As many US States and Canadian provinces approach legalization of cannabis, the question of regulatory oversight has become a pressing issue. While public awareness is mainly focused on issues like age restrictions and impaired driving, there is another practical question to consider: should cannabis be treated as a drug or a food product when it comes to safety? In the US, FDA governs both food and drugs, but in Canada, drugs are regulated by Health Canada while food products are regulated under the CFIA.There are many food safety hazards associated with cannabis production and distribution that could put the public at risk, but are not yet adequately controlled
Of course, there are common issues like dosage and potency that pharmaceutical companies typically worry about as the industry is moving to classifying its products in terms of percentage of chemical composition (THC, CBD, etc. in a strain), much as we categorize alcohol products by the percentage of alcohol. However, with the exception of topical creams and ointments, many cannabis products are actually food products. Even the herb itself can be brewed into teas, added to baked goods or made into cannabis-infused butters, oils, capsules and tinctures.
As more people gain access to and ingest cannabis products, it’s only a matter of time before food safety becomes a primary concern for producers and regulators. So when it comes to food safety, what do growers, manufacturers and distributors need to consider? The fact is, it’s not that different from other food products. There are many food safety hazards associated with cannabis production and distribution that could put the public at risk, but are not yet adequately controlled. Continue reading below for the top four safety hazards for the cannabis industry and learn how to receive free HACCP plans to help control these hazards.
Aflatoxins on Cannabis Bud
Just like any other agricultural product, improper growing conditions, handling and storage can result in mold growth, which produce aflatoxins that can cause liver cancer and other serious health problems. During storage, the danger is humidity; humidity must be monitored in storage rooms twice a day and the meter must be calibrated every month. During transportation, it is important to monitor and record temperatures in trucks. Trucks should also be cleaned weekly or as required. Products received at a cannabis facilities should be tested upon receiving and contaminated products must always be rejected, segregated and disposed of safely.
Chemical Residues on Cannabis Plants
Chemical residues can be introduced at several points during the production and storage process. During growing, every facility should follow instructions for applying fertilizers and pesticides to crops. This includes waiting for a sufficient amount of time before harvesting. When fertilizer is being applied, signs must be posted. After cannabis products have been harvested, chemical controls must be in place. All chemicals should be labelled and kept in contained chemical storage when not in use to prevent contamination. Only food-grade chemicals (e.g. cleaners, sanitizers) should be used during curing, drying, trimming and storage.
Without a comprehensive food safety program, problems will inevitably arise.There is also a risk of excessive concentration of chemicals in the washing tank. As such, chemical concentrations must be monitored for. In general, water (obviously essential for the growing process) also carries risks of pathogenic bacteria like staphylococcus aureus or salmonella. For this reason, city water (which is closely controlled in most municipalities) should be used with an annual report and review. Facilities that use well water must test frequently and water samples must be tested every three months regardless.
Pathogenic Contamination from Pest Infestations
Insects, rodents and other pests spread disease. In order to prevent infestations, a pest control program must be implemented, with traps checked monthly by a qualified contractor and verified by a designated employee. It is also necessary to have a building procedure (particularly during drying), which includes a monthly inspection, with no holes or gaps allowed. No product should leave the facility uncovered to prevent fecal matter and other hazards from coming into contact with the product. Contamination can also occur during storage on pallets, so pallets must be inspected for punctures in packaging material.
Furthermore, even the best controlled facility can fall victim to the shortcomings of their suppliers. Procedures must be in place to ensure that suppliers are complying with pest and building control procedures, among others. Certifications should be acquired and tracked upon renewal.
Pathogenic Contamination Due to Improper Employee Handling
Employee training is key for any food facility. When employees are handling products, the risk of cross-contamination is highest. Facilities must have GMP and personnel hygiene policies in place, with training conducted upon hiring and refreshed monthly. Employees must be encouraged to stay home when sick and instructed to wear proper attire (gloves, hair nets, etc.), while glass, jewelry and outside food must not be allowed inside the facility. Tools used during harvesting and other stages may also carry microorganisms if standard cleaning procedures are not in place and implemented correctly by employees.
As the cannabis industry grows, and regulatory bodies like the FDA and CFIA look to protect public safety, we expect that more attention will be paid to other food safety issues like packaging safety (of inks and labels), allergen control and others. In the production of extracts, for example, non-food safe solvents could be used or extracts can be mixed with ingredients that have expiration dates, like coconut oil. There is one area in which the cannabis industry may lead the way, however. More and more often, risks of food terrorism, fraud and intentional adulteration are gripping the food industry as the global food chain becomes increasingly complex. It’s safe to say that security at cannabis facilities is probably unparalleled.
All of this shows that cannabis products, especially edibles (and that includes capsules and tinctures), should be treated the same as other food products simply because they have the same kinds of hazards. Without a comprehensive food safety program (that includes a plan, procedures, training, monitoring and verification), problems will inevitably arise.
Just as the dust had settled on the news that Canadian LP Aurora had signed agreements to finance a major growing facility in Denmark, the company also added another European feather to its cannabis cap.
On January 18, the company announced that it is the sole and exclusive winner of an EU-wide tender bid to begin to supply medical cannabis to the Italian government through the Ministry of Defense. Why is this federal agency in charge instead of the federal ministry of health? So far, the Italian cannabis program has been overseen exclusively by the Italian military.
But the military just isn’t cut out to cultivate cannabis for the entire medical needs of a country, which should seem obvious. And that is where the Canadian LPs apparently are coming into play.
There were two stages to the bid, with Pedanios, Aurora’s German-based arm prequalifying in the first. In the final round, Pedianos won exclusive rights to begin supplying the government with medical cannabis.
What is interesting, however, is what this says not only about the potential growth of the cannabis market in Italy, but beyond that, Germany.
A German-Canadian Sourced Italian Product?
Pedanios, who won the bid, is the German-based arm of Aurora, one of Canada’s largest LPs. And Italian medical cannabis is now about to be routed by them from Canada, via Berlin, to market locally via pharmacies. It is certainly one of the stranger paths to market globally.
This announcement is even more interesting given that Aurora is widely suspected to be one of the top contenders in the still-pending German bid.
Could this herald a German-sourced cannabis crop for an Italian neighbour?
And what does this say about the sheer amount of volume potentially needed for cultivation next door (or even in Italy) as Germany begins its own cultivation program, presumably this year, to source an already undersupplied domestic market where growing numbers of patients are getting their medical cannabis covered under public health insurance?
Will Germany further antagonize its neighbours over a cannabis trade imbalance? Or does this mean that a spurt of domestic Italian cannabis production is also about to start?
There are 80 million Germans and about 60 million Italians. Who will be the cannabis company to supply them?
Nuuvera Also Makes Italian Moves
Less widely reported, however, was the news that Aurora/Pedanios would not be the only private supplier to the Italian market. Nuuvera, which just announced that they had become finalists in the competitive Germany cultivation bid, also just acquired an import license to Italy for medical cannabis by buying Genoa based FL Group.
One thing is clear. The pattern of establishing presence here by the foreign (mostly Canadian) firms has been one of acquisition and financing partnerships for the past 2 years.
Import until you cultivate is also clearly the guiding policy of legalizing EU countries on the canna front.
The question really is at this point, how long can the import over cultivation preference continue? Especially given the expense of imported cannabis. Not to mention the cannabis farms now popping up all over the EU at a time when the Canadian market will have enough volume from recreational sales to keep all the large (and small) LPs at production capacity for years to come.
In the next year, in fact, look for this reality to start changing. No matter who has import licenses now with flower and oil crossing oceans at this point, within the next 18-24 months, look for this pattern to switch.
The distributors will be the same of course. But the brand (and source) of their product will be from European soil.
Foreign Invasions, Domestic Cultivation Rights & More
One of the more interesting professional conferences this year globally will clearly be the ICBC in Berlin, where all of these swirling competitions and companies come together for what is shaping up to be the most influential cannabis business conference in Europe outside of Spannabis (and with a slightly different approach). Nowhere else in the world now are international companies (from bases in Canada, Australia and Israel primarily) competing in such close proximity for so many foreign cannabis markets and cultivation rights to go with them.
With the average cultivation facility in Europe going for about USD $30-40 million a pop in terms of sheer capital requirements plus the additional capital to finance the inevitable delays, such market presence does not come cheap.
It is increasingly clear that the only business here will also be of the highly regulated, controlled medical variety for some time to come.
That said, when the move towards recreational does come, and within the next four years or so, the global players who have opened these markets on the medical side, will be well positioned to provide product for a consumer base that is already being primed at the pump. Even if for now, the only access is via a doctor’s prescription.
According to the press release, the Packaging and Labeling National Standard, the first standard for them to publish, is designed to help protect consumers and show regulators and financial institutions that members of NACB operate ethically and responsibly.
According to Andrew Kline, president of NACB, the standard is based on regulators’ priorities, among other stakeholder inputs. “The NACB believes that self-regulation is the most effective course of action for our members to control their own destiny in the face of regulators’ growing need to intervene,” says Kline. “The creation and adoption of national, voluntary standards that are aligned with regulators’ priorities takes input from government, NACB members, and subject matter experts into careful consideration. Through this process, the SRO identified product packaging and labeling as our first priority because it impacts so many issues related to health and safety.”
Here are some of the major areas the standard addresses, from the press release:
Child-resistant packaging guidelines for all cannabis products
Consistent labeling that identifies the cannabis product’s origin, cultivator and processor
Inclusion of warning statements regarding health risks associated with cannabis consumption, such as advising consumers to not drive or operate heavy machinery while using the product, and that the intoxicating effects of the product may be delayed after consumption
Avoiding packaging and labeling that appeal to minors
Requirements and methods for listing all ingredients present in the product
Inclusion of major food allergen warnings and information on cannabis edibles based upon U.S. Food & Drug Administration guidelines
Guidelines on how to address health and medical claims for cannabis products
The public review and comment period lasts until February 21st. During that time, every comment submitted will be reviewed and could impact the final language of the standard. Prior to adopting the new standard, they write a final draft after the comment period and bring it to members for a final vote.
Once the final standard is in place, the NACB enforces the standard with their members. If a member doesn’t comply, they can be removed from the organization or penalized.
Towards the end of the press release, they hint at news coming in 2018 for their members. “To help aid members in complying with the requirements of state governments and the NACB’s National Standards, the NACB expects to launch a technology solution exclusively for members in 2018,” reads the press release. “The technology platform is also expected to help members meet the rigorous due diligence required by financial institutions and business partners, by creating an auditable ledger of compliance and financial records.”
The Greek Parliament is finally expected to approve the medical use of cannabis – probably in the first weeks of February. The move is far from a surprise. Greek politicians announced last summer that this development was in the cards.
What is even more promising for the sector domestically, not to mention in terms of European reform, is the unflinching acceptance of this industry by the establishment and national politicians, and further as one with great economic development potential for a still-ailing economy.
A $2 Billion Injection of Capital
Deputy Agricultural Development Minister Yannis Tsironis (for one) has already publicly expressed his hope that the Greek medical program will attract beaucoups bucks from overseas.
However given the context in which this announcement has taken place, is this seriously a commitment to medical cannabis? Or is it an easy (if not slightly buzzy) way to attract foreign capital to a Mediterranean paradise still in dire need of a capital injection from any source it can get one?
Maybe it is a combination of both.
Many in Europe are forecasting that 2018 might finally be the light at the end of the tunnel for the Greek economy, which has been mired in austerity for the last decade. The Greek government is now in the process of moving forward with the final requirements of both labour reforms and receiving what is hoped to be the last bailout of its economy by foreign investors before it finally goes it alone by August 2018.
The Greek economy finally grew 1.5% last year. In 2018, in part thanks to the final package of reforms, the economy is expected to grow by 2.4%.
A foreign-financed medical cannabis business might be just what the economists have ordered. Especially if it is also open to visitors.
Medical Marijuana on Mykonos?
The development of a domestic medical cannabis industry in Greece is good news for not only medical reformers but also those who are looking for ways to expand the influence of the flower into the broader economy.
And Greece is one place where such ideas could easily and quickly take root in Europe.
Greece has long been the haven for a highly niche, international tourist audience. Tourism in general has also been on the uptick over the last two years again as particularly Europeans look for relatively cheaper beaches and sunshine. Over 30 million foreign tourists flocked to the country last summer – a number of people roughly three times the population of the country.
Again, mainstreamed medical cannabis would only add to the economic results in a way that is just as heady if not (economically) stimulating as a good sativa.
The idea of a medical tourism industry here, could also potentially create not only a Greek medical paradise, but potentially also have a growth impact on European cannabis programs too. Especially if reciprocal medical rights we
re also offered to EU citizens looking for an extended canna-friendly vacation.
Greek Cannabis Club Med?
Of all the countries in Europe, the Greek cannabis experiment offers the first real chance for a Canadian/American style cannabis industry to begin to flourish in Europe. In colder, more northern European countries, medical cannabis is still being treated as an expensive adjunct to traditional healthcare. And no matter how much citizens are moving towards acceptance of a recreational industry down the road, things are moving much slower in the rest of Europe. Germany, to put things in perspective, passed medical reform several months before the Greek decision to legalize medical use last summer. Yet now it appears that Greece might actually move into a full-fledged, domestically grown industry before its Teutonic neighbour to the north.
And further, unlike Germany, Greece may well decide to develop its “medical cannabis industry” as an adjunct to its tourist industry.
Sure, Holland and Spain led the way in this part of the world if not internationally. Neither country, however, needs new industries now in the same dire way, nor is emerging from a national, decade-long recession.
All the elements are here, in other words, for the Greeks to turn a new page in their very long and documented history, and do something a little different.
Building brand loyalty should be a goal of any business. However, before a business can build brand loyalty, it has to have a brand. Before beginning our discussion on branding, let’s spend a moment speaking the same lingo. A brand is usually built around a trademark. A trademark can be a name, a logo, a color or a sound for example, something that inspires a consumer to think about a product originating from a particular business. The Feds won’t let you register a trademark for cannabis on the federal register because of its Schedule I status. However, most states where cannabis is legal will allow businesses to register a trademark on the state registry. Now that we are all using the same lingo, let’s get to the interesting stuff.
What Not to Do
The cannabis industry has been known for piggybacking on the trademarks of other brands. And, when cannabis started becoming legal, shoppers where able to find strains like: Dirty Sprite, Candyland, AC/DC, Trapitio, and Starbucks, to name a few. Boy were those brand owners mad- suing over trademark infringement. Not getting sued is a good reason to find your own, unique trademark. There are other reasons.
First, a trademark is an intangible asset having value. A strong, registered trademark will have more value than one that is not. A strong trademark is one that is creative and/or fanciful. Descriptive trademarks are not creative or fanciful. So, for example, “Seattle Canna” is not a strong trademark. Seattle is a geographic identifier and Canna describes the product. Really, do you need to use the word cannabis in your trademark? Be creative here.
One of my favorite canna trademarks belongs to Tumbleweed Farm a grower here in my home state of Washington.
This trademark is creative using the quintessential denotation for a useless weed, Tumbleweed, for something that brings pleasure and happiness.
Second, a business should not tie itself to another brand. What if that other brand has a public relations nightmare as we’ve seen happen periodically in 2017? Does your company really want to be associated with that?
What to Do
Register your trademark. Register your trademark. And, in case you didn’t hear me the first few times, register your trademark. Why is this important? A business having an unregistered trademark only has rights to that trademark in the region it sells products. A cannabis retailer contacted me recently about a store on the other side of the state using the same or similar trademark. Under common law, trademark rights within a certain territory are based on priority of use of a mark within that territory.
If you are like many in the cannabis industry, you are preparing for the day that its use becomes federally legalized. One strategy to protect your brand is to get copyright protection on your trademark; that’s right ladies and gentlemen, the US Copyright Office is not restricted by the same arcane laws the USPTO must function under.
As a Side Note
Any company who does not have hands on a cannabis plant may register their trademark at the USPTO. For example, a company selling a vaporizer, grow lights, fertilizer, etc., are selling legal products. Get your federal trademarks.
When Nevada legalized adult use sales this past summer, the market exploded and undoubtedly flooded licensed testing labs with samples to get products on shelves. In August, roughly a month after the start of adult use sales, a Las Vegas cannabis-testing lab, G3 Labs, had their license suspended for an unknown compliance issue.
“We can’t disclose the details of the suspension, including anything about penalties,” said Klapstein. “Under NRS 360.255, the information is confidential.”Then in late December, the Nevada Department of Taxation, one of the bodies tasked with regulating the state’s industry, announced in an email they suspended two more cannabis testing lab licenses. Certified Ag Lab in Sparks, Nevada and Cannex Nevada, LLC, in Las Vegas (also known as RSR Analytical Laboratories) both had their licenses suspended on December 22 and December 26 respectively.
Stephanie Klapstein, spokeswoman for the Department of Taxation, told the Reno Gazette Journal that both of those labs were not following proper protocols. “During separate, routine inspections, Department inspectors discovered that these two labs were not following proper lab procedures and good laboratory practices,” says Klapstein. “Their licenses were suspended until those deficiencies were corrected.”
According to the Reno Gazette Journal, both of those labs had their licenses reinstated and have since resumed normal business. During their license suspension, the labs were not allowed to operate and the department directed licensed cannabis businesses to submit samples to other labs. The department also directed the suspended labs in the email to coordinate with their clients who had samples in for testing; to either have their samples transferred to a different lab or a new sample taken for another lab to test. They did note that no product recalls were deemed necessary because of the suspension.
In that same email, the department directed licensed cannabis businesses to state-licensed labs in good standing, including 374 Labs, ACE Analytical Laboratory, DB Labs, Digipath Labs, MM Lab and NV CANN Lab. But on the department’s website, it says there are 11 licensed testing labs.
Back in September when we reported on the first lab license suspension, Klapstein told CIJ that under state law they couldn’t discuss any reasons behind why they suspended licenses. “We can’t disclose the details of the suspension, including anything about penalties,” said Klapstein. “Under NRS 360.255, the information is confidential.”
Because of that confidentiality, there are a number of questions left unanswered: With three lab licenses suspended in the first six months of the Nevada’s adult use market being open, how are testing labs keeping up with the market’s pace? What did those suspended labs do wrong? Do the regulations adequately protect public health and safety?
The writer now helmed to lead this effort is Alex Halperin, a business journalist in the U.S., who landed the gig apparently on the success of Weedweek – a highly cryptic weekly summary blog of mostly U.S.-based industry events and updates.How the Guardian will cover the industry and related issues will be interesting to follow.
This is also not The Guardian’s first foray into the topic. The media outlet, which got its start in the 1800’s in Northern England and expanded dramatically to reach a global digital audience over the past decade, has covered cannabis legalization on a fairly regular basis for the last four years. This new focus also comes at an interesting time. Apart from events in the U.S., Canada is moving forward with recreational this summer. And in Europe, the medical discussion continues apace. That said, it appears the Guardian is going to focus on the U.S. market, at least initially.
It will be interesting to see if that focus shifts (and if they allow other journalists outside of the U.S. to participate in the expanded coverage). While California might well be the largest state economy in general, the Canadian market is already larger and more developed, being regulated nationally across multiple provinces.
Another Mainstream Media Cannabis Column?
This is hardly news. The Guardian is actually treading on ground established already by most of the big news and business publications – including niche publications, blogs and of course, the trade press.
How the Guardian will cover the industry and related issues will be interesting to follow.
The purpose of the column apparently is to spark an “adult conversation” about cannabis – and how it is “changing modern life.” The initial focus on the U.S. market (and California in particular) may have seemed to make sense to a media outlet looking for outrageous stories. But as everyone knows, the U.S. is only one market – and further one still without federal protection.
However, the Guardian is also now competing with other business and mainstream publications that are already in this space. Main Street, the online business ‘zine helmed by Jim Cramer, created one of the first mainstream specialty cannabis sections almost four years ago with the coincidence of the Colorado rec market. Other notable publications and media outlets have significantly increased their coverage of cannabis as well. CNN has been reporting consistently on cannabis topics like legalization and U.S. federal reform efforts for some time now. Business Insider and Forbes have covered ongoing and growing investments and the financial side of things for several years. The Denver Post has its own entirely cannabis-focused subsidiary, The Cannabist.
And as public companies, in both the U.S. and elsewhere have begun to move through the legal thickets of legalization, business-focussed journals and blogs are even beginning to cover cannabis stocks. Starting with Motley Fool and Seeking Alpha (although again, most of this coverage is of companies outside the United States). Specialty publications are also of course, flourishing online, particularly with the beginning of an advertising market that is also beginning to establish itself, albeit around some still thorny regulatory issues.
In general, although the Guardian has a reputation as critical of the British monarchy, with strong left-leaning tendencies, its coverage of the industry has been fairly mainstream – so far at least.
Will that begin to change? And what will really be tackled and covered? And while the ostensible focus is what is going on in the world of cannabis in California (and presumably other foreign markets) could the Guardian’s ostensible new feature also be geared to drive reform at home? The U.K. has yet to even approach the topic of criminalization.
The cannabis industry is probably more informed about patients and consumers of their products than the general food industry. In addition to routine illness and stress in the population, cannabis consumers are fighting cancer, HIV/AIDS and other immune disorders. Consumers who are already ill are immunocompromised. Transplant recipients purposely have their immune system suppressed in the process of a successful transplant. These consumers have pre-existing conditions where the immune system is weakened. If the immunocompromised consumer is exposed to viral or bacterial pathogens through cannabis products, the consumer is more likely to suffer from a viral infection or foodborne illness as a secondary illness to the primary illness. In the case of consumers with weakened immune systems, it could literally kill them.Bacteria, yeast, and mold are present in all environments.
The cannabis industry shoulders great responsibility in both the medical and adult use markets. In addition to avoiding chemical hazards and determining the potency of the product, the cannabis industry must manufacture products safe for consumption. There are three ways to control pathogens and ensure a safe product: prevent them from entering, kill them and control their growth.
Prevent microorganisms from getting in
Think about everything that is outdoors that will physically come in a door to your facility. Control the quality of ingredients, packaging, equipment lubricants, cleaning agents and sanitizers. Monitor employee hygiene. Next, you control everything within your walls: employees, materials, supplies, equipment and the environment. You control receiving, employee entrance, storage, manufacturing, packaging and distribution. At every step in the process, your job is to prevent the transfer of pathogens into the product from these sources.
The combination of raw materials to manufacture your product is likely to include naturally occurring pathogens. Traditional heat methods like roasting and baking will kill most pathogens. Remember, sterility is not the goal. The concern is that a manufacturer uses heat to achieve organoleptic qualities like color and texture, but the combination of time and temperature may not achieve safety. It is only with a validated process that safety is confirmed. If we model safety after what is required of food manufacturers by the Food and Drug Administration, validation of processes that control pathogens is required. In addition to traditional heat methods, non-thermal methods for control of pathogens includes irradiation and high pressure processing and are appropriate for highly priced goods, e.g. juice. Killing is achieved in the manufacturing environment and on processing equipment surfaces after cleaning and by sanitizing.
If you have done everything reasonable to stop microorganisms from getting in the product and you have a validated step to kill pathogens, you may still have spoilage microorganisms in the product. It is important that all pathogens have been eliminated. Examples of pathogens include Salmonella, pathogenic Escherichia coli, also called Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC) and Listeria monocytogenes. These three common pathogens are easily destroyed by proper heat methods. Despite steps taken to kill pathogens, it is theoretically possible a pathogen is reintroduced after the kill step and before packaging is sealed at very low numbers in the product. Doctors do not know how many cells are required for a consumer to get ill, and the immunocompromised consumer is more susceptible to illness. Lab methods for the three pathogens mentioned are designed to detect very low cell numbers. Packaging and control of growth factors will stop pathogens from growing in the product, if present.
Control the growth of microorganisms
These growth factors will control the growth of pathogens, and you can use the factors to control spoilage microbes as well. To grow, microbes need the same things we do: a comfortable temperature, water, nutrients (food), oxygen, and a comfortable level of acid. In the lab, we want to find the pathogen, so we optimize these factors for growth. When you control growth in your product, one hurdle may be enough to stop growth; sometimes multiple hurdles are needed in combination. Bacteria, yeast, and mold are present in all environments. They are at the bottom of the ocean under pressure. They are in hot springs at the temperature of boiling water. The diversity is immense. Luckily, we can focus on the growth factors for human pathogens, like Salmonella, pathogenic E. coli, and Listeria monocytogenes.
Temperature. Human pathogens prefer to grow at the temperature of the human body. In manufacture, keep the time a product is in the range of 40oF to 140oF as short as possible. You control pathogens when your product is at very hot or very cold temperatures. Once the product cools after a kill step in manufacturing, it is critical to not reintroduce a pathogen from the environment or personnel. Clean equipment and packaging play key roles in preventing re-contamination of the product.
Water. At high temperatures as in baking or roasting, there is killing, but there is also the removal of water. In the drying process that is not at high temperature, water is removed to stop the growth of mold. This one hurdle is all that is needed. Even before mold is controlled, bacterial and yeast growth will stop. Many cannabis candies are safe, because water is not available for pathogen growth. Packaging is key to keep moisture out of the product.
Nutrients. In general, nutrients are going to be available for pathogen growth and cannot be controlled. In most products nutrients cannot be removed, however, recipes can be adjusted. Recipes for processed food add preservatives to control growth. In cannabis as in many plants, there may be natural compounds which act as preservatives.
Oxygen. With the great diversity of bacteria, there are bacteria that require the same oxygen we breathe, and mold only grows in oxygen. There are bacteria that only grow in the absence of oxygen, e.g. the bacteria responsible for botulism. And then there are the bacteria and yeast in between, growing with or without oxygen. Unfortunately, most human pathogens will grow with or without oxygen, but slowly without oxygen. The latter describes the growth of Salmonella, E. coli, and Listeria. While a package seals out air, the growth is very slow. Once a package is opened and the product is exposed to air, growth accelerates.
Acid. Fermented or acidified products have a higher level of acid than non-acid products; the acid acts as a natural preservative. The more acid, the more growth is inhibited. Generally, acid is a hurdle to growth, however and because of diversity, some bacteria prefer acid, like probiotics which are non-pathogenic. Some pathogens, like E. coli, have been found to grow in low acid foods, e.g. juice, even though the preference is for non-acidic environments.
The end of the year is often a time for reflection when people look back at their accomplishments over the last year; and those in the cannabis industry are no different.
2017 was a year of monumental change for the cannabis industry. Riding high on a wave of electoral victories and changing public sentiment, more states than ever have legalized cannabis in some form or fashion and nations like Canada are headed down the path of full legalization.
Part of the thanks for this seismic shift in public policy and consciousness has to go to the countless women and men who have tirelessly campaigned for cannabis reform for years; but a sizable portion of that thanks must also go towards the unsung heroes of the cannabis industry: the cannabis PR firms.
Fighting on the front-lines of the war for public perception, cannabis PR firms have been essential in the reversing decades of Reefer Madness and, through constant branding and re-branding, have helped make the cannabis industry the billion dollar industry that it is today. While helping their clients achieve the branding and marketing they need, PR firms have also helped considerably in normalizing cannabis and bringing it into the mainstream lens.
So in reflection of this past year, and in thanks of those that made it happen, here’s a look at some of the top PR firms in the cannabis industry for 2017 in no particular order.
Evan Nison, Nison Co.
Evan Nison is the founder & chief executive officer of Nison Co. and Co-Founder of Whoopi & Maya. Nison Co. has over 1,800 active relationships with reporters and reviewers that cover cannabis. In 2017, the company grew to over 30 industry leading cannabis clients and 7 full time staff and 8 part time staff focusing exclusively on the cannabis industry.
Nison is the youngest member of the board of NORML, and sits on the Board of Directors of Students for Sensible Drug Policy. In 2016 he helped launch Whoopi & Maya, a women-centric medical cannabis company with actress Whoopi Goldberg and edible maker Maya Elisabeth and currently acts as its chief financial officer.
During the 2016 US Presidential Election, Evan pressed Hillary Clinton for her stance on marijuana legalization on Good Morning America during a live town hall event.
Evan has been mentioned in news sources such as the NY Times, Politico, USA Today, NBC New York, Bloomberg TV, Forbes, and has been profiled in the Ithaca Times, Home News Tribune, the Cannabist/Denver Post, and the Sun Times. He also received the 2011 NORML Student Activism Award and High Times Freedom Fighter Award for his advocacy.
Cannabis industry PR achievements worthy of note:
Co-founder of Whoopi & Maya
Executive Director of NORML NJ, in a state where cannabis could be on the path to legalization shortly.
Drug law reform efforts in Students for Sensible Drug Policy, NORML and others.
2017 PR achievements worthy of note:
Success with public companies across the cannabis space.
Over 1,200 published stories for cannabis clients in 2017
Grew to over 30 clients in cannabis, over 1,800 active relationships with reporters and reviewers that cover cannabis
Cynthia Salarizadeh, Salar Media Group
With more than 15 years in public and media relations, Salarizadeh has made waves in her short time in the cannabis industry and has helped start multiple successful companies and organizations, such as Green Market Report and Industry Power Women.
As the founder and chief executive officer ofSalar Media Group, Salarizadeh has worked with some of the top cannabis firms in the industry, including the likes of BiotrackTHC, CannaRegs, Inc., Cannabis Benchmarks, Humboldt’s Finest, MassRoots, Inc., Tikun Olam USA, ebbu, Julian Marley’s JuJu Royal, Frontera, Marijuana Investor Summit, Cannafundr, The Marijuana Show, Weed for Warriors Project, CannaMoms, Robert Hoban and 99 High Tide.
In 2017, Salarizadeh shook both the world of cannabis and fast food when Green Market Report published a study she wrote analyzing the fast food habits of cannabis users. The report became a viral sensation overnight, sent up shares in McDonald’s up by .58% (approximately $3.55) and became the topic of discussion in universities around the country and as well as McDonald’s headquarters. Stories for her clients have been mentioned on CNBC, Fox Business, Yahoo Finance, Entrepreneur, Forbes, Inc, Playboy and Fortune.
Cannabis industry PR achievements worthy of note:
Launched and assisted in managing full scale event execution for the Marijuana Investor Summit 2014 – the first investor summits of its kind for the industry.
Launched Cannafundr 2014 (editor and chief of the news section and pr director – acquired by MJIC in 2015).
Co-founded Industry Power Women 2017.
2017 PR achievements worthy of note:
Managed the launch of Israel’s, and the world’s, original cannabis company Tikun Olam in the USA as the lifestyle brand Tikun.
Launched the first brand to be recognized in the media as “America’s Craft Cannabis” out of Humboldt – Humboldt’s Finest.
Responsible for one of the largest cannabis news stories of 2017, the McDonald’s-food habits of cannabis consumers campaign, raising their stock price and becoming a viral sensation.
Gaynell Rogers, Bond & Moroch
Twice a cancer survivor, Gaynell Rogers was first recruited into the cannabis industry by Harborside’s Steve DeAngelo in 2009. Since then, she has grown to become recognized as one of the leading voices in the cannabis industry.
As the director and developing partner ofBond & Moroch, Rogers works with veritable list of who’s who in the cannabis industry; including Hoban Law Group, one of the first national law firms to specialize in the cannabis industry.
Although Rogers is perhaps best known for securing the creation of the very first cannabis-related reality show, “Weed Wars” on the Discovery Channel, she has also been responsible for countless cover stories de-stigmatizing cannabis that have appeared on the pages of the New York Times, Washington Post, and more.
In 2017, Rogers helped make history when she worked with Hoban Law Group to create the first-ever national cannabis television commercial. Her clients also include the 420 Games, New West Summit, Power Plant Fitness and Harborside.
Cannabis industry PR achievements worthy of note:
First national publicist for Arcview Group, Harborside and Steve DeAngelo.
Responsible for a number of major cannabis news stories in The NEw York Times and Washington Post.
Secured the creation of the very first cannabis-related reality show, “Weed Wars” on the Discovery Channel
2017 PR achievements worthy of note:
Made history with getting the first-ever national cannabis TV commercial on air with the Hoban Law Group.
Success of 2017 New West Summit and 420 Games
KCSA Strategic Communications
KCSA Strategic Communications, a fully-integrated communications agency specializing in public relations, investor relations, social media and marketing, has been working with clients in the cannabis space for more than five years, and has deep institutional knowledge as well as access to decision makers, investors, entrepreneurs and analysts who are writing the rules for this new marketplace.
As a result, in 2017 KCSA launched a dedicated KCSA-Cannabis website as well as launched “The Green Rush,”a weekly, 30-minute show dedicated to the business of cannabis. Hosts KCSA Managing Partner Lewis Goldberg and Managing Director Anne Donohoe speak with reporters, entrepreneurs, lawmakers, investment bankers, CEOs, and investors.
KCSA represents a dozen public and private cannabis companies, accounting for nearly $1B in market cap and $100M in annual sales across the entire supply chain in WA, NV, NJ, CA and CO. The company will also be moderating the “Cannabis and the Capital Markets” speakers series at the Cannabis World Congress & Business Expo events in 2018. Their mix of traditional PR and IR services has helped professionalize communications efforts of many cannabis business players and has helped move the industry forward in the financial sector considerably.
Cannabis Industry PR Achievements worthy of note:
IR Work with Terra Tech
Key clients also include: Kush Bottles, 4Front Ventures, Medicine Man Technologies and Golden Leaf Holdings
Their client base grew to span the entire supply chain, from growers, refiners and dispensaries, to ancillary product companies and consulting firms.
2017 PR achievements worthy of note:
Launched “The Green Rush” Podcast
Terra Tech’s marked success in expanding the cannabis segment of their business, accounting for 86% of total revenues in the third quarter of 2017.
They have helped their clients secure speaking slots at the major conferences and trade shows.
The Rosen Group
Established in 1984 and headquartered in New York City, The Rosen Group has been working in cannabis since the inception of adult-use in Colorado to bring cannabis messaging to the national stage, collaborating with mainstream and industry media outlets and working with brands to cement positioning as thought leaders.
TRG partners with brands to expand into emerging markets while educating target audiences and conveying critical narratives. Cannabis clients include infused products producers such as Wana Brands and Next Frontier Biosciences, cultivators and dispensaries such as L’Eagle Services, industry associations such as Cannabis Business Alliance and professional services such as Urban-Gro.
With strong roots in the cannabis, business, technology, agriculture, food & beverage and entrepreneurial sectors, TRG has a tremendous breadth of experience developing and implementing impactful communications plans, strategies and tactics. TRG clients receive customized, personal service and strategic initiatives specific to their goals and objectives via aggressive, 360-degree communications campaigns to maximize coverage.
Cannabis industry PR achievements worthy of note:
Senior Vice President Shawna Seldon McGregor, who founded the Denver office in 2012, was honored with The Cannabist Award for Best Firm in 2016.
TRG has helped to position Wana Brands co‐owner Nancy Whiteman as one of the foremost thought leaders in cannabis. Inc.’s May 2017 issue declared Nancy “The Queen of Legal Weed.”
TRG successfully positioned Urban-Gro in front of cannabis producers, potential investors, and industry and mainstream publications through strategic thought leadership, brand messaging and media outreach.
2017 PR achievements worthy of note:
TRG helped to position L’Eagle as a leading voice on sustainability for the cannabis industry through speaking engagements and in over 200 features and articles reaching an audience of over 200 million.
Since signing on with Next Frontier Biosciences in June 2017, TRG helped get coverage in more than 60 news outlets reaching an audience of over 193 million.
For the Cannabis Certification Council (CCC), TRG leveraged the 2nd annual Cannabis Sustainability Symposium to secure more than 40 media placements for the Symposium’s speakers, sponsors and attendees.
Jennifer Price, Potnt Agency
Potnt Agency is a public relations and integrated marketing communications agency headquartered in San Francisco, California, with offices in Reno, Nevada and Charlotte, North Carolina. The firm has deep expertise in cannabis and hemp markets with extensive knowledge of cannabis history, products, science, innovations, politics, legal compliance and best business practices.
Potnt is led by Founder and Lead Communications Strategist, Jennifer Price, who has over 24 years of experience in public relations, product promotion and event marketing experience in consumer, tech, B2B and investor relations practices.
Facilitated one of the first multi-page features on cannabis in Playboy Magazine, “The White-Collar Future of Weed” -this article included four of Potnt’s clients and was focused on a new generation of entrepreneurs aiming to revolutionize America’s cannabis industry.
Worked in partnership with HelloMD and Amanda Reiman, PhD, MSW, former lecturer in the School of Social Welfare at UC Berkeley, to promote a groundbreaking study on cannabis use as a substitute for opioid and non-opioid based pain medication
2017 PR achievements worthy of note:
Assisted in managing full scale event execution for the New West Summit 2017, the first conference to focus exclusively on the disruptive developments in technology, investment and media within the cannabis space.
These are a handful of some of the most valuable public relations experts the cannabis industry has to offer. There are many more unsung heroes in the cannabis legalization movement that work tirelessly to improve the image of our industry and support businesses in need of exposure. Next time you see a cannabis public relations expert, give them a big thank you.
Proficiency Testing in the Cannabis Industry: An Inside Look
By Amanda Rigdon, Chief Technical Officer, Emerald Scientific
This presentation covers specifics of different proficiency testing schemes available to the cannabis industry. Additionally, specific challenges facing both laboratories and PT providers in the cannabis industry will be addressed. Data relating to residual solvent and potency proficiency testing will be presented.
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