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

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

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

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

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

Jason Vegotsky, CEO of Petalfast

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Green: How does the industry get there?

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

How to Make Sure Your Cannabis Delivery Service Is Compliant

By Claudia Post
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On-demand cannabis delivery services are a rapidly growing part of the industry. Having a delivery option available for your dispensary’s patient population is a critical component of your service offering. This is especially true when considering medical cannabis patients who might have conditions that hinder their mobility or patients who just prefer the anonymity or convenience of delivery rather than visiting a dispensary.

So I ask you – why don’t you have a delivery service option available for your dispensary?

While there are several models for cannabis delivery, depending on the state you live in, the biggest challenge dispensary owners face is ensuring that their delivery service continues to meet all compliance standards.

Beware, one misstep in your delivery process could mean serious implications for your dispensary and you – including being shut down.

Keep reading to learn how you can provide your customers and patients with a delivery service while remaining compliant with your state’s rules and regulations.

How to Keep Your Cannabis Delivery Service Compliant

Part of keeping your cannabis delivery service compliant is understanding how to start a delivery service from the ground up. Keep in mind that the costs will vary depending on how you structure your company. Things to think about – insurance, technology, merchant processing, driver recruiting and whether or not your drivers will be independent contractors or employees.

Some states require a retailer’s license while others require a specific deliver license

Additionally, you will have to consider the regulations that are standard in your state.

For instance, if you don’t do your research, you won’t know whether or not you need two drivers in the car, whether or not you need a lockbox, or if you’re required to have handhelds for payment. Other requirements will depend on the state in which you live.

Here are the most important things you’ll need to do to get started:

Do Your Homework 

The first thing you need to do to ensure that your service is compliant is research your state’s delivery protocol. That means obtaining the proper licensing or certifications necessary to move cannabis products from one place to another.

It should be noted that in some states, like Washington, cannabis delivery providers must also obtain a retailer’s license. You’ll also need to determine whether your state allows delivery for only medical cannabis or both medical and recreational.

Please keep in mind the following – cannabis is not federally recognized as legal. Therefore, the only deliveries you can make are intrastate deliveries.

In some states you’re required to have handhelds for payment.

Lastly, you’ll need to pay close attention to how you can advertise your cannabis delivery service. The guidelines vary from state to state, and they typically include regulations for content, imaging and location.

Is Owning a Delivery Service Right for You?

Delivery, in general, is not easy. The delivery business is difficult to integrate into the highly regulated cannabis market; it becomes extraordinarily difficult to manage.

It’s great to have a delivery service, but are you a good salesperson? Do you understand marketing, positioning and messaging? Have you ever written SOPs or standard operating procedures? There are so many questions to ask yourself when you want to own a business.

Consider Working With Logistics Experts

While it may be tempting to create an in-house delivery service all on your own, think twice.

It’s best to partner with a third-party logistics partner, like Scarlet Express. These partners are experts in cannabis delivery services and will arm you with everything you need to be successful.

Most cannabis logistics companies can also scale right along with your business, so you don’t have to worry about “outgrowing” their services.

As a new or small dispensary owner, taking on the challenges of cannabis delivery can be incredibly difficult but not impossible when you work with a company that has tried and true systems in place. Lots of things to consider, seek out experts – like Scarlet Express.

Thinking of Starting a Cannabis Delivery or Transport Business? Here’s What You Need to Know

Ask any cannabis connoisseur, and theyll likely tell you that cannabis delivery services have been around for a long, long time. Given the distancing requirements of the COVID years, the increasing number of medical cannabis patients who need or would like cannabis delivered to their door and the surge in recreational adult use sales, cannabis delivery is coming out of the shadows and into the legal cannabis industry.

Proponents of cannabis delivery say that creating a legal structure and guidelines that allow cannabis home delivery encourages people to buy from legal sources rather than the legacy market. In some cases, its a way to entice legacy cannabis delivery operators to transition to the licensed and regulated market. While many states remain hesitant to allow adult use cannabis delivery, some do, and others have taken the first step, allowing delivery to registered medical cannabis patients and caregivers.

Where is Cannabis Delivery Legal?

According to Cannabis Business Times, states that permit medical cannabis delivery as part of another license type, retail, for example, or with a specific delivery license include: Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island and Vermont. Complex reports that delivery service is legally available without any restrictions to anyone 21 years or older in California, Nevada and Oregon.

Medical or adult use, there are restrictions on where cannabis can be delivered, even within states that allow it. For instance, you cant legally deliver cannabis to college or university campuses. Although many people still discreetly deliver and receive cannabis products on campuses, its illegal to do so since cannabis is a federally controlled substance and higher education institutions that receive federal funding must prohibit its use and distribution.

It’s noteworthy that some states without legal cannabis delivery regulations have a loophole” through which some delivery businesses operate. Gifting, for example, is an established, though not entirely legal, delivery practice. According to NJ.com, New Jersey falls into the gifting loophole category:

Licenses to sell legal weed are still months away, but theres a handful of entrepreneurs coming into the scene through a possible legal loophole — “gifting” cannabis. Its a scheme popular in other states and particularly in Washington, D.C. A company lets you buy cookies, snacks or brownies that come with sticker shock of $50 or more. But when they make the delivery, it comes with a suggested gift: maybe a cannabis edible or an ounce of flower.

 Although many underground businesses thrive in the Garden States in-between” market, NJ.com also reports that gray market operators have faced legal penalties and even jail time.

Why Are Cannabis Delivery Services Popular? 

Cannabis delivery services have a rich cultural history in the underground market. Rather than making a transaction in public, home delivery provides a more intimate and secure way of selling cannabis to consumers. 

Cannabis delivery has skyrocketed in popularity due to the COVID-19 crisis. MJBizDaily reports that online cannabis orders boomed during the pandemic, increasing the need for cannabis delivery services. 

Historically, cannabis delivery services also help registered medical cannabis patients receive access to their medicine since their disability or chronic condition might prevent them from leaving the house and visiting a dispensary. This can be especially true for seniors, even if they arent a registered patient, but live in a state with adult use cannabis.

Whats the Difference Between Cannabis Delivery and Transport Licenses?

There is real confusion surrounding the differences between delivery and transport licenses.  Basically, delivery licenses are B2C (business to consumer), and transport licenses are B2B (business to business).

Cannabis delivery and courier licenses allow licensees to deliver cannabis products directly to patients, caregivers, and in some states, consumers. While the name of the license differs depending on the state in which you seek to operate, delivery licenses tend to allow operators to act as a retailer without a traditional bricks and mortar location. Delivery licensees purchase and store wholesale cannabis products and sell them via the delivery model. Couriers, however, are traditionally hired by retailers as their delivery arm. In this model, the retailer takes the order, and the courier delivers, like Door Dash or Uber Eats. One key difference between a delivery and courier license is the significantly lower cost of entry for couriers as they dont have facility, inventory, or storage costs, and generally have lower operational expenses.

But what about transport licensees? Rather than delivering to individuals, transport licensees typically deliver cannabis products between licensed cannabis facilities, such as a cultivator or manufacturer to a retail dispensary or testing facility.

In Massachusetts, there are three delivery and transport licenses (courier, delivery operator, and transporter) as well as a delivery endorsement that allows certain licensees to deliver directly from a licensed establishment to consumers.

The first step to operate a cannabis delivery or transport business is determining whether you want to deliver for retail establishments, buy product and deliver directly or transport cannabis between licensed cannabis businesses. Each model has its plusses and minuses, just depends on what you want. Its important to note that Massachusetts delivery operator licenses are currently reserved for social equity participants, as reported in the Milford Daily News:

The new “marijuana delivery operator” licenses…will be available exclusively to participants in the CCC’s social equity program and economic empowerment applicants for the first three years.”

Once you decide which type of license you want, the next steps are first to familiarize yourself with your states cannabis rules and regulations, and then to complete and submit a license application.

How to Apply for a Cannabis Delivery or Transport License

While the delivery and transport license application process looks different in each state that allows them, all states require applicants to be 21 years of age or older and most require operators to be current residents of the state where they intend to operate. There are also required, non-refundable application and licensing fees. While these fees are not insignificant, the good news is that they tend to be lower than the fees required for other cannabis business license applications.

Since compliance with state rules and regulations is a condition of licensure, licenses are awarded to some or all applicants that meet the application and regulatory requirements. Once awarded, cannabis delivery and transport licensees must maintain compliance or risk hefty fines and/or face a temporary or permanent shut down. One regulatory example is that delivery operators must digitally verify any and every customers photo ID before and when a cannabis product is delivered to a recipient; missing this critical step can put your businesses at serious risk of legal and financial consequences.

How to Maintain Compliance Once Youre Licensed

Maintaining compliance for any cannabis business can be challenging. There are strict guidelines on marketing and advertising, security, employee training, inventory management and more. Additionally, there are restrictions specific to cannabis delivery services, particularly limits on how much product can be delivered per order/transaction.

What does cannabis compliance specifically look like for cannabis delivery licensees? For one, all merchants must verify ID before an order is fulfilled. In states with medical cannabis, this would require medical card ID verification. Otherwise, for adult use markets, a drivers license or other state-issued photo ID with a valid birthdate is acceptable. Some states require recipients to sign a manifest or receipt acknowledging that they accepted the cannabis order and for the licensee to maintain a record of that acknowledgement for a specified number of years.

There are many other regulations that delivery operators must adhere to and many ways to stay up to date and compliant. Tasking a staff member to handle all things compliance is one option. Another is hiring a compliance professional to set up and oversee a compliance operating system and/or partnering with a compliance software solution provider.

Cannabis delivery services can be very profitable. In comparison to other cannabis licenses, they dont require as much finance capital to get started. Once a license is obtained, your priority will turn to maintaining compliance. Too many delivery services exist in a precariously legal gray area; dont let yours be one of them.

israel flag

Aurora Cannabis Delivers Largest Shipment to Israel

By Cannabis Industry Journal Staff
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israel flag

Aurora Cannabis Inc. sent out a press release today announcing that they have completed their largest shipment of cannabis to Israel yet. The Canadian company says the shipment of medical cannabis is worth roughly C$10 million, making it their largest shipment and possibly the largest cannabis import in Israel’s history.

aurora logoAurora is working on building their market presence in Israel as they continue to focus on international expansion. They claim that they are the leading Canadian licensed producer in global medical cannabis by revenue.

Miguel Martin, CEO of Aurora Cannabis Inc., says they are watching the world slowly begin to embrace cannabis just a bit more. “It’s an exciting time for the global cannabis industry, as we’re seeing growing acceptance and thoughtful regulation of both medical and adult-use cannabis across Europe and in key markets like Israel,” says Martin. “With strong local relationships, as well as support from our patients and consumers, we look forward to continuing to expand our international business to complement our total cannabis portfolio.”

Aurora also announced a joint venture in The Netherlands back in November of 2021, joining their regulated adult-use pilot program. The shipment of medical cannabis to Israel was delivered in December and will be posted in their second quarter revenue of 2022.

A Guide to Outsourcing Your Cannabis Delivery Service

By Claudia Post
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If you are interested in adding a new delivery option for your cannabis dispensary, choosing a third-party service is a great move. Generally speaking, the most significant selling points of third-party delivery services are overhead cost and convenience.

Not only will third-party delivery services run your entire courier operation under a single platform, but they will also streamline your sales process with the latest technology. In addition, working with a third-party vendor will help you avoid financial risk with workers’ compensation and auto insurance expenses.

Please consider the following points to build a successful partnership with a third-party cannabis delivery service.

Research Your Local Market Regulations

Before you can outsource a delivery option for your cannabis dispensary, you need to research if it’s legal to do so in your given market. Whether medical or adult-use, each state has unique regulations for delivery services. In addition, individual counties and municipalities within these states also have their own rules concerning cannabis delivery on a more granular level.

As an illustration, Denver, CO, has had an adult-use cannabis market since 2013, but the city just passed legislation approving delivery services. So, starting in late summer 2021, third-party vendors will be the only businesses allowed to deliver cannabis in Denver legally. As can be seen, just because cannabis is legal in a particular state doesn’t mean delivery is always an option.

How Do I Vet a Potential Delivery Partner?

You must be discerning when starting a partnership with a third-party cannabis delivery service. As these delivery companies will be representing your brand in the field, you want to make the best choice possible. Luckily, there are some specific parameters you can follow in vetting a potential delivery partner.

License: Perhaps the most critical part of vetting a delivery partner is ensuring they have the appropriate license. Especially in hotbeds like California, countless unlicensed cannabis businesses are in operation, including delivery services. Therefore, asking to see their paperwork should be the very first step in vetting.

App & User Experience (UX): Taking a good look at the User Experience (UX) provided by a third-party vendor’s app or website is a great way to vet them. In the end, delivery services are all about convenience. If their ordering software is robust and offers flexibility and great reporting, they will likely provide you the springboard to retain your repeat buyers. 

Payment processing can be a challenge in retail

OSHA Certification: Another critical factor to consider when vetting a delivery partner is OSHA training. Those companies who have taken steps to train their employees on safety protocol appropriately will likely make good partners.

How Does Online Ordering Work with My System?

Payment processes for cannabis dispensaries are incredibly complex. Moreover, since cannabis is still federally illegal, major credit cards and banks do not accept charges from dispensaries. Because of such complexities, the prospect of accommodating deliveries might prove to be a challenge.

Enter Scarlet Express. Third-party cannabis companies like Scarlet Express can integrate with your established system to seamlessly add delivery payments. They even offer customizable software that integrates with your menu provider and POS system while also importing essential brand elements like logos and colors.

If you are a small cannabis dispensary that has never developed online ordering, certain third-party vendors can also help you build out an eCommerce page on your website.

What About Compliance & Seed-to-Sale Tracking?

Compliance is one of the essential elements of running a successful cannabis business. However, compliance regulations can get tough to follow when you begin dealing with third-party delivery companies, namely because cannabis products change hands several times before they are finally sold to the consumer.

PlantTag
A plant tagged with a barcode and date for tracking

The state has thoroughly vetted any third-party delivery service that has received a license. Therefore, not only are they up-to-speed on compliance protocol for your given market, but they are also trained on the appropriate seed-to-sale software. With these controls in place, you can trust they assume legal responsibility for cannabis products after leaving the dispensary.

To operate compliantly, third-party delivery services time-stamp their orders, which can then be tracked through GPS in the delivery car. Finally, all cannabis products are stored within a secure lock box that is only opened at the time of delivery.

Adding a delivery option for your cannabis dispensary is a great way to entrench yourself with your clients. Working with a third-party delivery service is a painless way to expand your business.

When considering a partnership with a cannabis delivery service, be sure to thoroughly vet them and make sure they share your goals and vision. In doing so, you will ensure an invaluable partnership that will continue long into the future.

Jane & Leafly Join Forces: An Interview with Socrates Rosenfeld, CEO of Jane

By Aaron Green
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As retailers accept the end of in-store shopping as we know it and start adjusting to e-commerce, an improved and more involved customer experience will be imperative for an e-retailer to grow, let alone stay afloat.

Jane recently announced a strategic partnership that combines Jane’s best-in-class product catalog and business tools with Leafly’s consumer marketplace and reach. Together, the companies will build solutions that empower cannabis retailers with fast and simple online shopping experiences that increase consumer purchase behavior. The partnership will seek to help instill consumer trust in the online shopping experience, build stronger customer acquisition tools for retailers, and help dispensaries grow their ecommerce capabilities with consistency and automation.

This strategic partnership comes after a massive year of growth for both Jane and Leafly. In the past year, Jane powered over 17 million orders and $2 billion in cannabis sales, while Leafly has seen more than 4,500 cannabis retailers in North America leverage their platform to bring new customers through the door.

Socrates Rosenfeld, CEO of Jane

We spoke with Socrates Rosenfeld, CEO of Jane to learn more about e-commerce and online marketplaces and how Jane and Leafly came together as partners, rather than competitors. Prior to Jane, Socrates was an Apache helicopter pilot for the US Army later transitioning to consulting with McKinsey.

Aaron Green: Socrates, thanks for taking the time today. What trends are you seeing and following in the industry?

Socrates Rosenfeld: Always happy to chat about the industry. Thanks for having me.

If you were to ask me that question a year ago, I’d say having a digital footprint was something that would give a dispensary or a brand a nice advantage. Today, it’s a must-have for survival. Where it used to be one or the other; online or offline, now we are able to merge the two by replicating a physical store into a digitized form to extend its reach far beyond its walls.

As things become more digitized, information becomes more necessary to run operations. With that we are able to meet the expectations of the consumers who are accustomed to convenience and curation. The omnichannel experience provides the best of both worlds. Access and ease of search with the ability to pick up or have the product delivered the same day from a locally owned and run business.

Reviews are one of the most important aspects of this unification of online and offline. It is something that is lost in solely offline purchases, that we’re now able to collect and organize. This product information allows us to provide customers the purchasing power to make a well-informed decision.

At Jane, we believe it is possible to create wins for the dispensaries, brands and customers – and digitization creates the opportunity for that to happen. I think there’s no better incubator in the world than the cannabis industry to prove that online and offline retail can work in harmony.

Aaron: Jane is the largest e-commerce platform in North American cannabis and Leafly is the largest marketplace in North American cannabis. What’s the difference between an e-commerce platform and a marketplace?

Socrates: Great question. There is definitely some overlap between the two, which is why it makes so much sense for us to collaborate. Ultimately though, our focus and expertise are different. Jane’s ecommerce platform serves as the industry’s digital infrastructure that pushes digital products across various order origination points like a dispensary’s own website, a brand’s own website and now, Leafly’s marketplace. Paired with Leafly’s industry-leading content and market information, together we can complete the entire online cannabis shopping experience – from product discovery through order fulfillment.

Aaron: At first glance, one might think that Jane and Leafly are competitors. How did you see it differently? And how did this partnership come about?

Socrates: Not only is our tech complementary, but we are aligned on mission – to empower consumers, dispensaries and brands with the integrity of the plant in mind.

We want to make it simple for consumers to reach the products that will be most helpful for them. We want to make it possible for dispensaries and brands, regardless of their size, to be able to compete on an even playing field.

It all comes back to being good stewards of the industry. Education and access create a healthy demand for a diverse range of products. That means that the plant stays in the hands of many – safeguarding it from homogenization.

Aaron: How do consumers benefit from the partnership?

Socrates: It really is all about bringing this industry in line with any other retail vertical and meeting the customer where they are. It unlocks more avenues for customers to discover products and access a vast catalog of information and verified customer reviews. Bottom line, this partnership makes shopping for cannabis as simple as shopping online for everything else in the world, while also ensuring the success of the sellers.

Aaron: When you say the sellers, are you talking about the dispensary or the brands?

Socrates: Both, we want to provide value for the entire ecosystem. We can do that directly for dispensaries and brands by enabling an automated ecommerce platform that they can use to power their own website. At Jane, we know that technology can unlock value for everyone, where it is not a zero-sum game and success for one means success for the other. With Jane, both the dispensaries and the brands win.

Aaron: What kind of regulatory challenges do you face through the partnership?

Socrates: There are no real regulatory challenges for the partnership itself. The entire industry operates under regulatory challenges, but it is those regulations that have been the catalyst for innovation. I see the opportunity for legal online payments and national product distribution to play a large role in shaping the industry soon, and a partnership like this will ensure a seamless transition for the industry as things continue to evolve.

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

Socrates: I’ve always been curious about disruptive models. The companies, not just in tech, but any company that has set out to do things differently and has been able to hold true to a vision. That’s what interests me, and I think I will always have something to learn and draw inspiration from. 

Aaron: Excellent, that’s the end of the interview, Socrates!

Socrates: Thanks, Aaron.

The Dawn of Delivery: How This Oregon Company Launched During a Pandemic

By Aaron G. Biros
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Back in late 2016, the Oregon Liquor Control Commission (OLCC) legalized delivery for cannabis products. Since then, dispensaries could offer a delivery option for their customers to purchase cannabis products without leaving the comfort of their home. Up until quite recently, that market was dominated by a handful of dispensaries who also conduct business at their physical location, offering delivery as an option while conducting most sales in-person.

Enter Pot Mates. Founded in 2018 by Hammond Potter, the company embarked on the long regulatory road towards licensing and beginning operations. On April 20, 2020, Pot Mates opened for business, starting their engines to take on the fledgling cannabis delivery market in Portland.

Pot Mates is a tech startup through and through. The founders are former Apple employees. Hakon Khajavei, the chief marketing officer at Pot Mates, founded Blackline Collective, a business and marketing consultancy, which is where he joined the Pot Mates team. The other co-founder of Pot Mates and chief technology officer, Jason Hinson, joined after serving in the US Navy as an electronics technician maintaining satellite communications networks.

With the sheer amount of regulations for cannabis businesses, coupled with the new delivery-based business model, Pot Mates had to focus on technology and automation from the get-go.

Not Just an Online Dispensary

For the cannabis companies already offering delivery in the Portland metro area, their websites seem to mimic the in-person dispensary experience. They offer dozens of products for each category, like concentrates, edibles and flower, making a customer pour through options, all at different price points, which can get confusing for the average consumer.

The Pot Mates logo

Pot Mates does things a little differently. “Our start up process was thinking through how do we make this the best experience possible, how do we get rid of the unnecessary junk and how do we do things that only an online dispensary can do,” says Khajavei. They have flat pricing across the board. In each category, almost every product is priced the same, moving away from the common tiered-pricing model. This, Khajavei says, removes the decision barriers customers often face. Instead of choosing the right price point, they can choose the delivery mechanism and effect they desire uninhibited by a difference in cost.

It all comes back to focusing on the simplest way for someone to buy cannabis. “Shopping online is just very different,” says Khajavei. “Our process focuses on the customer journey and limits the number of products we offer. We have a mood system, where we tag our products from reviews to typify moods that you experience with different products.” All of that requires a lot of back-end technology built into their website.

The Long Regulatory Road

Technology has been a strong suit for Pot Mates since they opened their doors, and well before that too. Making the decision to be an online-only delivery cannabis company pushed them to pursue a very unique business model, but regulations dictate a lot of the same requirements that one might see in dispensaries.

Hakon Khajavei, Chief Marketing Officer

The same rules apply to them when Pot Mates submitted their license application. You need to have a signed lease, extreme security measures, detailed business plans, integrated seed-to-sale traceability software (Metrc in Oregon) and much more. “During the months leading up to getting our license, we were able to iron out a lot of the regulatory details ahead of time,” says Khajavei. A lot of that was about security and tracking their products, which is why technology plays such a huge role in their ongoing regulatory compliance efforts. “We built in a lot of automation in our system for regulatory compliance,” says Khajavei. “Because of our technology, we are a lot faster.”

In the end, their licensing process through the state of Oregon as well as the city of Portland took about nine months. Once they had the license, they could finally get down to business and begin the process of building their website, their POS system, their inventory and reaching out to partners, producers, distributors and growers.

For any cannabis company, there are a number of regulations unique to their business. “We need to report every product movement in house through Metrc,” says Khajavei. “Every time something is repackaged it needs to be reported. We focus so much on our technology and automation because these regulations force us to do so.” But delivery companies are required to report even more. Pot Mates needs to report every single movement a product makes until it reaches the customer. Before the delivery can leave the shop, it is reported to Metrc with an intended route, using turn-by-turn directions. It complicates things when you make two or more deliveries in one trip. Reporting a daisy chain of deliveries a vehicle makes with turn-by-turn directions to regulatory authorities can get very tedious.

As far as regulations go for delivery parameters, they can legally deliver anywhere inside Portland city limits. “It is our job to figure that out, not the customer’s job; so we don’t have any distance limits, as long as it is residential,” Khajavei says. “We programmed customized technology that allows us to handle really small orders.” Without a minimum order policy or a distance limit, Pot Mates can reach a much bigger group of consumers.

Launching in the Midst of a Global Pandemic

Chief Technology Officer, Jason Hinson

Luckily, the Pot Mates team received their license just in time. About two weeks after they submitted their application, Oregon put a moratorium on any new dispensaries.

They went forward with their launch on April 20 this year, despite the coronavirus pandemic impacting just about every business in the world, including their marketing efforts tremendously. With cannabis deemed essential by the state, they could operate business as usual, just with some extra precautions. What’s good for PotMates is that they don’t need to worry about keeping social distancing policies for customers or curbside pickup, given the lack of storefront.

They still need to keep their team safe though. The Pot Mates team began 3D printing washable and reusable face masks, getting more gloves for delivery drivers, cleaning their warehouse thoroughly, cleaning vehicles and making sure employees maintained distancing. Pot Mates is even 3D printing enough masks and donating them to local organizations that need access to masks. “As a cannabis company, we always have to handle things with gloves here and take necessary safety precautions anyway, so our response is more about how we can help than what we need to change.”

Advertising Cannabis in a Pandemic is No Easy Task

“The marketing aspect is where covid-19 really hurt us,” says Khajavei. “There are so many regulations for cannabis companies advertising already. Unlike other products, we can’t just put up advertisements anywhere. We have to follow very specific rules.” So, in addition to the normal marketing woes in the cannabis industry, the team then had to deal with a pandemic.

Pot Mates had to scrap their entire marketing strategy for 2020 and redo it. “We wanted to begin with a lot of face-to-face marketing at events, but that didn’t quite work out so well.” Without any concerts, industry events or large gatherings of any kind, Pot Mates had to pivot to digital marketing entirely. They started building their SEO, growing their following on social media, producing content in the form of blogs and education around cannabis and the local laws.

On an Upward Trajectory

Obviously, the short-term problem for a new cannabis company is reaching people, especially during the COVID-19 crisis. “We have a good trajectory though, we know we are growing our business, but we still have a ways to go,” says Khajavei. It doesn’t help that social media companies have nonsensical policies regarding cannabis. Their Facebook page was recently removed too.

Founder & CEO of Pot Mates, Hammond Potter

But the bigger issue here is kind of surprising when you first hear it: “It’s not even a matter of customer preference, a lot of people just have no idea that delivery is even legal.”

It’s pretty evident that cannabis delivery has not really gone mainstream yet. “We’ve told people about our business in the past and a common answer we get is, ‘Oh my gosh, I didn’t even know we could get cannabis delivered.’” It’s never crossed their mind that they can get cannabis delivered to their home. It’s an awareness problem. It’s a marketing problem. But it’s a good problem to have and the solution lies in outreach. Through educational content they post on social media and in their blog, Khajavei wants to spread the word: “Hey, this is a real thing, you can get cannabis delivered.”

As the market develops and as consumers begin to key in on cannabis delivery, there’s nowhere to go but up. Especially in the age of Amazon and COVID-19 where consumers can get literally anything they can dream of delivered to their front door.

Moving forward, Pot Mates has plans to expand as soon as they can. Right now, they’re limited to Portland city limits, but there’s a massive population just outside of Portland in towns like Beaverton, Tigard and Tualatin. “We are so close to these population centers but can’t deliver to them now because of the rules. We want to work with OLCC about this and hopefully change the rules to allow us to deliver outside of the city limits,” says Khajavei. In the long term, they plan to expand out of state, with Washington on their north border being first on the docket.

To the average person, one would think launching a delivery cannabis business in the midst of a global pandemic would be a walk in the park, but Pot Mates proved it’s no easy task. As the market develops and the health crisis continues, it seems the Oregon market will react positively to the nascent delivery market, but first they need to know it is even an option.