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Ask the Expert Series: Straight Talk on Safety, Defense and Security with Bruce Lesniak

By Aaron G. Biros, Bruce E. Lesniak
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This is the first part of a series dedicated to understanding more about defense, security and safety as they relate to the cannabis industry, the importance of having standards and some tips for cannabis business plans. Over the next few weeks, we will hear from multiple industry pioneers discussing those topics and offering practical solutions for problems that many cannabis businesses face daily.

Inconsistent laws across multiple states created a fragmented network of regulations for cannabis. Some third parties are filling the gaps between the industry standards and state regulations. The Colorado Marijuana Enforcement Division (MED) and the Washington Liquor and Cannabis Board’s i-502 rule provide guidance on regulations surrounding packaging and labeling, advertising, pesticide use, retail and other areas.

Still there are many opportunities to fill the gaps. The Foundation of Cannabis Unified Standards (FOCUS), is an independent non-profit founded to develop some consistency in standards governing public health, consumer safety and the environment. In cultivation, the third party certification, Clean Green Certified, works to provide some guidance for growing cannabis organically based on USDA organic standards. For laboratories, Washington’s regulations provide some guidance, but organizations like FOCUS, the American Association for Laboratory Accreditation (A2LA) and the Cannabis Safety Institute seek to fill the gaps in laboratory standards along with the ISO 17025 requirements.

Security and defense is one particular area of the cannabis industry that still needs a benchmark for businesses to follow. In this series, we sit down to discuss security, defense and safety with Bruce Lesniak, president of the Food Safety and Defense Institute and member of the oversight committee for the establishment of standards in the cannabis industry in conjunction with FOCUS.

Cannabis Industry Journal: What changes do you see coming to the cannabis industry related to product safety, defense and security? 

Bruce Lesniak: As in every industry that provides a public consumable product, the primary objective is to protect the consumer by providing products that are consistently safe. The largest change coming to the cannabis industry will be the implementation of enforceable, nationally uniform standards across all states and all product lines. I believe that the standards and regulations developed for the cannabis industry will mirror those of the food industry. Companies are already busy working to develop this uniform standard, one such group is FOCUS. Founded by Lezli Engelking, FOCUS works with diverse professionals from regulatory, quality assurance, medical, law enforcement, business, research, and the government officials, medical and research professionals along with subject matter experts from numerous business disciplines across the industry to develop impartial, comprehensive, cannabis specific standards that will be presented for adoption by state and federal governing bodies. Lezli summarizes the FOCUS Mission as “ To protect public health, consumer safety, and safeguard the environment by promoting integrity within the cannabis industry.” Look for more on this in our next Ask the Expert update, on CannabisIndustryJournal.com or you can contact Lezli Engelking at FOCUS here: 866-359-3557 x101.


This series will highlight important issues involving security, defense and safety in the cannabis industry. Next week, Bruce, along with cannabis security professional, Tony Gallo of Sapphire Protection, will provide some advice on what companies can do to improve their master business plan. Stay tuned for next week’s Part II of Ask the Expert: Straight Talk on Safety, Defense and Security with Bruce Lesniak.

Year in Review, What’s In Store for 2016: A Q&A with Nic Easley

By Aaron G. Biros
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With 2015 coming to a close, to understand and start strategizing for the next year, we must look back on the year and gauge the industry’s progress. A lot has happened this year and there is a lot to look forward to in 2016.

Nic Easley presenting at the 2015 High Times Business Summit in Washington, D.C.
Nic Easley presenting at the 2015 High Times Business Summit in Washington, D.C.

Nic Easley, founder and CEO of Comprehensive Cannabis Consulting (3C), gave a presentation at the High Times Business Summit last week, reviewing the cannabis industry’s progress in 2015, and providing some insights on what to look for in 2016. 3C is a national cannabis and hemp consulting firm dedicated to ensuring the highest standards in large-scale, sustainable organic production and product manufacturing. Over the past eight years in Colorado and nationwide, Easley has helped more than 60 clients design, build, start up, and optimize their operations. Easley is an active participant on multiple committees in various industries, non-profit groups, and rule making organizations that are setting the standards and regulations guiding this industry. Through his involvement he is able to promote sustainable, sensible practices and policies that drive cannabis cultivation and industry best practices into new realms of productivity, profitability, and professionalism.

We were able to sit down with Nic Easley after the conference to get some better insights for how the industry performed in 2015 and what is in store for 2016.


 

CannabisIndustryJournal: How do you think Colorado’s year of pesticide recalls will help shape the industry’s future?

Nic Easley: As a member of the Pesticide Advisory Committee with the Colorado Department of Agriculture, I think there is a tangible need for better, more comprehensive regulatory guidance. If we come out with strict pesticide regulations, it will be better for everyone in the industry and consumers, but more importantly it will benefit patients gaining access to safe, laboratory-tested medicine. The regulators will need our help to write the rules. Harder laws are good for us though, because the ethical businesses will always take the route of integrity, as opposed to the businesses that cut corners. Those companies not playing above board will be weeded out and reprimanded in due time. A lot of it comes with the responsibility as a grower and producer to facilitate medical needs, that is a responsibility that requires great integrity. As for the testing regulations, there are too many conflicts of interest and we need to look toward third party testing and accreditation to prevent laboratory shopping, skewed results and other inconsistencies. We need to not allow producers to provide their own samples, sampling and sample preparation needs to be controlled through third party laboratories working above board, as opposed to labs wanting to keep clients instead of providing accurate and consistent test results. Looking forward to 2016, we will continue to see the pesticide issue shape the industry, for better or worse, this is a problem we need to find the right solutions for and that comes through working with regulators, like the Colorado Marijuana Enforcement Division, to write the required regulatory framework.

CIJ: Looking nationally, what major trends were highlighted in 2015 and what would you like to see change for 2016?

Nic: With Oregon going online October 1st, and Maryland’s license application process opening up, we are recognizing some diminishing barriers to entry in markets previously difficult to tap due to things like residency requirements and where the capital came from. Maryland’s infused product and processing licenses are much more readily available as opposed to the cultivation licenses due to stipulations. States like Oregon and Alaska that dragged their feet a little with regard to their regulatory model, are just releasing a lot of barriers to entry for licensing applications. Oregon may have missed some tax revenue in the initial launch of the program, but they are doing it right through diligent research instead of using their citizens as guinea pigs. For businesses looking to get started, you can avoid poor decision making by knowing the rules. New and established businesses alike need to take the responsibility to write the rules to be socially, environmentally and economically responsible. If we want to make money in this industry to help the government’s role in keeping us safe, then doing business in the most socially responsible way possible will lead to profitability. What I would like to see change for 2016 is the expanding list of qualifying conditions. As a military veteran, I would like to see Colorado stop looking at the tax revenue of adult use cannabis, and make PTSD a qualifying condition for medical marijuana. The Bob Hoban lawsuit suggests that Colorado is marginalizing medicine because they will make more tax revenue by blurring the lines of adult use and medicine. All of the studies out there, including Dr. Sue Sisley’s work, suggests PTSD can be treated with medical marijuana. That highlights another trend I would like to see change in 2016: We need clinical research on these conditions, because observational research just is not credible enough. We [businesses in the industry] need to actively promote the need for clinical research to help propel social change and get the information and knowledge out there. With the right information, this industry can make informed decisions that will help all stakeholders.

CIJ: What advice can you offer to cannabis businesses for 2016?

Nic: I tell my clients that, because cannabis is still federally illegal, you must understand the present risk associated with the work you are doing. We need to ask questions like how can we do this responsibly and set a good example so when the time comes, the federal government will look to us as a legitimate industry, working with regulators to write the rules for safety. For new businesses, produce the safest, highest quality, and affordable medicine and work with other businesses and regulators to keep innovating in the area of safety. Focus on the structure of your business: build your foundations and using expert advice, you can avoid major pitfalls and become the leaders in this brand new industry. Look for environmentally sustainable solutions, climate change issues need to be addressed in this industry. Use appropriate technology instead of burning coal to grow marijuana, which increases our carbon footprint. This includes both environmentally sound standard operating procedures and the right technologies, but also social justice. We are presented with a terrific economic opportunity to work on climate change issues, so work to address inefficient practices and innovate to be as sustainable as possible.

CIJ: For the entire cannabis industry in 2016 , what kind of growth do you expect?

Nic: We have reached a point where I foresee a holding pattern beginning to take shape. In 2016, the industry will continue to grow and demand will not be satiated by supply. August of 2015 was the first month when Colorado saw over $100 million in sales. We will increasingly see more price fluctuations as bigger projects come online. Many states in 2016 will focus on problems with their regulatory models and devising solutions for them. Businesses will continue their strategic growth planning, with key states potentially coming online for adult use such as Nevada and California. Nevada is one of the most up and coming markets in America with a 68% approval rating, and they have the ability to grandfather in businesses and previous rules associated with their medical marijuana program. Knowing licensing applications can take eight to eighteen months before you can become operational, we have to place our bets wisely. There is a lot happening in all these states and from the big November votes on, chaos will ensue as regulators tackle big problems with the overhaul. In 2016, the cannabis industry will make a big impact on the United States, and the exciting part is that progress is made through business as usual for us.

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Marijuana Business Planning: A Q&A with Mike McCulley

By Aaron G. Biros
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MasterPlans, a business planning firm based in Portland, Oregon, has more than 13 years of experience in the emerging cannabis industry. The firm has worked to develop financial models and business plans for new and existing companies that are looking to secure funding, grow partnerships, and manage their long-term strategies for success. They have created business plans for more than 100 companies at every level of the market, from cultivators to dispensaries, to businesses in packaging, security and tourism. They work with nonprofit ventures, investor propositions, commercial lending and self-funded companies.

“We know how difficult it is to launch a business in the cannabis industry, because we work with businesses in this field every day,” says Mike McCulley, VP of Sales at MasterPlans. Cannabis Industry Journal spoke with McCulley to learn more about some of the challenges that marijuana businesses face.

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MasterPlans Cannabis Business Plans

Cannabis Industry Journal: What are some of the biggest hurdles in launching a new grow operation?

Mike McCulley: Many of our cultivation clients say that the largest hurdle they face is in identifying the ideal location for their business. Grow operations need to factor in a wide range of concerns including cost, zoning, security, soil viability (for outdoor operations), energy costs (especially for indoor operations), and proximity to schools and similar buildings. Location can really make or break the success of any grow operation, and this is often the single largest cost incurred when launching this kind of business.

CIJ: What are some key ingredients in a successful marijuana business plan?

McCulley: It probably goes without saying that a successful business plan for a company in the marijuana field first has to execute all of the elements that every business plan needs to include: Detailed financial projections, accurate market analysis, [and] a comprehensive overview of strategies and goals. Marijuana business plans in particular need to also address the key issues and challenges that are unique to operators in this industry. How will your company be impacted by state-level regulations, and how will your operational model address those? What steps will you take to ensure the security of your product? How will you accommodate the complicated issue of accounting while federal regulations are still impacting the way marijuana companies manage their banking? These issues should be acknowledged and addressed if you hope for your plan to be compelling.

CIJ: With the growing schism between recreational and medical markets, how do you determine your target market and meet those customers’ needs?

McCulley: Determining a target market can be difficult before launching operations, but it’s not impossible. A key tool to help work through this question is up-to-date census information or demographics for the area in which your company is serving. Recreational markets provide a much broader audience to become potential clients, but medical markets can also offer lucrative opportunities if an operator can launch in an area with a high concentration of eligible patients. Accurate market data plays a key role in this process, and close analysis of that data can help operators determine their best course of action.