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An Interview with the VP of Partnerships at Simplifya

By Aaron Green
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Managing compliance for cannabis companies remains a challenge in the United States with a constantly evolving set of regulations that differ at the federal, state, county and city level. Regulators can either fine or force non-compliant companies to cease operations resulting in setbacks for investors and operators.

Simplifya is a software as a service company specializing in cannabis quality and regulatory compliance. The company’s suite of products takes the guesswork out of confusing and continually changing state and local regulations. Featuring SOPs, badge tracking, document storage, tailored reporting and employee accountability features, the company’s custom audit software reduces the time clients spend on compliance by up to 45 percent.

We interviewed Brooke Butler, VP of Partnerships at Simplifya. Prior to joining Simplifya, Brooke worked internationally as a macroeconomic analyst.

Aaron Green: How did you get involved in the cannabis industry?

Brooke Butler: My story is a little crazy. I was working as a macroeconomic investment research analyst for developing countries and wanted to move back to the US after being gone for a long time. Oddly enough, I had gotten malaria a few times when I was living in Nigeria, and I was very sick. They couldn’t figure out anything to help me. Cannabis of all things, which was illegal there, but very easy to find, was the only thing that was able to help me eat and gain enough weight to be a functioning, healthy human again.

Brooke Butler, VP of Partnerships at Simplifya

So, I wanted to move back to the US. I have this very unique and strange skill set for figuring out regulatory and policy regimes, and translating that into advice for business owners and investors. Serendipitously, the last place I worked at was Sri Lanka and the CEO of Simplifya is from Sri Lanka. We met just based on me wanting to be friends with somebody in Denver who was from Sri Lanka. It happened that he had just started a compliance company in partnership with the present-day Vicente Sederberg law firm out of Colorado. And the rest is history. Five years later, I’m still with the company. We’ve grown from one state to now helping licensed operators of any kind in 23 states, it’s been a lot of fun.

Green: So, you joined back in 2016?

Butler: I actually joined in the middle of 2017.

Green: Can you speak to Simplifya’s product and process?

Butler: Absolutely. Simplifya was started because we noticed that when Colorado went adult use you had all these new licensees coming into the space that wanted to run a good business. They didn’t want to get shut down. They wanted to have great operations, but they didn’t know how to read through 800 pages of legal narrative and extract from that what they can and can’t do. Vicente Sederberg was going out and doing on-site compliance checks for these guys and telling them, “Hey, you need to fix these 10 or 15 things.” They’d come back in six months, and the operators were like, “Well, yeah, we still didn’t fix it, because we didn’t know how to fix it and they changed the rules again.” So, it was this constantly evolving thing.

We wanted to find an easy-to-understand set of regulatory checklists that any operator could use to gauge if they had any problem areas in their business. When they did have an inspector come by, we wanted to make it so that operators weren’t sweating bullets or worried about things like, “Well, do we have our cameras pointed in the right direction? Do we have enough video backlog? Are my employee badges in the right place? Are we having our restricted access area in the right place?” All those crazy little minute details that they have to worry about. So, that’s kind of how we got started. We were just trying to find a way to make it simpler and more affordable for anyone that’s brave enough to get a license and really operate in the legal market – not just survive – but really be able to thrive and spend more time on their business and building world-class products and less time worrying about waste disposal and how to do all these crazy things that they’re up against.

Then we moved into helping with standard operating procedures. We have these templates that we tie to the state regulations so operators can then add their proprietary steps and know that it’s built on top of a compliant foundation. But probably the most important thing we have is a great document management system that gives them a cheat sheet.

California is particularly nasty, as operators have well over 100 documents that they’re required to keep for a long time. Again, we’re trying to make sure that they have an easy way to verify that all their i’s are dotted and t’s are crossed when it comes to the million compliance requirements that they have. A lot of people, especially new entrants, think that compliance is just inventory management and as long as they take care of that, they’re good. Unfortunately, I wish that was true, but they’ve got four or five hundred very minute things that they must worry about. If they don’t take care of those, they could get shut down, or lose their license and business.

Green: Is your document management system proprietary?

Butler: We’re a software as a service company. It’s very easy to use. We wanted to make sure that whether it was a budtender or a trimmer, anyone at your company is not only going to be able to use our software very easily but understand the rules. We write everything at a 12th grade reading level. It’s distilled out of all that legal jargon that a regular businessperson doesn’t understand – and shouldn’t have to, they’re not a lawyer – and written in really simplified terms that anyone could understand. Our position for cannabis is that compliance is having all your employees do the exact same thing, every single day, the right way. And that’s not easy. It must be from the top down. Everyone on your team must be doing things the right way. Even if it’s not fun, and not very cool, they must follow all these rules and be compliant. This is how we get the privilege to actually run a cannabis business, and grow, manufacture or run a retail store.

Green: So you mentioned SOPs. Is there also a quality aspect to the service?

Butler: There is, yes. One of my favorite things about what we’ve been able to do is that our clients have been our biggest assets, because they’re telling us, “Here’s our problem areas, or what we need help with.” And what we’ve seen is, as states mature after legalization, there’s a lot more quality control, a lot more quality management. That not only just becomes important, but also gets written into the regulations. So, we do work with a lot of the quality teams to make sure that their recipes are being followed and are tied to what the state regulators have said that they’re supposed to be doing.

Green: Do you support GMP and GAP?

Butler: Yes. It’s really exciting. A couple of our technical analysts have received GMP training and certifications. As of now, we cover five states that have GMP-compliant SOPs, California being the largest one of them. All our SOPs for manufacturers in California, and in places like Massachusetts, Maryland, Nevada and Michigan are written with full GMP compliance. Those get married with all the crazy state, city and county rules.

Green: Do you provide auditing as well or is that outsourced?

Butler: We give them a tool so they can self-audit. Then we also have an audit tool that third party auditors can use. So, let’s say that you’re a manufacturer, and you want a lawyer or consultant to come and do a check on your facility. Because you’re so close to the audit, you want to make sure you don’t miss anything. You can use our software to quickly do that. The beauty of the audit reports is that they’re consistent and they make it easy to see if you have any issues as well as how to remediate them, and then how to prove that it was fixed. So, if you do have a regulator come by, you’re able to say, “Look, we’re doing our best. We are fixing issues when we find them. We have documented that all our employees are trained on these.” So, when the operators do get audited, everything should be in good standing.

Green: You have 23 different states that you’re in and hundreds of city and county jurisdictions. How do you manage change between all the jurisdictions as they’re constantly evolving?

“How do we help social equity applicants get loans and financing?”Butler: It’s constantly evolving. That’s why we’ve built Simplifya and made it a software subscription company. We will notify you when, let’s say Oakland, decides to update its waste management policy, or their security regulations. That will prompt you to log in. We make it very easy for you to see what regulations are new so you can run through and check on those things very quickly and make sure you get into compliance. It’s not easy.

Most of our staff and our team are lawyers, or regulatory analysts. They probably have the worst job in cannabis because they are literally just sifting through constant sets of regulations. They’re on the phone with regulators trying to get clarification when something changes. A lot of it is a manual process with our team, but we do have proprietary technology systems set up to help us monitor. It’s kind of a dual effort, using technology to help us as well as trying to get clarity and stay ahead of city meetings or state regulatory meetings on what changes are coming down the pipe so we’re not surprised when there are new regulation changes coming out.

Green: What in your personal life or in cannabis are you most interested in learning about?

Butler: I am most interested in the finance side of things. How can we help more of these companies get an actual bank account at reasonable rates that won’t kick them out in six months? How do we help social equity applicants get loans and financing? That’s a huge challenge that people don’t really like to talk about, but that is a big issue out there. How do we get insurance companies to cover all the things that need to be covered for a regular business that aren’t currently allowed for cannabis, again, and at reasonable rates?

As a consumer, I want an easier way to pay. I don’t want to have to worry about going to the ATM and worrying if I’ve got enough money to buy whatever new product I want. Payment processing, I think, is something that’s really interesting. We’re moving into that space at Simplifya. We’re really excited about it. We’re launching our payments product called TENDR, in November. We have some great large institutions that are excited to get back into or get into the cannabis space for the first time that I think is going to really excite people. If we can show people that these businesses are compliant, and now we can make the compliance requirements for them, the financial institutions easier, then we’re going to see better access for consumers to these types of products.

Green: Thanks Brooke. That concludes the interview.

Butler: Thanks Aaron!

Cannin Commentary

Why Should You Add Columbia Care to Your Cannabis Portfolio?

By Cannabis Industry Journal Staff
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Investors looking to gain exposure to the cannabis space have several options given the increase in the number of cannabis producers in the past decade, the recent wave of legalization in the U.S. and a rapidly expanding addressable market. However, one undervalued cannabis stock with enticing growth prospects that remains a top buy today is Columbia Care (OTC: CCHWF). Let’s see why we are bullish on the large-cap multi-state operator right now.

What is Columbia Care?

Columbia Care is one of the largest cannabis producers in the world with 31 manufacturing and cultivation facilities. It has 99 dispensary locations in the U.S. with more than two million square feet of cultivation capacity and over 300 acres of outdoor cultivation capacity.

The company’s rapid expansion over the last few years has allowed Columbia Care to increase sales from $77.45 million in 2019 to $179 million in 2020. Wall Street expects sales to more than triple to $626 million this year and grow by another 55% to $970 million in 2022. In case Columbia Care manages to meet analyst estimates, the company would have grown its revenue at an annual rate of 132% between 2019 and 2022.

While several of Columbia Care’s peers, especially in Canada, are grappling with negative margins, this cannabis company is racing towards profitability. It has already narrowed its operating losses from $81 million in 2019 to $31.5 million in the last 12-months. Analysts expect its bottom-line to improve from a loss per share of $0.48 in 2020 to earnings of $0.27 per share in 2022.

We can see that Columbia Care is valued at a forward price to 2022 sales multiple of less than 2x given its market cap of $1.15 billion. Its price to earnings multiple is also quite attractive at 11.8x. 

What’s Next for Columbia Care Investors?

Columbia Care has a strong presence in markets such as Virginia, Ohio and Pennsylvania that provide limited licenses to cannabis producers. This allows Columbia Care to improve customer engagement and ensure repeat purchases of its products.

In the second quarter of 2021, it increased revenue by 232% year over year to $110 million. Its adjusted EBITDA also rose to $16 million, compared to a loss of $4.7 million in the prior-year period.

Columbia Care acquired Medicine Man for $42 million.

Now, Columbia Care has shifted focus to larger cannabis markets including New York, Arizona, Columbia and New Jersey. In Q2, its sales in Arizona and Illinois rose by 23% and 15% respectively, on a sequential basis.

The cannabis heavyweight recently completed the acquisition of Medicine Man, a Colorado-based cannabis producer, for $42 million. Columbia Care explained the acquisition will be accretive to its bottom-line and is valued at 4.5x projected EBITDA for 2021.

Columbia Care has improved its gross margins to 42% in Q2, from 36% in the prior-year period. Its operating costs have also fallen from $61 million to $51 million in the last year, making it one of the best cannabis stocks on the market today.

Bottom Line: Why Should You Add Columbia Care to Your Cannabis Portfolio?

Columbia Care expects its total addressable market in licensed U.S. states to reach approximately $31 billion by 2026. In the event that cannabis is legalized at the federal level, this figure will surge significantly higher. Additionally, Columbia Care is well poised to gain traction in the future and leverage existing expertise, as it already has wholesale distribution agreements in 13 operational markets.

Its capital expenditure investments continue to generate returns as the company continues to benefit from economies of scale and higher margins.

Columbia Care stock is currently down about 60% from its 52-week high, providing cannabis investors the opportunity to purchase a quality growth stock at an attractive multiple.

For these reasons, we believe investors should consider adding Columbia Care to their cannabis stock portfolios while it’s still trading at a discount.

From CBD to THCV: Clinical Trials & ECS Brands

By Aaron Green
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The cannabinoid industry has faced an uphill battle from the beginning due to a lack of reliable scientific awareness about cannabinoids, fueled by decades of the hemp plant’s status as an illegal Schedule 1 drug. Today, scientists finally are free to explore the hemp plant’s 115+ cannabinoids and their relationships with the body’s endocannabinoid system. One cannabinoid, THCV, is currently undergoing scrupulous research.

ECS Brands is an established provider of whole-plant extracts. In the first-ever clinical trial for an organic THCV-rich extract, ECS received support from the National Institutes of Health and guidance from the Mayo Clinic to assess its potential for weight loss, anxiety treatment and other therapies using Nitro-V Hemp Extract, an ECS Brands product containing high concentrations of THCV, CBDV and other cannabinoids. Early outcomes of the 90-day, randomized, double-blind placebo-controlled human study were recently released. 100 out of 100 people lost weight, making no changes to exercise while taking the product for 90 days.

We interviewed Arthur Jaffee, Founder & CEO of ECS Brands. Prior to founding ECS, Arthur was co-founder of Elixinol, a company manufacturing and distributing industrial hemp-based products. Arthur took Elixinol public on the Australian stock exchange in 2018.

Aaron Green: How did you get involved in the cannabis industry?

Arthur Jaffee, Founder & CEO of ECS Brands

Arthur Jaffee: I originally was planning on starting a fitness equipment company. I got introduced to my partner at Elixinol, Gabriel, who my old physical therapist at University of Colorado said I had to meet. By the end of our lunch meeting, we shook hands in agreement to partner up on the fitness equipment concept. The timing happened where he got this opportunity to distribute CBD just following our handshake partnership. I didn’t know what it was at the time. He asked me if I wanted to join and get involved. I did my research into the benefits and discovered CBD’s anti-inflammatory and neuro-protective benefits, which for me was relevant given my football experience. I quickly realized what the vast potential CBD could offer with inflammation, neuroprotection and so many of the health and safety concerns arising from contact sports at the time. So, ultimately the opportunity presented itself through a friend of a friend in Australia who had a supply chain in Europe. This was right when CBD first appeared in the media in 2014. It was almost like it just fell into my lap.

I’ve been fortunate to really see that transition, and the evolution of the industry. Back then was probably the most valuable time because growth was so slow. Nobody knew what CBD was back in 2014. The primary demographic was cancer patients and epilepsy patients which presented a significant challenge to develop sales and marketing materials and communicate compliantly. Our first hire was a Medical Doctor to communicate in a more compliant fashion. I had to learn everything there was about the science and the medical research that existed at that time. For me, that was very valuable.

The valuable learning experiences from the early days of the industry is what laid the foundation today with ECS brands where we are focused on education promoting awareness of the endocannabinoid system to take it a step beyond just CBD because in order to understand what constitutes a quality product, or why CBD can have all these various benefits for people, you must first understand how the body is naturally configured to receive and respond to these amazing phytochemicals such as CBD. CBD is just one of hundreds of phytonutrients that the human body is designed to use. The endocannabinoid system is so significant in the grand scheme of things, because once you start accepting that the system is your overarching regulatory system in the body, we can start to look at the endless therapeutic potential.

Green: Being an early player in the CBD space, how would you say you’ve evolved over time to where you’re at today?

Jaffee: Innovation. That’s what really drove me to start ECS brands. Back in 2014, I originally co-founded Elixinol. After we took Elixinol public on the Australian exchange in the very beginning of 2018, there was a shift in direction away from innovation. Nearly all emphasis was placed on just doing what we’re doing better – meaning improving margins. In such a new and young industry and being a pioneer, you don’t get many opportunities to discover and create something for the first time. So, the past three years with ECS brands is with a heavy focus on innovation and technology.

Green: How do you think about innovation for the endocannabinoid system?

Jaffee: One of the early discoveries for me that was most inspiring, was research that evaluated endocannabinoid receptor sites, basically little keyholes for cannabinoids to perfectly fit in – that are made for cannabinoids. When evaluating the number of receptor sites in different individuals experiencing stress and illness it showed there was a higher concentration of receptor sites in those that were sick and experiencing systemic stress. To me, that was that was powerful because if that doesn’t communicate the body’s need for cannabinoid nourishment to heal and restore back to homeostasis as a natural and involuntary response really motivated me to play a part in getting quality cannabinoid products out to the masses and specifically those in most critical need. Our first interaction with cannabinoids is in mother’s breast milk, the cannabinoids that our bodies naturally produce. After breastfeeding, our diets are completely stripped of virtually all cannabinoids, leaving the endocannabinoid system starving, and likely leading to many of the most common and chronic health deficiencies that causes detriment to so many. Rather than cannabinoids, we then get introduced to pharmaceuticals. The writing is on the wall – this must get accepted and integrated into our society.

The Nitro-V Hemp Extract, an ECS Brands product

When it comes to innovation surrounding the public system it requires research and requires scientific evidence. It requires functional products because you can have all these great benefits, but if you don’t have efficient and effective ways of delivering these chemicals to the body, it can almost be meaningless. It’s a delicate balance between consumer appeal, functionality and efficiency when it comes to the delivery into the body. We’re focusing on delivery systems, making things more bioavailable and integrating other natural botanicals that react and influence the system in similar ways as there are more than just cannabis-derived cannabinoids that can create positive impact and ultimately alter the way that the endocannabinoid system can regulate.

Green: An important aspect of innovation is clinical validation. How do you think about clinical trials and designing clinical trials for products?

Jaffee: Clinical trials are instrumental and required to validate claims because otherwise, it’s just speculation. Directional application without the clinical evidence to support in the appropriate way is setting yourself up for failure. Designing a clinical trial is just as important as performing the trial. If it’s not set up right, it can be a waste of time and money. Trials really need to be held to the gold standard of double-blind placebo controlled and thoughtfully organized.

We did organize a clinical trial at the beginning of this year, and it was incredible. We learned so much about a unique extract of ours that’s naturally rich in THCV and CBDV. We intentionally set it up to be a very broad and encompassing study. I personally wanted to see the different mechanisms and how the endocannabinoid system responded and worked together with other systems in the body. We evaluated a broad range of measurements, with complete safety tox study – blood panels to test every organ – measuring kidney enzymes, liver enzymes, ALT, AST, ALP, bilirubin, albumin, creatinine as well as cholesterol – with HDL, LDL and triglycerides, GFR and Complete Blood Count. We also measured blood sugar hemoglobin A1C and five major inflammatory markers of IL-1, IL-6, C-Reactive protein, Homocysteine and TNF. In addition to performing a full safety run-up of the product, we also measured weight, BMI, girth, questionnaires for anxiety, appetite, pain, mood and finally – we bought brand new Fitbit Versa 3’s for all 125 study participants which gave us objective measurements for REM sleep, deep sleep, awake time, systolic/diastolic BP, SpO2 blood oxygen levels and daily caloric output values – which was really cool because it provided tangible objective evidence that participants weren’t going out and secretly exercising. So, we had 100 people taking the product and then 25 on placebo.

Green: Was this a safety trial?

Jaffee: Yes. The primary endpoint study was safety. That’s how we enrolled participants – as a general product safety study for a natural product. I decided to include a lot of additional efficacy measurements, including weight loss, measuring body mass index as well as heart rate for all the blood markers that we looked at. In addition to that we purchased brand new Fitbit Versa 3’s for the entire study group, which was great because they gave us objective measurements for three different sleep readings, deep sleep, REM sleep and rest asleep as well as lower output and blood oxygen levels.

We saw everything kind of working together. We saw deep sleep improve 300% within two weeks. We saw blood sugars come down significantly from those that are considered high, pre-diabetic ranges of hemoglobin A1C. You saw inflammatory markers reduce to normal levels, with 92% efficacy, which basically just means that those who were experiencing inflammation by means of these major inflammatory markers, after 90 days, 92% of subjects were reduced to nominal ranges. So, it was really fascinating to see how, with all the different measurements. that we can correlate different objective measurements. Then, we did subjective measurements too. We had standardized questionnaires for anxiety and pain, as well as an internally developed appetite and cravings questionnaire.

Green: Based on the results of that safety study, are there particular disease states you want to target going forward?

Jaffee: Moving forward, we are interested to look at each blood sugar and Hb A1C. I think one of the most exciting and popular successes of the study was the fact that we had 100 out of 100 participants lose weight without diet and exercise. Because we incorporated the Fitbit, we were able to obtain objective evidence that participants weren’t going and secretly working out. The Fitbit provided a caloric output value. It is basically an algorithm taking the number of steps taken, stairs climbed, heart rate, movement, etc. to populate a caloric expenditure value, which remained completely stable in our study population. Subjects were specifically instructed NOT to change any lifestyle behavior – specifically diet, exercise, and sleep, and that if any changes were to occur naturally that was acceptable. What this ultimately told us is that diets changed, and metabolisms increased, and we were able to support that notion with the appetite and cravings questionnaire that we had participants fill out where cravings did reduce and desire for sugary foods reduced 63%. These were questions that we internally developed for the appetite and cravings questionnaire, which were based on feedback that we received prior to the study.

Green: What are in your personal life or in cannabis are you most interested in learning about?

Jaffee: It’s changed a little bit over the years. My biggest passion I would say is performance. I think the hemp plant has so much to offer when it comes to superior nutrition and healing. Once I learned about the benefits and the potential of hemp with its food applications and specific protein composition – the powerful oxygenating properties of Hemp Seed Oil, the brain health properties it encompasses, and of course the cannabinoid potential… It got me very motivated to commit myself to this plant. It wasn’t long before learning all the incredible industrial applications and solution the plant also offers – such as plastics, textiles, biofuel, building materials – and as an environmental science major – learning about these amazing applications got me that much more excited, but knowing and trusting that CBD would be the first stepping stone in an industry that needs to evolve into all the amazing sustainable applications because it’s all it’s all very real. It will get there, but it won’t be easy.

Green: Thanks Arthur, that concludes the interview.

Jaffee: Thanks Aaron

Vaporizer Technology Innovation & Hanu Labs

By Aaron Green
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Conduction heating is a method used in most dab rigs and vape pens that relies on heating concentrate or flower on a metal surface to vaporize cannabis compounds for consumption. Care must be taken with conduction heating to avoid overheating the material, resulting in combustion or decomposition. Convection heating (think of heating food in an oven) can also be used to vaporize cannabis compounds and has the benefit of being able to control the heating temperature of the material more precisely.

Hanu Labs recently announced the launch of their Hanu Labs EVO Petra. The tabletop device leverages their convection heat-based Perpetual Heat Thermal Technology, which avoids combustion while efficiently extracting the desired compounds from cannabis flower or concentrates.

Prior to becoming the CEO of Hanu, Ricardo worked in sales at Jetty Extracts where he helped to build the Northern California territory. Ricardo is also a classically trained French chef who used to run a cannabis tourism company in California.

Aaron Green: How did you get involved in the cannabis industry?

Ricardo Willis, CEO of Hanu Labs

Ricardo Willis: I moved to California in 2016. I was a professional chef at the time and had just finished up my master’s degree after eight years of schooling. My business partner and I decided we wanted to get into the cannabis space. So, we started a cannabis tourism business. Cannabis tourism wasn’t in the Bay Area at the time. We were kind of first and we were about two years ahead of legalization. We ran a few tours and we started to get into the cannabis game. I found out I didn’t know as much as I thought I did about cannabis. So, I decided to go and work for Jetty Extracts and that eventually led to where I’m at today.

Green: What was your motivation for joining Jetty?

Willis: Education. I knew about flower, but I did not know as much about the manufacturing process. I was first exposed to concentrates in San Francisco and I was really fascinated by it. I wanted to learn more, because I knew that this was going to be the wave at the time. Coming from the east coast, I had never seen a vape pen. So, I come out to Cali, and I see all these different dabs and I’m like, “I need to know more about this.” Jetty was an opportunity for me to educate myself while also helping them build their Northern California division that had only been around for a few years, and they were trying to expand. It was a great opportunity working for those guys, I learned a lot.

Green: I got a chance to see the Petra in action last night. It’s a bit different from your standard dab rig. Can you talk about the standard dab conduction heating versus the Petra and convection heating?

The mica-encapsulated chamber and heating element

Willis: Think about your standard dab rig in the sense of taking a hot plate and dropping your dab onto that hot plate. It just sits there and begins to bubble and then evaporate from the heat. With the Petra, you take in all those same components, but you’re putting the concentrate into this mica-encapsulated chamber, where you have an all-glass air path that is one of the best surfaces for heating, and one of the safest. Those components with our perpetual heating system allow the dab rig, when we drop that nail in or we drop a basket for flower, that convection air circulates around the actual product. The oil begins to sublimate, or the vapor begins to make it through the flower, and it releases all those molecules that are found in the cannabis plant. And because of our glass air hydro tubes, when you pop those on, it basically filters it through water, and gives you one of the fastest and cleanest hits you’ve ever experienced.

Green: You mentioned flower as well as concentrates. Am I correct in hearing that you can also use flower with the Petra?

Willis: Yes. Dual functionality was one of the things found in our original model, the Vape Exhale that we first released nine years ago. I think that that’s very important for products. If a customer is going to spend anywhere between $300 to $500 retail, you need to give them more bang for their buck. Being able to vaporize flower and concentrates fits for the markets that we’re going into. People are consuming flower and concentrates at about the same percentage rate. So, we want to make sure that our devices can give the customer the ability to do both, either at home or on the go.

Green: So, you worked in the cannabis tourism industry. One of the trends we’ve got coming up in California is consumption lounges. How do you see the consumption lounges evolving over time? What are the challenges you see in California?

Willis: It’s a little different in Southern California versus Northern California. We’ve had consumption lounges in San Francisco, as well as Oakland for the past three years. We outfitted the entire lounge with VapeExhales at Barbary Coast, one of our early clients that we work with, which is downtown San Francisco. For us, we knew this is a space that would be thriving.

The Hanu Labs EVO Petra

I’m a big fan of the lounges, because I think people need a safe place where they can go to smoke. Those lounges offer that to people. It also gives them a chance to experiment with different technology and actually test it out before purchasing. Because of my hospitality and restaurant background, I’m always looking for the opportunity for people to become repeat customers. If you offer these things like consumption lounges, instead of people going to bars, they end up at your lounge after work. I think that is something that’s going to continue to grow.

I do think some of the challenges are going to be around single servings. A person doesn’t need to buy a full gram. Maybe they just need to buy a quarter of a dab or something like that. Companies will need to identify those potential pain points in that process, and then offer those smaller products that can be enjoyed while at the lounge.

Green: There’s a certain experience around the Petra. Where it’s really like a centerpiece of the table. How did you think about designing the user experience and designing around that conviviality?

Willis: That’s a great question. For the Petra, what we decided to design was slightly different from the VapeExhale. With the VapeExhale, the purpose of the device wasn’t super obvious, but the Petra has more of a centerpiece design. I’m a big fan of technology, so when I was designing the Petra, I was thinking about the KitchenAid mixer. That may seem strange, but the KitchenAid mixer is something that as a cook, either at home or in a restaurant, they own these things literally for 20 years. It has a very long product life. I wanted the Petra to be the same. I wanted it to look more like an appliance, I wanted it to be built with stability and durability so that when the customer purchases that product, it becomes a centerpiece that they can set up. If your grandkids come in, they see your vaporizer, it becomes more of an educational opportunity, and less about feeling embarrassed about your cannabis pieces. So, for me, design is all about ease of use, but also being appealing to the eye. The Petra is its own show, and it deserves to make a splash.

Green: What in your personal life or in cannabis are you most interested in learning about?

Willis: I am very interested in the customers. I started off in customer service when I was around 16 years old. The one thing that I learned is that the customer is the most important part of the sales cycle. I think that sometimes people focus on the B2B side and making our business partners happy, but my focus is, and always will be on the customers. I need to understand what customers want and how they want it. I’m intrigued by the science behind customer acquisition and want to learn more about how to make my customers happy. If they want cheaper pricing, I’m going to find a way to develop products to give them what they want at the price point they want. There is always going to be a customer who wants premium, or mid-tier or a customer who just wants something fully functional. Maybe they want something that provides the right experience for them, and they don’t have to break the bank to get it.

Green: Thanks Ricardo. That concludes the interview.

Willis: Thanks, Aaron.

Cannin Commentary

3 Cannabis Stocks That Can Gain Over 50% According to Analyst Estimates

By Cannabis Industry Journal Staff
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Welcome to the Cannin Commentary Column. We’re happy to announce our partnership with Cannin Investment Group, a cannabis investment analysis firm. In this new column, we will provide readers with a taste of Cannin’s insights and analysis that they offer to their members. Throughout the new installments of this column, you’ll find articles that will touch on investment tips, trends, predictions, market updates and more.


Companies in the cannabis sector have the potential to increase your wealth at an enviable rate over the upcoming decade. But what are the 3 cannabis stocks that can gain over 50% according to analyst estimates?

The wave of cannabis legalization sweeping through the U.S. right now as well as the prospect of decriminalizing or even legalizing adult-use will be key drivers for licensed producers.

Here, we take a look at three cannabis stocks in Columbia Care, Green Thumb Industries and Cresco Labs that should be on your buying radar right now. Each of these stocks is also trading at a deep discount according to Wall Street estimates, allowing investors to derive market-beating gains in the next year.

Columbia Care

U.S.-based multi-state operator, Columbia Care (OTC: CCHWF) is valued at a market cap of $1.12 billion. The company has already increased revenue from $77.4 million in 2019 to $179 million last year.

Now, Wall Street expects sales to more than triple year over year to $625 million in 2021 and surpass $970 million next year. These stellar growth rates in revenue should allow Columbia Care to improve its bottom-line from a loss per share of $0.48 in 2020 to earnings per share of $0.3.

Columbia Care has a presence in 18 jurisdictions across the U.S. and Europe where it operates 31 cultivation and manufacturing facilities.

The company generated $110 million in revenue in Q2 which was 232% higher than the prior-year period. Columbia Care has 73 active dispensaries and another 26 under development, enabling it to target a rapidly expanding addressable market that is forecast to touch $31.6 billion by 2026.

So, is Columbia Care a cannabis stock that can gain over 50%? Well, analysts tracking Columbia Care stock have a 12-month average price target of $9.38 for the stock which is more than 200% higher than its current trading price.

Green Thumb Industries

A cannabis giant trading 46% below its all-time high, Green Thumb Industries (OTC: GTBIF) is valued at a market cap of $4.4 billion. Headquartered in Illinois, Green Thumb Industries has 13 manufacturing facilities, licenses for 111 retail locations and currently operates in 14 domestic markets.

In the second quarter of 2021, the company’s revenue rose by 85% year over year to $222 million – driven by strong demand in Pennsylvania and Illinois. The Q2 of 2021 was also the fourth consecutive quarter where Green Thumb reported a profit, with a net income of $22 million compared to a loss of $13 million in the prior-year period.

Green Thumb currently has 65 retail stores and just opened a third store in the state of New Jersey which is a market that recently legalized cannabis for adult use. While retail sales in New Jersey are expected to begin next year, Green Thumb’s presence in the medical space will enable the company to gain traction in the highly competitive adult-use cannabis vertical as well.

So, is Green Thumb Industries a cannabis stock that can gain over 50%? Well, analysts expect Green Thumb stock to rise by 95% in the next 12-months given its average price target of $37.54.

Cresco Labs

The final stock on our list is Cresco Labs (OTC: CRLBF), another cannabis heavyweight valued at a market cap of $2.16 billion. A vertically integrated cannabis operator, Cresco Labs currently has 40 dispensaries in 10 states and has grown its sales from $43 million in 2018 to $476 million in 2020.

Most states have a limit on the licenses they are allowed to issue and this barrier to entry allows Cresco and peers to enjoy a competitive advantage in the markets they operate in. Cresco Labs reported revenue of $210 million in Q2, a rise of 123% year over year.

It reported a net profit of $2.7 million in Q2 compared to a loss of $41 million in the prior-year quarter. Cresco expects to generate $1 billion in sales by the end of 2021, making it among the first cannabis companies to reach the milestone.

We believe Cresco is certainly a cannabis stock that can gain 50%. Wall Street expects Cresco Labs stock to gain over 60% compared to its current trading price.

Canopy Growth Acquires Wana Brands: An Interview with Nancy Whiteman

On October 14, Canopy Growth announced their plans to acquire Wana Brands, the number one cannabis edibles brand based on market share in North America. The two companies entered into an agreement that gives Canopy the right to acquire 100% of the membership interests of Wana Brands (a call option to acquire 100% of each Wana entity) once a “triggering event,” such as when plant-touching companies begin trading on major US stock exchanges or full federal legalization, occurs.

As part of the agreement, Canopy Growth makes an upfront payment of $297.5 million to Wana Brands. Until the United States moves on cannabis legalization or companies can start trading on U.S. exchanges and Canopy uses the call option to acquire Wana Brands, they don’t get any voting or economic interest in Wana Brands. The two companies are essentially operating completely independently of each other until the US legalizes cannabis.

Nancy Whiteman co-founded Wana Brands in 2010 and since then the company has expanded significantly. Following the legalization of adult-use cannabis in Colorado, their sales skyrocketed. Over the next few years, Whiteman oversaw the company’s expansion into a number of new states. In 2016, they moved into Oregon’s market and quickly grew their brand presence, seemingly overnight. Then they expanded into Nevada, Arizona and Illinois in 2017. After that the company made a major East Coast push, expanding into Maryland, Florida and Massachusetts, with other major northeast markets expected to be added soon. The brand now has products available in twelve US states and nine Canadian provinces, with plans to add four additional states by the end of the year.

Nancy Whiteman, CEO & Co-Founder of Wana Brands

Shortly after the announcement, we sat down together over coffee in Las Vegas to discuss Whiteman’s journey to success, her plans for the company’s expansion and what the future might hold for Wana Brands.

Aaron G. Biros: First of all, congratulations on the acquisition. As a co-founder and CEO, it must be amazing to see the success of your company and all you’ve accomplished. How do you feel?

Nancy Whiteman: I feel ecstatic. I am so excited and so proud of what Wana has accomplished. Just all around a great feeling.

Biros: What was it like leading up to this moment? From the inception of the business, did you ever have any doubts you’d make it this far?

Whiteman: A thousand times. Absolutely. Anyone in cannabis that tells you they didn’t have any doubts is probably not being very honest. I had been thinking about partnership for a while. I felt the timing was right because of a variety of reasons, but also the possibility of federal legalization. I wanted to make sure that Wana was really going to be well positioned for future growth. One of the things that I said in our employee meeting – I quoted the old proverb of ‘If you want to go fast, go alone, but if you want to go far, go together.’ We’ve been going it alone for eleven years and we’ve gone very fast. But I want Wana to continue to be a major player in the industry and to go far. I really felt that this was the time in the industry to strike a partnership.

So that’s a little bit of the thinking behind it. I think when there is federal legalization, there is going to be a host of competitors entering the industry that are going to be unlike anything we’ve faced before. I think it’s going to be challenging for independent brands to scale as rapidly as they’re going to need to scale to compete against all of this new competition on their own. So that’s the why behind the timing of it.

Canopy_Growth_Corporation_logoIn terms of why Canopy, I’ve known Canopy for quite a while. I met them when we were looking for partners about three and a half years ago. We did not end up putting together a deal at that point in time, but I did get to know the company quite a bit. Since then that company has changed significantly with leadership changes and became a very different company with the Constellation Brands investment behind them.

When I think about the future of the industry and particularly post-legalization, I have certain things that I am looking for in partners. Of course, I am looking for financial strength in a partner. I was really looking for a company that has a very long-term perspective on the industry, with both the proper resources and the proper mindset to make long-term investments for the future. And then my belief is that post-legalization, we’re going to see radical changes in the industry including where products are cultivated in a global market, more distribution outside of dispensaries – and I think liquor stores could be a likely form of distribution at some point in time, so the relationship with Constellation was very interesting and appealing to me. But all of those things wouldn’t mean as much to me if I didn’t feel we didn’t have a good fit in terms of our shared values and how we saw the industry. We spent a lot of time talking about that and I think one of the aspects that really attracted me to Canopy was that we are very aligned on how we see the future of the industry shaping up. Certainly, I think there is a wonderfully viable position for cannabis as an alcohol replacement, however we also have a lot of focus on innovation and the health and wellness aspects of cannabis. I was really looking for a partner that felt the same, and it ended up that we really were aligned on those values.

Biros: What does it look like going forward? Since you’re staying on board, how will your new role change?

Whiteman: My new role doesn’t change at all actually. I woke up last Monday—the week after the big announcement–and it felt very normal getting back to work and having my usual meetings. This was my fifteen minutes of fame and thankfully its diminishing so now it’s just back to work as usual.

But moving forward, we have big plans. Wana is launching in four new markets over the next couple of months, we’re in discussions to launch in an additional six markets, and we have very robust innovation pipeline. So, we’re just really busy right now just executing on our strategy. I am looking forward to getting to know our new colleagues at Canopy better and exploring different collaboration possibilities.

I feel very optimistic. I was thrilled our employees were delighted with the news and morale is very high. The feedback from the rest of the industry has been really positive and overall, I am feeling very good about this decision.

Biros: So you mentioned some expansion plans for four new markets in the next few months. How does the acquisition help Wana Brands expand?

Whiteman: You know we haven’t announced the new states so I can’t speak to those publicly yet. They were all in the works before this deal and are currently in the process of being onboarded. Where it will get interesting is how this deal impacts new states that we move into. Until Canopy decides to exercise the call option [to acquire 100% of membership interests in each Wana entity], we are still an independently owned and run company. So we are still going to be looking for the best partners that we can find in new markets, and the Canopy connection will certainly be helpful to us. But to your point about the plans, we’ll be announcing those new market expansions in the coming weeks.

Biros: As a woman leader with an extremely significant position in the cannabis industry, do you have any advice for young aspiring entrepreneurs, women leaders or other women in the cannabis space?

Whiteman: I do. I posted something on LinkedIn the other day and I’m going to make the same comment to you as I made in that post because I think it’s important and particularly important for young women. People have said a lot of nice things about me in the past couple of weeks and of course everybody loves to hear nice things about themselves. But the truth is, some of them are not true. And one of them that is definitely not true is that I am somehow fearless. And I guess what I would say to women and young entrepreneurs is that fearlessness is a myth.

Being an entrepreneur is hard. You’re putting your money on the line, you’re putting your time on the line, you’re putting your reputation, you’re potentially putting your family’s, your friends’ and your investors’ money on the line. Who would not be afraid against that backdrop? We all have times of feeling fearful, of feeling anxious, of having sleepless nights. So, what I would say is don’t aspire to be fearless. There are other aspirations that are much more useful. For example, aspire to be resilient, aspire to be persistent, aspire to be of service to other people, aspire to be very true to your values and your strategy. Don’t let this mythology of what a “leader” is supposed to look like make you feel bad about your emotions. It’s not about having those emotions, it’s what you do with them.

That’s what I would say to young entrepreneurs and especially to women. Because I do believe that women hold themselves to a very high standard a lot of the time and have a lot of misconceptions of what they’re supposed to be living up to when it comes to leadership.

Biros: What an incredible perspective to have. Okay, one last question for you: what are you doing to celebrate?

Whiteman: So far, I’ve been too busy to celebrate! This just happened so recently. I would like to take a great trip with my kids. I don’t really know I have not had time to figure that out. People tell me I need to go to Disney. But right now, it’s still taking a little while to let it all sink in. 

Biros: Wonderful! And Nancy, thank you so much for your time I really appreciate it.

Whiteman: And thank you! So nice to see you in person.

The Path Forward to a Safer Cannabis Industry

By Roshan Sebastian
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Two decades ago, California became the first state to legalize the medical use of cannabis. In 2021, medical use of cannabis is legal is 36 US states, and 17 states allow adult (‘recreational’) use. This trend of rapid legalization of the cannabis industry, while encouraging for industry growth, attracts more attention from federal regulatory bodies such as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Following a number of incidents and near misses, cannabis facilities have been increasingly frequented by OSHA visits, leading to a spike in citations and fines. A review of past OSHA citations reveals that the most common citations in the cannabis industry pertains to the employer’s lack of awareness about the hazardous nature of some operations and materials handled in the facility. This leads to an absence of a formal fire prevention plan, lack of proper hazardous chemical training, deficiency in proper documentation related to workplace injury and limited evaluation of required personal protective equipment (PPE).1

Cannabis industry data suggests that as of today, an incident is often followed by an OSHA inspection.  This naturally leads to the facility asking, ‘How do we prepare for an OSHA inspection and prevent future citations?’ The answer is a combination of identifying and mitigating risks in advance to avoid incidents and developing management systems that support the identification and risk mitigation efforts. Recent collaboration between cannabis business owners and organizations that write codes and standards have provided a framework in which to address the industry’s unique safety challenges to help reduce inherent risk to a facility. These codes and standards typically impact building construction/safety features and operation of the facility, however, additional risk mitigation can be drawn from the best practices already in place in process industries with similar hazards. These process industries have embraced process safety management (PSM) programs, which are built around principles flexible enough to be successfully implemented in the cannabis industry. Adopting such programs will serve the dual purpose of improving the overall safety record of the cannabis industry while enhancing company sustainability2 and help avoid events that lead to OSHA citations.

Figure 1. Risk Based Process Safety Management System

The risk-based process safety (RBPS) approach developed by the Center for Chemical Process Safety (CCPS)3 may prove to be the most effective framework to implement PSM programs in the cannabis industry. Unlike the prescriptive regulatory approach provided by OSHA 29 CFR 1910.119, the RBPS methodology recognizes that not all hazards and risks are equal. By assessing risk, an organization can develop an effective management system that will prioritize allocation of limited resources to address the highest risks. Figure 1 shows the four foundational blocks (pillars) of RBPS and the various elements that make up each pillar.

If a cannabis business owner were to develop programs on each of the pillars presented in Figure 1, a comprehensive safety program would be in place that delivers sustainable risk reduction and mitigation.  However, as with any industry, the elements can be prioritized and tackled over time, starting with the elements having the most influence on the overall safety of a given facility. For example, a given facility may have great procedures and practices, but may not consistently train or instill employee knowledge or competency. Conversely, a facility may have personnel with great knowledge of hazards and risks, but are less developed with regard to documenting procedures, safe practices or training for new hires. Focusing available resources on the less developed elements will lead to an overall improvement in facility risk, leading to a lower likelihood of an incident and OSHA inspection.

Figure 2. Still image from surveillance video of an explosion at New MexiCann Natural Medicine in July 2015.

As with any industry, positive and negative public perception is driven by the media, which tends to focus on attention-grabbing headlines. The majority of past incidents reported in the news for the cannabis industry were explosions that occurred during the extraction process. One such extraction explosion, shown in Figure 2, occurred in July 2015 at the New MexiCann Natural Medicine facility in Santa Fe, New Mexico. With a focus on the ‘hazard identification and risk analysis’ pillar of RBPS, future such events may be mitigated.

Of the twenty RBPS elements, hazard identification and risk analysis (HIRA) stands out as having the highest potential for immediate impact on the cannabis industry’s safety profile.

HIRA is a collection of activities carried out through the life cycle of a facility to ensure that the risks to employees and the public are constantly monitored to be within an organization’s risk tolerance. The four major areas to analyze are:

  • Hazards – What are the possible deviations from the design intent?
  • Consequences – What are the worst possible consequences (or severity) if any deviation occurs?
  • Safeguards – Are there safeguards in the system to reduce the likelihood of this event?
  • Risk – Is the risk within the tolerable level? If not, what steps are needed to reduce the risk? (Severity X Likelihood = Risk)
Figure 3. A simplified HIRA flow chart for an Extraction Process

Let us consider an example case where the extraction process utilizes propane or butane as the extracting solvent. Figure 3 shows a simplified HIRA flow chart for the extraction process.

This systematic approach helps to understand the hazards and evaluate the associated risk. In addition, this approach highlights operator training as a crucial safeguard that can be credited to lower the overall risk of the extraction facility. Remember, lack of proper safety training (another element!) is one of the most cited OSHA violations in the cannabis industry. Another advantage to the HIRA methodology is that other safeguards that may be present can be identified, their effectiveness evaluated and additional risk reduction measures may be recognized. This will help business owners allocate their limited resources on the critical safeguards that provide the greatest risk reduction. Identifying, analyzing and solving for potential hazards is a key step in safe operation of a facility and avoiding OSHA citations.

While this article discusses only a single RBPS element, this example demonstrates how best practices from process industries can become a powerful tool for use in the cannabis industry. The “hazard identification and risk analysis” element of the RBPS approach is pertinent not only for the extraction process as discussed above, but also directly applicable to other aspects of the industry (e.g., dust explosions in harvesting and processing facilities, toxic impacts from fertilizers, hazards from the CO2 enrichment process in growing facilities, etc.).


References

  1. Top 5 OSHA Infractions for Cannabis Businesses
  2. The Business Case for Process Safety; 4th Edition; Center for Chemical Process Safety; 2018
  3. Guidelines for Risk Based Process Safety; Center for Chemical Process Safety: An AICHE Technology Alliance; published March 2007
  4. Video: Explosion rips through medical marijuana facility

The USDA & Controlled Environment Agriculture: A Q&A with Derek Smith, Executive Director of the RII

By Aaron Green
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Controlled environment agriculture (CEA) is a hot area of investment right now for the USDA, holding the promise of improved efficiencies and productivity for indoor growing operations. The cannabis industry, long accustomed to indoor growing has emerged as a spearhead in CEA innovation.

The Resource Innovation Institute has been supporting cannabis enterprises as a non-profit entity since 2016, providing a benchmarking platform called Power Score to help cannabis cultivators be more efficient with resources in their growing practices. Recently, RII submitted a proposal to the USDA to bring best practices from the cannabis industry to other CEA crop producers. They have also recently been responding to the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act, providing comments to frame an energy and environmental policy framework for future federal regulation.

We interviewed Derek Smith, executive director of Resource Innovation Institute (RII).  Derek engages RII’s advisory bodies, including the Strategic Advisory Council and Technical Advisory Council Leadership Committees and develops global partnerships and oversees the organization’s policy work. Prior to RII, Derek was CEO of Clean Energy Works and policy advisor to the City of Portland Bureau of Planning and Sustainability.

Aaron Green: What are RII’s plans for the USDA? I understand you’ve also been working on the CAOA recently?

Derek Smith: We’ve been working in cannabis for five years, publishing best practices and capturing data to inform governments and utilities on how much energy is being used. Our mission is to help producers become more efficient in their use of resources. In addition to informing policies that support producers, we also engage utilities to help them evaluate efficient technologies, so they can put incentives on them and so they can help buy down the cost for cannabis producers to install more efficient technologies.

We submitted a proposal to the USDA, saying we’ve been doing all that in cannabis. This was under the banner of a Conservation Innovation Grant, which is an innovation funding mechanism from the USDA. They specifically wanted something related to indoor agriculture and energy and water efficiency. So, we essentially said, we’ll give you a three-year project that will basically be the blueprint for the controlled environment agriculture (CEA) industry to transform itself toward a more sustainable production path. This applies to both the urban vertical farms growing leafy greens, as well as the growing greenhouse sector that is producing a range of crops, from tomatoes, to berries, to leafy greens to mushrooms, hemp, etc.

We’re essentially taking the Power Score benchmarking platform that we’ve been serving cannabis producers with to help them understand how competitive they are relative to the rest of the data set that we have on energy use and on water use and opening that platform so that more producers of other types of crops can use it. It also feeds into their Environment, Social & Governance (ESG) reporting needs.

We’re going to write a series of best practices guidance for CEA producers, covering a number of topics: facility design and construction, lighting, HVAC, irrigation and water reuse, controls and automation. This will all be very similar to what we’ve done in cannabis. These best practices guides are peer reviewed by subject matter experts throughout the supply chain. A lot of the supply chain in cannabis is the same in CEA. So, we’re bringing them all together to give this kind of good guidance to the producer community.

Green: You started with cannabis and created these white papers. Now you’re branching out into the larger CEA space?

Smith: Exactly. The federal government is literally funding us to develop a green building rating system like LEED, or like the Living Building Challenge, but for the CEA industry for indoor agriculture. The cannabis industry can leverage this federal investment and basically ride right alongside of it so that we can create a “LEED for weed” type of certification system.

Derek Smith, Executive Director of Resource Innovation Institute

That’s one of the main features in our comments to the CAOA when they asked, “what else should we be thinking about on any number of topics as it relates to federal cannabis regulations?” We proposed an energy and environment policy framework for federal cannabis regulation. We did that in partnership with a group called the Coalition for Cannabis Policy Education and Regulation (CPEAR). We just held a webinar two weeks ago. Hawthorne Gardening Company was featured on there as well. They’re very supportive of the federal government playing a “carrots rather than sticks” role as it relates to cannabis energy and environmental policy issues.

That’s essentially our platform at the federal level. The stuff that the USDA is funding us to do will come back and benefit the cannabis industry, because we’ll have this broader set of best practices guidance, data, etc. And then we’ll be able to leverage the federal investment into a certification system for the cannabis industry.

Green: The specific comments you made to the CAOA were primarily related to this energy efficiency certification system work you’ve been doing?

Smith: Yes. It’s more resource efficiency – it’s broader than just energy efficiency. Well, it was three things. So, I’ll just unpack this quickly. One, is learn from the states that have already initiated some form of regulation or support on helping producers be more efficient. Massachusetts is one example. They put lighting requirements on the industry that don’t explicitly mandate LEDs, but it comes close to that. California passed an energy code that will take effect on January 1 of 2023, that also has lighting requirements.

Green: Is this applied to all greenhouse growers?

Smith: Yes, at a certain size and level of energy usage. In California, it’s the first market where their Title 24 regulations apply not just to cannabis, but to all horticultural operations. Yes. So that’s what we’re seeing is that cannabis is sort of the tip of the spear for the way governments are thinking about policy for indoor agriculture more broadly. We’re trying to get them to focus more on having the federal government play a supportive role. The states are doing the regulation, the federal government can be more focused on carrots, not sticks, right?

So, back to the list of three things. Number one is learn from the states. Don’t add regulatory stuff, just learn what’s going on, and then decide about how to act. Number two is recognizing the need for data. So, supporting state requirements on energy and water reporting like Massachusetts, Illinois, California – a lot of states have either enacted reporting requirements, so the producers must tell the state how much energy and water they’re using and they’re using the Power Score benchmarking platform, which has a compliance function for free to do that reporting. Then what we’re doing is helping everybody understand what the aggregate data is telling us. We protect the producer’s confidentiality, and we’re building this valuable data set that’ll inform the market about what is the most efficient path going forward.

Then the third thing is focused on carrots, not sticks. For example, support the development of a certification system that recognizes leadership, that’s based on a market driven voluntary action by a producer where they say, “I’ll be transparent with my data, because I’d like to be showcased as a leader and get recognition for the good work I’ve done to create an efficient operation.” Then there’s valuation through the real estate transaction as well because you even have a plaque on your building that says this is certified to this agricultural standard.

That’s all the vision that we’re laying out, and we’re looking for partnerships at the MSO level to join in and be recognized and get in the queue as leaders for the investments they’ve made in efficiency.

Green: Great, thank you Derek. That concludes the interview.

Smith: Thanks, Aaron.

Flower-Side Chats Part 10: What’s Next for Audacious

By Aaron Green
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Flower continues to be the dominant product category in US cannabis sales. In this “Flower-Side Chats” series of articles, Aaron Green interviews integrated cannabis companies and flower brands that are bringing unique business models to the industry. Particular attention is focused on how these businesses navigate a rapidly changing landscape of regulatory, supply chain and consumer demand.

Audacious (OCTQB: AUSA) is an Aurora (TSX: ACB) spinoff formerly known as Australis Capital, Inc. They have focused on an asset-light expansion strategy whereby they leverage their expertise in designing cannabis facilities in exchange for favorable cost plus arrangements for a percentage of the facilities’ production.

We interviewed Marc Lakmaaker, SVP of Capital Markets at Audacious. Prior to joining Audacious, Marc worked with Terry Booth at Aurora. His background is in investor relations.

Aaron Green: Marc, how did you get involved in the cannabis industry?

Marc Lakmaaker: I was working for an investor relations agency. and one of my colleagues left and she had a cannabis client that I took over, which was Bedrocan, Canada. I started working with them. They were then acquired by Tweed, which became Canopy. The guy I was working with at the time at Bedrocan was Cam Battley, who then went to Aurora. As soon as he joined Aurora, he said, “I need some help.” So, I came in house and worked there until July 2019. When I left, I set up my own agency, but by that time, I’d been working with Terry Booth for a few years. Then, this past December, Terry got in touch with me and said he needed my help. It was after the concerned shareholders had won the shareholder battle around Australis and the rest is history. So, I’ve now been working with Audacious, which was Australis, since December of last year, roughly.

Green: Just quickly on Australis: So, Audacious is basically a spin off of Aurora, correct?

Lakmaaker: Correct. So, at the time, Aurora had a couple of US assets on its balance sheet, a piece of land an annuity through a company Michigan. We were listed on the TSX. We were going to list or had just listed on the NYSE and were arranging for loan facility with a syndicate of banks. They said, “even though these assets are dormant, you can’t have any US assets on your balance sheet.” So, we spun Australis off – a little bit how Canopy had spun off Canopy Rivers. But it was really the idea that Australis is going to become the foothold for Aurora in the US cannabis market because Aurora has back-in rights.

The management team was put in place and started making some investments in the cannabis space, but kind of drifted away, sort of more into FinTech. First, it was FinTech related to cannabis and then FinTech, full stop. That’s when the shareholders were like, “we don’t agree with this.” Then the proxy battle started in which the dissident shareholders, or the concerned shareholders, won overwhelmingly. The Board left. The management team left. A new management team was put in place, a new Board in place, and it was kind of a restart.

So, we feel like we’re a bit of a startup. But a very rapidly moving startup. We’ve done an incredible amount of work in just the last seven to ten months. There was a lot of housekeeping to do. A lot of stuff related to restructuring the company, dealing with the departing management teams, dealing with bringing new management, etc. There were some deals that had to be unwound… Housekeeping if you will.

Green: Australis went down the FinTech route. What are the plans for Audacious now?

Lakmaaker: We’ve already started. We pivoted right away. In early January, we announced two acquisitions. One of ALPS, and the other one of Green Therapeutics. ALPS is really what is enabling us to execute on our strategy. It’s a very different strategy. It’s an asset light model, because we figured out that in order to grow quickly in this market without spending huge amounts of shareholder money, you need to be able to get into markets in a capital-light fashion. ALPS is the world’s preeminent greenhouse design company. Not just greenhouses, but also indoor facilities. They’ve got a 35-year track record in fruits and vegetables. They’ve got an eight-year-plus track record in cannabis – and built some of the best facilities in the world. They’ve got a lot of IP.

Marc Lakmaaker, SVP of Capital Markets at Audacious (formerly Australis)

The proof point of that is our relationship with Belle Fleur. It’s a social equity license holder in Massachusetts. We helped them build their facility. We’re not contractors, but we do the design and engineering. We help them with partner selection. We do the construction management. We bring in a general contractor. Then we do the commissioning, and optionally, post-commissioning services, making sure that the facilities are dialed in. In return for all that IP, because what people know that what they get at the end of it is high quality, consistent cannabis and very low operating costs, we ask our clients to dedicate a certain percentage of their canopies to grow with our cultivars. Those we will buy back on a cost plus arrangement and we use that to launch our brands into whatever jurisdiction.

So, in Massachusetts, we’re working with Belle Fleur. We’re getting 10% of their canopy. We’re buying it back at cost plus 5%. So, we don’t have to sink money into building the facility. We’re not carrying the cost of capital there. We’re also not paying wholesale prices. And these relationships are locked in for a long time. I can’t remember if it was five or 10 years. So, it’s a very, it’s a different strategy, but it’s not contrarian – it’s very de-risked, that allows us to launch into new countries.

Then for Green Therapeutics, we’ve got a number of award-winning brands like Provisions and Tsunami. We’re kind of phasing out GT Flowers and there will be something else in its place. We also acquired Loose, which caters to a younger demographic, with a high potency shot beverage line that is now for sale in California.

We also have a partnership with PBR, the Professional Bull Riders Association. There’s some statistics around that that just absolutely blew me away – 83 million permanent fans! That’s 25% of the US population. I think the average income is $70,000. That’s well above the national average and the general split is fairly even too; it’s 53/47, male/female. Proper American sport! They have hundreds of hours of exposure on CBS. They’ve got 2 billion imprints on social media. So, with PBR, we launched Wreck Relief, which has several recognized and approved pain products in the lineup.

Green: What markets are you in right now?

Lakmaaker: Right now we’re in Nevada with cannabis products. This is our home market where our head offices are in Las Vegas. We’re in California. We just bought a dispensary in San Jose that comes with a partnership with Eaze. On top of that, we’re operationalizing in Missouri and Oklahoma, and officially building in Massachusetts.

Then through ALPS because they does both cannabis and non-cannabis, we’re in a number of states. We’re looking to get more of the supply deals. We’re also doing a lot of vegetable facilities throughout the entire world. We’re in Europe, we’re in Asia, in the Middle and in North America, we build these facilities from the desert up to the Arctic.

There’s a big movement right now to produce food that is safe and has a smaller carbon footprint. So, our facilities are kind of inherently more sustainable. They use up to 95% less water, less labor, less energy, they are less prone to disease, crop failure, everything. And because you are local producing for local communities, you reduce the transport carbon footprint.

Green: What in your personal life or in cannabis are you most interested in learning about?

Lakmaaker: I really like the sciences. I’m a chemical engineer by training. I think what is going to take an incredible flight in the years to come is the application of medical scientific research that’s being done right now. To me, that’s fascinating because the cannabis plant is something special. It’s got such a broad utility that we know, anecdotally. I think we’re moving towards a world where we’re going to see a lot of breakthroughs on the medical side.

I’m very excited about the other end too – cultivation. I think tissue culture is going to play an incredible and important role.

Green: Thanks Marc, that concludes the interview.

Lakmaaker: Cheers, Aaron.