabis industry, now is the time to look at how best to protect your executives and build resiliency by insuring against director and officer liability claims, business interruptions and cyberattacks. Your broker can help identify the best policies for your company.
  4. Establish solid employee benefits. The cannabis industry can have access to the same benefits as other industries, including 401(k) plans. Talk to your broker about taking your benefits program to the next level with highly personalized options that won’t break your budget.

Even amidst the challenges, there is every reason for optimism in the new year because of the industry’s fast pace of growth, myriad opportunities for product development and increased access to insurance capacity.

soslticefarms_feb

Addressing Cannabis Price Compression With Science

By Mark Doherty
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soslticefarms_feb

Cannabis cultivators across the U.S. are confronting plummeting wholesale prices and tighter profit margins. Operators in Pennsylvania say flower prices have fallen from around $4,000 a pound to around $3,000, on average, and prices in the more mature markets of California, Oregon and Colorado have experienced extreme volatility. Prices in those states are averaging around $700 per pound but of course, that’s an average. There are whispers that prices are as low as $150, revealing how bad the situation really is.

Oversaturation of legal cannabis affects commercial growers everywhere. For example, when Oklahoma opened its free-wheeling medical cannabis program with unlimited business licenses, the pipeline of cannabis from legacy markets in California was disrupted and a glut of flower from the gray market began to influence pricing within the state’s legal market. Although cannabis is not federally legal and interstate commerce is banned, what happens in one state definitely affects what happens in another.

Competition in legal markets has also increased dramatically in recent years as multistate operators expand their footprint and consolidation proliferates. Vertically integrated cultivation, manufacturing and retail is becoming unsustainable for many mom-and-pop businesses, while MSOs can leverage their cash and resources to weather the current storm.

Economic Viability Meets High Quality Production

All of this news is not necessarily negative, but it’s a definite cautionary tale: Being complacent opens opportunities for others. Growing cannabis is complex. It is working with a living and breathing machine. Some businesses fail because operators are not able to find the perfect blend of horticulture, plant science and manufacturing efficiency necessary for success. Some see it simply as a manufacturing concern, others a scientific endeavor, and still others as an artform. An understanding of growing cannabis as a blend of all three is paramount.

Just like the LED evolution, other new cultivation technology is here to stay and should not be brushed off as just experimental

Squeezing more high-quality product out of existing facilities is essential. Costs for labor and electricity are relatively fixed, so operators must turn to technology to improve yield, quality, consistency and plant health without increasing operating expenses.

Over the years, growers have often resisted change surrounding what they view as “the way” or “the best,” but with the industry in such distress, the time is now to address facility inefficiencies.

Much like the evolution of LED use, there might be an initial skepticism at the cost and real value of new cultivation technology, but the economics are too compelling to ignore. The majority of all indoor grows now use LED. The progression from single-ended bulbs, to double-ended HPS, to LED is analogous to plants on the floor of a grow facility, to rolltop benches, and now to vertical farming using racks.

Vertical Cultivation Science

Crop steering applies plant science directly to commercial production. The methodology is based on the idea that plants can be manipulated to grow and perform a certain way. For cannabis plants, the science really comes into play with inter-canopy airflow.

When airflow occurs under the surface of the leaf of the plant, the stomata opens and gas exchange increases as water vapor and oxygen are released and carbon dioxide is absorbed. The micro-barrier of air trapped against the leaves is broken and the exchange of gasses and energy in the cultivation environment is improved, enabling the entire grow to increase its yield. And while CO2 supplementation is widely used and has been for years with positive effect, the under-canopy airflow provides greater efficiency relative to the operating expense of pumping CO2 into the grow room. Money can be saved by applying science to encourage the plant to uptake the extra CO2 that has been naturally released.

Proper Drainage Is Also Key

Controlling the space with proper drainage will keep a host of problems at bay

Drainage issues like the puddling of water in vertical farming are detrimental to the efficiency of a cultivation facility. Even when growers use precision irrigation techniques to give the plants pinpointed irrigation volumes over different time periods, rack systems can still suffer from drainage issues. That means that affected plants are not receiving the precision irrigation strategy and the entire purpose of the scientific application is defeated.

Precise drainage is critical because standing water opens the door to root born disease, pests, and microbial issues. Spray regimes can address this problem, but they cost money. The key is to reduce dependency on mitigation efforts by better controlling the agricultural space and improving outcomes with a scientifically approached plan.

Greenhouses, warehouses and vertical farming facilities all have potential environmental issues that reduce their economic viability, but with proper vertical air movement, drainage equipment and an understanding of microclimates and how to address them scientifically, efficiency and product quality are enhanced.

Time to Embrace Change

As with any industry, there is resistance to adopting new technology in cannabis cultivation. The original and legacy players will always claim they know how to best grow their plants, but the reality is that the business needs must be addressed.

As canopies increase within a facility, advancements like robotics, LEDs and advanced airflow technology define how the industry operates and continues to improve. Efficiency keeps business alive—cannabis growers must continually assess their operations and make the capital investments that will pay off as wholesale prices continue to decline.

The 3-Legged Stool of Successful Grow Operations: Climate, Cultivation & Genetics – Part 1

By Chris Wrenn, Phil Gibson
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Ideal cannabis profits come from high demand/high selling prices and low production costs. The spread between those two, or margin, can determine the life or death of your business. We want to share this series of articles so that your next investment can be highly successful and high margin out-of-the-box.

Regardless of the grow method (soil, coco, rockwool, hydro or aero), every plant performs best in its own ideal environmental conditions. Experienced growers gained success through hard work, and just that, experience. Many have tried more advanced grow technologies, but shied away due to early trial failures or the complexity of maintaining chemistry across a grow facility. The wonderful thing now is that precision sensors and software controls eliminate the risk to robust healthy plants and harvest success. Growers are now able to both manage production while performing research in line with their operations.

We have learned a great deal working with our grow partners over the last 6 years. Every grow facility and location are different due to local weather, business environment and scale. This series of articles and guide, authored by our expert, Christopher Wrenn, will include recommendations of the most successful approaches we have seen here in North America and all over the world.

A 4-Layer fully aeroponic flower room using movable racking systems

Building top-quality cultivation facilities is no simple task. Cultivators are also looking for new help as they shift from older soil or media approaches to more efficient grow methods. One powerful method is aeroponics, which is very good at growing any type of plant in air in a sterile environment, with labor, nutrient and water savings.

Where possible, we will share key vendors that support healthy grow operations and (since it is World Series Time), customer examples that are knocking it out of the park. In today’s competitive business environment, it is critical to do what we can to increase profitability and survival in the face of steep headwinds. We want you to crush it and be “the last man standing.”

So, let’s get to it.

Climate: Environmental Control

We begin with a critical leg in your environment. The process of photosynthesis is more than just light, plant and moisture. We want to do more than just grow plants. We want to grow highly profitable plants. That means we have to accelerate photosynthesis so we are growing faster, bigger and more potent than our competitors.

The Vapor Pressure Deficit (VPD) is the amount of “drying power” available in the air surrounding your plants. This is a useful way to understand the amount of moisture your atmosphere can remove from your plants as they digest carbon dioxide and aspirate water and oxygen into the air around your plants. A higher vapor deficit is a good thing for growth; It is also a measurement of how much nutrient you can uptake into the plant roots and convert into size and potency in the canopy. We recommend that you have resources in your grow rooms to maintain your environment to within 5% of both your humidity and temperature targets for ideal results.

Onyx Agronomics is a Tier 3 indoor cultivator in the State of Washington. This is the canopy in one of their 8 flower rooms.

In our Top Quality Cultivation Facility white paper, we review environmental settings for temperature and humidity for mother, clone/veg and flower rooms for day and night light cycles from early cuttings through to end of harvest flush. Day temperatures can be up to 20% higher than night temperatures for example.

Cooling

Managing temperature may seem straight-forward but the heat generated by LED lights, HPS lights or the sun will vary across rooms, time exposure and with the distance of the light source from the plants. Measurement sensors should be distributed across rooms to monitor and trigger temperature resources.

Humidification/Dehumidification

This is a topic that can be underappreciated by cultivators. It is important to slowly transition humidity as you move plants from cuttings to clones, to veg and to flower. Beginning in a very humid stage to motivate root start, humidity will be stepped down from an opening near 90% down to an arid 50% in your end of flush flower rooms. We detail the transitions in 5% increments in the white paper.

The 4-Layer aeroponic flower room with movable racking systems from the side with a tall human for scale. One can do a lot with 30′ ceilings.

Relative Humidity (RH) and the related VPD are the key metrics to accelerating growth throughout the stages. Not sizing dehumidifiers correctly is one of the most common mistakes our grow partners learn about as they move to full production. In the first phase of turning cuttings from healthy mothers into rooted clones, hitting your target VPD to motivate root growth is the number one success factor. This will require the addition of humidity into your clone room. It is also typical to require raise the humidity of your flower rooms when you transition clone/veg plants from the high humidity clone/veg room into an initially dry flower room, otherwise the plants may go into shock as a result of the dramatic change.

As flowering begins, if humidity remains high, and the VPD is below target, the plants will not be moving nutrients and transpiring moisture. We have seen lowering the humidity from 70% in a flower room down to 50%, results in a yield increase from 50 grams to 90 grams of dry trim bud per plant, so a smooth transition can both accelerate growth and have a big impact on your margins and profitability.

Plants in aeroponics can truly have explosive growth. This means that they will also transpire moisture at an accelerated rate. Fast automated growth in aeroponics means increased humidity output. Sizing these critical systems for humidification/dehumidification are a critical part of the design process.

Airflow

Fans combined with your cooling/heating/humidity/dehu systems need to mix the air in a room to break the boundary layer at the leaf surface for transpiration. As we covered, VPD is critical to growth success. A dry surface motivates the plants to transpire moisture. We recommend flow rates across the canopy in a 0.5-1.5 meter/second rate to align to your genetics and where you are in the flowering process.

A raw facility before it gets outfitted.

Airflow and flowering means rich beautiful aromas are generated. Every facility has to consider odor control. If you are in a populated area, you will have ordinances and neighbors to satisfy. The best way to do this is to minimize the amount of air that exits a facility. This is also the cheapest approach.

Sterile HEPA filters and scrubbing systems clean air of pathogens and odor but they also need to circulate and “condition” air to the correct temperature and humidity levels before it can be recirculated into a room. Oftentimes, this is a good place to also recapture humidity and reinject it into your pure water cleaning systems.

Key vendors to talk to about sizing air treatment systems are SURNA, Quest, Desert Aire and AGS. Each of these vendors have specialties and tend to be superior partners in different regions of the world. We would be happy to introduce you to excellent support resources for air management systems.

To download the complete guide and get to the beef quickly, please request the complete white paper Top Quality Cultivation Facilities here.

Click here to see Part 2 where we discuss water quality and management.

Brooke Butler, Simplifya
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Five Reasons Everyone in Cannabis Should be Using RegTech

By Brooke Butler
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Brooke Butler, Simplifya

As the cannabis industry continues to grow, regulations will only get more onerous and complex, and enforcement will ramp up. In order to survive, it’s imperative for cannabis business owners and the ancillary companies that support them – such as banks, insurance agencies, law firms and marketers – to keep on top of regulations.

Due to cannabis’ fractured regulatory environment, confounding state and local laws, and the fact that regulations are constantly changing, keeping track of it all can nearly seem impossible at times. But companies don’t need to reinvent the wheel and handle compliance on their own.

There are a host of tools on the market today that can help cannabis related businesses (CRBs) streamline their operations. RegTech solutions can drastically reduce the challenges of navigating compliance, saving companies significant time and money so they can focus on their core competencies. Here, let’s take a look at five of the main reasons everyone in the cannabis ecosystem should seriously consider adopting RegTech solutions today.

1. Simplify the Complex

The heart of RegTech solutions is taking out the guesswork when tackling compliance while mitigating risk. Besides there being a vast number of regulations that vary by state, they’re also not easy to understand – they’re really written for lawyers, can be hundreds of pages long, and don’t offer implementation guidance. Thankfully through RegTech, operators and ancillary companies are alerted when regulations change and are given easy-to-follow implementation and remediation guidelines that can be as easy as checking a box.

Beyond just simplifying compliance, RegTech can substantially increase operational efficiency.

As the cannabis industry has been rapidly growing and maturing, we’ve been seeing a major uptick in M&A activity – M&A activity tripled in the sector from 2020 to 2021 – and with each new state a company enters, comes a host of new regulatory challenges. When expanding to a new state, RegTech solutions provide updates in real time, making sure, for example when you expand to Ohio, it’s not at the expense of complying with regulations in your core market of Illinois. Also, from an operations strategy perspective, RegTech solutions can be incredibly useful in helping companies decide what markets to pursue, as they can offer regulatory snapshots that compare tax laws, average margins, consumer segments, product stipulations, marketing restrictions and more. Thus besides simplifying compliance, RegTech can substantially increase operational efficiency.

Since cannabis is such a highly regulated industry, there are a ton of documents an operator has to keep on hand and be able to produce in a moment’s notice. Through RegTech, operators can store and organize all documents that are applicable to them electronically. So, when an inspector comes into a dispensary for a surprise inspection, rather than sweating bullets and digging through six filing cabinets trying to locate say a visitor log from three years ago, using RegTech a manager can quickly search records electronically, download and print the needed document, pass the inspection and go back to work.

2. Save Costs by Streamlining Compliance

While adopting RegTech solutions has a cost, the cost savings companies yield from RegTech way exceed the investment. RegTech providers have teams of dedicated analysts constantly tracking regulations and providing updates, making it so companies don’t need to hire much more costly lawyers to track regulations and amend policies and procedures. Rather, they can tap into RegTech solutions and leverage decades of experience and lean on the best regulatory experts in the field, while saving a lot of money.

RegTech providers have teams of dedicated analysts constantly tracking regulations and providing updates,

Just to give a small example of the cost savings RegTech can provide, on average a CRB spends over $20,000 to produce a new SOP package when using an attorney and nearly $8,000 when updating an SOP package using an attorney. Compare that to Simplifya’s fully customizable SOP package, where a CRB spends on average less than $1,600 to produce a new SOP package and less than $650 to update an SOP package – a 92% savings.

When considering costs, it’s important to think holistically and anticipate potential problems that could come up. One of the biggest pain points for companies starting up operations or entering new markets is complying with confusing tax codes – no industry is taxed to the degree cannabis is, and it’s easy to lose sight of tax obligations when planning operations. Unanticipated withholding requirements can create serious cash flow problems. RegTech solutions clearly outline requirements, as well as track updates, which help companies plan operations and expansion plans and prevent nasty tax surprises from creeping up, and they’re a much cheaper alternative to hiring tax lawyers.

While there are tremendous growth opportunities in cannabis, the industry is also facing significant headwinds, including the high cost of capital, supply and demand misalignments, and shrinking margins, and as we head towards recession, cost efficiency will become more and more important. Not only can RegTech help companies survive by helping ensure they stay compliant and don’t get fined or even shut down for breaching regulations, they also help companies run more efficiently and save major costs on operations.

3. Hold Your Employees Accountable

In addition to using RegTech to stay on top of compliance, it can be a powerful HR tool as well. Companies can utilize RegTech platforms to make and track assignments and tasks for employees. If you’ve already spent the time and money to create SOPs, RegTech tools are essential to making sure they’re actually being followed correctly. 

As many cannabis companies are expanding rapidly and bringing new employees into their fold – particularly those that are engaging in M&A – it can be difficult to get employees up to speed and following SOPs. RegTech automation and tracking solutions help flatten the learning curve and ensure employees are completing tasks on time, boosting efficiency and preventing problems that may arise – and if problems do arise, the tools help pinpoint where and when for efficient remediation. And if you’re an MSO or a SSO with multiple locations, RegTech allows employers to keep track of their dispersed employees without having to be in 10 places at once. This holds employees accountable for their actions for smooth operations while reducing growing pains.

4. Identify Issues Before They Become an Issue

The most compelling reason for having strict regulations in the cannabis industry in the first place is to protect consumer and patient health. Given the long, brutal history of cannabis prohibition, where lies and misconceptions about cannabis consumption being “dangerous” were perpetuated in the mainstream, the last thing the industry needs is people consuming products that are in any way contaminated. If you skirt the rules and manage to put out compromised products without a regulator catching and dinging you first, consumers may get sick. This can lead to a recall and tarnish a brand’s reputation. Competition is steep in this industry and even one incident can be irrecoverable. If consumers have reason to believe you’re not putting out consistent, safe products, they’ll buy from your competitor instead.

RegTech helps companies track all processes and procedures so that they can spot problems before they occur and ensure nothing dangerous makes its way to the public, which in turn shields brand reputation. Also, it’s important to note – in the cannabis ecosystem, every company you work with has to be licensed. If you work with an entity that’s not, you are very liable. Tracking licensing information is burdensome, especially for retailers and ancillary businesses like lenders and insurers who work with many vendors. Luckly, RegTech providers have already done the heavy lifting, pulling APIs into state databases and creating tracking systems of licenses that make it easy for companies to ensure every entity they work with is operating with a valid license. This saves companies from having to hire people to track licensing information on a weekly or even daily basis, which can be very costly, and more importantly, keeps them compliant and prevents slip ups that could jeopardize consumer and patient health. 

5. Looking Towards the Future, Regulations will Only Become more Complex – Only the Compliant Will Survive

A common misconception people have about the cannabis industry is thinking that federal policies like SAFE banking will be a catch-all to their banking woes, opening up the floodgate to institutional investment. The fact of the matter is, however, SAFE banking would be ineffective without RegTech. Cannabis companies need to demonstrate reliability and a history of compliance in order to attract investors and accumulate capital, and they do this through using RegTech platforms. Conversely, financial institutions also use RegTech to verify licenses, ensure legitimacy and assess lending risks based on the locations in which their borrowers operate. After SAFE banking is finally enacted, since larger institutional investors have so much on the line, they’re going to be particularly careful and only invest in those companies that can comprehensively demonstrate a history of compliance. This will also be the case for major CPG companies looking to acquire cannabis companies – they’ll want companies that have used RegTech to show compliance and optimize operations, since those companies will be more trustworthy and transitioning them under new management will be easier. In every major industry other than cannabis, RegTech solutions have been adapted. This is where cannabis is headed, and the companies that adopt solutions and demonstrate compliance will come out ahead.

Cannabis companies need to demonstrate reliability and a history of compliance in order to attract investors and accumulate capital

The other major misconception some people have about the cannabis industry is that once cannabis is legalized on a federal level, state and local regulations will somehow just go away, so current RegTech solutions may become ‘obsolete.’ This couldn’t be further from the truth. In no world is there going to a federal legalization system that says states can no longer create their own rules around cannabis. Think about the alcohol or gambling industries. Alcohol and gambling are federally legal, but every state – and even some counties and cities within those states – can have very different rules. Federal legalization will just mean additional regulations will be piled on and thus RegTech will only become more important.

While many companies in the cannabis space have already adopted RegTech solutions, there are still many others that have taken a reactive rather than proactive approach towards compliance. When major legislation like SAFE banking or federal legalization is approved, there will be a paradigm shift and RegTech will be deemed more essential quickly. Those who have implemented RegTech will have distinct advantages. To survive and thrive in the industry going forward, it’s prudent to proactively handle compliance and adopt RegTech solutions today.

Scenes From The 2022 Cannabis Quality Conference & Expo

By Cannabis Industry Journal Staff
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PARSIPPANY, NJ, October 17-19, 2022 – The Cannabis Quality Conference & Expo (CQC) took place in New Jersey last week. The agenda featured three tracks of educational talks, panel discussions, keynotes and breakout sessions.

Highlights from the 2022 CQC

At this year’s event, the conference featured three different keynote presentations, each on different days as well as Lunch & Learn sessions, led by Matthew Anderson, CEO of Vanguard Scientific. He sat down with two experts in cannabis law for interviews during the lunch hour on Tuesday, October 18.

Investigations & Enforcement: A Former Federal Prosecutor’s Perspective

  • Matthew Anderson spoke with Barak Cohen, Chair of the Cannabis Industry Group at Perkins Coie, to discuss federal investigations, Justice Department prosecutions and white-collar offenses.

Compliance is Key: Best Practices for Your New Jersey Cannabis Business

  • Anderson interviewed Casey Leaver, Director of Regulatory Compliance at Vicente Sederberg, to discuss compliance culture, quality controls, New Jersey regulations and more.
Commissioner Maria Del-Cid Kosso takes the stage on Monday

The conference began on October 17 with a keynote presentation led by Commissioner Maria Del Cid-Kosso of the New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory Commission. Commissioner Del Cid-Kosso highlighted the progress the state has made so far with respect to cannabis legalization as well as their goals for the future of the state’s new market.

On the second day of the CQC, Toi Hutchinson, President & CEO of The Marijuana Policy Project, kicked things off with an inspiring keynote discussion where she discussed racial disparities in the industry, social equity, progress and reform efforts.

What People Are Saying About The 2022 CQC

Below are some testimonials we found from this year’s event:

Toi Hutchinson delivers her keynote presentation on Tuesday

“What set the Cannabis Quality Conference apart from many others was the intentionality and focus on high value substance from the presentations.”

“Once again, excellent panels today at the CQC here in Jersey! Have I mentioned how much I love to learn? This industry is forever evolving and being able to observe and watch it roll out from infancy in New Jersey has been tremendous.”

“What an informative and motivating event!”

“I feel fortunate to have been in attendance for such inspiring, informative and REAL discussions being had by industry experts from all across the country.”

“It was so great to listen, meet and speak with so many industry influencers!”

Coming Soon For 2023

After a successful event in New Jersey, the conference begins its planning for next year. The Cannabis Quality Conference & Expo will be returning to New Jersey in 2023. Stay tuned for important announcements, like the dates and location, coming soon.

Scenes From The 2022 CQC

Below are some snapshots of what this year’s CQC had to offer.

About Cannabis Industry Journal

Cannabis Industry Journal is a digital media community for cannabis industry professionals. We inform, educate and connect cannabis growers, extractors, processors, infused products manufacturers, dispensaries, laboratories, suppliers, vendors and regulators with original, in-depth features and reports, curated industry news and user-contributed content, and live and virtual events that offer knowledge, perspectives, strategies and resources to facilitate an informed, legalized and safe cannabis marketplace.

About the Cannabis Quality Conference & Expo

The Cannabis Quality Conference & Expo is an educational and networking event for the cannabis industry that has cannabis safety, quality and regulatory compliance as the foundation of the educational content of the program. With a unique focus on science, technology, safety and compliance, the “CQC” enables attendees to engage in conversations that are critical for advancing careers and organizations alike. Delegates visit with exhibitors to learn about cutting-edge solutions, explore three high-level educational tracks for learning valuable industry trends, and network with industry executives to find solutions to improve quality, efficiency and cost effectiveness in the evolving cannabis industry.

ASTM Debuts New Standards for Cannabis

By Cannabis Industry Journal Staff
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Earlier this month, ASTM International announced that the D37 cannabis committee has approved four new standards for the cannabis industry. Just a few days ago, the same organization announced the development of a new standard that will be published soon.

According to a press release, the four new standards that are already approved will help those working in the cannabis space, as well as regulators and consumers. The four new approved standards are as follows:

  • D8375: This standard provides a method to establish cannabinoid content in cannabis and hemp samples. ASTM member Garnet McRae says, “the standard will help ensure products are labeled properly in jurisdictions where they are legally produced and sold.”
  • D8399: This standard “will aid laboratories in analyzing cannabis and hemp samples to establish pesticide concentration levels – or lack thereof – to ensure products meet regulatory requirements within appropriate jurisdictions,” reads the press release.
  • D8442: This standard aids stakeholders in the cannabis supply chain with quality control measurements. It provides a method for testing terpenes and cannabinoid levels using gas chromatography.
  • D8469: This one provides a new metals testing method for cannabis using inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry (ICP-MS).

David Vaillencourt will be discussing standards and more at the Cannabis Quality Conference on October 17. The fifth standard that ASTM International announced this week is D8439. This one is designed “to support sound and reproducible research” by providing specifications for medicinal-use cannabis flower. ASTM member David Vaillencourt says it will help establish consistent testing for safety and quality. “With a fragmented cannabis industry marketplace, there is no common set of requirements around reporting cannabinoids and terpenes, which are the primary constituents that are linked to therapeutic benefits,” says Vaillencourt. “This lack of consistency harms public health and prevents evaluation of product safety and efficacy across jurisdictions. This standard provides a solution to this problem.”

3 Ways to Increase Cannabis Market Accessibility via Diversity

By Dale Sky Jones
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Entrance into the cannabis industry is not equally accessible; it’s no secret it tends to be easier for those who are male and white. As a business leader, why should you take on the problem of equal market entrance opportunities? This just may become your company’s competitive advantage.

As a female entrepreneur with a first name associated with being male (and white, maybe a rancher in Wyoming), I have been accidentally invited to and witnessed the consequential shock of more than one exclusive, male-centric event, where any ladies were intended to be accessories and not present for business-talk with the boys. After enjoying their discomfort (and getting over my own), I see these moments as opportunities to advocate for inviting diversity into their discussion, seeking to make small changes to open doors for exponential progress. After all, it wasn’t so bad to have invited the woman, albeit accidentally; it was actually better because it happened.

In a dynamic and challenging industry, increasing diversity access is how to become future-ready. As will be discussed, companies see measurable financial performance and adaptability improvements with relatively small changes in leadership makeup. Here are three overarching tactics for you to increase cannabis market accessibility and champion diversity.

  1. Facilitate Access to Capital for Cannabusinesses with Diverse Perspectives

The past two years of pandemic hardship have posed unique challenges for women, especially Black, Latina, and Indigenous women, who have had to put careers on pause to pick up additional heavy burdens of caregiving. Women’s unemployment is four times higher than men’s, and according to Forbes, the situation is worse for women of color.

Overall deal activity for female-founded companies is discouraging and downright dismal for Black female founders, who receive less than 1% of all venture capital investment. This is particularly vexing when considering that women-led or co-founded start-ups generated 78 cents of revenue compared to 31 cents for male-only-led startups over five years. EBIT margins were nine percentage points higher than companies with below-average diversity on their management teams. Relatively small changes exponentially improve operating earnings over operating sales.

Relatively small changes exponentially improve operating earnings over operating sales. 

It’s always been difficult for women to access capital. Women have historically been cordoned into home-keeping and caregiving roles and are often still expected to balance those capacities alongside a full-time career. Accordingly, female entrepreneurs receive fewer invitations to extra-work events and business relationship-building opportunities, such as pursuing financing, mergers, or joint ventures.

Companies with diverse leadership teams have reported nearly twenty percent higher revenue from innovation. Investors would do well to recognize these are the businesses better able to respond and adapt to changes in customer demand quickly.

  1. Increase Diversity Awareness and Facilitate Equal Opportunity

While financial investments are imperative, consider the following non-pecuniary methods of support as part of a full-picture, equitable accessibility solution.

Invite Activity, Provide Mentorship

Businesspeople can play a critical role in accelerating inclusion by actively seeking out people they do not already know. Employers can do this through the non-financial investment of time and resources to grow the pipeline of underrepresented people with skills to serve on investment teams. When under-invested groups bolster one another, the likelihood that investment pans out increases.

Mentoring must be a part of this process, as it provides essential guidance and support for individuals looking to enter or advance within these fields. By creating opportunities for mentorship and collaboration, you can play an active role in breaking down barriers and building a more inclusive economy for everyone.

Open the Door to Accessing Opportunities

Businesses can increase diversity awareness and facilitate equal entry into the cannabis industry by opening the door to events that help connect underrepresented candidates to professional development and capital.

Hosting free webinars is a great way to facilitate learning, conversation, and the exchange of empowering ideas. Webinars allow attendees to ask personalized questions and present your business with a stage from which you can speak about the importance of equity and inclusion.

Consider attending, sponsoring, or running a job fair with a focus on diversity hiring. Diversity hiring practices help businesses identify qualified candidates from different backgrounds, leading to a less homogenous workforce.

Make Continued Education Central

As the President of Oaksterdam University, I see firsthand the importance and empowering quality of ongoing education. I also recognize that not everyone can afford or receives equal access to continued education and accordingly offer this advice to help bolster equitable educational opportunities.

Make partnerships with educational institutions to offer your workforce chances to learn, and ensure they have paid working time to do so. If you can reduce the burden of learning for candidates with extra-work responsibilities, they have a greater chance of absorbing and putting that information into practice. If you have an employee with an incredible entrepreneurial idea, boost them up by offering to pay for a capital-raising class or a fundamental business course they may not be able to afford otherwise.

No one solution will “fix” equal access to education. Every step from open-source databases and free webinars to full college degrees is an incremental movement toward increased cannabis industry participation for traditionally disadvantaged populations.

  1. Realize Social Equity Programs Are Not a Catch-All

Rather than focusing on any one aspect of diversity, the goal should be to invest in and build diverse teams across many dimensions.

Even the best-intentioned social equity program cannot accommodate every disadvantage a potential candidate will encounter. Take women as an example: There are many accommodations to consider for female-identifying participants, as they are at a more significant disadvantage in the licensing/permitting and job preparedness process. Some call for women participants qualifying for cannabis equity program services to receive additional funds and services (e.g., funding for childcare) to ensure equal access to opportunity.

The cannabis industry cannot atone for all the damages of the drug war, nor can a nascent industry that is not federally legal pay to uplift all of society. With that said, cannabis industry investors, executives, and workers might be the tipping point back toward baking justice, equity, and access to the laws we operate under. Better yet, we can raise expectations of one another as we do business and ask, “What do you do to increase fair play, diversify your leadership team, and address the imbalance?”

A Person is Not Diverse, But the Cannabis Industry Can Be

Addressing social equity and the concept of diversity can feel amorphous and confusing. Above all, it’s imperative to remember that a single person is not diverse; rather, a group of people is. A team can be diverse, and within your team is a great place to begin shaping the industry you wish to see. Rather than focusing on any one aspect of diversity, the goal should be to invest in and build diverse teams across many dimensions. Value comes from a range of differences, such as the national origin of executives, the variety of industry backgrounds, education levels, ages, and finding gender balance. The goal is that these different people feel they belong.

Equal market accessibility is not a problem you can solve passively — it must constantly be spoken of, worked toward, and embodied within each business decision and entrepreneurial move. An industry full of entrepreneurs making such decisions will undoubtedly result in a more equitable market than the one we’ve built so far. You will find yourself in a room of folks just like this. Lean into the awkward and invite the unfamiliar in – you will find you and your company are better for it.

Financing the Cannabis Industry Part 2: A Q&A with Pelorus Equity Group Managing Partner, Travis Goad

By Aaron Green
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Businesses often require outside capital to finance operating activities and to enable scaling and growth. Financing in the cannabis industry is notoriously challenging with regulatory obstacles at the local, state and federal levels. Recent market dynamics pose additional challenges for both financiers and cannabis operators.

We sat down with Travis Goad, Managing Partner of Pelorus Equity Group to learn more about Pelorus and to get his perspective on recent market trends.

Aaron Green: In a nutshell, what is your investment/lending philosophy?

Travis Goad: Our investment and lending philosophy is focused on being honest, upfront and doing what we say we’re going to do for both our borrowers and our investors. At Pelorus, we lend against cannabis-use real estate assets.

Every lender in this space is a hybrid between real estate and corporate lending. However, if you think about it as a political spectrum, with one side being pure real estate lending and the other pure corporate lending, Pelorus is as close as you can be to pure real estate lending in this sector while also being properly collateralized. What sets us apart from our recently launched lending peers is that we lend against the real estate asset value only, even though we’re collateralized by the real estate and license.

We lend between 60% to 75% of the value of the real estate, which means sponsors need to raise equity for the 25% to 40% remainder of the project cost. This allows us to be covenant-lite for our borrowers while giving them the flexibility to grow their business as they see fit.

Travis Goad, Managing Partner at Pelorus Equity Group

The other lending options in the space are much different. While our lending peers may call themselves mortgage REITs, they really are based on a business development company (BDC) lending model. While they may lend borrowers as much as 150% to 180% of the real estate value, they will require significant financial covenants, require control of major decisions and most often want a board seat. We’ve seen this model severely hamstring growth of companies.

The third option available to sponsors is a sale-leaseback. In this structure, lenders will buy your real estate for 100% of the value, but require you to enter into a 15-to-20-year lease that increases 3% each year. There is a temporary benefit to this model from a federal tax perspective, but that will go away when 280E is addressed, either by descheduling cannabis or amending the tax code.

While this structure means you don’t have to raise equity, it gives up the most valuable asset cannabis companies have in the early stages of the industry. Once you sell this asset, it hampers optionality for sponsors – and in a fast-growing industry like cannabis – optionality is the most critical thing a company has. Pelorus’ structure allows maximum optionality, as well as the ability to lower your cost of capital as the industry matures.

From an investor standpoint, they should know that the BDC and sale-leaseback models are a lot riskier than our model. While we’ve seen those models work well in mature industries, we think the cannabis industry is too early-stage and too volatile to go that far out on the risk spectrum. We have the longest history in the space of deploying capital successfully and seeing it returned. Prior to making any loans, we spend a lot of time underwriting the company we’re working with, the real estate and the projections. We look for strong sponsors, great projects and attractive markets.

Before we entered the cannabis lending space, our team at Pelorus had more than 5,000 transactions under our belt, worth $5B, and we leveraged our decades of underwriting experience when starting the Pelorus Fund. As the first dedicated lender in the cannabis space, we have more data and experience than anyone in terms of transactional volume – we’ve looked at more than 2,000 deals and have made 71 deals, worth $468M. We know the intricacies of every market, the particular ordinances, what the costs should be, and utilize the data to help our borrowers succeed. Through our deals and sustained success, we’ve made a name for ourselves as the most trusted and efficient lender in the cannabis space.

Green: What types of companies are you primarily financing? 

Goad: We finance construction and stabilized loans for a range of clients including MSOs, SSOs and ancillary companies. We don’t lend on outdoor cultivation, but are open to working with any cannabis-related business that has commercial real estate, strong financials and experience in the cannabis space. Today, our sweet spot is closing loans in the $10M to $30M per transaction range, but we can fund loans $100M+ and as low as $5M. Since 2016, we’ve financed 4.2M feet of cannabis-use properties for a total of $468M in loans – roughly 15% to 20% of the entire US market.

Green: What qualities do you look for in a cannabis industry operator or operating group?

Goad: We are meticulous in our underwriting process and underwrite the company, the real estate and the market. We’re one of the few lenders today that has capital to deploy, which has given us the opportunity to continue to take market share while also increasing the quality of our borrowers. Whether you’re an MSO, smaller state operator or ancillary business, we recognize quality across the sector. Brand affinity and shelf space are critical in this market, and we like working with companies that have a competitive edge in getting their branded product to customers. We try to target companies that offer a unique product, or have a unique position within the state they are located.

To qualify for our lending program, borrowers need to own their real estate. If the sponsors own the real estate or intend to own the real estate, we offer two main lending products: we provide construction loans that range between 60% to 75% of the project that are typically 18-month terms; and more recently implemented, we also lend on fully stabilized assets that are cash flowing and operational up to 75% of the value and up to a 5-year term.

By the time a borrower comes to us, they should already have a license (or be acquiring a license at closing), have their required equity raised to completely fund the project and have all local approvals to begin construction.

Green: Capital market dynamics have led to significant public cannabis company revaluations in 2022. How has this affected your business? 

Goad: As far as how market dynamics have impacted our fund, we’ve been pretty insulated because we are a privately held company. From our inception, we’ve worked hard to create an innovative model, and have had many firsts. We were: the first dedicated lender in the cannabis sector; the first lender to become a private mortgage REIT; the first to be issued an FDIC warehouse line of credit; the first to get an investment grade rating; the first to issue an unsecured bond with institutional investors; the first to update our fund to a billion dollars. Amid all these firsts, we made a conscious decision not to go public. This has been one of the best decisions we’ve made and has shielded us from much of the market volatility we are seeing.

As for the broader market, we’ve seen our sponsors that are publicly traded impacted pretty significantly by the recent market dynamics. We’ve also seen flow-on effects for non-publicly traded firms. Our loan book is performing excellently, but we’re in a very challenging market for marijuana-related businesses to raise equity, making debt even more attractive. For most of our competitors, who chose to go public, they’ve been unable to raise much capital to deploy, whereas our market share is increasing and we continue to grow in this tough environment. We remain bullish on the sector in the medium/long term and are finding excellent opportunities to lend in this challenging environment.

Green: Debt on cannabis companies balance sheets have increased significantly in recent years. What is your perspective on that?

Goad: Increased access to debt capital markets is a sign of a maturing market. The U.S. cannabis sector has a great tailwind with growth of new markets, but it’s facing some significant headwinds tied to tax inefficiencies and inadequate state-level enforcement. All of these issues can be solved with political action, but so far that hasn’t happened and it’s causing pain in the industry. These industry dynamics are set against a broader macro backdrop of risk-asset repricing and increased volatility, which leads to outsized volatility in cannabis due to limited liquidity. That increased volatility has made it very challenging to raise equity in this market.

For companies that have strong assets on their balance sheet, they’re still able to access capital via the debt markets. This is creating clear winners and losers, as companies that choose to sell their real estate have significantly fewer capital raising options than those that choose to keep real estate assets on their balance sheets. Overall, this increased debt trend has been great for our business – our pipeline has increased rapidly and we’re able to lend to strong operators with solid assets at attractive rates for investors. Our fund continues to have inflows, and since we’re one of the few lenders with capital to deploy, we’re still open for business and deploying capital in this challenging environment.

Green: How does the lack of institutional investor participation in the cannabis industry affect your business? 

Goad: The current regulatory environment impacts the type of investor that comes into this space. Rather than being dominated by institutions, this sector has largely been funded by retail investors and family offices. This has created challenges in aggregating large amounts of capital, both on the operator and the debt-fund side of the business. It can lead to delays in loan closings, as it takes borrowers a longer amount of time to raise the required equity to close their transaction. As we’re seeing with our publicly traded peer group, it can also lead to lenders having trouble raising capital to deploy. As for Pelorus, we’ve been very fortunate that our length of time in the industry and track record of successfully making loans and having them repaid has set us apart in fundraising. Our decision to stay private has been a critical factor in our fundraising success as well. Overall, the lack of institutional investor participation is a double-edged sword: the lack of liquidity has caused challenges broadly, but since we’ve had significant capital to deploy, it’s created great opportunities for us to make loans with attractive risk/returns in this challenging market.

Green: What would you like to see in either state or federal legalization?

Goad: Given the stalemate in the Senate and the sharp bipartisan divide, I don’t think federal legalization will happen during this administration. That said, there are incremental actions that the government should take to strengthen the cannabis sector. First of all, the Cole Memo needs to be reinstated to add additional protections for cannabis and cannabis-related businesses. As 280E has clearly been detrimental to the overall health of the cannabis industry, we also believe the tax code should be amended, or better yet, we should address the conflict between state and federal policy. We also need to get SAFE Banking approved in order to open up the cannabis sector to credit cards and potentially open up banking to the sector in a more material way. Unfortunately, there’s a choke point in the Senate to get SAFE Banking approved, since there needs to be 60 votes to be filibuster proof. And while there is some talk of SAFE Banking passing during the lame duck session, we are not holding our breath.

Green: What trends are you following closely as we head towards the end of 2022?

Goad: The biggest trends we’re following are on the legislative front (both federally and at state level), which heavily impact revenue and net cash flow growth for the industry. We’re following emerging state markets, such as Alabama and Mississippi, as well as current medical markets poised to transition to adult use in the near term, such as Missouri. The more addressable the population, the faster the industry can grow.

We’d also like to see current legal states address the often-heavy tax burdens that have led to additional challenges for legal businesses and kept illicit markets thriving. No state got everything right at the beginning, but we’re starting to see states address some of the inequities and harmful policies now. California has made some progress in this area, however there are many issues that still need to be addressed.

Federally, 280E is the other major headwind that needs to be addressed as extremely high tax rates are one of the biggest problems for the industry. We’d really like to see that addressed, as cannabis is the only new industry, I’m aware of in the U.S. that has had such disadvantages out of the gate.

Bad Actors in CBD: How to Distinguish Quality Products From the Rest

By Joseph Dowling
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The success of reputable cannabis and CBD brands has inspired an influx of inexperienced and disreputable competitors in the market. These so-called “bad actors” in CBD advertise products that are not manufactured under current Good Manufacturing Practices (cGMP), which help to ensure that all products are consistently produced and controlled according to specified quality standards. cGMP helps guard against risks of adulteration, cross-contamination and mislabeling to guarantee product quality, safety and efficacy.

Joseph Dowling, Author & CEO of CV Sciences

CBD products without cGMP regulations are often inaccurately labeled and deceiving to consumers. In fact, in a test of over 100 CBD products available online and at retail locations, Johns Hopkins Medicine found significant evidence of inaccurate, misleading labeling of CBD content. The prevalence of such brands not only reduces consumer confidence in CBD but also limits the growth of the sector as a whole. Fortunately, CBD consumers and retailers can easily discriminate between a well-tested, reputable brand and inferior bad actors with a few straightforward, minimum requirements to look out for when selecting a product.

Why are “bad actors” a problem for consumers and the industry?

Bad actors in CBD sell products that are not produced under cGMP conditions and are typically not tested by third-party laboratories to ensure identity, purity, quality, strength and composition. This means they are not verified for contaminants, impurities, label claims and product specifications. This frequently results in misleading advertising with inaccurate levels of cannabinoids or traces of compounds not found on the label, like THC. To combat this, the FDA issues warning letters to actors that market products allegedly containing CBD—many of which are found not to contain the claimed levels of CBD and are not approved for the treatment of any medical condition. Still, bad actors manage to slip through the cracks and deceive consumers.

The structure of cannabidiol (CBD), one of 400 active compounds found in cannabis.

Bad actors that put anything in a bottle and make unsubstantiated medical claims hurt the reputable operators that strive to create safe and high-quality products. It is easy for consumers to be drawn to CBD products with big medical claims and lower prices, only to be disappointed when the product does not produce the advertised results. Inaccurately labeled products may contain unexpected levels of cannabinoids, including ingredients that consumers may not intend to ingest, like Delta-9 or Delta-8 THC. Along with unexpected levels of THC, many CBD products available now are not as pure as advertised, with one in four products going untested for contaminants like microbial content, pesticides, or heavy metals.

Further, inaccurate labeling of products and their compounds also prevents consumers from establishing a baseline impact of CBD on their bodies, leaving them vulnerable to inconsistent future experiences. Such a poor experience can turn consumers off to the category as a whole, drawing their trust away from not only the bad actors but also the reliable, reputable brands on the market. The saturation of the market with these disreputable brands delegitimizes a category that has only just begun to break down the stigmas, creating stagnation rather than growth as consumers remain wary of low-quality products.

How can consumers identify bad actors in CBD?

There are several simple ways to identify a bad actor among CBD products and make certain that both consumers and retailers purchase quality, reliable and safe brands in legitimate sales channels. To start, consumers should avoid all CBD products that are marketed with unsubstantiated medical claims. This is a significant area of abuse, as brands that relate any form of CBD product to a disease state, like cancer, should not be trusted. The science to support such medical claims has not been completed, yet, product marketing is years ahead of the evidence to support such claims. Unsupported medical claims could also mislead consumers that may need more serious medical intervention.

Just some of the many CBD products on the market today.

Additionally, consumers must review the packaging, which should include nutrition information in the form of a supplement fact label. The label should include the serving size, number of servings per container, a list of all dietary ingredients in the product and the amount per serving of each ingredient. All labels should include a net quantity of contents, lot number or batch ID, the name and address of the manufacturer, and an expiration or manufacturing date. These signs of a reputable brand are easy to look for and can save consumers from the trouble of selecting the wrong CBD product.

What to look for when selecting a CBD product

With this in mind, products from reputable, tested brands can be identified by a few key factors. Reputable CBD companies are already compliant with the FDA regulations on nutritional supplements, including a nutritional or supplement fact panel on the packaging—just like vitamins. The information in this panel should include all the active cannabinoids in the product, both per serving and package. Clear potency labeling allows consumers to confidently select products that suit their needs and understand the baseline impact of CBD concentration on their bodies, thus helping them to tailor their experience with thoughtful product selection.

Reputable brands also include a convenient QR code on the packaging, linking the product to a certificate of analysis that details the testing results to demonstrate compliance with product standards and label claims. In terms of specific ingredients, consumers should be skeptical of high concentration levels of “flavor of the month” minor cannabinoids, which are often associated with unsubstantiated medical claims. Current scientific research has set its focus on major cannabinoids like CBD and Delta-9 THC, leaving additional research necessary for understanding minor cannabinoids. Minor cannabinoids are typically included in full spectrum products at concentrations found naturally in the cannabis plant, which is a safer approach to consuming CBD until more research is completed.

Consumers should not let the existence of unreliable, untrustworthy brands curtail their confidence in the CBD sector—there are many high-quality, safe and trusted brands on the market. With a knowledgeable and discerning eye, consumers and retailers can easily select top-quality CBD products that millions of consumers have found to improve many aspects of their health and well-being. Looking ahead, clear federal regulations for CBD products that require mandatory product registration, compliance with product labeling, packaging and cGMP will be crucial in weeding out bad actors and will allow compliant companies to gain consumer trust and responsibly grow the CBD category.