Tag Archives: cultivation

The Top 3 Ways to Find the Right Automation Tools for Your Cannabis Operations

By Nohtal Partansky
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In an emerging industry like cannabis, there’s always going to be the latest and greatest tool or technology to improve operations that are just in their infancy. In fact, as a cannabis business operator, it’s likely you hear from at least one or two salespeople a week, selling the next best thing to make your operations that much more efficient.

But, not every piece of technology or tool is well-suited for each individual operation. Even more, some solutions are just temporary band-aids and aren’t built for longevity or for the future maturation of the budding industry.

Of course, at a time when cannabis businesses are struggling to even turn a profit – it’s even more important to look at your processes, and automate or optimize what you can to increase your bottom line.

So, how can you make the right decision when it comes to making an investment in automation technology? Keep reading to learn the top 3 tips for successfully vetting automation tools for efficacy, efficiency and cost-effectiveness.

Tip #1 – Identifying what to automate

The goal of streamlining operations with automation technology isn’t to ‘automate anything and everything’. It’s automating the right parts of production to help scale growth and increase profitability. To do so, operators should look at bottlenecks in their production line or process.

An automated pre-roll infusion robot

Once you’ve identified the areas that slow production, it’s time to look at which areas are better candidates for automation than others. For instance, tasks that are highly variable are not ideal for automation. That’s because every time a variance occurs, you’ll spend extra time and effort reconfiguring your automation tool or technology to match.

It’s those bottlenecks in production that are repetitive and don’t vary often that are optimal to increase efficiency. For instance – infusing pre-rolls, filling vape carts or packing master cases would be prime candidates for automation.

To dip your toes into the automated waters – find one of those highly repeatable tasks, purchase a small, cost-effective solution and see just how it impacts productivity. If you see that a small change made a big difference – there’s scalability. After this due diligence, you can move forward in contacting more robust manufacturers for improved equipment designed for long-term use and wide scale implementation.

Tip #2 Choosing the right manufacturer

Speaking of manufacturers – choosing the right one is just as crucial. It shouldn’t come as a shock that not all technology or equipment can be treated equally. If the type of automation technology or equipment you choose is produced by a variety of manufacturers, here are the top things to consider when deciding which is right for you:

  • Customer support – You might think, ‘how hard can it be’ or fall for the sales pitch that a tool or piece of equipment is so easy to implement – reliable, dependable, and accessible support isn’t necessary. But that could not be farther from the truth. When questions or issues arise with the automation technology you choose – you don’t want to lose time, production, or money while you wait for a solution. Even though technology with customer support may cost more upfront, think of it this way. You’ll either pay up now or later. So, what will you choose? Paying a premium from the start to hit the ground running with 5-star equipment, technology and support? Or, saving a couple of bucks now, just to lose time and productivity due to a lack of customer support and lower-quality technology later.
  • Manufacturer experience – In cannabis, most manufacturers come from other fields and lend their experience and skills to new areas of operation and production. That means you’ll want to take a hard look at the team’s core roots and where they come from to understand just how their work will translate. Looking for professionals who are trained in high-tolerance, precision engineering is ideal for automation. Working with teams with this temperament ensures that they typically hold themselves to a high standard. Just remember, the team you’ll work with is a culmination of people who create a result. It all comes down to whether the team you choose has a track record of doing so, and how well they’ve served prior customers, too.
  • Customer reviews – Want to discover how good or bad the team is, beyond what they tell you themselves or before it’s too late? To truly find out, ask their past or current customers.

Tip #3 Learning from others

Of course, looking at successful operations and what they’ve chosen to automate for efficiency always helps, too. So, what is one common area that operators are increasingly optimizing for significant ROI on automation investments and efforts?

Most operations can increase efficiency by automating labeling.

Label applications. Label application is one process that almost any cannabis business can see an immediate return on investment in, across the board. While other areas of automation will vary and rely heavily on your volume, individual bottlenecks, and unique drops in productivity – most cannabis operations can increase efficiency by automating this non-varying, highly repeatable task.

The Final Word Using Automation To Your Advantage 

Automation technology exists for a good reason. It helps cannabis business operators maximize efficiency, stay in compliance, reduce costs over time and, in turn, increase profits. But the wrong automation technology for your processes won’t do anything of the sort. It will only muddy operations, waste precious capital and set you back in the long run.

So use these three tips to find the right automation technology tools, software and solutions to use to your advantage – before your competitors get a leg up.

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

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

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

The New Reality of Cannabis M&A Activity

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

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

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

Transferring Cannabis License Rights

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

Different types of cannabis licenses in California

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

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

Seeking a Tax-Free Reorganization in the Cannabis Space

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tax Consequences Arising from Sale of Assets

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

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

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

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

Reverse Triangular Merger

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

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

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

Bottom Line

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

ASTM Approves New Cannabis Standards

By Cannabis Industry Journal Staff
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According to a press release sent out today, ASTM International’s D37 cannabis committee has approved three new standards for environmental conditions during packaging, shipping and storing cannabis and hemp flower. The three new standards are:

  • Standard Specification for Environmental Conditions for Post Packaged Storage and Retail Merchandising of Cannabis/Hemp Flower (soon to be published as D8423);
  • Standard Specification for Environmental Conditions While In-Transit for Packaged Cannabis/Hemp Flower (soon to be published as D8432); and
  • Standard Specification for Environmental Conditions While Packaging Cannabis/Hemp Flower (D8450).

ASTM members will be presenting at the Cannabis Quality Conference & Expo, October 17-19 in New Jersey. Click here for more information. Jonathan DeVries, a member of ASTM, says these standards are designed for the entire cannabis supply chain, from cultivation, manufacturing and transportation all the way to the end consumers. “These standards are designed to support the safety and quality of packaged cannabis and hemp flower as it moves through the supply chain,” says DeVries. “This includes the activities following curing and drying, namely packaging, transit, and storage, until it reaches the final end user.”

The ASTM D37 committee is working on a number of other standards related to these and they invite anyone interested to share their feedback.

PlantTag

The B2B Marketplace Trend Comes to Cannabis (Finally)

By Adam Benko, Brian Mayfield
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PlantTag

Ancillary services are a hot topic in the cannabis industry, as they are in many niche industries turning to B2B marketplaces to connect with specialized expertise and products.

Platforms such as Amazon Business, Flexport, SupplyHog and others have emerged to connect mainstream business sectors with the vendors and services they need, but things look a lot different in the cannabis space. The many disparate aspects of launching, running and scaling a cannabis business—and vetting dozens of service providers clamoring for your business—can feel like playing whack-a-mole blindfolded.

While a business consultancy can do some of the heavy lifting, there are reasons why this traditional “one-size-fits-all” approach is problematic. However, the rise of legalization is creating new avenues for founders in both established and emerging markets to take charge of their destiny and secure the services that truly meet their needs.

Understanding what’s available can help founders avoid pitfalls, from inadequate insurance coverage and predatory lenders to inexperienced service providers seeking to cash in on the “green gold rush.”

The Importance of Regulatory Knowledge

One reason B2B services look so different in the cannabis industry is because the industry itself is still rapidly evolving, as new state markets for medical cannabis and recreational adult use come online and states constantly amend their regulations. There’s also the sprawling scope of compliance requirements facing a cannabis operator, from securing tightly zoned real estate to building a facility with adequate security, to integrating into the state’s seed-to-sale tracking system.

PlantTag
A plant tagged with a barcode and date for tracking

It’s critical to engage with experts who are knowledgeable on the regulatory variances of the state (or states) where the business will operate. Someone who has experience interpreting cannabis regulations will know, for example, if you should have a real estate lease locked in prior to applying or if a particular state would prefer you move through the pre-opening process in a different order.

Another reason ancillary services are so important is that cannabis regulations aren’t standardized on the federal level or even state to state, which requires an especially deep, granular level of understanding of market trends and compliance demands. That can make the difference not only between a successful business launch and a swift nose dive, but also between a business surviving a major disaster or setback and becoming past tense.

Insurance and Lending Issues

Every business owner knows they need insurance, for example, but not every insurance broker knows what specific coverages to lock in to ensure a payout if a dispensary is vandalized or if a wildfire burns a grow operation to the ground. While federal legislation like the Clarifying Law Around Insurance of Marijuana (CLAIM) Act could one day make it easier for national insurance companies to serve legal cannabis businesses, currently criminal conduct exclusions can be used to keep plant-touching business owners from getting their full payout.

Fires in Sonoma County devastated cannabis crops in Northern California back in 2017.

Not only does federal prohibition make it challenging for a cannabis business operator to find proper insurance coverage, access financial networks and establish employee benefits programs to keep industry jobs competitive, even seeking investment capital can leave cannabis companies exposed to unfavorable terms. Just look at the case of iAnthus, a multistate operator that claims to have been burned in a deal with Gotham Green Partners while looking for expansion funding.

So how can cannabis leadership locate and vet professional services, particularly in the critical startup stage when it feels like everything has to happen right away? That’s where the B2B marketplace trend comes in.

The Advent of Vendor-Agnostic B2B Marketplaces for Cannabis

While platforms such as Amazon Business have offerings for a variety of mainstream industries, they’re not tailored for cannabis. But there is a growing field of vendor-agnostic specialists helping cannabis founders make the right moves.

Vendor-agnostic consultancies are nimble and adaptable in a way that broad-scale platforms are not

Necessity absolutely produced this particular innovation, which upends the traditional single-funnel consultancy model to instead create a village that can raise a variety of cannabis businesses. Vendor-agnostic consultancies are nimble and adaptable in a way that broad-scale platforms are not. And rather than being tied to a particular suite of products and service providers the way traditional business consultancies often are, the vendor-agnostic approach gives both consultants and cannabis founders much-needed flexibility.

In a cannabis B2B marketplace, a pool of inventory-tracking software vendors, for example, can be sorted to allow for easy comparison shopping based on whether the operator is a single-state startup looking for basic integration with the state compliance system, or an MSO that needs a more robust platform. And the customization extends from there—vertically integrated businesses versus standalone wholesale producers, plant-touching businesses versus other professional service providers and beyond.

As more and more industries specialize, it’s no wonder ancillary services are having a renaissance and replacing the traditional one-size-fits-all model popularized decades ago. But it’s also no wonder that the cannabis industry needs an especially unique approach to professional support for niche fields. The more this industry expands, the more founders and their B2B partners need to roll with their own solutions.

An Interview with Bespoke Financial Co-Founder & CEO George Mancheril

By Aaron Green
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Founded in 2018, Bespoke Financial is the nation’s first fintech lender focused on the cannabis industry. Led by a premier team of experts in the credit, technology and cannabis industries, Bespoke Financial has financed more than $800M in GMV across the US cannabis industry and is on track to deploy $1B by end of year 2022 via their revolving lines of credit. Bespoke’s financing empowers cannabis companies to increase purchasing power, remove working capital limitations and accelerate growth in a rapidly growing industry. The company is backed by respected venture capital firms such as Casa Verde Capital, The General Partnership, Greenhouse Capital Partners and Ceres Group Holdings.

Bespoke recently entered into a milestone partnership with Blaze as the cannabis industry’s first tech-enabled B2B lending product available in CA & MA. Through this partnership, Bespoke and Blaze will be the first to bring “Buy Now Pay Later” to the industry. With just the click of a button, vendors can utilize this BNPL feature by paying directly within the Blaze platform via Bespoke’s financing with a 60-day repayment term on all vendor payments while minimizing dispensaries’ reliance on cash transactions. 

We caught up with George Mancheril, co-founder and CEO of Bespoke Financial to learn more about trends in cannabis lending and their unique partnership with Blaze. George was the company’s CFO prior to taking the CEO position in 2019. Prior to Bespoke, George was a VP at Guggenheim Partners in California. 

Aaron Green: What does it mean to be a fintech lender in cannabis?

George Mancheril: Bespoke Financial is a first mover in fintech lending for the cannabis industry, equipped with a robust network of investors, industry expertise and a multi-year track record solidifying our credibility in the space. We are focused on working with established cannabis companies who can use our financing to unlock growth, profitability, and success in the near- and long-term future.

Cannabis lenders must navigate a complex web of both cannabis and financing regulations, specific to each state, while trying to identify good borrowers in a nascent industry comprised of new companies. This has caused banks, traditional lenders, and institutional investors to avoid cannabis despite the unique growth opportunities and economic potential of the industry overall.

Green: What makes Bespoke different from other cannabis lenders in the business?

Mancheril: Unlike the few cannabis lenders active in the market, Bespoke Financial combines best-in-class technology and lending products designed to address the specific financing needs of the industry to better serve our clients. Our tech platform offers a simple interface for our clients to easily access financing, monitor loan balances, and manage payments. Bespoke’s technology allows us to service a broad array of clients in numerous markets across the US, offering our clients a reliable financing partner for their immediate and future needs.

Green: What markets do you serve in cannabis? Are you able to finance plant-touching operations?

George Mancheril, Co-Founder & CEO of Bespoke Financial

Mancheril: Bespoke works with cannabis companies across the entire supply chain within 15 U.S. cannabis markets, with the vast majority of our borrowers being plant-touching operations, Our portfolio comprises cultivators, manufacturers, distributors, dispensaries, non-plant touching cannabis brands, ancillary service providers and CBD companies. Our financing options have helped a wide variety of cannabis operations overcome working capital limitations and capitalize on new growth opportunities and increase profitability.

Green: You recently announced a “Buy Now Pay Later” partnership with Blaze. What problems do dispensaries have that you are solving for there?

Mancheril: As broader economic activity slows in the US with the threat of a recession impacting both businesses and consumers, dispensaries face supply, demand, and fundraising challenges:

  1. Consumer demand challenges:
    1. Cannabis consumers in 2022 are significantly more price sensitive than recent years for several reasons.
      1. High inflation over the past 1yr+ has reduced disposable income for consumers in the US.
      2. Post-COVID return to normalcy has allowed consumers to spend disposable income on many goods and services which were largely been unavailable since the beginning of 2020 (ie travel).
      3. Concern about a recession and slower wage growth has further reduced consumer spending.
      4. Illicit cannabis has always been the main competition for legal dispensaries with little enforcement or curtailing of black-market activity to note in the US.
    2. New cannabis consumers are gravitating towards smaller (but growing) product categories (edibles, concentrates, infused beverages, etc.) as opposed to just purchasing packaged flower. Dispensaries must carry a wide array of products and brands in order to better attract and service new and existing customers.
  2. Supply side challenges:
      1. Mature cannabis markets, such as California, have been saturated with over supply since Q2 2021 leading to inventory build ups and declining wholesale prices for cultivators, manufacturers, and brands (collectively referred to as suppliers). In this environment, suppliers are offering discounts to incentivize customers (i.e. dispensaries) who can:
        1. Purchase larger quantities more frequently to allow suppliers to move inventory before the product quality degrades.
        2. Pay COD for purchases as cashflow and capital are very important for suppliers during periods of economic stress.
      2. Dispensaries without the financial means to conform to suppliers’ preferences will be at a considerable disadvantage as they will continue to have trouble sourcing popular products at the lowest possible cost.
  1. Fundraising challenges:
    1. Cannabis’ federal illegality has resulted in a much smaller universe of potential capital providers. Once a potential lender or investor is identified, typically the application process requires time and resources to complete which puts dispensaries in an especially disadvantageous position. Large MSOs, who tend to attract most of the available capital, can rely on internal finance teams to source capital whereas dispensaries are much more constrained and require a simpler, faster, and easier application process.

Our partnership with Blaze to offer B2B BNPL to dispensaries addresses these challenges and more. With access to our financing, dispensaries are empowered with:

  1. Fast access to financing without a lengthy application process, entirely housed within the Blaze POS’ platform
    1. Dispensaries on the Blaze platform do not need to seek out lenders or weigh various financing options.
    2. No materials need to be gathered for the application.
    3. At the click of a button, dispensaries gain access to capital which they are free to use as they see fit with no obligation.
  1. Easy to understand financing
    1. No obligation: dispensaries have full discretion to use our financing only when they choose.
    2. No prepayment penalties or additional fees.
  1. Increased purchasing power, enabling dispensaries to
    1. Carry a wider array of cannabis products and brands to better service consumer needs.
    2. Purchase a higher quantity of inventory from suppliers to qualify for volume-based discounts.
    3. Pay COD for purchases to qualify for early payment discounts.
    4. Offer lower prices to cautious consumers as a result of these discounts, thereby increasing sales and gross profit while strengthening their relationships with suppliers.

Green: Can you explain your decision to launch in CA and MA first? 

Mancheril: While our ultimate goal is to offer B2B BNPL in all legal cannabis markets, we launched in CA and MA first because these states represent the largest and fastest growing markets in the US respectively. California was the first state that both Bespoke and Blaze launched in individually, so it was a natural starting point for our BNPL partnership. Massachusetts’ continued growth is compelling for any service provider and we believe our BNPL financing will be as successful addressing the needs and challenges in this newer market alongside those in more mature states.

Green: What trends are you seeing in US cannabis debt financing?

Mancheril: Since 2020, we’ve seen many MSOs increasingly rely on debt financing as opposed to equity capital. MSOs accounted for over ~80% of the debt raised over the past 2 years despite only representing a fraction of the broader cannabis market. Additionally, commercial real estate financing options for cannabis companies have increased over the same time period, driven by the growth of cannabis focused REITs. In general, by the end of 2021, we saw an increasing number of debt investors focused on higher yields participate in cannabis deals.

The recent macroeconomic volatility, increase in rates, and widening credit spreads in 2022 have slowed and slightly reversed the trends seen over the past 3 years. While banks and traditional lenders continue to wait for federal legalization, the vast majority of cannabis companies continue to have very limited access to debt financing options. Over the past quarter, we have seen debt investors leverage the recent illiquidity to negotiate higher interest rates and equity components in new debt deals, a trend we expect to continue until the broader economy strengthens or federal legalization gains traction.

At Bespoke, we empower entrepreneurs to grow their businesses without having to surrender control of their companies or visions. We are excited to continually be market leaders addressing this very vital need for cannabis companies of all sizes in all market environments.

Green: What trends are you following in US regulations and emerging markets?

Mancheril: The most recent headlines have been mixed for US cannabis regulations. Federal legalization is a huge point of focus with SAFE Banking failing (again) to survive the US Senate while the introduction of the revised CAOA offers a glimpse of hope. We believe federal regulatory changes will continue to be debated and discussed without any meaningful progress over the next 2 years but the current discussion of the CAOA revisions will provide the best insight on lawmakers’ priorities. On the local level, the list of states with adult-use sales continues to expand and we would expect to see a handful of new markets ushered in by voters in 2022.

Green: What would federal legalization mean for the cannabis lending industry? How do you stay ahead of the curve?

Mancheril: Federal legalization can occur in a variety of ways, including rescheduling cannabis (currently Schedule 1), descheduling cannabis entirely from the CSA, deferring to state specific regulation, implementing a national cannabis regulatory framework, or some combination of all of the above. The complexity of future regulatory changes makes the timeline for legalization difficult to forecast but we believe that the path forward will be comprised of multiple legislative changes over a number of years as opposed to a comprehensive reform addressing all the relevant points at once.

Based on the interests and goals of all stakeholders in this conversation, we believe that:

  1. Cannabis de-scheduling or rescheduling is unlikely to occur before 2025
  2. Any federal legislation which is approved will require long transition periods for new rules to be finalized, implemented, and adopted by relevant stakeholders (state regulators, courts, cannabis operators, financial institutions, etc.)
  3. Federal lawmakers may allow for financial institutions to service the cannabis industry prior to de-scheduling through limited scope legislation like SAFE banking
  4. Federal legislation will have a difficult time balancing deference to state specific cannabis regulation while enabling federal agencies such as the FDA and Treasury department to issue guidelines and rules for the broader industry. Too much federal agency interference will jeopardize existing & functioning cannabis markets while too much deference will impede vital oversight and consumer protection.
  5. We believe interstate commerce will not be allowed immediately following federal legalization. Interstate commerce will benefit larger MSOs and states with mature cannabis markets (which are hampered by oversupply) at the expense of smaller single state operators and new markets. State governments are motivated to legalize cannabis in the pursuit of tax revenue and economic opportunity for their constituents, both of which would be significantly reduced for newer markets competing with out of state operators.

Regardless of which path federal legalization takes in the coming years, the net benefit for the industry overall will be clear. Setting aside the societal benefit from expunging criminal records for non-violent offenders and freeing enforcement agencies to focus on more serious issues, any progress towards legalization would significantly reduce the challenges that cannabis operators face today. Cannabis companies will see a reduction in operating expenses, a wider array of options for basic business services like insurance and marketing, and an increase in consumer demand as the stigma of illegality fades into memory. Allowing banks to service the industry would remove cash as the primary form of payment, entice larger pools of capital to enter the cannabis market, and in general de-risk the industry tremendously. Bespoke will continue in our role as market leader and cannabis industry advocate in this new paradigm by empowering our clients with even greater access to the capital and services vital to their continued success.

Transportation & Supply Issues in Cannabis Staffing: How to Get Unstuck

By Melita Balestieri
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Anyone in cannabis will tell you that complex transportation and supply issues are stalling industry growth and impacting employers’ ability to hire teams for the critical roles that keep product moving on schedule.

Since the onset of COVID-19 in March 2020, global and domestic supply chains have suffered bottlenecks caused by ever-changing public health policies and ongoing materials and labor shortages. While the status of transportation as an essential business kept other essential sectors, such as cannabis and grocery, chugging along, the current situation is still challenging.

Transportation remains the biggest supply-side problem, with the American Trucking Association reporting a shortage of an estimated 80,000 truckers in October 2021. The Bureau of Labor Statistics also continues to report high numbers of job openings across supply-chain jobs such as warehousing and transportation.

Cannabis businesses, from multistate operators to distributors to delivery service startups, are hardly immune to these issues. In fact, they face the additional hurdle of restrictive federal regulations, including the illegality of transporting cannabis across state borders. For example, this stipulation means that the over-saturation of flower in California cannot be addressed in a naturally symbiotic manner by shipping to states whose markets demand more flower, such as Arizona and New Mexico.

In the aggregate, these challenges impact employers’ operational and logistics goals and diminish candidates’ interest to work in a highly scrutinized industry. Many trucking companies have found it a challenge to attract drivers. Low pay, grueling schedules, and zero-tolerance cannabis testing for drivers despite legalization have led to an exodus of truckers in the U.S. and Canada.

Despite these obstacles, cannabis employers can still embrace smart strategies to attract quality employees and create much-needed stability to thrive in the rapidly changing marketplace.

Cannabis, COVID & the Great Resignation

In recent months, when it seemed America was finally emerging from COVID’s long shadow, the Great Resignation dampened business optimism. Employee turnover hit cannabis hard—especially in California, where other challenges like a thriving illicit market, high taxes and wholesale price compression have impacted companies’ ability to operate smoothly. Transportation and supply issues compound the problems.

For example, even transporting federally legal hemp in California and elsewhere has its headaches. Our company’s trimmer certification course uses hemp for training purposes. We ship the hemp directly to students’ homes so they can participate in virtual training sessions. Although our company has certified that the course packet contains only hemp, the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) will not ship it, regardless of whether the delivery location is in or out of state. We therefore must rely on a private carrier to transport the course packets to class participants, which is more time consuming and costly

Staffing Strategies for Transportation & Supply Jobs

Cannabis employers have several traditional and non-traditional tools at their disposal to address transportation and supply-related staffing.

While standard ecommerce jobs are synonymous with turnover, here lies an opportunity for cannabis operators to differentiate themselves. This is the cannabis industry, after all, and plenty of individuals who might not normally be interested in the transportation or supply aspect of ecommerce, might be far more open to those types of roles if they know the jobs involve cannabis.

What can employers do to attract these more receptive candidates to their organizations? Hone in on workers who have a passion for the plant. In job descriptions, position cannabis messaging front and center and conduct outreach through LinkedIn groups and other social media platforms to groups and individuals that have a cannabis focus.

Salary and Benefits

These days, a competitive salary simply is not enough to entice the right employees. A solid benefits package goes a long way to establishing trust between employers and employees and provides employees with a level of comfort and reassurance that they are supported during these tumultuous times. For example, companies must prioritize healthcare benefits and consider including coverage for part-time workers on the supply side of the cannabis industry.

Bonuses

Bonuses are another great way to catch the eye of potential employees, but bonuses must be developed within a framework designed for retention. Cannabis employers who establish performance bonuses and loyalty bonuses also increase that ever-important aspect of trust within their companies.

Safety

A transparent and robust HR plan that addresses safety concerns—COVID and beyond—can affect employees’ comfort for certain supply or transport positions that may involve increased public exposure or enhanced personal safety risks. Be clear with employees about the system that’s in place to support them in the event of unforeseen emergencies or injuries.

Procedures

Cannabis employers should also be aware of the importance of having compliance-focused internal transportation standard operating procedures and protections for employees. These policies can be a key factor in attracting both drivers and additional transport and supply experts from other regulated transport industries such as food, agriculture and pharmaceuticals. Candidates without a cannabis background will be more drawn to companies that provide a well-developed and safe infrastructure.

Smart Cannabis Staffing Solutions: The Time is Now

Federal cannabis legalization is coming, and with that nationwide sea change other issues in cannabis supply and transport will emerge. How will cannabis transport consolidate? Will the nation’s top carriers simply take over?

Regardless of what those answers might be, the need to embrace smart staffing solutions now is imperative. Providing a solid base wage with health benefits, and making it clear to current employees and job candidates that there’s an internal infrastructure of support—from HR to loyalty bonuses—is the best way to tackle the transportation and supply issues to position your company for future success.

The Inflated THC Crisis Plaguing California Cannabis

By Erik Paulson, Josh Swider, Zachary Eisenberg
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Fraud

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Blame

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

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

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

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

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

Inaction

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

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

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

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

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

For some less disciplinary suggestions:

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

Fight

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

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

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

An Interview with Würk CEO & Chairman, Scott Kenyon

By Aaron Green
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The cannabis industry operates in a legal gray area between federal restrictions and state legalization in a constantly changing regulatory environment. Maintaining payroll and HR compliance is a burden cannabis companies face that grows exponentially with geographic expansion of the workforce.

Würk allows cannabis companies to manage payroll, human resources, timekeeping, scheduling and tax compliance, minimizing compliance risks in the ever-changing cannabis regulatory environment. The company uses its expertise and trusted partnerships to provide guidance on 280E tax law, accounting and banking. Its platform is designed to scale nationally with the growth of the industry while incorporating the local laws and regulations unique to individual states. Their clients include Cresco Labs, Canndescent and NUG.

We caught up with Scott Kenyon to ask about Würk’s approach to human capital management, challenges facing cannabis businesses and industry trends. Scott sat on the Board of Würk before becoming its CEO and chairman. Prior to Würk, Scott held leadership roles at Dell and Phunware.

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

Scott Kenyon, CEO and Chairman of Würk

Scott Kenyon: My wife and I were early investors in a few companies in Colorado and Nevada. From early on (this was back in 2015) we learned the hard way of cannabis and how difficult it is to run these businesses, especially in those early days. We’ve progressed a ton over the years, but it’s still very difficult to run cannabis businesses.

I joined Würk about five years ago as a board member. I came on as CEO at the beginning of 2021 after our founder and previous CEO Keegan Peterson, who was an early trailblazer in the industry, passed away. So, I’ve been CEO at Würk for about 18 months.

Green: Tell me about Würk and the main problems you’re trying to solve.

Kenyon: Early on we were focused on establishing getting out of the cash business for these cannabis companies. Allowing them to pay payroll, taxes and be tax compliant electronically was a huge early advantage for us as a company. Now, fast forward seven years later and a lot of different banks (credit unions) are in the industry and that is allowing people to move money. So, that’s not as big of an advantage for us anymore, but early on that was huge.

Our advantage now is the scars on our back, for lack of a better phrase, from what we’ve gone through over the last seven years. We anticipate. We prevent. And most importantly we’ve seen all those problems for our customers. Last year, a big thing of mine was being “Smokey the Bear.” We want everybody to be Smokey the Bear: prevent fires and prevent issues for our customers. When I came in, we were the world’s best firefighters. I didn’t want that title. I wanted to prevent issues for our customers. That takes you from being a vendor to a partner.

If you look at it, on our platform we have 80% of the enterprise cannabis market, about 60% of the mid-market and then low single digits in the small business space. We have that market share because we provide invaluable experience and guidance to our customers. The biggest MSOs have different challenges from a “Joseph and Scott” dispensary, or a “Mary and Jane” grow facility. We’re able to adapt to all those different segments.

At the core of our product, we offer payroll services and what we call HCM – human capital management. That’s everything from scheduling, applicant tracking systems processing and paying your payroll taxes. So, we have the full gamut of product offerings that any type of HCM or HRIS software system does, whether you’re outside of cannabis or inside of cannabis, we’re offering the same thing.

Green: How does Würk differ from say a Professional Employer Organization (PEO)?

Kenyon: We aren’t a PEO. We don’t manage employees. At a high-level, a PEO is basically managing HR for these companies. Our platform enables HR professionals to go out there and do that. PEOs are more popular down in the small business space, because people are not at the scale to hire an HR team. We’re similar in that we’re processing payroll and have all the software that these companies need, but we’re different in that we’re not running their HR for them.

Green: How do you work benefits into the mix?

Kenyon: We leave it to the client, and we integrate their benefits provider into our platform so it’s an easy one-stop shop. We have single sign-on for a lot of our integrations. For the HR organizations, we want them to log into our platform and everything they need will be there.

Green: How is SAFE banking going to affect the HR industry in cannabis?

Kenyon: It’s going to be great for the industry, obviously. For HR specifically, it’s going to bring in more providers of payroll and more competitors for us for sure. But also it’s going to bring in more providers of services that can come in and offer that right now because of the federal illegalization.

Green: How does 280E affect your business and your customers?

Kenyon: We don’t guide people around 280E because that’s a tax specific matter. We refer them to their tax experts. We process payroll tax, which is different than what 280E affects. I think 280E was a big challenge, it’s still a big challenge, but that’s mostly because people didn’t really understand it. I think 280E was a problem five to seven years ago. In the last two years most companies are very familiar with it. That doesn’t mean 280E is the right thing. I think 280E is an awful thing. And while I think I hope SAFE banking is the first thing to fall legislatively, I think 280E has a good chance of getting across first.

On any given day my opinion on which will go first changes. I just want something to get across the line.

Green: What are some unemployment and payroll challenges your customers face?

Kenyon: We really watch unemployment changes and changes in job descriptions or job codes. For example, if an unemployment rate changed, and that unemployed person moved to a different place, which happened a lot during COVID, that company needed to report that and they needed to collect the appropriate charges or taxes there.

Green: What geographies are you in right now?

Kenyon: As of January 1, we had people on our platform in 46 states and just under 600 different jurisdictions. So, even though cannabis isn’t legal in all those states, big companies have employees across the United States.

Green: How do you help your users manage compliance across multiple jurisdictions? That must be a complex undertaking.

Kenyon: Our platform automatically plugs into the states that have electronic notifications around laws, which most states do. In our tax department, we have certain group members that are experts, let’s say, in the west coast. So, we assign people to certain regions to ensure that they have the best knowledge.

From our support piece, where a lot of our customers come in, somebody might say, “Hey, I have a unique question for Utah” and we’ll say we have a person that is specialized in Utah, but we don’t force them there, we just give them the option. But in our tax queue, we actually direct the customer like, “Hey, here’s a Massachusetts Question, so that goes to a particular person because they are our Massachusetts expert.”

Green: How do you deal with timekeeping issues like overtime?

Kenyon: Well, our system does that automatically. Let’s say they’re working overtime in a state that’s difficult to keep time for like California. In the state of California, if they’re working overtime on a Saturday or Sunday or a holiday, that’s a whole different calculation than working longer on a Thursday night. So, our platform is made to automatically calculate that for our customers. There’s no manual adjustments or coaching happening there. We just follow the state law based on where the employees are.

Green: Are you seeing any unionization of employees within the cannabis industry?

Kenyon: There’s unionization in many of our states, I don’t know the exact number, but California being the biggest, there’s a lot of union representation. Illinois is probably the second biggest union state on our platform. I’m assuming New York will be once it becomes adult use.

Green: How does Würk approach cybersecurity?

“Cannabis customers don’t want to buy on the illicit market. They want to buy from a trusted source. It just takes time to make that happen.”Kenyon: Well, we approach it very seriously and I recommend everybody take cybersecurity seriously. We test our internal systems regularly. We test our employees through phishing scams. And we’re always just trying to educate our team on the risk that we have.

I can’t share specifically the prevention steps that we’re taking, but I can tell you we partner with some of the biggest experts and make sure that we’re following everything that they’re recommending. More importantly, we’re testing for human failures, because where most failures happen is with people.

Green: What trends are you following in the industry right now? 

Kenyon: Any type of activity in Congress is going to be huge for this industry. So that’s something I always keep abreast of. The next thing that comes down the line which is tied to that is interstate commerce: How is interstate commerce going to really come into play? And how does that change this industry?

Within the industry, the big question is how do we combat the illicit market? Over the last five years, I’ve heard all kinds of different ideas. But in the end, I think we have to out-innovate the illicit market, and that’s what I’m most excited about.

There are new product categories, beverage being one that is starting to gain traction. How are these new products and new variations of the cannabis plant able to treat and help people in ways that we’ve never thought of? That’s part of out-innovation. I was reading an article today about new terpenes that were discovered and how 100 products could come from each one of those new terpenes. I think we’re just still at the tip of the iceberg of product innovation.

How do we fight the illicit market? I think that is just through coming up with new products that treat different illnesses and ailments, that allow customers to get away from pharmaceuticals. Cannabis customers don’t want to buy on the illicit market. They want to buy from a trusted source. It just takes time to make that happen. They’re not going to do it when there’s a huge price difference, but they will do it when there’s a huge product difference. And right now, our products are very similar to what you can find on the illicit market. You can find vapes, you can find gummies, you can find all that in the illicit market. We’ve got to out-innovate the illicit market.

Green: What in your personal life are you most interested in learning about?

Kenyon: I am the father of two teenagers right now and I really like to learn how to be a better parent to them because it’s really frickin’ tough!

Green: Great, that concludes the interview!

Kenyon: Thanks, Aaron.

Cannabis Extraction Virtual Conference

The Cannabis Extraction Virtual Conference is back! We are hosting this complimentary collection of webinar presentations, designed to help attendees better understand some of the more technical aspects of the cannabis extraction market. We will take a deep dive into cannabis and hemp extraction, the business behind extraction companies, post-processing, optimization, solvent remediation, GMPs and more. Take a look at the presentations and speakers in the agenda for more information.

Attendees registering for this complimentary series of webinars will get access to veterans in the cannabis extraction space, who are all available for Q&A after each presentation. In addition to getting the opportunity to chat with these subject matter experts on September 6, a recording of the presentations will be made available to all who register.

Practical and educational information from experts in the cannabis extraction market, all on the same day and all from the comfort of your home or office. Want real inside knowledge on cannabis extraction? Stay tuned to sign up! Registration coming soon.

From Factory to Flower – 4 GMP Insights for the Grow House

By Tom Blaine
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At first glance, the layout of a grow room and a factory production line might seem to have little in common. But whether a facility is producing plants or parts, adopting good manufacturing practices (GMP) can benefit plant quality, harvest consistency and production economics.

What is GMP?

Simply defined, GMP refers to a production system made up of processes, standards and safeguards designed to consistently meet a defined quality standard. In the grow house, establishing, documenting and implementing GMPs can help guard against problems ranging from plant contamination to inconsistent harvests. GMPs can be organized into five key categories, each which contribute to cultivation:

  • People: The people working in the grow house understand their responsibilities
  • Processes: Production processes are clearly documented and consistent across harvests
  • Procedures: Guidelines are documented and communicated to all employees
  • Premises: Grow rooms and equipment are clean and maintained
  • Products: Materials used in cultivation (fertilizers, lighting, growing media, etc.) are assessed

Optimizing each of these five P’s in production can help cultivators protect their business and their margins even as flower prices in both legacy and emerging states continue to trend downward. Below, we look at four GMP insights that can help cultivators coordinate the five Ps to achieve quality, consistency and economic objectives harvest after harvest, without massive investments in capital, even during turbulent market conditions.

#1 Know your numbers and their value

Avoid the temptation to lump production costs into very broad categories, i.e., “cost of goods.” Understanding the exact cost of all inputs that go into a grow is a precedent to cost-effective production. The price of the plant material, energy consumed, labor, nutrients, fertigation and other inputs involved in the grow should be calculated to determine the actual cost of a grow room. If rooms are set up consistently, you can multiply to get an aggregate production cost across the facility.

Growing media

Look beyond the price tag when calculating costs and consider the value each input brings to the grow. Nutrition is a good example. Understanding the concentration of specific nutrients in a product can be a better way of evaluating its value than simply looking at the cost of the goods. And consider whether added nutrients are actually adding value to the product produced. More isn’t always more. In most cases, simple salts will supply the plant with what it needs to grow.

Growing media is another opportunity to evaluate the cost/benefit of cultivation inputs. How much yield can be achieved with a particular medium compared to a different choice? For example, a bag of coco may initially appear to be the low-cost choice for cultivation. Upon a deeper evaluation, though, the cost per plant of coco is generally higher when you factor in the amount of media used for each plant (and that doesn’t even factor in the labor to fill the pots).

# 2 Reduce time waste

Among the various inputs in each growing cycle, labor represents a significant cost.  Are labor hours being put to the best use and not wasted? American industrialist and innovator in mass production Henry Ford stated, “Time waste differs from material waste in that there can be no salvage. The easiest of all wastes and the hardest to correct is the waste of time, because wasted time does not litter the floor like wasted material.”

One way to see the cost of wasted labor dollars is to set up a camera and record a day of activity in the grow room during each step of a grow cycle. Or simply observe the responsibilities that are requiring workers’ time on a typical day. Watching employees’ work in the grow room may reveal how a room’s set-up is contributing to or hindering production. Are employees spending their time on tactics that add value or are they being slowed down by manual processes, such as filling containers, watering and relocating plants in the facility? Are there steps and process that could be automated, such as fertigation? Seeing how employees’ time is being used can identify opportunities to direct efforts toward functions that add value or cut costs. What would be the economic benefit of reducing a half-day of set-up time in the grow house or automating some processes?

GMPBeyond better allocation of human capital, understanding how time is used in the growing operation can suggest changes to materials used in the grow. For example, selecting a growing media that comes in plugs and blocks with pre-drilled holes for efficiently dropping in new plants can reduce time spent filling pots or configuring containers. Automating functions like fertigation and watering can not only reduce labor time but increase the precision of delivery when it comes to water and nutrients.

#3 Introduce incremental improvements

Many manufacturers rely on pilot plants to mitigate risk before process scale-up takes place across an enterprise. The same approach can benefit the grow house. Resist the temptation to overhaul the system and instead focus on introducing one change at a time. This disciplined approach will allow you to evaluate if a change is actually delivering value and should be applied more broadly. The wisdom of a cautious approach to improvements is reflected in a quote by innovation magnate Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple. Observing that not every innovation will be a win, Jobs stated, “Sometimes when you innovate you make mistakes. It is best to admit them quickly and get on with improving your other innovations.”

When introducing a new element into the grow, pilot it in one “sample” area before adding it to the entire operation. Then give the innovation time to be evaluated before deploying it more widely. This measured approach can help reduce the risk that accompanies making a change to processes and will allow you to evaluate the relative benefit of any change or innovation. And as changes are introduced one at a time, it is easier to determine which changes are contributing value.

#4 Satisfy the market, not just the spec

Regulatory bodies set the compliance criteria for purity or quality standards in manufacturing, but the ultimate mark of approval is awarded by customers in the marketplace. A harvest may meet all of the quality specs, but if customers don’t want to buy it, achieving GMP metrics is a moot effort. The marketplace will always have the final say on a product’s commercial viability.

Understand what the market wants and be able to replicate it consistently harvest after harvest. Manufacturing a product that meets the market’s desired performance attributes is essential to sustaining and growing operations. Production quality is only as good as the last harvest and any degradation in product quality will diminish buyers’ trust. History shows that the challenge of achieving consistent production quality and reliability isn’t just a problem for cultivators. Among several factors that doomed the short-lived Edsel sedan introduced in 1957 were problems arising from assembly workers having to use different tools and techniques. A lack of consistency in producing cars or cultivars can turn off customers and profitability.

A tension exists between achieving production consistency and the opportunity to introduce changes that improve the grow. By integrating improvements into the production system one measured change at a time, cultivators can assess which improvements to continue and what needs to be tweaked. But as manufacturing has long demonstrated, continuous improvement is an ongoing journey.

As cultivators consider the 5 Ps of people, processes, procedures, premises and products, applying these four GMP insights can help growers in emerging and legacy markets navigate changing market conditions and drive continuous improvement.