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european union states

European Cannabis is the Emerging Market to Attract North American Investment

By Mark Wheeler
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european union states

Europe continues to be the new frontier of medical and wellness developments in the cannabis industry, with various sources predicting that Europe will become the world’s largest legal cannabis market over the next 5 years. Key related statistics, include:

  • A population of over 740 million (over double US and Canada combined)
  • Total cannabis market estimated to be worth up to €123 billion by 2028 (€58bn medical cannabis (47%), €65bn recreational cannabis (53%))
  • Over €500 million has been invested in European cannabis businesses (including significant expenditure in research and development, manufacturing and distribution)

To reiterate this belief, this month, hundreds of industry experts and delegates will be attending Cannabis Europa in Madrid, to discuss the expansion of cannabis across Europe and the challenges facing the industry across the member states of the EU and the UK.

Global mainstream leans to European strength

Since late 2018, major global operators have made substantial moves into the cannabis sector. Anheuser-Busch InBev, the world’s largest beer company and maker of Budweiser, entered into a partnership to research beverages infused with two types of cannabis. Constellation, owner of Corona beer, announced a commitment for $4 billion investment in Canadian cannabis company Canopy Growth. BlackRock Inc, through five actively managed BlackRock funds, has invested into Curaleaf Holdings Inc, a dispensary operator, for a not too insignificant investment sum of $11 million (as at March 2019). Such international investments prove that cannabis has moved from the fringes and into the mainstream.

When considering the impact of mainstream cannabis, it should be recognised that major European countries have approved or are planning on implementing, legalisation of medicinal cannabis. The UK, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands already have legal systems in place for medicinal cannabis and France and Spain are currently reviewing key legislative reform to align themselves with international practices. At present the German market is the third largest cannabis market (in terms of size) behind the US and Canada.

european union states
Member states of the EU, pre-Brexit

In addition to medicinal cannabis, several key European countries have systems in place, or are developing systems, or considering the reform of existing systems, to approve cannabis with THC content at a recreational level. The Netherlands already has a system and Luxembourg’s health minister in August 2019 announced the intention to legalise cannabis for Luxembourg residents. The Luxembourg government is lobbying EU member states to follow suit.

Whilst the EU has a labyrinth of laws in relation to edible CBD (as a novel food) which make the regulatory landscape complex, there has been an explosion of CBD products for vaping and cosmetics. Of course, with each of these products being subject to different local laws (some aligned between EU members states) in relation to vaping and cosmetic related regulations. The Brightfield Group has predicted a 400% increase in the European CBD market (including vaping liquid) from $318m in 2018 to $1.7 billion by 2023. There is also an expansion into applications for CBD with animals with many US manufacturers of CBD-infused pet food.

The European Parliament’s health committee has been calling for properly funded scientific research and there are motions to establish policies to seek to incentivise member states to advance the studies of medical cannabis, with a priority on scientific research and clinical studies – the first step necessary to drafting legislation, designed to better support the industry.

Where does the UK sit within cannabis?

Medicinal cannabis famously saw a legalisation, of sorts, by the then Secretary of State, Sajid Javid, who provided the authorisations for prescriptions for the high profile cases of Billy Caldwell and Alfie Dingley. Subsequently, on 1 November 2018, this was codified into law by an amendment to Schedule 2 of the 2001 Misuse of Drugs Regulations. This allows clinicians to prescribe cannabis as an unlicensed medicine.

There have, of course, been some high profile licensed medicines. The UK company, GW Pharmaceuticals, is the largest exporter of legal medical cannabis in the world, cultivating medical cannabis for production of cannabis-based medicines (e.g. Epidiolex & Sativex). Epidiolex (manufactured by subsidiary Greenwich Biosciences) became the first cannabis-derived medicine approved for use in the US for treatment of seizures caused by Lennox-Gastaut and Dravet syndromes (both severe forms of epilepsy).

When considering the level of research development and investment in the medicinal field, it is no surprise that the UK is the world’s largest producer and exporter of medical cannabis. Research published by the International Narcotics Control Board indicates that the UK produces over 100,000kg a year of medicinal cannabis.

UKflagPrevious guidance from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) indicated that further research is required to demonstrate the benefit of medicinal cannabis, citing its cost versus evidenced benefit. However, there is now renewed confidence in the UK following NICE’s approval of two cannabis-based medicines produced by GW Pharmaceuticals,  Epidiolex (cannabidiol) oral solution and Sativex (nabiximols), for routine reimbursement through the NHS.

Following the re-categorisation of medicinal cannabis in November 2018, a number of clinics have been established where specialised clinicians can start the process of prescribing cannabis based medicinal products (CBMPs). Whilst this route is not fast, and challenges are well documented as to the satisfaction of prescriptions made in the UK, there is momentum behind the development of this as a means for providing genuine and established medical care. A significant step in October 2019, was the CQC registration of one such cannabis clinic, Sapphire Medical Clinics Limited.

In November 2019, a project backed by the Royal College of Psychiatrists was announced with the aim to be the largest trial on the drug’s use in Europe with a target of 20,000 UK patients.

The UK medicinal cannabis sector is establishing a research-based approach to expand usage in the UK and across Europe.

How North America compares to Europe

Canada

Canada, as a first mover within the cannabis sector, has a multitude of large companies which are well-capitalised and have substantial international footprints. The Canadian exchanges have large listed companies looking to Europe with the intention of acquiring or investing into European operations. As of the date of writing, the 10 largest cannabis companies in Canada have an aggregate market cap of over $23.5 billion (and all registered cannabis companies in Canada having an aggregate market cap of over $46.5 billion).

Listed companies have had a tough time over the last 6-12 months with a slowdown in the market as a natural re-balancing occurs – part of which is due to rapid expansion and heavy investment into cultivation by all the major participants in the market. Over the next 6 -12 months we can expect to see management changes (some of which will be voluntary and some of which will be imposed by institutional pressure) to introduce different skill sets at board and senior management level to facilitate the oversight and leadership necessary for large pharmaceutical companies. Many operations have expanded into highly regulated products and complex supply chains whilst still operating with fundamentally the same team that established the operations with entrepreneurial efforts but, perhaps, a lack of experience in these sectors. The recent announcements by Aurora Cannabis and Tilray demonstrate that these restructurings and costs reductions have already commenced. However, with increased experience at board level and an improvement of profitability focused on sustainable business practices, should come new opportunities on a global scale for these North American operations.

The US

The US market, because of the complexity of state and federal laws not being fully aligned, is closer to its infancy than the Canadian market. This is not too dissimilar to the European market. That said, there are a number of well-funded and quite large US enterprises. A limited number of these, such as Tilray, are looking to expand into Europe.

Many of the companies in the US have, and continue to, expand quickly so we can expect to see a number of mergers and acquisitions. We are likely to witness Canadian and US entities merging with one another with the potential for acquisitions for operations within Europe. It is unlikely that the North American companies will risk their capital through organic growth so would be expected to be identifying “turnkey” solutions.

One of the major challenges facing US companies is the complexity of supply and distribution. This is largely a result of the complexities for state and federal laws interacting with one another as well as international importation and exportation with US states.

How you can invest within the UK and Europe

Developments in the fields of research and development are anticipated to add further weight to the lobbying of government and regulatory bodies across Europe.The UK remains, despite the events of Brexit, a major financial hub for Europe. The London market has seen the growth of several investment and operation cannabis companies. This includes private companies such as; EMMAC Life Sciences Limited and the operations formerly trading as European Cannabis Holdings (now demerged into several new entities including NOBL and LYPHE) as well as publicly listed companies; including Sativa Group PLC (the first publically listed cannabis specific company in the UK) and World High Life Plc, both operating on the NEX Exchange.

The Medical Cannabis and Wellness Ucits ETF (CBDX), Europe’s first medical cannabis ETF fund, domiciled in Ireland, and which has been passported for sale in the UK and Italy, has also caused a renewed stir within the market with a further platform for listed investment.

As the regulatory framework evolves further there is an anticipation that more medicinal cannabis and CBD related enterprises should have the opportunity to list on public exchanges, whether in the UK or in European countries.

Conclusion

Despite a period of slow down following the natural rebalancing of the fast-growing North American markets for the cannabis sector, there is renewed confidence in the expansion of the industry. Developments in the fields of research and development are anticipated to add further weight to the lobbying of government and regulatory bodies across Europe.

There is an increased push for a public dialogue and consultation in relation to medicinal and recreational cannabis in the UK, backed by several mainstream media platforms. This is likely to be shaped in some parts by national debates in Luxembourg and other European countries as they consider their own domestic laws.

With European parliaments across the EU (including the UK) hopefully having time freed up to discuss other political matters now that Brexit is progressing, the next 18 months should prove an exciting time within the European cannabis sector.

Judge A Book By Its Cover: Why Understanding Information Economics is Critical to Gain Consumer Trust and Build a Sustainable Brand

By Nathan Libbey
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Information economics has existed for decades and drives much of how products, including cannabis, are marketed and purchased. One of the essential frameworks that guides information economics are the search, experience, and credence properties of a product (Patterson, 2017). Understanding these different product attributes is key to setting up a sustaining cannabis product, corporation, and industry.

Search

The search attribute of a product is largely what we see prior to the purchase of a product. Images, claims, and packaging may all contribute to the search attribute of a product. You’ve got a good-looking, flower, pre-roll or edible, and it shows well on your insta page. Information is seemingly symmetrical between agency and consumer, what you see is what you get. In the developing cannabis industry, firms are investing a tremendous amount of resources into search attributes.

Experience

What is the effect of the product? There are two aspects of the experience attribute in information economics. Testimonials may be also considered experience attributes, as they give a user knowledge of how a product tastes, how long it takes to kick in, how long it lasts and descriptions of how others perceived the product’s deliverables. Despite testimonial power, experience is largely personal and occurs only after the product is consumed. Information is seemingly symmetrical; you get the experience that the agency planned and you anticipated. Advances in genetics, homogeneous production methods and potency testing demonstrate that the cannabis industry is investing in experience attributes.

A level playing field where transparency is at the forefront of all transactions will help solidify trust and drive sustainable growth. So, your product looks good, tastes good, and has very positive reviews. Customers can’t get enough; they are voting with their wallets for your product. But there is a third part of information economics you may be missing.

Credence

Credence attributes rely on information asymmetry. Think of used cars as a textbook example: sellers of used cars rely on asymmetry to motivate purchases. Highway miles, adult driven, oil changes every 3,000 miles, etc. are claims that can only be verified by the seller, the buyer has no way of knowing if these are true or not. Credence attributes can’t be verified by the seller due to lack of knowledge or expertise (Ford et al, 1988). The same goes for a consumable good like cannabis, only the grower or manufacturer knows what occurred in the “back of the house.” Product safety, therefore, is a credence attribute of cannabis products.

Investing in credence attributes in a young market may seem cost prohibitive. Many in the cannabis industry simply want to follow whatever the state they operate in dictates as the minimum allowable. In hemp we see states that require QR codes on each product that link to a COA, but many do not. Does the cost to produce the COA and QR code make a product more eye-catching or enhance the experiences? No, but those producing it may pay a hefty price if and when the product makes someone sick.

If a firm relies on fragmented, disparate regulatory bodies to dictate their investments in product safety, they will eventually face credence issues. Is smokable flower grown in Texas safer than that grown in Maine? We don’t have data to support either regulation’s effectiveness, so a firm or industry must dictate what the standard is and stick to it.

We need only look at the leafy green industry to see an example of a product that did not break any regulatory guidelines yet continued to sell a good with very negative credence attributes. How long were folks getting sick from leafy greens prior to them identifying the source? No one knows and that is what makes credence attributes so hard to pin down and develop an ROI formula for. Inputs that yield not-sick people aren’t known until someone gets sick. For leafy greens, they had an advantage – years of studies showing that they were good for you. Cannabis, unfortunately, doesn’t have that leg to stand on and faces an uphill battle gaining public trust.

As soccer moms (and dads) across the nation start to work cannabis into their play date wine sessions, the industry must ensure that they are investing in all avenues of information economics. A level playing field where transparency is at the forefront of all transactions will help solidify trust and drive sustainable growth.


References

Patterson, M. (2017). The economics of information. In Antitrust Law in the New Economy (pp. 39-60). Cambridge, Massachusetts; London, England: Harvard University Press. Retrieved February 7, 2020, from www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctvc2rkm6.6

Ford, G., Smith, D.,  and Swasy, J. (1988), An Empirical Test of the Search, Experience and Credence Attributes Framework, in NA – Advances in Consumer Research Volume 15, eds. Micheal J. Houston, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 239-244.

Metrc Takes Contract for Maine’s Tracking Software

By Aaron G. Biros
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Maine’s Office of Marijuana Policy (OMP), the government agency in charge of regulating their cannabis industry, announced today a six-year contract for traceability software with Metrc LLC. According to the press release, the software will be used for the newly formed adult use market, which is just a few months away from going live with legal sales.

Maine’s OMP was previously under contract with BioTrackTHC as their software provider before switching to Metrc with this new contract. The software is cloud-based and uses radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags on plants and products to track cultivation and distribution of cannabis products throughout the state. The software is commonly used across the country in states that have legal cannabis markets. It essentially prevents diversion to the black market, allows for a transparent supply chain with clear chain of custody tracking and it increases recall readiness.

Erik Gundersen, Director of Maine’s OMP, says Metrc is helping to make a smooth launch of the adult use market. “We are excited to partner with Metrc,” says Gundersen. “Metrc is an industry leader, and their team is committed to delivering a product that will allow us to proceed with the launch of our adult use program later this spring.”

Over the next few months, Metrc and OMP plan on helping the industry familiarize themselves with the new software. The two organizations will go on the road in March, giving licensees training and answering questions. Metrc will then offer online training and evaluations followed by credentialing licensees showing they are proficient with the software.

Jeff Wells, CEO of Metrc, says they are excited to get to work. “We’re excited to partner with the OMP to help launch the state’s adult-use marijuana market,” says Wells. “2020 is another significant year for cannabis industry growth, and we look forward to serving the OMP, local cannabis businesses, and the people of Maine.”

The agreement is a six-year contract with a value of roughly $540,000. License holders pay a $40 monthly fee to access the system, which helps support training and technical support, according to the press release.

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THC Not AfD: Germans Protest on the Front Lines of Change

By Marguerite Arnold
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Braving the chill and rain, over 200 German activists gathered in the German dorf (small town or village) of Lahr on the first Saturday of Febuary, protesting for more comprehensive laws for the controlled distribution and legalization of cannabis. As the local media was quick to point out, this was the first demonstration of its kind in the town.

It was a strategically planned demonstration at a time when the rules are changing, and challenges from law enforcement and regulatory agencies, are growing in Germany. Just in other words, as police are challenging hemp sellers from Spain and Italy to France last year, the battle has come to pot shops and patients alike over the last four years.

The UK is in its just post-Brexit heyday, but the free for all so far on CBD is not likely to proceed without further police involvement. The rules are just not stable enough yet.

On the ground in Germany in early February, no matter how small or inconsequential it might have looked to outsiders, in other words, this protest also appears to have been carefully staged to bring attention to big issues that remain on the ground. In Europe generally, and Germany specifically.

german flag
Photo: Ian McWilliams, Flickr

Chanting “Cannabis Normal” and “THC not AfD” (a reference to a far-right political group that has seen a rapid rise in Germany over the same period of time that cannabis has legalized here and who also opposes cannabis generally), the peaceful demonstration was upbeat, cheerful and polite with the same kinds of street theatre seen in local legalization marches since the 1960s.

As a result, and very much a populist as well as a political movement beyond the plant itself, cannabis protests and legalization have taken place within that environment in Germany so far, with some interesting hybrids.

In fact, the march organizers specifically thanked the police for their protection during the event (common at German hemp parades), and further specifically linked a legal cannabis industry to a safer, less violent society. One of the organizers, indeed was also there to promote the opening of his new CBD shop.

The specific link to peace and a peaceful society is a theme that has not yet seen much global conversation in the new cannabis industry, but it is here in spades in the German market. Particularly as Germans respond to the rise in terrorist attacks here over the last seven years by supporting the banning of a Neo Nazi terror group (Combat 18 on January 23 – the same day as the allies liberated Auschwitz 75 years ago).

A new hybrid approach that specifically links public activism and peaceful free speech about cannabis to legal economic activity.As the conversation about many of these themes auf Deutsch, including the strong Israeli and Jewish presence in the global cannabis industry, continues to expand, it is taking on a very interesting tenor. Yes, Germans are as keen as anyone to be entrepreneurial, and have extra money to spare on consumer goods. But core to the German soul is also a conservative, thrifty approach to all things. Cannabis is one of the few “consumer goods” if not “medication” that appears to be challenging the rules if not culture in ways Germans are still interpreting.

One of the most powerful things about cannabis is its ability to heal. Many different kinds of wounds. And at least to Germans that is the way things are moving politically if not in the world of business. If this plant, in other words, can lower the national healthcare bill, take better care of Germans and create tax revenue that keeps the trains running on time, not to mention somehow ties into “clean” and “green” living, Germans are all for it. And in ways that are certainly “populist.”

That conversation, however delayed by North American standards, is now fully underway auf Deutschland. However, within that, there are all kinds of shades of green, if not purple. From the leaves and buds of the plant, to the political persuasions of those who advocate for its final, full and equal introduction into society, this is also a revolution that is now fully underway and picking up supporters.

Even, en masse, in a tiny town on the edge of Bavaria and via a very interesting new hybrid approach that specifically links public activism and peaceful free speech about cannabis to legal economic activity.

Is 2020 the Year of New CBD Markets?

By Marguerite Arnold
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If you were at Davos this year, you heard alot about CBD. The cannabinoid will again be a headliner in business analysis and bottom line reports this year. But as the market matures, globally, what is the real temperature of the industry? And how fast will regional hiccups resolve?

Regulatory Issues Are In The Room

From the US state markets to the EU, hemp is coming into its own, even though almost everyone also refers to it as CBD (cannabidiol).

european union statesIn the United States, things are even more murky because of a lack of federal reform and the individual rules and regs of existing state markets. To an extent, the market is being “federalized” on the testing front (see ISO for example) and GMP (at the federal pharmaceutical level), producers are beginning to be able to get certified on a global scale. However, the vast majority of the U.S. market is not anywhere close to the regulatory muster now required of even the most-humble commercial hemp farmer anywhere in the EU.

In Europe, the entire cannabis discussion is already far more defined, and as a result, very much likely to set the rulebook globally, especially as so many people want to import here. And this is going to be a bugbear for the next two years. The rules on EU Bio for starters, are still in flux. And where this ties into GMP downstream, those who brave such waters are in for choppy seas for the time being.

Tie this into Novel Food, and this is an area right now that should only be charted by the most experienced navigators, and not just using the stars.

The Battle Is On – Both On The High Seas And The High Streets

For all the desire to bring “whole plant” into the room, (in other words recreational cannabis and medical cannabis with the THC still attached), CBD fever at least has spread in Europe faster than any pending flu epidemic from China.

There are positives and negatives that come with this discussion. Namely, the ever pounding need to commercialize the legal industry and remove all Drug War stigma and barriers from the discussion.

CBD-only legalization is also a powerful answer to those who claim that if CBD is legit, then the police will not chance busting people, no matter how much THC is or is not in the offending substance in question.

These are also the same people frequently who also have a stake in some level of the industry as it legalizes. And this is also where some of the fiercest battles for regulatory control and definition have also begun to happen.

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

Where they have come to a head (see Italy), it appears that governments are indeed reconsidering the whole “insurance” if not “home grow” discussion. Not to mention, as a result, recreational after that. The conversation in Italy, of all places, right now, is a good indication of this trend. It is a conservative country in every way, yet it is the first to not only cancel a government controlled monopoly license, but also the largest country in Europe to again tinker with limited home grow of cannabis plants.

Ironically this is also the place where the most dedicated “CBD revolutionaries” have also hit. In places like the UK right now, the lack of appetite for EU regulatory control generally (see Brexit) has resonated, particularly with a pro cannabis crowd sick and tired of more delay on a topic whose day in the sun has finally come. If not more government wobbles on discussion on the medical side (see the recent NHS decision to ignore cannabinoids and chronic pain).

In other places like Europe however, and this certainly showed up at Davos, CBD is a hardy foot soldier if not cannaguerilla from the hills that is beginning to chalk up discussions if not yet wide-ranging sovereign victories.

This is absolutely clear to see in places like the African market (and Lesotho is about to become a hot ticket globally if not within the African continent). Indeed, the first seeds were sown several years ago).

Yes, it is ridiculous that CBD is being banned. And it is also obvious that governments are unwilling to be bankrupted over medical cannabis of any kind or THC concentration, and know they must also seek other ways to deal with the issue.

CBD, in other words, is a kind of Che Guevara that is going to take down a few of the established orders in this revolution that is now global. And for that very reason, taking on a character if not place at the table all of its own.

Cannabis Featured at World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland

By Marguerite Arnold
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So, cannabis was at Davos, like a lot of Very Important People who paid to be seen. What does that mean, however, for 2020 if not beyond, particularly in Europe?

In general, the industry is setting itself up for the next round of “invasion” just about everywhere. In Europe this is going to be a very interesting next couple of years as cannabis as a crop is integrated into the mainstream via changing rules both on a national and regional level.

There are two possibilities for the now Brexited UK. Either the UK is also going to be an insane madhouse of cannabis innovation, set free from its EU “overlords” or the entire discussion is going to get bogged down in another kind of elite private room. Namely which British company gets mostly monopoly rights on what is left of NHS patients (see GW Pharmaceuticals), and which foreign (probably US or Canadian) company is going to be able to buy market accessone way or another to both the medical market that flows over from this discussion and the budding recreational one. See CBD for starters.

In the meantime, strange hybrids are going to enter markets. British distilled hemp infused rum showed up in German mainstream grocery stores just before Christmas. Chocolate makers are setting out stakes across European states with suppliers attached globally.

In Italy, home grow has entered the discussion again, and recreational count down calendars are also on the walls if not sales projections of everyone in the industry. That said, the strategies and ground covered between now and the beginning of 2022, must be strategically chosen. There is no easy, much less “one” path in. All things cosmetics and tinctures will be difficult paths for years to come – although lucrative markets.

CBD vs THC

This discussion is in the room as a political topic as well as an economic one. Technically, anyone with a working farm and used to producing standards demanded across the EU, should be able to enter the industry at this point. That said, getting in, and getting established is not only expensive but also time consuming. The many quirks and stigmas of the past are still in the room. And as fast as norms are establishing, the rules are changed again.

As much as anyone wants to set out even a stake (medical vs. recreational, THC Vs. CBD), the rules, if not debate is bunted again – certainly this has been the case in Europe over the past few years. In fact, the entire plant must be and always is in the room, even if in discussion with several agencies at a time.

2020, in other words, is going to be an interesting year for the industry, even if the most significant achievements, companies and people are not “seen” much less lauded in any spotlight.There is no way THC can be entirely left out of the discussion to begin with. Starting with alarmed reports about the fact that traces of THC in CBD products can show up in human bloodstreams. Until there is a real understanding about the tolerance levels of THC, and for whom in other words, the CBD market will always be haunted by this bugbear. And when they do, recreational reform of all kinds will also be much easier to support.

That said, you cannot pay overhead with promises about future reform. And in the short term, it is necessary to find your niche, and stick to it.

Europe also is a far more interesting regulatory market. Namely, there are more trials afoot, and more people are exposed to the idea of cannabinoids and how to use them.

How long will this take to resolve? It’s anyone’s guess, but the likelihood is that the next two years are set to be just as interesting as the last several have been, although the ground, as well as the goalposts are also just as clearly changing.

2020 in other words, is going to be an interesting year for the industry, even if the most significant achievements, companies and people are not “seen” much less lauded in any spotlight. Namely a general, mainstream and global population is now being introduced to a wonder if not miracle plant, and in a variety of ways.

That is surely, just in and of itself, perhaps the most important aspect of celebrating at a Swiss resort and playground of elites. Cannabis has “arrived” and taken its sophomore spin at the ball.

Top 5 Trends for Cannabis in 2020

By Melissa Kuipers Blake
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To ask this author to identify the top five trends in 2020 for cannabis is akin to asking her to name only five of her favorite Coldplay songs. With so much energy for both topics, a selection of the absolute most favored components of either passion presents quite a challenge. But like the cannabis industry has done for 20 years under its state-legal regime and entirely illegal federal one, this author will endure under the confines of such limitations.

Consolidation

In any new industry this is bound to happen. Particularly one with such massive government oversight and equally massive consumer demand. Original license holders are cashing out. And they should. They were the risk-takers. The originals. They raced to government buildings across the country with boxes of background checks accompanied by teams of forensic accountants, lawyers and lobbyists to walk down a path only recently paved with legalization to seek a license to directly violate federal law. They drew a line in the sand and said, “I’m in.” And the stars have aligned for them to move on in many states due to changes in ownership structures, particularly ones that now provide for out-of-state interests. They deserve to sell that to the next highest bidder for all of the pressure, investment, stress and risk that permeates the foundation of this industry. With state law changes have come multistate operators, many of whom do not necessarily understand cannabis and have probably never used it, but they know an opportunity when they see it. These companies are buying up licenses across the country and creating brand awareness among consumers with an eye toward changes in federal law that would allow for the transportation of cannabis across state lines. Once that happens, the cannabis industry will be treated like every other American producer with massive distribution centers across the country that will mimic the likes of alcohol and tobacco overnight.

Infused Products

The report further found that the edibles category could be worth more than $4.1 billion in Canada and the United States by 2022.No one wants to go to work and smell like cannabis, unless, of course, you work in a grow facility. And even then, maybe you don’t. And employers aren’t exactly excited when employees are present with the distinct aroma when it’s time to clock in. So, what’s a cannabis consumer to do? Eat or drink the product instead. In a world full of energy drinks, dietary supplements, bubbly water infused with fruit (which still doesn’t taste like anything, let’s be honest), it should surprise no one that cannabis is making its debut in a myriad of consumption applications. While most states prevent the mixing of cannabis-infused beverages and alcohol for sale by retailers (consumers can—and do—mix the products on their own), there are no limits on other targets for cannabis products. Most popular: food and drinks.

ArcView Research and BDS Analytics recently identified that consumer spending on cannabis-based food and drink reached an estimated $1 billion in 2017 in the United States and Canada, representing about 11.4% of the total $9.1 billion in consumer spending on consumable cannabis in those two markets. The report further found that the edibles category could be worth more than $4.1 billion in Canada and the United States by 2022.

There are countless food products and infused beverages on the market in America and anticipated this year, which dovetails perfectly with the American predilection for happy hours, brunch, and after-work drinks; minus the hangover, some might suggest. Any cannabis company owner will tell you the future is infused products, whether consumers are buying the oil themselves to infuse at home or asking a company to infuse something for them. The future of cannabis is, indeed, on a menu.

Movement in Washington, D.C.

When the SAFE Banking Act passed off the House floor with 324 yes votes, 91 of which were from Republicans, a collective cheer and wave akin to an invigorated football stadium engulfed the industry. A huge moment. One long-awaited and most needed. Momentum. Movement. Finally, a sigh of relief. One would be naïve to assume such a success in the House will be mirrored in the Senate. It will not. But that sort of statement from one chamber is a message to the other: this issue is not going away. It matters. It’s bipartisan. And employees/owners in the cannabis industry need relief from the heavy hand of the federal government when they go to work every day in full compliance with state law. With every passing day, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are being educated by the cannabis industry about how to responsibly regulate the products and what true regulation looks like. It’s only a matter of time until these state-level practices are adopted by federal policymakers. Because let’s be honest, elections matter. And 33 states have said yes to cannabis. It’s only a matter of time until the members of Congress from those states take up the issue in a real way. And many already have.

State Legalization

In the last 10 years, 20 states legalized cannabis for medical purposes and 13 legalized it for adult use. Several national polls suggest this trend will only continue in 2020. And unlike the polling in most recent national elections, the predilections on cannabis seem to be accurate. In 2020, adult-use cannabis measures will definitely appear on the New Jersey and South Dakota ballots. Adult-use measures could also appear in Arizona, Arkansas, Missouri, Montana, New Jersey, North Dakota and Oklahoma. Idaho, Mississippi, Nebraska and South Dakota are likely to vote on medical cannabis as well.

Of note, the South Dakota measure would also legalize hemp, which has yet to get the blessing of the Mount Rushmore state. In Mississippi, voters will likely be asked their opinions on legalizing medical cannabis. This is interesting since the University of Mississippi has had the only DEA license to grow their own cannabis for research purposes since 1968, but the rest of the state has been squarely in prohibition with zero allowances for cultivation or possession.

The future is bright for the cannabis industry and its players. For a final ounce of perspective on state legalization, only three states have no legal cannabis of any kind: Idaho, Nebraska and South Dakota. And if Idaho and South Dakota’s polling is any indication, they won’t be on this short list for much longer.

Maturation

Once upon a time, drug dealers applied for legitimate cannabis licenses. They were denied. And some tried to dodge the regulated marked to continue selling on street corners and out of back doors. Some still do. But now we have a cannabis industry with true regulation and what this author likes to call “adult supervision in the room” on the cannabis conversation and those leading it. A week doesn’t go by without a Wall Street investor or Silicon Valley tycoon asking for advice on where to invest in the cannabis industry. Huge retailers are calling to ask if they can sell it. Alcohol and tobacco interests are hugely, well, interested. And the industry is being led by the likes of former baby car seat manufacturers, former food and beverage lobbyists, young entrepreneurs, and tech geniuses. Now that these individuals are invested and committed, they will continue to professionalize the industry by leading on public-facing initiatives teaching consumers how to use cannabis responsibility, how to determine a much-needed standard for impairment, and to overall improve the reputation of a product once fully illegal, and now partially legal, and soon on its way to fully legal.

The future is bright for the cannabis industry and its players. Only daylight ahead and the billows of bureaucratic smoke are parting hopefully—eventually—with regard to the incongruity between state and federal law on the issue. That’s a lot of ink to say that the next few years will be monumental for the cannabis industry. And if you’re a Coldplay fan, you just caught the reference to my favorite song from the legendary Brit ensemble.

How Cannabis Businesses Can Prepare for Tax Season

By Melissa Diaz
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A Little About 280E

The 280E statute bans businesses from deducting business expenses for gross income associated with the trafficking of Schedule I or II substances. While other businesses can deduct any number of expenses when filing their taxes — employee salaries, rent, equipment, electricity, etc. — 280E limits cannabis companies to only expensing deductions directly related to earning a profit, or the cost of goods sold (COGs).

For example, a dispensary whose square footage is split between 60% sales floor and 40% lobby may only deduct 60% of rent expenses because that’s the portion dedicated to COGs. Transactions do not occur in the lobby, so that portion of the rent is not deductible.

Image: Flickr

So long as cannabis remains a Schedule I substance, companies that produce, sell and otherwise touch the plant in their operations must comply with 280E.

Tips for Tax Success

While taxes can be complex and stressful for cannabis businesses, it is possible to limit the headaches. With tax season right around the corner, here are a handful of tips to ensure a successful filing.

  • Close Out Your Books. Before tax preparation can even start, cannabis businesses want to make sure to close out their financials for the previous year. It may sound like a no-brainer, but with the extra scrutiny facing companies in the industry and the nuances of 280E, it’s extremely important to have fully reconciled and closed-out books to work from when preparing taxes. Incomplete books can cause delays and add unnecessary extra stressors to the process that could result in penalties or additional liabilities.
  • Consult a Cannabis Tax Professional. Once books are ready to go, it’s time to consult a tax professional who has experience in the cannabis industry. A cannabis-focused tax pro will be familiar with the intricacies of 280E and and will be able to identify relevant business expenses to ensure compliance and limit liabilities. In addition to 280E issues, a competent accountant will also be able to highlight any other tax code changes that may impact a business. Every business is different — even in the cannabis industry — and since the tax code is large, complex and prone to new rules and interpretations, it’s important to have a strong accountant guiding the way.
  • Justify Your Numbers. After consulting with a tax professional and identifying relevant business expenses, it’s time to back up the numbers. This is where strong record-keeping comes into play. Ongoing regulatory hurdles limit cannabis firms’ ability to participate in the financial system where, generally, record creation is inherent with each transaction. But in a cash-heavy industry like cannabis, record creation and retention fall on the businesses themselves. This is because cash transactions don’t come with any built-in records. That inherent lack of documentation is yet another potential pitfall for cannabis businesses and taxes since large amounts of cash often raise eyebrows at the IRS. It is up to businesses to provide adequate proof of their tax numbers. Since the IRS will put zero effort into investigating the accuracy of your numbers, it will likely assume the worst when reviewing your filing.

Preparation is King

Taxes can be stressful. But they don’t have to be. Navigating tax season as a cannabis business is all about preparation. By putting in the work and partnering with an experienced tax professional, cannabis operators will be able to avoid penalties, limit their audit risk and stay on track with their business goals.

Practical Advice on How to Avoid a TCPA Suit

By Paul Gipson
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Texting consumers is a very effective means to drive engagement and ultimately sales. Text messages have outpaced emails when looking at conversion and click-thru rates. In fact, 95% of texts are read in ninety seconds or less! While text messages can be a great way to engage with prospects and customers, the FCC’s Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) is a regulation you need to be mindful of. In fact, the average cost of a TCPA settlement is over $6m dollars, which doesn’t include legal fees or reputational damage.

Over the past few years, there have been about 4,000 TCPA cases filed annually. Take a look at the growth:

Companies are being targeted for various reasons, but there are a few that I’ll cover below along with some advice on how to avoid TCPA suits.

See if you can spot the trend in these cases:

  • Papa Johns: $16.5m settlement due to texting pizza specials to consumers without their consent.
  • Abercrombie & Fitch: $10m settlement due to texting store promotions to consumers without their consent.
  • Rack Room Shoes: $26m settlement for texting their reward program members with various sales without their consent.

Do any of these campaigns sound like something your company is engaged in?

So, you’ve got someone who has signed up for a rewards program, wants to receive deals, or has provided their number to your company for other purposes, but you are concerned about the TCPA (hopefully). Based on my experience working with hundreds of clients at CompliancePoint, here’s where I think you should start. But first…

Quick assumption: Your company is using an automated system to send both informational and promotional texts. Examples include “blast campaigns” (upcoming sale) or “triggered campaigns” (signed up for rewards).

Quick point: Just because the text message says your store is having a sale but doesn’t ask the consumer to buy anything on the message, you may think it’s not considered “telemarketing”. This is wrong. Any plan to sell now or in the future through direct marketing is telemarketing and subject to the TCPA.

Here are my top 5 things to consider:

  1. Obtain consent. This is not achieved by simply having a number provided by the consumer. Instead, the consumer must affirmatively agree to receive promotional calls/texts by automated means. This is done through a clear disclosure and often accompanied by an unchecked checkbox.
  2. Honor opt-outs. This seems obvious right? Provide instructions on how to opt-out and look for other phrases like “stop/quit/cancel”. Opt-outs should occur immediately with most common texting platforms.
  3. Keep records. If you receive a complaint, you want to be able to respond confidently and records help you do that. The key records to maintain are your texting records (the phone numbers you texted, the date/time of the text, and the content of the text), your consent opt-in forms, and opt-out requests from consumers with dates. Ask yourself: what records do you need to prove you had consent, and what records prove you didn’t text a consumer after they opted out.
  4. Only text consumers between the hours of 8AM and 9PM according to their time zone. I always recommend going off address and not phone number due to cellphone mobility. If you text a California number at 8PM, but the phone owner lives in New York, you might get a few complaints.
  5. Monitor compliance with these items. Another one that seems obvious, yet most companies fail to do so, and you see above what happens. I guarantee you’ll find issues with most audits.

Bonus – here is a more comprehensive checklist on how to achieve a Safe-Harbor defense.

This article is not intended to be a scare tactic. The TCPA legal landscape is rampant and consumers are more aware now than ever of their rights. A quick Google search of “Cannabis TCPA” helps to illustrate the fact that this industry, like most, is not immune. However, with proper compliance parameters in place, your company can enjoy the benefits of texting with consumers with peace of mind.

The Power of Prevention: Pathogen Monitoring in Cannabis Cultivation and Processing Facilities

By Nathan Libbey
2 Comments

As the cannabis market matures and the value chain becomes modernized, it’s important to address product safety in a comprehensive way. In other areas of manufacturing, Hazard Analysis & Critical Control Points (HACCP) has been the standard for reducing hazards both for employees and for the products themselves. A Critical Control Point (CCP) is any spot from conception to consumption where a loss of control can potentially result in risk (Unnevehr, 1996). In the food realm, HACCP has been used to drive quality enhancements since the 1980s (Cichy, 1982).

In a nutshell, HACCP seeks to help identify where a problem may enter a product or environment and how that problem may be addressed before it escalates. In cannabis, these hazards include many of the same problems that food products have: specifically molds, yeasts, and pathogenic bacteria (Listeria, E. coli, etc.). While the current industry standard is to test products at the end stage for these contaminants, this late-stage pass/fail regimen leads to huge lots of destroyed product and a risk for consumer distrust (Yamashiro, 2019). HACCP, therefore, should be applied at every stage of the production process.

Pathogen Environmental Monitoring (PEM) is a tool that can be used to identify CCPs in a cannabis cultivation or processing facility. The main goal of a PEM program is to find a contaminant before it reaches a surface that touches the product or the product itself. PEM is conducted using a pre-moistened swab or a sponge to collect a sample from the cannabis environment. The swab can then be sent to a lab for microbial testing. Keys to an effective PEM are:

1. Start with a broad stroke – When the FDA comes to a facility suspected of producing pathogen-laced food products, they conduct what is known as a Swab-a-thon. A Swab-a-thon is a top to bottom collection of samples, usually totaling 100 or more. Similarly, preemptively swabbing should be the first step in any PEM—swab everything to see what exists as a baseline.

2. Map your scene – identify on a map of your facility the following:

  • Cannabis contact surfaces (CCS) (belts, clippers, tables, etc)
  • Non-cannabis contact surfaces (Non-CCS) (floors, lighting, drains, etc)
  • Flow of air and people (where do air and people enter and where do they go?

Identifying the above zones will help deepen your understanding of where contaminants may come into contact with cannabis and how they may migrate from a Non-CCS to a CCS. 

3. Plan and execute:

  • Based on the results of mapping, and Swab-a-thon, identify where and when you will be collecting samples on a consistent and repeatable basis. Emphasis should be placed on areas that are deemed a risk based on 1) and 2). Samples should be collected at random in all zones to ensure comprehensive screening.

4. Remediate and modify:

  • If you get a positive result during PEM, don’t panic—pathogens are ubiquitous.
  • Remediate any trouble spots with deep cleaning, remediation devices or other protocols.
  • Re-test areas that were positive for pathogens to ensure remediation is successful.
  • Revisit and modify the plan at least once a year and each time a new piece of equipment is added or production flow is otherwise changed.

The steps above are a good starting point for a grower or processor to begin a PEM. Remember that this is not a one-size-fits-all approach to safety; each facility has its own unique set of hazards and control points.

Comprehensive guides for PEM can be found at the links below, many of the concepts can be applied to cannabis production.


https://affifoodsafety.org/lcp/advanced-search/

http://www.centerforproducesafety.org/amass/documents/document/263/Listeria%20Guidance%20UFPA%202013.pdf

Cichy, R. (1982). HACCP as a quality assurance tool in a commissary food-service system. International Journal of Hospitality Management, 1(2), 103-106.

Unnevehr, L., & Jensen, H. (1996). HACCP as a Regulatory Innovation to Improve Food Safety in the Meat Industry. American Journal of Agricultural Economics, 78(3), 764-769.

Yamashiro, C, & Baca, Y. (2019).  Prevent high-value cannabis crop loss with innovative environmental monitoring tool.