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Ask the Experts: Supply Chain Risks in Hemp & Cannabis

By Cannabis Industry Journal Staff
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There are a lot of risks throughout the entire supply chain in the cannabis and hemp markets. Legal and regulatory issues, quality control reliability, security problems, product safety, potency, and constantly changing supply and demand are just a few major risks cannabis operators must stay on top of. A lot of companies mitigate these risks by implementing programs to find the source and figure out what actions could alleviate it. Those actions can look like reviewing testing or certification reports, auditing supplier facilities, and much more.

Jennifer Lott, AMAS Service Delivery Director for the standards certification body, BSI, has over 25 years of experience in quality, safety, lab management, consulting, packaging, and systems development. She’s an expert in GMP, ISO 22716, 21 CFR 117, 21 CFR 111, 21 CFR 210-111, ICH Q7, WHO GDP, RSPO, food safety, GMP/HACCP and much more.

She is a panelist for an upcoming webinar, Supply Chain Risks in Hemp and Cannabis June 27, 2023. During that webinar, she’ll join other experts where they’ll discuss some of the supply chain risks cannabis companies face and what they can do to mitigate those risks.

Ahead of her webinar, where she’ll take a deep dive into supply chain risks, we sat down with Lott to get a preview for what she’ll talk about.

Q: What are the major supply chain issues faced by the cannabis and hemp markets currently?

Jennifer Lott: The U.S. market remains highly complicated for cannabis companies and investors. Fewer than half of U.S. states and territories have legalized recreational cannabis use as of Nov. 2022.

To this day, cannabis is still a Schedule one substance under the Controlled Substances Act, alongside drugs like heroin, LSD and ecstasy – an issue that has led to several regulatory and fiduciary challenges for growers, processors, and distributors of cannabis/hemp.

Legal concerns aside, cannabis companies operate much like other businesses and face almost the same exposures that most enterprises do. Here are the top risks cannabis businesses encounter, according to experts.

  • Distribution – Current regulations prevent products from one state to be transported to another state.
  • Natural disasters – including wildfires, storms, and flooding, can easily damage crops
  • Cybersecurity – Because of the type of information that cannabis companies handle, they can also become a prime target for hackers.

Despite the supply chain challenges mentioned above, the cannabis industry is growing, and its use is becoming more accepted in society, but still faces major challenges. These trends also will create a volatile and fast-changing environment cannabis companies in 2023. The big challenge will be deciding which of the scores of startups, IPOs and established cannabis companies can surmount the upheaval and succeed long term.

Q: How are companies mitigating risks and what tools are at its disposal?

Lott: Anyone involved in the cannabis/hemp business knows they need to manage their risk with a solid risk management plan.

The three biggest risks facing cannabis/hemp businesses aside from the supply chain issues mentioned above, include:

  • Employee theft – employees have easy access to the product, run cash registers at dispensaries, and generally know a lot about the inner workings of the company. Protecting against insider theft is critical for the business.
  • Product tampering – this can happen at any stage in the supply chain. Businesses whose products cause harm could be liable for injury and damages.
  • Compliance regulations – compliance varies from state to state and laws are frequently changing.

Thanks to regulatory uncertainty and limited access to tools other industries have access to, the cannabis industry likely will have an increased risk profile for the foreseeable future. This heightens the need for a structured, risk management approach. However, even with so many external factors out of its control, cannabis companies still can dramatically decrease risks by addressing internal strategies and processes.

Cannabis companies with effective, relevant, and well-documented risk management practices can better positioned to create and preserve capital, attract investment, and achieve long-term sustainable growth.


Jennifer Lott is speaking at the Supply Chain Risks in Hemp and Cannabis Webinar, taking place June 27 at 11:00 am EST. Click here to register.

About Jennifer Lott

Jennifer Lott is the AMAS Service Delivery Director for the internationally recognized standards certification body, BSI. Jennifer currently supports the quality and integrity of food and fast-moving consumer products. She is an accredited Lead Auditor and Trainer with over 25 years of experience in quality and safety, management system development, consulting, packaging, and laboratory management. Jennifer’s expertise includes GMP, ISO 22716, 21 CFR 117, 21 CFR 111, 21 CFR 210-111, ICH Q7, BRC GS Consumer Products, WHO GDP, EudraLex, BRC GS Storage & Distribution, BRC GS Packaging, BRC GS Agents & Brokers, RSPO, Food Safety, and GMP/HACCP.

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Facing Cybersecurity Risk? Here are 6 Ways to Minimize it.

By Brian J. Schnese
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The cannabis industry is the latest target for cybercriminals. Why? Because many cannabis operations employ less than 100 workers and few are equipped with sophisticated IT systems and knowledgeable on-staff IT personnel, so they are often easier to exploit.

Add the all-cash nature of the business, along with the large amounts of protected health data and personally identifiable information medical dispensaries may store and the industry’s shift toward operational automation to increase yields and lower labor costs and you’ve got an industry that’s extremely vulnerable and a prime target for cyber extortion.

Safeguard your corporate networks and internet connections by encrypting information and using a firewall.

Take the cannabis businesses in Ontario that lost millions after a local distributor was hit by a cyberattack and was incapable to process or deliver orders to local retailers. In another cyberattack, hackers stole $3.6 million that an Australian medicinal cannabis firm intended to send to an overseas contractor.

A still prevalent tactic is for hackers to target workers with email-based phishing scams that enable the installation of malware or ransomware to obtain protected health information to sell or lists of high-profile clients to extort.

While there’s a lot to fear and be on the alert for, there’s also a lot that cannabis businesses can do to both reduce their risk of an attack and proactively protect themselves.

Six hallmarks of a strong cyber-defense program:

  1. Assess the risk. One place to start building a comprehensive approach to cybersecurity is to conduct an appropriate cyber vulnerability or risk assessment of your cannabis business. This exercise can reveal gaps, but it also helps prioritize your effort and develop a vision for your goal state.
  2. Train and test. Train employees on the importance of cybersecurity. Make sure employees undergo phishing training and conduct refresher courses at least annually. Then, test them. Are employees retaining the information shared in training? Send simulated phishing emails and track performance to determine if training hits the mark.
  3. Secure the perimeter. Safeguard your corporate networks and internet connections by encrypting information and using a firewall. If your employees work remotely, consider use of a Virtual Private Network (VPN) to allow them to safely connect to your network from out of the office.
  4. Engage protective tools. In addition to using antivirus software and keeping all software updated and patched, multifactor authentication (MFA) and endpoint detection and response (EDR) are crucial for maintaining a secure network. Most carriers require MFA for remote network access, on email, and to protect privileged user accounts. EDR monitoring of devices connecting to the network is also increasingly a minimum requirement for insurance coverage.
  5. Develop a backup strategy. A solid data backup strategy makes companies less susceptible to ransomware attacks by allowing organizations to restore operations. Perform frequent backups — every day if possible — and consider leveraging cloud solutions along with storing backups in an immutable state off-site or off-network.
  6. Build an incident response plan. Cannabis companies should have a plan for responding to an attack, a system for validating what happened and the resources to remediate the issue.

What if a breach occurs?

Even with a great incident response plan in place, the road to recovery from a cyberattack is a complex and rapidly evolving landscape. Should we communicate with the threat actor? Should we pay the ransom demand? How do we capture forensic evidence? What are the laws guiding notification of impacted employees or clients?  When an organization has armed itself with a cyber insurance policy, they not only transfer much of their risk, but they often gain access to a carrier panel of specialized response providers that include breach coaches, forensic investigations firms and privacy attorneys.

In addition to leveraging the specialized post-breach expertise offered by carriers, insureds should also consider familiarizing themselves with and leveraging any pre-breach resources provided, which often include no-cost external vulnerability scans, employee awareness training and discounted technical security solutions.

ASTM Launches New Labeling Standard

By Cannabis Industry Journal Staff
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ASTM International has announced the approval of a new standard in development that could have potentially wide-reaching influence on the cannabis industry throughout the world. ASTM’s cannabis committee (D37) has approved the new standard (D8449) for development that aims to develop internationally aligned label specifications for all products containing cannabinoids.

According to the press release, The new labeling standard is the first of its kind, attempting to harmonize regulations throughout the cannabis industry with universally recognized labels that could be adopted by regulators anywhere in the world. ASTM member Darwin Millard has spearheaded the development of this new standard and believes it will have countless practical applications.

“Having the same information presented in the same manner across jurisdictions means consumers of products containing cannabinoids will have consistent information conveyed to them in a way they are familiar with,” says Millard. “This ensures consumers have the information they need to make an informed purchase decision, and will ultimately lead to increased consumer safety and confidence.”

ASTM International is a nonprofit, voluntary consensus-based standards development group. They are inviting feedback and input as they refine the standard and work on presenting it to the international cannabis community. “We welcome regulators, producers, and consumers from around the world to give us feedback,” says Millard. “This is intended to be a living document to remain relevant throughout this ever-changing landscape.”

ASTM Develops Two New Cannabis Standards

By Cannabis Industry Journal Staff
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According to a press release emailed this week, ASTM International’s subcommittee focused on cannabis, D37, is in the midst of developing two new standards surrounding cannabis safety and education.

One standard, WK84667, is designed to “help document engineering controls for air filtration and person protective equipment (PPE) in cannabis processing facilities,” says ASTM member Trevor Morones. The premise of this standard appears to be employee safety; with proper, standardized air filtration and PPE, the standard will help companies keep their workers safe and prevent inhalation of potentially harmful particles, like cannabis dust, stalk fiber, florescence and crystalized dust. “We are working to develop a robust community of cannabis professionals who can share their experiences in workplace and personnel safety,” says Morones.

The other proposed standard, WK84589, seeks to develop a uniform metric for “determining the intoxication level of a cannabinoid.” Initially focusing on delta9-THC, the standard will help raise awareness and promote public health and safety by informing consumers how intoxicating a cannabis product is for the average adult.

ASTM Pamela Epstein says this standard will hopefully develop a form of measurement akin to ABV in alcoholic drinks, allowing consumers to see how potent a certain cannabis product is. “Beyond providing consumers with a complete assessment of a product’s total intoxicating/impairing effects, the proposed standard may provide regulators with a methodology to meaningfully account for public health and safety,” says Epstein. “The specification can unify consumer awareness and can be used across all product types and jurisdictions.”

The ASTM D37 committee is working on a number of other standards related to these and they invite anyone interested to share their feedback.

AOAC International Names New CSO

By Cannabis Industry Journal Staff
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AOAC International, an independent nonprofit standards development organization has announced the appointment of Dr. Katerina (Kate) Mastovska as their new deputy executive director and chief science officer.

Dr. Katerina Mastovska

Most recently, Dr. Mastovska served as chief science officer for the Eurofins US Food Division. She has been an active member of AOAC for almost twenty years, winning the Harvey W. Wiley Award in 2021, their highest scientific honor. “I’m delighted to join the AOAC staff and lead the team of dedicated scientists,” says Dr. Mastovska. “AOAC has a critical role in food safety, and I’m inspired to continue to be a part of this important work.”

AOAC International works actively in the cannabis industry through their Cannabis Analytical Science Program (CASP), a working group established in 2019 that is dedicated to developing standardized methods in cannabis testing. In the world of cannabis lab testing, AOAC International creates standards under the standard method performance requirements (SMPR®) moniker, which are detailed descriptions of what analytical methods should be able to do.

More recently, CASP launched their own proficiency testing program last year and launched their first round, shipping samples to labs across the country in the Fall.

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Attracting Investment: How Cannabis Companies Can Best Position Themselves

By Joe Madigan
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Remember those heady days of the Green Rush a decade ago, when markets were small and it seemed everyone had a chance? Now it’s more of a mad rush to get some green in the form of investment capital.

The majority of states in the country now have some type of legal cannabis market. Businesses in those states operate in spite of regulations that are restrictive, confusing and make it very difficult to make a profit. Meanwhile, heavy tax burdens, differences in enforcement techniques and varying degrees of oversight are other factors that influence bottom lines in the cannabis industry.

Saturated markets are giving businesses trouble when it comes to their bottom line

Inflation also continues to be a prominent force across world markets. Sales of cannabis products have fallen as consumers adjust to inflation and post-COVID supply chain issues that are causing higher prices on necessary staples like food and gas. An oversaturation of cannabis flower is becoming a perennial problem in some states and another factor causing industry distress.

When cash flow slows to a trickle, companies of all sizes seek out investment funding to keep their momentum. But catching the eye of an investor group requires more than just sticking your hand out.

What Attracts Potential Investors?

A company is best positioned to attract those interested in cannabis investment opportunities when it appears serious about its growth plans. That means being well positioned with a solid upper-management foundation and so much the better if there’s an advisory board in place too. A company built with a diverse group of talent—ideally from consumer packaged goods companies—presents an attractive opportunity for investors.

Talent from the CPG space can help attract investors

Top-quality and industry savvy finance employees who maintain sound financial books and establish a solid banking arrangement are also important. If the company’s financial scenario is robust enough to provide confidence in case of an audit and the books are in good shape with auditable METRC logs investors will be far more inclined to put money on the line.

A cannabis company with full inclusion (or seed to sale) is often a smart choice for investment. The vertical integration of cultivation, processing/manufacturing and retail allows them to sell their own products while also stocking other brands’ products on the floors of their dispensaries. If their products are respected and the brand is held in high regard, even better. Similarly, a cultivation enterprise that can grow crops for multiple brands can also be very attractive. The ability to pivot and adjust production to reflect the market and consumer demands indicates a strong business foundation.

Despite the current headwinds and saturated markets, other chances for growth exist. When a local municipality finally decides to “opt-in” to adult-use cannabis sales, there’s opportunity for both established brands and startups. It’s a matter of being ready for those opportunities and having a plan to leap in whenever new licenses become available.

What Businesses Will Struggle to Attract Investment?

Culture is key here. Poor employee relations and weak cohesion across departments are indicative of deeper problems. Do people actually want to work for the business? Do they feel supported by human resources? A company with underdeveloped or non-existent workers’ compensation policies and a management team that is not respected by its employees is not going to look good in the eyes of potential investors.

Non-diversified cannabis businesses are also at a major disadvantage when seeking investors. Cultivators of one type of product or service are locked into a single operation geared to do one thing. Any changes to market whims or problems with the supply chain can wreak havoc on a business based around a single product.

Stick to Business Basics

The cannabis industry is unique, but the basics of running a business well enough for success still apply. Strictly adhering to the traditional methods that any successful organization follows is extra important in cannabis. Businesses that are active in their community and make a real effort to be involved will be held in higher regard by investors. They want to see cannabis businesses that are not just setting up shop to make a quick buck, but are dedicated to bettering their community. That indicates a relationship with customers that involves mutual respect and promotes business longevity and financial stability.

The 3-Legged Stool of Successful Grow Operations: Climate, Cultivation & Genetics – Part 6

By Phil Gibson
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This is Part 6 and the final chapter in The 3-Legged Stool of Successful Grow Operations series. Click here to see Part 1, here to see Part 2, here to see Part 3, here for part 4 and here for Part 5.

Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs)

Figure 1: Precision aeroponics at FarmaGrowers GMP Facility, South Africa

Every objective has to have a vision and a vector of where you want to go and what you want to achieve. “Winging it” is okay for an innovative artistic endeavor where creativity is spontaneous and one-of-a-kind art is produced. Unfortunately, that is not how one creates a top-quality cultivation operation.

Customers expect guarantees of consistency; quality assurance means a purchase is safe to consume. Medicinal products around the world require Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) certification. These are really just SOPs that document repeatable procedures to guarantee that the most recent batch offers the same results as the first certified effort. This brief covers the importance of documented operating procedures for a successful grow business with high quality customer results.

Figure 2: The objective – trichome covered flowers, DanCann, Denmark

Almost nobody gets excited about discussing quality, but experienced manufacturers know that quality control reduces waste and improves operations. Everyone learns that they have to implement feedback, improvement and quality control procedures to guarantee profitability and longevity in any business.

So, what is an SOP? A standard operating procedure defines ‘a task’ to be performed ‘at a location by a person or a role on a specific schedule.’ These definitions will include role definition, responsibilities, personnel training, equipment & service procedures, material handling, quality assurance controls, record keeping, approved procedures & instructions, documentation, references and appendices, all of which define your business and how it is to operate.

Now, you might ask, we are just growing plants, is all this really necessary? The short answer is, it depends. If you expect to export globally, do business in Europe and other markets, get licensed by Health Canada or some day be approved to ship to other States, then yes. If you are a regional craft cannabis supplier, maybe not, but there are many tasks that are required to grow where a better documented process can benefit your operation and the quality of the product delivered to your consumers.

Figure 3: Flower maintenance, DanCann, Denmark

We provide a bulleted list of recommendations in the full white paper but to touch on a few highlights that every operator should keep in mind, SOPs define the following structures for your business.

Personnel training is done for ‘this task, in this way’ & ‘this role is responsible’

Job descriptions reduce misunderstandings and increase worker ownership in your facility. Documenting your activities minimizes task overlap and conflicts that can lead to no one executing on something that may be important but not urgent. You want to eliminate employees thinking “I didn’t know it was my responsibility.”

Consultants or visitors must be aware of and follow the same requirements as your employees if you are to maintain the quality of your grow. Specific training should be given to anyone that handles or works around toxic chemicals. Safety sheets are not just paper; They keep people alive.

Equipment & Service Procedures

Be direct and specific in your task definitions, i.e., “Use 5ml of soap, clean until no plant matter or debris remains.”

Figure 4: Full GMP certified facility, FarmaGrowers, South Africa

Ideally, grow facilities, equipment and access will be designed with cleaning in mind from the start. This is not always possible but it is the mark of successful manufacturing or production companies.

Cleaning, cleaning, cleaning: think sterile, food safety and consumer consumption protections. SOPs should define cleaning methods and materials. This cleaning is done on schedule and aligned to your preventative maintenance and calibration requirements. Precise results require precise structure for any long-term operation.

We recommend that you integrate pictures and videos in the instructions for your procedures and training so that nothing is left to chance or misinterpreted.

Material Handling, Containers, Labels, Quality Assurance

Personnel contamination/cross-contamination are the death of any grow operation. Do everything you can to limit stray or wandering plant material, dust or debris from migrating from one grow room or area to another. Isolation is a good way to limit outbreaks to a specific room to minimize losses.

Figure 5: Documented SOPs must be followed & reviewed regularly

If something nasty happens to one of your rooms. Good labeling enforced by your quality assurance team is a simple way to increase the likelihood that employees will do a task as intended. This adds to your repeatability as people change jobs or roles are redefined.

Approved Procedures & Instructions

Quality assurance is all about repeatability and intended outcomes. Documenting procedures and intended use enables every new employee to follow the experience of the masters and duplicate their success. Testing, sampling and logging your results along the way enables you to know that you are on schedule and on process, so you can predict your results every time.

Part of your continuous improvement approach will be to deal with exceptions that are not covered by your procedures. Learning about those exceptions and capturing your experience with an improved method will lead to better outcomes the next time around.

Documentation, References, Appendices

Figure 6: Flower sealed & ready for export, DanCann, Denmark

You’ve done all of this hard work to capture your operation, so you need a complete library of your reference work and approach that employees can access. It does your operation no good if you capture your methods and no one ever looks at them again. Training cycles and reviewing your defined procedures is key to a consistent high-quality result.

Hero Award

Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs), Good Manufacturing Procedures (GMP) and Good Agricultural & Collection Practices (GACP), are all terms that will become more familiar as cannabis production joins into one global market. Professional results will be required and national or international certifications will be the guarantees that any global customer can trust that a product meets the standards they expect.

We have many customers in North America and around the world. but DanCann Pharma is the most aggressive when it comes to meeting international standards and results. Producing flower that is so pure that no irradiation is required for export, the DanCann operation is fully certified for production throughout Europe and they are sold-out of capacity for the coming year. They are currently expanding their operations in Denmark and are a solid example to follow for a well-defined repeatable operation. FarmaGrowers in South Africa is a close second in this race with multiple export certifications of their own. The future looks bright for both of these global operations.

For the complete white paper on Top Quality Cultivation Facilities, download the document here.

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Investment Strategies for Entering the European Cannabis Market

By Niklas Kouparanis
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For U.S. venture capitalists (VCs), the burgeoning European cannabis market provides opportunities to break into the industry on the heels of adult-use legalization. Germany has set its sights on implementing a recreational market by 2024, and the country, along with several other European Union (EU) countries–Malta and Luxembourg–came together in September 2022 to draft a joint statement on why the EU needs a new approach to cannabis use for adult-use production, sale and consumption.

german flag
Photo: Ian McWilliams

In October 2022, Germany took further steps to solidify its plans for legalization further when its Health Minister Karl Lauterbach presented a cornerstone paper on planned legislation to regulate the controlled distribution and consumption of cannabis among adults. Such actions have signaled to both the EU and the world at large that cannabis legalization in Germany is imminent, and the country is championing the new age of cannabis policy.

With the new German cannabis market soon to be on the horizon, both foreign and domestic VCs are considering how to best leverage investment opportunities into existing cannabis companies within the current medical-only market that will transcend into adult use. For U.S. investors, it’s important to do their due diligence to find the company that will transcend into the next progression of cannabis policy. In addition, European cannabis companies must do their own meticulous research when it comes to aligning with investors to meet both their financial and business goals.

How U.S. VCs Can Evaluate Investment-Worthy European Cannabis Companies

As with any investment, VCs benefit from researching the company and market they are planning to invest in. Regarding the company of interest, it’s important to examine which part of the cannabis market the company is serving: growers, retailers, ancillary products, service providers and biotechnology companies all exist as potential investment options within the space. An investor should look into a company’s annual revenue, evaluating whether it has increased, remained steady or decreased over time. Revenue growth is often provided on a company’s income statement.

In addition to making sure they have a thorough understanding of the business model and its value proposition, investors should also familiarize themselves with the company’s management team to make sure that they are knowledgeable and experienced in both running a company and the cannabis industry. For those interested in entering the German market, VCs should consider the businesses that are currently key players in the country’s medical cannabis industry and that plan to expand their services into the adult-use sector once legalization comes into play.

For example, Tilray, founded in 2014, was one of Canada’s first licensed medical producers. When Canada legalized adult-use cannabis several years later, in 2018, Tilray was one of the companies that successfully transitioned to expand its market share in Canada’s medical to the adult-use cannabis industry.

Another consideration for VCs is the reputation of the business and its leaders. Investors should seek out those who have become authorities within the industry and the movers and shakers who are providing key insights into the market. These business leaders should be front and center, discussing everything from current operations and compliance to cannabis policy and legislation to new endeavors and growing their businesses. With recreational cannabis legalization being a completely new endeavor for the EU, it is important for leaders within today’s European medical space to be visionaries for the next phase of cannabis legalization and be guides for creating regulations for this new market to be safe, sustainable and scalable.

In addition to executive teams, VCs should check if the business is meeting the current marketplace’s expectations and is ready to adapt and evolve as needed. This means that the company has access to a steady supply of high-quality cannabis at an affordable price and access to consumers (medical patients) and potential consumers. With adult-use legalization soon to be a reality in Germany, investors must consider which players in the medical-only market will be able to not only survive the transition but grow to become leaders in Germany’s new recreational market and within the EU as a whole. 

What Do European Companies Look For in Terms of U.S. VCs

Just as VCs must find the right fit for them in terms of investments, cannabis companies must also align with investors that help them meet their financial and business goals. For cannabis companies, many seek to align themselves with VCs experienced in consumer, technology, and healthcare investments. While there are benefits to working with a VC with a cannabis background, companies should not deter investors who do not meet those specific criteria, as the cannabis market is still a fairly new and ever-transforming industry. In light of this, it’s important that investors approach opportunities with an open mind for both the industry’s current state and its potential.

european union states
The European Union

As with most investments, both VCs and companies should be prepared to agree to a term sheet, a document that outlines the relationship between the investor and the business. An ideal investor would need to be supportive, well-connected, and add value by providing relevant business knowledge. While some investors seek a more hands-on role, in most cases, the VC’s support will not be equal to the business’s micromanagement or control of its day-to-day operations. Generally, those responsibilities would remain with the company’s executive team.

As an investor, it’s important to be supportive of the business; be a cheerleader for the company when things go well, and lift up the business when challenges occur. In addition, offering a network of referrals and strategies to excel is key to being a good asset to the business. Also, having a diverse portfolio of companies with synergistic opportunities can be very beneficial to growing cannabis businesses.

A question many investors ask before entering the space is how much in assets they should have on hand to be considered an eligible investment size. Typically, this depends on the business and its financial needs. Small profitable cannabis businesses that want additional financing may be able to secure a bank loan, if possible, in their home countries or seek a seed investment-focused VC for some capital. Leaders in Germany’s current medical-only market are seeking investors, both from the U.S. and abroad, to partake in Series A/B funding, seeking financial partners that can help them reach a goal of $20-80M USD.

European cannabis companies are within a high-growth market, so U.S. VCs looking to enter through investment do not have to go through a private equity firm. An investor can approach companies through networking or direct outreach. It is also important to note that investors do not have to convert their assets from USD to EUR, as it is done automatically when making investments. For the first time in 20 years, the USD and EUR are about equal, so now is a great time for U.S. investors to consider making the leap into European cannabis.

Sundie Seefried, President & CEO of Safe Harbor Financial

A Q&A with Sundie Seefried, President & CEO of Safe Harbor Financial

By Cannabis Industry Journal Staff
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Sundie Seefried, President & CEO of Safe Harbor Financial

As the former CEO of Partner Colorado Credit Union (PCCU), Sundie Seefried has been in the credit union space for 39 years. Established in 2015, Safe Harbor Financial is now a leading provider for banking and financial services in the cannabis industry.

Seefried founded Safe Harbor as a cannabis banking program for PCCU, and since then it has withstood scrutiny of 16 separate federal and state exams. Entering its ninth year as a cannabis banking program, they have almost 600 accounts in 20 states and have processed over $14 billion in transactions for the cannabis market. In September, Safe Harbor began trading on Nasdaq under the symbol SHFS. The company has also announced a definitive agreement to acquire Abaca, an industry-leading cannabis financial technology platform.

Seefried has seen it all in the cannabis banking world. We wanted to get her thoughts on some current events, the future of cannabis banking and lending, and what the next few years might hold in store for an industry ready to grow.

Cannabis Industry Journal: Tell us a bit about yourself. What is your background and how did you find yourself in the cannabis industry? How did you get to become president and CEO of SHF?

Sundie Seefried, President & CEO of Safe Harbor Financial

Sundie Seefried: I’ve been in banking in the credit union space since 1983. I became CEO of Partner Colorado Credit Union in 2001 and stayed there for 21 years. Everything I do, I have a very conservative nature just from being in the banking world and doing things methodically and building good foundations that endure long term. In 2014 when FinCen issued guidance, I was supposed to retire, and I had dinner with some old friends that were attorneys who couldn’t get bank accounts for their clients in the cannabis industry. They asked me to help and I looked into it for them. I assumed the regulator would shut me down but he didn’t; he actually encouraged me to move forward and look further into things. As I educated the board, we saw just how unsafe Colorado was and the serious need for the community to figure things out with respect to banking and cannabis. Coming from that credit union perspective, I said I think we can do this, let’s try and I’ll go through the third parties necessary. And that’s how we got into this, just looking to try and help solve Colorado’s problems and get banking access for cannabis companies. 

CIJ: Tell me about your company’s mission. What is your financing strategy in cannabis and of the companies you do business with, what do you look for most?

Seefried: Our mission remains the same, and that is to normalize banking in the cannabis industry as much as possible. Because the black market still exists, the issue becomes sorting the legal entities out from the illicit actors in the industry. We know that the illicit market is trying to hide amongst the legal environment, which really makes things difficult for upstanding cannabis businesses. We can normalize banking by making sure we help legitimize the compliant entities and sort out the bad actors. We really only want to work with legitimate players with licenses, who are fulfilling expectations on the regulatory level and have no problems with compliance. We have been able to do that on the depository side.

We have always been a low-cost provider and our clients count on that. As we move into the lending part of the industry, we’re looking to do the same thing. There are lenders who charge one-to-three percent per month, 18 to 36 percent per year. We, on the other hand, are targeting more of an eight to thirteen percent annual rate. More of a conservative approach. Real debt underwriting. No extremely high interest rates. We look for the collateral, we look for well-organized businesses and solid documentation. Those are the businesses we are trying to bring into the fold and offer them normal loans. Cannabis will always have a premium on it simply because it is illegal at the federal level and there are additional hoops we have to jump through. Because of the potential forfeiture and seizure, if there are bad actors, etc., it really behooves any clients coming to us to also place their depositary services with us so we can prove their legitimacy and provide loans to them.

CIJ: Let’s talk about the Canopy Growth news. They announced they are pulling the trigger on acquiring Wana Brands, Acreage Holdings and Jetty Extracts, under the Canopy USA holding company and ahead of federal legalization. On the surface, it looks like they are bypassing a lot of the hurdles American cannabis companies currently face with financial red tape. As a foreign company trading on the NASDAQ dealing with a schedule 1 substance, do you expect Canopy to have a significant, some would say unfair, competitive advantage with their early entry? Or is this perhaps more of a rising tide lifting all boats scenario? What effect will this have on the current market landscape?

Seefried: I find it a very interesting move on their part. Certainly, they have a big advantage in comparison to other companies. The consolidation in the industry is moving so quickly. Other players will keep up with this just as fast as Canopy is moving in. That’s my opinion in terms of what I see in the consolidation area of the market. I think what it really hurts is small businesses. My heart goes out to them. So many of them worked so many years to build excellent small companies with boutique shops, and this whole move will really change that part of the industry.

I see a lot of these small players, non-vertically integrated companies, being impacted in a negative way due to such mass consolidation and the entry of foreign businesses. We need to get more competitive on a global level in order for our companies to grow and thrive. This happened back in 2018, when so many companies started doing those reverse takeovers onto the Canadian Securities Exchange and suddenly, they were putting tens of millions of dollars into the U.S. market. People didn’t see that as a competitive disadvantage for American companies, but now this move by Canopy may really show that we have to look at things more globally.

CIJ: Biden’s announcement regarding the scheduling review for cannabis has a lot of industry folks very hopeful that federal legalization is closer to a reality than before. Do you share their optimism?

Seefried: Closer than before, yes. But how close? I am not convinced it will happen quickly. If they are really going to consider rescheduling or descheduling, everything happens in Washington very incrementally. Eight years and seven attempts at the SAFE Banking legislation and still no movement on that front. Tomorrow, we’re going straight to legalization? I have a hard time swallowing that one. I just don’t see that big of a jump all at once. I think it is interesting coming just before the midterms and votes are really needed now more than ever.

What Biden did was a great start. Especially for those people in prison for possession. The interesting part of it is, we are very serious about people who have used it, but the people who have sold it and are in prison might be in the same situation. Given how the laws worked for so long, just based on the amount of cannabis you had could get you automatically labeled as a dealer, which isn’t the case for a lot of incarcerated folks.

The fact is, the social equity and justice issue, who do you free or who do you not free from prison, is a very difficult issue to get through. I think it is a great step forward and it will help some people who were treated unjustly, but there is still a lot of work to be done.

“I believe we’ll start seeing pressure from the global market on the United States to move things along a little faster in our own country.”As far as rescheduling, if they go from a Schedule I drug to a Schedule II drug, that will do no good, but it certainly is a bone to throw to the industry if you want to look like you are making some progress. Schedule II is still subject to 280E tax code so it will only do so much. If they want to make things more equitable and actually level the playing field, they have to do something about the 280E issue hindering every cannabis business in the country.

As far as full legalization, I am not optimistic because of all the players that need to be involved. Full legalization will require a change to the IRS tax code 280E as well as other tax issues. I think there are too many players: The DOJ, FinCen, the DEA, the FDA, the IRS. All of these agencies will have to agree on full legalization and moving forward in unison. The DEA is trying to fight illicit actors and illicit drugs. FinCen is trying to follow the money to find illicit actors. As long as there is an illicit market it will make their job tough, and on top of all of that, we have politics in play. That is just my take on legalization. It is going to be a much more complex problem than just legalizing the plant and moving on. Rescheduling seems like lower hanging fruit, but they will have to move it higher than a Schedule II.

CIJ: With the midterm elections here, there are a number of legalization measures in a handful of states, along with political control of Congress on the ballot. How do you think a Republican or Democrat controlled Congress will affect cannabis legalization progress?

Seefried: I just finished doing some lobbying in September in DC and spoke to some Senator offices in person, and I heard a lot of interesting topics being discussed. One of the things that keeps popping up is that social equity and justice is a huge issue. If we can’t solve this injustice in our system that has been going on for decades and decades, maybe they’ll hold banking legislation hostage. You can’t correct 50-60 years with one piece of legislation. Everything has to be incremental, unfortunately, so there will be some give and take there. I think that was a primary focus, especially with the Democrats and I do think it is a worthy cause.

On the Republican side, economically improving our competitive advantage as a country. They are starting to see the jobs being created and the tax revenue coming in and the growth of the industry. They will have to make that decision at some point in time whether they are going to leave the American cannabis industry behind or allow them to compete on a global level. I really think everything will move slowly and continue as it has happened in the past.

I believe we’ll start seeing pressure from the global market on the United States to move things along a little faster in our own country.

CIJ: As we inch closer to 2023, what do you expect the next year to offer for the cannabis financing market?

Seefried: I would say, with or without legislation, they’re finding greater access to banking. And the reason they are getting better access to banking is because none of us have been prosecuted for simply engaging in cannabis banking. I think we have set a precedent over the past eight years, not only us but other service providers in the industry and that we are not being prosecuted.

I see more financial institutions entering the market slowly. The second reason access to capital and banking will increase is because every financial institution in the country wants that lending relationship. In order to get there, they want to start with the depository relationship, and they don’t want smaller players presently doing it and getting all of those relationships before they enter the market. I think the competitive nature of the financial industry to land that lending relationship is going to force them into the game sooner than later.

ASTM Debuts New Standards for Cannabis

By Cannabis Industry Journal Staff
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Earlier this month, ASTM International announced that the D37 cannabis committee has approved four new standards for the cannabis industry. Just a few days ago, the same organization announced the development of a new standard that will be published soon.

According to a press release, the four new standards that are already approved will help those working in the cannabis space, as well as regulators and consumers. The four new approved standards are as follows:

  • D8375: This standard provides a method to establish cannabinoid content in cannabis and hemp samples. ASTM member Garnet McRae says, “the standard will help ensure products are labeled properly in jurisdictions where they are legally produced and sold.”
  • D8399: This standard “will aid laboratories in analyzing cannabis and hemp samples to establish pesticide concentration levels – or lack thereof – to ensure products meet regulatory requirements within appropriate jurisdictions,” reads the press release.
  • D8442: This standard aids stakeholders in the cannabis supply chain with quality control measurements. It provides a method for testing terpenes and cannabinoid levels using gas chromatography.
  • D8469: This one provides a new metals testing method for cannabis using inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry (ICP-MS).

David Vaillencourt will be discussing standards and more at the Cannabis Quality Conference on October 17. The fifth standard that ASTM International announced this week is D8439. This one is designed “to support sound and reproducible research” by providing specifications for medicinal-use cannabis flower. ASTM member David Vaillencourt says it will help establish consistent testing for safety and quality. “With a fragmented cannabis industry marketplace, there is no common set of requirements around reporting cannabinoids and terpenes, which are the primary constituents that are linked to therapeutic benefits,” says Vaillencourt. “This lack of consistency harms public health and prevents evaluation of product safety and efficacy across jurisdictions. This standard provides a solution to this problem.”