Back in September, Nevada officials announced a state-wide investigation into how products with high levels of yeast and mold were sold in dispensaries and alleged that labs could possibly be manipulating potency numbers on certificates of analysis. Then in late November, regulators suspended the license for Certified Ag Labs, a cannabis testing laboratory based in Sparks, Nevada.
Nevada regulators issued a press release alleging that products tested at Certified Ag Labs “may be labeled incorrectly and could contain a different level of THC than what is listed on product packaging.” Randy Gardner, a managing member at Certified Ag Labs told the Las Vegas Review-Journal that investigators showed up to his lab in October twice to collect samples for follow up tests.
After that, Gardner fired back. In a statement sent out shortly after, Gardner said they were accused of lying about THC test results to the Department of Taxation (the agency that regulates cannabis in Nevada).
“The state’s decision to suspend and potentially revoke our license came without warning,” says Gardner’s statement. “This accusation is as baseless as it is appalling, as we have been completely transparent with the state at all times. We take this matter very seriously, and based on my over 30 years of laboratory experience we believe these allegations unconscionable at best.”
“The state came in for their audit then came back and suspended our license without us having a chance to further clarify or refute their findings,” the statement reads. “We hope the state appreciates that a business and its employees’ livelihoods and reputations are at stake. We are pursuing our options and all legal and equitable redress will be on the table.”
The Department of Taxation, which isn’t releasing any more information currently, says they found “inaccurate and misleading” potency test results, once they tested the samples collected from Certified Ag Labs.
Ladyjane Branding and Wolfe Research & Consulting are leading an ambitious study to explore and document the experiences of women working in the cannabis market. Women in Cannabis: A Living History officially kicks off on December 10th at the National Women of Cannabis Conference.
Jennifer Whetzel, founder of Ladyjane Branding, says this is an opportunity for women to tell their stories about their experience working in the cannabis industry. Women can participate in the study by going to womenincannabis.study and sign up to take the survey. You can also sign up to be a sponsor or partner of the study at that website. Sponsors will get access to content like press releases and the opportunity to incorporate the study’s findings in their messaging. We invite our readers to participate, sponsor, partner, share and encourage friends to take the survey.
With beta testing starting the week of November 18th, we caught up with Jennifer Whetzel to talk about why she decided to start this project, what they expect to learn from it and what the future may hold for professional women in the cannabis industry.
Cannabis Industry Journal: Can you tell us a bit about your background and how you came into the cannabis industry?
Jennifer Whetzel: My entrance into the cannabis industry was certainly a culmination of my personal experience and professional journey.
After moving to Maine, I became a medical user to ease symptoms of an immune and an auto-immune disorder. When I sought out treatment for PTSD, I found that a combination of cannabis, therapy, meditation and brain retraining was the most helpful and healthy solution.
This course of treatment for PTSD was life-changing as it allowed me to resolve symptoms from all of my medical issues, and I wanted to find a way to give back to the community that supported me. I had been working in marketing for over 25 years and realized I had quite the diverse professional background. My experience included retail merchandising and operations, public relations on a military base, research design and strategy for ad agencies, new product development and launch for animal health companies, and experiential marketing strategy and design. I’ve been lucky enough to work with small companies and Fortune 500’s which has led to finding solutions in unexpected places.
When pairing my knowledge and skills with the cannabis community, I realized I could make an impact by advising new entrepreneurs who needed help making their brands stand out. That’s how Ladyjane Branding was born.
CIJ: Can you give us an overview of the Women in Cannabis Study?
Jennifer: The Women in Cannabis study aims to understand how women are faring in the cannabis industry and whether we are doing enough to support women, their careers and their professional goals. It’s well documented that women in corporate America do not have the same opportunities for career advancement as men, holding fewer executive or board positions, having fewer opportunities for mentorship, sponsorship and career progression.
The study is comprehensive, with more than 80 quantitative questions along with qualitative telephone and video interviews of female-identifying professionals working in the cannabis industry – whether they are involved with cannabis, CBD or hemp. Through monthly infographics, video summaries, quarterly in-depth themed reports and a comprehensive year-end report, we will be telling the stories of women’s professional experiences in cannabis with the goal of transforming the industry into one where women can succeed and thrive.
Painting a picture of the women in cannabis, and understanding them as a group, we look at demographics to explore their diversity and reveal whether personality differences may affect their experiences, as well as experience with stigmas regarding cannabis use and working in the industry.
To understand professional trajectories and roadblocks on a path to success, we dive into work history, reasons for entering the cannabis space and the barriers they have faced on their journey. We explore opportunities for mentorship, support and leadership, the types of harassment, discrimination and disrespect they’ve experienced and how that may have impeded their careers.
We’d like to understand how (or whether) women find balance in their personal and professional lives, what sacrifices they’ve had to make for a career in cannabis, as well as best practices for women to foster success.
CIJ: Why did you decide to take on this endeavor and lead the work on this study?
Jennifer: While there are numerous studies looking at how women fare in corporate America, we found that there’s a lack of a recent and comprehensive deep dive into this topic specifically for cannabis. As an emerging industry, we have a unique opportunity to make valuable recommendations to potentially increase inclusivity for women in this early stage of industry culture before it becomes too entrenched. Our goal is to ensure we have the hard numbers to document a baseline now, then follow-up over time to understand how the industry changes.
By surveying and speaking to women in the industry, and understanding where strengths and weaknesses in the industry lie, we can make recommendations to improve the lived experience for women working in this industry.
The only way to make improvements to a system is to understand it.
CIJ: How do you think we can create a more inclusive industry?
Jennifer: I think it begins with an understanding of where we are starting – we don’t know what we don’t know. Being in the cannabis industry, we often hear the argument that anecdotes are not data. Just like we need the scientific data to prove efficacy for medicine, we need the data that shows the hard numbers about diversity and inclusion, the stigma and shame of cannabis use or working in this industry, about sexual harassment, disrespect and bullying.
This study is about generating information and creating knowledge on this issue so we can determine the education, policies, procedures and actionable recommendations that can help make the industry a welcoming space for everyone.
One of the best ways to create a more inclusive industry is through education.
CIJ: What hurdles do women face in the cannabis industry? How is that different from other, more established industries?
Jennifer: As we review research results from more established industries, it seems clear that women face similar hurdles in cannabis. Various studies have shown that working women are faced with unequal pay, fewer opportunities for mentorship or sponsorship, as well as discrimination and disrespect. The issues for female entrepreneurs are even greater as women are significantly less likely to receive venture capital funding, which certainly speaks to experience in the cannabis industry.
Because there’s little data specifically focused on the cannabis industry, we are just guessing. This study will provide us those answers.
CIJ: Looking ahead, how do you think women will fare in the evolution of the cannabis market?
Jennifer: I’d like to think that if we are all purposeful and intentional about creating an equitable, inclusive, and representational industry, that women will fare significantly better than they have in other industries typically dominated by men. If that can happen, everyone will feel welcome and respected, and it will no longer be surprising news when a woman is promoted to CEO or becomes a successful founder.
Cannabis businesses have become a driving force for economic growth in the United States. We’ve all heard the statistics. In 2018, the industry accounted for approximately $10.4 billion in revenue and is slated to grow to $21 billion by 2021.
But with growth comes pressure to produce more, enhance quality and optimize operations. However, managing a cannabis business without modern, capable tools can hinder growth and leave opportunities on the table. That’s why fast-growing cannabis businesses are looking to the proven benefits of a true cloud Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) platform to help manage production, provide insights and improve business operations. When we add in the complexity and ever-changing nature of regulation, the need for a robust operational system becomes even more critical.
David Stephans will be speaking during CIJ’s October 9th webinar, “Driving Strategic Advantage for your Cannabusiness through Process Efficiency, Quality & Compliance” Click here to learn more and register for free.Cannabis business leaders may want to develop their own “playbook” to differentiate themselves in the market. But before they start to engineer their forward-thinking approach, they should start with a cloud ERP as their foundation. This can help with everything from the most basic of needs to more sophisticated strategies. In this article, we’ll review some key cannabis business goals and tactics, and how ERP can help lay the groundwork for success.
Drive growth and expansion.
Business growth often translates into operational expansion, meaning more facilities, staff and compliance requirements to manage. A cloud ERP supports these functions, including the launch of new products, expanding pricing schedules and increasing production to meet demand. Having the ability to track and manage growth is crucial, and a cloud ERP can provide the real-time reporting and dashboards for visibility across the entire business. This includes not just operational visibility, but also a look into a company’s sales, finances and supply chain.
Foster exemplary customer experience.
Cannabis companies need to streamline processes from the moment an order is placed to when it arrives at the customer’s door. In the mind of consumers, cannabis businesses compete against the likes of Amazon. They must be able to provide a similar experience and level of service, with customers receiving orders in a couple of business days. Cloud ERP can help automate processes. And when things go wrong, it can also help with resolution, especially when it’s paired with a customer relationship management (CRM) system on the same cloud platform. For the B2B market, cloud ERP empowers account management to review past orders to better meet future customer needs.
Stay a step ahead of the game.
In the industry, change is a constant. The future will likely bring about shifts in products, regulations and suppliers. A cloud ERP can modify workflows, controls and process approvals on the fly, so companies can adapt to new requirements. It offers security against emerging risks and easy integration with other systems cannabusinesses may need. An advanced cloud ERP will also provide cutting-edge capabilities, such as AI insights and data-capture from Internet-of-Things (IoT) devices.
Ensure quality product for raving fans and avoid flags on the field through airtight compliance.
Many cannabis companies are passionate about delivering the highest-quality cannabis products. Auditability is key to both quality and compliance. Complete traceability, with lot and serial number tracking, will record comprehensive audit trails from seed to sale. A cloud ERP will incorporate RFID tags down to the plant, lot and product levels to assist in this process. As cannabis goods move through their lifecycle, the cloud ERP will append appropriate tracking to purchasing receipts, inventory as it moves between locations, products as they’re packaged and sales orders as they’re fulfilled.
As a heavily regulated industry, cannabis business is also subject to burdensome compliance standards. A cloud ERP can support the rigorous testing that’s required to assure potency and safety. It easily facilitates Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) and Good Production Practices (GPP), which ensures products are consistently produced according to quality standards. Many regulatory agencies require digital reporting; cloud ERP can facilitate this requirement through integration with Metrc, Health Canada and the FDA. Compliance can be a costly endeavor, and this type integration saves time, money, and effort.
As you can see, a cloud ERP helps efficiently balance compliance and regulatory requirements, with operational efficiency and customer service – key strategies in any cannabusiness playbook.
The business of cannabis is starting to mature and the industry as a whole is gearing up for rapid expansion. This means that pharmaceutical companies, dispensaries and other cannabis-focused businesses are starting to expand their executive teams. However, finding qualified candidates is proving to be an incredibly challenging task, due to the shallow talent pool of leaders with cannabis-related experience, the volatility of the industry and its lingering public perception problems. Companies must therefore dip into other, related talent pools. Here are some factors to consider when beginning the hiring process:
The ideal candidate to fill an executive role in the medical cannabis industry needs to possess a unique skill set and extensive experience. One obvious source of candidates are peopleIt is important to be resilient in the face of intense criticism and have a thick skin. Diplomatic strength is required. who have hands-on leadership credentials in the pharmaceutical industry, given the highly regulated nature of both the business and consumer sectors. Other good talent sources are the tobacco industry and consumer healthcare services (such as hospitals and other kinds of medical centers).
Due to the evolving nature of the cannabis industry and the intense scrutiny it is under, executives will need to be well acquainted with how to manage compliance with governmental regulations and keep up-to-date on upcoming rule changes and potential legislation. This is especially true for dispensaries, as they are often arriving right after a state vote occurs, leaving no room for error when it comes to knowing and adapting to a state’s unique rules and regulations.
It is also important for a candidate to possess both business and consumer experience, not only on the medical and regulatory side of the business, but also the sales process. A large part of what medical executives do is indirect marketing through their interactions with people — both business affiliates and consumers. Having an executive with poor communication skills could prove to be costly down the line.
Recommended Personality Characteristics
Due to the controversial nature of the business, a potential executive needs to possess a number of characteristics or personality traits. As with other industry sectors that face similar public approbation, including the tobacco industry, it is not a job for the thin-skinned or easily discouraged. Important traits to look for include:
Flexibility: Due to the evolving nature of the industry and its rapid growth, you cannot possibly control everything and everyone. Remaining flexible is the only way to remain sane and successful during this phase of industry expansion.This ability to easily communicate with diverse audiences is a strong indicator of success.
Resiliency: The cannabis industry is often vilified, and as a result so are the businesses and employees who work in it. It is important to be resilient in the face of intense criticism and have a thick skin. Diplomatic strength is required.
Adaptability: A candidate should be comfortable and credible talking about scientific and business issues one minute, and consumer issues the next. This ability to easily communicate with diverse audiences is a strong indicator of success.
Passion: If a candidate possesses passion for the cause and the medical and therapeutic value of cannabis, there is a much greater chance that they will weather the storm. Having someone who genuinely cares will show in every facet of the way they conduct business — from discussing quality of life to discussing the scientific background to relating to patients.
Hiring at an executive level is never easy and in the case of the cannabis industry, it is infinitely more challenging than most. It is imperative to never “settle” on a candidate simply because time is an issue. Having someone on your recruiting staff, or using a professional recruiter who has deep experience in the medical, pharmaceutical or consumer healthcare industries is also helpful, as they can “speak the language” of recruits and thoroughly answer their questions. Their credibility can help a candidate determine if the cannabis industry is right for them. Finding a quality candidate who understands the industry, the regulations and has a passion for their work will serve your business well as the cannabis industry matures.
On Monday, August 28th, attendees of the Cannabis Science Conference descended on Portland, Oregon for a week of educational talks, networking and studying the science of cannabis. On Monday, Chalice Farms, an extracts and infused products company, hosted the full-day JCanna Boot Camp focused on a deep dive behind the scenes of a cannabis production facility. The Cannabis Science Conference, hosted by Josh Crossney, founder of JCanna, takes place August 28th to 30th.
Attendees were split into five groups where they listened to a variety of educational sessions and toured the facility. A track focused on cultivation, led by Autumn Karcey, president of Cultivo, Inc., detailed all things facility design for cannabis cultivation, including an in-depth look at sanitation and safety. For example, Karcey discussed HVAC cleanliness, floor-to-ceiling sanitation and the hazards associated with negative pressure. These principles, while applicable to most cultivating facilities, applies particularly to commercial-scale grows in a pharmaceutical setting.
During one session, Sandy Mangan, accounts manager at SPEX Sample Prep and Tristan DeBona, sales specialist at SPEX Sample Prep, demonstrated the basics of sample preparation for detecting pesticides in infused products, such as gummies. That required using their GenoGrinder and FreezerMill, which uses liquid nitrogen to make gummies brittle, then pulverizing them to a powder-like substance that is more conducive for a QuEChERS preparation.
Joe Konschnik, business development manager at Restek, Susan Steinike, product-marketing manager at Restek and Justin Steimling, an analytical chemist at Restek, gave a demonstration of a full QuEChERS extraction of a cannabis sample for pesticide analysis, with attendees participating to learn the basics of sample preparation for these types of tests.
Following those were some other notable talks, including a tour of the extraction instruments and equipment at Chalice Farms, a look inside their commercial kitchen and a discussion of edibles and product formulation. Dr. Uma Dhanabalan, founder of Uplifting Health and Wellness, a physician with over 30 years of experience in research and patient care, led a discussion of physician participation, patient education and drug delivery mechanisms.
Amanda Rigdon, chief technical officer of Emerald Scientific, offered a demonstration of easy and adaptable sample preparation techniques for potency testing of infused product matrices. Rigdon showed attendees of the boot camp how wildly diverse cannabis products are and how challenging it can be for labs to test them.
The JCanna Canna Boot Camp is a good example of an educational event catered to the cannabis industry that offers real, hands-on experience and actionable advice. Before the two-day conference this week, the boot camp provided a bird’s eye view for attendees of the science of cannabis.
Last week, Cannabis Trainers, a compliance education and training services provider, announced their launch into the California market with their ServSafe® and Sell- SMaRT™ training programs. Ahead of the launch of California’s adult-use cannabis market in 2018, the programs will train employees in the areas of food safety and retail sales.
Maureen McNamara, founder of Cannabis Trainers, says that training and certification of employees is crucial to regulatory compliance in the cannabis space. “In few other industries could a frontline employee crumble an entire business with a single mistake,” says McNamara. “We aim to honor California’s cannabis pioneers by fusing their decades of hard work with cutting-edge approaches to safety and compliance.” She has over 25 years of professional training experience and has trained and certified over 15,000 employees across a handful of industries. In 2014, she launched Cannabis Trainers in Colorado and the following year in Illinois.
According to the press release, their ServSafe® program is essentially a food safety certification course based on food safety research and the FDA food code, but tailored to the cannabis industry for retailers and manufacturers of infused products. In 2015, their Sell-SMaRT™ program was the first to gain approval from the Colorado Department of Revenue Marijuana Enforcement Division’s Responsible Vendor Program, becoming the first state-certified cannabis vendor-training program. That course is an education program for budtenders and managers covering consumer safety issues, checking IDs and other key retail regulatory compliance issues.
According to McNamara, their Sell-SMaRT™ program is designed and customized to each state’s rules for cannabis sales. “We’ll be customizing our content to ensure it’s relevant to California regulations,” says McNamara. “We comb through the rules and pull out information pertinent to the responsible sale of cannabis in each state.” They’ll be doing the same for the ServSafe® program as well. “Although it’s a nationally recognized program based on the FDA food code, states may choose to create additional restrictions for cannabis infused products.”
She says they look at their programs like a translation for cannabis businesses; helping employees and managers make sense of the complex and confusing rules for cannabis compliance. “Most rules are written in legalese and can be a challenge to understand, says McNamara. “We simplify it and make it approachable and easy to digest.” Looking past California, McNamara says Cannabis Trainers is looking to expand to a few other states. She says their course curricula are based on state laws, but they try their best to incorporate regulatory compliance issues on the local level. “Our course information is based on state law,” says McNamara. “And, we realize local counties and municipalities may create stricter regulations and we do our best to include those variances in our courses.” Cannabis Trainers has incorporated variations in local rules in Colorado successfully.
“In addition to California, we’ll be customizing our courses for Nevada to launch this year as well,” says McNamara. “In 2018, we aim to provide professional development and certification courses to even more states.” McNamara says they have entered talks with teams in Ohio, Massachusetts and Maryland and are also actively looking to expand into Canada’s market. Their first California class will be the 3.5-hour September 20, 2017 ServSafe® course for cannabis producers at East Anaheim Community Center.
Typically when most people think of marketing automation, they imagine a platform that automates activities such as lead scoring, customer segmentation, cross-selling and campaign management. Well that type of automation is primarily for B2B companies, who are looking to reach a mass audience at once. Plus, B2B marketing automation platforms usually only provide one channel, which is email, to reach their customers.
B2C companies are looking to grow their brand and reach their customers through personalized messages. A B2C marketing automation platform helps businesses understand where each individual customer is in their journey and determine what actions need to be taken to move each customer forward. Plus they get the option of multiple channels to reach their customer, including email, text message, IM, push notifications and more.
Why is Marketing Automation Important for Dispensaries?
The first obvious reason why marketing automation is important is for the simple fact that reaching your customers is now automated; you don’t have to send out messages yourself. Thus helping save time and scale your reach at once. But marketing automation is much more important than the simple reason of saving time and scaling your reach. At SailPlay, we believe the automation of these activities helps dispensaries be able to deliver the right message at the right time to the right customer, helping the long-term success of the business.
For example, knowing where each of your customers are in their journey helps you to not only segment them into different groups, but also create specific campaigns per group. Through marketing automation you will know if you have a new lead, repeat customer and loyal customer, helping you tailor a campaign for each group.
New Lead Campaign
Each time a new lead visits your dispensary or your website, run an email or SMS campaign to provide them with a discount code to entice them to make a purchase. And after their first purchase, send a communication one day later to ask them about their experience and the product purchased.
Repeat Customer Campaign
For any repeat customers, you know which products they have purchased in the past. Run campaigns that are specific to the product groups they have purchased before. These customers are more likely to engage in your campaign if they are interested in the product.
Loyal Customer Campaign
For loyal customers, run exclusive campaigns based on their specific past purchases. For example, if John prefers to purchases edibles, run a campaign for John about an exclusive offer on a new edible.
The more personalized your campaigns are for your customers, the more engagement you can expect. According to Experian, there is a 26% increase in engagement with a personalized campaign when compared to a non-personalized campaign.
Plus with more engagement, your chances of increased sales greatly rise. According to a VB Insight study, 80% of businesses that use marketing automation have seen an increase in leads, with the majority being quality leads.
What Dispensaries Should Focus On For Marketing Automation
With there being so many marketing automation software companies to choose from, we thought we would help you focus on a couple of key features.
B2C Marketing Automation
Be sure to choose a B2C marketing automation platform. When you search for “Marketing Automation” through Google or any search engine, you will find many B2B marketing automation platforms. B2B marketing automation platforms are different because B2B platforms are interested in bulk marketing and messaging, while B2C platforms are focused on the personalization and customer journey. And as an FYI, some B2B platforms will say they have a B2C platform as well, but they will be focusing most of their features to B2B since there are more B2B companies using marketing automation.
Selecting More Than Just an Email Service Provider
If your goal is to just send out emails, then choosing an email service provider is the way for you to go. But if your goal is to go beyond that, then choose a B2C marketing automation platform. With a B2C marketing automation platform you should expect the following:
Loyalty Platform: Through a loyalty platform, you can build out a customer loyalty program that will help increase customer retention. Through the loyalty platform, you can create a rewards system, providing your customers for points for various actions, including purchases and social media actions.
Communication Platform: Within the communication platform, you can create powerful email, SMS, IM and push notification campaigns to reach each customer with the right message at the right time.
CRM Platform: The CRM platform helps you manage your entire customer list from one place. Through the CRM you can create customer segments, dive deep into each customer and more.
Analytics Platform: Within the Analytics platform, you can analyze your clients’ actions, their purchases, and socio-demographic data. Plus you can measure the effectiveness of your loyalty program, marketing campaigns, promotions and more to improve future results.
Before it gets too saturated, dispensaries need to invest in marketing automation. As stated, marketing automation can help your dispensary create a personalized experience for each of your customers, leading to higher engagement and ideally more sales.
According to the Marijuana Policy Group, the U.S. cannabis industry is expected to reach more than $13 billion in sales by 2020 and create more jobs than the U.S. manufacturing industry. According to Viridian Capital’s Cannabis Deal Tracker, there were close to 100 M&A transactions in the U.S. cannabis industry in 2016 and approximately $1.2 billion was raised in equity and debt. As the cannabis industry has grown more mature and businesses begin to have more capital available, the M&A activity within the industry is poised to grow significantly over the next years to assist businesses gain necessary scale and take advantage of synergies and diversification.
The Obvious Wrinkle
U.S federal law has prohibited the manufacture and distribution of cannabis since 1935. The U.S. regulates drugs through the Controlled Substances Act, which classifies cannabis as a Schedule I drug (i.e., drugs determined to have a high potential for abuse with no currently accepted medical use and a lack of accepted safety regarding their use). Yet, more than 25 states have by now legalized cannabis for medical and/or recreational purposes and, as a result, there is a clear conflict between such state laws and existing federal law. To possibly help bridge that conflict, the U.S. Attorney General’s office in 2013 issued guidance directing the federal government not to intervene with state cannabis laws except in specific, limited circumstances, but, contrarily, the DEA has shown no desire to re-classify cannabis. To add to the confusion, President Trump and the new U.S. Attorney General have provided mixed statements and signals about their positions.
All of this means that it continues to be risky to acquire cannabis businesses. The requirements to legally grow, distribute, prescribe, and use cannabis for either medical or recreational purposes vary widely by country, state, and local jurisdiction, making it tricky to determine whether such businesses can be legally combined, in particular, across state lines.
Pick the Right Team of Advisors
When preparing to sell or buy a cannabis business, it is important to pick the right team of advisors. Your regular legal counsel, accounting firm or CPA may not be the right advisors for a cannabis M&A transaction. Choose a legal counsel that not only has experience with cannabis laws and regulations, but also has cannabis M&A experience and can offer expert advice on areas like IP, employment, tax matters, etc. Similarly, verify that your accounting firm or CPA has real experience with financial and quality of earnings analysis and due diligence.
Conduct Gating Due Diligence Up Front
In any contemplated M&A transaction, it is wise to prioritize your due diligence investigations. There will always be some more prominent risks and business objectives in a particular industry or with respect to a specific target business. It will be more cost and time effective if those specific risks and business objectives are prioritized early in the due diligence process. These can dictate whether you even want to pursue the target further before you dig into a deeper and broader due diligence investigation. Conducting gating due diligence up front is even more important in an industry like cannabis that contain complex and thorny regulatory hurdles.
So, before you spend money and time on a broader legal, business and financial due diligence investigation, have your legal counsel analyze and confirm that the potential transaction is feasible from a regulatory perspective. This will include whether it is possible to obtain or transfer necessary local and/or state licenses and whether a combination or sale can occur across state lines if necessary. Early on in the process, It is also advisable to request that the target business complete a legal compliance questionnaire or discuss with the target its regulatory compliance program, policies and training. Such up front due diligence will either clear a path to negotiations and broader confirmatory due diligence or flush out “red flags” that may kill a possible deal or require the buyer to investigate further before proceeding.
Important Terms and Pitfalls in the M&A Agreement
Generally, a sale or purchase agreement for a cannabis business does not appear to vary much from a similar agreement in any other industry. However, the complex environment and the premature nature of the industry impacts certain deal terms and processes in different ways from most other developed industries.
Here are few examples to keep in mind when preparing and negotiating a sale or purchase agreement:
Third Party and Governmental Consents: Buyer’s legal due diligence must focus on the consents that may be required from seller’s suppliers, customers, landlords, licensors or other third parties under relevant contracts. Additionally, the due diligence should focus on consents and approvals required by local and state regulators as a result of the sale. The M&A agreement should contain solid seller representations and warranties about all such consents and approvals and any such material consents and approvals should, from a buyer’s perspective, be a condition precedent to closing of the transaction.
Legal Compliance: A buyer should not agree to a boilerplate seller representation about the target’s compliance with laws. Be specific and tailor seller’s legal compliance representation to relevant state and local cannabis laws, regulations and ordinances. From a seller perspective, be careful and thoughtful about any appropriate exceptions (including the federal prohibition) to be disclosed to buyer in the disclosure schedules underlying the sale or purchase agreement.
Financial statements: The cannabis industry is very fragmented and consists of many small businesses. Many of these small businesses do not have financial statements prepared in accordance with GAAP and may consist of only management prepared financials. In that scenario, a buyer should have its financial advisor do an analysis of the financials available and ask seller to provide a representation and warranty about the accuracy and good faith preparation of the provided financials.
Escrow: Typically, a buyer will request some part of the purchase price be placed with an independent financial institution for a period of time post-closing as a source of recovery for losses as a result of breaches by seller of any of the representations and warranties in the definitive sale or purchase agreement. Due to the federal cannabis and banking regulations, many of the larger commercial banks will not provide financial services to cannabis businesses, in particular if the business touches the plant. The parties must therefore consider alternatives, including local financial institutions with more relaxed compliance requirements or perhaps place the escrow in a trust account of a law firm or other independent party.
Working Capital Dispute Procedures: Similar to the escrow, larger accounting firms generally do not provide services to cannabis businesses. Due to the rapid evolution of cannabis related regulations, if the terms of the transaction include provisions for a post-closing working capital/purchase price adjustment and related dispute procedures, it is advisable to not name an arbiter in the agreement. Instead, parties should agree to mutually select the arbiter if and when a dispute should arise.
Indemnification: Because of the tricky legal environment of the cannabis industry, it may be prudent for a buyer to request, at the very least, that certain parts of seller’s legal compliance representation and warranty not be subject to the “regular” caps, deductibles and other indemnification limitations. Also, if a buyer has unearthed a significant issue in its due diligence investigation, it should consider asking seller for a special indemnity for such issue that would be indemnifiable regardless of buyer’s knowledge of the issue and not be subject to the general indemnification limitations.
R&W Insurance: If there’s a lot of competition for the purchase of a target, particularly in a bidding process, it is now common for buyer to offer to purchase a representation and warranty insurance policy (“R&W Insurance”) to possibly gain an advantage by limiting the seller’s post-closing indemnification exposure. The good news is that many of the R&W Insurance carriers do offer such insurance in connection with the sale and purchase of cannabis businesses. However, typically, R&W Insurance cannot be obtained for insured amounts of less than $5 million. Experienced M&A counsel can advise of the advantages and disadvantages of R&W Insurance and assist in the negotiation of the related terms.
The above are just some examples of what to expect in a cannabis M&A transaction. Every M&A transaction will have its unique issues that will need to be appropriately reflected in the sale or purchase agreements and good M&A practices will continue to evolve with the industry. If you are an owner of a successful cannabis business, buckle your seat belt and be prepared for an exciting ride as the industry gets closer to significant consolidation.
I often write about the legal side of and opinions about the cannabis industry. Much of what I write about is culled from anecdotal experiences within either my personal practice or observations in regard to the industry. I recently had a trip to Portland, Oregon to spend time learning and understanding a little bit about a particular client’s operations so that I could provide counsel to that particular client, where permissible. For me, it was an important part of the education, which I stress and serve as the basis for this article.
With education comes understanding. What I see in the cannabis industry is often those who are critical of the use of cannabis, either recreationally or medically, seem to demonstrate some lack of understanding. In Florida, as the “No on Amendment 2″ commercials and videos roll out, I see much information that clearly comes from a lack of understanding or potentially a willful desire to distort the truth.
I share the following, less as a means to correct those distortions, but more as an opportunity to educate one who may be reading this and who may not have the same experience, which I just had the opportunity to receive. My time in Oregon was spent predominately in Portland and Salem as this is where the particular client has locations that I was able to view and experience.
My observation from a zoning perspective was that there was not a dispensary on every corner and that at times I had to be patient before seeing a dispensary during our drive. Of note in regard to the dispensaries that I did see was often the use of “cannabis” or “marijuana” in the name or associated with signage at the dispensaries, in addition to a green cross. However, there were many that did not take as visible an approach. I recall seeing, pursuant to the rules of the Oregon Program, windows covered so that one cannot see in. From time to time there were billboards advertising dispensaries. What I noticed most was in part, the clean presentation of the particular client I was seeing versus what was presented on the outside of many dispensaries we passed. This may be highlighted in part based on viewing dispensaries through what one might consider an East Coast lens. There are others that might argue that this perspective, particularly in emerging markets, is much different than that which has been developed over time in the West Coast markets, many of which have now gone recreational.
Overall, like anything, what I saw ranged the gamut from unprofessional and a little unsightly to professional and clean looking, which generally fit into the surrounding neighborhood. In particular, my client’s dispensary in Salem was in a retail shopping center along with a Little Caesars, Aaron’s Rentals, a nail salon, and other normal and expected retailers. Unless you poked your head inside the door, it would not be readily apparent that it was a dispensary.
My experience with the types and looks of the dispensaries running the gamut was mirrored by a particularly unique experience I had in viewing customers/patients. What was clear from a very limited time of viewing who it is that goes into a dispensary in Oregon was that it was impossible to pigeonhole the types of patients and ailments or, in the recreational setting, who the end user might be. On the Saturday morning of my visit, while viewing operations in Salem, I was approached and began to speak with an older gentleman with a long straggly gray beard who appeared to be in his late 60’s to early 70’s. During the course of our conversation he let me know that he is looking forward to taking it easy, and that he was a veteran. He had two friends with him and it looked like they were going to enjoy some time relaxing together, but he was also able to tell me that it was assistive to him at times when his anxiety got the best of him. His purchases were economical, and it was apparent that he and his friends were of limited socio-economic means; however, his purchases were notably and significantly cheaper for use than potentially alcohol if, in fact, he was not medicating and using with his friends recreationally.
Within minutes after the gentleman left, the exact opposite walked in the store. Candidly, I was mildly surprised by whom I held the door for to walk in as I was leaving. For a moment I was transported from Salem, Oregon to any town in central New Jersey or main street USA. Decked out in what could have been Lily Pulitzer or other preppy outfit were two soccer moms. They had stepped out of the newest model of a particular German automobile manufacturer. Unfortunately, I did not have the opportunity to engage with the soccer moms in discussion, but it was clear through their knowledge of the layout and interaction with the employee behind the counter that this was not their first trip to this particular location.
So what does the foregoing illustrate? For me it illustrates the development of perspective through education. It is that perspective that I hope to bring to the advice and counsel of clients. Perhaps I can use the knowledge to be assistive in making recommendations on regulatory issues, if consulted on them, helping to explain to politicians and bureaucrats or zoning and planning officials what might or might not be important in their considerations when dealing with a client. My observations should ultimately help me assist in educating others as to what the business and operation of cannabis related businesses might actually entail and look like. It is absolutely necessary, irrespective of one’s role in the cannabis industry, whether it be on the real estate side, insurance brokerage, providing legal or consulting advice (especially as individuals transition from those areas of practice in non-cannabis related spaces) that one take the time to understand the industry and its practice from the inside out. Only then can one be an effective resource to a cannabis related business wherein once the layers of the onion are peeled back, there is actually substance and information.
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