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Ethan Zohn

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

By Aaron Green
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Ethan Zohn

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Green: What makes Momenta products unique?

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

Green: What’s next for Momenta?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Zohn: Thanks Aaron.

Quality in the Retail Ecosystem: A Q&A with LucidaClub Founder Jack Roosevelt

By Cannabis Industry Journal Staff
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The cannabis retail market is very unique. What began as compassion clubs and wellness centers in the early days of legal cannabis, eventually morphed into dispensaries, quickly becoming the retail model that regulators around the country adopted and businesses implemented.

For most states with legal cannabis markets, the dispensary has been the only way for consumers to buy cannabis and cannabis products. Before the pandemic began, we started seeing a handful of states warm up to allowing delivery services. During the height of the pandemic, more states adopted curbside pickup, e-commerce in some shape or form and delivery services that finally expanded cannabis retail beyond the dispensary. Still though, regulations hamper commercial growth in the retail space and the dispensary remains, by far, the place where most people buy their cannabis.

When Jack Roosevelt, co-founder of LucidaClub

When Jack Roosevelt, co-founder of LucidaClub, entered a dispensary back in 2019 in Massachusetts, he shared an experience all too common in the cannabis industry: An overwhelming number of options, jargon like sativa, indica and strain names that make no sense to the uninitiated, confusing product types and an all-around unpleasant shopping experience. Jack saw all those barriers to entry for the canna-curious or novice consumer and thought that there must be a better way to shop for cannabis.

So he started LucidaClub, a membership-based platform that is designed to guide and educate consumers with the advice of experts who can help people understand cannabis products and make the right purchase decision without all of the frustration and trial and error that is so common.

The name, Lucida, comes from a Latin phrase meaning the brightest star in a constellation. Jack and his co-founder, Lucinda, want their company to be the guiding star on your cannabis journey. LucidaClub isn’t just for the cannabis newbie; their in-house curator and team of experts can help any cannabis consumer find products to better fit their needs for sleep, wellness, relaxation, stress or just to have a good time. We sat down with Jack to chat about the cannabis retail market, what his company is all about and what the future of cannabis retail might look like.Jack Roosevelt will be speaking on the cannabis retail experience at the Cannabis Quality Conference & Expo. Click here to learn more. 

Cannabis Industry Journal: Tell us about your background and how you came to the cannabis space.

Jack Roosevelt: I began my career in finance, working for JP Morgan and Barclays. I left Barclays and joined a renewable energy start up before eventually joining the cannabis space.

My move into the cannabis space was due to an event in the summer of 2019. Adult use cannabis had been legal in Massachusetts since November of 2018. Now, I smoked some weed in high school and college, but hadn’t touched it in at least 20 years. However, cannabis was now legal, so I said maybe there’s an opportunity to find something that would help me unwind at the end of the day, help with sleep and manage some of my stress.

Knowing that I smoked in high school and college, I figured that buying weed was buying weed. How difficult could this be? That took me to going to a dispensary for the first time. Walking through those doors made me realize that buying cannabis today is nothing like buying weed back when I was in college. It’s a fundamentally different experience.

I stood there looking at the menu of strains, with names that meant nothing to me, jargon like terpenes, and even the idea of sativa versus indica at that time was foreign to me. Twenty years ago, we didn’t pay attention to the strain name or anything like that. We’d walk into someone’s dorm room and your option would be ‘this is twenty bucks an eighth, forty bucks an eighth and sixty bucks an eighth.’ You weren’t paying attention to the strain or the name of anything like that.

Coming into the dispensary that day, I thought I’d walk out of there with an eighth of flower and something to help me unwind at the end of the day. I walked out of there with a tincture and it really wasn’t because they upsold me to a better product, it was because it was the least worst option I could see on the menu. It was something I felt that I could understand from a dosing standpoint and it was something that didn’t require knowing the strains or names that mean nothing to me. I was quite frankly looking for the easiest way to purchase something and get out of there as quickly as possible

Sitting in the car afterwards, I was mulling over that experience, the feeling of intimidation, how awkward it was, how frustrating it was. I am 6’8” and 300 pounds I am not a small guy, and I’m not a wallflower. I don’t intimidate easily, so if this was my experience, what was this going to be like for everyone else?

That made me reexamine and take a stronger look at the retail market and the potential growth. How do you engage the consumer like me, for whom there are lots of barriers to entry, most of which are perception-driven. Some of the barriers are regulatory and geographic, but most are perception based. Here in Massachusetts, a lot of the dispensaries are in inconvenient locations. Not all towns allow for rec sales, and not all of those towns that do will allow a dispensary to open on the High Street, so consumers often times have to drive out of their way to get to a dispensary.

So, for me understanding what this new consumer base would look like and how they would come into the market was key. Obviously there would be a natural growth progression for the cannabis market. However, if we could build something to help guide people, answer their questions and make them feel comfortable with what they were buying and how to consume, really hold their hand in the initial stage of a consumer coming back into the market or coming in for the first time, then we could help grow the market quicker and put that natural progression of growth on a faster track.

That experience made me start to do some market research, look at the market size, and what that potential market could look like. Our research shows that, depending on the maturity of the market in question, there are between 1.5 and 4 times the number of Cannacurious sitting on the sidelines than there are active consumers in a market. Here in MA, conservatively there are at least 1.5MM Cannacurious sitting on the sidelines, waiting to come into the market. Because our research showed such a large opportunity he in MA and the Northeast, where we live, we decided to focus our efforts here.. Because we are Cannacurious consumers ourselves, we have a natural understanding and empathy for the consumer. I was definitely not and still am not an expert on cannabis. But if we can find the right experts that can answer the questions that we have then we can do the same for the Cannacurious. For 70+ years, we’ve been told that cannabis is bad, smoking weed is bad and everything associated with it is bad. So, we want to break that negative perception, that stigma that is still lingering and open it up to a more mainstream consumer.

CIJ: What gave you the idea to start Lucida Club?

Jack: What I just told you sums it up pretty well. It was basically built out of personal frustration. I thought that if I had this problem, those feelings of intimidation, awkwardness and frustration, then undoubtedly a lot of other people would too. Therefore, we’re looking at how we can create a platform that would make the buying process as simple and convenient as possible, while educating the consumers at the same time.

CIJ: How does Lucida Club work?

Jack: It’s a concept of simplicity and convenience. There are two sides to this: The E-commerce side, when you sign up and become a member and you want to make a purchase, all you have to do is answer three questions: What experience do you want? Do you want to smoke something or not? And how much money what do you want to spend? We put together three experience packages with three key price points, around $100, around $150 and around $250.

It is based on available inventory, which products and price points match up with different packages. We have fully integrated with Flowhub and are doing the same thing with some other POS systems as well. We see the inventory for our retail partners on a live basis. When one of our members makes a purchase, if they choose the sleep, nonsmoking, $100 package and put that option in their cart, by the time it populates in their cart, our platform has already gone to the dispensary inventory, we’ve allocated their inventory by experience and by order preference. So it will put those top two or three or four items in the cart automatically. The consumer doesn’t have to worry about what brands are available.

We’ve done all the work for them. They just need to pay attention to what experience and price point they want and we take care of the rest.

The other side of our business involves our head curator who combs through all the inventories and manages the product selection. But he also works with with our members as a concierge. When you sign up for our service, you automatically get a free consultation with our head curator, which we encourage all of our members to do before they make their first purchase. That way, we can answer all your questions and make sure the package is really tailored towards you individually. You also get a follow up consultation, which helps to guide additional advice and make sure you get the experience you’re looking for. On top of that, we’re also trying to advance consumer education through a lot of content, answering common questions and help to guide consumers on their journey with cannabis and the role it can play in their lives.

CIJ: How do you think you are innovating the cannabis retail experience?

Jack: When I was sitting in the car that fateful day back in 2019, I looked at retail the same way everyone else does: you build a store, an e-commerce platform, you have a product you’re trying to sell and focus on the product itself. What opened my eyes being the consumer that day was that cannabis unique.

We’ve been told for decades about how bad cannabis is for us and for society and these negative connotations have been drilled in to us. We need to look at the retail space from the consumer’s perspective and the barriers to entry that they feel. It’s not something that a regular retailer can do easily.

By definition, a brick-and-mortar retailer, needs to be everything to everybody, for all of their customers. They have to work with the connoisseurs, the regulars that have been consuming for a long time, who really understand what they’re looking for. At the same time, they need to engage with the canna-curious, the newbie that’s walking in the door for the first time. It’s difficult to focus on one market segment for them. If they were to focus all of their efforts on just the canna-curious, they would be missing out and losing traction and not engaging properly with their other customer bases.

We have the ability to engage with a very specific market segment, the Cannacurious, which is a very large group of people by the numbers but still niche. Our research shows that there are at least 1.5 million Cannacurious in Massachusetts alone that are either sitting on the sidelines or engaging in the market in a very small way. We’ve spoken to a lot of people that have other people make purchases for them, their sister or brother going to a dispensary that feels comfortable picking up a single package of edibles for them. That’s a form of hand holding that we want to provide. We want to make consumers feel comfortable and educate them on how they can choose products for the experience they want.

In my mind when we look at the cannabis space, it’s about how we can help people come into the marketplace, how we can help open their eyes to a litany of other opportunities for them and also how to approach things from a consumer perspective.

CIJ: What do you think the future of retail in cannabis looks like?

Jack: That’s a tough question because so much of that is driven form a regulatory standpoint. I know where I think it would go if regulators were just there to make it easy for consumers and for everyone to do business. It changes so much state to state and market to market. In retail in general, so much is moving online and on to e-commerce. Where you have a situation where people actually understand what they want and they tend to buy the same products on a regular basis, e-commerce is great and easy for them to make a purchase. Delivery opens a lot of doors as well with that. But again, it’s really difficult to look at what is going to happen because the market is so fragmented from a regulatory standpoint.

It won’t develop in one direction easily. Delivery is an option but we don’t have it on a mass scale in Massachusetts. It’s the same with e-commerce. Technically in Massachusetts, purchasing online is not an easy thing to facilitate. It still has to be done at the point of sale in-person with pickup and it hampers e-commerce. This potentially slows down how the market could develop. I definitely know where it could go, but looking into that magic eight ball will still be very cloudy if you ask it for an answer. Sorry, I have to obfuscate things a little there because it’s just so hard to figure out what the regulators will greenlight next and where they want the market to go.

We really just don’t know. There are so many ways to look at that question. If you’re a brick-and-mortar dispensary right now and you’re looking at how the market itself is growing in the state of Massachusetts, it’s tough to say. We went from about sixty licensed retailers during the height of the pandemic to well over 200 now. There’s going to be some consolidation. Whether that means that the growth of MSOs will proliferate and everything will be homogenized going forward, I don’t know what that could mean because at the moment it’s very difficult to have that full homogenization when you’re only allowed to have a handful of retail licenses. How do any of the MSOs gain real traction with three locations? If that changes, if you go somewhere like Florida where the rules are different, you see the true growth of the MSO with dozens of retail locations. Here, we still have a lot of mom-and-pop retailers along with a lot of much smaller MSOs who might have locations in one or two other states.

E-commerce will bring a lot to the market and help brands grow significantly. How we grow depends almost entirely on what the regulatory environment looks like. There are so many different things we could do with our platform, but we are so hampered by the regulations in just this one market alone. We built our platform and business model the way we did because it allows us to be flexible and adapt. As we move into a new market, we can build relationships and new markets open up. It’s all about being flexible if you can be.

Cannabis Quality Conference & Expo

The Cannabis Quality Conference & Expo is an educational and networking event for the cannabis industry that has cannabis safety, quality and regulatory compliance as the foundation of the educational content of the program. With a unique focus on science, technology, safety and compliance, the “CQC” enables attendees to engage in conversations that are critical for advancing careers and organizations alike. Delegates visit with exhibitors to learn about cutting-edge solutions, explore three high-level educational tracks for learning valuable industry trends, and network with industry executives to find solutions to improve quality, efficiency and cost effectiveness in the evolving cannabis industry.

Cannabis Quality Conference & Expo logo

Cannabis Quality Conference Dates, Location Announced

By Cannabis Industry Journal Staff
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Cannabis Quality Conference & Expo logo

EDGARTOWN, MA, Feb. 21, 2022 – Innovative Publishing Company, Inc., the publisher of Cannabis Industry Journal, has announced the return to in-person events with the Cannabis Quality Conference & Expo (CQC), taking place October 17-19, 2022 at the Hilton in Parsippany, New Jersey. Presented by Cannabis Industry Journal, the CQC is a business-to-business conference and expo where cannabis industry leaders and stakeholders meet to build the future of the cannabis marketplace.

“Cannabis markets in New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts are all beginning to get off the ground,” says Aaron Biros, editor of Cannabis Industry Journal and director of the Cannabis Quality Conference. “Taking place in a pivotal year for the cannabis industry and in a location surrounded by new market opportunities, the CQC will deliver hands-on education, networking and business discussions. The venue setting, just a short train ride from New York City and Newark International Airport, coupled with highly focused content, creates a unique business meeting environment.”

The 2022 program will have three separate tracks of educational presentations and panel discussions, focused on Regulations & Policy, Safety & Quality and Business & Operations.

Due to safety protocols and venue restrictions, limited space is available for sponsors and attendees. The CQC is a hybrid event, meaning attendees will have the option to either attend in-person in New Jersey, or attend remotely via the virtual platform. Registration is now open. Click here to stay up to date on lodging, early bird pricing, keynote announcements and more.

The CQC is co-located with the Food Safety Consortium, which will take place immediately following the CQC, October 19-21, 2022. For sponsorship and exhibit inquiries, contact RJ Palermo, Director of Sales, and Chelsea Patterson, Account Executive.

About Cannabis Industry Journal

Cannabis Industry Journal is a digital media community for cannabis industry professionals. We inform, educate and connect cannabis growers, extractors, processors, infused products manufacturers, dispensaries, laboratories, suppliers, vendors and regulators with original, in-depth features and reports, curated industry news and user-contributed content, and live and virtual events that offer knowledge, perspectives, strategies and resources to facilitate an informed, legalized and safe cannabis marketplace.

About the Cannabis Quality Conference & Expo

The Cannabis Quality Conference & Expo is an educational and networking event for the cannabis industry that has cannabis safety, quality and regulatory compliance as the foundation of the educational content of the program. With a unique focus on science, technology, safety and compliance, the “CQC” enables attendees to engage in conversations that are critical for advancing careers and organizations alike. Delegates visit with exhibitors to learn about cutting-edge solutions, explore three high-level educational tracks for learning valuable industry trends, and network with industry executives to find solutions to improve quality, efficiency and cost effectiveness in the evolving cannabis industry.

Flower-Side Chats Part 11: TILT Holdings

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.

TILT Holdings (NEO: TILT) is a publicly traded cannabis company with business divisions including Jupiter Research, distributor of CCELL in the US, as well as cannabis operations Commonwealth Alternative Care in Massachusetts and Standard Farms in Pennsylvania and Ohio. Unlike many publicly traded companies, TILT has focused their business on B2B sales staying away from retail operations. TILT recently announced a partnership for vertical cannabis operations with the Shinnecock Nation on Long Island, New York called Little Beach Harvest.

We interviewed Gary Santo, CEO of TILT Holdings. Prior to joining TILT, Gary worked at Columbia Care where he was the vice president of investor relations. Gary has a background in finance with several startup companies.

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

Gary Santo: My career started about 26 years ago in finance at a startup. It was a financial services intermediary startup company where we did a lot of B2B work. From there, I branched out and continued to work with what I consider to be startup companies and companies going through a massive transformation. What’s been interesting is no matter whether that industry is finance, or whether it was gaming and leisure – where I was doing casino equipment – or whether it was life sciences, there were all so many common threads to how those businesses work. They were all complex and all had stories that needed to be told.

Gary Santo, CEO of TILT Holdings

I looked at cannabis around 2017 or 2018. A friend of mine said, “you should really look at this space, because this could be a great way to cap off your career. It’s an emerging space. It’s a story space. It’s a space that’s just looking for some level of normal operational competency.” So, I was lucky enough to find Columbia Care. I joined them back in 2019 and helped take them public. They were the first cannabis company I had seen that was focused on being pragmatic and operational, not flashy, like so many of the companies that went public. They showed me that there is a way and a path in cannabis, that can be pragmatic, that can be operational, and where certain business rules do in fact, apply.

In July of last year, in the middle of COVID, I joined TILT, because I saw an opportunity to have that rebirth story, that complete turnaround story. It’s a B2B story that fits almost every part of my career up to this point.

Green: You have business units within TILT that span a diverse array from cultivation to manufacturing and technology. How do you see the business units of TILT working together in synergy?

Santo: That was the first question that was posed when I joined. We had three divisions at the time. We had our technology and accessories division with Jupiter that focused on inhalation. This includes the power packs, the cartridges, all the packaging that goes into that and also packaging for cannabis in general, not just for vapes. We had the software and services division in Blackbird which also does a bit of distribution in California and Nevada. Then we had our plant-touching side with vertical operations on the East Coast.

We quickly figured out that the software and services were not a place where we had good line of sight. That market is very competitive and irrationally priced. So, we leaned into the other two parts of the business which were profitable. TILT went through a rebirth when it went public with the same kind of wide mandate in 2018 that a lot of companies had back then. They had acquired some interesting assets. Jupiter has been profitable since day one. On the plant-touching side, we have assets in Massachusetts and Pennsylvania, that are in underserved, limited-license and supply-constrained markets, and those were profitable as well.

The way they work together is if you think about Jupiter’s business model, they are a distributor of the CCELL vaping technology. It’s a ceramics-centered cart. They were instrumental. The founder of Jupiter, who’s the chair of our board, Mark Scatterday, really helped the Chinese factory, Smoore, who owns CCELL and the patents on CCELL, to develop that technology from their use in the tobacco space, which is where it had been for quite some time, and bring it into the cannabis space.

Jupiter has always had a forefront position as a distributor. We have our own R&D shop, but the way we sell there is B2B. We will sell vape cartridges and power packs either as stock items with Jupiter and CCELL logos or on a customized basis. If there’s a bespoke mouthpiece or something we can take one of our existing designs, white label it and put different badging or color combinations.

The CCELL business grew to over 700 customers, including MSOs, LPs, brands, and in about 36 different states and in 15 countries. As we looked at how best to lean into our plant-touching assets coming into 2021, the question was, could you replicate that where you own more of the supply chain? The issue with being a distributor is if you don’t own enough of the supply chains, the margins aren’t quite as eye-popping as they are in the plant-touching side. So, we’ve built a robust wholesale business, selling into about 90% of the retail stores in Pennsylvania from our manufacturing and distribution facility, and selling into about 50 or 60% of the retail stores in Massachusetts from our operations. We thought that created a strong window for us to do the same exact thing: offer up our facilities to create product whether it be on a bespoke basis with one of our brands, or a white-label basis, or straight-up contract manufacturing. We then leverage that distribution network, and that’s where the pieces all started to fit together.

We started this year with probably about 15-20% of our revenue was coming from people who were customers of both plant-touching and non-plant-touching businesses. We’re up to over 30% now and really, we just started leaning into the strategy in the start of 2021.

Green: In Q2 TILT showed continued growth in revenues and EBITDA with the Q3 report recently released. Where are you seeing growth in revenues right now? What’s got you excited?

Santo: With Jupiter, it’s been great to watch the vape industry come back. I think you could not have thrown much more at the vaping industry than what was thrown out there in late 2019, with the vape crisis rolling right into a respiratory pandemic. I think what we saw there was consumer demand remains strong. For every percentage point vaping was down, smokable flower is up. So, inhalation is clearly the absorption method of choice.

Obviously, the utility and the convenience of the vape was less important to people working from home. You can now smoke a pre-roll, whereas you’d never do that in your office setting. You might go outside and take a quick draw on a vape and then go back to work. That’s one of the reasons we saw a little bit of choppiness in 2020. We started to see that that business come back towards the end of the year with a lot more consistent ordering, and this year, it’s gone into full throttle. All-in-ones – the disposables – have returned to ordering so that means more power packs and more cartridges. It’s been a pleasant return to normalcy.

Now, I think Jupiter has been outpacing the broader vaping market in terms of year-over-year growth. That’s exciting granted the margin profile is certainly not as eye-popping as the plant-touching businesses. With Jupiter, we’re talking mid 20%’s on gross margin and low-to-mid teens on EBITDA.

Plant-touching aspects are where we’re super excited. These are facilities that a little over a year ago, prior management was thinking of selling off mostly because they thought there was tremendous value there. And it made sense. When I joined the firm, one of my first jobs was to look at a strategic view of the entire company and break down each of the business units. It became very clear that Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and recently Ohio, we’re going to be the significant growth engines for us, but not necessarily in retail.

A lot of the MSOs go and play in several stores and focus on sales per square foot. We are leveraging that B2B wholesale strategy. That’s exciting to us and the approach that we’re taking. It’s not about selling bulk flower. It’s not about selling just our own brands. It’s about really partnering with brands that are going to be coming from West to East. Whether it’s California, Washington State, or Colorado, brands that have managed to stake out a claim in the most hyper-competitive spaces in a race to the bottom market in terms of pricing, have held their price point and held their ground. We think they play exceptionally well here on the East Coast where we’re just getting started. The East coast is nowhere near the depth of market that you see over in California.

What we offer, what makes it exciting, is that we’re not trying to buy those brands. We think brands are where this industry is going. But we don’t know which brands are going to win any more than anyone else does. We know it’s expensive to own a brand and it’s hard to keep a brand fresh. So, we’re doing partnerships and those partnerships are literally on a SKU-by-SKU basis. In some cases, it’s a straight licensing deal, and in other cases, we share the gross profit. Brands come in, like Old Pal, for example, and we’re able to educate them on how different it is to sell their ready-to-roll pack in Massachusetts compared to what they do in California from the packaging to the formulation, and what can be on the labels, all those kinds of things. It’s been eye-opening.

The feedback has been better than I would have ever expected. I knew we would land a few brands. I wouldn’t have thought we would have already signed four brands on something we just announced strategically in January. We had MJ BizCon, where we were getting hit up all over the place with additional brands. I think between that, and then the work we’re doing in New York State, it shows that we’re differentiated and how we’re approaching this market. We’re in this to last, not to just squeeze every last basis point and ride the wave into the shore. We want to still be out here playing in the ocean in any market, whether it be this market, the legalized market, or whatever the market throws at us.

Green: When you are partnering with brands, what does that look like?

Santo: It depends on the jurisdiction. In Pennsylvania, you can’t really do pre-rolls there. You can’t sell the ready-to-roll pack that comes with a lighter. I can sell the pouch with flower, but I can’t sell you rolling papers. I can’t sell you a lighter because you might “figure out how to put that all together and smoke a joint.”

Part of the issue is being able to marry what makes that brand, “the brand?” And how do we keep that brand fidelity when we know we have certain restrictions, whether it’s medical-only market in Pennsylvania, or THC levels in Ohio. That’s where we spend time working with the brands, helping to develop which SKUs they want to see hit the market first. Everybody says they want to be a number one brand in every market and it’s not realistic. You might carve out a niche if you want to be number one in a certain type of product. We work with brands to figure out where their niche is going to be.

Green: You recently announced a partnership with the Shinnecock Nation. How did you decide on a partnership with them? Why does it make sense? And can you talk to kind of the tribal aspect of it and how that differentiates you in the New York market?

Santo: We had been looking across the Northeast and want to build sort of some type of Northeast corridor for brands to come East because we think having that tri-state region right would be distribution most of these brands would love to have. We had been looking for ways to get into New York. It is incredibly expensive and incredibly difficult. We saw deals earlier this year. One was $75 million for the old MedMen assets and money has to be invested into building out the growth facility further.

My former shop, Columbia Care, spent about $45 million purchasing a bunch of greenhouse space on eastern Long Island. We thought the return on that kind of expense was just not there.

So, looking at how we look at brands and how we look at the market in general, we love partnerships where both sides are incentivized. An investor introduced us to Conor Green. They are a shop out of Chicago, and they had been advising a lot of different Native American tribes, including Shinnecock, on how to enter the cannabis space. We were very impressed when we met with the Shinnecock on how they were viewing cannabis. A lot of people want to just get in and ride that green wave I talked about and don’t fully understand how to translate the passion for the plant into a functional operating company. I was incredibly impressed by the thoughtful, pragmatic way the Shinnecock worked through setting up their cannabis control infrastructure on their sovereign grounds. They had their own standalone Cannabis Control Commission, setting up the regulations to mirror very closely what was going on in New York state where they are ready should that time come where wholesale can occur across sovereign state lines. They were really being thoughtful about what they were looking for in a partner.

A rendering of Little Beach Harvest, a dispensary and “wellness lounge” proposed for Southampton

We like the location out in eastern Long Island. The next closest dispensary is about 30 minutes away. It’s a great neighborhood with good access. We’re creating a vertical operation that has a large dispensary selling on the tribal grounds. The numbers look great. Once wholesale comes, and we do think wholesale will come to the state, the ability to reach all of New York State from that tribal ground is incredible. We have the ability to expand the facility if the demand is great. They’ve already approved adult-use on tribal grounds. Little Beach Harvest, which is the name of the Shinnecock enterprise we’ve partnered on, does have to go through the process of applying to the Shinnecock Cannabis Regulatory Division to get approval. But they’ve already got all the framework in place for both medical and adult-use. So, it gives us a chance to really get going strong in New York.

From a dollars and cents point of view, it only costs $700,000 to get in – about half in cash half in stock. If Conor Green hits their milestones and we get open when we think we can, there could be another two and a half million or so in stock. Every dollar we put in is now going towards building the facility, not towards just the right to build the facility.

We love this deal from a social equity standpoint. It’s unique. This is not a facility we will take over and own. At the end of the day, it is owned by the Shinnecock. They will be receiving 75% of the free cash flow. Our contract runs nine years and it’s got some automatic extensions if we hit certain milestones. If we decide to build bigger, that opens up the contract again. It’s a symbiotic relationship. We provide financing. We provide training. We provide the horsepower to help them scale. They provide the license. They provide the passion and the understanding of the plant, and really a great group of folks who are so interested in investing and seeing a true economic, sustainable engine out on that plot of land. We couldn’t be more excited.

Green: What trends are you following in the cannabis industry right now?

Santo: We are keeping our eyes on where the form factor is going. CPG is where we think the world is heading to at some point. I think in Massachusetts, it moves quicker. When you look at Pennsylvania, and as you watch these markets trying to transition from purely medical to medical and adult-use, we’re seeing some grinding of the gears. Some states did a great job. Pennsylvania is a little bit of a no man’s land where right now the legislature and the Department of Health are fighting with each other, saying one got ahead of the other. So, it’s hard to get new products approved. If you can’t get new products approved that migration towards adult-use becomes that much harder. You would want to broaden out the form factors. So, we are keeping an eye on what’s allowable in those states.

We are also keeping a strong eye on how we can expand further with additional partnerships, maybe in New Jersey, maybe in Connecticut, who knows? We must be responsible. Those deals take a while to find and a while to get done.

In the Northeast, there’s been a slowdown in cannabis sales. I think it’s too soon to know exactly what’s driving that. But it’s also an industry that’s going to normalize at some point from these explosive growth rates that have been reported for all these years. It was inevitable it was going to start to slow down. That’s what happens with mature industries.

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

Santo: I think every day I find instances of new uses for the plant. I was not one who thought much about cannabis growing up. I was a bartender. I was kind of on a different side of the world. But cannabis is amazing. I first was introduced to use cases by my dad. He’s suffering from arthritis in his knees, and he had gotten a medical card. He was getting CBD and THC balms that he puts on his knees.

As I look deeper into the plant, it amazed me that if this was a plant that was discovered today, and nobody knew anything about it, you’d probably be buying it down the aisles of Whole Foods. It’d be in every drugstore. It’d probably be over-promoted at that point. But it’s got that long legacy of prohibition, and social inequity. So, it’s making it harder to adopt. Obviously, being Schedule 1 doesn’t help either.

I am excited to see more and more people start to incorporate it responsibly in their mainstream lives and really promote a lot of that counterculture. It really is no different than other ways that people use to manage stress and anxiety and manage pain. That’s what keeps me coming to work each day, frankly. No, we’re not saving lives necessarily. But at the end of the day, I think we really are improving them and giving people alternatives to opioids and benzos and things like that. So, I think as long as that keeps happening, I’ll still be here.

Green: Okay, great. That concludes the interview.

Santo: Thanks, Aaron.

Flower-Side Chats Part 9: A Q&A with Andrew Thut, Chief Investment Officer of 4Front Ventures

By Aaron Green
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In this “Flower-Side Chats” series of articles, 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 integrate innovative practices to navigate a rapidly changing landscape of regulatory, supply chain and consumer demand.

4Front Ventures Corp. (CSE: FFNT) ( OTCQX: FFNTF) is a multi-state operator active in Washington, Massachusetts, Illinois, Michigan and California. Since its founding in 2011, 4Front has built a reputation for its high standards and low-cost cultivation and production methodologies earned through a track record of success in facility design, cultivation, genetics, growing processes, manufacturing, purchasing, distribution and retail. To date, 4Front has successfully brought to market more than 20 different cannabis brands and nearly 2,000 unique product lines, which are strategically distributed through its fully owned and operated Mission dispensaries and retail outlets in its core markets.

We interviewed Andrew Thut, chief investment officer of 4Front Ventures. Andrew joined 4Front in 2014 after investing in the company in 2011. Prior to 4Front, Andrew worked in investment banking and later moved on to public equity where he was a portfolio manager at BlackRock.

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

Andrew Thut: I came at it from the investment side of things. I started my career as a junior investment banker right out of school and then I was a public equity analyst and Portfolio Manager. I ran small-cap growth portfolios for BlackRock where I was on the team for a better part of 11 years.

Andrew Thut, Chief Investment Officer of 4Front Ventures

One of my friends, Josh Rosen, who came from the finance industry, got interested in the cannabis industry really in 2008. He founded 4Front as a consulting company officially in 2011 and I came in as an investor. After that original investment, I left BlackRock and I was looking for something different to do. I was tired of chasing basis points and running public market portfolios. Josh said to me “This industry needs more talent,” and I became more and more involved at 4Front as the years went on. In 2014, I came into the business full time. Originally, I was someone that was kind of the gray hair in the room when we were applying for licenses. We had to go to different municipalities and convince them that we were going to be responsible license holders. I also spent a lot of time on the capital raising side for our business leveraging my career in corporate and more traditional public finance. These are incredibly complex businesses that require a fair amount of capital in some places. So, that’s how I originally got into the business.

These are complicated businesses in a lot of cases. The “sausage making” in cannabis is incredibly complicated. There’s friction at every step along the way. As an example, when you’re buying a building where you want to cultivate your product, you can’t get a mortgage from a typical bank.

While those of us that have been in the industry like to gripe and complain about it, this friction is also the opportunity. Because more traditional investors can’t invest in this industry yet, it allows us more time to build our businesses and have some protective moats around it from a competition standpoint until those folks do come in. So, all this friction is a pain and it’s brutal, but it’s also the opportunity here in cannabis.

Green: Can you speak to the transformation of 4Front from consulting to MSO?

Thut: The original business was consulting. Our original investor was sensitive about touching the plant – it’s one thing to offer services to a federally illegal business, it’s another thing to directly run a federally illegal business. For example, 4Front would have consulting clients that were interested in acquiring a license in Massachusetts. Because of our expertise and our standard operating procedures, we could apply for licenses in limited license states on behalf of our clients and help them show regulators competence and give the regulator’s confidence that these operators knew what they were doing. So, we would help our clients win the licenses and then once those licenses were won, our operations folks would come in and help them get up running.

When I came into the business we said, “well, geez, we have quite a track record helping clients win licenses and get open. If we’re good at winning these licenses and getting them open, why aren’t we just doing this on our own behalf?” So, in 2015, we shifted the business from consulting to being a multi-state operator. We leveraged our capabilities in regulatory compliance and winning licenses to go and get those on our own behalf. We also leveraged our financial expertise in M&A to add to our portfolio, so what we ended up with was a seven-state portfolio at the time.

Green: Chief Investment Officer is an uncommon title, even in the MSO space. What does your day-to-day look like?

Thut: I spend an awful lot of time helping management plot our strategy, and then figuring out how we are going to pay for our growth. Not only structuring finances for the company, but also having contact with our existing and new investors.

I spend a lot of my day to day thinking about where we want to be as a business and what geographies we want to be in. If you look at cannabis longer term, we have less interest in being cultivators or farmers. We think that’s going to be the most quickly commoditized piece of the value chain. We like retail as a business, but I think that we have less interest in managing hundreds of retail locations scattered across the country. We ultimately want to be a finished goods manufacturer. What we think is going to matter longer term is establishing low-cost production.

There is a lot of price elasticity in the end markets for cannabis meaning if you get customers a quality product at a much better price than the competitor, you’re going to take outsize market share. To offer that lower price, you have to be efficient. Over the years, we have figured out how to bring the labor cost out of our production. We have 25 different brands with 1000s of different SKUs of products that have dominant market share in states like Washington. And we’re now putting them into Illinois, Massachusetts, California, Michigan, and hopefully New Jersey.

Green: Do you have a preference towards acquisition, or do you seek growth through internal investments?

Thut: We are always weighing build versus buy. We want our products to have dominant market share, or very strong market share in every state we are in, and we have a lens towards what gets us there faster and most efficiently. For instance, we have two cultivation facilities and one production facility here in Massachusetts – about 15,000 square feet of canopy in the state. That will just about serve our three retail locations in Massachusetts.

Back to our bigger investment thesis, we believe that we should be a finished goods wholesaler in every state that we’re in. We know our products are incredibly well received and we know that consumers love our price point. In Massachusetts, for instance, we’re currently evaluating if we need more capacity from a cultivation standpoint and a production standpoint. And if we do where do the lines cross in terms of whether we should build versus buy that additional capacity?

We are currently in five states, including our facility in Washington has dominant market share in one of the toughest markets in the world for cannabis – somewhere close to 9% market share in Washington. Our brands are in the top 10 of every single category from flower to vapes, to edibles everything across the board. And what we’re doing our strategy is simple. It’s taking those tried-and-true products and operating procedures that have been so effective in Washington, and we’re replicating them in other states where we have licenses: Massachusetts, Illinois, and Michigan, California and hopefully New Jersey. We’re looking for more state, but we want to be deep in the states we’re in.

We also have a lot of confidence that you know, having been having translated some of these, having been able to effectively take our Washington success story and port it to other states. We’re looking for other states to sort of bring into the portfolio because we feel like we’re in a position now to stamp it out.

At our facility in Washington, which is the number one edibles manufacturer in that state, we produce the edible Marmas which is our the number one selling gummy in Washington. We produce 3,500 boxes of those in one shift using 25 people in Washington. Our facility is one of the lowest cost producers in the country.

We are opening what we think is going to be a very disruptive facility in Southern California right now. The facility is 170,000 square feet of purely automated finished goods production. So, rather than making 3,500 boxes of our gummy squares in one shift using 25 people, with the automation that we have in California, we can make 30,000 boxes. So, 10x one shift for the same number of people. We look more like the Mars Candy Company than most investors would think of when they see a typical cannabis company. We’re bringing that kind of scale and automation.

Green: What are some of the industry trends that you’re watching closely?

Thut: We keep a close eye on limited license states. States like Massachusetts and Illinois. For various reasons Massachusetts is very tough to get zoned. So, there’s going to be a limited number of players in a state like Massachusetts, which means you can have pretty good moats around your business and pricing will hold up over several years. We love limited license states like that, where price is going to hold up. On the other hand, we’re not afraid to enter a state like California where we think our low-cost production expertise uniquely qualifies us to go into a huge market like that and be disruptive and take a lot of the pie.

“You’re starting to see the market expand. There’s some anecdotal evidence that we’re taking a fair amount of share from the beer industry.”What we’re seeing in terms of industry trends, particularly on the THC side of this business, has just been phenomenally strong. You’ve had robust medical markets where, by and large, we’re seeing those dominoes start to fall quickly and going recreational. When that happens, the size of the market increases – call it from 2% of the population to as much as 10% of the population. So, from a state regulatory standpoint, having states go form medical to adult use is a huge deal in terms of the market opportunity.

We’re also seeing states get a lot more comfortable with the idea of selling cannabis. I’ve been around for close to seven years in this industry. When I started and I went into a municipality, and I said we wanted to open a cannabis store you’d have people following me to my car with pitchforks. As these municipalities open and public acceptance comes around, people are realizing that these stores are providing jobs and providing a good tax base for communities. So, the acceptance of cannabis has a snowballing effect that just continues to roll.

It’s not just the ultra-frequent users of cannabis who are totally driving the bus in terms of the demand growth for your business. You’re starting to see the market expand. There’s some anecdotal evidence that we’re taking a fair amount of share from the beer industry. So, the fundamentals of this industry are phenomenal. I think that we’re probably in the second inning of what is a mega-trend of legalization of cannabis and the investment opportunity here.

Green: I think one of the interesting things about the fundamentals is you’ve got this hardship of 280E, that all the companies are facing, and yet you still have groups that are surviving, profitable and growing. What are your thoughts on 280E’s effect on cannabis businesses? Do you foresee anything happening there?

Thut: There was a huge liquidity crunch in cannabis in 2019, meaning it was hard for people to come up with capital to grow their businesses. You had a bunch of companies that had licenses who didn’t really know how to operate and weren’t really focused on profitability. That liquidity crunch of 2019 made people get religious about being profitable and being efficient with capital allocation. Fast forward to 2021 and if you look at the top 10 cannabis MSOs in the US, I think we’re all profitable.

So, here you have an industry with accelerating top line growth and they’re already profitable. That profitability should only improve as you’re able to leverage your operating expenses and that’s a unique thing. When the internet craze was started in 1999 you had companies that a weren’t profitable, didn’t have business models, and no one really knew what they wanted to be. You have companies here in cannabis that are growing the top line 50% a year, and they’re profitable, and they’re trading at under 10 times EBITDA, which is totally disjointed.

Sen. Schumer unveiling the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act

So, that leads me to your question on to 280E. 280E has been a problem. Banking has been a problem. Having to list our companies over the counter instead of on exchanges like the NASDAQ and NYSE – that’s been a problem in terms of attracting capital. But the good news is Senator Schumer, Senator Booker and others have put out some bold initiatives on what they want to achieve from a legalization standpoint. From an investment standpoint, the biggest thing that investors should be focused on is access to banking, which is included in the senators’ proposed legislation.

Once we get access to banking services, the federal government is basically acknowledging cannabis as an industry will be able to not only have more traditional financing for our growth, but it will also lead to uplift into exchanges and real institutions like the Fidelity’s and the BlackRock’s of the world being able to come and invest in these companies. It also acknowledges 280E is an antiquated law. Getting rid of 280E will give us a much lower tax rate and will allow us to have a bigger proportion of our pretax cash flow into growing our businesses rather than having to go outside for that funding. My crystal ball is probably no better or worse than others in the industry, but if you fast forward 18 months to two years, I have a tough time seeing 280E still in place.

Green: Last question here. What’s the thing you’re most interested in learning about in the cannabis industry?

Thut: I’m just fascinated to see how these various business models will play out. People are placing bets on picks and shovels. People are placing bets on whether being a finished goods manufacturer works. People are placing bets on whether a retailer business model is going to win the day.

If you look at the leadership in the cannabis industry today, it’s totally different than it was four years ago. People that were foregone winners four years ago like MedMen had to do significant recaps. I put Acreage in that sort of bucket too. The leadership had shifted and so I’m really curious to see just from an intellectual standpoint, how this business evolves.

I sometimes scratch my head, you know, do you really want to be a cannabis company with 200 retail locations? You’re going to have a tough time growing same store sales in three to five years in 200 retail locations. So, I’m just most curious in proving out our thesis of being finished goods producers and low cost finished goods producers in the value chain. I’m most curious in seeing how that plays out. I think we are seeing our strategy play out in the most competitive markets in the world. We have a high degree of conviction that we’re on the right track here, but our eyes are always open and we’re always making little pivots here and there trying to make sure to stay on top of the sweet spot in the value curve.

If you describe the cannabis industry generically and you didn’t say cannabis, you said “widget” I think it’s the most fascinating Business School case ever presented. If you’re taking this market that already exists, it’s just illegal. So, all it needs to do is switch from the black market to the legal market and then you’re always trying to plot a course and steer the ship towards where the highest value creation can be. So, I’m fascinated to see how it’s going play out here.

Green: That concludes the interview. Thanks Andrew!

Thut: Thanks Aaron.

Legalization in the Northeast: Where the Dominoes are Falling

2021 has been very fruitful for cannabis legalization in the northeastern United States. First New Jersey legalized adult use cannabis, then came New York, then Connecticut, and now it is looking like Rhode Island should be able to get it done this year. Although technically not in the Northeast, Virginia also legalized adult use cannabis this year.

Quintessential New England: The Rhode Island coastline.

Those states are following in the footsteps of Maine, Massachusetts and Vermont who have all legalized cannabis previously. In addition, legislators in Pennsylvania and Delaware are both trying to advance bills to legalize adult use cannabis. While New Hampshire has a lot of support for legalization, progress in the legislature has stalled for now. And that just about covers the entire Northeast.

In a very interesting chain of events, the Northeast is legalizing adult use cannabis at a rapid pace in 2021. The incremental progress is similar to the history of legalization in the western United States and the events leading up to 2016.

In Rhode Island, senators approved Senate Bill 568 and now heads to the House where a legislative session ends in less than a week. While it is doubtful that representatives will be able to get it done before the end of the month, it is entirely possible that they could pass the bill and legalize cannabis before the end of this year.

Following Connecticut and hopefully Rhode Island, Pennsylvania lawmakers are building bipartisan support for legalization and are expected to introduce a bill soon.

Soapbox

A Look at the Rise Of The East Coast Cannabis Market

By Serge Chistov
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The rise of the East Coast cannabis market gained another foothold in late March 2021 when New York became the most recent state to legalize adult use cannabis, joining ranks with other Atlantic stalwarts, including New Jersey, Maine, Massachusetts, Vermont, Virginia and Washington, D.C.

In doing so, it opened the door to an industry that many experts agree could exceed $7 billion annually, once the market is fully established. That’s potential the cannabis market hasn’t seen since Washington became the first Pacific state to legalize adult use cannabis, almost 10 years ago (followed shortly after by Colorado, then Oregon in 2014 and California in 2016).

Unfortunately, the leaders of this great country have yet to follow suit, and cannabis remains illegal at the federal level. For those in the cannabis market, this means that state-licensed cannabis businesses must cultivate and sell their products within the confines of the state in which they are licensed. Nothing can cross state lines. Even if a business is licensed in both Vermont and New York, it can’t ship product from one state to the other without running afoul of federal legislation. Most in the East Coast cannabis market view this as a negative.

Virginia became the first state in the South to legalize adult use cannabis

While it certainly makes things more difficult, a small group of forward-thinking investors and entrepreneurs see this for what it really is: an opportunity to get in on the ground floor and establish state-specific grow operations and other supply-chain waypoints, where none or few currently exist. Think of the current state of the East Coast cannabis market as a beachhead. Right now, the industry is defined by state lines. But when the federal government finally legalizes adult use cannabis from coast to coast—and it’s only a matter of time before it does—those state lines will essentially disappear. When they do, the beachheads established now will become the infrastructure for the entire Eastern seaboard.

Take Virginia, for example. It shares its border with five states that have legalized medical cannabis but have yet to cross the bridge into adult use sales (West Virginia, Maryland, Kentucky, Tennessee and North Carolina). A Virginia-based grow operation built now has the potential to serve not just those five states but other contiguous markets including Pennsylvania, Ohio, South Carolina, and even Alabama, Georgia and Indiana. A relatively small investment now could pay huge dividends in just a few years, when the market literally blows wide open.

It’s this incredible potential that makes the rise of the East Coast cannabis market one of the most important developments in the last five years. And while the potential scale of grow operations and other cannabis businesses is certainly essential to the conversation, let’s not forget that “niche products” within the East Coast cannabis market are still very much up for grabs.

If the past decade has taught us anything, it’s that consumers are willing to pay a premium for high-quality, organically grown cannabis. Both new and long-time cannabis enthusiasts will choose — even demand — high-quality, organically grown cannabis that looks, smells and tastes fresh and doesn’t rely on harmful fertilizers, heavy metals or pesticides. They’re also enthusiastic about supporting brands that have a commitment to sustainable, eco-friendly operations.

The demand for high-quality, organically grown cannabis continues to increase

It’s very much like the current trends we see in the grocery store aisles. Manufacturers and consumers alike are seeing the value of “whole foods.” After decades of relying on heavily processed fare, both suppliers and end-users are benefiting from higher-quality ingredients. Consumers want to know what’s in the stuff they’re putting into their bodies. When it comes to cannabis, they want to know that what they’re taking to alleviate their anxiety doesn’t include harmful chemicals. This demand has the capacity to push revenue even higher.

And when the dam finally breaks and businesses can ship product from state to state, the idea is for growers to be well-positioned geographically to become suppliers of high-quality, organically grown cannabis, for every state east of the Mississippi.

Cannabis businesses in states such as Colorado have had the past decade to prepare for the coming boom, but that doesn’t mean it’s too late to join the party. The rise of the East Coast market parallels what Colorado and the other Pacific states experienced in the early-to-mid teens—the potential to become a very real industry, with huge capacity for growth and profit. Get in on that action now!

The East Coast cannabis market—and, indeed, the entire U.S. market—also sits on the verge of another game-changing trend: following in the footsteps of other markets and realizing sooner rather than later that high-quality, organically grown, eco-friendly cannabis is the next stage of the game. Few investors and entrepreneurs see that right now, but the astute businessperson can capitalize on both trends now and position themselves and their businesses for huge returns in the very near future. The rise of the East Coast cannabis market makes that a very real possibility.

MCR Labs Opens Pennsylvania Location

According to a press release sent out last week, MCR Labs just opened their newest facility in Pennsylvania. The laboratory, based in Allentown, PA, began accepting and testing cannabis samples last week.

A lab technician at MCR Labs weighs flower for testing.

MCR Labs became the first independent cannabis testing lab to get certified in Massachusetts. The lab based in in Framingham, Massachusetts (a little west of Boston) is ISO 17025:2017 accredited.

Michael Kahn, president and founder of MCR Labs, believes this is a huge step for their company. “We’re excited to be expanding and excited for the opportunity to carry out our mission of advancing public health and safety here in the Keystone State,” says Kahn.

The Allentown, PA facility is led by Julia Naccarato. “I’m grateful to MCR for the opportunity to offer the team’s expertise to Pennsylvania’s cannabis providers and to help ensure the safety of products they offer to medical marijuana patients,” says Naccarato.

CORRECTION: ProVerde’s Portland, Maine Location Temporarily Closed

By Cannabis Industry Journal Staff
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Editor’s Note: This article has been edited and updated upon receiving comments from ProVerde Laboratories. This article originally stated that ProVerde was not licensed, but that was incorrect as the company had a 6-month temporary license from the state.


ProVerde Laboratories has cannabis testing laboratories in Milford, Massachusetts and Portland, Maine. They have been operating in Maine for several years now, well before the existence of any licensing process. According to the Press Herald, the city of Portland, Maine shut down ProVerde Laboratories, prohibiting them from conducting business in their Maine location and forcing them to remove cannabis products from the premises. However, the lab was shut down for a seemingly innocuous reason: city permits.

The city issued citations for operating without a permit or a business license back in December, hence why the city shut down the laboratory this month, pending a reinspection in February. ProVerde has already applied for a change-of-use permit, but that process was still in review when the lab was shut down.

The Press Herald says that because of the still pending review process, ProVerde does not have approval from Portland to operate. Citing a violation notice, they say that ProVerde had not yet applied for a cannabis testing facility license. ProVerde had been issued a temporary license, but that expired before the application for a full license was completed.

However, things get a little murky because Chris Hudalla, founder and CSO of ProVerde, told the Press Herald that Maine only requires testing licenses for adult-use labs, not medical testing labs. He is asking for clarification from regulators.

When reached for comment, Hudalla told Cannabis Industry Journal that last April they were given a 6-month temporary license. “When the Maine regulators created a pathway for licensure for adult-use marijuana testing, we started the process for the application of that license,” says Hudalla. “However, as I’m sure you well know, application processes for any type of marijuana license are complex and time consuming, worsened by the impact of COVID, when we had less staff resources available to work on the application.”

Hudalla went on to add that even getting out-of-state fingerprinting for Maine is a challenge, as local police departments were not letting the public in the police station to get fingerprinting, and Maine would not accept electronic transmittal of digital fingerprint records. “We had not completed our application when the temporary license expired, and no extension of the temporary license was granted. Based on that, we were asked to halt our laboratory operation until receipt of that license, which we complied with immediately.”

Until the reinspection next month, Proverde’s operation in Maine looks like it is currently on hold. However, Hudalla says they are working with the State and the City of Portland to get back up and running as quickly as possible. “Our application is in progress, and we are working to get the lab back into operation.”