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The Ten Biggest Mistakes When Building a Cultivation Facility

By Michael Burnstein
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As cannabis legalization becomes more prolific across the United States, entrepreneurs are entering the cultivation business in droves. With so many new companies entering the market and growing cannabis, there are a lot of common errors made when getting started. Here are ten of the biggest mistakes you can make when building a cannabis grow facility:

  • Failure to consult with experts in the cannabis business – poor planning in floorplan and layout could create deficient workflow causing extra time and costing profits. Bad gardening procedures may result in crop failure and noncompliance could mean a loss of license. Way too often, people will draft a design and begin construction without taking the time to talk to an expert first. Some important questions to ask yourself and your consultant are: What materials should be used in the building of the grow? Is my bed-to-flower ratio correct? How long will it take before I can see my first harvest? 
  • Contractor selection – DO NOT build your own facility; leave it to the experts. Sure, you have experience building things and you have a friend who has worked in construction. Do not make this mistake – Our experience can save you from the mistake’s others have made. To stay lucrative in this competitive industry and to maximize your products’ quality and yields, have the facility built right the first time. Paying an experienced, qualified cannabis professional to build you a facility will produce better yields and will save you time, stress and money in getting you from start of construction to your first crop.
  • Not maximizing your square footage potential – With today’s fast changing environment, multi-tiered stationary racks, rolling benches and archive style rolling racks help maximize square footage. Without the proper garden layout, you will find yourself pounds short of your potential each harvest.
  • Inadequate power – Not planning or finding out if there is sufficient power available at the site for your current and future needs. This will stop you from building the overall square footage you want. When finding a building make sure you first know how much power you will need for the size grow you want. With proper engineering you will find out what load requirements will be so you can plan accordingly.
  • Material selection – The construction material that goes into a cultivation and extraction facility should consist of nonabsorbent anti-microbial finishes. The days of wood grow benches are long gone. Epoxy flooring, metal studs and other materials are mandatory for a quality-built, long-lasting facility.
  • Hand watering – Once your facility is up and running, many people feel they have spent enough money and they can save by hiring people to water by hand, rather than going with an automated system to handle the watering and nutrients. The problem with this is your employees are not on your plants timetable. What if an employee calls off and can’t come into water at the right time or they mix the wrong amount of nutrients from the formula you have selected? These are issues we see a lot. It is critical to perform precise, scheduled watering and nutrient delivery to increase your yields.
  • Failure to monitor and automate – Automating your grow is important for controlling the light and fertigation schedules as well as data collection and is crucial to maximizing yields. Being able to do this remotely gives you peace of mind in that you can monitor your grow room temperature and humidity at all times and be notified when something is not right.
  • MedicineManTechGrowPoor climate – This can cause stunted growth, smaller harvests and test failures. Our experience has taken us to facilities that have had mold and mildew issue due to poor climate. Proper air balancing, additional dehumidification along with a proper cleaning procedure can get a facility back in working order. Installing proper climate control systems could save millions of dollars.
  • Choosing the wrong site or building – Not knowing the history of the building you are choosing to rent or buy can create logistical and monetary nightmares. The wrong site can be a distribution and marketing disaster. In the wrong building, exponentially more money is spent to bring that building up to the standards needed for successful production and yields. For example, bringing in the ceiling and the cleaning of an existing facility can be a great expense. If you do not know what you are looking at when you purchase, you may be in for months of unaccounted expenses and inaccurate timelines. This can be detrimental for companies and individuals that are on restricted timelines and have to start producing successful and continuous yields from a space that has to be converted into a prime grow facility.
  • Failure to maintain your facility – A dirty site creates an invitation for pests, workplace injuries, unhealthy working environment and equipment failure. Keeping the facility and equipment properly maintained with routine service will ensure efficiency, longevity of equipment life span and reduce mold and bacteria risk. Clean facilities = clean plants and better flower.

Facility Considerations for Cultivation & Manufacturing: A Case Study

By David Vaillencourt
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The cannabis industry is growing and evolving at an unprecedented pace and regulators, consumers and businesses continually struggle to keep up.

Cannabis businesses: How do you maintain an edge on the market, avoid costly mistakes?

Case Study: Costly Facility Build Out Oversights

David Vaillencourt will be joining a panel discussion, Integrated Lifecycle of Designing a Cultivation Operation, on December 22 during the Cannabis Quality Virtual Conference. Click here to register. A vertically integrated multi-state operator wants to produce edibles. The state requires adherence to food safety practices (side note – even if the state did not, adherence to food safety practices should be considered as a major facility and operational requirement). They are already successfully producing flower, tinctures and other oil derivatives. Their architect and MEP firm works with them to design a commercial kitchen for the production of safe edibles. The layout is confirmed, the equipment is specified – everything from storage racks, an oven and exhaust hoods, to food-grade tables. The concrete is poured and walls are constructed. The local health authority comes in to inspect the construction progress, who happens to have a background in industrial food-grade facilities (think General Mills). They remind the company that they must have three-compartment sinks with hot running water for effective cleaning and sanitation, known as clean-out-of-place (COP). The result? Partial demolition of the floor to run pipeline, and a retrofit to make room for the larger sinks, including redoing electrical work and a contentious team debate about the size of the existing equipment that was designed to fit ‘just right.’

Unfortunately, this is just one more common story our team recently witnessed. In this article, I outline a few recommendations and a process (Quality by Design) that could have reduced this and many other issues. For some, following the process may just be the difference between being profitable or going out of business in 2021.

The benefits of Quality by Design are tangible and measurable:

  1. Reduce mistakes that lead to costly re-work
  2. Mitigate inefficient operational flow
  3. Reduce the risk of cross-contamination and product mix-ups. It happens all the time without carefully laid out processes.
  4. Eliminate bottlenecks in your production process
  5. Mitigate the risk of a major recall.

The solution is in the process

Regardless of whether you fall in the category of a food producer, manufacturer of infused products (MIP), food producers, re-packager or even a cultivator, consider the following and ask these questions as a team.

People

Food processing and sanitation
By standardizing and documenting safety procedures, manufacturers mitigate the risk of cannabis-specific concerns

For every process, who is performing it? This may be a single individual or the role of specific people as defined in a job description.

Does the individual(s) performing the process have sufficient education and training? Do you have a diverse team that can provide different perspectives? World class operations are not developed in a vacuum, but rather with a team. Encourage healthy discourse and dialogue.

Process

Is the process defined? Perhaps in a standard operating procedure (SOP) or work instruction (WI). This is not the general guidance an equipment vendor provided you with, this is your process.

How well do you know your process? Does your SOP or WI specify (with numbers) how long to run the piece of equipment, the specification of the raw materials used (or not used) during the process, and what defines a successful output?

Do you have a system in place for when things deviate from the process? Processes are not foolproof. Do not get hung up on deviations from the process, but don’t turn a blind eye to them. Record and monitor them. In time, they will show you clear opportunities for improvement, preventing major catastrophes.

Materials

What are the raw materials being used? Where are they coming from (who is your supplier and how did you qualify them)?

Start with the raw materials that create your product or touch your product at all stages of the process. We have seen many cases where cannabis oils fail for heavy metals, specifically lead. Extractors are quick to blame the cultivator and their nutrients, as cannabis is a very effective phytoremediator (it uptakes heavy metals and toxins from soil substrate). The more likely culprit – your glassware! Storing cannabis oil, both work in process or final product in glass jars, while preferred over plastic, requires due diligence on the provider of your glassware. If they change the factory in which it is produced, will you be notified? Stipulate this in your contract. Don’t find yourself in the next cannabis lead recall that gets the attention of the FDA.

Savings is gained through simple control of your raw materials. Variability in your raw material going into the extractor is inevitable, but the more you can do to standardize the quality of your inputs, the less work re-formulating needs to be done downstream. Eliminate the constant need to troubleshoot why yields are lower than expected, or worst case, having to rerun or throw an entire batch out because it was “hot” (either too much THC in the hemp/CBD space or pesticides/heavy metals). These all add up to significant downstream bottlenecks – underutilized equipment, inefficient staff (increase in labor cost) all because of a lack of upstream controls. Use your current process as a starting point, but implement a quality system to drive improvement in operational efficiency and watch your top line grow while your bottom-line decreases.

Consistency in quality standards requires meticulous SOPs

Have you tested and confirmed the quality of your raw material? This isn’t just does it have THC and is it cannabis, but is it a certain particle size, moisture level, etc.? Again, define the quality of your raw materials (specifications) and test for it.

Rememberranges are your friend. It is much better to say 9-13% moisture than “about 10%”. For your most diligent extractor, 11% will be unacceptable, but for a guy that just wants to get the job done, 13% just may do!

Test your final product AFTER the process. Again, how does it stack up against your specifications? You may need to have multiple specifications based on different types of raw material. Perhaps one strain with a certain range of cannabinoids and terpenes can be expected for production.

Review the data and trend it. Are you getting lower yields than normal? This may be due to an issue with the equipment, maybe a blockage has formed somewhere, a valve is loose, and simple preventive maintenance will get you back up and running. Or, it could be that the raw biomass quality has changed. Either way, having that data available for review and analysis will allow you to identify the root cause and prevent a surprise failure of your equipment. Murphy’s law applies to the cannabis industry too.

  1. You are able to predict and prevent most failures before they occur
  2. You increase the longevity of your equipment
  3. You are able to predict with a level of confidence – imagine estimating how much product you will product next month and hitting that target – every time!
  4. Business risks are significantly mitigated – a process that spews out metal, concentrates heavy metals or does not kill microbes that were in the raw material is an expensive mistake.
  5. Your employees don’t feel like they are running around with their hair on fire all the time. It’s expensive to train new employees. Reduce your turnover with a less stressed-out team.

Takeaways

Maintaining a competitive edge in the cannabis industry is not easy, but it can be made easier with the right team, tools and data. Our recommendations boil down to a few simple steps:

  1. Make sure you have a chemical or mechanical engineer to understand, optimize and standardize your process (you should have one of these on staff permanently!)
  2. Implement a testing program for all raw materials
    1. Test your raw materials – cannabis flower, solvents, additives, etc. before using. Work with your team to understand what you should and should not test for, and the frequency for doing so. Some materials/vendors are likely more consistent or reliable than others. Test the less reliable ones more frequently (or even every time!)
  3. Test your final product after you extract it – Just because your local regulatory body does not require a certain test, it does not mean you should not look for it. Anything that you specified wanting the product to achieve needs to be tested at an established frequency (and this does not necessarily need to be every batch).
  4. Repeat, and record all of your extraction parameters.
  5. Review, approve and set a system in place for monitoring any changes.

Congratulations, you have just gone through the process of validating your operation. You may now begin to realize the benefits of validating your operation, from your personnel to your equipment and processes.

It’s High Time for the Cannabis Industry to Pay Attention to Contact Compliance

By Daniel Blynn
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Communicating with consumers through the telephone—either by text messages or by calls—is a great way to engage with them. Indeed, a recent analysis of text messaging trends reveals that most consumers check their cell phones more than 20 times a day, with almost 20% saying they check it more than 50 times.1 Text messages have a nearly five-times higher open rate than email, and the average consumer has 96 unread emails in his inbox compared to about one unread text message at any given time.2 In short, used properly, text messaging is an effective medium to reach consumers. And cannabis companies have embraced texting with open arms, especially given that other forms of advertising currently are off limits to the industry.

But with the utility of text messaging consumers comes substantial risk. Cannabis companies are frequent targets of private litigation arising out of their texting practices. Over the past two years, dozens of class action lawsuits alleging unlawful text messages have been filed against cannabis companies, including well-known multistate operators and less recognizable ones. Most of these cases are ongoing and may rightfully be considered “bet the company” litigations. For example, a pending case against cannabis delivery company Eaze Solutions, Inc. alleges that unsolicited text messages were sent to 52,104 individuals.3 Assuming each putative class member received just one text from Eaze, the statutory damages exposure ranges between $26 million and $78 million. The court twice has rejected proposed class settlements of $1.75 million and, later, $3.5 million as being too low. Given the potential exposure, before cannabis companies click the send button on a text message, they need to ensure that they’re abiding by the law.

At the federal level, the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) regulates all types of text messages, telemarketing and transactional/informational alike. Generally speaking, the TCPA governs how text messages are sent (i.e., manually versus automatically dialed), and how calls are conducted and voicemail messages delivered (live representative versus “artificial or prerecorded voice”).4 The TCPA also contains do not call rules applicable to marketing messages. The TCPA is enforced by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and, notably, through private lawsuits, including class actions. Under the TCPA, a private plaintiff can seek statutory damages of $500 for each unsolicited autodialed text message (or unsolicited call that utilizes an artificial or prerecorded voice or delivers a prerecorded message). If a solicitation text is sent to a telephone number registered on the National Do Not Call Registry or the cannabis seller’s own internal do not call list, the statutory damages are “up to” $500 per call or text. In all cases, statutory damages may be trebled to $1,500 if the TCPA violation was committed either knowingly or willfully.

These rules fit atop myriad state telemarketing and do-not-call laws, which may be more restrictive than the TCPA.

While I could fill up this entire website with the various calling and texting issues with which sellers generally struggle under the TCPA—such as the use of artificial or prerecorded voices and prerecorded messages, how to handle reassigned numbers, revocation of consent issues, etc.—this article focuses on the basic rules governing how cannabis companies can text consumers, and what types of consent they need to do so under the Act.

Overview of TCPA’s Consent Rules

Under the TCPA, a seller is required to have a consumer’s “prior express consent” in order to send an autodialed non-marketing text message to a cell phone; The consent rule for autodialed marketing text messages to cell phones are different in that they require “prior express written consent” (EWC). No consent is needed in order to manually send a text message (and note that “manually” does not necessarily mean that an individual must dial all ten digits and click send from a standard smartphone).

“Prior express consent” is a lower level form of consent and generally exists where a consumer voluntarily has provided her telephone number to the seller.

“Prior express written consent,” on the other hand, is a heightened consent standard requiring a written agreement bearing (1) the signature of the person called (either traditional “wet” signature or an electronic/digital one) that clearly authorizes the seller to deliver or cause to be delivered to the consumer telemarketing messages; and (2) the telephone number to which the signatory authorizes such telemarketing messages to be delivered. If the seller utilizes an autodialer to send a marketing text message to a cell phone, then the written agreement with the consumer must also clearly and conspicuously disclose both that (a) the text may be sent using an autodialer, and (b) the consumer is not required to provide his consent as a condition of purchasing any goods or services. This EWC to be contacted must have been provided by the consumer before the text is sent. Unlike the lower standard for prior express consent, the mere provision of a cell phone number to the seller does not constitute the required EWC to be contacted at that number via an autodialer marketing purposes.

Confusing enough? Don’t worry, a table summarizing the current TCPA consent rules is below:

What Type of Text Are You Sending?

Generally, the type of consumer consent that is needed to send a text message is a function of the type of text and how it is being sent. “Telephone solicitations” are subject to more restrictions than purely informational or transactional text messages. The TCPA defines “telephone solicitation” to be “the initiation of a [text] message for the purpose of encouraging the purchase or rental of, or investment in, property, goods, or services.”

On the other end of the spectrum lie pure informational or transactional text messages. These are communications designed to provide information, rather than promote products and services (in the case of informational calls), and to “facilitate, complete, or confirm a commercial transaction that the recipient has previously agreed to enter into” (in the case of transactional calls). For example, customer satisfaction survey texts and texts to confirm orders and deliveries are informational and transactional, respectively.

Finally, the TCPA also covers a third category of text messages—“dual purpose” texts. These are texts with either a customer service or informational component as well as a marketing one. Because courts and the FCC take an expansive view of what constitutes telemarketing, dual purpose texts are treated as pure marketing messages and subject to the more rigorous standards to obtain the requisite level of consumer consent.

Common examples of texts that cannabis companies send and the corresponding level of consent needed are as follows: 

  • Autodialed Text Messages: Under the TCPA, an autodialer is defined to be equipment, which has the capacity to store or produce telephone numbers to be called using a random or sequential number generator, and to dial such numbers without a requisite level of human involvement. However, there currently is a “significant fog of uncertainty” as to what is and is not an autodialer, with different courts reaching conflicting decisions as to, for example, whether simply dialing from a curated list of targeted telephone numbers constitutes autodialing, or whether the numbers on that list must have been randomly or sequentially generated in order for a platform to constitute an autodialer.
  • While proceedings are ongoing at the FCC to clarify the autodialer definition, the Supreme Court recently agreed to decide the autodialer issue during its next term in a TCPA case filed against Facebook; a decision is expected by May or June 2021. Notably, in mid-September 2020, the Department of Justice filed a “friend of the court” brief taking the industry-favorable position that a platform itself must randomly or sequentially generate the telephone numbers that it texts to be considered an autodialer under the statute.
  • Texts sent by autodialer (whether the autodialing functionality is actually used to send the text or not) require consent from the recipient. Note that this rule generally applies to both individual and business cell phone numbers. As long as the text is not a solicitation message, then consent may be obtained orally. Alternatively, if a consumer provides his cellular telephone number to you via an online lead form or during the checkout process, then this should be sufficient to constitute “prior express consent” to receive autodialed non-solicitation texts, such as order confirmations or delivery updates. The key to obtaining prior express consent, however, is that the consumer provide you with his telephone number voluntarily.
  • However, EWC is required to send a text for marketing purposes using an autodialer. The EWC requirements are described above and examples of EWC are below.
  • Note that, under the TCPA, the seller has the burden of demonstrating that it had the requisite level of consent to send the text in question. Thus, cannabis companies should maintain records evidencing such consent. A good rule of thumb is to maintain such records for a period of five years from the date of text, which covers the TCPA’s statute of limitations and the limitations periods under most state telemarketing laws.
  • Manually-Dialed Text Messages: If a cannabis company manually sends text messages—e., using a device that does not have the capacity to autodial—then no special consent is needed. However, even for manually-dialed texts, applicable do not call lists must be checked.
  • Texts to Numbers on Do Not Call Lists: The TCPA also prohibits companies from sending marketing texts to consumers whose telephone numbers are registered on either the National Do Not Call Registry or the seller’s own internal do not call list, unless an exemption applies, such as calls with the consumer’s EWC or to consumers with whom the seller has an “established business relationship.”5 The TCPA’s do not call rules are agnostic to how a telephone number is dialed, whether it be manually or by automated means. Be sure to scrub against relevant do not call lists.

Best Practices for Obtaining Proper Consent

As noted above, for autodialed non-marketing text messages to cell phones, the lower level of simple “prior express consent” is required. Prior express consent is deemed to exist by virtue of a consumer having provided his telephone number to a cannabis company, either orally or in writing.

EWC for autodialed solicitation text messages, however, requires more. First, specific disclosures must be made “clearly and conspicuously” to the consumer. Specifically, a consumer should be advised and agree that, by providing his telephone number to the cannabis company, he is agreeing (1) to receive potentially autodialed (2) marketing text messages, and (3) that he is not required to provide his consent as a condition of making a purchase. This disclosure should not be placed beneath a submission button on a lead form or checkout page (unless an unchecked check box is utilized to demonstrate that the consumer has reviewed and accepted the disclosure); it needs to be unavoidable. The disclosure should be presented in readable, crisp font, both in size and in color, that contrasts against its background. For example, the following disclosures likely would pass muster to demonstrate EWC:

As you may now appreciate, the TCPA is a minefield (and this article just scratches the surface). However, with planning and a good compliance program, the law can be navigated to minimize risk while, at the same time, allowing for communications with cannabis consumers. Remember, an ounce of compliance now can lead to a pound of litigation prevention later.


Disclaimer: Using, distributing, possessing, and/or selling marijuana is illegal under existing federal law. Compliance with state law does not guarantee or constitute compliance with federal law. This informational overview is not intended to provide any legal advice or any guidance or assistance in violating federal law.


References

  1. Zipwhip, 2020 State of Texting, at 4 (2020).
  2. Id. at 11.
  3. See Lloyd v. Eaze Solutions, Inc., No. 3:18-cv-05176 (N.D. Cal.).
  4. Although the TCPA utilizes the term “calls,” courts have found the statute applies with the same force to text messages. This article focuses on text messaging but most of the principles extend to calls as well.
  5. There are two types of “established business relationships” (EBRs) under the TCPA: (1) inquiry EBRs and (2) transactional EBRs. Pursuant to a transactional EBR, a seller may text a consumer whose telephone number is listed on the National Do Not Call Registry for up to 18 months after the consumer’s last purchase, delivery, or payment—i.e., from the date of the seller’s last transaction with the former customer—unless the consumer asks the seller to stop calling him. In that case, the seller must honor the do not call request by placing the consumer’s telephone number on its own internal do not call list. Under an inquiry EBR, the seller may text a consumer who has inquired about its products or services, but only for up to three months. Again, if the consumer asks the seller to stop calling within that three-month timeframe, it must honor the request and add the consumer’s telephone number to its internal do not call list. Telephone numbers on the seller’s internal do not call list should remain on that list indefinitely or until the consumer subsequently provides her prior express written consent (or explicitly asks to be removed from the internal do not call list); a new EBR will not override an internal do not call request. Indeed, as to the latter, the Federal Trade Commission and several state attorneys general made this point clear in their briefing in a recent TCPA and Telemarketing Sales Rule litigation then-pending in Illinois federal court; the practical reason for the rule is that a consumer may wish to do business with a seller yet not receive telemarketing calls.