On October 7, 2020, the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board (WSLCB) issued an emergency suspension for El Rey De La Kush, based in Riverside, Washington, for allegedly distributing cannabis products across state lines. This information was found in an email sent out by the WSLCB late Wednesday night on October 7. El Rey De La Kush does not have a website, but it looks like they own this Facebook page.
Back in September, the Wenatchee Police Department told the WSLCB that they were investigating 4.3 pounds of cannabis they found shipped from a residence in Wenatchee via UPS. When they served a search warrant, they found roughly 620 pounds of cannabis with traceability tags leading them back to El Rey De La Kush.
The suspect in the case is Brandi Clardy, who is affiliated with the company in question and listed on their license. The original licensee, Juan Penaloza, passed away in July this year and Clardy had been the chief operator following Penaloza’s death.
In an interview with the police, the WSLCB says that Clardy admitted to the crime of removing cannabis from the premises with the intent to distribute across state lines.
The WSLCB says cannabis products were actively being diverted to Texas, where adult use cannabis sales is still very illegal.
The license remains suspended for 180 days, after which point the WSLCB will “pursue permanent revocation.” This marks the first and only emergency suspension issued in 2020.
As legalization of cannabis products from hemp to medical cannabis takes root across the U.S., there’s a growing need to understand and build good security practices. While many think of security as safeguarding assets like facilities and product, effective security does much more. It protects a business’ workers, providing them secure workplaces and incomes. Ideally, it reaches from supply chain to customers by ensuring consistently safe products.
To truly understand the value of this for a brand or for the industry as a whole, consider the opposite: the destructive effect – on a brand and on the industry at large – of unsafe or tampered product reaching customers, or of crimes occurring, just as the industry seeks to demonstrate its validity and benefits. Security is vital not only to individual farmers, processors or customers but to all who value what the industry brings to those who rely on CBD or medical cannabis products for their wellbeing.
Know the Threats.
Part of the learning process involves understanding the value of the product.Security is all about anticipating and reducing risks. These can include physical threats from natural sources – think flood, fire, tornado or crop fail – or from human threats. Human threats can arise from organized criminals, hackers, amateur thieves, vandals – or insiders.
As regulated industries, hemp and cannabis businesses also face risk of losses, which can be significant, from penalties ranging from fines to being shut down for non-compliance. While rules vary from state to state and continue to change, a disciplined approach to security is foundational to reducing risk at many levels. Rigorous operational processes must incorporate security that addresses risks at multiple points of access, transport and sale of products.
Learn the Rules.
In a rapidly evolving industry, one of the most important things producers can do is to learn. Security requirements vary by region and providers need to be aware of what is available. Get to know your state, local and federal resources for your operating area. California law, for example, specifies use of high-resolution video surveillance in dispensaries, while others do not.
Part of the learning process involves understanding the value of the product. With medicinal cannabis, it’s helpful to grasp both its commodity value and the street value that could make it attractive to thieves. In “Why Marijuana Plant Value is So Important for Adjusters,” Canadian Underwriter Magazine gave examples that indicate the size of losses that may occur in growing and processing operations:
“In the medical marijuana space, ClaimsPro has already seen losses primarily between $150,000 and $750,000. These losses, mostly on Vancouver Island, were for fire and water damage, as well as boiler machinery issues, physical damage to buildings and specialized greenhouse equipment, as well as extra expense and business interruption.”
The same article notes a claim over $20 million at another single flower greenhouse. Security needs to reflect what’s present on our premises.
Educating the community can reduce risk as well. Producers of industrial hemp may need to inform would-be thieves that what they are looking at is not street-valued product. To protect the crops, which are generally grown outdoors and do not require a full security detail, a best practice is simply posting signs on the property that say explicitly “No THC.”
Begin with a Risk Assessment.
Security begins with a professional evaluation of site vulnerabilities, examining key weaknesses that could be exploited by attackers. These include:
Monitoring access to the site is a foundational principle of security.
Design limited access points into the facility as well as prepare for possible facility breaches with perimeter access control, technological redundancies and ballistic glass for defensive architecture measures.
Look at route vulnerabilities as well.
Hedge site risk by not limiting your operation to a single site where one incident could wipe out an entire year’s crop.
The nature of threats is always changing. A 2018 Newsweek article described the struggles of legal cannabis farmers against illegal and potentially cartel-backed and violent operations in California. While a 2020 Business Insider report described indications that legalization was prompting some cartels to leave cannabis alone and move on to fentanyl and meth. “While Mexican drug cartels made their money predominantly from marijuana in past decades, the market has somewhat dissipated with the state-level legalization of cannabis in dozens of states across the US.”
Define Levels of Risk and Access.
The best security matches spending to risk in a commonsense way. Are you more at risk from the occasional smash and grab incident or is there reason to anticipate an organized assault? As in many industries, the greatest risk often comes from employee fraud or theft. Hiring carefully, paying fairly and training staff well are important to long term security.
How will the product be moved around within the facility and beyond it – and what staff are responsible for each part of the journey? Who can enter the cultivation areas and what protocols must they follow? On site staff should be trained on what to look for if they observe a security breach. Consider biometrics such as retinal scans, fingerprint scans or similar.
In cases where valuable product or cash is present, guards can play an important role. Harvest Connect uses only high-level former military or police officers in these roles, an approach recognized by many. Hunter Garth of Iron Protection Group notes they have “the ability to de-escalate a potentially harmful situation and the fortitude to see a mission through to completion, no matter what external circumstances may arise.”
Inventory and Transaction Controls
Inside threats from sloppy processes can be just as insidious as attacks. Poor tracking of inventory by Oregon’s legal cannabis producers made headlines in 2018 as The Oregonian reported, “U.S. Attorney Billy Williams told a large gathering that included Gov. Kate Brown, law enforcement officials and representatives of the cannabis industry that Oregon has an ‘identifiable and formidable overproduction and diversion problem.’’ Discipline, applied by state pressure but carried out by producers themselves, has begun to reduce the diversion of untracked product into the black market a year later.
Cannabis businesses need a professional approach to monitoring all product and money that moves through its systems. These operational processes can include time, date and attendance stamps on all inventory. Similarly, accounting systems and software must follow the highest professional standards. Lastly, when breaches occur, it is essential that fraud and theft are caught, eliminated and prosecuted as appropriate.
Nurturing an Emerging Industry
Security resources are an integral part of maintaining the integrity of a business’ supply chain. As the product moves from the fields to processing centers to consumers, purity assurance becomes an operational objective. Ultimately, protecting the product through secure and professional practices is the optimal way to serve customers, build a brand, and sustain the industry.
Compliance should be top of mind for California’s cannabis operators. As the state works to implement regulations in the rapidly-growing cannabis industry, business owners need to be aware of what’s required to stay in good standing. As of January 1, 2019, that means reporting data to the state’s new track-and-trace system, Metrc.
What Is Track-and-Trace?
Track-and-Trace programs enable government oversight of commercial cannabis throughout its lifecycle—from “seed-to-sale.” Regulators can track a product’s journey from grower to processor to distributor to consumer, through data points captured at each step of the supply chain. Track-and-trace systems are practical for a number of reasons:
Taxation: ensure businesses pay their share of owed taxes
Quality assurance & safety: ensure cannabis products are safe to consume, coordinate product recalls
Account for cannabis grown vs. cannabis sold: curb inventory disappearing to the black market
Helps government get a macro view of the cannabis industry
The California Cannabis Track-and-Trace system (CCTT) gives state officials the ability to supervise and regulate the burgeoning cannabis industry in the golden state.
What Is Metrc?
Metrc is the platform California cannabis operators must use to record, track and maintain detailed information about their product for reporting. Metrc compiles this data and pushes it to the state.
Who Is Required To Use Metrc?
Starting January 1, 2019, all California state cannabis licensees are required to use Metrc. This includes licenses for cannabis: Proper tagging ensures that regulators can quickly trace inventory back to a particular plant or place of origin.
How Does Metrc Work?
Metrc uses a system of tagging and unique ID numbers to categorize and track cannabis from seed to sale. Tagged inventory in Metrc is sorted into 2 categories: plants and packages. Plants are further categorized as either immature or flowering. All plants are required to enter Metrc through immature plant lots of up to 100/plants per lot. Each lot is assigned a lot unique ID (UID), and each plant in the lot gets a unique Identifier plant tag. Immature plants are labeled with the lot UID, while flowering plants get a plant tag. Metrc generates these ID numbers and they cannot be reused. In addition to the UID, tags include a facility name, facility license number, application identifier (medical or recreational), and order dates for the tag. Proper tagging ensures that regulators can quickly trace inventory back to a particular plant or place of origin.
Packages are formed from immature plants, harvest batches, or other packages. Package tags are important for tracking inventory through processing, as the product changes form and changes hands. Each package receives a UID package tag, and as packages are refined and/or combined, they receive a new ID number, which holds all the other ID numbers in it and tells that package’s unique story.
Do I Have To Enter Data Into Metrc Manually?
You certainly can enter data into Metrc manually, but you probably won’t want to, and thankfully, you don’t have to. Metrc’s API allows for seamless communication between the system and many of your company’s existing tracking and reporting tools used for inventory, production, POS, invoices, orders, etc. These integrations automate the data entry process in many areas.As California operators work to get their ducks in a row, some ambiguity and confusion around Metrc’s roll out remains.
Adopting and implementing cannabis ERP software is another way operators can automate compliance. These platforms combine software for point of sale, cultivation, distribution, processing and ecommerce into one unified system, which tracks everything and pushes it automatically to Metrc via the API. Since they’ve been developed specifically for the cannabis industry, they’re designed with cannabis supply chain and regulatory demands in mind.
As California operators work to get their ducks in a row, some ambiguity and confusion around Metrc’s roll out remains. Only businesses with full annual licenses are required to comply, leaving some temporary licensees unsure of how to proceed. Others are simply reluctant to transition from an off-the-grid, off-the-cuff model to digitally tracking and reporting everything down to the gram. But the stakes of non-compliance are high— the prospect of fines or loss of business is causing fear and concern for many. Integrated cannabis ERP software can simplify operations and offer continual, automated compliance, which should give operators peace of mind.
For the second time in six months, the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board (WSLCB) took swift and severe action on a cannabis business licensee operating in the black market. The regulatory agency issued an emergency license suspension for Port Angeles’ North Coast Concentrates, which are effective for 180 days, during which time regulators plan on revoking the license altogether.
According to a release emailed last week, the violation was uncovered during a routine traffic stop. “On September 20, 2018 an employee of North Coast Concentrates was pulled over by Lower Elwha Police, during the course of the traffic stop officers found 112 grams of traceable marijuana concentrates, three large jars and a large tote bin of untraced dried marijuana flower,” reads the release. “The products were not manifested in the state traceability system. Subsequent investigation by WSLCB officers revealed that the untraced product had been removed from the licensees grow operation and that the traced concentrates were returned from a marijuana retailer in Tacoma several weeks earlier.”
The release goes on to add that when regulators investigated the matter, they found text messages indicating the license holder’s complicity in the act. When the WSLCB suspended the license, officers seized “556 pounds of marijuana flower product, 24 pounds of marijuana oil and 204 plants from both locations.” Regulators say, “the severity of these violations and the risk of diversion” is the reason for the emergency suspension and product seizures.
According to the end of the release, The WSLCB issued one emergency suspension in 2017, and six in 2018. One of those was roughly six months ago in July when regulators issued an emergency suspension for a Tacoma-based cannabis business for the same reason as the most recent one- diversion.
The enforcement branch of the WSLCB acted on a complaint and inspected Refined Cannabinoids where they found “numerous and substantial violations including full rooms of untagged plants, clones and finished product,” reads a release emailed back in July. “During the course of the inspection officers discovered and seized 2,569 marijuana plants, 1,216 marijuana plant clones, 375.8 lbs. of frozen marijuana flower stored in 11 freezer chests, 3,423 0.5 gram marijuana cigarettes, and 97.5 lbs. of bulk marijuana flower without the requisite traceability identifiers.”
That July release also states that enforcement officers found evidence of diversion to the black market, in addition to the company not tracking their product. “Traceability is a core component of Washington’s system and essential for licensee compliance,” says Justin Nordhorn, WSLCB chief of enforcement. “If our licensees fail to track their product they put their license in jeopardy.”
With the news of Pennsylvania’s medical cannabis legalization measure passing, lawmakers are clamoring for strict regulatory oversight in the form of traceability to prevent diversion and misuse. State Senator Daylin Leach (D- Montgomery/Delaware) introduced the bill and believes it will have the most intensive protections for safety in the country. “Our goal was to create a system that helps as many patients as possible, as soon as possible and as safely as possible,” says Steve Hoenstine, spokesperson for State Senator Leach. “The seed-to-sale tracking system and the bill’s other protections do just that.”
At the recent Cannabis Labs Conference, Cody Stiffler, vice president of government affairs at BioTrackTHC, discussed why traceability is so important. Stiffler previously served as the chief executive officer of the American Medical Management Association, where he fought the Florida prescription drug abuse epidemic. “We originally started tracking prescription medications and methamphetamine precursors to combat the prescription drug abuse and meth epidemic in Florida,” says Stiffler. He focused on providing accountability and traceability, making sure every prescription was legitimate and keeping drugs off the black market. Implementing tracking protocols allowed for the accountability of pharmacists, physicians and patients.
The primary goals of a traceability system, according to Stiffler, are to prevent diversion and promote public safety. “We want to advance the cannabis industry with respect to traceability and regulatory compliance by integrating laboratory testing with traceability,” says Stiffler. “Our software helps get safe products to patients and consumers in a responsible manner.”
Stiffler’s role at BioTrackTHC is to provide industry insights to states looking to legalize cannabis and support them with identifying the best practices that meet requirements in their state. Traceability is commonly defined as the ability to verify history, location and application of a product from source to distribution. BioTrackTHC’s tracking software covers everything from seed to sale, involving regulatory bodies in oversight. In the beginning of cultivation, each plant is assigned a bar code or sixteen-digit identifier. According to Stiffler, Colorado’s system uses radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags while Washington’s system gives the business a choice because the software can work with any type of identifier, whether it is a barcode, QR code or RFID tag. “Our system generates those numbers and prevents diversion with a closed loop system,” says Stiffler.
Washington, Illinois, New York, New Mexico and Hawaii are the five states that use BioTrackTHC’s software. “If the state wants to see the chain-of-custody, they can go back in the system and see every touch point and the full life cycle of the product in real time,” says Stiffler. “Our system also incorporates lab testing to ensure no product reaches shelves unless test values are associated with it.”
For many states, problems lie not in diversion, but inversion, where black market growers bring their products into the legal market. “A lot of people growing black market product are inverting it into the regulated market,” notes Stiffler. This kind of black market activity can flood the legal market with un-tested cannabis.
Product recalls are examples of when traceability software can be very useful. Pesticides, microbiological contaminants, heavy metals and other contaminants are at issue. Stiffler invokes an example from a company in Washington making THC-infused drinks. “Because of an issue in the manufacturing process, the bottles were exploding in refrigerators and on shelves,” says Stiffler. “Because the product’s lineage was completely tracked, we could isolate all of the products in that specific batch from that specific manufacturer and then forward trace to every retailer that had it in inventory,” he adds. “Whenever someone who did not get the recall notice would attempt to scan that barcode at point of sale, a message appeared noting its recall status and that it is not for sale.” The software’s financial data analytics can provide real time visibility for profit margins or losses resulting from recalls.
According to Stiffler, these kinds of protections in place give law enforcement and government agencies piece of mind that they are helping to prevent diversion and promote public safety. Traceability software is one of the very important safeguards protecting food safety and product safety.
The Supreme Court shut down a lawsuit on Monday brought by two states against Colorado for its recreational cannabis laws. Nebraska and Oklahoma brought the case to the Supreme Court, claiming that the recreational cannabis industry in Colorado is responsible for the illegal exportation of cannabis outside of Colorado. “Colorado has facilitated purchase of marijuana by residents of neighboring states by issuing licenses to an unusually high number of marijuana retailers perched on Colorado’s borders,” the two states told the court in a supplemental brief.
In that brief, the two states argue that Colorado’s cannabis industry led to more cannabis illegally crossing state lines. They argue because of that influx of cannabis, they spend more on law enforcement and state resources, which is a detriment to their citizens. The Supreme Court did not provide an explanation for why they refused to hear the case.
Many view this as a big win for the legal cannabis industry. “The Supreme Court has protected the will of the people today and I believe the court has demonstrated that it understands legal cannabis is a fundamental right,” says Andy Williams, president of Medicine Man, the largest cannabis dispensary in Denver.
Still others see this simply as business as usual. “While I’m pleased to see the Court reject the challenge to Colorado’s cannabis law, this decision isn’t really a win for cannabis advocates- it only maintains the status quo,” says Aaron Herzberg, partner and general counsel at CalCann Holdings, a medical cannabis holding company specializing in real estate and licensing. “We are struggling with diversion in California, so hopefully states will continue to be on track to create a more regulated and taxed environment where cannabis can be manufactured and sold through channels where it is safe and tested,” continues Herzberg.
Adam Koh, chief cultivation officer at Comprehensive Cannabis Consulting (3C), warns that the Court’s denial to hear the case is not necessarily an affirmation of state’s cannabis programs. “It is evident that some diversion is taking place, which of course is against the provisions of the Cole Memorandum,” says Koh. “In order to avoid being implicated in such activities, legally licensed cannabis businesses in Colorado should not take the SCOTUS decision as a signal to relax, but should instead work to make sure that inventory control and record-keeping protocols are in place and even exceed the standards required in state regulations.”
The fact alone that Nebraska and Oklahoma even brought the case to the Supreme Court means that diversion is a major issue facing the cannabis industry. “Only by going above and beyond in terms of compliance will this controversial industry make itself credible in the eyes of its detractors,” says Koh. Some cannabis industry leaders take it upon themselves to help guide rule makers in crafting standards.
Lezli Engelking, founder of the Foundation of Cannabis Unified Standards (FOCUS), believes the Cole Memo is currently the best guidance for states and business owners to follow by the federal government in regards to cannabis. “Gaping holes in cannabis regulations are glaringly identified via the pesticide issues and recalls recently,” says Engelking. “These issues showcase each state being in violation of the Cole Memo’s expectation that they will implement strong and effective regulatory and enforcement systems that address the threat to public safety, public health, and other law enforcement interests.”
The Supreme Court’s denial of the two states’ challenge to Colorado’s cannabis legislation suggests the federal government’s intentional avoidance of involvement in current state cannabis issues. The government’s inaction does not, however, indicate their support.
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