Curaleaf Holdings, Inc., a Florida-based cannabis company operating in 23 states and Europe, made two big announcements earlier this morning. First, they acquired Bloom Dispensaries for $211 million. As part of the acquisition, Curaleaf is purchasing Bloom’s four dispensaries in Phoenix, Tucson, Peoria and Sedona. They also acquired Bloom’s cultivation and processing facilities outside of Phoenix.
Bloom’s revenue last year was near $66 million, with EBITDA margins above 40%. Boris Jordan, executive chairman of Curaleaf, says the Bloom acquisition is huge for the company’s position in Arizona, a state with a billion-dollar-market. “Bloom is an excellent strategic fit for Curaleaf as it further expands our capacity and retail footprint in Arizona with an attractive set of assets, enabling us to better serve the state’s US$1.4 billion-plus annual market opportunity,” says Jordan. “Adding to these benefits, Bloom will be immediately accretive to our adjusted EBITDA margins.”
Now that they have 121 retail locations across 23 states and over 5,000 employees, Curaleaf is on a path to become one of the largest cannabis companies in the world.
According to Matt Darin, president of Curaleaf, their growth strategy is continuing well into 2022. “We are excited to kick off this year continuing our momentum of expansion and growth in Florida,” says Darin. “Throughout this year our patients can expect to see Curaleaf continue to lead the Florida market with new innovative products and convenient new locations.”
Canadian cannabis giant Tilray (NASDAQ:TLRY) announced its fiscal second quarter of 2022 results last week. The company reported net revenue of $155 million in Q2 which was an increase of 20% year over year. Tilray attributed these gains to its expansion in verticals that include alcohol as well as hemp-based wellness.
Despite an uptick in sales, Tilray’s gross margin reduced by 7% to $32.8 million as the Canadian cannabis market continues to wrestle with oversupply issues resulting in lower-priced products. Alternatively, Tilray claimed its cost-reduction program is running ahead of schedule and it expects to save $100 million by 2023, up from its earlier forecast of savings of $80 million.
Tilray reported a net income of $6 million in Q2, compared to a year-ago loss of $89 million. The fiscal second quarter was also the 11th consecutive quarter where Tilray reported an adjusted EBITDA. This figure stood at $13.8 million in Q2.
Tilray stock rose by 15% in the two trading days following its Q2 results.
What impacted Tilray in Q2 of fiscal 2022?
Tilray explained its Q2 results were solid as it has successfully built a cannabis and lifestyle brand. Further, the company continues to benefit from its scale, global distribution capabilities as well as operational excellence allowing it to increase sales and maintain profitability despite macro-economic headwinds.
The company enjoys strong brand recognition and is focused on ensuring an adept pricing environment. It also believes marketing adjustments will allow Tilray to aggressively capture market share going forward.
Germany is the largest medical cannabis market in Europe where Tilray has a 20% share. It’s well-positioned to capture the adult use cannabis market as well in Europe, if and when cannabis is legalized in this region.
Tilray, similar to most other producers aggressively acquired companies in the past. Its acquisition of the U.S.-based SweetWater Brewing and Manitoba Harvest provides it a foothold in the world’s largest cannabis market. These two companies have invested in product innovation to enhance awareness and distribution.
Further, SweetWater and Manitoba Harvest are profitable and provide Tilray an opportunity to launch THC-based products in the U.S. when pot is legalized at the federal level.
What next for TLRY stock?
During its earnings call, Tilray disclosed its new parent name called Tilray Brands. It reflects the company’s evolutions from a Canadian licensed producer to a global consumer packaged goods company with a leading portfolio of cannabis and lifestyle CPG brands.
Tilray aims to post annual sales of $4 billion by 2024 which is quite optimistic given analysts expect revenue to grow to $980 million in fiscal 2022 and $1.2 billion in fiscal 2023. In order for Tilray to reach its lofty goals, it will have to acquire other licensed producers resulting in shareholder dilution.
Germany is expected to legalize marijuana at the federal level, making it the largest country to do so in terms of population. Tilray already has an EU GMP-certified facility operating in Germany which can increase production capacity to accommodate demand from the adult use segment.
Bottom Line: Is Tilray Stock a Buy Post Fiscal Q2 Results?
While Tilray’s stock gained pace, following its Q2 results, investors should understand that it was estimated to report revenue of $171 million in the quarter. Despite the cost synergies enjoyed by Tilray, the adult-use market in Canada is crowded as well as highly fragmented and should consolidate in the upcoming years which will allow companies to improve the bottom line.
Tilray stock is valued at a market cap of $3.2 billion which suggests its forward price to sales multiple is over 3x. Unlike most cannabis producers in the U.S. Tilray continues to post an adjusted loss making it a high-risk bet at current multiples.
By Abraham Finberg, Simon Menkes, Rachel Wright No Comments
When Montana became a territory in 1864, its legislators chose as its motto the Spanish words “Oro Y Plata” which means “Gold and Silver.” Gold and silver discoveries brought people to the new territory in droves, and everyone expected to get rich.
Nowadays, the newest gold rush to open up in Montana is the state’s adult use cannabis market, which began operation this past January 1, 2022. The Cannabis Control Division (CCD) of the Montana Department of Revenue expects total adult sales in 2022 to top $130M. With a population just over a million residents, that works out to about $120 per person, which would be more than California’s benchmark $111 per person. Montana’s cannabis industry is expecting exciting and enriching times ahead!
We advise our Montana clients to be cautious, however, and to keep an eye on the “cannabis tax ball.” Why? You can be killing it in sales but still get dragged under by a heavy tax burden, especially in adult use sales, or worse, not keep up with your tax obligations and run afoul of the Department of Revenue or Big Brother IRS.
Montana’s initial foray into cannabis began in 2004, when the state passed Initiative I-148, allowing patient cultivation and use of marijuana but left the legality of commercial sales ambiguous.1 The government reactionaries jumped in and used legislative action to tighten and limit that law.2 Then, in 2016, Montana voters legalized the medicinal sale of cannabis with I-182,3 and in 2021, adult use was legalized with I-190, allowing existing dispensaries to sell recreationally beginning January 1, 2022 in counties which voted yes on the initiative.4,5
From a federal taxation standpoint, of course, Montana’s cannabis operators are only allowed to deduct Cost of Goods Sold under Internal Revenue Code (IRC) 280E, and in general, the state of Montana’s tax code conforms with the Internal Revenue Code.6,7 However, the Montana Department of Revenue departed from the IRC in 2017 and allowed normal business deductions for licensed (legal) cannabis corporations.8 The Montana Department of Revenue also interpreted the law for pass-through entities and individuals with licensed cannabis operations to allow deductions of ordinary and necessary business expenses.9 This is what makes it possible to do business in cannabis in the state of Montana.
But what about Montana’s cannabis taxes? How big are they, and how do they compare with other states?
Montana charges a regular sales tax as well as either a 4% cannabis tax on medical sales or a 20% cannabis tax on adult use (recreational) sales.10 Some good news: wholesale sales are exempt from this tax.11 More good news: Both the retail tax and the regular sales tax are exempt from the taxable price i.e., the state does not charge “tax on tax.”12,13 However, be warned: be careful of offering discounts as it is assessed on the regular retail price rather than the actual discounted price.
Montana assesses the Cannabis Tax on the retail price and excludes discounts or even product given away.14 As of this writing, Park, Yellowstone and Missoula (medical only for Missoula) Counties have an additional 3% Local Option Tax based on the same state retail price definition with an exclusion for discounts or gifted products.15
So, with all these different taxes, is Montana actually a low tax state for cannabis? To begin with, the state is at least “in the ball game” by allowing the deduction of regular operating expenses on state income taxes. In addition, Montana has a relatively low tax which only applies at the retail level for medical sales and a relatively high tax on adult use. Adult use tends to be the vast majority of sales for dispensaries, so this does not bode well for retail cannabis operators.16
But before you throw in the towel and start looking to move to California (or Oklahoma, another cannabis-friendly state), a look at the whole Montana cannabis picture provides a rosier outlook. Montana income tax is relatively low, and since cultivators and manufacturers do not have to pay any cannabis excise taxes (especially as compared to California, with its cultivation tax and a functional 27% excise tax charged to retailers – a tax theoretically assessed to the consumer but in reality charged by a distributor to a retailer) or cultivation taxes on weight that enters the commercial market. All-in-all, Montana is actually a low-tax state for cannabis operators!
Disclaimer: This article has been prepared and published for informational purposes only and is not offered, nor should be construed, as legal advice.
Author’s experience with clients from California Oregon, Washington State and Nevada; states with both adult use and medical sales as of this writing. Montana does not have a commercial adult use program as of this writing.
Here we are entering a new year. Finally, many states in the United States have agreed to legalize adult-use cannabis either through medical or adult-use programs. In 2021, we saw Connecticut, New Mexico, New Jersey, New York and Virginia all legalize adult-use, bringing the total to 18 states that now allow adult-use and 36 for medical use.
State-led initiatives have been the backbone for this emerging industry. Yet, it’s the advocates who are moving the ball forwards through education, research and real-world case studies showing the benefits cannabis can have across many medical ailments. These grassroots efforts must stay vigilant and persist considering the slow progress on the Federal government level.
It isn’t so much a matter of “if” Washington will legalize cannabis, but a matter of “when.” There has been some progress with the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act to end the federal criminalization of cannabis. Also, the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act, allowing cannabis businesses to work with traditional financial institutions was established and introduced. In 2021, the number of cannabis-focused advocacy groups on the Hill multiplied and large public companies like Amazon even turned their attention, and lobbying dollars, towards cannabis issues too.
Unfortunately, these two significant bills mentioned above are moving slowly through the political process and will take a concerted effort to get them across the finish line any time soon. It’s a delicate balancing act that will continue for the foreseeable future as we navigate our way through regulation and compliance issues.
I live in New York, and over the last several months watching counties and municipalities opt-in or opt-out for dispensaries and consumption sites has been fascinating. The Rockefeller Institute of Government has created a Marijuana Opt-Out Tracker. The data shows – 730 out of 1,521 municipalities opt-out of dispensaries and 830 out of 1,521 opt-out for consumption sites. You can see the opt-out number is relatively high. The insights show local municipalities are taking a wait-and-see approach, seeing how the initial rollout goes, and then opt-in later.
The data doesn’t correlate for me because if you look at a recent Gallup poll, 68% of adults in the United States approve of cannabis and 18% of Americans admit to using it, up from 10% in 2005.
There is still a disconnect that will require ongoing advocacy and education/research to present fact-based data that cannabis is safe to consume in moderation. Cannabis consumers should have the ability to purchase cannabis products from legal and regulated industry infrastructure in their town and not have to travel over an hour to get products from another location.
I have been in the cannabis industry since late 2017. Over the last four years, the industry has matured across many fronts, including new consumer products, processing technologies, dispensary formats and buying channels. However, I believe ongoing advancements from advocates, new manufacturing processes and technology platforms will lead the cannabis industry into a fully functional marketplace that is regulated and taxed relatively like any other industry.
As the adage goes, all good things are worth waiting for, and a high percentage of global adult individuals want to move forward with cannabis in their lives. Once we start categorizing cannabis as a wellness product and not a gateway drug, we will see both government and industry move quicker together.
This is the second piece in a two-part conversation with the founders of Veda Scientific, CEO Leo Welder and CSO Aldwin M. Anterola, PhD. To read part one, click here.
In part one, we chatted about their backgrounds, their approach to cannabis testing, their role in the greater industry and how they came into the cannabis industry.
In part two, we’re going down a few cannabis chemistry rabbit holes and realizing that what we don’t know is a lot more than what we do know. Join us as we delve into the world of volatile compounds, winemaking, the tastes and smells of cannabis, chicken adobo and much more.
Aaron: Alright so you mentioned the GCxGC/MS and your more advanced terpene analysis. How do you envision that instrument and that data helping your customers and/or the industry?
Leo: Some of the things that we envision will help is a better understanding of what compounds and what ratios will lead to desirable outcomes, things like better effects, aroma and flavor. By better understanding these things it’ll help the industry create better products.
I have a personal connection to this. My wife has some insomnia and she’s always had to take various forms of OTC pharmaceuticals to help with sleep. She tried using a 1:1 vape pen and it was a miracle worker for her for several months. The local dispensary had a sale on it, and she bought some extra. Unfortunately, even though she used it the same way as before, she got very serious anxiety, which obviously didn’t help her sleep. Every time she used the vapes from this same batch, she felt the same extreme anxiety. Sadly, she now had a lot of this product that she couldn’t use because it kept her awake rather than helping her sleep, so she went back to trying other OTC solutions. That’s a problem for both consumers and the industry at large. If people find something that works and provides a desired effect, they need to be able to rely on that consistency every time they purchase the product, leading to similar outcomes and not exaggerating the problem. That’s why I think consistency is so important. We’re taking two steps forward and one back when we have inconsistent products. How do we really grow and expand the availability of cannabis if we lose trust from our consumer base? What a lab can do and what we can do is provide data to cultivators and manufacturers to create that consistency and ultimately allow the market to expand into other demographics that are currently wary and less tolerant of that variance.
On a similar note, we have been having a lot of discussions with the CESC [Clinical Endocannabinoid System Consortium] down in San Diego. They are an advanced cannabis research group that we have been working with for over a year. We’ve started looking at the idea of varietals. To be more specific, because I’m not a wine connoisseur, varietals are the pinot noirs, the cabernets and sauvignon blancs of the industry. In the cannabis industry, consumers have indica and sativa, though we still argue over what that concept really means, if anything. But for the sake of argument, let’s say we have this dichotomy to use as a foundational decision tool for consumers- call it the red and white wine of the cannabis industry. How inaccessible would wine be if we just had red or white? Imagine if you went to a dinner party, really liked the wine you were drinking, and the host could only tell you that it was a red wine. You can’t go to a wine store and expect to find something similar to that wine if the only information you have is “red.” At a minimum, you need a category. So that’s what varietals are, the categories. The data that we can produce could help people in the industry who identify and establish the varietals based on their expertise as connoisseurs and product experts to find what those differences are chemically. Similarly, we’re also looking at appellation designations in California. So, we want to help provide tools for farmers to identify unique characteristics in their flower that would give them ability to claim and prove appellation designation.
Aldwin: The GCxGC/MS allows us to find more things besides the typical terpene profile with 20 or 40 terpenes. It allows us to go beyond those terpenes. The issue sometimes is that with a typical one-dimensional GC method, sure you could probably separate and find more terpenes, but the one dimension is not enough to separate everything that coelutes. And it’s not just terpenes. Some terpenes coelute with one another and that’s why people can see this inconsistency. Especially if you use a detector like an FID, we can see the compound limonene on the chromatogram, but there’s another terpene in there that is unknown that coelutes with limonene. So, this instrument is helping us get past the coeluting issue and solve it so that we know what peaks represent what terpenes.
The other bonus with our GCxGC/MS is that the coeluting compounds that were masked behind other terpenes are now revealed. There is a second dimension in the chromatogram where we can now detect some compounds in cannabis that would be hiding behind these large peaks if it were just a one-dimensional GC. Besides terpenes, we’ve found esters, alkanes, fatty acids, ketones, alcohols and aldehydes, as well as thiols. The terpenes are so plentiful in cannabis that these other compounds present at lower levels cannot be seen with just one-dimensional GC. There are just so many compounds in cannabis that the ones in small amounts are often masked. My analogy to highlight the importance of these minor compounds is like a dish; I am from the Philippines and I like chicken adobo. My father does it differently from my mom and someone else will do it differently in a different region. The base of the sauce is vinegar and soy sauce, but some people will do it differently and maybe add some bay leaf, garlic, pepper, or a touch of another spice. It’s still chicken adobo, but it tastes differently. Just like in cannabis, where yes, you have the same amount of THC in two different plants, but it’s still giving you a different experience. Some people say it’s because of terpenes, which is true in a lot of cases, but there are a lot of other volatile compounds that would explain better why certain dishes taste different.
Leo: There’s been some recent developments too here that show it’s very significant. It’s like the difference between bland and spicy. And it could be the thiol. We identified a thiol in cannabis at the same time as other scientists reported an article that just came out on this subject.
Aldwin: Thiols are sulfur containing compounds that produce very powerful odors, giving cannabis the skunky smell. Skunks also produce thiols. It is very potent; you only need a little bit. It turns out that yes, that paper described thiols and we also saw them in our GCxGC/MS. These are the kinds of things that the GCxGC can show you. Those very tiny amounts of compounds that can have a very powerful impact. That’s one that we know for sure is important because it’s not just us that’s finding out that GCxGC can detect this.
Not everything is about THC or the high amount of the compounds in the flower. This paper and our concurrent findings indicated that the skunkier smelling strains contained very small amounts of thiols and you can recognize their presence quite readily. It’s not a terpene, but it’s producing a distinct flavor and a powerful smell.
Aaron: Okay, so why is this useful? Why is it so important?
Leo: I would say two things in particular that we know of that are issues currently, both related to scents. We mentioned this earlier. We do know that farmers with breeding programs are trying to target particularly popular or attractive scent profiles, whether it be a gas or fruity aroma. Right now, when they get the flower tested and review the terpene profile, it isn’t enough information to help them identify what makes them chemically distinct. We hear time and again that farmers will say their terpene profile is not helpful in identifying specific scents and characteristics. They are looking for a fingerprint. They want to be able to identify a group of plants that have a similar smell and they want a fingerprint of that plant to test for. Otherwise, you have to sniff every plant and smell the ones that are most characteristic of what they’re targeting. For larger operations, walking through and smelling thousands of plants isn’t feasible.
Once we can identify that fingerprint, and we know which compounds in which ratios are creating the targeted aroma, we can run tests to help them find the best plants for breeding purposes. It’s about reproducibility and scalability.
Another value is helping people who are trying to categorize oils and strains into particular odor categories, similar to the varietals concept we’ve been talking about. Currently, we know that when manufacturers send multiple samples of oils with the same or similar scent to be tested, the results are coming back with significantly different terpene profiles. There is not enough data for them to chemically categorize products. It’s not that their categories are wrong, it’s just that the data is not available to help them find those boundaries.
Those are two issues that we know from conversations with customers that this particular piece of equipment can address.
Aldwin: Let’s start from what we find, meaning if you are using the GCxGC/MS, we are finding more terpenes that nobody else would be looking at. We have data that shows, for example, that certain standards are accounting for 60% or so of total terpene content. So a large percent is accounted for, but there is still quite a bit missing. For some strains there are terpenes that are not in common reference standards. Being able to know that and identify the reason why we have different terpenes in here unaccounted for is big. There are other things there beyond the standard terpenes.
What excites me sometimes is that I see some terpenes that are known to have some properties, either medical or antibacterial, etc. If you find that terpene looking beyond the list, you’ll find terpenes that are found in things like hardwood or perfumes, things that we don’t necessarily associate with the common cannabis terpenes. If you’re just looking for the limited number of terpenes, you are missing some things that you might discover or some things that might help explain results.
Leo: It’s also absolutely necessary for the medical side of things. Because of the federal limitations, cannabis hasn’t been researched nearly enough. We’re missing a lot of data on all of the active compounds in cannabis. We are finally starting to move into an era where that will soon be addressed. In order for certain medical studies to be successful, we need to have data showing what compounds are in what plants.
Drs. John Abrams and Jean Talleyrand of the CESC launched the Dosing Project in 2016. They have been studying the impact of cannabis flower for indications such as pain mitigation and sleep improvement, and now more recently mood, and appetite modulation. They categorize the THC & CBD content as well as flower aroma into 3 cannabinoid and 3 odor profiles. They are able to acquire quite a bit of data about how odor correlates with the outcomes. Because they were initially limited in terms of underlying natural product content data, they contacted us when they found out we acquired this equipment in 2020, and have stated that they are certain the data we will now be producing will take their research to the next level of understanding.
Aldwin: For quality control you are looking at specific things that would reflect properties in cannabis. There should be a 1:1 correspondence between properties observed and what we are measuring. The current assumption is that the terpenes we are looking at will tell us everything about how people would like it, with regards to flavor and smell preference. But we know for a fact that the limited terpenes most labs are measuring do not encapsulate everything. So, it is important for QC purposes to know for this particular strain or product, which everyone liked, what is it in there that makes everybody like it? If you just look at the typical terpene profile, you’ll find something close, but not exact. The GCxGC/MS shows us that maybe there’s something else that gives it a preferred property or a particular smell that we can explain and track. In one batch of flower, the consumer experiences it a certain way, and for another batch people experience it another way. We’d like to be able to understand what those differences are batch to batch so we can replicate the experience and figure out what’s in it that people like. That’s what I mean by consistency and quality control; the more you can measure, the more you can see.
Aldwin: Speaking to authenticity as well, in a breeding example, some growers will have this strain that they grew, or at least this is what they claim it to be, but what are the components that make those strains unique? The more analytes you can detect, the more you can authenticate the plant. Is this really OG Kush? Is this the same OG Kush that I’ve had before? Using the GCxGC/MS and comparing analytes, we can find authenticity in strains by finding all of the metabolites and analytes and comparing two strains. Of course, there is also adulteration- Some people will claim they have one strain that smells like blueberries, but we find a compound in it that comes from outside of cannabis, such as added terpenes. Proving that your cannabis is actually pure cannabis or proving that something has added terpenes is possible because we can see things in there that don’t come from cannabis. The GCxGC/MS can be used as a tool for proving authenticity or proving adulteration as well. If you want to trademark a particular strain, we can help with claiming intellectual property. For example, if you want to trademark, register or patent a new product, it will be good to have more data. More data allows for better description of your product and the ability to prove that it is yours.
Leo: One thing that I think is a very interesting use case is proving the appellations. It is our understanding that California rolled out a procedure for growers to claim an appellation, but with strict rules around it. Within those rules, they need to prove uniqueness of growing products in specific regions. The GCxGC/MS can help in proving uniqueness by growing two different strains in two different regions, mapping out the differences and seeing what makes a region’s cannabis unique. It’s valuable for growers in California, Oregon, Colorado to be able to prove how unique their products are. To prove the differences between cannabis grown in Northern California versus plants grown along the Central Coast. And of course, for people across the world to be able to really tell a story and prove what makes their cannabis different and special. To be able to authenticate and understand, we need to have more comprehensive data about properties in those strains. It could be terpenes, it could be esters or thiols. That’s what we’re excited about.
Aaron: From your perspective, what are some of the biggest challenges and opportunities ahead for the cannabis industry?
Aldwin: Getting ready for federal legalization is both a challenge and opportunity. A challenge because when it is federally legal, there will be more regulations and more regulators. It is also a challenge because there will be more businesses, more competition, that might get into the industry. It is opening up to other players, much bigger players. Big tobacco, mega labs and massive diagnostic testing companies might participate, which will be a challenge for us.
But it’s also an opportunity for us to serve more customers, to be more established at the federal level, to move to interstate commerce. The opportunity is to be ready here and now while other people are not here yet.
Another challenge and opportunity is education. Educating consumers and non-consumers. We have to realize and accept that cannabis is not for everybody, but everyone is a stakeholder, because they are our neighbors, parents or part of the medical establishment. It would be a disservice not to educate the non-consumers.
The medical establishment, they don’t have to be consumers but they need to know about cannabis. They don’t know as much as they should about cannabis and they need to know more, like how it could affect their patients for better or for worse, so they know how to help their patients better. There could be drug interactions that could affect the potency of other drugs. They need to know these things. Educating them about cannabis is a challenge. It’s also an opportunity for us to now come in and say that cannabis is here to stay and be consumed by more and more people, so we better know how to deal with it from a medical perspective.“This bucking bronco of a growth style will throw a lot of people off. We need to figure out what we can grab on to and ride out these waves.”
Law enforcement needs to be educated too. What THC level in the blood indicates impairment? It is still a challenge because we’re not there yet, we don’t have that answer quite yet. And it’s an opportunity to help educate and to find more answers for these stakeholders, so we can have regulations that make sense.
Leo: To Aldwin’s point, the biggest opportunity comes along with federal legalization as well as expanding the customer base beyond the traditional market. Since adult use was legalized in CA, we haven’t yet seen the significant expansion of the consumer population. We’re primarily seeing a legal serving of the market that already existed before legalization.
The reality is cannabis can be used in different ways than what we think of. We know it has medical benefits and we know it is enjoyed recreationally by people looking for high THC content and the highest high. But there is also this middle ground, much like the difference between drinking moonshine and having a glass of wine at dinner. The wine at dinner industry is much bigger than the mason jar moonshine industry. That’s really where the opportunity is. What’s the appeal to the broader market? That will be a big challenge, but it’s inevitable. It comes from everything we’ve talked about today, consistency in products, educating people about cannabis, normalizing it to a certain degree, varietals and appellations.
As an entrepreneur, I’m looking at this from a business perspective. Everyone talks about the hockey stick growth chart, but it is a very wavy hockey stick. I expect to see very significant growth in the industry for a while, but it will have a lot of peaks and valleys. It’ll essentially be whiplash. We are seeing this in California right now, with sky high prices in flower last year down to bottom of the barrel prices this year. We have to all figure out how to hang on. This bucking bronco of a growth style will throw a lot of people off. We need to figure out what we can grab on to and ride out these waves. The good ones will be fun and the bad ones will be painful and we know they are coming again and again and again. That’s the biggest challenge. People say ‘expect tomorrow to look a lot like today,’ but you really can’t expect tomorrow to look anything like today in the cannabis industry. Tomorrow will be totally different from today. We need to figure out, within all this chaos, what can we hang on to and keep riding the upward trajectory without getting thrown off the bronco.
Aurora Cannabis Inc. sent out a press release today announcing that they have completed their largest shipment of cannabis to Israel yet. The Canadian company says the shipment of medical cannabis is worth roughly C$10 million, making it their largest shipment and possibly the largest cannabis import in Israel’s history.
Aurora is working on building their market presence in Israel as they continue to focus on international expansion. They claim that they are the leading Canadian licensed producer in global medical cannabis by revenue.
Miguel Martin, CEO of Aurora Cannabis Inc., says they are watching the world slowly begin to embrace cannabis just a bit more. “It’s an exciting time for the global cannabis industry, as we’re seeing growing acceptance and thoughtful regulation of both medical and adult-use cannabis across Europe and in key markets like Israel,” says Martin. “With strong local relationships, as well as support from our patients and consumers, we look forward to continuing to expand our international business to complement our total cannabis portfolio.”
Aurora also announced a joint venture in The Netherlands back in November of 2021, joining their regulated adult-use pilot program. The shipment of medical cannabis to Israel was delivered in December and will be posted in their second quarter revenue of 2022.
As of now, there are only two cannabis testing labs in Connecticut. Last year, regulators in the state approved a request from AltaSci Labs to raise the testing limits for yeast and mold at their lab from 10,000 colony forming units per gram (cfu/g) up to 1 million. The other lab, Northeast Laboratories, has kept their limits at 10,000 cfu/g.
According to CTInsider.com, that request was approved privately and unannounced and patients were notified via email of the change. Ginny Monk at CTInsider says patients enrolled in Connecticut’s medical cannabis program have been outspoken over safety concerns, a lack of transparency and little voice in the decision-making process.
Following public outcry regarding the change at the recent Social Equity Council meeting, state regulators have proposed a change to microbial testing regulations. The new rule will set the limit at 100,000 cfu/g for yeast and mold and requires testing for specific forms of Aspergillus, a more harmful type of mold.
Kaitlyn Kraddelt, spokeswoman for Connecticut’s Department of Consumer Protection, the agency in charge of testing regulations for the state’s cannabis program, told CTInsider.com that they involved several microbiologists to develop the new rule. “These new standards, which were drafted in consultation with several microbiologists, will prohibit specific types of yeast and mold in cannabis flower that may cause injury when inhaled and allow 10^5 cfu/g of colony forming units that have no demonstrated injurious impact on human health,” says Krasselt.
The rule change is now undergoing a public comment period, after which the Attorney General’s office will get a review period. If approved, it’ll head to the legislature, where a committee has 45 days to act on it.
Leo Welder, CEO of Veda Scientific, founded the business with Aldwin M. Anterola, PhD in July of 2019. A serial entrepreneur with experience in a variety of markets, he came to the industry with an intrigue for cannabis testing and analysis. After teaming up with Dr. Anterola, co-founder and chief science officer at Veda Scientific, they came together with the purpose of unlocking possibilities in cannabis. From the beginning, they set out with a heavy scientific interest in furthering the industry from a perspective of innovation and research.
Through discussing their clients’ needs and understanding their complex problems, the two realized they wanted to start a lab that goes well beyond the normal regulatory compliance testing. Innovation in cannabis looks like a lot of things: new formulations for infused products, better designs for vaping technology or new blends of genetics creating unique strains, to name a few. For the folks at Veda Scientific, innovation is about rigorous and concentrated research and development testing.
With the help of some very sophisticated analytical chemistry instruments, their team is working on better understanding how volatile compounds play a part in the chemometrics of cannabis. From varietals and appellations to skunky smells, their research in the chemistry of cannabis is astounding – and they’ve only begun to scratch the surface.
In this two-part series, we discuss their approach to cannabis testing, their role in the greater industry as a whole and we go down a few cannabis chemistry rabbit holes and find out that what we don’t know is a lot more than what we do know. In part one, we get into their backgrounds, how they came into the cannabis industry and how they are carving out their niche. Stay tuned for part two next week where we delve deep into the world of volatile compounds, winemaking, the tastes and smells of cannabis and chicken adobo.
Aaron G. Biros: Tell me about how you and your team came to launch Veda, how you entered the cannabis space and what Veda’s approach is to the role of testing labs in the broader cannabis industry.
Leo Welder: I’m an entrepreneur. This is my third significant venture in the last fifteen years or so. So, I was intrigued by cannabis legalization broadly, because it is such a unique time in our history. I was always interested in participating in the industry in some way, but I didn’t see where would be a good fit for me. I used to meet monthly with a group of friends and fellow entrepreneurs for dinner and discussions and one member started working on the software side of the industry. He mentioned the testing element of cannabis in one of our meetings. I latched on to that and was intrigued by the concept of testing cannabis. I began to research it and found the role that testing plays in the cannabis industry is really significant. I found out that regulators rely pretty heavily on labs to make sure that products are safe, labels are accurate and that consumers have some protections. So, I thought that this is a space that I thought I could really find a calling in.
So, from that point I knew I needed to find a subject matter expert, because I am not one. I have business skills and experience in some technical fields but I am not a cannabis testing expert by any means. So, with that I started to look at a few different markets that I thought may have opportunity for a new lab, and I came across Aldwin’s business; he had a cannabis testing lab in Illinois at that time. I reached out to him, talked to him about my vision for the space and his thoughts and his vision and we really started to come together. From there, we researched various markets and ultimately chose to approach Santa Barbara County as our first foray together into the cannabis testing market.
Aldwin M. Anterola: As Leo mentioned, he was looking for a subject matter expert and I am very much interested in plant biochemistry. Which means I like to study how plants make these compounds that are very useful to us. For my PhD [in plant physiology], I was studying how cell cultures of loblolly pine produce lignin. Our lab was interested in how pine trees produce lignin, which is what makes up wood. Wood comes from phenolic compounds. You’ve probably heard of antioxidants and flavonoids – those are phenolic compounds. After my PhD, I wanted to do something different so I decided to work with terpenes.
I picked a very important terpene in our field, an anti-cancer compound called Taxol, produced from the bark of the yew tree. You have to cut trees to harvest it. We have ways of synthesizing it now. But at that time, we were trying to figure out how the tree produces that terpene. Of course, I’m interested in any compound that plants make. My interest in terpenes led me to cannabinoids which turn out to be terpenophenolics, thus combining the two interests in my professional field.
So that’s the scientific and intellectual side of why I became interested in cannabis, but practically speaking I got into cannabis because of a consulting offer. A company was applying for a cultivation license, wanted to have a laboratory component of their business in their application, and hired me to write that part of their application. I was very familiar with HPLC, and had a GC/MS in the lab. I also have a background in microbiology and molecular biology so I can cover every test required at that time, and I knew I could research the other analytical techniques if necessary.
So, they did not get the license, but I figured I’d take what I wrote, once I received permission, and set up an independent laboratory together. But it’s hard to run a lab and be a professor at the same time. Also, the busines side of running a lab is something that I am not an expert in. Fortunately, Leo found me. Before that, I really got excited about this new industry. The concept of cannabis being now accessible to more people is so interesting to me because of how new everything is. I wanted to be involved in an industry like this and help in making it safe while satisfying my curiosity in this new field of research. As a scientist, those are the things that excite us: the things we didn’t have access to, we can now do. It opens up a whole new room that we want to unlock. It was my intellectual curiosity that really drove me. This opened up new research avenues for me as well as other ventures if you will. How can I be more involved? I thought to myself.
Back in 2014, I introduced cannabis research to our university [Southern Illinois University] and set up an industrial hemp program, which was DEA-licensed I gathered faculty that would be interested in studying hemp and cannabis and we now have a whole cannabis science center at the university. I teach a course in cannabis biology and because I also teach medical botany to undergraduate students, I was able to introduce [premed] students to the endocannabinoid system. Anyway, I can go on and on.
Outside of that I became involved with the AOAC and ASTM, and became a qualified assessor for ISO 17025:2017. I have been a member of the American Chemical Society since 2000 but there were no cannabis related activities there yet until relatively recently. But when they had the new cannabis chemistry subdivision, I am happy to participate in there as well . There are many avenues that I took to begin dabbling with cannabis, be it research, nonprofits, teaching, testing and more. Cannabis has basically infiltrated all areas of what I do as an academic.
Leo: I read his resume and I was like this is the guy! So back to your question, what’s Veda’s role as a testing lab in this space? What are we trying to build? We spent a lot of time trying to figure out what we wanted to be in this space. We came to understand that labs are not the tip of the spear for the market; that would be the growers, the retailers and the processors. We are a support, a service. We see ourselves as a humble, but competent guide. We provide the data for the tip of the spear, the people pushing the industry forward with support, data and the services to make sure they have the tools they need to build these great companies and great products with good cultivation practices and more, leading everyone to the next level of the cannabis industry. Our job is to support innovation, to provide quality compliance testing, to of course ensure safety, while also providing great R&D to these innovative companies.
Aldwin: I’d like to add a bit to that thought. Okay so that’s who we are, but what are we not? Because as Leo said I had a testing lab before we met [Advanced Herbal Analytics]. From there, I approach it as safety testing, making sure that before it gets to the end consumer, we are sort of like gate keepers keeping consumers safe. That’s one side to it, but we are not the people who are trying to make sure that none of the products get to the market. For some, that’s how we’re treated as.
People often look at testing labs like the police. We are not the people trying to limit products to market. Our approach is not to find faults. There is another way of being a testing lab that is less about finding faults in products and more about finding uniqueness. What makes your product different? With this new approach, we are much more focused on helping the best products make it to the shelves.
Aaron: Given that all state licensed labs have to provide the same tests as the other labs in that state, how does Veda differentiate itself?
Leo: Location was the first thing. We picked Santa Barbara County intentionally. We knew that some of the biggest operators, some of the most forward-thinking innovators were setting up shop here. Looking down the road, not just this year or next year but very long term, we wanted to start building a great, sustainable company. We wanted to build a brand that those kinds of companies would be receptive to. Building better and greater products. There’s one other lab in the county and that’s it. Whereas there are clusters of labs in other parts of the state. Part of the draw to Santa Barbara for us was that it is such a small, tight-knit community. We have worked very hard to build relationships in our community and to understand their challenges, helping them however we can.
Location and relationships. Getting to know the challenges that different size customers face, be it our greenhouse customers versus outdoor customers, or large-scale operations versus smaller manufacturing operations, the challenges are all different. Some people care about turnaround times, some more about R&D. If we understand our client’s problems, then we can provide better service. We see ourselves as problem solvers. We lean heavily on our technical team members like Aldwin, who not only have tremendous amounts of experience and education, but also great networks to utilize when a customer needs help, even when it falls outside of our local expertise.
Last but certainly not least is the advanced R&D testing that we do. When we first started, we started talking to farmers and manufacturers trying to understand their challenges. What data were they not getting? How would a testing lab better serve them? So, we started investing strategically in certain instruments that would allow us to better serve them. We’ll get into this later as well, but we invested in a GCxGC/MS, which allows us to get more visibility into things beyond the typical panels, like more terpenes and other volatile compounds including thiols and esters. We did that because we knew there is value in that. The data our customers were getting prior just wasn’t enough to put together really great breeding programs or to manufacture really consistent products, you know, to move toward that next level of innovation in the industry.
Aldwin: Leo mentioned advanced R&D and it’s basically the same approach that I mentioned before. It’s not just telling you what you can and cannot do. It’s about asking them what do you want to do and what do you want from a lab? If we have a problem, let’s see if we can solve it. That’s how the GCxGC/MS came into play because we knew there was a need to test for many terpenes and other volatile compounds. The common complaint we received was why two terpene profiles differ so much from each other, even from the same genetics.
This is something that would actually give the customer, the cultivator or the manufacturer: data about their product that they can actually use. For consistency, for better marketing and other reasons. We are trying to help them answer the questions of ‘how can I make my product better?’
You know, for example, clients would tell us they want something that has a specific taste or smells a certain way. Nobody is telling them what makes the flavor or smell. There is a need there that we can fill. We are trying to provide data that they, the customers, need so that they can improve their breeding programs or their formulations. Data they can use, not just data they need in order to comply with regulations. They would ask us what we can do. We listen to our customers and we try and help as best we can. We don’t know every answer. We are discovering there is a lot more to terpenes than what you can find on a traditional one dimensional gas chromatogram. Some of the terpene data that our clients had previously is not really actionable data, which is where the GCxGC/MS is helping us.
In part two, we delve deep into the world of volatile compounds, winemaking, the tastes and smells of cannabis and chicken adobo. Click here to read part two.
Cannabis risks have always outpaced the availability of insurance, in large part because of its status as a federally illegal substance and the dangers in extraction and production. But it now shares many of the same risks as other industries — catastrophic crop damage, cyber risk and a shortage of skilled workers.
With legalization becoming more common, the industry is positioned for enormous growth despite these challenges. However, enterprises that will benefit the most are those best positioned to manage risk.
Here are four obstacles to growth in the industry in 2022 and how enterprises can combat them:
Cybercrime will be the top manufacturing risk
Both cybercrime and cannabis have experienced major booms since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Cannabis companies watched as healthcare and pharmaceutical organizations were hit hard by cybercriminals in 2020, and now the threat could be headed their way.
For cannabis retailers, the vulnerability lies in their dependence on point-of-sale tech, while the threat for cultivators exists within their strong use of intelligent automation to manage the grow environment. Across the industry, the lack of sophisticated IT security systems is like a beacon for bad actors.
Nearly 60% of cannabis businesses say they haven’t taken the necessary steps to prevent cyberattack, but the winds are changing. Due to these concerns and the growing attention on cybercrime in the industry, cyber coverage is expected to rise 30% or more in 2022, which puts the onus on risk management practices that will help prevent cyberattacks and ensure coverage from insurers concerned about risk.
Barriers to business growth may result in more M&A
As of summer 2021, 18 U.S. states have legalized adult use and 37 states have legalized medical cannabis.
While this is opening opportunities for many cannabis businesses, the U.S. remains a complicated market. Federal regulations continue to hinder even more cannabis industry growth by restricting lending to the industry from traditional banking and financial institutions. While it’s not illegal to do service with the cannabis industry, many institutions stay away due to its high risk.
Smaller cannabis companies are impacted most heavily by this barrier and await passage of the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking and Clarifying Law Around Insurance of Marijuana (CLAIM) Acts to allow easier access to capital. Together, these two acts of legislation will provide guidelines on how to work lawfully with legal cannabis businesses and prohibit penalizing or discouraging institutions from working with them.
In the meantime, M&A activity is expected to increase in 2022 as large cannabis businesses have the means to access capital and acquire these small companies. This includes Canadian cannabis companies, unburdened by federal restrictions, who are expected to increase their cross-border mergers and acquisitions.
Severe weather isn’t easing up
Extreme natural catastrophes are no longer rare, and they have only added greater uncertainty to the industry which has always had difficulties securing crop insurance.
For example, policies that transfer wind and hurricane damage risk in Florida or wildfire and smoke taint in California are virtually non-existent for cannabis — and for outdoor growers, a single weather event can wipe out an entire crop with no recourse.
One possible solution for cannabis companies that cannot secure traditional crop insurance is parametric insurance, which pays out in full when a weather element reaches a threshold, regardless of the actual damage.
Growers with indoor operations, or those considering moving that way, must cope with energy conservation initiatives. Measures like the one in California that would require indoor growers to use LED lighting by 2023 could cost the industry millions and present a direct threat to small operations’ viability. This makes it important for cannabis producers to institute conservation measures and undertake risk mitigation measures like improved safety measures at indoor growth facilities ahead of 2022 renewals.
As a continually emerging market, cannabis risks are great. Adding to these pressures is the growing impacts of climate change and cybercrime raising the bar even further. Growth for the cannabis industry in 2022 will depend upon strong risk management solutions and the ability for cannabis companies to implement them.
Increasing cannabis use across the US has come with increased scrutiny of its health effects. Regulators and healthcare providers are not just concerned about the direct effects of inhaling or consuming cannabinoids, however, but also about another health risk: microbial contamination in cannabis products. Like any other crop, cannabis is susceptible to contamination by harmful pathogens at several points throughout the supply chain, from cultivation and harvesting to distribution. Many state regulators have set limits for microbial populations in cannabis products. Consequently, testing labs must adopt efficient screening protocols to help companies remain compliant and keep their customers safe.
Some of the pathogens common to cannabis flower include Aspergillus fungus species such as A. flavus, A. fumigatus, A. niger and A. terreus. Cannabis might also harbor harmful E. coli and Salmonella species, including Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC). Regulations vary by state, but most have set specific thresholds for how many colony forming units (CFUs) of particular species can be present in a sellable product.
Growers and testing labs need to develop a streamlined approach to remain viable. Current methods, including running cultures on every sample, can be expensive and time-consuming, but by introducing a PCR-based screening step first, which identifies the presence of microbial DNA – and therefore the potential for contamination – laboratories can reduce the number of cultures they need to run, saving money and time.
If contamination grows out of control, the pathogen can damage the cannabis plant itself and lead to financial losses. Aspergillus can also cause serious illness in consumers, especially those that are immunocompromised. If an immunocompromised person inhales Aspergillus, they can develop aspergillosis, a lung condition with a poor prognosis.
A Two-Step Screening Process
The gold standard method for detecting microbes is running cultures. This technique takes weeks to deliver results and can yield inaccurate CFU counts, making it difficult for growers to satisfy regulators and create a safe product in a timely manner. The use of polymerase chain reaction (PCR) can greatly shorten the time to results and increase sensitivity by determining whether the sample has target DNA.
Using PCR can be expensive, particularly to screen for multiple species at the same time, but a qPCR-based Aspergillus detection assay could lead to significant cost savings. Since the average presumptive positive rate for Aspergillus contamination is low (between 5-10%), this assay can be used to negatively screen large volumes of cannabis samples. It serves as an optional tool to further speciate only those samples that screened positive to comply with state regulations.
Overall, screening protocols have become a necessary part of cannabis production, and to reduce costs, testing labs must optimize methods to become as efficient as possible. With tools such as PCR technology and a method that allows for initial mass screening followed by speciation only when necessary, laboratories can release more samples faster with fewer unnecessary analyses and more success for cannabis producers in the marketplace.
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