Tag Archives: Oakland

Leaders in Extraction & Manufacturing: Part 5

By Aaron Green
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Cannabis extraction and manufacturing is big business in California with companies expanding brands into additional states as they grow. This is the fifth and final article in a series where we interview leaders in the California extraction and manufacturing industry from some of the biggest and most well-known brands.

In this week’s article, we talk with Kristen Suchanec, VP of Production at Island. Kristen converted her experience in traditional consumer packaged goods to cannabis to help create a brand that is sought after by many. The interview with Kristen was conducted on August 21, 2020.

Aaron Green: Good afternoon Kristen, I am glad we were able to put this interview together. I know you have been very busy!

Kristen Suchanec: I’m so sorry this took so long to actually work! Thank you for bearing with me. I’m happy we are able to talk.

Aaron: Great! I like to start off the conversation with a question that helps our readers get to know you a little better. So, Kristen can you tell me how you got involved at Island?

Kristen Suchanec, VP of Production at Island

Kristen: My background is in manufacturing and planning for consumer packaged goods. I had a friend of a friend and we were just at a happy hour and I asked what he was up to. He was actually our VP of Finance at Island and he handed me a box of pre-rolled joints. They were our Island Minis and I thought it was a great customer experience. I loved the brand and packaging which made it a consumer product versus, you know, this was a few years back where cannabis wasn’t necessarily commoditized or branded. I got really excited about that because I feel like cannabis should be traditional CPG and it should appeal to different people and it should have different brands that appeal to those different groups. So I literally just started a conversation. His brother is our founder and CEO and they needed someone to run production so that was my background and it all kind of lined up and I ended up being employee number five at Island!

Aaron: Wow, employee number five – awesome! OK, great. That is some nice background about how you got involved at the company. The next questions get into product development and manufacturing. The first question is: what’s your decision process for starting a new product?

Kristen: Yea, we are right now owning the lane between cultivation and distribution. So, getting those raw materials for whether it be concentrates or flower and then converting them into that final packaging for everything. So that is what we focus on and spend all of our time with automation and trying to make that process as efficient as possible.

When we’re looking at a new product we’re not necessarily creating a new extraction, we are really looking at the market and the end consumer and what people want. At Island we’ve really focused on vape, pre-roll and packaged flower. Those are the three categories we are working on right now. We are expanding and looking to move more towards vape and live resins and specialty concentrated products that we haven’t really had in our portfolio before. What we would like to do is make sure we have the capability to manufacture that and then take a look at where we think the market is going. We are trying to go in the flower, pre-roll and vape because that is where we spent so much of our time getting pieces of automation so not everything we are bringing in house is manual.

Aaron: Now when you say the capability to manufacture that are you talking about from a packaging perspective or…?

Kristen: Yes, so we won’t do any extraction on site. It’s getting distillate, shatter and flower and then we take that and convert that either into pre-rolled joint, a package of flower or any other final product. So, we are looking at automating that packaging piece.

Aaron: Got it. OK, so the next question — and I think you kind of touched on this as well — are you involved in manufacturing to the extent that you are manufacturing the packaging?

Kristen: Yes absolutely. My whole team’s manufacturing is based out of Oakland. That’s where we do all the conversion of products. I oversee that entire team and have been really involved in a lot of the equipment that we have sourced and iterations that we’ve gone through to make sure that we’re able to automate as much as possible. We’ve really focused on the issue of weighing the material. For our flower line everything is weighed and put into a jar, capped, sealed and labeled for it to come off our lines. We don’t have anyone in packing or anything like that. Our pre-rolls manufacturing is an automated machine where it actually weighs the flower before going into the cone so we’re not having to weigh after the fact and take into account the weight of the cone because that’s so variable so we know that the customer is getting consistency. Then for the vapes, it’ssame thing – the volumetric doses everything.

I have to give my credit to everyone on the floor who is doing the day to day, they find so many new solutions since they are the ones that are hands on.  I am really involved in what new equipment we need, what problems we are looking to solve and what’s causing our bottlenecks so we can continue to improve our process week over week and year over year.

Aaron: We’ll dig into some of those problems in a bit. What is your process for not just starting new product but for developing a new product?

Kristen: Yeah, absolutely. So, I think it’s really interesting to see where the market is going. What’s selling really well and especially over the past year pre rolls have been a huge growth platform for us. And especially now, we’ve seen some changes because of COVID as well. We have single joints. But then we have our Minis, which I’ve mentioned before, which are half gram joints. We’re seeing sales on those actually increased because I think people are sharing joints as people want individual things because of this pandemic.

When we go through this process, we’re really – again – we’re so focused on what the consumer wants, and what we think is going to add to our portfolio. Then when marketing and our product team comes to me, we really focus on our machinery, what we can do with it currently, and if we would need something additional. So,we’re excited about expanding into 510s right now. We’re looking at how we can automate the process of capping – we can fill right now, but not cap. And then we also take a look at packaging.

I think it’s a little different than creating like a whole new product, extraction or anything like that, but we were looking at more sustainable options for packaging for child resistance because we’re trying to move away from barrier bags as much as possible. We’re looking at, okay, how many stickers do we need to put on there? What is the labor time going into each piece of product? And again, how are we eventually going to get some consistency across product lines, etc.

So, it’s really taking all three of those components, making sure we’re getting out the customer that feels like they want. I’m having it either fit into our process or again, then go through and look at what automations meanand automation equipment investment you want to make for long term future investments.

Aaron: Are you developing new products internally, or are you relying on outside manufacturers for that?

Kristen: Not everything we do is internal. We have a big network of, you know, cultivators and extractors we work with, but we’re in the midst of getting our own cultivation and manufacturing in house by working with other companies. So with that we’re doing everything.

Aaron: Do you ever bring in external product development consultants for helping out with your processes?

Kristen: No, we don’t bring in consultants. But we have brought in another brand into our fold via a brand called Neutron Genetics. That is part of our overall portfolio. We work very closely with the founder because he has a lot of trade secrets, a lot of his own processes to make sure you’re getting the best product for that specific brand.

Aaron: In your product development, what does getting stuck look like to you?

Kristen: That’s a good question. I think one of the biggest challenges is working with the plant itself, because it’s not consistent and it’s not homogenous. You could get the same strain from the same cultivator, but it’ll be a different batch. It might be a little stickier or a little larger, etc. When you’re looking at traditional manufacturing and automation, you want consistency, homogenized liquids, same viscosity every time, and we don’t have that because the plant itself is natural and is going to have all these different expressions depending on the batch and how it was grown and how it was trimmed even.“I think it’s really the proper equipment, the proper training and then, again, continuing to evolve as a team.”

So, getting stuck means finding an off-the-shelf solution that might work for, you know, nuts and bolts or some kind of food production and then you’re going to have to convert it to actually work with the cannabis plant. So that’s what makes it so challenging, but also really exciting. In the bud, humidity and air can really throw off a manufacturing process which is really different than just doing beverages for example.

Getting stuck means really having to work with the plant concentrates specifically if you think about just the nature of those whether it be shatter, distillate or very sticky product. So again, working with machinery isn’t always what goes hand in hand. So, getting stuck is dealing with all those different formats and inconsistency using the same product day after day.

Aaron: It sounds like consistency is kind of a main topic here?

Kristen: Yeah, I think it depends on what product format we have. For example, about a year ago, we launched infused pre-rolls for Neutron where we’re putting flower, kief and shatter into a joint. So that’s going to perform differently on a piece of machinery than just straight flower.

I think it all depends on the product. Usually it happens when it’s in that machine, you’re trying to get a good flow and a good consistency. You want to have time studies, you know how long it takes to make each batch. But if a certain flower mix is performing differently, it’s getting the settings of the machine dialed, right? It’s also properly training personnel so people know how to react when things get going. Sometimes things get physically stuck in the machine as well, so to be able to react on that.

I think it’s really the proper equipment, the proper training and then, again, continuing to evolve as a team. So for our pre-roll machine, we are now on our third version of it, just because we kept running into the same roadblocks and I’m hoping that continues to evolve and we just continue to get better equipment year after year.

Aaron: I see, do you ever hire outside consultants when you do get stuck?

Kristen: We’ve worked closely with vendors. I will say that we’re not a machine shop or engineering firm. So we’re not the ones creating a lot of what we use on the floor. We’ve partnered with various vendors, which has been helpful, but we haven’t used external consultants.“When you see the huge potential and then see how much is taken out from illegal activity right now, it is frustrating to see.”

Aaron: Okay, now imagine that you have a magic wand and somebody can come in and help you. What does your magic helper look like?

Kristen: I could probably make a really long list if I’m focusing on just my manufacturing and everything! I think the next thing which we’re already thinking about that magic wand is how to get a perfectly rolled joint without having so much manual human touch to it. And like I said, we’ve really attached to that weighing problem. And we’ve seen solutions out there that you know, claim to twist and have that “perfect roll” and you don’t need to even touch it. But I think the biggest challenge there is it depends how well it’s packed. You know, you don’t want it too tight. You don’t want it too loose for that customer experience. So getting that quality, if I could wave a magic wand where I’m putting in, you know, paper on one side and out comes perfectly rolled joints, that would be my magic wand for sure. Okay, I think there’s a lot of solutions out there but to get that quality and that consumer experience that we want, I haven’t seen working practice yet.

Aaron: Okay, What’s the what’s the most frustrating thing you’re going through with the business right now?

Kristen: Again, that could be a long list! I think from a more macro-level, it’s definitely the competition with the illicit market and just how there’s not enough outlets for legal cannabis right now in the state of California. When you see the huge potential and then see how much is taken out from illegal activity right now, it is frustrating to see. We’re going to get this growth and projection of the right number of dispensary licenses and things like that are definitely a huge frustration as well as with the tax structure right now because it’s obviously contributing to people going to the illicit market.

Aaron: So what are you following in the market? And what do you want to learn more about?

Kristen: Yeah, I think that’s a great question. I think the thing I’m most excited about for the larger population isjust more research to come out about the actual attributes of the plant, or how different cannabinoids react together and can have different effects. How terpenes can affect the high, how things can be used and distantly, recreationally, etc. And really, hopefully evolve and move away from strictly some sativa, hybrid,indica classifications, and really be able to educate the consumer more about the plant so people can have a more a personal relationship to understand how cannabinoids or specific terpenes are going to give them a different effect. And again, I think that’s so interesting because it could be used for therapeutic reasons that people do consume cannabis or it could just make it a better experience for people who want to take this as an escape or a way to relax and everything. So I’m really excited because more research is going to be able to get done and we can really learn more about how all of these things interact in the body and then people can take it to a whole new experience and be more educated all around.

Aaron: Alright that’s the end of the interview Kristen! Nice chatting and meeting you!

Kristen: Alright, thanks Aaron!

New Taxes for California Cannabis Industry

By Jasmine Davaloo
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Welcome to the evolving world of cannabis legislation and taxation in California. With the recent 2018 midterm election, a green wave of new laws and regulations has washed ashore, and Taxnexus, a cannabis tax compliance service provider for cannabis businesses, has analyzed the results, looking for insights to guide cannabis business owners in 2019.

In summary, the trend of local counties and cities imposing new cannabis taxes on dispensaries, distributors and cultivators continues, but with some important lessons being learned.

A Brief History of California Cannabis Tax Regulations.

The legalization of cannabis in California brought with it cannabis excise tax and cultivation taxes with the hope of bringing in significant amounts of income in cannabis taxes. The state had projected $185M in cannabis tax revenue for the first six months of 2018. Although California has since collected tens of millions of dollars fewer than anticipated, it did bring in over $135M in the first and second quarters from a brand new industry.

Local governments are able to collect these taxes directly from cannabis businesses.  With the green light from the state and the need for a new source of revenue, many local governments followed suit and passed laws to impose taxes on cannabis businesses operating in their jurisdictions. The need for additional revenue is even greater for localities that allow cannabis business operations given that the state takes virtually all of the state-imposed cannabis taxes while the local government entities are burdened by the related costs of regulations and enforcement at the local level.

Cannabis business taxes have an extra allure for local jurisdictions. Unlike local sales and use taxes, the state does not require local cannabis business taxes to go through the state before a portion of it gets funneled back to the localities. Local governments are able to collect these taxes directly from cannabis businesses.

Since January 1, 2018, many local jurisdictions have come onboard and placed ballot measures for their voters to decide whether to tax cannabis businesses. According to research conducted by Taxnexus, by the end of the second quarter this year, there were over 500 different local cannabis tax rates in California.The new cannabis tax measures are also continuing the trend of widely ranging local cannabis tax laws.

Midterm Results Continue Overwhelming Support for Cannabis Industry

With over 50 cannabis tax measures placed on the November 6 local ballots, most of which passed with overwhelming support from voters, the number and variation of local cannabis business taxes continue to grow. This demonstrates the continuing trend of local governments welcoming cannabis businesses, the evolving voter attitude toward recreational cannabis, and perhaps most importantly, the localities’ desire to take their cut of the new industry’s tax revenue.

The new cannabis tax measures are also continuing the trend of widely ranging local cannabis tax laws. Given that the Medicinal and Adult-Use Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act granted local jurisdictions control over deciding their own cannabis business regulations, there is no statewide uniformity. Here are a few examples of the cannabis business tax measures that were on local ballots on November 6:

San Francisco

While some local jurisdictions were quick to impose cannabis taxes, others have delayed in taxing their local cannabis businesses. San Francisco’s Proposition D, which received a 66% voter approval, won’t go into effect until January 1, 2021. It imposes taxes on cannabis businesses that do business in the city, whether or not they are physically located there. The new cannabis business taxes are as follows:

  • For cannabis retail businesses, 2.5% of gross receipts up to $1M and 5% of gross receipts over $1M.
  • For cannabis non-retail businesses, 1% tax of gross receipts up to $1M and 1.5% of gross receipts over $1M.

These taxes do not apply to the first $500,000 of recreational cannabis gross receipts nor revenues from medical cannabis retail sales. The measure allows the Board of Supervisors to adjust the tax rates up to 7%. The cannabis businesses taxes are expected to generate $5M to $12M in cannabis tax revenue, and will go into the City’s general fund.The new tax measures underscore the lack of uniformity in local cannabis business taxes throughout the state. 

Emeryville

Emeryville passed a new cannabis business tax measure to increase its current nominal rate. Measure S imposes a cannabis business tax of up to 6% of gross receipts. This is estimated to generate $2M in tax revenue to be used for unrestricted governmental purposes.

Oakland

Oakland is among the few local jurisdictions that placed a measure on its November 6 ballot to lower its existing cannabis business tax rates. Previously, Oakland imposed a 5% tax on medical cannabis and a 10% tax on recreational cannabis, for all cannabis activities throughout the supply chain. These are among some of the highest cannabis tax rates in the state and are squeezing out small operators. Although Oakland has long been seen as the leader in California’s cannabis industry, the high taxes are making it difficult for its cannabis businesses to compete with nearby cities that charge lower taxes. While the city acknowledged the hardship its high taxes imposed, it maintained that it could not lower the rates on its own and required the voter approval. On November 6th, Oakland voters passed Measure V by 78%, which gives the City Council the authority to lower the city’s cannabis tax rates through an ordinance. To give additional relief to the cannabis businesses in the city, this measure also allows them to deduct the cost of raw materials from their gross receipts- something they cannot do on their federal tax returns. Furthermore, local cannabis business taxes can now be paid on a quarterly basis instead of one annual payment at the beginning of each year, which was severely burdensome for most businesses.

Lake County

Voters in Lake County approved Measure K by a majority vote to tax cannabis businesses in the unincorporated county effecting January 1, 2021. The county was previously only taxing cultivators at $1 to $3 per square footage depending on the method of cultivation. These rates will be reduced to $1 per square footage for cultivators and nurseries, and other cannabis businesses will be taxes between 2.5% and 4% of their gross receipts.

Mountain View

While there is a maximum of four cannabis businesses permitted to operate in Mountain View, over 80% of voters approved Measure Q to tax them. The measure imposes up to 9% of gross receipts to fund general city purposes, with an estimated annual revenue of $1M.Some have even set the effective dates of their cannabis tax laws several years out to allow their local cannabis businesses an opportunity to establish roots and drive out the black market.

Lompoc

Some jurisdictions have passed more creative cannabis business tax regimens than one rate applicable to the entire supply chain. Voters in Lompoc in Santa Barbara County approved Measure D2018 to authorize the city to impose following cannabis business taxes:

  • Up to $0.06 per $1 (6%) of recreational retail sales proceeds;
  • Up to $0.01 per $1 (1%) of cultivation and nursery proceeds;
  • An annual flat fee tax of $15,000 if net income is less than $2M of manufacturing and distribution proceeds;
  • An annual flat fee tax of $30,000 if net income is $2 Million or more of manufacturing and distribution proceeds;
  • A total aggregate tax of $0.06 per $1.00 (6%) of microbusinesses proceeds, not including medical cannabis transaction proceeds; and
  • No tax on testing.

Riverbank

There are signs that other localities that waited to jump onboard have learned from these high-taxing jurisdictions and opted for lower rates. There are even those localities that although they do not statutorily permit cannabis businesses to operate in their jurisdictions, they still want a piece of the action when it comes to cannabis taxes. The city of Riverbank in Stanislaus County currently does not allow cannabis businesses to operate without first obtaining a permit from City Hall and entering into a development agreement with the city that negotiates how much of their revenue the city would take. However, the voters just passed Measure B, which authorizes Riverbank’s City Council to impose a business license tax of up to 10% of gross receipts on cannabis businesses in the event the city allows cannabis businesses to operate within its city limits in the future. This tax has incentives other than the apparent potential of tax revenue. This guarantees the city a cut of the earnings of any illegal cannabis businesses, and serves as a protection in the event the permit and development agreement scheme the city has enacted is later found to be invalid.

The Chaos Continues

The new tax measures underscore the lack of uniformity in local cannabis business taxes throughout the state. Compliance is especially burdensome for delivery companies and multi-location and multi-license cannabis businesses. Cannabis businesses are required to keep up with new and evolving cannabis tax regimens, which, judging by the shortfall in cannabis tax revenues compared to their projections so far, is a difficult feat for these highly-regulated businesses.Of course, there are still some local governments that appear to have missed all the signs and have passed new high taxes. 

The overall trend in 2018, persisting through the midterm elections, is that more local jurisdictions are joining the cannabis tax bandwagon, and while the tax rates and structures are still all over the map, there appears to be some movement toward honing the cannabis business rates toward that “sweet spot.”

Cities like Oakland and Berkeley that immediately began to tax cannabis businesses at high rates have lowered or taken steps to lower their tax rates to keep their competitive edge and retain cannabis businesses within their jurisdictions. There are signs that other localities that waited to jump onboard have learned from these high-taxing jurisdictions and opted for lower rates. Some have even set the effective dates of their cannabis tax laws several years out to allow their local cannabis businesses an opportunity to establish roots and drive out the black market.

Of course, there are still some local governments that appear to have missed all the signs and have passed new high taxes. In due time, they, too, will give in to the market pressures and make necessary adjustments if they want to continue to benefit from the legal cannabis industry in their jurisdictions.


Taxnexus is an automated transaction-to-treasury cannabis tax compliance solution for the entire cannabis supply chain that provides point-of-sale state and local cannabis tax calculation, sales and use tax calculation, tax data management as the authority of record, and timely filing of returns with all applicable taxing authorities.

NCIA Brings Cannabis Business Summit to Oakland

By Aaron G. Biros
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The National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA) with their California affiliate, California Cannabis Industry Association (CCIA), hosted over 3,000 business professionals at this week’s Cannabis Business Summit in Oakland, CA. According to Aaron Smith, executive director of the NCIA, this event drew their largest-ever gathering of attendees and well over 100 sponsors on the expo floor. In an exclusive interview prior to the event, Smith expected this would be a wildly successful year. “Last year we had just over 2,000 attendees in Colorado and we are expecting over 3,000 this year in California,” says Smith. “There is tremendous interest in the California market and it is so great to be here with all of the excitement leading up to the ballot initiatives in November.”

aaronsmithncia
Aaron Smith, executive director of NCIA

The theme of the conference was set early on from industry progress to sustainable growth. “I am really proud that NCIA’s events always bring out the best and brightest in the industry,” says Smith. “It is mostly members of NCIA attending, which are the folks invested in the future of the industry and not just in it to make a quick buck; they are here to build a new business sector.” On Tuesday morning, Smith gave his opening remarks and introduced the first keynote delivered by Ahmed Rahim, co-founder and chief executive officer of Numi Organic Tea alongside Kayvan Khalatbari, founding partner of Denver Relief Consulting, to discuss the triple bottom line in business, emphasizing the need for social responsibility, which includes environmental stewardship, fair labor and trade laws and community integration among cannabis businesses. California Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom also delivered a keynote address that was received with a standing ovation after discussing the November ballot initiative, which would legalize, regulate and tax the adult use of cannabis in the state.

businessummit
The first keynote panel of the Cannabis Business Summit

Newsom’s speech highlighted the state’s opportunity to make considerable progress in the cannabis legalization arena this November. The substance of his speech echoed that of many attendees focused on moving the industry forward sustainably. “We need to right the wrong of the failed war on drugs in America,” says Newsom. Boisterous cheers and applause followed almost every sentence as he continued to emphasize the need for social and criminal justice reform. “We are not doing this to be the next California gold rush or to make tax revenue; our purpose and focus is social justice,” adds Newsom.

Gavin Newsom, Lieutenant Governor of California, delivering the keynote
Gavin Newsom, Lieutenant Governor of California, delivering the keynote

The Lieutenant Governor also mentioned the sheer massive size of California’s market opportunity and their pragmatic regulatory framework in development. “The entire retail of recreational and medical [cannabis sales] in Colorado was just shy of $1 billion last year; we are talking about our 58 counties up in the northern part of this state that produce anywhere from $9-13 billion [sic] of wholesale cannabis- it’s a game changer,” says Newsom. “We have had the benefit of seeing where other states have fallen short or struggled [in regulatory frameworks] and will present that to voters this November.” Newsom also mentioned that members of the cannabis industry need to act as stewards of the environment and protect the small farmers.

Panel discussions throughout the afternoon and following day deliberated a wide variety of topics from laboratory testing standards to the state of affairs in education, training and certification across the country. John MacKay, senior director of strategic technologies at Waters Corporation, led a panel titled Validation of Analytical Methods, Lab Certifications and Standard Methods with Cynthia Ludwig, director of technical services at the American Oil Chemists’ Society (AOCS), Shawn Kassner, senior scientist at Neptune and Company, Inc. and David Egerton, vice president of technical services at CW Analytical Laboratories.

The panel: Validation of Analytical Methods, Lab Certifications and Standard Methods
The panel: Validation of Analytical Methods, Lab Certifications and Standard Methods

The panel addressed many of the current problems facing the cannabis testing space. “It is a very difficult plant to work with and labs are doing their best to provide reproducible results,” says Mackay. Cynthia Ludwig emphasized the need for collaborative studies and method validation in cannabis labs. “We [AOCS] provide official, validated laboratory testing methods, but the cannabis industry really has no official methods to work with,” says Ludwig. Egerton echoed Mackay’s concerns over difficult sample preparation and the difficulty of working with cannabis in the lab. “The problem is the matrix of the cannabis sample; the matrix is a critical aspect of method validation- ensuring we find the signal through the noise,” says David. “In the absence of official methods, cannabis labs need to perform method validation in-house for each type of sample, ranging from dry flower to different types of infused products and concentrates.” In addition to those difficulties of providing robust and reproducible lab tests, the panel emphasized that there is currently no laboratory accreditation program required by California regulators.

The cannabis industry in California is still rather unregulated and lacks consistency in safety standards across the market in almost every sector. Attendees seemed to look forward to the November 8th vote on the ballot initiative in California as a solution for the state’s current problems, hoping consumers and patients alike will find solace in a more regulated, standardized and safe market. The NCIA will be hosting a “Seed To Sale Show” focused on best practices and case studies January 31st and February 1st, 2017 in Denver. The next Cannabis Business Summit will be held from June 12th to the 14th of 2017 in Oakland, CA.