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Canopy Growth Acquires Jetty Extracts

By Cannabis Industry Journal Staff
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Canopy Growth Corporation, one of the largest cannabis companies in the world, announced the acquisition of Jetty Extracts this week for $69 million. Jetty Extracts was founded in 2013 and is now a leading cannabis brand in California and a top 5 brand in the vape category. The two companies plan to expand Jetty’s offerings in California, Colorado, New York and across the broder to Canada, according to a press release.

Canadian-based Canopy Growth is a massive international company that has been expanding its presence well beyond Canadian borders. For years now. Their medical arm, Spectrum Therapeutics, is a leading brand in Canada and Germany.

Some of the Jetty Extracts product offerings

Back in 2018, Canopy solidified a partnership and took considerable investment from Constellation Brands on a long-term play to enter the cannabis beverage market. Then in 2019, they began their aggressive expansion into the U.S. through the multi-billion-dollar deal with Acreage Holdings who, at the time, was the largest U.S. cannabis company. In April of last year, they inked a deal with Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits following the launch of their first CBD-infused beverage line sold in the United States, Quatreau.

Late last year Canopy Growth announced a deal to acquire Wana Brands, the number one cannabis edibles brand based on market share in North America. The latest acquisition of Jetty Extracts this week follows the same pattern of increasing their North American footprint in the cannabis market considerably.

David Klein, CEO of Canopy Growth, says the cross-border potential excites them. “”Canopy Growth is building a house of premium cannabis brands with a focus on the core growth categories that will power the market’s path forward, now including Jetty – a pioneer of solventless vapes,” says Klein. “There are significant opportunities for Jetty to scale at the state-level across the U.S. by leveraging Canopy’s U.S. ecosystem, and we’re actively working on plans to bring the brand to the Canadian recreational market.”

Cannabis Labs Virtual Conference

For six years now, we have been hosting this complimentary collection of webinar presentations, designed to help attendees better understand some of the more technical aspects of starting and operating a laboratory. We will take a deep dive into cannabis testing, laboratory accreditation, R&D testing, authenticity and more. Take a look at the presentations and speakers below for more information.

Attendees registering for this complimentary series of webinars will get access to seven veterans of the cannabis lab testing industry, who are all available for Q&A after each presentation. In addition to getting the opportunity to chat with these subject matter experts on June 14, a recording of the presentations will be made available to all who register.

Practical and educational information from experts in the cannabis lab testing industry, all on the same day and all from the comfort of your lab, home or office. Want real inside knowledge on the cannabis testing industry? Sign up today!

FDA Issues Warning Over Copycat Cannabis Consumables

By Cannabis Industry Journal Staff
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Last week, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) published a consumer warning regarding food products containing THC and the risk of children accidentally eating them. Between January of last year through April 24, 2022, the FDA says they have received more than 100 adverse event reports involving people (both adults and children) accidentally consuming THC-containing products.

FDAlogoAccording to the published advisory, the main concern seems to be copycat products that are packaged and labeled to resemble popular junk foods. The copycat, THC-containing products are mimicking Cap’n Crunch, Cocoa Pebbles, Cocoa Puffs, Froot Loops, Fruity Pebbles, Nerds Ropes, Starbursts, Sour Patch Kids, Trix and others.

Examples of the THC products the FDA included in its warning.

In years past, usually around Halloween, local police, municipalities and state officials would often issue similar warnings over the same issue. Folks in the cannabis industry are usually quick to dismiss those warnings as dramatized and misleading, citing extremely low numbers of actual instances where edibles were given to children during Halloween. However, these warnings might be more warranted now, given the number of copycat products on the market today and the increased number of adverse events the FDA has reported.

Historically, most of the companies producing these copycat products that contain THC, like Sour Patch Kids or Nerds Rope candies, come from the illicit market. Most licensed edibles producers know not to steal branding and packaging from a large food company. Still though, it is worth taking a good, hard look at cannabis edibles packaging and making sure they wouldn’t be mistaken for a food product that doesn’t contain THC.

Why the Cannabis Industry Must Combat Degree Inflation

By Tori Gates
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The hiring process is evolving: major U.S. employers are reconsidering the significance of higher learning. An employer’s undue emphasis on university education while hiring is called “degree inflation.” As the hiring manager for NisonCo, a cannabis public relations, marketing and SEO agency, I have learned a college degree is not the best predictor of employee success.

NisonCo was established during the dawning of the modern cannabis legalization movement. At the time, our small staff included individuals with and without college degrees. I evaluated both groups of employees and learned they gave equal contributions to the team. Limiting our pool of potential candidates to university graduates would have hindered the growth of our company.

Accordingly, at NisonCo a college degree is not required to work. We believe degree inflation impedes hiring, increases payroll, encourages turnover and perpetuates social injustice. For these reasons, NisonCo encourages your cannabis company to emphasize a candidate’s skills and drive during the hiring process rather than their education. 

Degree Inflation Increased in the Aftermath of The Great Recession 

The Great Recession in 2008 caused a massive downturn in the U.S. economy. By 2010, the workforce had lost nearly 9 million jobs. The unemployed entered a tight labor market, and employers had the luxury of limiting potential candidates to college graduates. After the economic downturn, the number of employers requiring a college degree increased by 10%

Employers added degree requirements to positions previously staffed by high school graduates. In 2015, 67% of job postings for production supervisors required a degree, while only 16% of current production supervisors possessed degrees. The Great Recession pushed Americans without a college degree out of the labor market. 

Technological Advancements and Social Movements Confront Degree Inflation

The importance of technical skills began declining when automation entered the workforce in the 1980s. Employers suddenly required soft skills like relationship management to serve customers and resolve conflicts with partners successfully. A technologically advanced economy requires problem-solving and people skills. These skills are not usually acquired while attaining a college degree.

Most employers confirmed degree inflation prevents them from hiring equipped employees.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, companies laid off millions of employees. Many unemployed people reconsidered their relationship with work and decided to leave unfulfilling jobs. Employers are now in dire need of staff, and they no longer have the privilege of requiring a college degree during the hiring process. This degree inflation prevents recovery from the economic downturn caused by the pandemic. 

The Black Lives Matter movement highlighted the need to deliver social justice to historically marginalized communities. Americans are learning these communities need economic opportunities to achieve social justice. For this reason, employers are reexamining hiring practices and identifying barriers to equity. Employers like NisonCo have recognized since company inception that degree requirements impede social justice.

Degree Inflation is Bad for your Cannabis Business

The Harvard Business School polled business leaders on their perception of the performance of employees with and without degrees. The polling revealed the hidden costs of degree inflation: pending positions, payroll premiums, poor productivity and high turnover. Undoubtedly, degree inflation is not suitable for your cannabis business.

Most employers confirmed degree inflation prevents them from hiring equipped employees. They admit that candidates without degrees may possess the skills needed to thrive in most positions. Often, degree inflation prevents the discovery of competent candidates without degrees.

Most respondents revealed that degree inflation places a premium on wages for college graduates. Many respondents also confirmed those with and without degrees provide equal contributions to their teams. Degree inflation adds unnecessary payroll and training costs to a company’s budget.

Many employers believe staff members with university degrees demand higher salaries and benefits than staff without degrees. Additionally, most respondents admitted employees with degrees demonstrate low productivity and experience high job dissatisfaction. As a result, employers witness increased turnover among college graduates. In my experience, degree inflation can prevent employers from finding productive, satisfied, and loyal employees.

5 Ways Your Cannabis Company Can Oppose Degree Inflation

  1. Review Your Company’s Job Descriptions and Assess Contributions to Degree Inflation 

I recommend reviewing your company’s positions and determining if they are prone to degree inflation. Evaluate job descriptions written by leaders in the cannabis industry to understand if your degree requirements contribute to degree inflation and consider dropping degree requirements for positions that are common contributors to degree inflation.

  1. Identify the Technical and Soft Skills Needed for Positions in Your Company

I advocate for analyzing the technical and soft skills needed for positions in your cannabis company. Review your job descriptions to determine if they require soft skills a candidate without a degree could possess. Delete degree requirements from job descriptions that do not need technical education provided by universities. Additionally, review the vetting process for candidates and remove onerous education requirements for positions requiring additional soft skills.

  1. Analyze the Costs of Your Company’s Contribution to Degree Inflation

Understanding your cannabis company’s contribution to degree inflation lowers the costs of sustaining it. Developing metrics for evaluating contributions to degree inflation helps assess the charges to your company. Realizing your company’s potential cost savings helps maintain a commitment to combating degree inflation.

  1. Develop Your Company’s Pipeline of Non-Degree Employees

Your cannabis company should develop alternative talent pipelines to attract non-degree employees. Investments in training create talent pipelines that give your company access to new pools of competent and productive candidates. Investments in training attract employees without college degrees and confront degree inflation. 

  1. Expand Your Company’s Territory for Recruiting New Employees

I recommend expanding your company’s geographic footprint while recruiting. Establishing relationships with partners in new territories provides access to new pools of non-degree talent. Expansion of your recruiting territory withstands degree inflation. 

The Cannabis Industry Should Commit to Combatting Degree Inflation

Legalizing cannabis began as a social justice movement to benefit historically marginalized communities, and the maturation of our industry can deliver social justice to these communities. The cannabis industry has a prime opportunity to be an excellent example for other sectors confronting degree inflation. Our industry must demonstrate how different sectors can resist the urge to support it.

AOAC Launches Cannabis Proficiency Testing Program

By Cannabis Industry Journal Staff
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In a press release published this week, AOAC International announced it has partnered with Signature Science, LLC as the test material provider for the new AOAC Cannabis/Hemp Proficiency Testing program. What makes this proficiency testing (PT) program so unique is that AOAC will be the only PT provider to offer actual cannabis flower as the matrix.

This month, the pilot round with twenty cannabis testing labs begins with hemp-only samples being shipped in early May. The first live round of the PT program is scheduled for November of this year and will offer participating labs the choice of cannabis flower samples or hemp samples.

The program will include one sample for cannabinoid and terpene profiles, moisture and heavy metals, as well as a second sample for pesticide residue testing. According to the press release, mycotoxins will be added to the mix soon.

The new PT program was developed by stakeholders involved with the AOAC Cannabis Analytical Science Program (CASP), including state regulatory labs, industry labs, state and federal agencies and accreditation bodies. Shane Flynn, senior director of AOAC’s PT program, says the program is a result of scientists coming to them with concerns about testing in the cannabis space. “AOAC has a long history of bringing scientists together to address emerging topics, so when stakeholders came to AOAC with their concerns and need for quality proficiency testing in the cannabis industry, AOAC acted,” says Flynn. “Stakeholders noted the analytical differences in testing cannabis versus hemp and had specific concerns around it and asked for a program that would provide actual cannabis samples in addition to hemp. This is truly a program that was created by the stakeholders, for the stakeholders.”

AOAC says they plan on introducing microbiology to the PT program, with microbial contamination tests in both cannabis and hemp samples. They are also considering adding additional matrices, like chocolate and gummies.

Signature Science is an ISO 17043 accredited proficiency test provider that also has a DEA-licensed controlled substances lab, making them an ideal candidate to partner with AOAC for the PT Program. They entered into a 3-year MoU with AOAC for the program. Their team developed and validated methods used to create the samples for the PT program at their DEA-licensed lab in Austin, Texas.

Steep Hill Expands to Vermont

By Cannabis Industry Journal Staff
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Steep Hill, the company that started the first cannabis testing laboratory in the United States, today announced their expansion into Vermont. Their licensee, Steep Hill Vermont, is the first lab in the state to receive pre-approval from the state, according to a press release.

The leadership team is made up of CEO Kos Parulekar, Dr. Mark Scialdone, chief scientist and Callie Chapman, who will be the lab director. Parulekar previously held management roles at General Electric and The World Bank.

Dr. Scialdone will be speaking at the Cannabis Quality Conference & Expo. Click here to learn more. Dr. Scialdone worked at DuPont for eighteen years before joining the cannabis industry and becoming an expert in plant oil extraction, analysis and natural product chemistry. Dr. Scialdone is a member of the ASTM D37 cannabis committee, the NCIA testing policy working group and is a founding member of the cannabis chemistry subdivision at ACS. “We chose to partner with Steep Hill because of their breadth of experience from opening multiple cannabis testing labs across the country that are considered the gold standard for quality results, rapid turnaround time, and impeccable customer service,” says Dr. Scialdone. “Vermont has long had the status of the Humboldt County of the East having a long tradition in cannabis, so opening a testing lab here makes sense on many levels.”

Chapman is a chemical engineer who previously worked for Autumn Harp as their head of cannabis product development. “Working with the State of Vermont, our laboratory plans to expand cannabis testing services, while offering quick turnaround times and educational resources for cultivators, manufacturers, and other industry participants,” says Chapman. “Our goal is to be a key partner in the success of the Green Mountain State’s adult use market and continue to grow our industry.”

Just a few months ago, in December of 2021, Steep Hill announced their expansion into Illinois. In March of 2019, the company expanded into New Jersey through their partnership with Green Analytics East.

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Aurora Launches New Product Line in UK

By Cannabis Industry Journal Staff
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Aurora Cannabis announced today that they will be launching a new product line for patients in the United Kingdom. The Berlin-based company says they are debuting new cannabis extracts for the United Kingdom that meet EU GMP standards and are developed using, “a new extraction process has been developed to ensure the terpene profile of its products consistently remains at a high level,” according to the press release.

aurora logoThe new product line comes from Aurora Nordic, their facility located in Odense, Denmark. While the press release does not disclose exactly what kind of extraction technology and post-processing methods are involved, they claim their processes result in consistent concentrations of cannabinoids and rich terpene profiles.

Back in 2019, the UK loosened their rules around medical cannabis and allowed a handful of cannabis-derived drugs to be prescribed. Shortly after the British government began loosening restrictions around hemp-derived CBD and medical cannabis, Aurora made its first foray into the UK market. Still, only a small number of patients actually get medical cannabis prescriptions and accessibility is still a hot button issue in the country.

UKflagTrisha Cassidy, managing director for Aurora Cannabis in the UK & Ireland, says they are still trying to get into the market further, working on accessibility, advocacy and reimbursement issues through the NHS. “We are dedicated to helping improve access to medical education for healthcare professionals and are happy to share our medicinal cannabis knowledge and expertise,” says Cassidy. “The effectiveness and tolerability of medical cannabis has already been shown in several clinical studies and even more data from 20,000 UK patients will become available once the first patient registry for medical cannabis in Europe is completed. The UK market is still young and much work needs to be done to dismantle the obstacles that continue to prevent patients from receiving the treatment they need. Aurora is committed to these patients and will continue its dedicated work in the UK.”

Ethan Zohn

A Q&A with Ethan Zohn, Brand Ambassador for Momenta, a Trulieve Brand

By Aaron Green
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Ethan Zohn

Cannabis has been used to treat symptoms of cancer and chemotherapy including severe and chronic pain, nausea and vomiting. Many athletes also turn to cannabis for pain relief, incorporating cannabis into their pre- and post-workout routines. Though many states have legalized cannabis for medicinal and recreational purposes, stigma still exists – even in legalized markets.

MSOs and brands will often employ a brand ambassador to help combat local stigma and gain traction within new markets. Trulieve, America’s largest cannabis multi-state operator with over 160 storefront locations, recently launched Momenta, an everyday wellness and overall well-being brand, in Massachusetts.

We interviewed Ethan Zohn, Brand Ambassador for Momenta, to learn more about his pathway to becoming a brand ambassador and how he incorporates cannabis into his running routines. Ethan is a former professional soccer player, Survivor: Africa winner, and two-time cancer survivor. Ethan is an active runner and incorporated cannabis into his training for the 2022 Boston Marathon. The interview was conducted on April 14, 2022.

Aaron Green: Ethan, tell me, how did you get involved in the cannabis industry?

Ethan Zohn: My entry into the cannabis industry was through cancer, unfortunately. I rarely smoked marijuana growing up and later became a professional soccer player, so cannabis just wasn’t part of my daily life.

Ethan Zohn, former professional soccer player, Survivor: Africa winner and two-time cancer survivor

After being diagnosed with a rare form of blood cancer in 2009, I found a lot of research on the benefits of cannabis mitigating the side effects of chemotherapy. At the time, I was being treated at Memorial Sloan Kettering in New York, where medical marijuana was not legal yet. This meant that none of my doctors could discuss incorporating cannabis into my treatment plan.

Having to resort to illegal methods just to obtain medicine was a horrible experience. At that time, I was very interested in changing minds and educating people about the benefits of cannabis, but it didn’t go particularly well. After initially having positive results from chemotherapy, I relapsed and had to go through it all over again.

That’s when I really leaned into cannabis and CBD. It just became a part of my daily routine and part of my wellness journey. So, that’s where I am now, leading into my partnership with Trulieve and Momenta.

Green: We don’t often hear the story of how a brand ambassador comes to be. How did you link up with Momenta?

Zohn: I was a keynote speaker at Boston Cannabis Week, and Trulieve was also attending the conference. I was already familiar with the brand based on their medical footprint in Florida and introduced myself to the team. During our conversation, I learned they were opening a new dispensary in Framingham, Massachusetts.

As I learned more about Trulieve, I grew to really love their passion and focus on research, patient education and providing quality products. From my experiences in the cannabis world, I just wasn’t seeing much of that. Trulieve was coming at it from a medical perspective, and that aligned more with where I stood. So, I pitched them this crazy idea, “Hey, why don’t I run the Boston Marathon on Momenta products?” From there, it took off as a campaign that included product launches, charity initiatives and even some celebrity support. I think it was a perfect combination of everyone coming together, and we’re all winning in this situation. I’m also running for Active Against Cancer because I support their mission to make exercise an integral part of cancer treatment.

Green: So, you had the sports background prior to cancer and then several years of treatment. What got you back into running?

Zohn: When I was diagnosed, I was training for the New York City Marathon and ended up not being able to run. Cooped up in my hospital room, I’d look out the window and I noticed people were just running up and down First Avenue. I said to myself, “Oh my God. If I get out of this thing alive, I’m going to run. I’m going to put on a pair of shoes. I’m going to break out of this cell and I’m going to just run the streets -and run with freedom.”

Zohn at the 2022 Boston Marathon. Image from his Instagram page

That’s when I really started running marathons. I ran my first marathon nine months after my first stem cell transplant. The second marathon was while I underwent chemotherapy.  Eleven months after my second stem cell transplant, I ran in the 2013 Boston Marathon, which was the year of the bombing. Amidst that tragedy, I was celebrating one year in remission.

I’ve always measured my health and wellness based on how I felt while running. It might sound weird, but I know I’m in good shape if I can run a mile in seven minutes. If it takes me 10 minutes, I need to work out a little bit more. Measuring my life in terms of fitness has always made sense.

It’s a goal of mine to use sports as a platform to educate others on healthy lifestyles. I have a charity called Grassroots Soccer, where we use soccer to teach life lessons to kids. I’ve also worked with the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society in training for triathlons to raise cancer awareness.

There are still many people out there who think of cannabis as an illicit or gateway drug, and I feel a responsibility to challenge those dated stigmas. I feel fortunate to work with Trulieve and educate people on how cannabis can be integrated into anyone’s daily lifestyle as part of their wellness journey. Cannabis has so many applications in my own life and has helped with my insomnia, pain and anxiety. I’m hopeful that my advocacy work around this plant will help other people who are just as invested in their mental and physical health to find relief in more natural ways.

Green: What does your running regimen look like with cannabis and how did you develop that?

Zohn: Before, I always kept sports and cannabis separate. Integrating cannabis into my running routine was a slow process, and I still don’t take any high-dose products when I’m running. Before each race, I take a five-milligram Momenta capsule and take another dose around the hour and thirty minute mark.

People talk about athletes getting into the zone, and I feel like cannabis gets me into the zone quicker. I can lock in and stay laser-focused. Cannabis also plays a huge role in my recovery regimen. I like to use Momenta’s THC-infused creams and cooling gels that come in a variety of cannabinoid ratios.

Green: What makes Momenta products unique?

Zohn: Momenta is a great entry point for anyone looking to incorporate cannabis into their exercise routine or wellness journey. Trulieve started as a medical brand and its products reflect the company’s ongoing commitment to research and quality. I also tend to seek out consistent products, especially when I’m exercising. In my own experience, a gummy will sometimes be too potent, and other times I don’t feel anything. Momenta products, on the other hand, deliver the same experiences every time. I don’t want any surprises on race day or when I’m getting into a workout.

Green: What’s next for Momenta?

Zohn: Momenta recently launched in Massachusetts at three of Trulieve’s locations but I’m confident that it will quickly become a local favorite. The wellness brand is also available in Florida and West Virginia, and I can see Momenta gaining traction among other medical patients interested in supporting their holistic health. I’m excited to watch Momenta grow into a recognizable national brand as Trulieve continues to increase its retail footprint across the country.

Green: Final question: what in cannabis or in your personal life are you most interested in learning about?

Zohn: There needs to be more research on cannabis and how cannabinoids and terpenes impact the body from a health perspective. Federal legalization will be a gamechanger on the research front, and I hope more members of the medical community will study cannabis’ applications for different health concerns. I’m a cancer survivor. My nephew is autistic. I think there’s a lot more exciting research to come.

It’s refreshing to look at cannabis as a new industry growing from the ground up. Whether it’s branding, marketing or technology, people are trying to figure this all out! A lot of what I do influences how cannabis is perceived in society. How can we use cannabis to share messages and draw awareness to what’s happening in the world and the environment? I love seeing cannabis play a role in social issues.

I’m also interested in developing more constructive ways to educate and deter teens from using cannabis. I currently volunteer for the Safe Roots Foundation, which raises money from the cannabis industry and invests those resources into evidence-based teenage drug prevention programs. The industry plays an important role in reducing substance use among minors, and I’m proud to be a part of a movement that educates the youth on safe cannabis use while arming adults with accurate information.

Green: Okay, great thanks Ethan. That concludes the interview.

Zohn: Thanks Aaron.

Cannabis Banking: The Ins, the Outs & the Unknowns

By Tamara L. Kolb, Amy Bean, Caitlin Strelioff
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As the legal cannabis market expands, banks and nonbank financial institutions (NBFIs) across the United States continue to explore how to safely provide banking and other financial services to cannabis-related businesses (CRBs) and other CRB ecosystem players. At the same time, these organizations are taking into account changes they might need to consider relative to their Bank Secrecy Act ( BSA), anti-money laundering (AML) and related compliance programs. 

Regulatory conundrum

The Controlled Substances Act (CSA) identifies the cannabis plant and all its derivatives as a Schedule 1 controlled substance. Schedule 1 controlled substances have a “high abuse potential with no accepted medical use,” and they cannot be “prescribed, dispensed, or administered.” Because cannabis remains classified as a Schedule 1 controlled substance, the CSA “imposes strict controls on possession, manufacturing, distribution, and dispensing” of cannabis.

Under the Money Laundering Control Act of 1986 (MLCA) and the BSA as amended, covered banks and NBFIs are prohibited from providing financial services to businesses that are engaged in illicit activities. Because federal law prohibits the distribution and sale of cannabis, financial transactions involving CRBs are therefore deemed to be transactions that involve funds derived from illegal activities.

As of Feb. 3, 2022, 18 states, two territories, and the District of Columbia have enacted legislation to regulate cannabis for adult use. Thirty-seven states, the District of Columbia and four territories have approved comprehensive, publicly available medical and cannabis programs. Eleven states allow for the use of low-THC, high-CBD substances for medical reasons in limited situations or as a legal defense.

The growing divide between federal prohibition and state legalization of the cannabis industry creates a precarious position for federally regulated banks and NBFIs with the main concern involving exposure to legal, operational and regulatory risk. The situation begs the question: How might the federal government and regulators pursue and prosecute players in the legal cannabis industry?

The current economic trajectory predicts that retail sales of legal cannabis products in the U.S. will surpass an estimated $41.5 billion annually by 2025, and many banks and NBFIs are eagerly awaiting the federal green light to do business with CRBs without fear of prosecution or legal ramifications.

From 2018 forward, Congress has made several attempts to pass legislation that would protect CRBs when cultivating, distributing, marketing, and selling cannabis products in their state-legalized form. These efforts to declassify cannabis-related activity as a specified unlawful activity have thus far been unsuccessful.

The House passing the MORE Act back in 2020

Passage of the Secure and Fair Enforcement Banking Act of 2021 (SAFE Banking Act) and the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act of 2021 (MORE Act) would enable banks and NBFIs to provide financial services to CRBs. The SAFE Banking Act would provide a safe harbor for banks and NBFIs that provide financial services to CRBs. The MORE Act would deschedule cannabis from the CSA entirely.

Questions to ask

Banks and NBFIs interested in providing financial services to CRBs should ask these questions:

  • Do we adequately understand our risk, and what are the implications for our organization? How should we augment our risk assessment process and our controls?
  • To what extent are we willing to accept the risk of banking CRBs? Do we have the ability to identify CRB customers, and if so, do we have any?
  • How should we advise the board of directors about setting risk appetite?
  • What customer due diligence (CDD) and enhanced due diligence (EDD) will we need to safely continue with existing customers and onboard new ones?
  • How will we monitor for unusual and suspicious activity? What will be the alerting and judgmental criteria?
  • How will our resource needs change so that we stay abreast of new processes and controls?

Risk appetite considerations

In order to determine whether to accept or prohibit CRBs, banks and NBFIs should identify the level of acceptable risk they are willing to take on. Several key components need to be considered, such as:

  • The board of directors’ stance on legal cannabis, given that good governance recommends and regulators expect that the board sets risk appetite
  • Cannabis laws in states within the customer footprint and the impact on customers’ communities
  • Risk profile, customer base, geographic location, products, and services
  • Relationship with regulators and any recent deficiencies or weaknesses in the BSA and associated compliance programs
  • Ability to implement appropriate controls and staffing

 Developing a strategic road map

If the decision is made to bank CRBs, banks and NBFIs should perform an assessment of compliance maturity for existing BSA/AML program processes and controls to identify potential gaps and develop a strategic road map that helps the organization achieve its vision for future state compliance and sustainable operations. 

A well-developed and well-articulated strategic road map visualizes what actions or key outcomes are needed to help organizations achieve their long-term goals. When creating the road map, banks and NBFIs need to demonstrate a keen understanding of their desired strategy, outcomes, markets, and products for onboarding and banking CRB customers. Specifically, banks and NBFIs need to define and explain how desired outcomes and business strategies create risk and exposure.

In addition to a road map, banks and NBFIs should develop and document a detailed risk-based approach that is aligned to the organization’s risk tolerance to determine necessary compliance steps when banking CRB customers.

Specifically, the following activities should be considered when developing a CRB banking program that meets regulatory expectations:

  • Identifying BSA/AML control gaps related to CRB risk identification and mitigation and formulating a plan to address them
  • Updating a board-approved policy framework
  • Updating detailed operating policies and procedures
  • Planning for capacity, developing job descriptions, and onboarding new personnel
  • Training for all three lines of defense, senior management, and the board
  • Developing and documenting a phased or full approach to acceptance of CRB customers
  • Developing and documenting a CRB program oversight policy

CRB risk framework

A three-tiered CRB risk framework first proposed in 2016 has quickly become the cannabis industry standard. The framework has evolved and expanded comprehensively to consider many types of CRBs, and evolving legal systems continue to refine the framework.

This framework is intended to help banks and NBFIs differentiate types of CRBs and their corresponding risks, and it separates CRBs into three tiers and details risks for each tier. The following exhibit summarizes the approach:

Risk framework by tier

Level Risk
Tier 1 Direct
Tier 2 Indirect with substantial revenue from Tier 1
Tier 3 Indirect with incidental revenue from Tier 1

Source: CRB Monitor

Even the most conservative of risk appetites equivalent to outright prohibition is not devoid of significant risk considerations. Residual risk frequently encompasses a large number of indirect connections in the total CRB ecosystem. Common examples are printers, lawyers, accountants, landlords, and even utilities and taxing authorities, and all of these are subject to regulatory scrutiny and, importantly, visibility to law enforcement. Also, policies to prohibit or restrict will be audited and examined for compliance, and exceptions will require explanations.

This panorama necessitates expertise and prudence in identifying and evaluating risks within the many layers of CRBs. For example, consider a bank or NBFI that banks a CRB’s employee or vendor. If a bank fails to properly implement controls that would allow it to identify and mitigate risk associated with banking CRBs, it will be susceptible to severe violations of the BSA, including civil money penalties, criminal penalties, and regulatory enforcement actions. 

Implementing necessary precautions

A well-developed road map should consider and implement the following activities:

  • Understanding the most current state and federal cannabis laws and regulations to ensure the bank or NBFI’s compliance
  • Understanding the local, state, or tribal program to ensure CRB customers are compliant with the program
  • Implementing a CRB risk assessment
  • Implementing executive approval practices for direct CRBs
  • Developing adequate risk ratings (possibly through a risk-based, tiered approach) and corresponding monitoring for CRB customers that includes:
    • Integrating various customer onboarding and AML solutions at both onboarding and periodic levels
    • Scheduling regular reviews to include recurring enhanced due diligence, site visits, and transaction monitoring
    • Monitoring for suspicious activity, including red flags, via open sources for adverse information about the CRB customers and related parties such as beneficial owners
  • Performing adequate CDD and EDD that will validate that the CRB-offered products, services, and programs are compliant with most current state laws and regulations by:
    • Collecting appropriate documentation as evidence of compliance, perhaps including a comprehensive onboarding questionnaire, beneficial ownership information, and contracts for the growing, harvesting, transporting and processing of the product
    • Reviewing applications and supporting documentation used to obtain a legal cannabis state license
    • Understanding the normal and expected activity of the organization’s CRB customers and their product usage
  • Developing adequate training programs and governance and oversight programs to address this customer type by:
    • Updating existing policies and procedures to review inherent risk presented by banking CRB customers
    • Updating annual training for employees
  • Auditing initial program design and periodic operational effectiveness

Moving forward cautiously

The ins, outs, and unknowns of cannabis banking are complex, and they require banks and NBFIs to be extremely vigilant with current policy and aware of new developments. Overall, the idea of creating a cannabis program might seem like a daunting task, but with appropriate guidance and care, organizations can provide services in compliance with laws and regulations.

Crowe disclaimer: Qualified organizations only. Independence and regulatory restrictions may apply. Some firm services may not be available to all clients. Given the continued evolution and inconsistency of various state and federal cannabis-related laws, any company should seek competent legal advice relating to its involvement in the cannabis industry, including when considering a potential public offering as a cannabis-related company.

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FDA Issues First Warning Letters for Delta-8 THC

By Cannabis Industry Journal Staff
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In an unprecedented move, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) has issued warning letters today to companies selling products containing delta-8 THC. In total, the FDA sent out five warning letters to companies for violating the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FD&C Act).

Image from the FDA’s consumer update on Delta-8 THC

The violations include illegal marketing of unapproved delta-8 THC products as treatment for medical conditions, misbranding and adding delta-8 THC to food products. Back in September of last year, the FDA published a consumer update on their website, seeking to educate the public and offer a public health warning on delta-8 tetrahydrocannabinol, otherwise known as delta-8 THC.

Delta-8 THC is a cannabinoid that can be synthesized from cannabidiol (CBD) derived from hemp. It is an isomer of delta-9 THC, the more commonly known psychoactive cannabinoid found in cannabis. Delta-8 THC does produce psychoactive effects, though not quite as much as its better-known cousin, delta-9 THC. Many regulators and industry stakeholders are increasingly concerned about the rise in popularity of delta-8 products, namely because of the processing involved to produce it. Delta-8 THC is often synthesized using potentially harmful chemicals.

The FDA has a history of sending a lot of warning letters to companies marketing CBD products inaccurately and making drug claims. Earlier this year, they sent a number of letters to companies claiming that CBD can cure or prevent Covid-19.

FDAlogoAccording to Janet Woodcock, M.D., principal deputy commissioner at the FDA, they are getting more and more concerned about the popularity of delta-8 THC products sold online. “These products often include claims that they treat or alleviate the side effects related to a wide variety of diseases or medical disorders, such as cancer, multiple sclerosis, chronic pain, nausea and anxiety,” says Woodcock. “It is extremely troubling that some of the food products are packaged and labeled in ways that may appeal to children. We will continue to safeguard Americans’ health and safety by monitoring the marketplace and taking action when companies illegally sell products that pose a risk to public health.”

The FDA sent warning letters to the following companies selling delta-8 THC products:

  • ATLRx Inc.
  • BioMD Plus LLC
  • Delta 8 Hemp
  • Kingdom Harvest LLC
  • M Six Labs Inc.